Yeah, I haven’t written anything here for a while.
Because, you know, there’s a pandemic happening, and things are strange and uncertain. And for the most part, things feel kind of paused, frozen in a stasis of some kind, as we all wait for what comes next.
Within that, it hasn’t felt like the ideal time to write, even though we have more time for such, given we can’t do much else.
It all feels a little like watching static on a TV screen. Things are happening, but nothing really is. Nothing really seems to change.
But I am still working different things, and recently, I took a shot at entering the Griffith Novella Competition for 2020.
I didn’t win, which is fine – the calibre of entries is no doubt high, and my story wasn’t essentially written for the distinct theme of theme of the competition. But I had a shot at it with a story in which I tried to capture a part of what it felt like growing up in regional Victoria in the early nineties.
That story, titled ‘Argonaut’, is just going to sit on my hard drive gathering virtual dust, so I figured I’d post it here.
If you’re looking for something to read, or you’re, for some reason, interested in what it felt like growing up in Kinglake (before the 2009 bushfires), feel free to take a look – and if you have any thoughts/comments, let me know.
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Over the last month or so, I’ve been working on converting one of my unpublished manuscripts into a screenplay, both as a means of providing an alternate path to some form of publication (given shrinking opportunities in publishing, with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.