Here’s a writing exercise that I absolutely don’t recommend, but could be helpful if, you know, you have time on your hands.
Over the last month or so, I’ve been working on converting one of my unpublished manuscripts into a screenplay, both as a means of providing an alternate path to some form of publication (given shrinking opportunities in publishing, with the impacts of COVID-19 set to narrow such even further), and as an exercise to see whether I could do it, and what might come from actually sitting down and writing something in an alternate format.
I’m not entirely new to screenwriting – my first novel, Rohypnol, was optioned for a film version, and I worked on the screenplay with the production team from Seed Productions. But still, I’m no expert, and given the format-specific considerations of screenwriting, it’s a very different challenge, one which makes you look at your work in a new way, focusing on visuals and dialogue, without the capacity to explore each character’s emotional responses in-depth.
That different angle has helped me improve much of the dialogue in the novel manuscript. Once you’re writing down what you want people to say, you think about the exchanges in a different mindset, and it made me re-examine each of the spoken terms and responses in the story, and has made them feel much more natural and realistic.
But additionally, it helped me come up with an entirely new ending to my novel, which better summarizes the key themes and concepts, and feels much more satisfying as a whole.
I’ve never been great at endings. It’s very difficult to come up with something that feels complete, that feels like it’s pulled all the threads of the story back in and solidified the world into a new, different reality, incorporating the lessons learned. It generally takes me a while to think and re-think how the ending will look – and when I put the original ending of this story down in screenplay form, it didn’t feel satisfying. If I were watching the film version, I think it would have felt incomplete, like it was a bit too abrupt.
So I changed it in the screenplay, and I’m now working on changing it in the novel as well. Which, of course, then also means re-examining every part of the manuscript, ensuring that every story element, every chapter, every scene, all moves towards that final goal. For the most part, I know that it does, but it’s another month of work to check through, section-by-section, in order to ensure that everything’s in its right place.
So, as a writing exercise, it’s been very beneficial. But it’s also a significant exercise to undertake. As a lesson, it may well be worth considering how your particularly dialogue-heavy sections would work in screenplay mode, and how you would feel if you handed them to professional actors as something you wanted them to read out.
Would it make sense? Would it flow well, and feel real – and would it convey the emotion you’re looking to express, if they had no other cues, no other indicators other than the words on the page?
Of course, everyone visualizes their story differently, but for me, it definitely made me see at least some elements in a different light.
Hopefully, that leads to better outcomes for both versions of the story.
It’s very difficult to contemplate the full extent of the impacts of the current shutdowns around the world due to COVID-19, and they only look set to get worse, at least in the foreseeable future.
The amount of people affected by the virus, both directly and indirectly, will be in the billions, and while our main focus needs to be on slowing the spread, and saving as many people as possible from the outbreak, the resultant actions will also mean job losses, income reductions and rising hardship across the board. And among the sectors hardest hit will be artists, with the shutdowns making it increasingly difficult to gain exposure, to build an audience, and to generate income from their work.
That, of course, incorporates authors, and those seeking to promote their books to audiences.
I’ve written before about the already challenging environment for authors in Australia, with fewer literary events, fewer bookshops and fewer opportunities for exposure. More than compound these problems, COVID-19 has virtually eliminated these avenues entirely – which means that authors need to turn to online promotional methods to get the word out, and build buzz through digital means.
Now, that’s not impossible. I’ve also written a detailed guide for how authors can, for example, utilize social media platforms for promotion, which is one element that all artists need to consider. The problem is that it can take time to build social media traction – and while you can (and should) use ads on Facebook and Instagram to expand your reach and awareness, that’s not always so simple, with the complexities of ad targeting providing their own challenges.
But digital tools can work, and can offer great reach potential, if you know how to use them. To help, here are some quick tips for how authors can maximize their online presence and expand their audience reach.
Social Media Ads
Social media advertising is complex, and targeting the right people, on the right platforms, can take years of research and understanding in order to get it right. But it can, absolutely, work – and you should, absolutely, be considering it in the current environment.
So how can you reach the right people for your book?
A key option you should consider is Facebook’s Lookalike Audiences, and expanding your presence by reaching the exact right people who’ll be interested in what you do.
Facebook’s Lookalike Audiences cross-match your existing audience data with other people on Facebook who share similar traits. Through this, you can get your ads in front of people who may not be aware of you or your books, but who will likely be interested, based on their related habits.
And they can be very accurate – Facebook has a database od some 2.5 billion people, and for each of them it has a profile, which includes a list of everything they’ve engaged with, every Page they’ve followed, every Like they’ve ever given. With that insight, Facebook can provide very accurate audience matches – it’s not simply matching, say, someone who like British crime shows with books by Agatha Christie, it goes far deeper, and connects hundreds of correlating trends in order to hone in on those who are very likely to be interested in the same things.
So how can you use this?
Probably the best way to do this is to first create a Custom Audience in your Facebook ads options. You can find this in the ‘Audience’ section of your Ad Setup. Under ‘Create New Audience’, click on ‘Create New’, then ‘Custom Audience’. When you do that, you’ll be given a set of options – select ‘Facebook Page’ as your source for your Custom Audience info.
As you can see here, one of the options here is to create an audience of ‘Everyone who engaged with your Page’ with a time frame. This is significant, because for most people, a lot of their Facebook Page likes are from friends and family, and you don’t really want to target them. Targeting those people who’ve actually engaged with your posts is a better option – and if you’ve only just started talking about your new book, you can narrow down the time frame, further refining your audience.
From here, you can create an audience of people who’ve engaged with your Page, and you can then target these people, who’ve shown interest in your writing in the past, with Facebook ads about your new book.
But we want to expand beyond this – the next step, from here, is to go through the Lookalike Audience process. Lookalike Audiences are available via the same steps as a Custom Audience, but when you get to the set-up stage, you need to enter an existing, created audience to use as the basis. And you now have one, in the Custom Audience you just made of people who’ve engaged with your posts.
In the data source, select the name of the Custom Audience you just created, and use that as your basis for lookalike matching.
Now, Facebook will provide you with an audience of people who match the profiles of those who’ve already engaged with your content, and will likely be interested in what you do.
From here, you need to experiment and see what results you get, then double down on the results and hone in further. You can then look into more complex ad targeting options (Facebook Pixel, segmentation, etc.), but for starters, this will help to expand your audience on Facebook, and reach people who are increasingly likely to be interested in your books.
Think you’re too out of the loop to utilize Instagram Stories? Think again.
Stories are where Facebook sees social media interaction headed – in fact, Facebook has repeatedly noted that Stories are on track to overtake the main News Feed as the key engagement surface in its apps.
This chart was created in 2017 – Facebook hasn’t provided an updated listing, but you can see that Stories usage will likely overtake the News Feed, if it hasn’t already. And that’s definitely worth noting.
Stories are most popular on Instagram, where they get prime placement at the top of the app.
More than half of all Instagram users engage with Stories every day – and in Australia, that equates to more than 4.7 million Instagram Stories users, every day.
With that type of placement, and that type of reach, you need to consider how you can use Stories in your promotional efforts.
You can re-share Stories that mention your book, which is a good way to amplify word of mouth, while you can also create quick snapshots and updates which are non-intrusive, and easy for your audience to take in.
Of course, the only people who’ll see your Stories are those who already follow your Instagram profile, but you can promote your Instagram presence on other platforms in order to grow your audience, and direct people towards your Stories as a means to keep them updated.
Another good way to build your Stories audience is by doing Instagram Live streams. Instagram Live video streams are available in the same place as Stories, so by getting your audience to tune in, you’re also promoting your Instagram presence, and promoting your Stories at the same time.
If you haven’t considered Stories, you should – they have great reach, they’re simple, and there’s a heap of creative options to consider to make your Stories look great.
Virtual Book Launches
Another opportunity to think about is virtual book launches, and engaging your community via digital tools like live-streaming.
Author Lauren Chater recently launched her new book via Facebook Live, and while many have dismissed streaming, and indeed Facebook generally, as a less effective promotional vehicle for books, right now, with everyone stuck at home, it’s actually far more effective than you might expect.
Lauren’s stream had, on average, 100 concurrent viewers throughout, which is a solid audience for a book launch. And while Lauren won’t get the benefit of in-person engagement, and a multiple bookshop tour, Lauren’s digital launch showed that you can still effectively connect with an audience, without being physically present.
At the time of writing, Lauren’s launch video is up to 4.2k total views – which is an added benefit, you not only get that immediate audience who tune in when the video is live, but also repeat views over time. The video also has 339 comments, people who Lauren can respond to, and further build her audience. Not all of those viewers, of course, will end up buying the book – but if even a quarter of them do, that’s a solid start, and could help to kick-off a big word-of-mouth push.
These are just some of entry-level options you can consider for book promotion via online means. And while they won’t give you the immediate exposure to a reading audience that a literary festival appearance would, they each provide ways in which you can expand your audience, and give your books a push – even if you can’t leave your house to do it.
My heart – I thought it stopped. So I got in my car and headed for God. I passed two churches with cars parked in front. Then I stopped at the third because no one else had. It was early afternoon, the middle of the week. I chose a pew in the center of the rows. Episcopal or Methodist, it didn’t make any difference. It was as quiet as a church. I thought about the feeling of the long missed beat, and the tumble of the next ones as they rushed to fill the space. I sat there – in the high brace of quiet and stained glass – and I listened.
At the back of my house I can stand in the light from the sliding glass door and look out onto the deck. The deck is planted with marguerites and succulents in red clay pots. One of the pots is empty. It is shallow and broad, and filled with water like a birdbath.
My cat takes naps in the windowbox. Her gray chin is powdered with the iridescent dust from butterfly wings. If I tap on the glass, the cat will not look up. The sound that I make is not food.
When I was a girl I sneaked out at night. I pressed myself to hedges and fitted the shadows of trees. I went to a construction site near the lake. I took a concrete-mixing tub, slid it to the shore, and sat down inside it like a saucer. I would push off from the sand with one stolen oar and float, hearing nothing, for hours.
The birdbath is shaped like that tub.
I look at my nails in the harsh bathroom light. The scare will appear as a ripple at the base. It will take a couple of weeks to see.
I lock the door and run a tub of water.
Most of the time you don’t really hear it. A pulse is a thing that you feel. Even if you are somewhat quiet. Sometimes you hear it through the pillow at night. But I know that there is a place where you can hear it even better than that. Here is what you do. You ease yourself into a tub of water, you ease yourself down. You lie back and wait for the ripples to smooth away. Then you take a deep breath, and slide your head under, and listen for the playfulness of your heart.
From ‘Reasons to Live‘ by Amy Hempel
I sometimes wonder about the impact of writing on your mental health.
Not in a general sense – studies have shown that there are strong correlations between creative writing and mental health benefits, largely due to “cathartic expression of thoughts and feelings”.
I have little doubt that creative writing can be good for you mentally, but when you’re actually doing it, when you’re in the process of creating characters, and really getting into their heads, their motivations and logic, sometimes it can be a little overwhelming. And that can spill over into your day-to-day life.
I’ve noted this when I’m writing particularly tough characters or scenes, and forcing myself to try and understand and see things from their perspective. After I’ve finished my writing session for the day, I might feel down or angry, and for a moment, I’m not sure why, but I think it’s because of that delving, that shifting of your perspective into that of the character. It’s not a lingering feeling, it generally goes away again pretty quick. But I have wondered what it must be like for my wife, and for others who live alongside at times unintentionally moody writing types.
Vandermeer writes about how he struggles to concentrate on anything other than the story when he’s working, and that often impacts on his real-world perception:
“It’s as if my writing self has signed some contract with the outside world, allowing my everyday surroundings to be overtaken by the terroir of my novel. As a result of this contract, a lot of weird stuff happens and I’m able to transform it into fiction.”
Vandermeer further explains some of his surreal experiences, which all tie back into the themes of his novels, and can only, logically, be linked together by his brain trying to make sense of the various inputs and mashing them together. The experiences can make him feel paranoid and disoriented, which is similar to my own view – and when you’re writing about things like a father seeking revenge against the person who killed his son, and really trying to understand the true hurt and anger and pain of that perspective, that can, at times, be problematic.
I guess, the only thing you can do is to be aware of such – when you’re working on something, and you’re heavily, emotionally invested in the work, it’s likely going to have an impact on your perception. But it’s probably not your perspective that’s problematic, it’s seeing things through the characters’ eyes which alters your response.
Maybe take a moment to decompress when writing, shift out of that mode and dial it back. Do something simple to break away from it, and try to remain aware of your own perspective versus that of the character.
Or maybe it’s not everyone, I don’t know. But I certainly experience the overflow of character emotion into my real-life.
It’s incredibly frustrating that so many people seemingly fail to recognize the connection between arts and broader societal shifts.
Arts is often seen as an easy way out, a lazy career path. ‘Oh, you want to paint pictures and write stories – go get a real job’. And I get it, I understand the practical perspective that creative arts don’t directly impact anything of ‘real world’ significance. But that perspective is wrong, and that viewpoint fails to connect the dots between the messaging people consume and how that impacts their thinking – and how that then translates into more widespread social movements, enabling change.
I’ll give you some examples:
- In 1906, after reading Upton Sinclair’s novel ‘The Jungle’, which explored the horrendous working conditions or primarily immigrant labourers in Chicago’s meat-packing industry, US President Theodore Roosevelt commissioned an investigation into the sector. That initial action paved the way for the current Food and Drug Administration, upholding standards in the industry.
- In a more modern example – in 2014, researchers found that adults who’d read the Harry Potter series as kids were significantly less likely to be prejudiced toward minority groups
- An even more modern example – just this week, Oklahoma leaders announced that the state will embed the story of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre into the curriculum of all Oklahoma schools, following the inclusion of the real-life event in the recent TV expansion of Watchmen.
These are works of fiction that have inspired real change – real-world impacts as a result of creative arts. It’s not always obvious, but the art that people consume, that people connect with, it can change their perspective. And on a broad enough scale, that can literally change the world.
That’s why it’s so disappointing to see the current Australian government reduce the focus on arts and cut arts funding, why it’s so disheartening to see literature getting less and less focus at our major writers’ festivals and events. Those shifts, in large part, are driven by commercial realities, which govern priority based on financial return. And I get that, I understand the business logic – but what we’re potentially losing by reducing the focus on arts is likely more significant than any spreadsheet would suggest.
That’s why we need more arts funding, why we need to support art where we can, and encourage exploration of creative elements. Because that’s how we grow, how we advance. Maybe you don’t see it, initially, but arts provide perspective, like nothing else can.
That doesn’t mean that every book has to have an overt political meaning, but what we need is perspective. From all different people, in different art forms. The capacity to see things through someone else’s eyes is world-changing, and nothing facilitates this like art.
That’s why arts funding is important, and supporting local arts groups is key.
Think about this when you see a local event on, or a new book from a local author. Think about it, too, when you go to vote.
Your support is key to maintaining our cultural foundations, which is what so much of what we now take for granted is built upon.
So, there seems to be quite a few questions from authors around how to best utilize social media for book marketing. And there’s a lot to it – to provide some extra help on this front, I’ve expanded on my recent posts on Facebook and Twitter tips and put them into a downloadable PDF, if anyone needs.
Through my day job as content and social media marketing manager for leading social media news website Social Media Today, I’ve provided insights, training and consulting to a range of companies in order to help them formulate more effective social media marketing strategies, while I also regularly appear on ABC local and Radio National programs to discuss the latest social media updates and shifts.
And while the presentation here is fairly basic (I’m no designer), the notes provided will put you on the right track to maximizing Facebook and Twitter for book promotion.
Feel free to share with anyone who needs:
I began an interesting project recently in writing a book series for my 9 year-old son.
So, for context – my son is at the age where he’s just starting to get into reading, and the books he’s into are the ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ books, the Minecraft-themed variation of the same (‘Diary of a Minecraft Zombie’), and things like the ‘Treehouse’ series by Andy Griffiths.
I read through a few of these books and… well, I wasn’t overly impressed.
A page from Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Of course, my opinion is largely irrelevant here – I’m clearly not the target market, and all of these books have sold millions of copies. The fact that I don’t think they’re that great is neither here nor there, but I do feel like we have more responsibility, as writers, to give our kids a bit more than one-liner jokes and random sequences of events which seem to be unplanned and directionless, and not indicative of literary structure in any way.
But, so the counter-argument goes, that’s what kids read. You need to spark their interest in books somehow, and if that means a few books worth of diary entries as narrative, then so be it. Publishers love it, readers love it, authors get paid, all good. Right?
Well, kind of.
My view here is that while this might get kids reading, it’s still maybe not the best approach.
I mean, my kids will eat McDonald’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner if I let them, but it’s my responsibility to teach them healthy eating habits. Kids might read crude jokes, but it’s not really demonstrating what literature can provide.
And while I do realize that there are better options out there for kids, which do address such concerns, I wondered whether I could do it – could I create an engaging, immersive narrative for my son, which would also showcase more literary sensibilities, along with ties to real-world concerns?
It’s pretty ambitious, but here’s how I approached it.
First, I leaned on my understanding of the Disney story structure. Having two young kids, I’ve obviously got pretty recent memory of all the latest kids movies, and I know, from reading Christopher Vogler, a former story consultant at Disney, how Disney, in particular, applies the principles of The Hero’s Journey to its films. Having that basic understanding is fairly informative, as the same basic elements apply to every screenplay aimed at younger audiences. So I understand the progression, and the emphasis on pace that’s required to hook and hold younger audiences. Applying it is another thing, but seems like a reasonable starting point.
Next, I read a heap of kids’ books. Some just in sections to get the voice and pace, some in full, to understand the whole scope. It’s a crash course, I wouldn’t claim to be an expert in kids lit by any stretch, but again, it’s just to get an idea, a flow. A sense of the presentation style that appeals.
I then mapped out a story over three books. Most kids’ book series go for longer, but I felt like three was a good starting point. 20k words per book, three parts, that’ll test my capacity to hold his interest.
Then I set out to write.
The story – which I think probably reads better than I’ll describe it – is about a young boy who discovers that his mother and absent father are shapeshifters, which is actually part of human evolution that humans have moved away from over time. The concept is that humans evolved from fish, then settled into human form – but actually, we were supposed to keep evolving and develop the capacity to shapeshift as required, which would then better connect us to the wider world and everything within it. Some humans retained this capacity, but they’ve had to hide it due to fear of being targeted, captured, experimented on, etc. The main character’s mother didn’t want those concerns for her son, so she left his father and ran away, and she never told her son about it. But now the boy’s father has tracked them down, which is where the story begins.
It’s been interesting to note my son’s reception to the story. The first book seemed to go pretty well – he was excited to have a story written just for him, and he was engaged, and able to reiterate the scenes and key elements back to me. So it was a success, at least in early implementation.
The second book didn’t go as well. With the next one, I tried to add a bit more complexity, utilizing abstract thought and character self-reflection. I think I might have tried to be a bit too clever, because when I asked if he’d read it, he started avoiding an answer, before eventually admitting that he got bored with it and stopped. Which is annoying, and cutting, even from a child, but as I say, I think I tried to get a bit more in-depth and slowed the pace down a little too much.
The third book introduces internal reflection by the characters, integrated directly into the narrative, but I’ve tried to maintain the pace, and focus on movement more specifically. I haven’t finished it yet, but I’m confident that this one will hold his attention.
But who knows? I guess this is one of the challenges of writing for a younger audience, no one knows for sure what will work – which, by extension, probably means that when you do figure out what engages them, it’s best to keep doing that
Maybe that’s why we have so many snackable books for kids, and maybe the ends do justify the means, in the sense that they’re at least getting kids reading.
It’s interesting to consider, and I wonder what the longer-term reading habits are for kids who start on these types of books.
But, essentially, what I’m saying is kids are tough, and writing for them is a skill within itself. Also, they’re mean – they’ll tell you what they think straight up.
If you’re interested, here’s the first book in the series (below) which you can download and read for yourself. Yeah, I’m not sure about the title either – you’ll note that all my novels have one-word titles. It’s not my strong suit.
Hopefully, the third book will hit the mark with my son.
Given that my day job is head of content for Social Media Today, meaning that I essentially get paid to analyze and write about social media and digital marketing trends, I often get asked by fellow authors about the best ways to use social media for promotion.
And the answer is that it’s not easy – social media is not a quick-fix that will suddenly get you millions of fans overnight. But it can be hugely valuable, and increasingly so, given the rising use of social platforms, particularly in terms of product recommendations and discovery.
No matter how you look at it, you kind of have to do it, at least in some form. Realistically, most of us are still working to establish a fan base, and we need all the help we can get – and social media can definitely be a help in this respect.
So, in a previous post, I went over how authors can utilise Twitter for book promotion – and that seems like a lot of work, right?
But you don’t need to bother with Twitter, it’s only got a fraction of the users that Facebook has – everyone and their dog (literally in some cases) has a Facebook profile.
Facebook is where it’s at, where authors should really focus their promotional efforts. Right?
Well, kind of, depending on how you look at it – and really, what works best for your audience.
And that’s an important distinction – it doesn’t matter which platforms you might like more or less, it’s where your audience is at that you need to be.
So how can authors make best use of Facebook? Here are some pointers.
1. Create a Facebook business profile
First off, you can’t be using your personal profile for book promo.
Your personal profile is where you share updates with your family and friends, where your personal connections can link up with you. You don’t want to mix up your book fans and personal connections.
You also need a business profile to run Facebook ads, which, as we’ll cover, you’ll probably want to do at some stage.
Facebook business profiles are where you can showcase yourself as a writer, and if you’re seriously looking to promote your work on the platform, you need one, bottom line.
Select ‘Community or Public Figure’, then enter your name and your category (‘Author’) and you’ll be on your way.
Note: You’ll also need to set a Facebook Page URL name at some stage (i.e. https://www.facebook.com/andrewhutchinsonauthor/), or Facebook will just give you a generic one. This is not a huge deal, but it can make your Page easier to find – and it looks better.
You can edit your Page name in the ‘About’ section at the left of your Page screen.
2. Share updates that relate to your writing life
What I mean by this is, don’t share the same updates on your business page as you would on your personal profile.
Your readers, and target readers, don’t care about your cute cat or your holiday snaps – unless, of course, they directly relate to your work. Keep it confined to your book-related news, and create specific posts for your Facebook Page. Don’t cross-post. Each platform is very different. Create unique updates, related to writing, for your Facebook Page.
Tim Winton is a good example of this.
Tim shares content related to his work, articles he’s written, publishing news – basically, nothing’s off-topic, and that’s important, because it will ensure that those who do follow your writing page get updates about your writing, which is what they’re following you for.
3. Don’t overpost
One of the key rules to stick to on Facebook is ‘don’t overpost’.
Your fans are following your Page to keep in touch with your latest news, but they don’t need ten updates a day cluttering their feeds.
As noted earlier, people generally use Facebook to stay in touch with friends and family – along with some brands and celebrities in between. Go overboard, and you’ll run the risk of them unfollowing – and what’s more, you really don’t need to post too much.
Sure, you want to maintain activity, and ensure that you stay front of mind with potential readers. But you’re not releasing a new book every day, there’s no urgent need to keep them informed of every single thing in order to guide them towards the local book store.
For most authors, Facebook is about maintaining connection with your readers, as opposed to hard selling. Keep them updated with a consistent stream of news, but don’t overdo it.
Matthew Reilly is a good example of this.
Reilly has over 61k Facebook followers, and he regularly sees high engagement on his posts. Of course, Matt benefits from his established fan base, which you likely don’t have, but his approach to Facebook is consistent, measured and about right for maintaining connection with his fans (note too that he also recently launched a new YouTube channel, showing that even the big players need to maintain activity, and move with the times. If you are going to record video content, however, it’s better to upload it to each platform direct for optimal performance, as opposed to linking off to another platform, as Matt has done here).
Matt posts to his Facebook Page once per week, in general, ramping that up around book launch dates/events. That’s a pretty solid guideline to follow – and that’ll still give you plenty of time to, you know, write stuff, as opposed to spending your days maintaining your social streams.
Also, a few notes here on Facebook’s mysterious algorithm.
Whenever you’re talking about Facebook posting practices, someone always arcs up with their sudden advanced PhD in machine learning, and starts talking about how Facebook’s algorithm works and defines reach.
There are a lot of misconceptions here, but the key pointers you probably need are:
- While you shouldn’t overpost, every one of your followers won’t see every one of your posts anyway. Facebook’s algorithm will show your posts to a selection of people who follow your Page, and then, if they engage with it, it’ll show more. The system is built to maximize engagement, so if your posts are generating likes and comments, more people will see them. This means that sparking engagement with your updates is important, but not more important than maintaining connection to your author brand (i.e. posting relevant stuff).
- This also means that, theoretically, you can post more often, as it’s not like you’re going to flood your audience anyway. I would advise against this, but you could post several times a day and it wouldn’t necessarily be a major problem – though it probably won’t help much either.
- The performance of your past posts does relate to your future updates – so if you have a post that goes viral, your next post after that will subsequently also see a reach boost. Some try to utilise this by posting trending memes and inspirational quotes that will generate likes, even if they aren’t related to their broader branding goals. Facebook knows that people do this, and its system will correct for it if detected. It also clutters up your Page, turns off real fans, and even if it does expand your reach, it likely won’t help you connect with people who will actually purchase your books. So, you can try this, but a longer-term, consistent approach will, eventually, lead to better results.
- There’s a rumour that Facebook’s algorithm gives a reach boost to posts which include words like ‘engagement’, ‘married’, ‘new job’, ‘big news’, ‘baby’ and various others. This is – or at least was – true, but it’s also not likely to be a major help (Facebook reportedly implemented this after CEO Mark Zuckerberg complained that he missed a post from a friend who’d had a baby).
- Hashtags don’t really work on Facebook, which is another reason why you shouldn’t cross-post from other platforms.
- Recency is an algorithm consideration, so it’s worth keeping an eye on your analytics and checking when your audience is active. Post when more people are online, and theoretically, more of them will see it – but it is also worth noting that many brands have also seen good results when they post in quieter times, as there are fewer updates in the stream vying for attention
Basically, Facebook wants to keep people on-site as long as possible, and it does so by showing people more of the content that they’re interested in. Post what people want to see and you’ll be on the right track – but even more than that, post what people who buy your books want to see and you’ll work towards establishing a stronger platform for promotion.
4. Use Audience Insights
Not everyone knows about Facebook’s Audience Insights, which is terrible because Facebook can connect you with so much helpful info, if you know where to look.
If you have a Facebook Page, and you go to this link, you’ll be able to access Audience Insights, which will show you who the fans of your Page are – where they live, how old they are, and other demographic insights.
That’s helpful, but if you’re just starting out, you’re likely looking at an audience of your friends and family, not necessarily your target, book-buying audience.
But here’s where it gets interesting – along with your own page, you can also look up other interests on Facebook, including other authors. And along with demographic insights, it’ll also show you what other things their fans are interested in.
So if I look up an author who I like, whose readers I think might also like my stuff, I can check out what interests them, giving me a better profile of my target book market.
As you can see here, I’ve created a new audience of fans of American author Chuck Palahniuk, limited to those within Australia. Now I can see what other Pages Palahniuk fans like, and based on this, I could post more content that ties into these interest areas in order to boost my potential appeal, or I could use them in my ad targeting, which, given Facebook’s advanced targeting options, I’m probably going to use around launch time.
Which is the next point:
5. Use Facebook ads
I know. I know you don’t want to spend a heap.
I get it – we’re authors, and the majority of us are not raking in the cash from out fat royalty checks and movie deals.
I know you don’t have a heap to spend on promo, but given the advanced audience targeting options available, and unmatched potential reach, Facebook ads can be a great option.
As noted in the previous point, you can target your ads to fans of authors whose work is similar to yours, or around common interests that you find among their fans.
As you can see here, for this (mock) campaign, I’m targeting an audience of people who are interested in movies and TV shows which I think are kind of similar to the themes of my novel ONE. You’ll also note that I’ve also excluded people who are interested in book genres that are not related to what I write.
You should opt for in-feed ads – no one checks those right-rail updates – and if you have a visual ad, you can also include Instagram Stories placement (though I would advise that you create specific campaigns for each platform).
It’s not an exact science, and you should probably run a couple of ad variations to see what works best. You can then stop the ones that don’t produce (after, say, a week) and re-allocate your budget to those that are gaining traction.
You should also optimize for awareness where possible, as you want to make as many people as possible aware of your book, as opposed to driving viewers back to a landing page, as such.
Use a page on your website, or your publishers’, and see what results you get. It may be hard to accurately measure, as you won’t know whether seeing your ad results in a subsequent book store visit. But with fewer bookshops, and fewer festivals and media opportunities, awareness is key.
Facebook ads can be great for this.
6. Get More Page Fans
But hang on, I hear you say, all of these tips relate to functionally operating a Facebook Page, but if you don’t have any followers, you’re talking to no one.
So how do you build your audience in order to maximize engagement?
Getting more people to Like your Page takes work, but here are a couple of options you could consider, depending on how hard you want to push your promotions.
- First, you’re going to get your family and friends to Like your Page, which will give you a starting point. This is not always ideal, because your family and friends are likely not your ideal target, book-buying audience (which can skew your Page data), but you can prompt them to share with friends, which will give you a base to work from. And either way, they’re going to Like your Page anyway. Best to try and use it to advantage
- If you have an email list, send out a link to your Facebook Page, or if you’re in any writers’ groups, clubs, organizations and they have an email newsletter, maybe query them to see if they might be able to include a link
- Share the link to your Facebook Page on your other social media profiles if you have them
- Make a list of Facebook book groups that might be interested in your book, then contact the admins offering to do a Q and A or similar event. You won’t hear back from all of them, but it may be another avenue to boost promotion, particularly around launch date (note that around half of all Facebook users are active in at least one Facebook group)
- You could consider running a giveaway to help promote your book. There are specific rules around Facebook giveaways, but you are allowed to ask people to Like your Page to enter a competition, which could be another way to boost your following.
- Blogging and guest-blogging are additional ways in which you can help get the word out, and make more people aware of your broader online presence.
- It’s worth leaning on writer friends to ask them to Like or share your Facebook Page, particularly if they’re established, as that will help get your name in front of more readers.
- Add social media buttons to your website, so people can easily find your related profiles.
- If you post a picture from an event, make sure you tag the host and any other authors in the image, which can lead to re-shares and more exposure.
- Visuals are important. Still image posts perform better than basic text updates on Facebook, while videos can generate a heap of engagement. As such, a video preview of some kind could be worth the investment, while Facebook Live Q and A sessions are another thing to consider
- Quizzes and polls also generate engagement and can be tied into the key themes of your book
- Tara Moss shares some great visual posts, if you were looking for examples, while she also uses the slideshow option for her Facebook Page background image, enabling her to showcase more of her work. This is a good option – but if/when you do update your profile images, keep your phone handy so you can ensure that it looks good on mobile and desktop devices
- Also, ensure all your profile details are filled out, and that you have the ‘Author’ Page category selected (this will help interested people find your Page)
That’s the basics of an effective author presence on Facebook. There are, of course, other elements you could consider – like Facebook Stories – but as a jumping-off point, this outline should position you to help build an engaging, effective presence to help you maintain connection with more readers.
I came across this tweet recently, which captures a common frustration for authors on Twitter:
Here’s the challenge:
Tweet a picture of cat wearing a tuxedo: 5,875 likes, 159 RTs, and 3,545 comments.
Tweet about the book you spent years writing: 2 likes, 0 RTs, and 1 comment (from a sexbot).
How do we fix this?
— chad (@writingiswar) January 19, 2020
I actually get asked about this quite a lot – my day job is head of content for Social Media Today, so I essentially get paid to analyze and write about social media and digital marketing trends. Combine that with the fact that I’m an author and logically, I should know how to make best use of Twitter for authors and book promotion, right?
And I do, but what I normally add to this when I do respond to such questions is ‘but you’re not gonna’ want to hear it.’
Why is that? Because it takes time, it takes effort – time and effort that writers would generally rather be expending on, you know, their actual writing projects.
The truth is, if you want to utilize Twitter as a promotional tool for your books, then you have to first build your platform, and earn the right to pitch your latest work to a receptive Twitter audience.
How do you do that? Here’s an overview of a few options you could consider.
1. Build a Platform Around an Issue
Now, to clarify, building a ‘platform’ in this context relates to establishing a following of people who are interested in what you do – and ideally, what you write about. If you can establish yourself as an authority or leading voice within a certain niche, then people will seek more information on that topic from you, and in that way, you can utilize Twitter as a promotional tool because your audience is interested in the topic and what you have to say about it.
To do this, you need to get involved in the conversation. Let’s say you write about climate change in your work – you would start by following the relevant leaders in that field and engaging with them, and within the replies on their tweets, wherever was relevant. That, over time, will get your name in front of other people who are interested in the same – so you’re gaining exposure to a group of Twitter users who are interested in that topic.
The more you can get involved and build your profile – through tweet engagement, sharing your own posts, sharing others’ relevant content, etc. – the more you’ll become known in that niche, so when you do publish your book, which relates to climate change, the audience that you’ve established will now be more likely to engage with it.
Author Clementine Ford is a good example of this – Clem writes about gender equality and feminism, and sees a lot of engagement on her tweets as a result, including her book announcements.
Attn parents and school librarians! .
I’ve been waiting to announce this for AGES. I am so thrilled to announce that I’ve just signed a contract with my darling publisher @allenandunwin… https://t.co/gvLNoQhPhL
— Clementine Ford 🧟♀️ (@clementine_ford) March 22, 2019
Clem has built a Twitter audience of more than 132k followers, and while not every single one of her tweets is about her focus subjects, more than 90% of them are, and combined with her newspaper articles and media appearances discussing the same, Clem has built an audience which knows what they’ll get, and will therefore be a likely market for her books.
But this approach does get a little murky for fiction authors, whose body of work is likely not dedicated to a few key subject areas.
As an example, author Alice Bishop released a collection of short stories last year which looks at the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria – Bishop lived in one of the bushfire hit regions, so has first-hand insight on the destruction.
slightly terrified but also excited (!): join me at @ReadingsBooks carlton tonight (6.30pm start) for the official launch of A CONSTANT HUM.
— Alice Bishop (@BishopAlice) July 12, 2019
Alice hadn’t established herself as an authority on bushfires beforehand (which, as a fiction author, wasn’t her aim), but over time, she has been able to build more of an audience on Twitter based on bushfire coverage – sharing articles about the most recent fires, engaging with people from impacted communities via tweet, gaining a following as a someone who writes about fires and their aftermath.
Focusing on a subject has arguably helped Alice build a more engaged audience on Twitter, but that same audience likely won’t be as beneficial if Alice’s next book isn’t related to the same.
In this sense, topicality can help in your promotion efforts, but it’s also likely too confining for fiction authors, who switch topics significantly from one publication to the next. If you dedicate yourself to one key area, it will definitely bring promotional value on Twitter over time, through establishing yourself as an expert in that arena. But this may not be an effective approach for novelists.
Consequently, this is also a problem I see with modern publishing approach to the same, where they seek a topical angle on your work, as opposed to focusing on the story and writing itself. For one, it feels like, over time, literature is merging too much into activism, which can alienate a large audience subset (people are already inundated with politics in their social media feeds every day – the last thing they want is to be preached to in their recreational reading habits). For another, and as noted, it pigeonholes writers into certain topic streams.
But then again, in order to get press coverage, and maximize promotional value, maybe they need a topical angle to pique the interest of relevant editors.
Regardless, if your writing regularly covers a specific focus area like this, this is one way in which you can use Twitter to establish yourself. And once you’ve built an audience of people engaged in the subject, they’ll also likely be interested in your books.
2. Build a Platform within the Writing Community
But what if you don’t write about a specific topic? Another approach you could take is to build a platform within the Twitter writing community, which can connect you to other people who are interested in writing – and by extension, readers who are interested in their work.
To clarify, this doesn’t mean that you should connect to every writer you can and blindly re-tweet each others’ latest book news. Doing this will likely see you end up talking amongst yourselves, and promoting your latest books to no one other than other writers, who are not your target audience. It can be great, and beneficial, to connect with other writers on Twitter for advice, support, etc. But in a promotional sense, it likely won’t help you a heap.
This is where you need to differentiate your purpose for Twitter use, and consider the audience that you ultimately need to reach.
Building a platform within the writing community for promotion more relates to connecting with other authors, with a broader view to utilizing those connections in order to reach more potential readers – i.e. their audience of readers who are already following them.
But this takes a lot of time and effort – Angela Meyer is a good example of this.
The launch of #ASuperiorSpectre @ReadingsBooks on Thu was absolutely glorious. Thank you to EVERYONE who came ❤️ Special thanks to @justine_hyde for her beautiful launch speech & to @thebooksdesk for flying from Germany! A few pix w pals 🔽 @ventura_press pic.twitter.com/wtr4yoI9f6
— Angela Meyer (@LiteraryMinded) August 12, 2018
Angela has spent literally decades building her profile within the literary sector, first starting as a book blogger, then as a publisher, before finally becoming an author herself. Through all of this, Angela has established connection with a heap of authors and publishing types, who themselves have their own followings of interested readers. When Angela does tweet about a book launch, many of the people who re-tweet it are established authors and publishing folk.
That gives Angela not only reach to writers, but importantly, reach to more readers – but again, Angela has built that platform through years of work, establishing a network on Twitter of people who are now willing to advocate on her behalf.
Angela does also share content around gender identification, which is an element explored in her work, so she also uses topicality to broaden her platform. But an argument can be made that by establishing stronger ties within the literary community, you’ll stand a better chance of utilizing Twitter for promotion.
See also podcasters like Kate Mildenhall and Katherine Collette, who both see higher engagement on their tweets as a result of their established identities within the writing community, and subsequent connection to high profile authors who will be more likely to help them with re-shares and distribution on their announcements.
‘But isn’t that just authors sharing with each other, which you just said isn’t effective?’
Kind of, but in this way, you’re utilizing bigger name authors, those who already have established followings of willing readers. Now, you’re not only getting exposure to other authors, but importantly, the book-buying public.
It’s also worth noting here that with Twitter working to show more users tweets that they may be interested in, even Likes can have the same effect as re-tweets. Twitter’s algorithm will display a selection of tweets liked by people you follow in you in your feed – so even if you can get a prominent person in your field to simply like one of your tweets, there’s a greater chance of exposure to a reading audience.
3. Build a Platform Within Your Niche
Focusing on a single topic area can be restrictive, and building momentum for a podcast or similar in order to establish a place within the mainstream lit community takes time.
So what are your other options?
Establishing an audience within a specific niche, related to your work, is another way to maximize Twitter for promotion – though again, it doesn’t come easy.
In this way, you could tweet about things that interest you in, say, the horror genre in order to establish connection with like-minded users. You could share Hollywood news, posts about the horror writing process, engage with the community around the latest content. And through this, ideally, you can build your profile among people who will eventually also be interested in your stuff.
Author Maria Lewis is a good example of this:
Cover reveal time…my FIFTH book The Wailing Woman is coming out this November. It follows a teenage banshee as she navigates the prickly supernatural world of Sydney, Australia https://t.co/a7KCm28Gpj pic.twitter.com/wivrnRti9V
— Maria Lewis (@moviemazz) June 18, 2019
Through her tweets, Lewis shares her interests in film, literature and the arts more broadly, which largely relate to the themes of her own books. Really, Lewis uses a combination of all three of these approaches – her books touch on topical issues, she hosts a podcast (and has previously been a host on SBS TV), and she shares a consistent tweet stream of the things that she’s interested in, further connecting her with like-minded Twitter users.
But again, this didn’t happen overnight. Lewis has also worked for years to establish herself as a commentator, through her work as a journalist and presenter, and she’s now earned an audience of like-minded fans who engage with her tweets.
But it is another approach – if you write in a specific genre, you can use your tweets to connect with readers who are interested in the same.
And the more you can build your brand, tweet-by-tweet, the more you’ll be able to connect with an audience that will be increasingly receptive to your own content.
4. Just Don’t Worry About it
So, all of these approaches take a lot of work – but it also worth noting that you don’t have to use Twitter as a promotional vehicle.
Many successful authors don’t even have a Twitter presence – or some, like American author Jesse Ball, just share random images or cryptic messages for fans.
Many authors also just share what they like, regardless of themes or ideas, and still do fine. While you can use Twitter as a means to promote your work, it’s not essential – but if you are getting frustrated, as with the example at the top of this post, with the lack of traction for your book tweets, it’s worth considering how those who do see significant engagement on their book tweets have worked to establish their presence.
‘So why don’t you do this?’
Yeah, I don’t personally tweet along thematic lines, or even along book-specific lines more broadly. That, in my case, is due to conflicting professional interests – I’m the head writer for Social Media Today, which is where the vast majority of my Twitter followers have come from, so if I share more fiction-related content, it likely won’t get a heap of traction. As outlined in the examples above, I haven’t established a platform for book promotion specifically, and because I’m in between these two worlds, I don’t personally make Twitter a huge focus – though I do use it to connect with other authors, which I find hugely beneficial.
In terms of other pointers, I would add these tips, based on examples I’ve seen:
- Don’t just re-tweet – ever – Well, maybe not ever, but if you’re looking to establish yourself in a specific area, you need to be including your opinion when you share things. Blank re-tweets likely won’t help improve your tweet engagement (as your followers will be getting these in their feed with no context) and won’t further establish you as a person of interest in that field. Better to share with your own thoughts included. A notable exception to this is if the tweet is about you/your work – if a high profile person says your book is great, then you re-tweet that for sure, as this does work to further underline your brand through external endorsement.
- Follow-for-follow is outdated – Yes, you want to have lots of followers, but followers who are just doing so in order to boost their own audience counts won’t engage with your tweets – and won’t buy your books.
- Don’t follow trends – Sure, tweeting a cute cat picture or an inspirational quote might inflate your tweet metrics, but will it help connect you with people who are actually going to buy your book? Making a funny video might get more engagement – but if it’s not actively working towards building your presence in your key area of interest, and linking you through to that audience, it’s probably not really helping. Sharing insights into your personal life is fine, but keep in mind your broader strategic focus – if indeed you are aiming to use Twitter for max promotional value.
- It’s not the algorithm – Some have suggested that it may be worth sharing some high-engagement tweets, even if they’re off-topic, in order to ingratiate yourself with Twitter’s algorithm. That way, the theory goes, when you share your subsequent promo tweets, you’ll get more reach. That’s not really a relevant consideration on Twitter – on Facebook it is, to a degree, but Twitter’s algorithm is more aligned to each individual tweet, and any reach boost you might achieve is likely not worth the effort (worth noting, too, that Twitter is working to better align itself around topics, further lessening any such impact).
As always, some will read this and respond with ambivalence. ‘But I like re-tweeting book launch info and connecting with fellow authors, and that works for me’. And that’s fine, if you’re happy doing what you do, then all good. But let’s face it, if you were truly satisfied with the results you’re seeing, you wouldn’t be reading this.
The bottom line is that there are ways to utilize Twitter to promote your work, but the pathway to true success is not easy. If you’re looking for a quick fix, a quick-hitting way to get the message out about your latest work, Twitter probably isn’t the best option.
Twitter is a brand-building platform, and as such, you need to take the time to build the right audience, those who will eventually be receptive to your promotional messaging.