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“I Tried Facebook, It Didn’t Work” And Other Ways Authors Mistake Social Media For Publicity

There is no magic button to build your audience. No secret button in Twitter or Facebook or Pinterest that will suddenly get the word out about your book to 20,000 people, or increase your followers by 300% overnight.

An author said this to me recently:

“I tried Facebook, it didn’t work.”

This is common feedback I hear from writers – they tried a certain social media platform or a specific marketing tactic, it didn’t drive more book sales right away or didn’t result in significant audience grow right away, so they become jaded and stop using it.

What is missing here is something simple, and profound: RESPECT. Respect for the audience of readers that you hope to engage. Social media is amazing in how it has provided us new ways to connect with others. But don’t be mistaken that it has somehow changed the nature of how human beings establish trust and behave – it hasn’t.

The basics still matter, and those authors who leverage social media best are those who focus on the basics of understanding, caring about, and truly engaging with their audience.

Are you writing in a genre or topic that hundreds or thousands of others are too? Do you want to differentiate yourself from them? Well, first, obviously, is to write a great book – hone your skills. But beyond that, focus on understanding your audience better than anyone else. Become an expert on those people who buy books like those you write.

Why? Because most writers have only the vaguest idea of who their audience might be. And the truth is, they are scared to find out more, they want to idealize them and keep them at a distance.

If you aren’t talking to your ideal readers every week, you are keeping a distance. You are putting a barrier between you and the understanding of who buys these books, why they buy them, and so many other things that are critical to understanding the BUSINESS side of publishing.

Maybe you are an author who writes just to write. I love that, and support you 100%. But if you are someone who wants to have an effect – who wants to develop an audience for your work and actually sell books – make an effort to learn about your audience. Focus on the basics, not the buttons.

Too many authors mistake social media for publicity.

Developing your platform as an author is about focusing on the basics, not tricks. Simon & Garfunkel once used this line in one of their songs:

Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?
A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.
What’s that you say, Mrs. Robinson?
Joltin’ Joe has left and gone away

The implication is a pining for the heroes we knew, the embodiment of a simpler time when we had role models we could look up to and emulate.

There are many writers who look at social media in the same regard. They bemoan the idea that “authors must be marketers” when really that isn’t the case at all. Joe DiMaggio famously responded to the song saying he hasn’t gone anywhere. And this is the case with marketing and authors too.

Nothing has changed. If you feel that you need to do “slimy” marketing things to publicize your books because the world of publishing has changed, you are wrong. You have a choice. You can focus on building meaningful relationships with your ideal readers.


  • Dear Dan:

    I don’t think I could have written a better article. You nailed it completely.

    “Too many authors mistake social media for publicity.” That’s something I keep repeating my students (I faciliate social media workshops).

    I think the real issue here is the fact that people don’t really understand how social networking works. Actually, a lot of writers do not understand the basics of offline marketing. So, you cannot expect them to know what to do online.

    Thank you for taking the time to write this article, I will share it everywhere.

    • Cendrine,
      Thank you! I think a sense of impatience and urgency plays into this too. The world seems to REQUIRE speed, and the internet does move very fast. So we join these networks, and don’t want to feel behind. So we just start talking.

      You make a GREAT point about understanding offline marketing before understanding online marketing. Very much appreciated!

      • Maybe we should revisit the “To err is human” theory, and add “To err and to be impatient are human”. LOL

        More seriously, I facilitate social media workshops for all sorts of people, and artists come across as the least self-educated in marketing and branding of all entrepreneurs. Of course, I am not perfect and make mistakes too. But at least, I try to learn from them.

        Deep inside, I believe that authors’ egos are often in the way.

      • Dan, your post (and another one I read later) triggered a response. I would appreciate your comment and insight:

        • Just reading this now – I like it! I actually just turned in a post to WriterUnboxed.com on a similar topic – it will be live on Friday. THANK YOU!!!

  • Ooh, I love this. “Getting published” versus “getting read.” YES!

  • Dan. A subscriber of mine complained last week that she’d tried Twitter, but it hadn’t worked at all – she hadn’t sold any extra books. On being asked how long she ‘d been developing her platform, (starting with Twitter) the answer was three weeks. This echoes what you say in your article here.

    My advice was that author-platform is career-long development, not a get rich quick scheme.

  • I agree completely Dan, and it this is not the first post that has hit the nail right on the head. I did a lot of reading before jumping into the world of blogging and quickly realised that social media has its place for selling books but works best if it isn’t an “add on” tool that is used once a book is already written and published.

    There are so many writers online who feel that social media is their quick fix to getting their books out there but in truth it needs to be realised for what it is – a long term solution to finding the readers that fit with you and that you can connect with.
    I have started my online journey slowly. It will be at least another 12 mnths before my first novel is finished and I want to make meaningful connections with other writers and readers. I have tried to brand myself under the one banner and be consistent with my responses and posts. I would love some tips on what I am doing well and what I could improve on but feel I have a long way to go yet. 🙂

    • I LOVE the long-term thinking here, thank you so much for sharing this Alison!

  • I agree. I hate some of the slimy marketing schemes and feel as though I can’t bring myself to do that. Friendship must still resonate in the heart of human beings…and being a friend must hold some weight. Marketing seems so seventh grade-ish.

    • Ha – I love that metaphor! “Marketing seems so seventh grade-ish.” Hmmm, I may use that (crediting you) in a blog post. Much appreciated!

  • Love, love, love this balanced perspective. Thank you.


      • It’s not often I come across such a well reasoned approach. 🙂

  • Lisa Hall-Wilson

    Great post. I think people need to understand that building a tribe or network on Facebook takes time (to do it authentically). It’s not an overnight thing – it’s an investment of time and effort and selflessly giving value without asking for anything in return over the long term.