So the big hubbub in publishing right now is the old question of whether or not social media sells books. This all started when the New York Times published an article about celebrity books and how these people with millions of followers have books that aren’t selling. Then the wonderful Jane Freedman posted a rebuttal that was, of course, exactly right.
Here’s my take for what it is worth:
The answer is yes and no. I’ve personally bought books because I saw them on social media. Even from quasi-celebrity Christine Quinn of Selling Sunset reality show fame. When it comes out will I have wasted by money? Likely. But I like how she has turned her villain status in the show into an empire and I’d like to see if I can learn a thing or two. Now, would I buy a book by Billie Eilish (whom the NYT article uses as an example)? No, but I barely know who she is.
And that’s the key. Big name or unknown, you have to market to your demographic. And that isn’t everyone. It isn’t even everyone who is following you. Yes, I get that it appears that your social numbers are a built-in audience, but that is faulty logic. First, there can be a lot of cross-over between platforms. When I like someone, I follow them on all platforms. So I may look like 4 or 5 potential sales, when I am really only one. Second, a lot of people follow just to follow, not necessarily to buy books, especially celebrities. I’ll give you an example. I follow Joanna Gaines because I like her and Chip and their show. But would I buy her books? Nope. I just don’t care enough–if I want to read it, I will borrow it from the library where it costs me nothing. Now, if you told me my fav actress of all time, Rachelle Lefevre, was writing a book, even if it was about her experience as a mother (I don’t like kids, much less have them) I’d be like
For all authors, its the level of engagement and fandom that counts. Even as small fish as I am, I have one person who, the second I post about writing something new, says the same two things: 1) write faster! and 2) when can I pre-order? THOSE are the fans who are going to buy your book because of social. (And yes, there are casual fans who see it on social and say, “why not?” But you can’t count on that because there is no way of know when/if that is going to happen.) As an author, I KNOW I have sold books because of social media. It is a huge part of how I hit the USA Today list a few years ago. (Here’s the whole post on what I did in case you want to see it.) People have told me they bought books on Facebook, Insta, etc. However, that was mostly because of personal connections, not ads. I know some people who are masters at them, but that is not me. It is really the personal connection/recommendation that sells books on social when you are not a household name. Because seriously, how often do you see a name you don’t know and go “I may take a chance on that.” It happens, but not often. That is why I was so devastated when FB/Insta deleted my accounts a few months ago. I had put YEARS of work into cultivating those relationships and then they were just gone, literally overnight, and there was nothing I could do.
What I hope comes out of all of this is that publishing stops OBSESSING over an author’s social numbers. People who aren’t good at social (not everyone is and that is okay) or who have had their accounts decimated like I did show up like unattractive prospects when too much emphasis is put on these arbitrary numbers. They aren’t a true indicator of future success, which is the point of the NYT article, at least not when taken alone.
In end, social media is nothing more than a tool in our marketing toolbox. It may sell some books, but no one should rely on it to do all the work. A book is only successful when everyone involved–the author, the publisher, the agent, the friends and fans of the author–does the work. That is why we beg for reviews, word of mouth recommendations and have street teams. That is why BookTok is a thing. Everything we do is in the service of selling our books, not just assuming they magically will. Unless you are Nora Roberts, that is. But even she has a publicity team and an assistant to do her social (she sometimes pops on with her own posts, too) and those HUGE NYT ads are proof that her publisher is still pushing her books, even when her name alone is enough to sell millions.
To get the goods, you have to put in the work. That is al there is to it.