Over the past few months, INTERN has made a point of asking writer-friends and acquaintances about their experiences using Twitter, Facebook, blog tours, etc. to promote their books. So far, most authors INTERN has questioned have been ambiguous and even a little sheepish regarding the effectiveness of their social media efforts at garnering book sales. Meeting new writer-friends? Yes. Participating in a fun community? Yes. But selling more books to more readers? "To be perfectly honest, I don't know if it's making a difference or not" is a common confession.
Then this weekend, INTERN had an interesting conversation with a writer-friend whose first book came out in early 2011.
For the first six months the book was out, said writer-friend was determined to do everything she could to promote it. She blogged. She tweeted. She tumblred. She Facebooked. At her writer-friend's advice, she started a weekly vlog on YouTube, featuring goofy jokes, giveaways, and one-sided conversations with her cat.
After an initial spike in book sales following positive reviews in a couple of major newspapers, sales leveled out at 50-60 copies a week according to the Bookscan data provided by Amazon. In other words, no Da Vinci Code, but not too shabby. She kept plugging away, racking up an impressive number of blog posts and gaining a new follower or two every week (was that a lot? was the blog about to go viral? would those 76 followers get mad if she skipped a day?) Her vlog was doing OK too, with a hundred or so views racked up for the earlier videos and about a dozen views for the more recent ones (was that OK? how many views qualified as a success? how could there be 100 views but no comments?). Twitter was sort of fun, but it was unclear how much it was affecting book sales: she nevertheless gave herself a self-imposed minimum of five "original" tweets and five retweets or replies per day, and felt wracked with guilt whenever she missed her quota.
Six months in, she decided to run an experiment. In fifteen terrifying minutes, she obliterated her entire internet presence. Gone Facebook. Gone Twitter. Gone all sixty-seven blog posts and all twenty vlogs. Gone, even, the Group Discussion questions she'd written up for potential book club use, and the Resource Guide she'd spent hours putting together for readers who might want to know more about the issues addressed in the book. She even deleted the e-mail signature that linked to her book on Amazon and B&N.
Fast forward eight-ish months to two nights ago, when she and INTERN had this conversation. Her book sales since that night of rage? 50-60 copies a week. Occasionally 35. Occasionally 70. But most weeks, with a regularity that is almost freakish, somewhere between 50 and 60.
"I realized that the people who buy my book do not give a CRAP about my writing process or my favorite cupcake store. I don't know how they find out about my book. I guess people just recommend it to each other," she said.
The hype surrounding social media reminds INTERN of an ad she saw recently for Pediasure: "if you don't feed your toddler this nasty-looking vitamin-milkshake, you're putting him at a Disadvantage to other kids, who will surely grow Bigger and Stronger than he will!" In a world where you can do so much to promote your book (or rather, FEEL like you're doing so much), doing nothing or doing less is downright subversive.
How much do an individual author's social media efforts affect book sales? Is there a threshold at which social media becomes very effective (2000 followers? 5000 page views?) and beneath which social media doesn't have much of an impact? Is social media more important for building a long-term following than bumping sales on one particular book? Of the people who buy a certain book, how many are even aware of that author's social media presence?
Halfway through writing this post, it occurred to INTERN to look at her own book-buying habits. How effective has social media been at selling books to INTERN? A survey of the books INTERN bought in 2011 reveals:
-most of the authors whose books INTERN bought are either not on social media, or INTERN hasn't bothered to find out.
-INTERN bought several books by writer-friends she met online (by writer-friend, INTERN means a person with whom INTERN has shared ongoing, meaningful interactions—in other words, not just a person she follows).
-INTERN bought 1 or 2 books from writers she discovered on Twitter and Blogger but has not interacted with (by far the smallest category)
In short, INTERN follows plenty of writers whose books she isn't particularly interested in buying, and buys books from plenty of writers whose social media presence she isn't particularly interested in discovering. (INTERN feels vaguely evil confessing this, but why? INTERN is not so delusional as to expect that every person who enjoys her blog will also enjoy her books. A follow is a way to say, "your blog/twitter is interesting!" not "I do solemnly swear to buy your books, your friends' books, and your #fridayreads recommendations in all perpetuity, so help me God.")
Obviously, there are many authors for whom social media has been a crucial and undeniable asset (John Green's vlog comes to mind, and there are plenty of others). But now that INTERN has examined her own book-buying habits, she's more curious than ever: if a follow's not a book sale, what is it?
How many books have you bought as a result of social media (book trailer, tweet, blog post, blog tour, etc.)? How many books have you bought with NO input from social media? Are the social media book purchases from writers who feel like friends, or from other readers hyping the book? Do you buy every book from every writer you follow? INTERN wants to know!