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