What Makes for Successful Social Media for Authors?
Back in December 2021, a piece in The New York Times caused a bit of a stir in the author community online. It claimed that publishers are increasingly skeptical about whether even millions of followers on social media can translate to substantial book sales. Naturally, authors had Many Thoughts about this. Whether indie or traditionally published, we’re told to mine social media for every opportunity to sell, and this can feel frantic and stressful and not always productive. Jane Friedman, in her response piece, points out that if publishers sit on their hands, a strategy that relies only on an author’s social media presence is probably not going to work.
The NYT piece mainly looked at authors who were famous and had a big social media platform because of that fame, rather than authors who happened to have a big following but weren’t famous for other things, like acting or being a pop star. So we have a lot of confounding factors here. True, you might expect people who are fans of a celebrity to want their books; there’s a reason why many celebrity memoirs come out in the months leading up to the holidays. I could not have been more thrilled the year my surprise Christmas present was Jason Donovan’s autobiography, for example. But just because someone is famous and loved for one thing, even if that thing is book-adjacent like song writing, that doesn’t mean everyone who enjoys that celebrity’s work will be interested in their book. A good chunk of their followers may not be more than casual readers, or even readers at all.
For example, Richard Osman is mega famous in the UK. He has more than 1 million followers on Twitter, has dominated the book charts over there since his first book, The Thursday Murder Club, came out, and his second is one of the fastest selling since records began. But is this because of his Twitter followers, or is it because he’s universally known and beloved across the Pond — and is his Twitter following merely a reflection of that, rather than the cause of his book sales?
And what is success in social media, anyway? I think it’s too narrow to define it as a reader immediately clicking ‘buy’ when an author posts about their book. Arguably, social media is at its best when it’s…