Three Social Media Mistakes For Would-Be Authors

social media mistakes

Social media is a key element of many authors’ marketing plans, but you’re making a mistake if you focus on book sales — especially right out of the gate. Start early, take it seriously, and be social, and you may find success promoting on social media.

Writing a book takes years of blood, sweat, and tears. Yes, it’s that hard. For any author, finishing a manuscript is a feat deserving of celebration.

But, of course, if you’re looking to have success selling books, you must also prepare that manuscript for publication and then work to actually sell your finished product.

As president of BookBaby, I’ve had the privilege of helping thousands of authors do exactly that over the years. And what I’ve learned, when it come to writing and selling books, is that the hard part comes after the writing. For most authors, the hard part is marketing and promotion, and social media will play a big role in their marketing plans.

Those of you who have a solid understanding of social media and enjoy using it might think that’s good news, but the truth is, the process is riddled with pitfalls. If you approach social media marketing only as a means of promotion, you’ll undercut your own efforts because potential fans aren’t interested in being promoted to; they’re interested in engaging content and building relationships.

Think of it like this: would you ask for $20 upon meeting someone for the first time at a party? Would you give someone you just met $20 if they asked it of you? The answer is, “No” — and you’re not likely to purchase someone’s book immediately after discovering them on Twitter.

You have to approach the process of building up your social media platforms with tact. You have to be strategic while also being authentic. You have to work hard at it while making it seem effortless and spontaneous. It’s easy to make mistakes — but those mistakes can be avoided.

Here are three of the most damaging mistakes you can make — and how to avoid them.

1. Starting too late

This one is critical. Too many authors think that building up their social media marketing profile is a project they should embark on after their book has been published. That’s just not the case.

What you should do, instead, is try to establish an active platform six months before you publish. That gives you time to line up reviewers, schedule book tours, and encourage your fans to pre-order your book. In other words, you need an audience to share exciting news with and one that can help you attract more interest. That takes time. In fact, if you’re writing a book right now, the ideal time to start building up your social platform is … right now.

2. Not taking book marketing seriously

The data from Amazon is daunting: It’s estimated that over 6,000 new books are published on the platform every single day.

In other words, you have serious competition, whether you’re a new independent author or a traditionally published veteran. You need to treat promotion as a serious business — the same way you treat writing your book as a serious business. It’s the only way for your book to have a shot at standing out. That means devoting time and energy to all aspects of your marketing — including social media.

Indeed, too many first-time authors don’t take this part of the process seriously enough. They don’t build up their personal social media skills or approach the project of building their profiles with purpose or strategy.

If you’re not all that great at communicating in the unique colloquialism of social-media speak, hire or partner with someone who can help you create and manage your social media accounts. Use a platform like Buffer, which allows you to stage and schedule social media posts over the course of several days. Treat this aspect of your promotion the same way a CEO would treat the marketing of their flagship product. If you don’t, your book will never have a shot at being seen.

3. Remember, be social, not salesy

As I mentioned, the key to success on social media is fostering a connection. Too many authors — and plenty of other folks — speak at their audience, focusing only on promotion, asking everyone to buy their book, and never interacting on a human level. You need to approach social media with a focus on socializing, not selling.

If you do the job correctly and build up platforms and relationships on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, the sales will come later. Results, in this sense, are a product of building trust with your audience over time. This requires openness and generosity, it requires empathy and concern. In the world of social media, marketing amounts to making friends.

Whatever your experience level, ask yourself four questions before you start building your social-media profiles to position yourself for success.

  • Who do I want to connect with? Do I really know my target audience?
  • Do I like to take photos? Do I have a good enough camera or phone for them to look decent?
  • How much do I want to write for my social media endeavors?
  • How much time do I have to devote to my online presence?

There are different ways to engage with fans on social media. If pictures are more your thing, prioritize Instagram. If you’re funny, Twitter might be the perfect pulpit. If your audience is a bit older, Facebook may be the best place for you. The specifics of strategy look different for everyone, and the only way to identify which social media strategy will work best for you is to step back and think carefully about your strengths, audience, and goals.

Whatever you decide, it’s critical that you start early, treat this as a business, and focus on making connections.

Oh, and try to have a bit of fun while you’re at it! Your followers will respond to that.

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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


  1. Amazing article, Steve. This was straightforward and informative. I would like to add another point , if you do not mind. I think connecting with fellow authors and publishers with the help of digital business cards can really be helpful. This can help in building a good network.

  2. One of the best articles I have yet read regarding promoting on social media. I joined over a dozen Facebook groups which, I soon discovered, were populated by people just like myself ; not sincerely interested in supporting other writers. Just interested in getting the other writers to buy my book! I have had BookBaby run an FB advert once. Expensive, yes. But more honest.

  3. Mr. Spatz – we haven’t met, but you know me. You wrote this Post for me. Somehow you knew that I’m the perfect introvert and you outlined my needs. Writing my book is still in process as I’m beginning my first rewrite as suggested by first professional edit. I know enough about writing to not get upset about my editor’s suggestions because I knew my story was not ready for publication – a little nervous, but ready to get with the rewrite.

    However, I am far more nervous about the marketing of my book because marketing, the social aspects, the promotion, all that is a scary hell, totally opposite to my quite, no hurry lifestyle in the East Texas piney woods. I suppose I would qualify quite high on the scale as a Texas redneck because my social lifestyle is attuned to watching squirrels travel the treetops every morning during breakfast, the deer jumping the fence to munch on my plants, the Texas armadillos, rabbits, skunks, birds, the Texas Bluebirds, an occasional red fox, the peaceful doves . . .

    Your Number 3 on the Post – Remember to be social, not salesy, building trust with your audience requires openess and generosity, requiring empathy and concern. In the world of social media, marketing amounts to making friends and the trying to have a bit of fun while you’re at it!!

    Your Post lifted me up to the treetops running with the squirrels . . . if only they could read . . . maybe I should write about squirrels, no, no, no, I need homo Sapien friends, I must make friends, maybe someday I can write about how I became an extravert. I’d like that. I’m trying to have a little fun with squirrels and treetops Mr. Spatz because I know this marketing chore is so important. Thank you so much, I truly appreciate your input.

  4. Good Afternoon Steve!
    I have been in real estate sales, marketing the 1st Keurig in 1994, and have been in the granite and marble business for years.
    Now, I have a book about to hit a crowdfunding program. Working Linkedin for about 6 months now, with a connection of over 10,700 people, I hope that “Our Musical Sphere” is on the list of book purchasers in the near future.
    Anyone starting on marketing, will find a lot of “nay-sayers” in the beginning. I have been telling people for years to “stop thinking”. Now, take that the wrong way and you will not move forward. Taking your future has to keep moving.
    Believe in yourself… it can happen if you can learn to try different ideas.
    In my book – “life is easy, just do the right thing all the time” is a way of life.
    A person who wants to succeed in baseball focuses on baseball, not watching football.
    A drummer who wants to succeed as a drummer practices drums, not learning or watches guitar players.
    A person who wants to write a book, needs to focus on their book. Like the baseball player and the drummer,
    an author has a lot of work in front of them. Do the right thing, focus on your choice of life.
    It gets easy sooner with more focus.

  5. BookBaby will have my complete memoir, edited by BookBaby with approximately 90 photograph ready within a week. My next step is to market it and I am interested in all BookBaby has to say.

    Jeannie Piazza-Zuniga

  6. Dear Steve,
    Thanks very much for your email. I know nothing about social media, and my first chapbook of poems is being published in October 2020 by Finishing Line Press. Where do I start with social media ? Have you written a column or a pamphlet on how to start ?
    Best regards,
    Claire Frankel


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