2 FAQs about the Road to Publication

Mary Keeley

Blogger: Mary Keeley

Publishing is a complex business, and there is no end to the questions that arise along a writer’s career journey. Many of those I’m asked fall into two categories. 

Why is involvement in social media so important? I just want to write.

I was asked that question again this week. To respond in a positive way that would motivate this author, I knew I had to begin with a recent history of the industry. It used to be that publishers assumed the major responsibility for marketing and promoting an author’s book. The marketing manager assigned to the book worked with the public relations department to synchronize the timing of press releases, distribution of review copies, and radio and TV interviews for the greatest impact. And they didn’t stop when the one-month window of opportunity ended after the book’s release. As we know, all that has changed since the economic downturn in 2008.

As publishers shaved down their staff in efforts to keep their doors open, that responsibility necessarily transferred to the author. Many new writers I meet with at writers conferences or receive queries from still seem shell-shocked at this reality. That, by the way, communicates to an agent that those writers haven’t educated themselves about the industry and thus aren’t ready for representation. But I digress.

It isn’t only new writers who have this reaction to the new normal. Many midlist authors, those who were around to remember the days when their sole job was to write, are struggling to become savvy at utilizing social media effectively. Today 50 percent of an author’s time is devoted to actually write, while the other 50 percent must be invested in the business of attracting your audience and marketing your books. The advent of social media couldn’t have come along at a more strategic time for authors. There are no I Likeother means available to attract an audience as efficiently and economically from the convenience of your computer. But the greatest motivator in growing your following is that

Publishers use your social media numbers as an indicator of potential sales of your books.

When do I need to begin promoting my book?

I’m often asked this question as well. The short answer: as soon as you have a concept for your book. Talk about your topic or your novel, without giving away too much. Keep a record of those who are especially interested in your story or have some knowledge of your topic. Their comments will give you insights into what they, the audience you are attracting, want from your book. Invite them to be influencers when your book releases. At the same time, if you write nonfiction, research current published books and blogs on your subject and tweak yours to include fresh content or approach. Test it with your social media following and monitor the interest level.

Look for networking possibilities. For instance, if you plan to attend a writers conference, you’ll have opportunities to connect with other attendees. One client connected with a conference attendee whose husband is a radio host. My client met with him and scheduled an interview. That led to more promotion. The radio host works in media at a college. The students needed to practice creating video, so they used my client and the book’s topic. Out of that simple networking connection, my client was blessed with free YouTube videos. Be alert to networking possibilities and be quick to act on opportunities. Be sure to reciprocate in way you can.

For many of you I am preaching to the choir. This is old news to you. Thanks for reading through to the end of this post. Hopefully, it’s a refresher and encourager to keep on keeping on. I hope you’ll share an experience on your success using social media or with a book promotion effort. I am continually made aware there are many writers who still are new to this reality and will benefit from your suggestions.

What are the one or two most successful ways you have undertaken to grow your social media following? What networking or cross-promotional activities have been most successful for you?


Why is involvement in social media so important for writers? Click to Tweet.

Two frequently asked questions about the road to publication. Click to Tweet.

48 Responses

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  1. The most important social media step I took was to focus the content of my blog, and stay consistent in tone and approach.

    When I did that, the viewing numbers started to climb dramatically.

    Concurrent with that, I have made an effort to visit other blogs with have a similar, relevant message, and comment with care and thought. This generates a good bit of back-traffic, but more importantly – it makes me part of a community. (On some blogging platforms, notably Disqus and Blogger, you’ve got to leave your blog address in the reply; other, like WordPress and the platform B&S uses, collect that information when you sign up top leave replies, and save it.)

    Consistency is vital:

    – Consistency in message
    – Consistency in replying to comments in a timely manner
    – Consistency in posting (you simply can’t do this when the spirit moves you!)

    An attractive, reader friendly presentation helps. It doesn’t have to be complicated.

    For content, it’s useful to remember that the blog isn’t about YOU. It’s about what your readers want to hear from you, and what they come to expect. And, yes…

    …what they have a RIGHT to expect.

  2. This is a great reminder, Mary. One of my favorite was to utilize social media is Facebook, although this can also be a time sucker! I made the decision about a year ago to no longer look at Facebook as a personal endevour, but as a professional one. I started friend requesting people Facebook suggested, based on mutual friends. After they became my friend, I invited them to my author page (and I’m very good about reciprocating and liking their pages). This increased my outreach drastically and I’ve made many great friendships. I think finding a social media outlet that works for you is one of the best ways to use your time and energy. You can’t manage using every social media option, so stick with the ones that come naturally to you.

  3. Honestly, I’m still figuring out how to work with social media effectively. I’ve begun an author Facebook page, but I know I’m not utilizing it as well as I can. I’m gaining followers on Twitter, but I find it hard to effectively engage people. I think my favorite part of social media is blogging, but with a lot out there, I’m not sure how many potential readers I’m gaining.

    So, now that you know what I’m not doing effectively. . . I’ll look forward to what other people have done/are doing to market books. 🙂

    One friend of mine gathered a team together who did a lot to help get her book out there. They began a private Facebook page and share ideas and tweet links. They did reviews of her book on their blogs and talked about it on Twitter and Facebook. This seemed to work really well for her.

  4. Mary, something interesting–when I stopped anguishing so much about the “numbers” and looked at my social media sites as connections with like-minded people and friends, my numbers began to grow.

    Likewise, if folks just follow me only to immediately hit me with “buy me,” “like me,” or whatever (or just to increase their number quota) I feel used.

    Social media can be a huge time-suck, and so for now I’m concentrating on the areas I feel I excel best at and enjoy–FB, Twitter, and blogging. But… oh…the lure of Pinterest does entice. (Saving that one!)

    Things are so different now than they used to be. On one hand I long for those carefree days to “just write.” On the other hand, I look at today’s must-do networking as a way to have fun, connect with potential readers, and make long-lasting friendships. I adore people so this isn’t the hard part. The hard part is packing 36 hours into a 24 hour day.

    Cheers, all! *clink* (Today’s flavor: Starbucks Sumatra blend) 🙂

    • I think you hit it perfectly, Cindy. It’s not about numbers. It’s about people.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      So true, Cindy. Building your social media following is all about relationship, especially on Facebook. And I’m glad you added that, as such, it should be genuinely warmhearted and fun to connect with your community.

      The business reality is that publishers look at your social media community in terms of numbers. So writers must have that in mind, too, as they approach their efforts and time strategically.

      Enjoy your coffee. What…no chocolate?

  5. One other thing that’s important.


    We hear about the overnight successes, but most readerships are built slowly, one valuable person at a time.


    • Your wish is granted. By the powers vested in my tactical vest, I hereby confer upon thee the title of…(drum roll)

      Jennifer, Patient and Benevolent Empress of The Snowy Wastes, Malta, and New Mexico

      Feel better now?

      • Hahaha!! Is that the vest in which you keep the drill? Oh yeah, I read yesterday’s blog, but I didn’t have time to post anything.

        Malta? Umm, can I have Santorini instead? Or, why not both?

        Thanks, now about the red sweats. Did B burn those yet?

    • The red sweats became a dog bandanna.

      How about we grant you the Snowy Wastes, New mexico, and the Middle Sea?

      Hey, I’ll throw in Middle Earth, as well.

  7. I have a love/hate relationship with social media. I enjoy getting to know people, but I also loathe the pressure to be all that and a bag of chips all the time.

    I have a particular dislike for Twitter, because for me personally, it feels like the hallways of high school. And suffice to say, I was extremely shy and utterly adrift in that shark infested cage of social Darwinism.

    Navigating the harbours of social media takes a bit of experience. Thar be reefs, riptides and sharks! And plenty of planks!

    I recently did a little contest/giveaway. I say ‘little’ because oh darn, I’m fresh out of iPads. It didn’t boost my numbers much at all, but it was a healthy lesson in polite self promotion. I’ve been told that people like my blog, the layout, the feel and the ‘Jennifer-ness’ of it. What they see is what they get.

    Poor dears.

    I’m getting dragged into Google+, I’m on Pinterest a few times a week, but Facebook seems to be where I’m most adept. I’m very thankful for the friendships and connections I’ve made there, and especially here.

    • For those who haven’t seen it, Jennifer has one of the most amazing and personable blogs around. It’s at


      She has a couple of huge strengths –

      – An absolutely unique voice. No one can imitate her.

      – A cause, the forced resettlement and subsequent treatment of the Navajo. (This carries with it the risk of stridency, but that line hasn’t been crossed, not nearly.)

      There is also a weakness –

      – An irregular blogging schedule, and a problem with the email notifications (I understand this is common to blogspot). I don’t get the word when there’s a new post, so I have to go hunting. A lot of people won’t do that. If I knew she was up on certain days, it would help.

      Another suggestion would be to use primary public-domain sources as part of the content. I would think there are a number of transcribed oral histories, and excepts or quotes really personalize the cause.

      • Thank you, Andrew. For the good stuff.

        I’ll work on the schedule-y thingie.
        I have TRIed to fix the email problems, to no avail.

        I never thought to use quotes from survivors and the leaders, brilliant idea!!

    • I think WordPress tends to work better for maintaining contact, and also for linking to other social media.

      There is a way to migrate your blog to WP while keeping the same address, but I haven’t looked into it yet (I, too, use Blogger).

  8. Mary, what a ginormous relief to read your 50/50 time allotment! I read on another blog recently that the division should be 80 writing/20 marketing. I never did get a clear answer to what constituted marketing, but my definition includes all that you include like social media and blogging. As I analyzed my time, I realized I can’t possibly fit all that in to only 20%.

    I’ve read over and over about the importance of Twitter. I’ve avoided it since it feels like a stream of advertisements. But since Christmas, something has clicked. Maybe it’s because I have the Twitter app on my iPad and I just stay signed in. Maybe it’s because I’ve given myself permission not to read thoroughly every single tweet. Small things, I know. Some might even say ridiculously easy. 🙂 But it’s finally working without creating a huge time crunch, and I’m excited to get to know others there.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Meghan, the 80/20 ratio comes the first month or so after your book releases. It’s 80% marketing and 20% writing your next book.

      I’m sure your positive experience on Twitter recently is an encouragement to others who read your comment. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Joan Wylder says:

    My romance novel set during World War II isn’t ready yet for publication, but I’m learning what is expected re: marketing and this is an informative discussion. Thanks to everyone!

    I have also found this site useful: http://romancebeyond.com/

    During January and February there were weekly offerings of suggestions by published authors.

    Mary–you mention authors should figure on spending 50 percent of their time on promotion, whereas one of these authors suggests the 80/20 rule. I would think something in between is more feasible.

    • For the WW2 setting, some novels that may help get the tone right are ‘The Caine Mutiny’ (for an American view), and Nevil Shute’s WW2 romances (‘Pastoral’, ‘Requiem for a Wren’, ‘Landfall’, ‘Most Secret’, and ‘The Chequer Board’).

      Society was so different then – and it’s easy to let characters become too ‘modern’ in their thinking.

      Tom Neil’s memoir, ‘The Silver Spitfire’ also offers a good look at the differences between American and English outlooks, seen from the point of view of a young (early 20s) but highly experienced pilot who was seconded to the USAAF, to help the 9th AF get off the ground, as it were. There’s also the story of his courtship and eventual marriage to his wife of 68 years. It was written recently, and so has the ‘looking back’ perspective, but I think it’s probably pretty true to the attitudes and mores of the time.

      There’s a delightful line that I can’t resist quoting:

      …5 p.m. on the day I nearly killed myself in a nid-air collision, and here I was being posted to the bloody AMERICANS!”

      • Joan Wylder says:

        Thanks for the suggestions, Andrew. I have some of those titles on my shelves. In addition to fiction, I’ve found especially useful The Languages of World War II, compiled by A. Marjorie Taylor, H.W. Wilson Co.. She was a librarian and first published this in 1944. I have the revised 1948 edition.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Joan, the proportion changes according to the place you are in the process. When you have the concept and are writing your book, you should commit about half your available time writing and half growing your following. When your book’s release date approaches the ratio should shift toward 80% scheduling book signings, interviews, social media contests, and getting your influencers equipped to spread the word about your book. In the remaining 20% of your time, you need to be working on your next book.

  10. I use Facebook and Twitter most days, but I am liking Pinterest more and more. Like anything, you have to schedule the time spent there or it will escape you.

    One thing that worked well for me on Twitter was to be sure to retweet items of interest. Likeminded people began following me as a result.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Good suggestion, Cheryl. I’m glad you mentioned retweeting tweets about which you have an interest or are likeminded. It can multiply true followers quickly.

  11. My dog Dinozzo has a lot of canine friends but. . . not many cat friends.

    It looks like he’s going to have to spend 50% of the time,(when he’s not sleeping, eating or playing) by cultivating feline relationships, as much as he hates to do.

    I told him: “In the publishing business, it’s a Dog-Eat-Dog world out there.”

    He gave me a nasty look, I guess he didn’t appreciate the metaphor.

  12. Lisa says:

    I have tried to build friendships and do the work. That means talking up others and sharing their stuff more than my own. I like it that way, because it means I can use social media to encourage others.

    I also go heavy on causes and advocacy I am committed to, it also makes the time aspect of it feel more worthwhile and I know I am making a difference.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Good point, Lisa. Using social media to encourage others has a way of being reciprocal somewhere in time.

      Connect with others who share a commitment to the same causes that are consistent with what you write. They can become part of your loyal audience.

  13. Anna Labno says:

    50%/50% ratio? Really? Something is wrong with this picture. While I agree authors need to be active marketers, you can’t neglect your family and your daytime job. Some writers are lucky and stay home. Others have small kids, commute to work, and do everything else in between. Even if I would be staying home I would prefer to spend 80% of my time to work on my craft.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      That’s a 50/50 ratio of the time you have available for your writing career, not your whole life. The 50/50 ratio indicates the equal importance of growing your audience at the same time you are working on craft and doing the actual writing. What if you spent most of your time writing your book, but no one knows you or anything about your book. Of necessity, publishers would have to view it as not a good risk, especially when the competition for publishing contracts is fierce and other writers also have well-written books plus a robust social media following that suggests great sales potential.

      • Anna Labno says:


        Still, 50%/50% is just wrong. I’m sorry but I would rather read books by writers who work on their craft more than show up on facebook. As a reader and a writer, craft takes precedence over social media. If writers continues to grow, it will show in their works gaining new audience.

  14. I started my blog a year ago this month. The purpose was to start building an author platform–a very foreign and scary concept to me! Being unpublished, I wasn’t sure what direction to take my blog, so I just wrote whatever was on my heart. I’ve recently started doing book reviews, and I’ve connected with a lot of fiction readers and other reviewers that way. Hopefully that helps me out down the road, but either way, I’ve enjoyed the process! When you love books so much, it’s fun to connect with those who feel the same.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Jennifer, you have a great start with your blog following. Begin to view your blog as your author blog now and focus your posts on things of interest related to the subject or topic of your writing. The followers you attract and build relationships with will become your audience potential buyers of your books.

  15. It’s hard to know what to blog about when you’re working on your first book, you don’t want to give too much away and you’re not sure how much to say, so right now I’ve concentrated a little more on encouraging other writers with helpful links to sites that will help them hone their craft. But I’ll soon be in the process of freshening up my blog. I’m thinking about doing book reviews, too, Jennifer, in my genre, which is MG children’s fantasy.

    Thanks, Mary, for your post.

    • Debbie, I know exactly what you mean…I have a page on my blog with links to writers resources, because I’d like to help other writers, too. However, I’m trying to figure out how to redirect my blog toward my target market as Mary suggested. My novel is young adult/new adult.

      As for doing book reviews, it’s fun because you end up with lots of free books, and it forces you to make time to read–though I have to admit I’ve spent a lot of time reading lately that could have been spent writing… 🙂

  16. A big point in my “test marketing” my concept will come later this month – when a local pastor is using my ideas and terminology in a sermon series he is doing.

    We have had several discussions as he asked questions – most of which I had thought of, a few had quick answers come to mind, and one highlighted a clarification I need.

    I find it exciting because instead of the topic being mixture of just the idea and “me” presenting it – it is an opportunity to see the response to it by a group who for the most part have never heard of me.

    I find building a social media a bit more difficult than general networking, but something I need to further refine and commit to.

  17. Michelle LIm says:

    Mary, thank you for sharing these thoughts. I know sometimes it is time consuming to keep up with social media.

    One thing that has happened as I began to interact more with social media with the help of a contact I made at ACFW through My Book Therapy, Edie Melson, is the discovery of a new tone of voice. Through blogging I’ve learned a new tone of my voice. Different kinds of writing brings out different shades of a writer’s voice and I found that very helpful!

  18. Joan Wylder says:

    Thanks, Mary, for clarifying the 20/80 vs 50/50 and for all the other feedback. It was great to hear what others are doing as well.