Sunday, May 3, 2015

Authors on Facebook: What Works?

While being active on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, Instagram, etc. is a must if you’re self-published, it’s also expected for those of us who work with traditional publishers. The week I got my first book contract—a year and a half before the book would be in print—my editor was already pushing me to get active on Twitter and Facebook, drumming up that ever-elusive “buzz.”

                                                         Disclaimer: This is not me.

I already had a personal Facebook account and was familiar with its pros (staying in touch with far-away family and friends) and cons (political rants; humblebragging). How would my author life fit into the Facebook self I’d already established? We all know what you choose to post on Facebook is a curated version of reality, but did I want the author Elizabeth Blackwell to be distinct from the suburban-mother-with-kids Elizabeth Blackwell? Or should I be one (virtual) person?

I also wondered what the point of that Facebook presence would be. If the goal was to sell more books, wouldn’t the people who “liked” my Facebook page be the ones who’d already read it? Was I supposed to be promoting myself as a brand (whatever that meant)?

Then there was the question of content. It was a definitely a challenge to find anything worth posting when my publication date was still more than a year away. There are only so many teaser quotes you can get away with posting, and even my mom would get bored with too much overhyping. But I didn’t want the kind of sad page that’s only updated once every six months. I didn’t want to send out that kind of lame, I’ve-already-given-up vibe.

Looking back now, two years later, here’s what I’ve learned:

1. Facebook doesn’t sell books: One of your fantastic posts might be forwarded by someone, which might bring your work to the attention of someone who might buy your book. If you’ve already established your career, posting about your new book might remind fans to go buy it. But Facebook won’t catapult you to stardom. Sorry.

2. Facebook is a marketing boot camp: I don’t love thinking of myself as a “brand,” but the truth is that you’ve got to sell yourself as much as you sell your books. Posting regularly on Facebook forces you to decide what kind of image you want to project: funny and irreverent? Heartwarming? Someone who’s an expert on a certain subject?  

3. Facebook works best for authors who are already Facebooking: Because I was a regular user of Facebook anyway, it wasn’t a big deal for me to set up a separate “Elizabeth Blackwell Author” page, then shift back and forth between that and my personal page. Since my personal page has regular posts about my children for all those out-of-town relatives, I wanted to protect their privacy by keeping a separation between my real life and my writer life. I know other authors who have a single online identity. Either way is fine.

4. You don’t have to be on Facebook at all: The days are long gone when Facebook was popular with the college crowd. Nowadays, half of Facebook users are in their thirties to fifties. That’s fine for me, since I’m writing adult fiction. But it might not make sense for a YA author, who’d get more bang for their buck on Twitter or Instagram.

5: Your Facebook page shouldn’t only be about your book: Which is why I’ll be posting a link to this post of my Facebook page as soon as it’s up. Fresh content? Mission accomplished!


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