Stack of six books with their spines up

Do More Followers on Social Media Equal More Book Sales?

Authors often depend on their social media accounts as advertising tools, hoping to gain fame and sales from their posts. The more followers, the better the chances that advertised products—in this case, books—will sell successfully. But it turns out that having millions of followers is still not a guarantee of a rise in sales when authors or celebrities post about books, which is puzzling given the usual advertisement history within social media. To all appearances, there should be a correlation between the number of followers one has and the number of books a person would sell, particularly when compared to other products when their gain in popularity or their sales numbers reliably skyrockets just from one post. But not books. What is behind this mystery?

Let’s take Billie Eilish as an example. A celebrity with nearly a hundred million followers on Instagram and six million more on Twitter easily could sell millions of books, right? Yet, her self-titled book, Billie Eilish sold about sixty-four thousand copies, according to NPD BookScan, a number much lower than expected, given the number of fans and followers she has all over the world. According to the New York Times:

Every book is different, an individual work of art or culture, so when the publishing industry tries to forecast demand for new titles, it is, however thoughtfully, guessing. Because there are so few reliable metrics to look at, social-media followings have become some of the main data points publishers use to try to make their guesses more educated.

The number of followers can greatly influence the decision of publishers or their willingness to pay an advance for a book deal. Sadly, followers are seen more and more as unpredictable gauges when it comes to book sales.

It is important for publishers to consider an author’s platform, including social media, radio shows, YouTube channels, or guest appearances on TV. There could be several reasons why a large social media platform does not equal substantial book sales. Let’s examine three types of authors: the first group has the more traditional authors whose main occupation is writing; the second group includes established celebrities and movie stars; the third, a younger generation of singers or influencers. It is usually the second and third groups that have a larger social media following. It could be that their followers mostly consist of people interested solely in their music or movies and other products these fledgling influencers advertise, such as cosmetics or clothes or other items they find interesting and share with their followers. Reading might not be the followers’ favorite pastime, so when celebrities post about their books, if it’s not the right audience at the right time, the books simply won’t sell the projected number of copies.

For the sake of comparison, we will look at a few celebrities and examine their book sales numbers to demonstrate that a large social media presence is not a guaranteed success when it comes to book sales. In addition to Billie Eilish, Justin Timberlake, with fifty-three million followers, sold about one hundred thousand copies of his book Hindsight in the last three years. Tamika D. Mallory, with around one million followers, sold about twenty-six thousand copies of her book, despite getting paid over one million for a two-book deal. Publishers are in a constant state of wonder about followers. How engaged are they? How much attention do they actually pay to posts? There is an increasing awareness about followers not being as engaged with posts in general.

Furthermore, it is sometimes the celebrities themselves who might not be as engaged with their books and, therefore, with their posts. It’s not enough just to post; some book contracts now specify how many posts are expected or required from the author in order to engage followers more. Also necessary are frequent and heartfelt explanations on why the book was written, how it fits into the authors’ lives, what they hope to gain by publishing this book, and what inspired them; all those things can further penetrate the surface when followers look at posts, and they might be able to relate more to the books if the posts have emotional elements woven into them. Authors and publishers tread the murky waters of social media, hoping that somewhere between traditional and innovative advertisement their gamble will pay off.

Choosing the Right Social Media Platform to Promote Your Book

Social media is an essential component of book marketing; using it effectively can get your book in front of the people who most want to see it, and posting in an authentic and engaging way can widen your audience and generate buzz around your title, but a smart social media strategy requires an understanding of who is using each platform and why, and what aspects of a book translate best across each network. I will outline four platforms, in descending order by the number of users, with demographic information from Sprout Social.

Facebook

Facebook is the most widely used social media platform in the world, with almost three billion users sharing images, documents, and other content. While it’s not the flashiest social media site, Facebook’s enormous presence makes it a foolish one to ignore. A slight majority of users identify as male, and though its largest user base is 25 to 34 years old, its popularity with older Americans continues to rise.

People use Facebook to connect with other people, so authors can create a page dedicated to their literary life in order to connect with their fans. Authors and book marketers can also create groups, which allow people to join and engage as a community around a particular topic or product. Both author pages and groups allow the author to view the demographics of their members, helping them better understand who their most enthusiastic readers are.

Instagram

Like Facebook, Instagram’s largest user age group is 25- to 34-year-olds, though this platform is used by more females than males. Instagram users can connect with friends, family, celebrities, products, and companies through visual content.

Instagram is the best platform to highlight the aesthetic elements of your book. Show off your gorgeous book cover, type out a favorite blurb, snap a photo of an inspiring setting, or post a writing selfie. Instagram is also an excellent way to promote giveaways and contests, according to book marketer Dave Chesson; his website, Kindlepreneur, offers excellent advice on ways to use social media in book marketing. Finally, consider posting about what you are reading, not just what you are writing. People come to Instagram to be inspired, and offering reading recommendations is another great way to connect with your fans.

TikTok

TikTok, a social media platform for creating and sharing short videos, was the most downloaded app of 2020. While its user base trends younger than other platforms, its popularity among older adults is growing.

If you aren’t camera shy, TikTok can be a fun and creative way to market your book and attract new fans. Marketing director Kelly Schuknecht suggests ways to promote your book on TikTok in her post, such as performing a brief reading of your book, filming yourself opening a box of your newly printed books, or offering a peek into your writing space.

Twitter

Though less widely used, Twitter has a loyal and consistent user base that runs slightly older and more educated than its competitors. It’s a verbal app where users post short messages (140 characters or fewer). The largest user age group range is 30- to 49-year-olds, and two-thirds of users are male.

This short format is ideal for announcing timely news bits like author events, review quotes, pub dates, or other facts about you or your book. Make sure that you are watching for and retweeting any positive mentions about you or your book. Like Facebook, Twitter provides access to user analytics, giving authors the opportunity to better understand their followers.

Regardless of the platform, be sure to visit the pages of your favorite authors and books to see what they are doing well, and follow and link to your favorites. Social media is a two-way street, so don’t just post about your book and sign off—engage with your readers. Also, post about things other than your book to help fans better relate to you, the author. Finally, don’t limit yourself to just one platform, but also don’t use them all just because you can. Make sure that who you are and what you want to promote matches the audience and format of each platform you choose. Doing so will help you reach and keep in touch with your readers, create a community among your current fans, and attract more followers and fans.

Rough and Tumblr

For those not in the know, Tumblr is an incredibly popular microblogging platform where users can post content of all kinds—video, text, pictures, music, and more. Personally, I have had a Tumblr since 2010; I adore it as a creative outlet and a means to discover new things. While my Tumblr is just for fun, all of the big five publishing houses, most of their imprints, and many small, midsized, and independent publishing houses have Tumblr accounts. Ooligan has been operating its Tumblr since 2013. For the latest Ooligan book, Memories Flow in Our Veins, we created a new Tumblr, Memories Anthology, dedicated solely to the book as part of a marketing strategy and social media experiment.

In the initial proposal for creating the Tumblr account, the purpose was outlined to market the book, create an engaging and interactive site, distribute feminist-oriented content that leads back to Ooligan, and explore the potential of Tumblr and the effectiveness of a sub-blog connected to the Ooligan account. Basically, the goal was to create an interesting site with literary and feminist content that reached beyond the typical audience of the main Ooligan Press blog. The four goals outlined in the proposal were:

  1. Market Memories utilizing posts and tags, and following and engaging with the many robust feminist communities on Tumblr.
  2. Increase the online visibility of Memories and Ooligan Press during our awareness campaign, which coincides with Women’s History Month.
  3. Cultivate an intellectual space surrounding female writers and feminism to generate interest in Memories and contextualize it in the trend towards diversity in reading/writing/publishing.
  4. Explore the potential and effectiveness of book-focused sub-Tumblrs for future use by other Ooligan project teams.

To meet all of these goals, the Memories Tumblr has a wide variety of posts, including quotes from women writers; articles on gender, sexuality, diversity, and feminism; pictures of books, libraries, and other reading; and of course, information about the book. The Tumblr campaign was active for roughly eighty days before activity on the blog halted. Over the course of that time, the Tumblr account accrued a total of twenty-two followers, which by Tumblr standards is a pitifully small number. To add salt to that wound, over half of the followers were current Ooligan students who were instructed to follow the account. The Memories team identified interesting feminist and literary content with which to populate the blog, amassing 377 posts which gained a total of ninety-five likes and reblogs. Again, rather small numbers considering our attempt to expand our audience.

Part of my work for the Tumblr account was to reach out to other popular feminist, LGBT, and book Tumblrs to submit information about, and images of, Memories Flow in Our Veins in hopes of gaining coverage. After many submissions and no replies, success! Queer Book Club included Memories in a roundup of 10 Queer Books Out in April. Seeing results, even a single post, was incredibly rewarding, especially because of the amazing titles Memories was placed next to. This positive feedback would have reinvigorated my efforts, but the post came out a few days after the Tumblr campaign came to a close.

It has been frustrating to put so much effort into writing the proposal, creating and designing the website, finding and managing content, and reaching out to other Tumblr users only to achieve minimal results and have the site become inactive. From the beginning it was planned that the Tumblr would stop being updated shortly after the publication of Memories, but it is difficult to see all the work I’ve done simply fall into disuse. But, despite the frustrations and minimal success of the Memories Tumblr, a lot was learned that can be applied to the Ooligan Press Tumblr. For example, the effort to gain and engage followers is ultimately futile if the blog is temporary, so it seems more productive to apply those same efforts to the Ooligan Tumblr instead. Additionally, followers seemed to enjoy (via likes and reblogs) a wide variety of content, which is something the Ooligan Tumblr currently struggles with. Visual content—especially book images, illustrations, and paintings—was especially popular with the Memories followers. So follow the Ooligan Press Tumblr now if you want to see if these new ideas are put into action.

“This Too Shall Pass”: Resituating Book Marketing in a Shifting Media Environment (Manager Monday—Marketing)

I’ve said it before, and I’ll continue to say it—Ooligan Press is a high-quality small press because of rather than in spite of the nature of the graduate student staff. Oolies are in general adaptable, excitable, and, because we are students too, abreast of the most exciting industry advances and innovations. That said, one of the most challenging parts of having forty to sixty graduate students on a small press staff is that, wonderfully and tragically, we graduate. Our entire staff turns over every two years. Managers are managers for only one year; our priorities and projects shift with greater frequency than our books are published. It keeps us fresh and occasionally keeps us inefficient.

As the marketing manager, I’ve inherited an enormous supply of resources. Every list of contacts that’s been made at Ooligan in the last four or five years lives in my Google Drive. Every marketing plan and every brilliant publicity idea are hidden somewhere in the deep cavern that is that blue-green-yellow triangle icon. Much of my work as the marketing manager this year has been to make those resources available and useful to project teams, which has meant updating the marketing plan template to no longer include MySpace as the only social network one might use to bolster publicity. (But actually, have you checked out MySpace recently? It’s at least a little bit dope.) For too long, I thought rebuilding and updating our media contact lists was the best legacy to leave. But, in line with the recent redesign of Ooligan’s social media system, I realized that my work as Ooligan’s marketing manager must take into consideration two things:

  • The rapidly evolving media environment
  • The resources Ooligan does and does not have access to

Now I’m working to leave a legacy of adaptability in the way Ooligan titles are marketed. There are four components:

  • A refocused marketing philosophy
  • An updated marketing plan template
  • A new way to collect and use media contact information
  • A practice of writing useful “best practices” documents to catalogue efforts, successful and not, of enacting our marketing strategies

The development of these resources, coupled with the social media strategy initiative, ought to help not just our current teams, but our future students as well. As the adage goes, “This too shall pass.” Whatever media environment we find ourselves in today, it will shift. Cultural production is more and more available to people who, before social media and the internet, were simply members of an audience—consumers. Now those audience members are, to use Grant McCracken’s term, “multipliers.”

As marketers, makers, and publishers, especially at a small press, we must be more dynamic in our strategies. Books are no longer just units—they are platforms. Simply, as Douglas Rushkoff writes, “Content is just a medium for interaction between people.” So much of marketing, especially book marketing, is about fostering that interaction. As I am constantly preaching these days, operating in digital spaces for that conversation is the new book marketing. Offering content for remixing, reshaping, and responding to that activity is the new book marketing. Perpetuating a more responsive, participatory, and inclusive media environment is the new publishing industry.

All of that said, we learned a few weeks ago from Sybil Nolan, a visiting academic from the University of Melbourne’s publishing program, that traditional book reviews (and thus, outbound marketing strategies in general) do still matter. A lot. Newspapers still sell books. Getting books into the hands of the right newspaper and magazine reviewers sells books. And if the landscape of American journalism is anything like that of Australia’s, fewer and fewer books are reviewed in fewer and fewer outlets. Especially because we don’t have resources like Cision, it’s really hard to make sure we get our precious, beautiful, expensive galleys to the right people in the places that matter. We can’t afford resources that would make this increasingly difficult process easier. Which leaves me with a decision to make about how I suggest we allocate Ooligan’s most plentiful resource: workforce.

Not to say that Oolies have glamorous, idle lives, but having forty to sixty students each work four to twelve-hour weeks gives us a different kind of edge. We can do the traditional contact research and build comprehensive social media strategies. We have energy to spend tackling both fronts, and the two should inform one another. We might take a leaf out of media researcher Johanna Blakley’s book (or rather, her TED talk about social media and gender) and start considering “taste communities” rather than just market demographics in our marketing plans and social media strategies. We might start pitching local companies to partner with us in promotion or event-creation, leading to more visual and dynamic content to post via our social media channels, which might then lead to a more national audience.

As future publishing professionals, we must operate in both the traditional and the new media spheres simultaneously. At Ooligan, spanning those spheres means we must find creative workarounds to expensive resources and expansive marketing techniques. (Funded book tours, anyone?) By the nature of the program, we are equipped to adapt with every project. Because we are students and because we necessarily move on and are replaced, we are required to try new things, to fail or succeed, learn, and to then let somebody new try something else. So long as we can capture the process, we can evolve.

Manager Monday: Ushering in the Upgrades (Social Media)

Greetings, dear reader, and welcome to Ooligan’s first Manager Monday blog post! Manager Monday is a brand-spankin’-new series on the Ooligan blog that will be released every other Monday, beginning around the middle of each term. It will showcase the specialized expertise and general industry wisdom of a manager from each of Ooligan’s departments: acquisitions, editing, marketing, digital, design, social media, and operations. All second-year students with backgrounds in their respective departments, these managers represent the apex of Ooligan’s passion for a growing knowledge of the book publishing industry, and we are delighted to lend our voices to these topics. These posts will also give readers an insider’s look at the workings of each department—à la what Start to Finish posts do for Ooligan book projects—as the managers tackle challenges unique to their own department, same as they will in professional, post-Ooligan workplaces.

As it was my idea to pitch this new series in the first place, it only makes sense that I, your friendly neighborhood social media manager, would be the one to kick us off. Come along, will you?

As much as I wish I could begin this series with my musings on the fascinating enigma that is social media in book publishing, it seems more prudent that I should, instead, bring all of you into the fold and let you know about the myriad changes that Ooligan’s social media department is currently experiencing. Bear with us; all of these changes are being carried out with you, the reader, in mind.

  • First, the posting schedule for the Ooligan blog is changing to three posts per week instead of two, now running on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. As a student-run press that experiences a new batch of bright individuals every year, all of whom transmit their wealth of knowledge and opinions into literary goodness for the blog, I wanted to be sure that no post was getting left behind. With a twice-per-week schedule, many students were seeing their posts lose all relevance and timeliness, and because the blog typically has a surplus of content ready to be posted, this seemed the most sensible action to deal with the issue and also benefit our readership at the same time. More posts, more often. Hooray!
  • Start to Finish, Ooligan’s initiative to show the internal development of our in-process titles, will now be posting updates monthly to our blog. These posts will still be written by each book’s project manager and will go up Monday thru Friday on the last week of every month. Honestly, publishing is a slow process, perhaps one of the slowest processes in the business world, and for good reason. Our project managers want to be sure they are posting updates that are consistently meaningful and exciting, and this new schedule will allow them to do just that.
  • Last week, Eliot Treichel, author of Ooligan’s newest title A Series of Small Maneuvers, released three posts on our blog as a guest blogger, and we loved it so much that we didn’t want it to end. So, we have decided to ask a new author each term to take over our blog for one week—the only requirement being that they write about, well, whatever they want. Our authors—former, current, and future alike—are our most talented and beloved partners, and we can’t wait for them to show off their writing chops here on our blog.
  • Lastly, Ooligan will be introducing a new subscription service for our blog in the next couple of months. As it stands, our current system demands that our readers commit our posting schedule to memory and check the website accordingly or keep their eyes peeled for the links to be posted on our Facebook and Twitter feeds. While we absolutely encourage stalking us on social media, we want to make it all the more easy for our readers to stay up-to-date on our excellent blog content. We will be rolling out this service in the near future and will notify everyone via our social media platforms. Trust me, you’ll want to subscribe—there will be some nifty giveaways in it for you.

It is our hope as a press, and my personal endeavor as social media manager, to ensure that Ooligan’s online presence is an authentic and engaging one that fosters a sense of community and encourages participation among our fans, partners, and readers. These changes are just a few of the things we are doing as a press to make this happen, but we also recognize our audience’s agency and welcome your input. What would you like to see out of our social media presence, and how would you like to get involved in helping Ooligan publish the best books our beloved Pacific Northwest has to offer? Let us know in the comments below this post! We’d love to hear from you!

Social Media Marketing Tips: Make a Book Trailer

What keeps a novel from getting noticed? Hint: it ain’t necessarily talent alone. In a recent post on Powellsbooksblog.com, veteran novelist Karen Karbo contrasted ideas about what keeps novels from getting noticed. To highlight these myths and truths, Karbo describes her blockades to literary success in the 1990s versus similar blockades now. To Karbo, there were only two reasons why novels failed to breakout twenty years ago—the novel was poorly written or the novelist failed to actually complete the manuscript—while there are more fifteen different reasons today. Some of Karbo’s choicest points:

  • You think platforms are shoes.
  • You think branding is best left to cattle.
  • You look like a basset hound on Skype and thus shun the all-important Skype book club appearances.
  • You have less than 3,000 Twitter followers.
  • Your Facebook author page has less than 1,000 followers.
  • Your LinkedIn… [frick], you don’t even know what that is.

Even though her reasons are tongue-in-cheek, there’s truth amid the jokes. These cavities of commercial failure share a common cause: lack of cutting-edge multimedia marketing techniques! (Gasp!)

Through multimedia marketing, authors can transform their novel’s PR and sell their books like never before. In today’s blog post, I’m going to take a look at one social media marketing technique in particular: using video-sharing sites to launch your book trailer.

Video-sharing sites take the transmedia advertising element of image-sharing sites and blow it way, way, way up—especially with this platform’s most engaging product: book trailers. Producing and uploading a stellar book trailer to YouTube or Vimeo offers writers a chance to break their book out of the mold.

Take megahit Fifty Shades of Grey for example. Perhaps romance novels aren’t your cup of rosé, but let’s pretend they are. The PR math is simple here. Why offer your readers a simple synopsis and one steaming-hot book cover (hubba hubba) when you can get them screaming and straight-up twerking for your book with an entire montage of sizzling images taken from the book? That’s a cheesy example, no doubt, but that’s the power of the book trailer: it allows the author (and publisher) to expand the brand ecology of the novel and lure in an audience that otherwise wouldn’t take interest in the book. And even though most book trailers are only viewed by industry professionals, having a book trailer might just help an author break into the big time (via viral sites like Buzzfeed or Huffington Post), or at least improve an author’s chances of getting noticed by publishers.

Bonus: book trailers also offer authors opportunities to demonstrate how weird, artsy, or toad-lickin’ crazy they are.

Bonus bonus: there’s a small yet devoted crowd of YouTubers who do nothing but vlog about their favorite books—running a generic YouTube search for “Top Books of 20xx” yields videos with hundreds of thousands of view counts—and considering devotees (and their followers) usually make the best consumers, having a book trailer could help land your book in a vlogger’s lap and vault it to the top of the bestsellers list.

Getting There

Hello again, everyone.

It has been a relatively calm week for Untangling the Knot. The project team’s main focus has been the continuation of some ongoing tasks as we try to finish the summer term with all of the project’s goals and deadlines in mind.

The social media audit of the Untangling the Knot contributors is wrapping up. The information gathered about which, if any, social media platforms each author uses will be of great use in the fall, when we will begin employing our marketing strategies to spread the word about the book. In addition to the audit, the team completed the sales kits and mailed them to Ingram Publishing Services.

The team has also been building a list of authors, reviewers, and community leaders and activists that we will contact about possibly providing blurbs for the book, a process that is integral to the outcome of a new book. It is asking a lot out of someone that they agree to read a book and provide a meaningful statement about its content, meaning, or style. The manner in which this communication takes place is important; we need to approach each individual in a welcoming fashion, but it also must be clear that we are not randomly contacting as many people as possible. It is important that the team take the time to learn about each potential blurber, and that we know prior to contacting them why their voice would be a good fit for the book, and that we carry that message through our communication.

Along with the other preparations for the upcoming marketing push, we are creating a list of potential awards for which the title would qualify. The final edits carry on, and that stage will soon be finished, and Untangling the Knot will finally be a whole and complete manuscript. Each step brings the project closer and closer to the final, finished book.

Until next time.