Nathan Bransford, Author

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Can I Get a Ruling: Does Social Media Help Sell Books?

I've noticed what appears to be a percolating trend out there on the Internet: fatigue with social media. From people letting their blogs slide to celebrities quitting Twitter to an entire university taking a week off, it seems like quite a few people out there are needing a break from the web.

Though, I suppose if you're taking a break from the Internet it means you're not reading this right now. Conundrum. WHAT IF I YELL OUT LOUD CAN YOU HEAR ME??!!

Anyway, according to my completely unscientific Pulse-of-the-Internet-Meter (patent pending I'll sell it to you for seven billion dollars), it seems that a lot of people out there are having a collective "Wait, why am I doing this again?" moment when it comes to social media. So I thought I'd circle that back to books and a recent topic in the Forums:

Does social media work? Does it help sell books? Have you bought books because you heard of them through social media? Or do you simply follow the people whose books you're already familiar with? Do you think the time spent is worthwhile or is it a glorified time-waster? Are certain activities more productive than others?

Poll below. If you're reading via e-mail or an RSS feed you'll need to click through to see it.


agirlandaboy said...

I tweeted about a book review I did on my blog, and in the last three hours three people have told me they ordered the book. That's social media at work.

(It makes a difference, I think, whether the promotion is coming from a trusted individual versus a company promoting its own product, though. I can't speak to how well the latter is using social media.)

Douglas Morrison said...

I think it's the number of social media "got to be there" sites. Blog, facebook, twitter, etc... When it becomes more like work than fun, taking a step back is a logical evolution.

JohnO said...

Yes, unequivocally, social media helps sell books. I've bought and read at least a half-dozen books as a result of following authors on Twitter. Plus, sites like Goodreads are book-devoted social media sites, and I've built out my to-be-read list on the basis of interesting books my friends have recommended.

I think we've gone through the honeymoon phase with social media -- just like being "green," it's currently passé. However (also like being environmentally conscious, I hope), people will eventually find a comfort level.

That said, I doubt social media is going to help you sell a very noticeable number of books, unless you have a mammoth social media platform -- like @shitmydadsays, which has almost 1.7 million followers.

Deniz Kuypers said...

I get an average of about 30-40 people who visit my site every day. This may not be much, but over the course of a year it adds up to about 10,000 visitors -- and that's a heck of a lot more readers than if I circulated my writing only among my close friends.

I try not to spend too much time blogging, because ultimately my main focus should be on my novel writing (I write YA). But it's very gratifying to be in (virtual) contact with the rest of the world and to get good feedback when writing is otherwise such a lonely business.

Candyland said...

IT's a fine between using social media to your advantage and overkill.

T.N. Tobias said...

It's all about the signal to noise ratio. When everyone is screaming to be heard, all we get is noise. That said, if I hear from someone I trust that something is good, I'll check it out no matter where I heard about it.

I drive traffic to my site through twitter. I know of people who are selling books from people getting to know them on twitter. I know I've read things from people I wouldn't have known about if they weren't out there being part of the community.

Mandy Hubbard said...

Well, leaving out the obvious (John Green, I'm looking at you) its difficult to know whether you're getting an equal trade-- if all the work would have been better spent elsewhere.

That said, I do hear from people pretty frequently who "met" me via Facebook or twitter and went on to purchase my books.

most interesting, I think, is not when the author is 'selling' the books by being there, but seeing readers tweet/facebook about a book they are reading and seeing their friends pick up the book(s).

It's Word of Mouth 2.0

Stu Pitt said...

Just an awful practice, hawking a book or bookish dreams online. Have a little humility.

Wouldn't it be much more rewarding to have readers find your work by themselves, rather than corralling them like cattle?

Social media has turned into obnoxious billboards.

Juice in LA said...

I have a self published friend who has had great success with her social media work. The key is that she interacts through the social media- and connects with people. If you are willing to do the work, the readers (and buyers) will come!

Christine Macdonald said...

I can tell you that I was invited to read in New York as a direct result of Twitter - and I am still writing my manuscript. I do not have an agent - yet.

I agree that the talent must be there, but as us non-celebritites (I'm guessing) write away, why not use all the resources out there?

Anonymous said...

Nice! And here I thought I was the only person in the world sick of social media. I suppose if I had been following some of those celebrities on twitter, or had fanned them on facebook, then I would have known sooner that I wasn't the only one...waitaminnut...

Mira said...

Excellent topic - I'm so glad that you posted this. I'm really curious to see what people say.

I still don't know what to think, but I have a bunch of random thoughts about this.

Kiersten White is such a good example to discuss (I hope she doesn't mind!) Kiersten has a vivacious internet presence, which has lead to popularity on the net, and I imagine that helped her book debut on the NY Times list.

But on the other hand, she's a terrible example, because I just read her book and it's terrific. I love YA, and her book is fun, fast-paced, smoothly written and rather sexy. (Which means my ultimate conclusion is I want Keirsten to stop blogging and spend all her time writing because I want to read her next book.)

So, the reason she is now a terrible example is because her book would sell itself.

On the other hand, she's a good example, because I wouldn't have known about her book if I didn't hear about it on the net.

Then there are the concerns that not everyone is Kiersten White (I'm not)and not everyone can have a vivacious internet presence (I can't).

This is important, because I believe the absolutely worst thing you can do to any writer is to get them to be non-authentic. If you really want to kill someone's creative voice, tell them to fake pretend who they are all day long. I could be wrong about this, but I don't think so.

I also dislike intensely the maniuplative aspects of making friends in order to sell books. I hope no one ever does that to me!!! Becomes my friend so I'll buy their book - awful. That's sort of horrifying.

And the other part of social networking that I dislike is that huge amount of time it takes away from writing. And I sometimes think social networking is just the old referral system re-visited.

Also, having a platform is still a very important thing. Your book, for example, Nathan, will sell well in part from social networking, but mostly from having a powerful platform. BUT. Partly it's social networking too.

What we really need is hard data. We need data to find out if it works or not. Anectodotal evidence is not enough here. We need research.

Boy,those really were random thoughts, but this topic really twists me around.

Thanks for the discussion, Nathan, I was hoping you'd bring this up. :)

Mira said...

Oh one last thought. Social networking is new. Not only how it's working now, but how it will work over time - that's to be determined.

reader said...

I think GoodReads can have an impact, especially if there are thousands of reviews and ratings as opposed to the author's friends posting.

But Twitter lends itself to self-centeredness: I walked across the street! I ate some ice cream! Look, these are the shoes I'm wearing!

Does that make me want to read someone's book? Heck no.

But I find blogs are really much of the same thing. There's only so many industry-related posts one person can make before they resort to talking about the sandwich they had for lunch.

Maybe it's just me, but who cares?

Anonymous said...

Okay, for starters... it seems like you already know the answer, because even your poll seems biased.

I don't know if social networking helps you sell books, but I do know that it does help you get a bigger advance if you're a debut author. :)

J said...

I think Social Media might be a more effective marketing tool for authors than any other entitiy! I work in marketing and have been studying social from a marketing perspective for quite awhile now.

Facebook apps like WeRead make it very easy to share your reading list with others. And Twitter is an obvious way to connect with your fan base on a very individual level.

I think Brandon Sanderson and John Scalzi have done it about as well as I've seen it done. I have no doubt that their transparency and connection with their fans has created a more devoted advocacy for their product.

And even before Facebook, Twitter et al, Amazon was using a ton of social tools to promote and move books. Very few companies that are the size of Amazon manage to show the consistent growth that they do. The expertise with which they integrate a social, relevant experience into their shopping process is clearly a part of their success.

Nathan Bransford said...


Which direction does the poll seem biased? I didn't intend for it to be biased, just pithy.

Anonymous said...

Well, I plan on reading Jacob Wonderbar because I follow this blog. I don't know that I would've heard of it otherwise.
But I do feel internet exhaust from time to time, and I can't bring myself to read the Hunger Games even though it's a huge buzz on the net right now (Present tense? My tiny brain can't wrap around that one just yet!).

I didn't know how to vote so i tapped out a comment. So... much... energy... *pooped out*

j.leigh.bailey said...

Well, I can name 4 books that I've read this month alone because of "hype" induced via social media outlets. Luckily, I loved all 4 books, so the hype was worth it. So, yes, I think social media help sell books. It helps if the social media presence is interactive, positive, and honest (i.e. worth the hype).

reader said...

Mira -- I LOVE this quote of yours. So true.

"...I believe the absolutely worst thing you can do to any writer is to get them to be non-authentic. If you really want to kill someone's creative voice, tell them to fake pretend who they are all day long..."

M.A.Leslie said...


Great topic as usual and I must say that social media does help increase book sales. When your book is published I will be buying myself a copy. Not only because the storyline sounds like something that my children and I can cuddle up and read together, but because the cover art has caught both of their attention and they can't wait to read it.

Basically though, without this blog and my constant reading of your advice and tidbits of information, I would know nothing of your book. Eventually we would cross paths in a book store near me and my children would have been dying to read it just from the cover, but instead of that happening six months after it rolls out it is happening before the first edition is published.

Dare I say that social media may have just helped you sell one copy? I am a believer.

Anonymous said...

Oh. I've gotta get some sort of ID. I was only the bottom part of the Anon-Nathan sandwich... not the top.

I can see how a slew of Anon's might get confusing...

Mira said...

Oh. I hope I wasn't misunderstood. I didn't mean to imply that your book won't sell on its own merits, Nathan. I just meant it will get a push from your platform. But I'm sure you know that....and I'm equally sure it's a totally fun book.

And since I'm chattering away, I think the poll is fine.

author Scott Nicholson said...

Works for some people who are good at selling themselves no matter what they are selling. Others are just walking into the room wearing lampshade and clown shoes.

And some are just whining, a few are pithy enough to be entertaining in 140 characters all the time. Look how fast "Sh*t my dad says" went from brilliant to self-conscious and phony and not worth following.

And, please, agents, making fun of query letters is no longer cool. Soon you're going to stop getting query letters altogether.

Scott Nicholson

Steph Sinkhorn said...

Honestly, the majority of the books I buy these days are those I've heard about via blogs/Twitter. Not so much Facebook, but I keep Facebook pretty personal.

I generally don't buy books I know nothing about on a whim. Every once in a very, very long while, the cover or copy will interest me enough that I'll cold-buy, but it's very rare. I, like so many other consumers, purchase based on recommendation. If a friend or acquaintance whose opinion I respect finds a book compelling, I'm 100% more likely to take another look at it.

And these days, most of my friends/acquaintances are on social media, and that's where I get most of my day-to-day news and interaction.

I have no real qualms saying that I picked up Paranormalcy the day it was released because I've followed Kiersten White's journey via her blog. I purchased John Green's books because of VlogBrothers. I bought LIAR because of the kerfluffle about the whitewashed cover, which I heard about on blogs.

So is it a big deal? Yeah, I think so.

Shennandoah Diaz said...

Social media, if managed well and used properly, is a cheap and effective way for authors to promote themselves. No matter which publishing route authors take, they are responsible for marketing their book. With close to 2,000 books being published every day and less than 10% of those selling more than 2,000 units (which means less than 10% are breaking even, much less making profit) authors need to use all of the tools available to them to be successful authors (and keep their publishers happy).

With that in mind, I don't think social media is the problem but instead its the ABUSE of social media. Too many people are treating it like a billboard and not a social tool--a way to communicate and engage with their audience on a deeply personal level. People will support and buy books from authors who are engaged, intriguing, personable, and of course are also good writers. They will ignore the sales pitch and narcissistic rants and steer clear of the pop up windows and "me-me-me" posts. Instead readers follow valuable and entertaining content, just like they've always done no matter if its being presented in a book, on television or online.

Polenth said...

I've found a number of books and authors through social media. The people it fails for are usually those who use it like advertising, rather than chatting to people. If someone chats, I'll check out their blog/website and get the book if I'm interested.

Melissa said...

I have read books that I've seen discussed on blogs -- particularly ones that show up frequently. Tweets? Not so much unless someone I know posts a recommendation of a book on a shared interest.

Most of my book buying, however, is not influenced by social media -- particularly Twitter. Although... If someone is especially obnoxious in their promotion of something, I might mark it OFF my to-read/buy list.

Anonymous said...

Um, read the comments on the John Mayer quits twitter link... scary and angry. If someone hates you to begin with, or thinks you're a hack, twitter's tiny tweets fuel that all the more, I think.

Also, interestingly, an agent currently has a requested partial of mine. She's had it for five months and despite despite my polite heads up email can't seem to find a moment to read it and/or give me an answer. Is she on twitter night and day, spewing silly tweets? Yes. Does she sound adorable and fun? Yes. Would I like her as a friend if I met her? Probably. Do I want her to be my agent anymore? Ef no.

B.E.T. said...

I have to say this couldn't be timed better, because I was just wondering about this exact thing. I've been reading a lot of places that say use your facebook like crazy, blog, tweet, all that.

Trouble is, I can't think of one book I read because of social networking or something. I found my favorite authors and became more interested in them through that avenue, it's still a toss up.

K. E. Carson said...

I think it depeends. We all know word of mouth is the best way to boost book sales, and social media is just a different way of communicating that word of mouth. If you tell your friends how great a book is, they'll buy it whether you told them over facebook or over coffee.

It depends on the people. Do you trust the blogger you're following? Do they raise good points about this book? Does it interest you? If so, then you'll be more likely to buy it.

It's no different than if you were talking to them in person. Social media just opens up different ways of communicating about books. It's word of mouth at work.

Byrd Leavell said...

Shit My Dad Says has sold 500K copies in 4 months, due largely to the initial push social media provided. So I'd say yes.

Anonymous said...

No. And neither do book trailers. Let's just kill that little myth right now.

Sue Campbell said...

I am truly tired of "social" media. It's not social. It's media. I keep up with facebook mainly to follow my family and close friends. I don't think it's an effective way to SELL anything. (I'm not there to BUY anything that's for sure.) I don;'t friend a lot of people I don't know—and I would not do it in an effort to sell them anything. To me the word FRIEND is too valuable to bandy around as a marketing tool. It's distasteful to me.

I have blog mainly for my book design business (but of course I also write). I post new work and items that I am interested in re: the book business. This is a more informational effort and to keep my name out there (to a miniscule group of readers). If I really had to depend on it to get me work, I'd starve. I don't blog as regularly as I could or should, but I am burnt out!

I'm so over the internet. What I want in my life is human interaction. In person, with living breathing beings. I get that from friends, family, and my writer's groups. Speaking of writers groups I bet we buy and sell more books as a result of book groups than most other media. (For those of us not promoted by a big six pub., which is darn near everyone.)

I love your blog Nathan, but I don't see this as social media either. You don't know me, I don't know you = not social. That doesn't mean I don't value what you do. If ever you and I meet I'm sure we'd like each other and maybe be friends. I see this blog as an informational tool, same as mine. I like it for that.

Twitter isn't even worth mentioning. (Yeah I twitter sometimes, who cares?!)

All this blogging, Tweeting and FBing keeps me from writing. Real writing. Enuf is enuf. I'm there.

Nicole Zoltack said...

Social media can definitely help to sell books... but I think it's best used when you try to sell yourself. Your platform is more important than just one book. Unless you plan on selling only one book. And I sure as heck want to sell a lot more than one.

Bethany Brengan said...

I'm sort on a "blog break" right now. I'm not on my blog, and I'm not following my blog RSS feeds (in part, because reading other people's blogs makes me feel guilty about not blogging). But I still check Facebook, and you're on Facebook. And then I think, "That post sounds interesting." Then I find myself on your blog muttering, "I want to read _Jacob Wonderbar_."

Clever, Nathan. Clever.

Amy said...

I voted yes, social media helps sell books, but it's not blogging/tweeting by the author that convinces me to buy a book. It's word of mouth from my friends who read and make recommendations.

D.G. Hudson said...

There's only so many hours in a day, so we each determine how to spend or waste those hours.

I don't see the value at this point of cutting into my writing time to follow everyone about everything (twitter & facebook). Not all the users of social media are experts, and not all the advice is going to be valuable. One has to pick and choose where you want to invest your efforts and your time.

My answer: social media may help sell books if you appeal to the type of audience that would check the social media before they make any decisions. I do think having your books advertised on your own site is a must whether it's a blog or a website.

Some of us think for ourselves.

Anonymous said...

I've been watching writers think they HAVE to do social media and end up as would-be-published writers following/followed by would-be-published writers ad nauseam. Not only have they bemoaned the futility and exhaustion of the tasks of that, but they have neglected their writing.
Oh dear!

There is still HUGE respect for authors who do not twitter, facebook, etc. (Yann Martel, Thomas Pynchon, the late Salinger). Even Stephanie Meyer and JK Rowlings, who have HUGE internet presences (via their PEOPLE) don't seem to do it themselves.

For me, it has always felt like a tremendous waste of time.

And, as for book recommendations, the ONE pace I really take notes, go look up the books mentioned, and buy the books from: HERE! The books that writers here recommend is my favorite list, ever.
("What are your reading now?" What is your favorite book?" "who is the greatest villain in literature?")
Woah, pen and paper in hand!

BTW, the trend seems to have reversed as now even SNL comics are making fun of social networking.

All the hype and none of the reality.

Ramsey Hootman said...

I've definitely checked out and then purchased books because some forum friends recommended them.

I think what's important in social media is just to focus. Don't try to hit it all... pick the outlets you're comfortable with and use them. Personally I hate twitter and think it's a waste of time, but I love facebook and blogging.

Amethyst said...

For a time, social media did work for me. Author personalities and their passion for their works come through in their blogs. And because of this, I purchase their books. There are also those books that come recommended by many, many different people on the internet and I question whether I have been missing out on something. So...I purchase those books also.

But I have been disappointed too many times by these routes of choosing books to read. Maybe it is my fault because I cannot disassociate the author from the books, the stories, or I don't read the first couple of pages before I pick up a book. But I end up finding that the voice of a blog is sometimes more exciting than the story the author has written or the enthusiasm of others for a book does not help me see past what I don't like about it.

So I am back to my original way of finding books: stepping into the nearest bookstore, spending hours perusing the shelves, reading the back covers (or inside flaps of hardcovers), and reading the first couple of chapters before making my final purchase. Because in the end, choosing a book is subjective and sometimes what others recommend will not coincide with your own tastes.

Anonymous said...

With a first novel about to go to agents, I dread the "How's your social media presence?" question. Because I honestly don't know how as a first-time novelist I can really be effective in social media to draw an audience. Were I established and published, sure, I might have some fans following me. Or if I were writing nonfiction I might have a blog about my area of expertise. But as a novelist, I really am stumped by all the expectation that my Facebook account is the way to achieve sales. I'd do book readings in Wassilea, Alaska, but please don't ask me to blog/tweet about the mostly boring life of a writer.

Steph Sinkhorn said...

"Wouldn't it be much more rewarding to have readers find your work by themselves, rather than corralling them like cattle?"

Consumers don't react to being "corralled" anywhere. You can't force someone to purchase your product. And if they don't like your sales tactics, they make that known - by not buying. The only people who can force a sale do so by monopolizing the market (COMCAST, YOU BASTARDS).

This attitude assumes that the main reason people (authors, in this case) are using social media is as a soapbox from which to scream, "HEY YOU WITH THE THING. BUY MY BOOK!" Which, yeah, some people do. And no one listens. The people who *do* get a following and people who care are those that are just people using social media for communication and silliness. Who can also say, "Oh, yeah, btw, I wrote a book. Check it out if you want."

dcamardo said...

The past three books I've read (that weren't free) were all promoted by their agent's blog. However, I don't think I've ever bought a book promoted by its author (I mean to say that I don't remember buying a book BECAUSE it was promoted by the author). There's something to be said for someone else (other than the author) talking up a book--even if it's the agent.

So here's the deal Nathan. Who's your agent? Get him/her to blog about your book and I'll buy it (ebook format of course).

Marilyn Peake said...

It depends. My mind tends to hop, skip and jump over blatant attempts to sell books unless I already know the author or am interested in a particular type of book. I follow The New York Times on Twitter. After they published a fascinating article about Paul Harding winning the Pulitzer Prize for TINKERS, I immediately purchased a copy of that book. Same thing regarding FREEDOM by Jonathan Franzen. I loved BONESHAKER by Cherie Priest and THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman, so I started following those authors on Twitter and I look for announcements about any new books they have published. I also sometimes purchase books written by people I meet on the Internet if I like their genre, in order to help them out by boosting their sales. I used to pay more attention to books on social media sites until there were just so many books on so many sites – I can’t possibly buy all those books.

I find it interesting that some of the most wildly popular literary authors don’t take part in social media at all. Jonathan Franzen actually takes the wireless card out of his computer while he’s writing, so that he has no access to the Internet and can concentrate solely on writing: Jonathan Franzen Takes the Long Road to 'Freedom'. Colson Whitehead said, " is boring and not what a writer should be asking about. Write the book. Make it the best book you can make it. All the other stuff is crap." in the following article: Colson Whitehead Responds to YA "Controversy". I've started thinking that maybe their intense approach to writing is the key to their success at the craft of writing.

S. Kyle Davis said...

Point in case: Paranormalcy. How many books by debut authors do you know that start out on the bestseller list? Doesn't happen that often.

Steph Sinkhorn said...

I guess I'm fundamentally different because I don't view the internet as "just the internet," and I don't think interacting over social media doesn't count as "human interaction." Some of the strongest, most lasting relationships I've made, I've made over the internet. And that's not to say I don't have a "real life," because, pft, of course I do. I have "real life" friends that I go out with, a "real life" boyfriend that I live with, and plenty of "real life" activities to fill my time.

But I think people forget that behind every post, Tweet, status update, whatever... is a real person. And that's cool! In what other time period EVER would I be able to talk in real time to people from Australia, Great Britain, France, China, etc. FOR FREE? That's AWESOME.

Not human interaction? O RLY.

Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy said...

I think social media sites are fueling a lot of activity in reading and writing these days. With my debut novel slated for July 2011 publication, I have been advised by my mentor (through my publisher) and others to use Facebook, Twitter, and blogs to prommote my upcoming novel as well as my other work. Another project, a high profile anthology that I am proud to be part of, is also using social media with outstanding results. The publicatin date is not until October 9 but the publisher is experiencing high volume orders pre-pub.

Marilyn Peake said...

In regard to my own social media, I receive over 120,000 hits to my website per year and continue to sell my books published by indie press. Most of the hits come from websites where I wrote articles and did interviews back when social media was fairly new. I’m fairly active on the Internet: Twitter, etc., but right now I’m trying to concentrate on writing more than PR. It’s nice that my older PR is still paying off. :)

fakesteph said...

Most of the books I've ordered lately have been Amazon pre-orders that I ordered because someone tweeted or blogged about them. My purchases also increased for books I was already planning on reading because I get way more excited about upcoming releases when social media outlets are involved. For example, I was already planning to read Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare, but I bought it instead of waiting to get it from the library because she kept tweeting questions and excerpts and I just got too excited to wait.

Patty Blount said...

I am right at this moment working on a presentation extolling the virtues of social media in technical documentation - giving new meaning to the term, "Perfect timing."

To answer your question: YES!!!!! (Can you hear me now?)

For proof, consider this list:

Day One by Bill Cameron
Numb by Sean Ferrell
The Avery Cates Series by Jeff Somers
Not on Her Own by Cynthia Reese
Paranormalcy by Kiersten White

All authors I'd heard about through Twitter and all (but one) authors I would NOT have read if I happened to find their books on my own. I would have read Cynthia's and Kiersten's books, assuming I'd been able to find them without Twitter, because they are my favorite genres.

The Cates books are so far outside my typical reading fare, I'm pretty sure I'd have put the books back on the shelf and run from the store in horror, assuming I'd even found them in the first place. But Jeff's tweets intrigued me enough to wonder what the books were like so I gave his stories a shot.

*grins* They are my new favorite series. Cates ROCKS! I even dream about this character.

Likewise, I would have shrugged at NUMB and DAY ONE but because of the Tweetships that developed online, I was compelled to read (and be dazzled by) these stories. I don't think I've ever read such vivid descriptions before reading Numb or been as shocked by a plot twist as I was reading Day One.

I would have missed these experiences. *shudders*

Given that publicity budgets - especially for a debut author - are never high enough, I think we'd be foolish to ignore the power of social media to sell books.

And, I think it's worth noting - these folks never directly asked me to buy their books. It was just something I had to do after following them for so long, being part of their "process". I had to learn how it all turned out!

And I am so glad that I did.

Mira said...

Thanks, reader! :)

Sorry, but I have more thougths that I feel compelled to share.

The other thing that concerns me about social networking is it may distract from a viable and effective form of marketing: advertising. Ex. Patterson, who runs T.V. ads and sells tons of books.

If there were research, you would want to measure not only the effectiveness of social networking, but its effectiveness measured against other types of marketing with a cost/benefit analysis (time spent, etc.)

Reading these comments though - it's helpful. I'm starting to think that social networking is filling a gap - readers want to know what to read, and social networking is, at base, a recommendation system.

But it's also important to remember that nothing goes viral unless it's really really good.

For example, if Kiersten's book wasn't good, it would drop right off the NYTimes list. Sort of like a movie that's promoted but fizzles. Fortunately for her and for her readers (me) it's very good! I recommend it. :)

Doug Pardee said...

Hmm... it looks to me like some readers took this to mean reader-to-reader social networking, while others took it to mean author-to-reader. Based on the inciting Forum posting, I assumed the latter.

I guess I'm an oddball, because I don't want to meet the authors of the books I read. I don't want to interact with them. The artist is not the work. Many artists are withdrawn or unpleasant—one big-name author committed premeditated brutal murder as a teenager.

If I were ever to become a published author, I wouldn't want to meet my readers, either. Which pretty much kills any possibility of my ever becoming a published author these days.

Nick said...

If people read your blog and it's interesting, I think they will be interested and keep coming back to your blog, and eventually buy your book.

However, if people read your blog and you're boring, it may be detrimental to the book-buying thing.

Jenny said...

I think that it does work. Especially if you're writing YA, you almost have to have a web presence of some kind because that's where the teens are. But it also has to be, like a few people have stated already, a respected source.

Maybe we should have a Q&A about what would make a website/blog/twitter/FB account something refreshing to read or visit so that you can build a respectable web presence....

sex scenes at starbucks, said...

Can I just say that I tend to defriend myself of those authors on FB who ONLY talk about their books. Yawn. I'm there for grins, folks, not commercials. I'm not saying never mention it, but a little goes a long way. Etc. Plus now one obnoxious writer posts it about four times in a row since the online version of FB is so sketchy.

But I do really like Scalzi's Whatever book column and I tend to buy from it. Also, I tend to buy at cons and conferences, too.

The hardest part of social media is finding readers over writers. Writers read, but not as much as pure readers.

Angie said...

I think your poll is a little skewed by the fact that it's all writers or wanna-be writers visiting this site. Will social media help you to sell a few copies? Sure, but will it make you a best seller? Probably not. Most people I know, unless they're really into books, do not visit author's websites or join their blogs or even visit Goodreads. And it is a huge sucking machine that gobbles up a writer's time. It's much better to spend your hours writing and perfecting your writing than to think up tomorrow's blog post.

Now, excuse me while I go work on my blog....

Amanda said...

The fact that everyone else in my facebook feed mentioned reading "The Hunger Games" I had to read it. Word of mouth via the internet has been a big motivater in my buying books. I say this from personal experience. Goodreads and Blogs that review books have also influenced my reading. I LOVE reading and if *certain people* give a book a raving review, I will read it.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Angie. A lot of book sites are really writers selling books to other writers. Even a New York Times best-selling author doesn't always earn that much money: here.

Stephanie said...

I have most definitely bought books I've read about though blogging and such and have also been on the receiving end. I know others have bought my book because they read a review of my book on a website.

Krista V. said...

I'm much more aware of what books are coming out because I surf the blogosphere. And I'm not one of those wander-through-the-bookstore-and-pick-up-a-random-book sort of people (although kudos to you if you are - you must have a lot of faith in your gut:) ), so almost all the books I read are ones I first heard about online.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and there was an update to the Blog by the New York Times best-selling author who published her sales figures: here. The author made $24,517.36 in net profit on her book, and didn't expect to see any more net profit for the next year or two. (The publisher, however, made around $453,839.68 in gross profit which the author estimated would mean about $250K in net profit to the publisher.)

Anne R. Allen said...

I've certainly bought books I heard about through social media. But I'm with Anon 1:12 about book trailers. Meh.

But I do think writers get way too caught up in the social networking thing. On my blog I've been advocating "Slow Blogging"--suggesting that writers blog three times a week or less (consistently.) If we don't have time to write the books, what's the point?

Nathan Bransford said...


Please see my follow-up post regarding that post.

Steph Sinkhorn said...

Mira - I don't social media necessarily distracts from traditional advertising, but I think it is a viable outlet for authors especially. Authors just flat-out do not get big promotion/advertising budgets unless they're James Patterson or Stephenie Meyer.

I think that's part of the reason social media is so huge for businesses and individuals right now - it's "free" advertising. The only thing needed to invest is time. And some people can't afford a lot of time, but at least they don't have to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for a printed ad or a television spot. It's a way for new or mid-list authors who aren't normally "heard" to get the word out without breaking their bank.

Carol Riggs said...

While blogging and other similar networking may help sell books (but not become a bestseller), I find it difficult to believe Twitter Timewaster does anything worthwhile, to deem it worthy of the time spent. Of course, that could be merely because I don't like Twitter and refuse to participate. Ever tried to read Lauren Myracle's novel, ttyl? It's all in IM abbreviations and Twitter-like chat. Aaaagh! (I resorted to skimming the novel.)

Anonymous said...

Nathan, I read your post on the day you published it. My point is that a New York Times best-selling book doesn't necessarily bring an author very much money to live on. If, for instance, an author tried to support a family that included a few children on the financial amount reported by the Blog author, they would be trying to survive below the official U.S. poverty line. I was questioning the popular misconception that, if social media leads to becoming a New York Times best-selling author, the social media has worked. It may have gotten the author on the New York Times best-selling list, but it didn't raise the author above the poverty line. J.K. Rowling does no social media whatsoever, and she's one of the richest people in the world.

Nathan Bransford said...


I don't disagree with that at all, just wanted to make sure people saw the clarification about what the publisher was making out of the deal.

scotthanley said...

I'm not sure it's about selling the book, but rather about using as many media out there at your disposal to get your voice heard. Very interesting poll results- what does it mean when we're pretty much split down the middle on this issue?

InternationalNerd said...


I believe social media, like all media is very effective: IF done right. Many think... "ooh if I have a blog, Twitter, and Facebook, then I'll become famous."

Many use it, however, without knowing how to take advantage. There's an exact science behind twittering/Facebooking the right words, phrases, and links to draw a larger crowd to your cause.

It absolutely can attract more than word of mouth, but it's not easy to do and takes experience (or money).


Mira said...

Steph - I agree with you. The attractiveness of social networking is that it's free. And I do think that authors need to avail themselves of whatever tools are available.

However, my concern has more to do with what you said: "Authors just flat-out do not get big promotion/advertising budgets." Agreed.

I'm concerned that both authors and publishers may fool themselves into thinking that's okay because social networking will do the 'trick'.

It may not.

And then the 'blame', if there is any, goes to the author for failing to network appropriately, when the real problem may be the lack of advertising budget.

Iliadfan said...

Nick said...
If people read your blog and it's interesting, I think they will be interested and keep coming back to your blog, and eventually buy your book.

This is exactly what I do. I understand why not all authors blog, but I'm always disappointed when I get a book recommendation and the author doesn't blog. As a reader, my answer is an emphatic yes - I've probably bought and liked 25 books this year (that I otherwise might never have heard of) based on reading the authors' blogs first. I've also bought a few I ended up not liking - but a blog and those first sample pages reduces the likelihood of that considerably.

Yes, I'll buy books for my book clubs, I'll occasionally browse bookstores and pick stuff that looks interesting, I'll read anything my favorite authors write, and of course Amazon/Kindle recommendations have changed my life - but blogs are by far my favorite tool for finding authors I hadn't read before. I’ll read Nathan’s book when it comes out, having read his entire blog first – it’s the same way I discovered Kristin Cashore, Justine Larbalestier and Tessa Dare recently.

But I still haven't figured out why people tweet. ;) ~shrug~

Mira said...

Or not. Maybe it's not advertising, and social networking actually works better.

I just don't know!!!

Now, I'm arguing with myself.

Kimber An said...

As a former book reviewer, I say:

1) Know your readers and be where they are.

Some are rabidly on-line. Some don't even do email. Figure yours out.

2) Mr. Bransford, dude, seriously, put your cover art in your profile so every time you comment anywhere in cyber-space someone will see it.

Readers don't always remember titles or authors' names. When that happens, you want them to see your cover art in the store (or on Amazon) and go, "Ah! That's the book by that funny guy, whathisname!" And they'll buy it.

mulligangirl said...

At leat 8 of the last 10 books I ourchaed and read I first heard about through some form of social media...blogs, youtube trailers, tweets, etc. I've (unintentionally) sold numerous books I can trace back to soc med too. I think it's here to stay--in one form or another.

Naomi Johnson said...

I've bought plenty of books as a result of finding positive reviews in blogs linked to facebook and Twitter. Many of those books I would never have bought on my own, just stumbling over them in a store. But if you want to make certain I buy a book, just ask Ken Bruen to drop your name in one of his novels. He's absolutely the last word in great crime fiction, both writing it and recommending it.

Katherine Hyde said...

I voted "no," but I'd like to add a caveat: I have bought books because they were positively reviewed in a blog of someone I trust. I'm less likely to buy a book because it's hyped by its author or publisher on Facebook. (I don't tweet, so can't comment on that.)

Christian yorke said...

Sorry but social media has no impact on the books I actually buy. It is a platform to increase profile and to gather information that may be of value to a wannabe author. People need to get things in perspective.

Louis Duke said...

I don't buy books based on anything on twitter, or book reviews, etc. but if I read your blog religiously, and you write a book, I will buy it.
Like the sartorialist and the selby.

Alexis Grant said...

Speaking as a reader, not even a writer -- YES. The last few books I bought I purchased because I'd heard of them via Twitter/blogs. THE ART OF NON-CONFORMITY, THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS, TRUST AGENTS. It works.

Tiger said...

I just read an article--of course I can't find the link now that it's relevant--that gave some evidence for posting excepts online having a positive impact on book sales.

Personally, I keep my blog because writing is so often an exercise in howling gibberish with only one's self to hear. I need to connect sometimes, especially to other people going through the same. I like to think it keeps us all from going barking mad.

Anonymous said...

I am interested in Marylin Peak's comment. I've seen this observation before. Maybe my "n's" are too small, but is there a trend that social networking is more common for genre fiction and less common for literary fiction?

Personally, I select books mostly based upon:
1. Personal recommendation (in person or via email)
2. Reading reviews (frequently from the New Yorker)
3. Hearing about books on the radio, for instance author interviews on Fresh Air
4. Sometimes via's "other people who read this book selected these books"

Anonymous said...

It would be helpful if you didn't HAVE to join to read the social comments (for the most part you seem to "have to").

I joined once (for about fifteen minutes when-to my dismay- the network grabbed my mailbox and sent ALL my contacts-professional and friends alike- an email with my birthday and age and asking them to friend me-YEACH!)

I quit my "membership" immediately and –years later– I STILL get up to four emails a day asking me to "friend" complete strangers.

Social networking=nightmare theme!

StaceyW said...

I buy books I've heard about through social media, but until I started writing fiction myself, I didn't follow the blogs and tweets and facebook pages that now lead me to these books and authors.

So, my answer is I think social media is a great tool for reaching writers, reviewers and avid readers. As for reaching the general reading public ... yeah, I still think it can be effective.

It's like word of mouth amplified.

When I like a book, I tend to post a comment and link on facebook, and that might lead a few of my 300-ish friends to read it and comment on their own facebook pages, reaching another potential 600-ish people. That's got to be more effective than mentioning it over dinner to a couple of girlfriends, right?

At the very least, it complements the old word of mouth method pretty well.

I know I came in here for something said...

This post is very funny. I like it.

It encourages me to look at the author's other work.

Therefore, social media at least helps to get a potential customer's eyes onto the books.

Pam said...

Social Media is another medium for word of mouth marketing and that is a strategy that isn't going away.

Simon Hay Soul Healer said...

I'd say yes. All the books I've brought in the last two years have been because of online reviews or because I like someone and I'm curious.

The secret to social media is that you have to sell you and not the product. Be authentic, its a conversation to a stranger, be polite. I don't respond to hard sell. I promote people online because I genuinely admire what they're doing.

Social media has gotten me an invite to NY State. I haven't been yet and I've got another invite. When I have a book published this will sell books. I've people already asking.

Yes, social media is hard work and time consuming. If you're not successful then I'd re-evaluate what you're doing. Everyone is interesting. Don't be afraid to be online in your pj's.

Thanks Nathan for the quick response. I'd like to have a project for you, you're a cool guy.

The Red Angel said...

Great topic, Nathan! I actually wrote about social media in the last two posts of my blog...without a doubt, social media is a great way for people to communicate with each other and share things digitally, so to a degree I think social media does help sell books. In addition, authors and publishing companies themselves can create their "Facebook Groups" and "Fan Pages" to recruit more consumers and advertise their products (in this case, books) that way as well.

By the way, very amusing poll. :P


M.A.Leslie said...

The more I think about it I feel that Social Media can sell books, but I have mostly seen it used for networking and trying to make the world of publishing a smaller place for the authors, which indirectly can help sell books.
Social Media makes it possible for me to write this comment on a blog that is associated to an agent that passes on advice to aspiring writers. I can guarantee that a few of the other people commenting will read my message. Again, while I am not selling a book, my name is noticed in a world where it may have never been seen and long term that may help me sell a book or find an agent that before was unobtainable to me. No matter how you break it down I don't see how this could have a negative effect on a writer.

I say keep on blogging and Nathan please continuing to offer your excellent advice.

Jessica Strider said...

I voted 'yes', but with an addendum.

I don't use twitter and I consider facebook more a means of keeping in touch with friends than a way of learning what books I should check out.

For that, I read several industry blogs. I've thereby encountered several excellent books I might not have picked up otherwise.

I think for debut and newer authors, the internet is a great way of getting noticed. It's easy to walk into a bookstore and find the latest bestseller by 'famous author'. It's a lot harder to find books that are less well known (simply because fewer copies are stocked).

Michelle Davidson Argyle said...

I just self-published a little novella of mine, and yes, social media has been an integral part of my marketing and selling copies. :)

It works for some, not for others, I think.

ryan field said...

Social media helps to a certain degree, but it's not everything. I've found that it's more of a way to communicate with readers in different parts of the world than anything else. They feel more comfortable sending pm's on facebook instead of e-mails.

People get tired of SN like FB. They get bored and move on to the next best thing. But the interesting thing is there are still new people just discovering these social networks so I don't think it's going to disappear soon. It seems to go in cycles. The same people will be addicted for weeks, or months, then they drop off and a new batch pops up.

Places like FB are also good places to look up authors to see what they write and what they are about. I do it all the time, and I know people do it with me.

Thaddeus Glapp said...

I can just about say that I owe my career to social networking sites.

Tara Maya said...

All the fiction I've bought this month I found out about, or was reminded of, through social media. Just sayin'.

Theresa Milstein said...

Without blogs telling me about books, I'd miss many of the new ones. Looking on bookstore shelves is fun, but much more time consuming. I buy based on recommendations from bloggers, friends and family, and the workers at my local bookstore.

Parisa said...

I definitely think social media helps sell books. The only reason I bought Looking For Alaska was because I'd read your analysis of John Green's character development on this blog (thank you for featuring him, by the way; that book is now one of my favorites!). I've also bought several books simply because I saw my friends discussing them back and forth on my facebook news feed, and they sounded like interesting reads. Social media is an easy way to spread the word on hot new reads to the masses - if they're listening.

lahn said...

The last two books I bought were ones I learned about on twitter.
Emma Rathbone, The Patterns of Paper Monsters and Therese Walsh, The Last Will of Moira Leahy. Both very good!

Dan said...

If you believe that authors can sell their books to readers, then you have to believe in social media. However, the internet is millions of people all screaming for attention. It's very difficult to get strangers to read your content; to build up a regular audience of blog readers you have to produce worthwhile posts on a near-daily basis. If you can somehow manage to become an internet celebrity, it will help your book sales. But that's kind of a long shot.

It's a little easier to get people to follow you on Twitter, but it's not clear that Twitter followers convert into book buyers in any significant percentage.

Social networking can't hurt, unless you say horrible things and embarrass yourself. But if you're looking at it as part of a business strategy, it probably yields less than $1 in earnings for every hour spent. If you enjoy blogging and tweeting, do it. But the author is probably better off letting the publisher do the marketing; his time is better spent writing the next book.

Ishta Mercurio said...

I never, ever, ever try to get people to go to my blog from here, but I JUST BLOGGED ABOUT THIS THIS MORNING! Basically, I looked at the top ten books on the NYT Bestseller list for MG and YA, and I looked up the authors and worked out how long they've been blogging/tweeting/facebooking/etc., and then I looked up the date of their debut novel's release.

Only one of the top ten books currently in the NYT list was written by an author who had not already established a significant online presence before the publication of their debut novel. Only one.

So, yeah, I think social networking helps sell a debut novel. After that, a lot depends on how good the debut novel was. But to get the first book into people's hands, social networking seems to play a pretty big role. Look at Kiersten White's PARANORMALCY, for example. Another is THE SECRET YEAR - I only bought it because you had talked about it and it was by one of your clients.

Colleen said...

It also largely depends on knowing who your social stream audience is. I became a heavy twitter user as a librarian, and there are still a ton of librarians there and on friendfeed. When my first book came out, those professional connection helped me because many did not just buy my book, they bought two copies and donated one to their library. If you follow people willynilly without a plan, plugging a book can be annoying; if you're someone people feel they know, they'll give you more latitude and be supportive. it's not a replacement for building relationships with people, it's just another tool you can use to do so.

bratschegirl said...

I'm the wrong person to ask. I don't blog, am not on Facebook, don't tweet. Or Tweet. Whatever. Any my house is overflowing with books so I'm trying to use the library more these days. I read books because I hear about them from friends, or because I already admire the author's work, or I see a review that piques my interest in NYRB or the Sunday book section of the 3 newspapers I read, etc. etc. Yes, I'm aware that makes me a Luddite. There's something that feels awfully "me-too" about the corporate use of social media, though; I mean, I'm just not sure what I'd stand to gain from following Trader Joe's on Twitter.

Ted Cross said...

I haven't yet bought any books that I have discovered from social media, though I have encountered some unpublished writers whose books I would seriously consider if they ever did get published. Also, I have found a couple on Authonomy that I would certainly buy if only some publisher was paying attention and picked them up.

Dixon Bennett Rice said...

I use FB quite a bit, mostly to keep current on trends, who the new agents are, what's being overdone, etc. When I'm stuck, I get good advice from FB friends. I'm not using FB to sell my books, since it's mostly other impoverished writers plus the occasional agent or editor, but maybe it'll eventually help start a buzz going.

Beth Barany said...

In short, yes, social media does help sell books.

Why? Because we're reaching out to people who wouldn't already know us and sharing, connecting, BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS!

Word-of-mouth is the NUMBER 1 way books are STILL sold. Online that translates to word-of-mouse.

Like always, these referrals come from trusted sources.

When a stranger refers a book to you would that make you run out and get it?

Probably not. Not until you created a connection with this stranger. And voila! This stranger is now your friend. Or at least someone whose advice you value. (To the degree that you trust them, right?)

The operative word in your question is HELP.

Social media is just one way out of many that we can connect with others, introduce them to ourselves, and our books, and increase the possibility of making sales.

(Two-cents over...)

Lisa said...

I'm reading Rock Paper Tiger right now because of your blog and Lisa Brackman's tweets.

Adam Heine said...

Here on the other side of the world (Thailand), social media is all I have to tell me what books are any good. I can't browse a bookstore (unless I want to buy Harry Potter or Twilight, I guess), and there are few things more tedious than "browsing" Amazon when you don't already know what you want.

kim said...

Well, I hope so:)Social media and mom blogs is my only plan to sell my new educational picture books! Don't tell me I need plan B and C! Yikes.

treeoflife said...

If someone whose opinion I value gives me a good book review, I'll likely buy the book. Whether they send me an email or message on facebook or a homing pigeon, it doesn't matter.

Social media just makes it easier to get a message out. Of course, if the recommendation is biased at all, ie someone who'll profit from the book sales, it goes straight to the delete box.

J. T. Shea said...

Anonymous 2:17 pm, Lynn Viehl deducted her agent's commission, her estimate of her own expenses, and her personal income tax to arrive at a 'net income' of about half her $50,000 advance.

$453,839.68 divided by 61,663 net sales equals $7.36 per copy sold of a mass market paperback listed at $7.99, and so is probably the gross sales less the author's royalty rather than the publisher's gross profit. The publisher paid Viehl about 11% of the gross sales to that point.

Various commenters on the Genreality site also queried Viehl's maths. Likewise Nathan's analysis (which he links to above) at the time, which was nearly a year ago.

BTW, I do consider a 6% to 8% author royalty too low, and would happily pay 10% more for books if it went to the authors!

lisanneharris said...

I might as well throw my opinion in, too, for what it's worth.

I love facebook for the fun of playing games with my favorite authors and top A/Es. I appreciate status updates that are funny, poignant, or informative. I like the Networked Blogs feature, but all of those page and event invitations are a waste of time. I don't have time to make the rounds to visit all of them.

I think the thing I find the most useful (other than the all-important researching) is blog posts from A/Es. I keep up with my favorite authors and critique buddies, as well. Other than that, I believe the Internet is a huge vortex. It can suck you in and never spit you back out. said...

Professionals, including publishers, telling authors to get actively involved in online social networking a year before your book comes out is like telling people to try crack a few times on weekends to see if you don't get more out of listening to music.

KM Fawcett said...

Nathan, since I'm buying your book as a result of following your blog, I voted yes. Apparently, it's working for you. :) The real question is, to what extent does it work? How many people are buying your books due to social media? 1? 10? 1000? 10,000?
I wonder...

Nancy said...

In the last two months, I have purchased two books that I only found out about from social media. There's a third I'm keeping my eye on for the next time I have spending money.

However, when I was extolling the virtues of Twitter to a fellow author, her comment was, "It was made for personalities like yours." If Twitter/Facebook/Blogging only work for a select group of writers, it stands to reason that it will only work for a select group of readers. A solid marketing campaign has to go beyond the social media craziness, or there are people who will never hear of our books.

Lila Swann said...

I like to purchase my friends' books, which usually equates to the blogs I read. Of course, if I knew them in real life, I'd be just as compelled to read their books (so the social networking aspect isn't why I buy the books). Otherwise, I find out about books the old-fashioned way (word of mouth or in a bookstore).

Since I'm a teen and I write YA, I tend to focus on the social networking things that I would want MY favorite authors to do. Before I decided to tweet as a "wannabe writer," I didn't have a Twitter and didn't know a single teen who did. I never use my Twitter. It's just not an teen thing, and since I'm trying to reach teens, it's pointless.

Quite frankly, I don't think young adults go trawling for books based on author's web pages. It works the opposite way - I look up my favorite authors' webpages if I liked their books in the store.

It's always nice to see blog posts (especially ones about writing) from my favorite authors. It makes me all giddy inside, and makes me appreciate them even more for what they do. In that scenario, the author gets brownie points, I'm more likely to check back for updates, and I'll be more likely to buy their next book (or at least know about the author's upcoming releases).

Kaitlyne said...

I tend to buy books because I either see them at a store (or online) and think they look interesting, or because someone recommends them to me.

I've never bought a book based on Facebook or Twitter or anything of that sort. To be honest, I've only ever even looked up two or three authors online, unless we're talking about going to Amazon or Wikipedia to find more books they've written. And one of those is my favorite author and it's because he's hilarious and I love reading his interviews.

Mary McDonald said...

It depends. The Facebook Kindle page can definitely sell books. If I post on there, I almost always get some sales. Problem is, the board moves very quickly and nobody scrolls down for older posts.

Twitter--I'm sure it can for some, but I'm Twitter-impaired. I have one. I tweet, but I don't get all the hashmarks and such.

My book is only available as an ebook, so I concentrate my efforts in places where people who have ereaders hang out, consequently, I spend a lot of time on the Amazon forums now. Just by participating, and not even posting often about my own book, I can get sales as there's a good mixture of readers and authors.

I'd love to say my blog helped sell books, but it doesn't. My blog buddies are supportive, but I can only trace maybe a dozen sales back to my blog in three months. Not that expect followers to buy the book, but there's been limited word of mouth there.

I'm more likely to have my book mentioned in an Amazon thread with a direct link given by the poster to my Amazon page. That sells books.

terripatrick said...

Social media sells books to customers who use social media. But it is only one tool and even eauthors need to realize not all of their readers are tapped into the ebuzz.

Anonymous said...

J.T. Shea, I realize that Lynn Viehl wrote her blog articles last year and that Nathan wrote his analysis of it last year, and I read over Lynn Viehl's financial figures very carefully. My point remains: $24,517.36 net profit for 1-1/2 years of book sales does not mean that a New York Times best-selling author is making anywhere near what someone like J.K. Rowling makes. Sometimes when people hear "New York Times best-selling" author, they think the author's rich and that all their social media time paid off in a really big way. The reality is that perhaps it paid off in a very modest way, if at all.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know how The New York Times Best Seller List is actually made? It's not what most people think. It's used more to encourage people to buy books on the list, rather than an accurate account of the actual highest-selling books.

Here's a rather illuminating explanation of how it really works by author Jamie Ford, author of HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET: here.

Dan Poytner writes in this article: "Bestseller lists are compiled by several periodicals, and they use different methods. In addition, there are national, regional and specialty lists. National lists. The New York Times editors select 36 titles they feel might be best-selling titles for the week and poll some 3,000 bookstores across the U.S. The stores are asked to fill in the number of books sold next to each title and to write in fast-moving books not on the list. Of course, if a book is not on the list, it is not likely to make the top ten that week. But it may be added to the list by the editors the following week."

Anonymous said...

Typo: I meant "Dan Poynter," not "Dan Poytner".

Whirlochre said...

Social media is like cheese: too little, and you don't know what you're missing; too much and you pig out on bloat.

I think a lot of people are figuring out what a time suck casual social networking can be. It's fine for teens exchanging photos of their navels, but for writers (and anyone else using social media as a gateway for stuff), things have to be a little more sophisticated.

Micah Maddox said...

Congratulations on another milestone in your journey Nathan!

Elie said...

I saw a book trailer & loadsa publicity for a book I thought I'd probably like - but it didn't really tell me what the book's about or let me read a few pages - so I won't buy it until that happens.
In general, the internet takes up too much of my writing & family time, but on the other hand, sites like this are valuable & interesting.
I experimented with a blog, but I don't see the point unless I have a book coming out. Twitter: takes so long just to read other tweets I don't usually bother to tweet myself!

Anonymous said...

Social networking seems to work for YA books, but not as well for adult titles from what I've seen.

Nicole MacDonald said...

I believe it works well. It's a cheap and easy method for getting news international in the comfort of your own seat. Look at Joe Konrath.

Hillsy said...

Thinking about it, there is another model being missed here. If you take the comments section as a representation of internet 'noise', sorry 'hype', then some interesting numbers play out.

(Rough estimate) 90% of the people on the comments have said "yes" to Social Networking being the numero uno sales point - but that isn't that surprising as most people who extensively use Social sites are used to typing out their thoughts almost on reflex. Now, only about a third who POLLED, agreed. Lets do some more numbers.....

621 POLLED, so that means 236 people agreed. About 112 people Commented Positively, contributing to internet 'noise' (about Half) Giving us a neat and tidy ratio of around 20% to work with.

So of all the people you COULD sell your book to, 20% of the people will inform a further 20%. However, that leaves 60% untouched by the internet.

If you ignore traditional "word of mouth" then out of 5 people, 1 will buy it online, then create internet 'noise' spurring another person to buy it. 3 people are unaffected.

If we now bring in Word of Mouth, the model can change drastically. Out of those 5 people only 1 person is online and passive (The target audience for creating a lot of 'noise), meaning that by pandering to social Media you require 1 (maybe 1.5) people to Word of Mouth it to 3 non-online people and 'hype'-ing it to the person who follows social media but only in an information gathering method.

Therefore, it is arguably a better to appeal SOLELY to the 3 people through traditional methods, instead relying on them the Word of Mouth-ing it to the 1 person on the Net creating the 'hype', who in turn informs the 5th person.

So to the 1 other person reading this post....HELLOOOO!!!!!

jongibbs said...

I don't think social media automatically helps, but good, sincere, social networking ie: actually interacting and connecting with people can make a big difference.

Social networking helped my book sales. Some of the folks who only know me through my blog have also posted online reviews, or promoted the trailer etc, for which I'm extremely grateful.

Sadly, all too many people seem to think they're networking when they're actually just broadcasting. If there's no personal connection, I imagine that's about as helpful as spam mail.

Jill Wheeler said...

I've bought several books recently just because of the author's social media skillz...

PARANORMALCY (love Kiersten's blog)

SISTERS RED (Jackson can sing and dance!)

SIREN (again, love Trisha's blog)

So... blogs might not sell TONS of books, but they at least sell a few.

Hillsy said...

Thinking about it, there's actually a different way of using Social Networking. Being a nerd I ran the figures and got this.

If we take the microcosm of this post as the internet, then the comments section represents internet 'noise', sorry 'hype', created by any particular topic.

(Rough estimate) 90% of people on the comments board posted in positively, which isn't that much of a surprise considering people who extensively use and enjoy social media are used to typing out their thoughts in soudbite bursts almost reflexively. However, of those POLLED half said it had little relevance on their book life. So, lets run some numbers!!!!

666 have been POLLED. That gives us a fedback of 253 Positive results. Those 253 people have accounted for 115 Comments, which represents, a nice neat 50%(-ish) return in 'hype' for what people like. However, 60% are unaffected by internet 'noise' and contribute almost nothing to it. This gives as a roundabout figure of 20% (Ok, it's 17.26% but who's counting) doing all the work, generating interest for around 40%, of which they are part of.

At first this seems like a slice of the market that is too huge to ignore. However, there is another way of looking at it.

If we discount Word of Mouth and focus purely on Internet presence, Social Media 'hype' looks like this: Of every 5 people who COULD buy your book, 1 will buy the book and comment, generating the 'hype' that convinces another person to purchase. 3 people are unaffected. In otherwords, 40% market influence.

Now, reintroduce Word of Mouth.

If you were to concentrate SOLELY to the offline market, you could rely on the those 3 people to 'Word of Mouth' it to the 1 person who posts online through social media. They will then generate the internet 'noise', reaching the last person in our chain of 5. Et Voila: 100% market influence.

So for every comment we make, we are basically influencing 2 people - one will tell two other people, and one will stay quiet.

To the two people reading this Comment......HEELLLLOOOOOO!!!!!!

ginny martyn said...

I heard you yelling and decided to take a break from my self-imposed exile to respond.

Social media is in the perfunctory stages of development. While many still cling to it like fairy dust, the truth is that social media will have to ‘jump the shark’ soon in order to save itself. The problem with self promotion is that is goes stale…real quick. People don’t care what you’re selling even if it’s good. Self promoters who praise social media as their vehicle to move books either; a) haven’t reached their own 100th episode or; b) don’t know they are annoying people. The modernity of social media hasn’t changed the traditional salesman. They are as obnoxious as they always were, and like the telemarketer, the Avon lady, and the door knocking religious zealot our decision to log off is the technological equivalent of screening the call or slamming the door. said...

Ginny, I love you.

midnightblooms said...

I clicked yes, but I have to quantify that response. (Yes, it's necessary. The OCD said so.) ;)

Social media helps me find books. The Internet is the ultimate word-of-mouth advertising. I hear about an author or a book online and I'll check Amazon or B&N or the author's website for an excerpt. If it catches my attention, I buy it. If I'm not sure, I'll borrow it from the library.

There are a couple of bloggers who will recommend a book, and I'll check it out. The key is I have to have an excerpt of the book. Like an agent, I need to see pages to see if it's worth my time and money.

I don't buy based on a summary or a blurb, though they'll get me down off the fence.

Ellen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Teralyn Pilgrim said...

From my own personal experience, I don't read books that I've heard about on the internet... and I don't read books that my friends have read, for that matter. Finding books on the internet takes too much time and isn't a valid way to see if the book is any good, and my friends have a different taste in books than I do.

I'm most likely to read books that other authors I respect recommend, ones that have won awards, and ones that are featured in bookstores. If I get the opportunity to listen to an author speak, I always go and I read the work before hand. I admit, I'm also more likely to read a book if I saw the movie and liked it. Those things draw me in much faster than anything on the internet.

Liz Fichera said...

Writers who only use social media to promote their books is a turn-off. Only using it as a sales tool feels kind of like when the phone rings at night during dinnertime--you know when you pick up the phone some guy is going to try to sell you carpet cleaning or insurance.

Jenny Brown said...

Web activities with content sell books, which is why you can create a nonfiction bestseller online using a content rich blog (like this one.)

But the "I'm so thrilled about the release of my upcoming novel" posts do nothing but bore everyone but the authors' family and friends. And that is what 99% of novelists do on social media.

My novel is coming out Sept 28, but what will sell it in the quantities needed to keep my publisher excited about me will be the fact that it will be, albeit briefly, on Walmart shelves where readers too busy to read boring and repetitive review sites will pick it up and scan through it.

Anonymous said...

I just don't think there's enough hard evidence to prove it's worth too much time and effort. Sure, you can sell books. But when you break down your cost versus the number of sales, is it worth it? Really? Because it's not sales an author needs--it's SALES. There's no actual proof the sales are that great.

If it was a magic solution, well, it would magically make every book a bestseller. It doesn't. Can it help? Sure. But to what degree? Probably very little, so make your efforts match the outcome.

The cost of social time-sucking, however, is very great, and few are really discussing that. What's your time worth? Could it be better applied to something else? And it can be detrimental to your reputation. How many people have crossed off an author, agent, etc. because of something online? I have. Quite a few, actually.

On a personal note, there's something to be said for turning off and getting back into life. About finding balance. I think this backlash is reassuring. Go BE with your family and friends and your work and STOP tweeting about it constantly instead of living it. Focus on them, give yourself back to them. The rewards might be greater than any sales.

bloggEm said...

I see the power of social media for selling books to be mainly indirect. Blatant self promoting tweets probably won't get you far, but it can help you build your platform, which will help you land a publishing deal to begin with. It will also help spread word of mouth faster among readers who enjoy your book and recommend it to others. Some people may be easing up on their use of social media, but it's not going to fade out and will continue to lend itself to faster-than-ever networking and buzz.

Claire Dawn said...

I think writers follow other writers. Generally, unless you're a bestselling author, you probably don't have that big a nonwriter following.

I've bought every book released recently by a blogger I follow.

But like I said, I don't think it helps with selling to nonwriters.

howdidyougetthere said...

How many comments are you getting now on average vs. a year ago, Nathan?

Margo Gremmler said...

Thanks for your post, Nathan.
I wanted to add that the one-week ban of social media on the Harrisburg University campus is part of an experiment to have students reflect on social media's importance in their lives. Yeah, I know – not what I expected either!

Just making sure your readers didn't assume (as I would have) that the profs were just fed up already. ;) Which they probably are anyway...

ginny martyn said...

Thanks, GhostFolk.

hannah said...

It makes us [writers] buy each other's books. It has next to nothing to do with whether or not readers buy our books.

lotusgirl said...

Social media helps, but it will not make a book more than it is. For me blogging has been a great way to learn about the business and meet fellow writers. With that in mind, I try not to let it take over my life. When it starts creeping in too much, I cut back. Plus, for me at this point, writing is more important than reading and commenting on 100+ blogs. This summer I completely stepped away from it.

Anonymous said...

YES. The social media can help sell your books based on positive feedbacks.But who are actually reading books nowadays? Probably FEW of us. All I know it is best or rather better to READ BLOGS or NOVELS posted on blogs.The problem is how you can make money from blogs. Talking about REAL MONEY.

J. T. Shea said...

You mean there still is a world outside the internet? I knew I shouldn't have super-glued my fingers to the keyboard...

Anonymous 9:38 pm, after tax personal income is still not 'net profit'. Whatever the intent, the impression of both Viehl's 2009 post, and your 2:17 pm comment, was that Penguin ripped Viehl off. I broadly agree with your later critiques of both the NYT and social media.

Interesting, Anonymous 9:58 pm. So the NYT best-seller list is not based directly on sales at all!?

BTW, today is the 120th anniversary of the birth of a British woman whose eighty books sold twice as many copies as Stephen King and J. K. Rowling put together. She died long before 'social media'.

Leila said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Leila said...

It helps to a degree.

Perhaps location plays a key role(as in which part of the world you live in), access to other forms of marketing/learning/sharing/enjoyingliterature, and availability of information/books.

TJ said...

It sounds like a lot of people in the comments have a really strange view of what social media is about. Is Twitter a lot of updates about what someone ate for lunch? Of course it is; it's called Twitter, not Deeply Involved Discourse. It, and all the other forms of social media, are just other ways for people to talk. And just as if you were to walk into a crowded room with lots of different conversations going on, some are going to be mundane, some will be interesting, some will be arguments, all sorts. And just as word-of-mouth will always be what really sells a book, social media is just another way to facilitate that word-of-mouth.

I do know this: I have helped people find and buy new books on Twitter, on Facebook, on Goodreads, in blog comments, on the subway, in the street, on a park bench, by using Foursquare...all of it. How can you hate something that gives you such an opportunity to talk to readers?

Are some authors, companies, or people being rude when they talk about their books using social media? Sure, but no more rude than if you wouldn't shut up about your book in real life. The good authors and bookish people on Twitter or other social media balance out their messages and provide something worthwhile.

Kathryn Magendie said...

Social networking has certainly sold books for me, and helped me not to be so reclusive, to learn to be a little more social (both online and off)

However, it can be a big sucker of time and energy. Lawd. There are days when I want to throw my laptop into the creek and go laughing barefoot into the forest. . . . la la la tee dah!

Anonymous said...

J. T. Shea, you're completely and totally wrong if you think I was saying that Penguin ripped off Lynn Viehl. I was NOT saying that, and I don't think that AT ALL! Here's what I'm saying: It might NOT be worth putting in long hours of social media time, in addition to putting in long hours of writing, in order to earn less than $30,000 of disposable income for 1-1/2 years. MY MAIN POINT: People tend to say, "Oh, social media time is well worth it because you can get on the New York Times Best Seller List, just like J. K. Rowling!" ... BUT you never hear anyone say, "Oh, social media time is well worth it because you could make $30,000 in disposable income for 1-1/2 years, unlike J. K. Rowling who doesn't spend any time on social media!" Most writers earn only as much as Lynn Viehl did, or even less than that, even after making it onto the New York Times Best Seller List. OK, that's as clearly as I can possibly make my point.

Tiana said...

If you post or tweet or whatever the kids are calling it and expect people to magically find you, I think you are setting yourself up for disappointment.

I think it can be very helpful, though, if you take a directed and thoughtful approach to it.

It is easy enough to find a website for people that are passionate about the thing your book is about. They will be much more receptive to hearing about your book (and reading it) than if you sent out a generic plea for readers on a random social networking site.

James Reed's Reads said...

I run the Digital Spotlight Fiction Review. I'm part of a group who are reviewing ebooks to sift the wheat from the tares in the vast mountain of self-published material available on the net, particularly Smashwords and Amazon.

The first batch of reviews are now up. 3 ebooks reviewed - 1 Good, 1 BAD, 1 a Must-Read.

Please read the reviews in order as I posted the 3 at once for a reason:

Anonymous said...

It's all getting a bit too....OTT.

I tried to leave a comment on another agents blog. I need a google account. To get my google account, they want my phone number.

They can sod off. (yes I did send off to say I didn't want to give my phone number. But heck, it's a lot of work just to post a little comment)

Social media can help sales, especially for smaller presses etc, because how will people buy it if they don't know it exists? But I think people are in overload and/or fed up with intrusion. I know I am.

gae polisner said...

funny that, as a writer with my debut YA book coming out in the spring, and my option revisions due, I just blogged on this topic yesterday, here:

also, there's a link to an AWESOME short (mini?) film by a woman named Andrea Dorfman there. I don't know her. But I wish I did.

I voted that I am not "here."

gae polisner said...

sorry, that should have said blogged on a "related" topic yesterday... it was the whole social networking thing that led me there... :)

Julie Weathers said...

I've picked up some books because I find the authors interesting in various social media. I've also decided I will never buy some books because the author is an arrogant ass in public. It goes both ways.

J. T. Shea said...

Anonymous 1:45 pm, my last comment carefully distinguished between intent and impression. I already agreed with you regarding (online) social networking, but your comments seems more a critique of writing as a career choice than of social networking. There I would agree only in part.

But social networking IS working for you. Next time I'm in a bookstore, I'll keep an eye open for any books by 'Anonymous 1:45 pm'. You could really make a name for yourself!

James said...

From what I've learning from friends in advertising, social media does very little in the end. All those fb updates and the like - bupkis. It's just more noise mucking up the signal.

Clearly it doesn't hurt, but I'm getting completely unimpressed by all this internet chatter.

Imani said...

I was thinking of this the other day. There are so many aspiring authors on Facebook or Twitter that I'm getting fatigue reading their status or tweets.

I know the importance of marketing yourself; especially if a person self-published their books,but it has to be a limit. I believe if they tweet too much or post endless excerpts of their book on Facebook, I feel they'll lose their fans before their get book hits mainstream. Of course, it's my opinion.

I use Twitter to network with other writers and Facebook to communicate with friends and family. Every now and then, I will do a shameless plug of my endeavors, but I don't want to overkill it.

Adam Heine said...

It sounds like a lot of people are saying either "There are too many people out there to filter the noise" or "I never buy a book based on someone's tweets."

Both of these are true, I think, but are beside the point. Social media is not why you buy a book. It's how you first hear about a book.

And if you hear about a book enough times, from enough different sources, you'll eventually check it out yourself. So all the regular book filtering factors are still in play.

The First Carol said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The First Carol said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
passinglovenotes said...

About a third of the books I read are purchased as a direct result of Internet chat and/or advertising. That's significant.

Interestingly though, book trailers have turned me off to books I thought I would buy. Once I saw the trailer, I thought, WTF? And then it was over. Not buying that.

However, I bought Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver because she had the first chapter posted online. Loved it. Bought it. The same is true of Julie Kagawa's Iron King.

When an agent finally awakens to my writing genius and I get published, I'm going to make sure any publishing contracts I sign include the right to publish the first chapter online. That's what makes ME want to buy a book, so why the hell not?

Jane Holland said...

Nearly every ebook I've bought has been as a direct result of seeing it promoted on a blog, mentioned on Facebook or retweeted by a fellow writer.

But then, I'm a writer and editor, and most of my "friends" on social media are writers, editors, publishers, agents. So it would be amazing if I didn't hear about new books all the blinkin' time, and occasionally clicked through and bought one of them.

Not sure how important social media is for non-writing friends, whether they buy the same way or through different - dare I say, old-fashioned? - channels.

Interesting post.

Anonymous said...

I got off the net about two months ago. I've slowly gotten back on, but I actually don't want to be on as much as I used to. I like life. I like visiting with my neighbor and talking about our gardens (and her husband was a famous writer, yo, so we talk shop, too but mostly plants). I like walking to the library. I like walking down mainstreet and checking out the galleries. I've been taking hikes with the family every weekend, going apple picking--you know, LIFE. the stuff I need to think up the stories.

Maybe it's just that I'm older-39 this year, but apart from a very few sites-I just don't care where the next big story is.

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