How to use Facebook to — shhhh — promote your book

February 7, 2010

In my social circle, knowing how to use Facebook is like knowing how to read. It’s something we do every day, without thinking about it, like we were born knowing how. Of course, we know there are people in this world who don’t know how to read, but we rarely come into contact with them, so we barely believe they exist. Besides, we can’t imagine a life without reading.

I’m not saying this to brag. (And I’m not a teeny bopper; I’m 29.) I’m saying this so you understand how vital Facebook is in 2010. And so you understand why we all notice that you — yes, you who joined Facebook to promote your book — you’re doing it wrong.

I’m here to help you use it properly. And it’s totally okay that you have to learn — good for you for getting on the train. Kudos for doing what your publisher or agent or circle of writing friends told you to do. They’re right; Facebook is a great networking tool. But it works far better when you look like you know what you’re doing.

That’s why I’m offering these tips:

Pretend you didn’t join just to promote your book. Fake it. Act like you joined Facebook for fun. Sounds crazy, right? But that’s why most Facebook users are on the social networking service. For fun. And we can smell promoters a mile away.

Befriend people you know. Like, in person. Not people you follow on Twitter or people you’d like to know. Befriend people you’ve met in real life, people you worked with, went to school with, maybe someone you’ll see tomorrow. Even with more than 700 friends, I’ve met nearly all of them in the flesh. A few I’ve met only once, maybe at a party or work conference. And yes, a few I met originally on Twitter, or some other online group — but we communicated through more than tweets before we became Facebook friends. And on that note…

Don’t treat Facebook like Twitter. They’re both social-media tools, but they’re totally different beasts. Facebook is for communicating with people you already know. Twitter is for meeting people. Facebook is personal. Twitter is about networking for career purposes or other specific interests. Yes, Twitter can be personal and Facebook can be used for career networking. But if you keep that basic distinction in mind, it will prevent you from telling us TMI — Too Much (Private) Information — on Twitter and not enough on Facebook. If you’re friends with so many people on Facebook, people you don’t really know, you won’t offer personal stuff like status updates and photos that your real friends want to hear about. Stuff that makes you a good Facebook friend.

For that reason, don’t link your Twitter feed to your Facebook status. Your audiences are different, and they want to hear about different things. Cater to those audiences to build relationships.

Relationships on Facebook are reciprocal (both parties have to agree to be friends), while on Twitter they can be one-sided (I can follow you even if you don’t follow me).

Understand the difference between a profile page and a fan page. If you’re promoting your book, you’ll want both, but they’re used differently. Your profile page is where you make connections, befriend people you know in person and offer personal information about yourself — well, not too personal, but that’s another post — since only your friends read it. Your name is on your profile page.

Your fan page, however, bears the name of your product. And anyone can join that fan group, even if you’re not friends. How do you get fans? You get fans through your profile page, where, because you’re pretending you joined Facebook for fun, you’ve connected with people you know from work, school, your craft club, the PTA, whatever. Because those people are really your friends, they’ll join your fan page to support you. Then their friends will see that they joined the page, and they’ll join, too. If the domino effect works, you’ve got a solid fan page with members you know in person and members you don’t know.

Look at other fan pages to figure out what to put on yours. (Like the fan page for Julie Kraut’s YA novel, Slept Away.) Don’t post an “out of office” reply if you’re not going to be around for a while. Yes, I actually saw someone ask online whether they should do this. Facebook FAIL.

If you must, if you absolutely must, go ahead and create a fan page under your name. I really think this is only a good idea if you’re a celebrity — you’re probably not if you’re reading this post — or you have more than, say, four books to promote. Check out Jodi Picoult’s fan page. It works. But if you’re not going to be cranking out books like she does, if this is your first book, it works better to have a fan page for that book. It also looks less presumptuous. Because you’re joining Facebook for fun, not to promote a product, remember?

Set your privacy settings. The New York Times had a great story recently about how to do this. If you do nothing, the whole world can probably see your profile page, which partly defeats the purpose of having friends.

Ask someone who uses Facebook for fun to help you. Don’t ask someone who also joined to “build their platform.” They’re probably doing it wrong, too. This means you’re likely going to have to approach someone who’s younger than you. Sit down with them and have them go through Facebook and explain what’s cool and what’s not. Like I said, to them it’s like knowing how to read.

So. If I know you only through this blog or Twitter, feel free to contact me in the comments below, through my Twitter feed, via e-mail at (I always write back), maybe in our Ning group if you’re a travel writer — I’d love to connect in all of those places! But puh-lease, until we’ve established some sort of relationship, think twice before finding me on Facebook.

Anybody got good Facebook tips to add?

UPDATE: Check out this post about why authors should create a page for their name/book, not a group.

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    30 Replies to “How to use Facebook to — shhhh — promote your book”

    • C.C says:

      I started this group for fun. It was more for curiosity, I invited people I know and then in turn a few others have joined.

      What is really nice, is that people are actually going across to read the first chapter and then writing to me.

      It may be a cheap gimmick, but it helps my self confidence with the writing.

    • I use Facebook to stay in touch with my old friends, see pictures of my friends’ kids, and hang out with writers. I totally use it for fun, and will never use it for promotion.

      I have never bought a book because I heard about it from Facebook, Twitter, or MySpace. (But have bought plenty of books I heard about while blogging.)

      My biggest pet peeve is writers who promote to each other. I know writers are readers, too, but seriously… if you know more than ten writers, keeping up with buying their books is impossible. It becomes a spamfest, with everyone promoting and hardly anyone buying.

      This always makes me really unpopular when I say this, but when MySpace was actually useful, my pseudonym refused to get in the writers’ loops. It’s a waste of time: they’re not going to buy my books, and I can’t afford to buy their books. Instead, I seek out readers and people who are interested in my pseudonym’s niche.

    • Karen Walker says:

      Wow, Alexis. Thanks so much. I wish I’d read this before I befriended a whole bunch of people on Facebook that I don’t know.

      • Alexis Grant says:


        Well, if they accepted your requests, they must be okay with it! That’s the real test. There are, obviously, some people out there who use Facebook to meet people. 🙂

    • zoezolbrod says:

      Very apt post. So many of my friends are cultural producers of one sort or another that I get plenty of opportunity to see what works and doesn’t when it comes to promoting on FB, and I think you hit the nail on the head. I have a book coming out this spring, and I hope to find a way to be an enthusiastic advocate of my own work without being annoying. It’s a hard trick!

      I understand Natasha’s point about writers promoting endlessly to each other. Especially on Twitter, it can seem like everyone is frantically jumping up and down trying to get the attention of all the other jumpers. But ideally, writers should be one of the best audiences for others’ new work, right? Maybe I’m just talking about literary writers here, but it’s a sorry state of affairs when literary journals and presses get many more submissions than sales or subscriptions. Dan Chaon had an excellent post about this, comparing some of his writing students unfavorably to kids who want to be musicians.

      Anyway, I’m going to send your link to my dad, who joined FB to promote his book but now isn’t sure what to do.

      • You’re right, that’s a great point. I love that article! (Went to school as a classical musician, and we gathered around every night for four or so hours to just listen to CDs.)

        I didn’t mean to imply that we shouldn’t read each other. It’s just gotten to the point where, in a SLOW week, I hear about ten new books. Usually it’s in the thirties. It’s just… yeah, like you said so well: a bunch of people frantically jumping up and down, all trying to yell over each other.

    • krpooler says:

      I joined facebook reluctantly this past year because I was told it would be beneficial (actually essential) to me as a writer in establishing an online presence. I can see where it serves a purpose but my use of it is limited. Your tips are very practical and helpful, Thanks for sharing them!

      Kathy Pooler

    • Alexis Grant says:

      To all the new FB users (especially ones who have commented here): I’m kind of snarky in the post, but I’m happy to help if you have questions about how to use FB. Fire away!

      • Harvey Cail says:

        I really like your article. There is a lot of advice available about how to use facebook but I have yet to see any on using the ‘command’ buttons. What they do seems very obscure to me.

        Thanks, Harvey.

    • Andrea James says:

      Really good advice!

    • drewfbush says:

      oh no, FACEBOOK! isn’t that like a swear word in social circles these days?

    • jessiecarty says:

      good stuff, especially about separating updates from twitter and facebook because they are very different animals. when i taught my networking class, i made a point of trying to explain to people that you will be ignored more when all you do is promote. if you don’t once in a while have personal tweets or status updates people will just ignore you!!!

      • this is very true — jc is right on the money. i ended up ‘hiding’ someone who became promotional 24/7, and who’s non-promotional updates were clearly attempts at trying to look natural, ie like they weren’t promoting all the time. 🙂

    • Dazediva says:

      Hey there,
      really good post 🙂 enjoyed it a lot.

      There’s definitely a big difference in the way I use FB and Twitter and I’m glad I’ve got it right (so far so good at least hehe)

      Facebook is definitely more ‘personal’ .. the fan pages are great tools for promotion .. once you have a couple of your real friends as fans – they end up promoting your fan page to their friends and so on and so forth … and that’s how you can utilize FB for marketing / promotion.

      On Twitter – sure I use it to promote my blog and every now and then my event planning services – but more so – I use it to ‘learn’ about ‘what else is out there’ …

      Lately though – if I have something that would be useful to both my FB & Twitter users – I use platforms such as or which caters to multi-status updates i.e FB, Twitter, Linked In, etc etc

    • I never thought of actually making a distinction between how you have to use Twitter and Facebook. But I believe what you say is right.

      Twitter is definitely better to find new people vs. Facebook.

    • I’m another sort-of Facebook user. I joined and stalled immediately. I don’t think I know anyone in real life on Facebook – except for my teenage son and he doesn’t want me in his social network online any more than he’d like me tagging along on a night out LOL

      Which is why I haven’t been back since the day I opened my account.

      Plus I expect to have at least nine books out by the end of the year and have five out already – so I suppose I’d need the fan page – but I’d feel a bit silly and rather Gilderoy-Lockhart-ish setting my own fan page up.

      Surely the point of a fan page is that someone who is a fan should set one up?

      Facebook gives me a headache just thinking about it. I only do things that are fun and it sounds like a HUGE CHEW – rather than fun.

    • oops meant to tick the boxes when I posted the last comment and didn’t – so this is so I can get notifications vai email. See – I’m clueless 🙁

    • Pamela Miles says:

      Sound advice for anyone on the difference between FB and Twitter. Right on Alexis!

    • Ace says:

      I just wanted to clarify one point. You mean that these are guidelines for using facebook to promote books which have already been published I am assuming? I don’t suppose it would do any good to promote unpublished ones this way.

    • aurora1920 says:

      I’m an OLD lady trying to get over my natural resistance to all this stuff, because I finally wrote a book I’d been researching on and off for years and wanted to get it published before I die.

      It is interesting to read your comments! I’ve opted for a Facebook Page (haven’t published it officially yet), for my book–Bridge Table or What’s Trump Anyway? I want to both promote the book AND promote the cause of boomer daughters of old bridge-playing women like me, to take up the game as daughters routinely did until the 70s. Also looking to find remnants of decades-old sociable bridge club like the one I joined in 1960 (and many of your moms or grandmoms did as well), still around with whomever is still alive.

      Will I have the NERVE to publish it? Don’t know yet.

    • Lynne says:

      I enjoyed reading this as I have been stumped by social networking do and don’t for some time. I guess I wasn’t so far off as I have a fan page for my biz and keep my personal for me. Though I have friends I haven’t met in person I have socialized on facebook with them so I suppose that is okay. I am, at almost 50, answering the call to travel and to write my memoirs so finding your information, blog, etc. is exciting for me on this otherwise semi dull Friday. Thank you!

    • Janet Givens says:

      Hello, I just found this post, (and Alexis’ website) through your 2010 Blog interview with Marianne Elliott. And I’m thrilled to find the mother-lode. I’m eager to find an extra hour or two and peruse your site at my leisure.

      In the meantime, I have a different view of FB Pages. I have a profile page, of course (and I have fun on it). And I have an author Page too, and it’s also in my name (Janet_Givens_Author) because I believe I am my product. If I were to have a Page just for Book #1, then when #2 comes out, I’d have to start all over again building that fan base (called Likes these days. FB keeps changing). So, I’m wondering if you’ve changed your thinking on FB Pages since this was first published (2010; wow!)

      In any event, I do look forward to your newsletter, learning lots more, and connecting with a new group of fellow travelers.

      But I do have one point on your FB info that I’d disagree with

    • wanda says:

      Well, so I’m 50. I definitely need a young person for guidance. Thank you for the tips!

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