Last month a nonfiction author-in-progress told me she has over 20,000 Twitter followers, which she interpreted as a sales forecast. While she knows 20,000+ followers might not equal 20,000+ book sales, to her, 20,000+ followers do equal thousands of book sales.

I gave her my spiel about being careful to avoid equating social media numbers with sales, that followers often “like” and “tweet,” but don’t always take action. She replied that she might be the exception, as many of her Twitter followers are journalists who follow her work. In the sage words of Bart Simpson, “au contraire mon frère.” Those many journalists are actually a guarantee that she isn’t the exception, but the rule, as journalists are known for contacting publishers/authors to obtain free books.

However, while the journalists can’t be counted on to buy books, they can seed and feed conversations, which will help generate book sales.

While she’s writing her book, I suggested that she place an op-ed here and there, connect with different journalists about her work, establish herself as a source for a wider group of journalists. Get them digging and talking. Same can be done with her other followers. Give them something to talk about. Don’t wait for the book. Get them chatting now.

From her current mountaintop, the author-in-progress still expects the journalists to buy her future book. What she needs is for the journalists — and all others Twitter followers — to start conversations about her book.

You Need A Conversation

Conversations spark the success of products and ideas, helping them garner new fans and break into different markets.

After Jon Snow rejoined us for Sunday nights, social media exploded with comments about the character’s future. Similar, and earlier, conversations about Game of Thrones are what brought me to the show a few seasons late, and led me to purchase and listen to every audiobook in the series.

After my car battery died during rush-hour traffic, with two kids freaking out inside it, I found myself frazzled and a block down the road from two garages. I walked up to the one friends had shared stories about — conversations related to the garage’s quality service and reasonable prices. Later, when I looked the garage up online, I found its Twitter account with a small handful of followers. Low numbers, but high conversation.

Don’t ignore the numbers, but don’t make them your focus, either. Put your eggs in the conversation basket.

You Need To Connect

Last week, another author told me he’d heard that social media is important. First-time author, older demographic, not of the Social Media generation. Knows about it, doesn’t use it.

This author is in for the long-haul. He’s in the nonfiction world, interested in writing more books and related products, and in setting up his own site with a storefront.

He’s known within the sector in which he works, so I suggested starting there, with e-mails, personal letters and phone calls. The movers and shakers on his list are within his age group, and they aren’t hanging out on social media. Get them to create/share conversations about the book. Then, on social media, use it to find like-minded individuals. Instead of posting something and waiting to see if anyone will run across it, look for people who are posting/sharing similar work/ideas. Then get to know them, gain their trust.

For example, I “like” Neil Young’s Facebook page, but it was an e-mail from his website that alerted me to his new album “Earth.” I’m not on Facebook and Twitter and everything else enough to catch every share that hits my feeds – and that’s true of so many of us. Unless you’re counting on all followers being glued to all screens, social media will be a hit and miss game.

But, if you connect with a potential customer, and the customer then signs up for your e-mail (which many of us do check every day), you’re likely to up the hits and minimize the misses.

For Steve and Black Irish Books, we’ve used social media to connect with readers. While we share new posts and products on Facebook and Twitter, we know that our readers don’t live on those screens 24/7 (and we would be upset to find out if they did), that we won’t catch them that way, so most of our efforts are on the site, growing the e-mail list and creating value.

This is the approach I’d suggest to first-time authors in particular. Don’t hop on social media and start sending tweet and post after post out about your book, how to buy your book, a new discount about your book, etc.

You Need to Value Your Time

Last weekend I spent a birthday party watching my kids and listening to another parent talk about hacking rush-hour traffic. He used historical data from his GPS device to determine the best times to drive into and out of Washington, D.C., every day of the week, down to the exact minute. He knows that Tuesday is the worst day to commute in/out of D.C., and knows when that ten minute delay getting out the door in the morning will mean an hour delay once he hits 395. So, if he’s running late, he knows if he should wait another half hour before leaving, which would mean waiting out traffic in his home instead of his car, and then arriving at work at the same time.

While he spoke, and more so once he pulled the spreadsheet up on his phone, I alternated between thinking that he was crazy and that he was brilliant. I left the party thinking he was brilliant.

The spreadsheet he created is on the intense side — and the time he put into it is on the high side, but… He found traffic trends and reclaimed chunks of his time.

Similar to rush-hour traffic, social media will eat you alive. It will suck the time out of your life.

You don’t need to be on it all the time, so figure out what makes sense, what’s the greatest ROI, and then get in and get out.

An example: For Black Irish Books, we’ve found 9 AM ET to be a good time for sending out e-mails. We’ve tried different times, but with this one, we catch the international crowd, the East Coasters and the early-rising West Coasters, and we’re all awake and working by that time in case disaster accompanies an e-mail campaign. It’s like the rush-hour hacker knowing his ten-minute window. We know what times work well for others, but we know how we fit within those times and how they work for us, too.

The Social Media Skinny Roundup: Create something of value, give them something to talk about, gain trust and protect/reclaim your time.

  • Well, your 9 AM email send time worked for me! It arrived in the UK at 2pm, just in time for a tea break and a read of your post.

    Thanks for another good one…

    • Callie Oettinger

      Dave,

      Good to know. Tea time is always a good time.

      Best,

      Callie

  • Easy to read this and move on to the “next” thing, but I find some of your insights
    spot on! I have close to 23k followers of FB, yet I joke with my wife, I can’t buy a cup of coffee with those numbers. A time bandit it is. Very good stuff (again) to be read and re-read.

    Thanks!

    Jack

    • Callie Oettinger

      Jack,

      Funny how it works… You aren’t the only one joking with his spouse about the numbers!

      Best,

      Callie

  • Callie, great advice for all of us writers–and people inhabiting the digital age. Thanks.

    • Callie Oettinger

      Thanks, Sibella!

      AND: Thanks for the YA version of Raleigh Harmon. I want to dig in with my kids.

      Callie

  • All good advice. Got the early email in the great Pacific Northwest. I’ve been cutting back a bit on social media lately. Cuts into my studio time during the day. Not adding much to my career, or life for that matter.

    • Callie Oettinger

      Thanks, Melinda! ~Callie

  • Thanks for the awesome post, Callie!

    • Callie Oettinger

      Thanks, Debbie! ~Callie

  • Using social media to be social. Imagine that! Seems so simple, yet so many still insist that the Internet exists solely as their own personal bullhorn.

    • Callie Oettinger

      Thanks, Jake!

      The Cluetrain Manifesto should be required reading…

      Best,

      Callie

  • Mary Doyle

    Thanks for this post Callie! This older writer who doesn’t spend much time on social media is very appreciative of your insights!

    • Callie Oettinger

      Thanks, Mary!

      ~Callie

  • I constantly echo the advice from Tim Grahl and a dozen others: marketing is about connections, and email is the best way to keep the “social” in social media.

    • Callie Oettinger

      On target as usual, Joel! 😉 ~Callie

  • Ben Benton

    Every post is packed with great advice and thank you but OMG…a spoiler alert would not have been out of place!

    • Callie Oettinger

      SORRY, Ben!

      I shouldn’t have assumed everyone else is obsessed as I am… Thought it would be safe, that fans already knew…

      Will be careful in the future!

      Best,

      Callie

  • A few months ago I got an email from a writer who was hawking her book on how to get reviews on Amazon.

    So, I wrote her back and said, well, I’ve already read [the first one everyone knows about] but, sure, I’ll check yours out, send it to me.

    No, she says, I’ve got enough reviews so I’m not giving you my book for free (and she scolded me for mentioning her “competition”).

    Now, besides the fact that the best rated book on getting reviews isn’t in fact her competition, but rather a symbiotic existence in the same pond, any writer that doesn’t want to send a free ebook to a reviewer that they’ve cold emailed is blind to how the internet works.

    Heck, back in the day when I actually reviewed a lot I could get a ARC from Nelson DeMille just by asking (and if anyone didn’t “need” me, it was him).

    My point: Not only does Twitter and Facebook not get you sales, even email doesn’t do the trick until you’ve gifted your audience with so much value that they can’t stand it anymore.

    The last great email campaign I watched was done by an unknown writer who only published his first book last October (granted it was a pen name, so it could have been his, or her, 50th book).

    Every email was both a thank you and an ask, but the ask wasn’t for a sale, he included mobi and epub files of the next book (for free).

    His latest release (April 11th) broke into the top 30 (maybe higher as I don’t check these things hourly) and is at the moment still inside the top 100.

    So, he’s published 4 books in 7 months and sold 10’s of thousands of copies, & put the last two inside Amazon’s top 50, all because he understands email and why giving away value before you ask for anything is so key.

    Thanks Callie for driving this stuff home because I need constant reminders not get into an inner tube floating down the river while thinking I’m exercising.

    Note to self: If it’s totally fun and easy and mindless, it’s probably not marketing.

    • Note to self: If it’s totally fun and easy and mindless, it’s probably not marketing.

      “I would not say such things if I were you!”
      —Humperdinck, Prince of Florin

    • Callie Oettinger

      Michael,

      Thank you for this entire comment – and for these two in particular:

      My point: Not only does Twitter and Facebook not get you sales, even email doesn’t do the trick until you’ve gifted your audience with so much value that they can’t stand it anymore.

      Note to self: If it’s totally fun and easy and mindless, it’s probably not marketing.

      Best,

      Callie

  • Social media can be a jungle, especially for those who grew up before its explosion. Growing an email list can be daunting. Getting an audience is a labor, and not always a labor of love. But very few have the name recognition to skip the connections and conversations. Even best selling authors market connections; they inform and share which consequently includes the ask.

    Thanks, Callie, for a thoughtful, educational post, one worth re-reading.

    • Callie Oettinger

      David,

      I understand the frustration. Growing an audience is something that can be done before you have a book or painting, or whatever is your thing. In Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell wrote about Roger Horchow, who has a large network. He didn’t build that network with the goal of one day asking the network for favors, but… In the course of getting to know different people, sometimes things come up, and something you’d like to have happen materializes because of someone in your network.

      How do you grow the network? Also in Tipping Point, Gladwell mentioned that Rod Steiger is the “best-connected actor of all time.” Why? From Tipping Point:

      He has made great movies like the Oscar-winning On the Waterfront and dreadful movies like Car Pool. He won an Oscar for his role in In the Heat of the Night and also made “B” movies so bad they went straight to video. He’s played Mussolini, Napoleon, Pontius Pilate, and Al Capone. He’s been in thirty-eight dramas, twelve crime pictures and comedies, eleven thrillers, eight action films, seven Westerns, six war movies, four documentaries, three horror flicks, two sci-fi films, and a musical among others. Rod Steiger is the best-connected actor in history because he has managed to move up and down and back and forth among all the different worlds and subcultures and niches and levels that the acting profession has to offer.

      In other words, he got involved in his community – and within different sub-cultures of his community – which put him in front of different audiences. AND: He did it over a long period of time.

      Years ago I read something from the authors of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, along the lines of them trying to reach out to at least one radio station a day. That effort was behind the rise of the series.

      Do a little every day makes a difference – and is easier, less stressful, and much less frustrating, than growing a network in a short time.

      Best,

      Callie

  • Dick Yaeger

    20,000 (a reinforced division) “followers” suggests that she’s the leader. How does one “lead” so many? The effort is super human. Chesty Puller did it, I couldn’t. Give me a loyal squad instead. Then again, perhaps “followers” is a misnomer. “Fans” probably works, but fans are fleeting. Do fans remove themselves from Facebook or Twitter when they move on to the next big thing? I need more coffee.

    • Callie Oettinger

      Dick, You’re over-thinking it! 😉 Get that coffee. They’re following her online, which ain’t close to following Chesty or anyone else, into battle. Brings those setting up picnics to watch Civil War battles to mind. They follow from safe distances… Callie

  • Suzy

    I love reading from non marketers. I seem to be only reading and listening to those teaching this stuff. Ive found several ways- 1. Chalene Johnson takes her live FB videos and repurposes the content. Strips away the audio, breaks down the transcripts, creates blogs and social media posts. ( all with a VA in the Philippines mind you.)
    2. Mike Dillard – Creates Value for about 6 weeks in the form of blog posts- FB posts – great sales advertising videos ( 3-4) and then runs FB ads to them like crazy and makes his salary for the next 2 years.

    Ads are the shortcut but paying for ads will always be the shortest route. Some say your crazy doing organic social media. Now with Live Video- I hear thats an added shortcut to creating value than can lead to faster sales.
    Sharing what I learned- thanks for listening. PS Im not a writer but do wish I had time to learn to write better. 🙂

    • Callie Oettinger

      Thanks for your comment, Suzy. I’m a big fan of repurposing content, too. Best, Callie