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Confessions of a Rogue Writer: Social Media and Soap Salesmen

I’ve been hearing a lot of chatter on-line lately about how, in no uncertain terms, social media does NOT sell books. It seems to have become the new accepted mantra among the indie gurus that, while you may have fun on Twitter, Facebook, etc., you will not sell books there.

They’re wrong—you can sell books on social media, and there are a few very simple reasons why they haven’t been able to.

I invite you to go out on Twitter, pick an indie writer at random, and check the people they’re following. Generally, close to two-thirds of the people they are following will be writers—and the same goes for their followers. Writers, writers, everywhere.

Everyone seems to do this—and yet it makes zero sense. Writers have one primary focus for being on social media. To sell you their book, not buy your book. Simply put, marketing to your fellow writers is about as sensible as walking into a meeting of the Soap Salesmen Local 105 and expecting to sell them your soap.

But, as one writer told me, “I follow a lot of writers because some of those writers will retweet my links and that will go out to all of their followers.”

Which is great, or would be—if those writers weren’t also following primarily writers. In short, the odds are high for your link reaching no normal readers. And that’s who you want.

How do you find them? Identify your target audience. Bonus points for figuring out that, unless you’ve written one of those pretentious how-to guides, your target audience doesn’t consist of writers.

My advice: define three main groups of people to network with on social media. The first two groups need to be people who would be interested in your book. If you’ve written a novel set in Ireland, search for people talking about Ireland or Celtic culture and music. Find people that live in the British Isles. Strike up a conversation. Most important, find common ground.

However you define those two groups, define them and find them. What about the third group, you say? Yeah, those are the writers—the last and least important of your group. Network with a few writers, preferably writers in your genre. They can provide some moral support on the bad days and maybe even a few good blurbs for your product description. Overall, though, they’re unimportant—because, as I said before—they’re trying to sell you their book.

Now that you’ve got a plan of who to network with—you’re all set to start tweeting your book, right?

Wrong. A lot of writers do nothing but tweet links to their book, their reviews, and the occasional retweet for another author to whom they owe a favor. It gets old. It gets boring. Real fast.

Find something to talk about besides your book. And not writing, please not writing. Most readers could care less about your writers’ block—in fact, a public confession of writers’ block isn’t really that good of an idea on many levels.

You need to talk about what your readers care about. For me, it’s politics—a dangerous choice, to be sure, and not one I would recommend for everyone. In my case, it’s the natural choice. My books are political thrillers, and in between my writing and my day job, I moonlight as a political activist. If people get ticked off by my politics on Twitter, the odds are high that they’d find something offensive in my novel. Whatever you choose, make sure your audience cares, and make sure you care, because no matter what they tell you, you really can’t fake sincerity.

Forget the indie gurus: I connect with my audience through topics we both care passionately about, and they take an interest in my books. How do I know this? Because I use bit.ly and other link shorteners to track my clicks. I track the sales of Pandora’s Grave. I compare my sales on days I don’t use social media to the days I do. It is noticeable.

Perhaps even more important, over half of my 52 reviews have come from people who found my book via social media—and those reviews have sold hundreds of copies.

In short, while social media is not the silver bullet of marketing(there is no such magic) it is a supremely useful tool—and it does sell books. You just need to be inventive and persistent in order to use it well. If you’re not either of those, well it’s probably past time you asked yourself what you were doing as an independent writer.

Go thou and do likewise.

Regards, the Rogue Writer

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