In the age of the Kindle and the iPhone, text is more ubiquitous than ever, but that doesn’t mean users are lining up to pay for content. Readers often need a push, in the form of a strong personal brand, to get them to open their wallets.
Social networks can provide an ideal platform for budding authors looking to bring their brand to the masses. A recent Social Media Week panel brought together a best-selling author, a literary blogger and a pair of publicists to discuss how social networks are changing the way authors promote their work — and how writers of all stripes can use social tools to get ahead.
- Make connections before you need them. You can’t start a Twitter account the day your book launches and expect to be an instant success, said Natalie Lin, online publicist at John Wiley & Sons. You need to start developing your audience long before you have something to market to them, she said. New writers have the most to gain from social networks, said literary blogger Levi Asher, since a social presence can help an up-and-coming author prove to a publisher that their work has an audience. Asher cited author Tao Lin as a rising talent who is gaining a cult following through his use of social networks.
- Join conversations that aren’t about you. You can’t build meaningful connections with fans by just talking about yourself all the time, Lin said. If you want to make authentic relationships, trying joining in conversations about other topics that interest you, she suggested. Lin also suggested using your social presence to reach out to bloggers and other influencers that you respect. Asher agreed, noting that when an author approaches him about reviewing their book, he’s more likely to consider the request when the author can send him a personal note and demonstrate a little familiarity with his work.
- Use social media to feed your work. Your Twitter account isn’t just a promotional vehicle, said A.J. Jacobs, author of “The Year of Living Biblically” and other memoirs. Your social-networking experiences can actually help you develop ideas. Jacobs recently tweeted about his wife waking up in a bad mood after she had a dream about him flirting with another woman. Jacobs told the panel that after he sent this message, several of his followers responded that they’d had similar experiences with their spouses. What seemed like a freak occurrence at first might actually be a common problem that Jacobs could explore in an article.
- Use your social presence to support other promotions. Asher said he doesn’t see social media as a platform for driving direct sales so much as for building buzz and promoting events. The publishing business is changing, and part of that transformation may mean that Web events and nonbook merchandise may become a larger part of an author’s income, he noted. Publicist Meryl L. Moss said having a strong social presence can make it easier for an author to score a guest appearance on a TV or radio program. Moss pointed out that when new authors have a strong YouTube video under their belt, it can go a long way toward allaying a television producer’s fears that they won’t be able to hold up their end of an interview. Several panelists pointed out that many of the bulwarks of traditional publishing — media appearances, live events and even books themselves — are in a state of flux or even decline. Having a healthy personal brand online may a vital part of surviving and adapting in this new publishing environment, they said.
- Stick with it. Shifting from the private process of writing a book to the public process of promoting it can be a jarring experience for a writer, said Asher. Many writers become frustrated when they don’t develop an online following right away, he noted — or worse yet, when the people they connect with first aren’t fans, but harsh critics. Developing a real following takes time, and even then, your fans may still be critical of your work. Jacobs said he routinely received notes from fans alerting him to factual errors in his books. Authors need to be willing to open themselves up to critics and trust that their fans will take care of them in the long haul, Lin noted. “You need real stamina to make it work,” she said.
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