Because publicity IS your job: social media for authors

July 26, 2010

This lady knows her stuff.

That was obvious to me the first time I “met” Marian Schembari on Twitter (she’s @marianschembari). She knows what she’s talking about. Whenever I have an idea about social media, I bounce it off Marian.

Marian Schembari, who helps authors sell boatloads of books.

And the cool things for readers of this blog? Marian specializes in social media for authors. That’s right, she focuses on helping writers sell books. And she’s here today to tell us how she does it.

Thanks for joining us, Marian! How'd you get into social media consulting? What makes you qualified to work with authors?

My background is in book publicity, and the way I landed that job is where the social media part comes in. I left college wanting to get into publishing, but getting my foot in the door was way more difficult than I had thought. After three months of sending out resumes and cover letters and hearing nothing back, I decided to take a “guerrilla marketing” approach. I used Facebook ads, Twitter, LinkedIn and a blog to get my name out there, and two weeks later I had a job as a book publicist. It was that easy. And that hard because no one taught me how powerful social media could be!

After three months of book PR, I realized a) I really enjoyed working for myself and b) most publicists still don't really have a handle on social media, and traditional publicity is fading fast. Print and TV opportunities are limited, and having a review in The New York Times just doesn't have the effect it used to. Readers want a personal connection, not some unrelatable opinion from a faceless reviewer. Readers want recommendations tailored to their interests, friendly neighborhood book bloggers and fan pages where the author actually participates in discussions.

Today, what can help sell books are relationships. Make it easy for readers to engage. Connect directly with book clubs on Twitter. Update fans on your writing/tours/signings/readings. Fiction or nonfiction, it doesn't matter. There are incredible communities online – covering everything from knitting to politics to cooking to rock climbing.

You teach authors to use social networking rather than doing it for them. Why does that work better?

For a million reasons, the most important one being that no one knows a book better than the author. The second being that it's more authentic. Like I said, readers want a personal connection with an author and if that author is going to make the effort to be online, it's silly to have someone else do it for them.

Social media is not one of those things you can outsource. I show authors how to create a real presence online based on their interests and goals. I do a little tutorial work for those who are brand-spanking new, but when it comes to the actual tweeting, blogging, etc… well, that's where they have to put the work in. There are ways to approach social media so it doesn't consume your life, and I give my authors a daily, weekly and monthly schedule so they actually have time for writing and aren't just sitting at their computers tweeting all day. This makes all the difference.

What are two of the top mistakes you see authors make when it comes to social media?

Only two? Sigh. Well, the first is attitude and this definitely comes across through their profiles. So many authors think it's “not their job” to take care of the marketing and publicity of their book. But as much as I love publishing houses and their employees, here's a little word to all you authors out there: your publisher's not going to do sh*t for you.

While unfortunate, it's the truth. And this isn't the publisher's fault! With the economy in bad shape and the interwebs making it harder and harder to sell books, their staff is spread incredibly thin. So if you want to make sure you actually sell your book, take some of the easy marketing into your own hands. Get on Twitter. I'll help you find that community of readers who's going to fall in love with your book. Create a Facebook fan page and spread the word. But don't sit at your desk whining that it's not your responsibility. The incredible power of social media is that you don't need to be a marketing expert, you just need to have a passion for your book, be willing to learn the basics and have fun with it! [Note from Alexis: Love this tough love approach. Marian’s so right.]

The second mistake? Blatant self-promotion. While people will start following you on Twitter or become your fan on Facebook because they want to hear more about you, they don't want to hear you shouting “Me! Me! Me!” from the social media rooftops. They want to hear where your next reading will be or get a link to your latest review, but they also want to hear about your favorite authors. Writing tips you can provide. Extra tidbits about your book. And, of course, you need to give love to get love. So retweet (that’s Twitter lingo) and engage others in conversation to get the most out of your online presence.

You offer solid tips on your site about how job seekers should use LinkedIn. Do you think LinkedIn is also valuable for authors?

Yes and no. No because the opportunities are limited and LinkedIn is just…. a little boring and static. That said, LinkedIn is a great way to drive traffic to your blog. Since I highly recommend authors start a blog, LinkedIn to the rescue! It's basically all about community involvement. There are author communities you can join, as well as specific writer and interest groups. For example, did you write a book about knitting? Join a knitting group, make friends, answer questions and post links to your blog. When your book is published, send a message out to all those friends you made and let them know!

Can you suggest a few authors who use Twitter well who we might want to emulate? What's great about what they're doing?

I really like what Susan Orlean (@susanorlean) is doing on Twitter. She's self-promotional without being spammy. She links to articles she writes, but also participates in #FF [Note: #FF = Follow Friday, when tweeps recommend other tweeps to follow]. She regularly talks to her followers and has almost 60,000 of them to prove this methods works.

I also adore the blog of author Jody Hedlund. Her book isn't even out yet, but she's got a great Twitter following as well as loyal blog readers. Jody writes about her own book, but also provides helpful advice to other authors. The great thing about her is that not only is she useful, but she lets us into her writing process. She wrote a post called: An Inside Look at Advance Reading Copies, which I thought was just brilliant. Involving her followers in the publishing process is a great tactic because it gets them interested in her work as it's created, rather than just the finished product. Her audience becomes attached, and that creates a community, not just a group of disengaged readers.

The Facebook page of Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project is also pretty spiffy. Just go see for yourself – her community adores her.

For authors who already have a blog and basic presence on Twitter and Facebook, do you have any suggestions for taking it to the next level?

Yes! I really like coming up with ways to involve your community in something bigger. So holding book giveaways on Twitter and Facebook is a good start. Authors can also create a page on Goodreads and hold a contest that way. Joining writer chats on Twitter is a fantastic way to grow your network and learn from other authors and agents: #litchat and #writechat are two great ones. Once an author has a pretty established presence I recommend “attending” one Twitter chat per week.

Do you think it's possible to tell whether an author's social media efforts are resulting in book sales?

Nope! And I think a lot of authors get hung up on that and end up taking no action – meaning they can never reap the benefits. It's really not that different from a review, really. Sure, if sales go up the week of a big newspaper review you can guess the two are linked, but book sales ebb and flow just like anything else. In terms of social media, you need a different way to track your progress.

A good way to do this is by outlining non-sales related goals before implementing a whole campaign. For example, do you want reviews on book websites? Do you want to generate traffic to your own blog? Do you want to be a featured speaker at an author's event? By highlighting these goals you can target your social media attempts so that they're more effective.

On your Twitter feed, you often offer a Social Media Tip of the Day. Can you share one or two with us here? Since you've got more than 140 characters, feel free to elaborate.

I use my Social Media Tip of the Day kind of like a venting tool. There are so many people using social media “the wrong way” and it drives me crazy! So while I hope these tips are helpful to people, they mostly function as a way for me to let off some steam. So I'll leave you with my two favorites:

Is your profile COMPLETE? Do I need to remind you that unless you have a link/name/bio, no one’s going to follow you?

Too many times I see people without a bio or using a generic Twitter avatar. That doesn't work for me, or for any potential followers. You show that you're not Twitter savvy and don't care enough to try.

When commenting on a blog and you have your own site, ALWAYS include a link back. Also, get a Gravatar.

This is another one that confuses me. I have my own blog and every time I write a post I'll get comments from people who don't link back to websites I know they have. They must not realize that linking back to their site helps people find them, it gives me and my readers and idea of who they are AND it helps spread the word they exist! Getting a Gravatar means that an image will show up next to their name. We're visual people so it's always a plus to put a face to the name 🙂

Thanks so much, Marian. Practical and relevant, as always.

Marian just started offering a new (and super affordable) service that a lot of y’all could use: personalized Twitter critiques to help you network more effectively on Twitter. It’s worth looking into.

[tweetmeme source=”alexisgrant”]

Any questions for Marian? She promised to swing by and answer them.

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    51 Replies to “Because publicity IS your job: social media for authors”

    • Great post! I do have a couple of questions. I am planning to start a new blog so I can continue to engage my readership as I work on my book (my current “blogoir” has been a short-term project). As an aspiring author, is it important to disclose my full name? Should I use my name as the URL? Should I keep my blog’s name simple, or is it preferable to come up with something creative? Thanks!

      • Hi Emma!

        My first question for you is – why do you want to create a NEW blog when you already have a readership at your old one? A mistake I see authors make is that they fiddle around with lots of different things but never really commit to one because “it’s not working” right away. I don’t know enough about your blog or your circumstances, but that’s something to keep in mind.

        In terms of disclosing your full name – YES! Absolutely positively yes. The internet is not as scary as people make it out to be – so maybe don’t put your address or home phone number on there, but having your full name is incredibly important. It’s your brand, how your readers will know you, and it will make you more recognizable to readers, other authors, agents and publishers. Take ownership of your name and use it everywhere!

        As for your URL, I say your full name would be best. While I do like catchy titles, authors are different from other bloggers. You want to leverage your blog and sell books. Confusing your readership by calling it something different can have detrimental effects.

        That said, I really like what Alexis has done on her blog and we actually recently had this conversation. Her URL is her full name, but she’s writing a travel memoir and is now known across the blogosphere as “The Traveling Writer”. Make sense?

        So if you want to be a little creative, create a tagline for yourself, but my advice would to definitely make sure your name is prominent – most successful authors I know have their full name as a URL – it’s kind of expected now, you know?

        Hopefully this was a little helpful! Let me know if you have any more questions!

    • littlehousesouthernprairie says:

      This is one of the most informative interviews you’ve ever done, Alexis! Love this! I am going to come crawling to both of you when I start trying to launch some social networking stuff in the coming weeks or months.

      The point about being interactive is so true. I learned this sort of indirectly. I keep an active blog and love writing back and forth with commenters, and visiting their blogs, too. For me this is about building community, but it’s also darn helpful, as lots of the bloggers I hear from are doing the same sorts of frugal/green/simplicity/new mom stuff I am, and there are all sorts of tips to share. Anyway, two months ago I stumbled on a blog by a woman just like me. Former city gal in journalism, now doing the farmy thing in the south, trying to promote her forthcoming cookbook via the blog, and expecting her first child (I just gave birth to mine). I was so psyched to find her! I left comments on literally four of her posts. And this is not such a busy blog that a comment would go unnoticed — she was getting like 3-6 comments a post. Anyway, she never wrote back in the comments section. And she never came to my blog to post a comment either. I was surprised by that and, honestly, found it rude. Then I wondered — where is my irritation coming from? And I realized that a sense of “community” is what makes online interaction work for me. And she wasn’t playing, at least not with me. Because of it, right or wrong, I don’t visit her blog anymore, and don’t care about her book. The lesson I learned was to make sure I don’t ever make someone else feel the same way. I’d always tried to be good about responding to comments and commenting on the blogs of visitors, but the experience made me realize why it’s so important. So what you guys are saying here about being interactive is really ringing true. You’re totally right.

      OK, done with that story.


      A question: My full name (which I use as a byline) is really stupidly long, as my middle name is Achenbaum. But my regular name, sans middle name, is almost bizarrely anonymous: Emily Harris. No really, try to Google Emily Harris. Just try. Anyway, what should I make my Twitter handle? My whole name is too long.

      • Oh my goodness, Emily, I’ve TOTALLY had that happen to me before. I kind of figure that all bloggers understand the community aspect but sometimes I forget that many have no idea that you should respond to comment or at least check out the website of the commenter

        (Side note: Why is your name not linked? I want to see your website but can’t because you didn’t link to it. Naughty girl!)

        Back to your question though – do you use the full name Emily Achenbaum Harris as your byline? Because you’re right, that is crazy long, but not the end of the world. My name is relatively long and I know it’s hard to spell, but now everyone knows my real name and like I said in my comment above to Emma, I think it’s important to shape your brand around your name.

        Some ideas:
        @Emily_A_Harris or @EmilyAHarris (not sure if either is taken)

        One social media gal I like is Laura Roeder and her handle is @lkr. So if @eah isn’t taken, you could totally do that! Sometimes short and sweet is awesome.

        I’d stay away from numbers though, that reminds me of my high school hotmail email account 😉

        • littlehousesouthernprairie says:

          I know, right? (Re: commenting back and forth). Thing is… I think she knows. It occurred to me she could be the type who views similar bloggers as threats instead of friends, esp. because our storyline, on the surface at least, is a lot alike. Which made me like her even less. I digress.

          I do use the full name as a byline and it is stupid long. I do it though because I had a full journalism career under my maiden name, Achenbaum, which obviously is a weird and rare last name so people know it’s me when they see it. My married name 9and I got married right when I quit newspapers) is Harris, and I have taken that name, and use regular Emily Harris is my life. I just throw the Achenbaum in my byline, the only place I use it, for … stalkers? The illusion of career continuation? Again, cause then there’s no question it’s me, whereas Emily Harris leaves it wide open?

          I love your last 3 suggestions re: handle.

      • littlehousesouthernprairie says:

        PS and I can never get my blog to hyperlink when I comment on Alexis’ blog! Why? I am wordpress, she’s wordpress, I’m logged in, WTF?

        • That is freaking weird. Sometimes WordPress is dumb. Okay, now Ima stalk you 😉

        • littlehousesouthernprairie says:

          I welcome your stalking! And feedback post-stalking. 🙂

        • @TheGirlPie says:

          Your comments made me nod, blurt “I know! The dopes!” and really like you ~ [attention readers? Get it?! “Spreading Sincerity” works in all kinds of good ways] ~ so I’m heading over to your site —

          BUT had to butt in with your byline bit: I know your maiden name is your ID, and my advice to Demi was the same: Be Emily Harris at home, and Emily Achenbaum at “work.”
          But if you ever write a blog/article/book about being a writer (and we do sit all day) I’d have your byline be
          “Emily ‘Ackin’-Bum’ Achenbaum” — ! Cuz I’m silly.

          Great interview MarianLibrarian (which is how I know/remember you!)
          ~GirlPie, a Walk-the-Talker Type

        • littlehousesouthernprairie says:

          Hey GirlPie! Thanks for the feedback. You know though, in my humble and genuinely non judgmental opinion, I do find the “one last name for work and a different last name for everything else” to be the hardest ones to keep track of.

      • diane says:

        This is such a good point. If you have a not super-commented-on blog, and are trying to sell your brand/book, yet you won’t reply to regular commenters (whether in your field or not), people are going to assume you suck. I mean, I don’t expect Dooce or The Bloggess to respond to my comments ‘cos they get hundreds (although I’ve emailed Dooce twice, and both times she responded promptly and politely, because she GETS IT) but if you average less than 10 comments a post and don’t reply to all or almost all of them, you look snooty or uninterested, and it’s not an incentive to keep reading or commenting.

      • Alexis Grant says:

        Emily — Glad you’re thinking hard about which Twitter handle to use, because it’s so hard to change it later!

        A friend of mine recently started on Twitter, and she put HC for Houston Chronicle after her name. I told her to quickly change that — because if she went to all the trouble to build up followers and create a name for herself on Twitter, then left the Houston Chronicle, she’d still have the HC in her name! So remember to stick with YOU, not necessarily an interest that may change down the road.

        Also, while Twitter helps brand you (it’s the only reason I remember how to spell Marian’s last name), you also want your handle to be short and easy to remember.

        I like Marian’s idea of: @EmilyAHarris

        You could also do something like @SimpleEm or @SimpleEmily — that eludes to your life of simplicity. Because that’s a pretty broad interest that you’re probably not going to drop in a few years, even if you change careers or make another drastic life change.

        I’ll keep brainstorming!

        • Ooooh, I like @SimpleEmily!!

        • littlehousesouthernprairie says:

          Good stuff. I think I’ll do something involving my name and/or writing. I like simpleem, though like your Houston Chronicle example, what happens when I publish my novel about horses? (What, it’s 1/3 done. I could totally finish it in the next 10 years)

        • Alexis Grant says:

          littlehousesouthernprairie — the difference between the HC example and SimpleEm (although I like SimpleEmily better because it’s more obvious it’s your name, whereas simpleem kinda runs together) is that simple refers to YOU, to your lifestyle. you aren’t going to leave that behind when you write your novel about horses.

    • diane says:

      Hi Marian! I have a question about blogging/tweeting about different interests. If, say, someone has a personal blog and they want to write about another topic, should they add that topic to the personal blog (even if it’s rather different to what they usually cover, so may alienate regular readers) or is it worth starting a new blog, Twitter feed etc. What’s the line between diluting one’s brand and catering to the right audience, and how do you know when/if to branch out?

      • Alexis Grant says:

        Would love to chime in here! I say diversify under one name. The brand is YOU. You’re the thread that pulls those interests together.

        It also makes your life significantly easier when you’re only updating one blog and one Twitter feed.

        Also, it makes the blog and the Twitter feed more interesting! Readers need some variety.

        I’ve struggled with this same problem — initially started my blog AND my Twitter feed around the topic of writing a book. But then I wanted to blog and tweet about travel and social media and journalism. I’ve done it all in the same place — and I think it works. Sure, a reader might gloss over one post because they don’t care about journalism. But overall, I’ve gained followers on Twitter and this blog with my variety — very few have left me because of it.

        • I’m with Alexis – definitely all under one name. We’re ALL multi-passionate people and if we’re going to spend our time on a blog, might as well be on stuff we’re interested about. Sometimes I blog about music and that’s okay 😉

    • diane says:

      Thanks Alexis; that’s valuable insight as you’ve actually done this successfully! I guess in the long run it’s not worth keeping followers for the sake of numbers, if they’re not interested in what you want to talk about. I’ve been trying to get an alter-ego Twitter account off the ground and it’s hard work. I may rethink my strategy…

    • Peggy Frezon says:

      I just attended a writer’s conference in Vermont and I’d say about half the participants had no idea how to blog and even less knew about Twitter. I’ll be sure to pass along both your names…your expertise will help so many aspiring authors.

    • Jessica says:

      First off, I adore both you and Marian so I would have liked this post without even reading it, but this post is so spot on.

      I wrote a post last week about Jennifer Weiner and her stance on doing her own book publicity and she had a lot of the same views as Marian and I completely agree.

      I love when an author is personable online. It makes me like them and their writing even more!

    • Jessie Carty says:

      The going with one name early kn is a HUgE tip but so many of these are good. I hate that my YouTube and Twitter names are basically impossible to change but at least having mu URL in my complete profile hehe helps!

      Do you ever work with poets?

    • Andi says:

      Awesome info, thanks so much!

    • Wow, what a great story and lots of useful info too. I’m fascinated how you were able to get a job using social sites. I always think of them as a way to advertise something, but never myself. LOL.


      • Oh man, I thought the EXACT same thing! But let me tell you something, it worked like a freaking charm and there’s no way I’d be doing what I’m doing if it weren’t for those Facebook ads!

    • Memorista says:

      Thanks so much for this. You have no idea how often I tell authors, both clients and friends that they need to take control of their publicity and it falls on deaf ears. Until their book comes out and I get the weepy phone calls of course! Even publicists with the best intentions still need all the support they can get from their authors!

    • Very good post! I especially am leery of following people who have no bio’s posted on their Twitter profile. Then I have to read back through their tweet stream to see if they are writers or otherwise interesting to me… sometimes I don’t have time to go back very far and a tag in the bio could allow me to automatically hit the follow button.

      Also, regarding comments and replies to comments in blogs. I know a lot of authors feel no need to reply to comments they receive on their blogs and that confounds me. I love visitors to leave comments on my blog and I always try to respond to them. It’s not much of a conversation if only one side is talking… I tend not to revist blogs manned by authors who won’t engage.

      • In terms of bios – I don’t even LOOK at their Twitter stream if they don’t have one. I’m with you – I don’t have the time and I get so annoyed about the incomplete profile I won’t follow for that exact same reason.

        And in terms of blog comments, I never really started responding to comments on my blog until recently. It was total ignorance because the “big bloggers” rarely respond and get hundreds of comments without doing anything. So I’d just wait for the numbers to rack up without my assistance. Then people started asking questions and getting involved and the more *I* got involved, the more *they* got involved. It was an awesome circle and once I started realizing how powerful my own engagement was, comments went way up. Everybody wins!

    • lauramunson says:

      As a newly published author and techno peasant, I REALLY appreciated this post. Getting a Gravatar pronto.

      did I do okay???

    • Ms. Mack says:

      This is great! Thanks for the helpful post. I often hear authors/writers dismissing Twitter and social media, in general, as a big waste of time, pedestrian or simply a “show-off” platform. Not true. At least, as you’ve shown us here, it doesn’t have to be. Used for good, not eye-roll bait, social media is exactly what part of the name spells out: MEDIA.
      Twitter: @NicoleBlades

    • Ms. Mack says:

      Hello again. Not sure if another commenter noticed this, but the link to Rubin’s Happiness Project Facebook page takes you to the wrong place.

      Gretchen’s page is:

    • Terri says:

      Great article! I really enjoyed all the info, I’ve made an attempt at gaining a web prescence but have found it difficult to fit in the time. I’m writing my novel during my 30 min lunch at my day job & tend to kids when I get home. I have extremely limited time. Any advice?

      • Alexis Grant says:

        Hey Terri — I’d say choose one or two platforms and invest your time there. Rather than spreading yourself thin over a zillion networks, build an awesome community on one or two.

        I can see you’ve got a blog, which is great, so keep working on improving that and building your audience. Are you on Facebook? Twitter? Normally I recommend Twitter, but it’s much more of a time-suck, especially initially, than Facebook. So if you’re really pressed for time, I’d say keep up the blog and build up your Facebook community… with the goal of getting onto Twitter when you can.

        Who else wants to weigh in?

        • While I agree that Twitter is initially a time suck, you see results faster than with FB. Because with FB you can only invite your friends, so seeing people you *don’t* know join your fan page and actually participate is more organic and there’s not a lot of proactive stuff you can do to grow the group.

          That’s why I’m a HUGE Twitter fan (as I know you are, Lexi!). My advice for squeezing in the time is to learn an outside client like Hootsuite FAST. Spend time in the morning scheduling tweets and then forget about it. When you have a chunk of 20 minutes, really go through and find people to follow. Engage those people. If you spend 10 minutes every day following new people and scheduling tweets you WILL see results. Just be patient.

        • Terri says:

          Thanks. I do have FB & twitter. I consider FB is my personal stuff & not an author page, per say. I’m committing a no-no by not having a photo or much of a bio. I’ll work on that & check out that hootsuite. Thanks for the advice!

    • d e bartley says:

      I use my blog to write scifi and also to get publicity for my 3 novels. I seem to be doing very well with the writing part, I write scifi sunday’s with the hipriestess, 5 cent tales, a weekly edition, and people do come and read, however My book sales aren’t doing well, sure I sell some every week, but of course it could be more. Come visit my website Scifi sunday’s with the hipriestess at read a story, get some advice or become a guest author,

    • Thank you for this amazing article with some really useful information. I really appreciate all the advice that you gave out. I just recently published my own book, and I have been working hard to build my platform as an author. I have been spending a lot of time researching marketing and publicity. I’m glad that I came across your website. Also I’m fixing to go on a cross country bicycle tour of the US, and it was great to read more about your own travels.

    • Well I am late to the party, but I truly enjoyed this blog and your advice. I found you on Twitter and spent about an hour connecting to all the links you had in the blog! Very neat stuff. Thanks so much for sharing.

      C.L. Swinney

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