Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
Publishers care about your social media presence. They care a lot. Actually, they probably care too much. Here’s why: The majority of them don’t know how to judge if your presence will actually result in book sales.
Let’s say, for example, you have 50,000 likes on Facebook. A publisher might consider that number decent. If you have 100,000 likes, that might move the dial into the respectable zone, and the publisher would be more prone to want to offer you a contract.
During a recent meeting with an editor, she mentioned that she had to see a strong number of social media connections before she could take a writer’s project to the publishing committee.
“What would be considered strong?” I asked.
“A million,” the editor said nonchalantly. As if that number were common, ordinary.
What drove me crazy was this: The editor wasn’t looking for a meaningful number, just for a magic one. One that would result in her being able to offer a contract.
Let’s be blunt. Numbers can be bought.
I located a site recently where, for $5, a person with hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers will do a tweet about you. Presumably you could hire the person to tweet a link to your blog. Or he could tweet suggesting his followers follow you. You can imagine how responsive those followers would be; the person’s tweets are nothing but mini ads for people he doesn’t know and who might have no connection to his followers’ interests.
People offer themselves on eBay as a follower or a friend for hire.
Will traffic increase to your blog by buying clicks? Will you gain hundreds of thousands of new followers? Would those numbers have any meaning?
Facebook likes don’t translate into book sales. Kissmetrics pooled data from a variety of sources to show that business and fan page likes are relatively meaningless when it comes to generating revenue.
A smart publisher looks beneath the surface and wants numbers that have meaning.
How can you generate meaningful numbers?
- Work to create actual engagement on social media. This could be the number of shares from a Facebook post, or number of comments to a Facebook post, or clicks on links offered on a variety of social media. Showing that conversations and real connections are occurring can make a smaller number more meaningful than a large number that doesn’t indicate engagement.
- Pay attention to the percentage of books sold at author events. If, when you speak in person, your ratio of number of books sold to number of attendees is high, that’s a meaningful number.
- Build the size of your newsletter list. When a reader signs up for your newsletter, that’s a commitment considerably larger than liking you on Facebook. The newsletter will pop up in that person’s email. Who among us is longing to increase the amount of email we receive? We ask for newsletters only from those we really want to hear from. Not to mention that you also can report the open rate for your newsletters.
- Show actual increase in book sales from a marketing effort. If you appear on a radio program and your book’s Amazon ranking shifts from #198,348 to #5,309 in the ensuing hours, the likelihood that the interview had an effect is pretty high.
- Report on webinar attendees. If you offer a webinar, especially one for which attendees need to pay, the number who sign up is an indication of whether you are viewed as a spokesperson–on the topic of your book, of course, or the webinar number isn’t nearly as meaningful.
- Communicate that your numbers are trending upward. If you’re building blog readers steadily over a year, that suggests you’re gaining traction and creating connections with potential buyers of your book.
Whenever possible, I talk to acquisitions editors and publishing executives about how not all numbers are created equal. The easy decision is to look at readily attainable numbers such as likes and followers. But who said easy is smart?
What are other ways you can build meaningful numbers?
How important is a writer’s social media presence to a publisher? Click to tweet.
Ways to show a publisher you can help to sell books. Click to tweet.
Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
My perspective may be limited, but I would have to start by defining ‘meaningful’.
* My blog has shown steady growth over the past few months because of content; it’s not necessarily the content I would have chosen, but it had to be written, and I put everything I had into it. No post went public until it was the best I could do…and sometimes that meant facing truths that really hurt.
* I try to tweet something positive and uplifting every day. I don’t meet that goal,.but I do try, and I pay attention to trending hashtags that are relevant.
* Facebook tends to lock up my computer, and maybe the machine is reading my mind, because I grew sick to death of FB and its inane news feeds.
* In the end, though,’meaningful’ means this – that I put out the word that life is still worthwhile no matter what, and that even when driven to your knees by circumstance, you can still offer an encouraging heart. That’s the message, that’s the meaning, and there’s no more I can do. I am at the very limit of ‘possible’.
* If publishers want it, fine. If not, fine. I will die knowing I did my best.
For what it may be worth, I have learned that it’s not about numbers at all. It’s about people.
* The people who visit my blog, with the prayers and good wishes they bring…they strengthen me to face each day, each day that I know is going to hurt worse than yesterday. The heck with numbers; these individuals are the mainspring of my motivation. I cannot carry this any more. They…YOU…carry me.
* The only real way I can thank them is to reply to each comment, specifically, and using their names. I can no longer do this in the ‘timely’ way that I wish I could, but I will by gosh be there, and give them the thanks and consideration they deserve.
Andrew, thank you for the example you set of humility and compassion for others.
Jenni, all I can say is thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
* In thinking about this, I guess there is a number which matters after all, and it’s ONE.
* The one person who reads the blog, or takes the effort to buy the novel…I want to do my very best for her, to help her see that life and love are worth fighting for, even when all seems lost. That there really are happy endings, and in the defeat of the last enemy, the happiest of all.
* And the One for whom all is ultimately wrought, the One who gives me the hope and strength to face the coming day in which pain seeks to rule unchallenged, and despair revels in the triumph it assumes.
* The One who whispers, “Hold on, dude. I’m coming.”
Andrew, thank you for using your strength to comment here. You continually impact my life and my work immeasurably.
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
You are loved, Andrew.
By so many.
Shelli, thank you so much….and it goes both ways. Your kind heart, bigger than Texas and braver than Bowie go with your crystal faith in providing the support that so many of us need. You are a beacon to all.
Jennifer, thank you. Just…thank you. That love, and the prayers that accompany it, are the lifebelt that keeps my head above water. Especially today; how can such a lovely high desert morning be so frightful, and frightening?
*Thank you for the reminder that God doesn’t count our clicks. God is all about relationship.
*I would rather offer (and receive) one sincere prayer than a thousand LIKEs. You are in our prayers, Andrew.
Andrew, it is about people. The connections made on your blog, and here . . . and other places you comment, are sincere because you have shown yourself sincere, and real. That’s not something that can be counted as a number. You are a huge encouragement to so many, and I am blessed to count you as a friend.
Shirlee, thank you, and everyone here, for the prayers. They mean so very much.
* When we reach the Pearly Gates, if we’re walking hand-in-hand with one person who we brought to faith and hope…I think God will be mightily pleased.
Thank you for the most important reminder of all: What really counts. Prayers continue to ascend for you, Andrew.
FYI, I think you would like to know this. Andrew is my guest blogger for my nlbrumbaugh site a week from today. He shares about his perceptions during this journey through the valley of the shadow of death. He shares why life is still good, and why he doesn’t blame God. It will posted on Monday, Oct. 5th. We’re both excited about it.
Thanks for the heads-up, Norma.
Thank you, Janet. I recognize editors need something to help them gauge an author’s ability to sell books. For new/budding authors with poor social media numbers, do you think endorsements from high-profile, internationally recognized leaders and bestselling authors who have already expressed their support of the book can be enough to counter the social media factor? I imagine every book or new author is a risk to a publisher but can the social media factor make or break a deal on a proposal that might otherwise be very appealing? This is where I am right now – ready to submit, everything else in place, but knowing I don’t have the social media numbers publishers want to see- not by a long shot. (But, by God’s grace, He has given me favor from people who do). Thank you.
Shadia, endorsements do count. They used to be enough to counter social media numbers, but that’s unlikely to be the case nowadays.
If you write fiction, you get an itty-bit of leeway. If you write nonfiction, there is none.
Regardless of your category, it’s very important to build at least decent social medium presence.
That’s the sorry truth.
Thank you, Janet 🙂 It’s painful to sacrifice precious writing time to feed social media but I agree we need to recognize it has its place. (Unfortunately, that place seems to have become somewhat of a pedestal 😉 Still, this is the time and place the Lord has planted us, social media frenzy and all 🙂 If we are faithful to serve Him as He leads, including being humble students of those He positioned as overseers in His publishing arena, we can trust Him to open any doors He chooses. To Him alone belongs the Kingdom and all honor, glory, and praise!
*Clicks are so so countable. Easy data. Early on, it may have been a decent measure of quality, but then the measure became the goal instead of the quality. It is like teaching to the test–who cares about the true outcome as long as the scores look good.
*A click costs the clicker nothing. To use clicks as a predictor of future buyers is easy, but “likes” may not turn into purchasers. As to buying clicks–that’s manipulation, even less likely to turn into profit. I’d hesitate to hitch my wagon to an organization that builds its business plan on weak data.
“Teaching to the test” is a good analogy of how many publishers make decisions nowadays.
This is great! My social media following is growing steadily, but I always felt it was more important to pay attention to how many people are actually interacting with a post.
I recently wrote and shared something on Facebook to my few hundred followers. Many of them shared it and the post ended up having a reach of over 4000 with many of those people commenting on the shared posts.
I would rather see my work reaching that many people than have thousands of fans with zero interaction.
And, Becky, it would be helpful for you to show on a graph the type of reach those shares gave you. Graphs are a great way, in a proposal, to add some glitter to the gold.
The scientist in me just did three back flips. I love data!
Janet, great post. We seem to have become social media mad. I try to only follow people who interest me, and I would be happy with a few followers who liked what I had to say rather than a million who are just building their list. I’ve become active on Periscope, and I find the followers I have there to be more loyal. Maybe it’s the personal connection. The same holds true of my podcast. I don’t reach millions, but I have a strong core of followers. To me, that beats the numbers game.
By the way, the appropriate response to a publisher who says you need a million folowers is “If I had a million followers, what do I need you for?”
Feel free to use that next time.
“If I had a million followers, what do I need you for?”
Well spoken, Ron.
Ron, it seems you have some good traction going with Periscope and your Podcasts. For many authors, it’s a matter of figuring out what type of online connection works for them and their potential readers.
While it’s true that a million followers could cause a writer to decide to self-publish, but generally that size of an audience places lots of demands on the writer, and he/she is happy to hand a manuscript over to publisher to just make a book happen.
And, as I’ve said in this blog post, a million followers might not translate to the kind of sales one would envision. I represent an author with more than a million followers, but her book sales have been dismal.
We need to be producing work that will stir our hearts, stir others’ hearts, and cause them to want to read more, know more about us. All I know to do is stay on bended knee, follow where God leads me, learn more … do my best. And I love that you don’t place your whole trust in the numbers, Janet. If numbers dictated everything, it seems newbies wouldn’t stand a chance.
I love the thought of producing work that will stir hearts. And my ultimate goal is to help others learn to love God more.
I’m so glad numbers are not the entire picture, but I’ll keep writing and trying to grow a little every day.
Thanks for sharing!
Shelli, it’s so true that all each of us can do is our best. After that, it’s pretty much up to God if we find favor or don’t. I like that we have a steady, loving Presence to turn to.
Jennifer in Albuquerque
I dislike the whole social media numbers thing.
It seems like high school!
But, one needs to approach it like a business, and business IS about numbers.
My brain is in travel mode, so I truly can’t think of anything right helpful now.
50,000 followers on social media? Are you kidding me? Who gets that who isn’t already a celebrity? If that’s what agents and acquisitions editors want to see, I’m out, permanently. I’ll keep self-publishing.
I’m not going to beg people to like or follow me on Facebook. That’s self-demeaning. Nor am I going to pay to have people follow me, click on posts, read blogs, etc. That’s ridiculous. I hope people really aren’t so desperate to be published that they do that.
David, you would be surprised at the numbers a person can rack up, if you concentrate on growing your audience. You don’t need to be a superstar to have 50,000 people connected to you, especially if all of your social media numbers are totaled.
But the numbers game isn’t for everyone. Some writers just want to write, and I don’t blame them.
Janet, a comment and a question – one that I hope will be of help to all, but especially to new authors –
* It seems to me that now, far more than just eight years ago when I started writing seriously, an author needs a strategic plan that places the development of a social media following chronologically ahead of the submission of a first book. The book can be written in tandem, but the present market seems to dictate that in approaching an agent, much less a publisher, an author should be much more of a complete ‘package’ than in the past, with a well-documented and consistent social media presence along with a polished manuscript.
* That said, those who write in some specific genres – historical comes to mind first – have a built in ‘platform’ that can be quickly developed. Sarah Sundin, with WW2, and Jennifer Major’s passionately brave Navajo stories are prime examples that come from this community.
* The rest of us probably need to develop something of a ‘platform of personality’; we need to make friends, and keep them, through a consistent presentation of clear values and interesting thoughts that resonate with the readers whom we intend to serve. We have to be approachable, and responsive, and above all easy to find (which means consistency in blog post scheduling, consistent and appropriate tweets…and as for Pinterest and periscope, I have no idea!)
* One thing that may help to develop a ‘hunger’ for the fiction we hope to sell might be the occasional piece of short fiction in a blog post, or a free downloadable novella. I participate in #BlogBattle, a weekly flash fiction contest, and it’s led to greater interest in “Blessed Are The Pure of Heart” (the novel…one might take note that having a website and a book with the same title isn’t as good an idea as it might have first appeared).
* The question – in what social media platforms do publishers appear to show the most interest now, and do you see any trends developing in ‘kind’…for example, is there growing interest in the shorter, snappier tweets, and less in the more lengthy blogs? Or perhaps the reverse? (In other words, are sound bites taking precedence over substance, or the other way ’round?)
Andrew, you are correct that authors have to create complete packages before submitted to either agents or editors–a strong manuscript and a significant social media presence. If you have to have one without the other, the social media presence can garner you a contract…a strong manuscript is a much tougher sell. In fiction, maybe.
That being said, I made two significant nonfiction sales this year from authors with average (or below average) online connections. What did the trick? Great ideas, strong writing, and topics that sell themselves.
Janet, The scientist in me wonders about the actual numbers that are considered “average.” What are they, and what are the relative contributions of blog followers, Facebook fans, Twitter followers, etc.(in numbers or percentages please).? Are there differences for fiction and nonfiction? If so, what are the fiction numbers? Thanks.
Carol, ah, you poor thing. You’re a scientist working in an artsy field. The numbers change all the time. That one million mark was news to me, and jaw-dropping. Previously I had heard 50,000. That’s for nonfiction.
The bar isn’t as high for fiction because it’s much harder to gather fans–they have to read your books as opposed to nonfiction in which the topic you write about can be of sufficient interest to garner followers.
I would encourage you to think about building quality connections rather than striving for a certain number since that number fluctuates.
When I read that the publisher wanted an author with one million followers, I about fell out of my chair. With the small reach I have, it would probably take decades to acquire that many followers.
I started a Facebook author page over a year ago. I haven’t tried to put out ads to garner followers, but I have a few hundred. The hard thing is, with FB’s algorithms, my page doesn’t get seen by many people. I’m trying to put out content that is interesting to potential readers, and I get some comments on my posts, but not many. It’s been disheartening, to be honest, and I haven’t spent a ton of time trying to change because the system seems to win every time.
*That being said, I loved the things you shared that writers can do to gain traction in social media. Posting things that appeal to others enough that they click? Yeah, that is more realistic.
*Having a newsletter people are signing up for? This is probably the next step I should take.
*It seems like the best way to build meaningful connections is to engage with those who engage with you. Be purposeful in developing relationships with people, and responding to comments made on our social media posts is pretty important. We gain a positive reputation when we show we care.
Jeanne, I swallowed my gasp when the editor said a million online connections. That seems so unrealistic to me.
I would suggest that you work to develop a following that isn’t dependent on Facebook. Build blog readership or a strong group that wants to receive your newsletter. Either of those avenues gives you a place that you own to which you can drive potential readers. Relying solely on FB leaves you at the whims of its algorithms, which continue to degrade our ability to regularly connect with those we’re truly interested in.
I don’t have a huge following on either my blog or Facebook; nor do I have a Twitter account at present. I guess I’m screwed and didn’t know it. How did they sell books before computers? I planned to go on book tours. I live in SC, but have family in Pa and Tx. I figured there would be a few places to stop in between. I made posters with the first novel and put some of them up locally. That was not the best idea and I doubt I’ll do it again. I have two local bookstores that like to carry local authors. I’ve heard of reading clubs in the area, but don’t know where or when for their meetings. I’m hoping between a better price on my book and lots of advertising that the next book will do better.
Connie, it sounds as those you’re indie publishing. That means figuring out how to let people know about your books is totally on your shoulders. I’d suggest you do some online reading about what other indie authors are doing to make people aware of their books.
Book tours are tough unless you are an established author who can draw a significant audience.
The good news is promotion is totally in your hands; the bad news is that promotion is totally in your hands. It’s what you do with the job that counts.
Kristen Joy Wilks
It is this kind of thing that makes me want to tear my eyeballs out. But fear not, I will control myself. I’ve decided to just write the absolute best book I can, write the best backcopy material possible, give the best cover info I can think up for my cover sheets, and attempt to be alive, interesting, and non-smarmy on social media. Everything else…well I’ll do my best and if that’s not enough, then I’m not that publishers gal.
Now, that’s what I call a healthy response, especially resisting to tear out your eyeballs!
Well. Interesting. Informative. Challenging. It still seems to come back to visibility. The engagement comes with the territory. Finding, and then connecting with our readers is key to the process. But getting there??? Oh yes. Social media is the avenue we transverse to reach the destination. That said, I do firmly believe God propels certain books forward to help get His message out. I’ve seen it happen with several books over the past two decades. People always criticize the messengers, but God isn’t phased, and I suppose the authors aren’t either.
Whatever cards God holds, trump whatever we have in our hand. And he’s full of surprises. I love that about him. The sleeper book arises, and everyone shrugs his or her shoulders and says, “Well, that was God in action.”
It’s comforting to hear that everyone else is flabbergasted by the one million requirement too!
I’ve always been curious to know how important it is to agents and editors that content of your blog match (fairly closely) with the topic of your book? The thing I like to blog about is helping to shape the faith of my children, and particularly providing examples of how I’m training them in Christian apologetics. My fiction book includes Christian apologetics, but not as the main theme. The two topics have cross-over, but are not exactly the same thing. My new project will be YA fiction. If I ever manage to get one million followers (!), will it matter if the topic of the blog is not exactly similar to the topic of my book? Perhaps I should I consider branching out to teens a bit more than just to their parents (which would require a significant rejig to the blog)?
Jen, there should be an obvious connection between your blog and published books. If I read your novel and venture over to your blog, I want to find out more about you as a novelist.
It seems as though you’re at the beginning of your writing career and still finding your identity, right?
It’s kind of okay to be all over the map; you’re looking for how to connect with an agent, an editor and readers. Sometimes that connection doesn’t look the way you thought it would.
Maybe you need to write novels that include children who are working through faith issues…just an idea that would connect all the dots for you, including your YA, if you intentionally went in that direction with your character.
As Andrew said in a comment earlier, writers have to put themselves together as packages nowadays. So always think about how each thing you’re doing can logically and easily be presented as part of your package.
Janet – Thank you for this advice. I have developed some new ideas on how to present myself as a more concise ‘package’ now.
Wendy L Macdonald
Janet, thank you for telling us like it is and for sharing your personal thoughts ‘beneath the surface’. I felt too discouraged at first to leave a comment, and then I remembered Gideon’s army… all we can do is our best and Providence will do the rest. So glad to be gleaning wisdom from Books and Such blog.
Blessings ~ Wendy
Wendy, we agents face these realities on behalf of our clients every day. It can be disheartening, but then we sell a project that we’ve been showing to editors for YEARS. Suddenly a perfect slot for it opened up, and the supposed requirement for being an online heavyweight champion disappears. I love those moments because it feels as if God showed up big-time. It can and does happen.
I hear from author clients all the time who ask me whether they should invest $5 or $25 or $105 into these so-called services that “guarantee” that your book will be exposed to hundreds of thousands of readers when the service tweets the link about your book. This is a SCAM, people! Even if said company has 500,000 Twitter followers (most of whom are probably fake accounts that they bought from someone else), there’s no guarantee that these 500,000 people will see that tweet in their Twitter stream. And if they DO see it, that they’ll be YOUR ideal reader, or that they’ll click the link. The same scam applies to other social networks, but Twitter is tops when it comes to this type of “marketing.” There’s no substitute for good-old fashioned work. I’d rather spend my time and $$ making meaningful connections with people who (1) love to read the type of book I’m writing, (2) would be likely to buy it, and (3) are excited about spreading the word about my book.
Laura, I’m glad to see your input here and to have a heads up about what to wary of.
My sentiments exactly, Laura. Thanks for adding your perspective to the conversation.
I’d like to be respectful towards this post, but I confess that I find this editor’s remark discouraging. Not only is that million-mark a senseless number, it’s cold, unrealistic, and disheartening; and she deserves a good smack for such a callous response. I’m curious if you asked her for some names of authors they represent who have a million followers under their belt, pre-published? If I had a million followers, why would I need a publisher?
To read this, tells me publishers aren’t looking for good writers and storytellers, necessarily, it tells me they’re scrambling. If the majority of publishers don’t know how to judge if your presence will actually result in book sales, why pour the Kool-aid? I can see how this pre-condition, unattainable to many, and disheartening to most, has pushed self-publishing to where it is today.
But then again, what do I know.
April Avey Trabucco
Thank you. For someone just entering the game, it can be overwhelming, but this is great perspective.