Harness Social Media To Sell Books

social media marketing

No matter what you write or how you choose to publish, authors can agree on one thing: social media has redefined the way books can be promoted.

This is the seventh in a series of blog posts focused on essential book marketing topics for self-published authors in our campaign, 2021: The Year To Find Your Readers. These posts will cover topics in two categories:

1. 100 days before publish. Tasks to accomplish while your book is still in production.

2. 100 days after publish. The latest and greatest book marketing tactics for self-published authors.

The very mention of the phrase “social media” elicits a wide range of reactions from published authors. From “love it” to “shut the hell up” — from “necessary evil” to “unprecedented opportunity.”

No matter what you write or how you choose to publish, authors can agree on one thing: social media has redefined the way books can be promoted. Note my emphasis on the word “can.” It is not a mandatory sales channel for every author.

Short-form writer’s block

If creating content for Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram doesn’t come naturally to you, you aren’t alone. Social media writer’s block is not uncommon. I know a lot of authors who can knock out a 60,000-word manuscript without a pause but freeze up when it’s time to craft a 280-character tweet that best promotes the book.

Perhaps this challenge is a private vs. public situation. As a writer, you spend most of your working time away from other people to focus on your work. Writing for social media platforms is the direct opposite. So, what happens to many authors just trying to go through the motions? You end up posting about what you had for lunch or the movie you saw last night, and nobody seems to be listening. It’s a waste of perfectly good electrons on your screen.

But for those authors willing to put in the time and effort to understand social media, it has become an essential tool to build reader awareness and engagement. While each post may not lead directly to a sale, readers will often make purchasing decisions based on the effectiveness of your messages. Crafting a structured social media campaign has the potential to generate brand awareness for you and your books amongst an ever-growing online community and countless reader groups.

I strongly advise every independent author consider the opportunities these massive platforms offer. Today, it’s extremely rare for an author to make it onto a best-seller list on the strength of a book’s content alone. The authors who are most successful completely buy in to two key concepts about what social media marketing success is all about.

1. Social media success takes commitment — either in time or treasure

It would be nice to tell you there’s a one-stop, can’t-miss social media strategy that works for all genres and every author, but it simply doesn’t exist. Every author learns the platform by utilizing the age-old concept of trial and error.

Building a social media presence takes time and perseverance. This is a process that involves learning the nuances of the channels (Facebook vs. Instagram, for instance), determining your best platform, then developing and implementing a strategy. It’s something the typical author can do by putting in 1-2 hours daily. If you can’t do the time, you can spend your dime buying paid social marketing services. (BookBaby offers these services for Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.)

2. Social media is about marketing — not direct selling

Right about now you’re probably saying: “Wait, isn’t the title of this post ‘Using Social Media To Sell Books?’ What do you mean it’s not about selling?” Actually, the title says “harness social media,” and there’s an important distinction.

Only the most famous authors can shoot out a Facebook post and expect instant results at the virtual cash register. That should never be your goal because it’s unreasonable, and here’s why: That author is already famous. He’s well known. He already has a relationship with millions of readers.

In other words, he’s already been marketed.

Develop a strategy

So, what’s your goal with social media? Introduce yourself. Or, in other words, market yourself and your book to the massive audiences awaiting your introduction online. Facebook has 2.85 billion users and Instagram has around one billion. That’s a whole lot of potential readers to get you and your books in front of.

I advise self-published authors to craft a strategy that focuses on differentiating themselves and their books from the thousands of other authors and books at Amazon and the rest. Use your wit, creativity, energy, passion, and smarts to stand out from the crowd. There are dozens of ways you can achieve it, but here’s a list of the best practices that have worked for BookBaby authors:

Know your audience

As you embark on your social media journey, it’s critically important to know who you’re talking to. Even more important? Knowing the kind of people you want to talk to.

Let’s put this in author terms. Is your goal to sell lots of books? Great. But, embarking on this marketing journey by saying “my potential reader audience is everyone” is a recipe for disaster.

Successful authors have a very good idea about who their book was written for and they go after those people in their book marketing. That’s the same approach you need to start your social media marketing. Think about the typical person — or people — who will enjoy your book and go from there.

Let’s say you’ve written a book about raising ducks in a suburban neighborhood. (Been there, done that.) Who would be interested in this book? You might start by thinking about demographic info: homeowners, people who live in suburbs, income level, education level. That’s interesting, but probably not important in this instance. Plus, it’s hard to pinpoint people in social channels based on this data.

Since the book is about ducks, I would seek out animal lovers — particularly those who love birds or waterfowl. You can expand it to pet lovers in general and farmers. There are probably duck-owner groups and associations to look up. Then, take a long look at the people who are following these targets. Before long, you’ve identified your community.

Develop a relationship with your audience

Start by following people you believe might be your readers. Be selective. Don’t follow 5,000 people just so they’ll maybe follow you back. Simply following people on Twitter to build “social credibility” doesn’t cut it. Follow people you genuinely want to interact with and who might actually interact with you about your book. Many authors do this during the writing process, but it’s never too late to gain this vision.

Once you’re following them, show you have an interest in what they’re saying by responding to their tweets and engaging in conversations. Never forget, social media marketing is a two-way street. When you understand who you’re writing for, your social media presence will start to grow organically.

Once you’re involved with your community, you never want to miss an opportunity when people are talking about you. You should always react ASAP and extend the conversation wherever possible. I’ve heard some authors use Mention, a paid tool (with a free trial) that alerts you when you have mentions and tracks the overall sentiment.

Keep it simple, for now

Once you’ve bought into using these platforms, you might feel like jumping into the deep end of the social media pool. But going from 0 to 60 by jumping into Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram can burn you out and weaken your efforts.

Always remember that one of the most rewarding aspects of social media is the interaction you have with potential readers. And it’s hard to have real engagement with people if you’re simply throwing content out for the sake of posting.

Start with one or two platforms where you can watch and learn. Because the likes of Twitter and Facebook are so accessible, they are heavily used by authors and the competition is fierce. Popular Facebook groups for book promotions will have a new author post every 30 seconds and this will severely limit your ability to reach a particular audience.

But, if you study the kinds of posts that stand out, you can model your own efforts after these attention-getters. The key to being noticed is to differentiate yourself. If you can, find something visual to put in your posts to garner greater impact. Studies show posts featuring a photo will get 39 percent more interactions than a text-only post on Facebook.

Look at your stats and data

As you select your initial social media platforms, use the analytics they provide to assess their effectiveness in reaching your desired audience. Don’t give up quickly. Too many authors are quick to abandon a platform when they don’t see immediate results. It takes time to build a presence and consistency is a critical success factor.

While you make inroads on the tried-and-true platforms, keep your eyes open for new platforms that may emerge. Great content will get shared, but only if it can be found — it’s really that simple. The authors who understood and harnessed the marketing opportunities presented by Twitter and Facebook when they were in their infancy had a far greater advantage than authors using the same platforms today. There was a lot less competition at the time and it was far easier to get noticed.

As an author, you need to be thinking of new ways to grow your visibility in the marketplace. In this ever-changing world, what’s to keep Facebook from becoming the next MySpace? Keep up to date with emerging social media trends and platforms, pick the right one and you will leverage competitive advantage by being in at the start of something new.

Create relatable content

What is relatable content? To answer that, let me pose another question: Why do people use social media?

  • To be entertained
  • To learn
  • To be heard

What’s not on the list: To be sold to.

Still, ads are all over Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. A few years ago, as we were all learning about these platforms, ads might have been a picture of a product, or — in the case of authors — a pretty book cover with the words “BUY NOW” plastered all over it.

You won’t see many of those ads these days because companies, and smart authors, realize people are conditioned to ignore them.

So what are advertisers doing? Creating messages that resonate with people.

Create something that will make people pause and feel something and you’ve got an advert that just might catch fire. These are not easy for most companies to create. They throw up posts of cute puppies or memes that usually have nothing to do with the product or service for sale. What’s the strategy here? They’re disguised as normal posts you’d see from friends and are designed to get you to stop scrolling.

Be authentic in your social posts

In contrast, authors can create interesting content that is also authentic. Let’s say you’ve published your first novel. It’s live on Amazon and your BookBaby BookShop page. It’s time to celebrate and share the emotion! What better way to let people know of your new baby — I mean published book — than to post a celebratory picture?

Maybe it’s of you holding a glass of bubbly and smiling victoriously at the camera. Or a funny picture of your head resting on the keyboard with a caption about how exhausted you are. Maybe it’s a vintage picture of your parents or your English teacher and text about how they always encouraged you to write.

Your posts should be true slice-of-life glimpses into your world. Good or bad. Are you anxious about how the book is going to do? Are you worried about people not showing up for your signings? Are you wondering how readers are going to stumble upon your story? Write about it and let people connect with you.

Remember why people use social media

Let’s see what you can do to satisfy those needs:

  • Entertain them by posting fresh, amusing, and engaging content. Ask your followers a question. What are they reading right now? Where is the weirdest place they read a book? Have they ever written a novel? Share memes, videos, and jokes that suit your personality and brand.
  • Educate them by sharing fun facts or something new you’ve discovered. Be open to teaching others.
  • Let your followers be heard by offering an open platform for people to add their voices. You could ask for advice and opinions or strike up a debate.

Your potential audience is already saturated by countless posts, tweets, and articles vying for their attention. At times, it can appear overwhelming, but you need to remember that social media is about building trust, and there is no better way to build trust than to write about what you know. Your primary aim with content should be engagement. Engaged readers will want to know more about you and are more likely to purchase your books.

Become a prolific presence

Once you feel comfortable with a platform, you need to make posting part of your daily routine. This is how you maintain engagement with your followers. Studies show that only about 15 percent of organic posts are viewed by social media consumers, so quantity and quality of posts are important.

Competition can be rough. People are inundated with new content and an absence of a few days or a week will see their attention turn elsewhere. Once you have your audience’s attention, you must hold them with authentic and interesting content. Give them a glimpse of the real you. One easy way is to respond to others’ posts on topics that are relevant to your own writing career and books.

Your social media shouldn’t be random — don’t just post when you feel like it or when something pops into your head. Developing and implementing a social media strategy takes an investment in time and creative input. You might be tempted to outsource your organic social media content and engagement. It’s certainly an option for some authors, but you will lose your distinct voice and this often comes at the detriment of long-term engagement.

Make your posts consistent and shareable

Simply going through the motions is the best way to diminish engagement with your hard-won fans and followers. Good social media campaigns should have a regular schedule of posts that are interesting to the reader and keeps their attention. It should have organic growth potential so that people want to share your posts. Above all, it needs to be consistent. Going hell-bent for leather with blog posts and tweets for a month before going quiet for a couple of months because you are not seeing the results you want will not grow any kind of engaged audience.

Some authors create a social posting calendar to guide their efforts. I know some authors who create themes for each day of the week. For instance, Mondays are for tweeting quotes, Tuesdays are for posting reviews, etc. Knowing the type of post you will publish on any given day will help you avoid having social media writer’s block.

Here are a few other ideas to keep your posting energy up:

  • Keep it short, stupid! Posts of 80 characters or fewer get 23 percent more social interactions (comments, likes, shares) than the average.
  • Asking a question in a post gets you 15 percent more interaction. And placing the question at the end of the post, rather than at the beginning, will yield twice the results!
  • Asking fans to complete a sentence or fill in the blank gets 5.5 times more comments than the average post.
  • Ask people to share! Every now and then, it’s OK to ask your followers or fans to share a specific tweet or post, whether it’s for a contest, special offer, or great cause your brand is associated with.

Be social by being yourself

It’s easy to forget the most important word in social media: social! Talk to people. But how do you go about setting yourself up for success?

You’re a writer, so you probably know all about your writing voice. That voice should carry over to social media. Knowing who your audience is and what they’re saying about you does another important thing for your book marketing: it helps you find the right message to communicate. When you know who your audience is, you can begin delivering messages that are directed to them that they will actually respond to.

Bottom line: You should always be yourself, but be yourself in a way your readers can connect to.

It won’t take long for your readers to start seeing you as an authority figure in your genre, and you should start seeing yourself as one too. Once a week, start recommending things that your readers would enjoy. Think outside the box by not just recommending books! Recommend movies, websites — anything your audience would be into.

Again: know your followers

But be alert: If you notice that your followers are 20-somethings, then maybe it’s time to stop live-tweeting every time Frasier reruns come on TV. If they’re mostly on the west coast, then they probably won’t understand all of your best Philly cheesesteak references about “wit” or “wit out.”

Before you approach the keyboard, make sure you’re inserting energy and creativity into your message. Sending out uninspired tweets or posts is like standing in a corner by yourself at a neighborhood party. Your body language alone indicates you don’t really enjoy doing this, and you’re only doing it because some BookBaby blog writer is twisting your arm with his educational articles.

The great thing about your daily social media goals is you don’t have to be 100 percent original. In fact, you shouldn’t be. Spend time reading and then retweeting or sharing things you find interesting and you think your readers would enjoy it. For example, if you write about sports, then maybe it’s a funny quote from a sportswriter or a fascinating article about some long-forgotten team or player.

Stay in touch with your followers (AKA, your potential readers)

By keeping conversations going, it’s another way that people will discover you. Recommendations are one place to start, but there are plenty of others: a controversial or funny statement that speaks to people, a photo that tells a story, an infographic, etc. But, unless you write books in these genres, stay away from political or religious stances as the resulting conversations may blunt any progress you’re making with engagement.

As an old-school marketer, I know that word-of-mouth marketing is one of the most powerful ways to entice consumers to sample new products. Now that water cooler conversations are a thing of the past, I have to believe that social media takes the form of digital word-of-mouth marketing, if done correctly.

If people like what you have to say, they will explore your books. It’s that simple. The super-amplified power of social media word-of-mouth has the potential to be the most influential tool for getting your book out there.

Read the entire series!
Step #1 To Finding Your Readers: Make The Best Book You Can
Start Promoting Your Book Now!
Planning And Capitalizing On Your Book’s Pre-Sale
The Basics Of Print On Demand (and how POD changed publishing)
The “Do’s” Of Planning A Book Launch
10 Book Launch Don’ts


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Steven Spatz is a writer, marketer, and President Emeritus of BookBaby, the nation’s leading self-publishing service provider. After a successful career with companies including Mattel, Hasbro, and Pinnacle Orchards, Steven joined AVL Digital in 2004 as Chief Marketing Officer, leading the direct-to-consumer marketing teams for music industry-leading brands Disc Makers, Oasis, and CD Baby. The native Oregonian was tapped to lead BookBaby, the company’s new publishing division, in late 2014. BookBaby’s growing book-printing operation is located outside Philadelphia, PA, and employs over 100 book-publishing experts across the United States to meet the printed and eBook needs of thousands of self-publishing authors around the globe. Steven retired as brand President in 2022 and continues to contribute via weekly emails, industry guides, and posts on the BookBaby blog. He’s in the process of relocating full-time to southern France in early 2023. Steven loves to hear from authors, editors, and publishers in the BookBaby community with tales of publishing trials and triumphs. To tell him your story, write to steven@bookbaby.com.


  1. I am publishing my 8th non-fiction book. I have used my name, Bill McClain, and my pen name, William Kenly, and they have been memoir and cancer or business related. I am inching toward my 10,000th sold copy, so I have to believe i am a decent writer. I show them on Facebook and LinkedIn, but I know I am a novice. My latest book will be on Amazon in 4-6 weeks and I would like to use it as a test case and really push the social media as you describe. But think economy.

  2. This clear view through the social media fog is just what I needed. Thank you. My book “New Baby 101 – A Midwife’s Guide for New Parents” has been (self) published for over 7 years now, and I have revised it twice to update it with current research information. I’m now planning a 3rd Edition with more content on certain subjects which I now realise need more detail, and a new cover. I’ve had moderate success with a consistent Facebook following just under 10K however numbers have beenv static for several years. I just blunder along doing ad-hoc posts with greatly varied results, often less than 100 views per post. Thanks for these guideposts which hopefully will help take my new book to more new parents who need reliable information.


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