Today I want to encourage you to not just follow people on social media, but to truly engage with them.
If we consider what it means to develop your platform as an author and be prepared to market your books, so much of it is about having a network of people who you have a trusting relationship with. For nearly any writer, whether you are years away from your next book launch, or just weeks away, I encourage you to engage more with those who inspire you. This could be with other authors, ideal readers, podcasters, booksellers, and so many others.
Why? Because engaging is caring. And caring not only feels good as a human being, it is a core part of how you can develop your marketing, career, and business:
- Caring validates other creators, colleagues, and partners. Imagine if you are a new author trying to develop a network within a specific genre. It’s easy to think, “Everyone else is more successful than me.” But if you learn who the other authors are in your niche and begin supporting their work, that is a great way to give them the validation that so many creators desire. It’s difficult to put your work out there, regardless if you are a first-time author, or bestselling author. You have an incredible power to brighten an author’s day simply by caring.
- Caring helps retailer and social media algorithms. When you add someone’s book to your bookshelf on Goodreads, when you post a review for their book on Amazon, when you watch a video they posted on Instagram, all of these communicate to the algorithms that run these services that you care about that author’s work, and that others may care as well. Many of these platforms would share that author’s work to even more people if they see that you care about it, because they measure engagement.
- Caring creates word of mouth marketing. If an author you admire releases a book, you could click “like” on their announcement post, and then order the book, adding it to the pile of books you hope to read in the coming months. But what if you talked about it. What if you shared on social media a photo of yourself with the book when it arrived and you described why you care about it. What if you told 5 friends about the book? What if you asked a local bookseller if they are carrying it? All of these actions are within the reach of every reader, and is the foundation of word of mouth marketing — how books spread through our communities and help generate more interest and sales for the author.
- Caring helps develop your network. So many writers and creators work in isolation. Perhaps they only write in their spare time, because their days and nights are otherwise spent working a job, caring for loved ones, attending to their health and home. Someone can write for years and not know a single other writer or anyone in publishing. Even their friends and family may have no idea they write. But if you follow some of the actions mentioned above simply by caring about the books of others, you will develop a network of colleagues. People who write like you do. Who are inspired as you are. Who are navigating the waters of creating and sharing and publishing just as you hope to. Wouldn’t that simply make your life — and theirs — more meaningful?
- Caring simply feels good. It feels good to be generous. To brighten someone’s day. To connect someone with an author or book they had never heard of. Caring opens new doors to possibility.
So much of marketing for the past decade has been about identifying who has an audience, and trying to “borrow” that audience. These strategies are still very effective: guest blogs, being a guest on someone’s podcast, getting re-shared on social media by someone influential to your ideal readers. The math here is easy: these people have an audience that you dream of one day having. If they feature you in some way, you are getting massive exposure with one action.
But the marketplace has become crowded with people trying to do this, to get the attention of someone with a big audience, with hope they feature them or their books. Yet, there is another way to consider this. I heard a great quote the other day from YouTube star Erick Decker recently:
“If you are going to try to do a collaboration, you have to create a situation where they win bigger than you do.”
He was referring to doing a collaboration with someone who has an audience that is massively larger than your own. So right away, many creators think, “What do I have to offer them if they have so much fame and such a large audience?” To answer that, consider what their goals are. This is where social media becomes an amazing research tool. Look at what they share on social networks. If they do any videos, webinars, live streams, or events that are recorded, watch them. Really have empathy for what you feel they most want in their life right now.
So let’s say there is an author whose work you admire, whose book would be shelved near yours, and who has an audience you think would love what you write. Even if we keep it really simple as to what that author’s goals may be, such as: “They likely want people to know about a book they just published,” that is a great starting point. How can you help them achieve that goal? And what if you put a ridiculous amount of creative energy into it because you truly cared about this author, believed that their book is amazing, and just knew that it would help people. The exact people that you want to reach one day.
Here is an idea of how to go above and beyond with caring. And just for fun, all of this example will involve baked goods. Why? Um, because baked goods are fun and yummy, that’s why:
- Celebrate an author’s book launch. Not just with a “like” or an emoji, but with a cake. That’s right, you can go down to the food store with a photo of the author’s book and ask them to print it on a cake. Or, you can bake your own cake and try to decorate it like the book cover. Then, share it on social media, tagging the author.
- You can take that further by inviting 5 friends over, and taking a photo of each of you holding a copy of the book, and eating a slice of the cake.
- Do you know what would be special for an author? Not just doing this at book launch, but doing it for a book that is a year old. Celebrate the anniversary of a book release with a cake. I mean, what author wouldn’t love that? I mean, would it be so hard to buy some party hats, create a big “HAPPY BOOKIVERSARY BANNER” and share that on social media for a week?
What else can you do to care? Buy 10 copies of the book and give them out to friends. Again, take photos to share with the author. Or do a video essay where you talk about why this book matters to you. There are thousands upon thousands of ideas that show you can care about a book, and help spread the message, all in ways that are unique, fun, and meaningful.
The point is this: if you are simply clicking “like” on someones post and then commenting “Congrats,” that doesn’t count for as much engagement than if you do something more unique. Don’t get me wrong, a like and a comment are good! But if you really want to help someone out, go further. Consider their goals and what may brighten their day. You have more power than you think to give authors what they want most: word of mouth marketing. They key factor in all of this? Caring. Caring to make a difference in the life of that author.
Let’s look at a couple practical examples from authors I have worked with that did exactly that:
- When I worked with novelist Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, we decided that instead of just doing a giveaway for her book, we should focus on generosity to other writers publishing books at the same time she was. The result was a 30-day giveway featuring 20+ other authors including Roxane Gay, Celeste Ng, Megan Abbott, Julia Fierro and many others. Not only did it spread the word about Miranda’s book and theirs, it helped develop an amazing literary network for Miranda. You can read more about my work with Miranda here. (plus: she has a new book out: Fierce Little Thing: A Novel)
- When I worked with author and linguist Amanda Montell, she wanted to better engage with her ideal audience on Instagram. The result was an educational series of videos that she then turned into interviews that celebrated other authors and inspiring thinkers. Not only was she able to better engage with her readers, but her audience grew substantially. You can read more about my work with Amanda here. (plus: she has a new book out: Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism)
No, not all marketing campaigns need to be as complex as these or as time intensive. But the spirit of them is what can help guide you to ensure how you share and engage is meaningful to other people.
As I wrote this post, I looked back at how many times I have written about the topic of caring about your audience in the past. Turns out, quite often! So here is some further reading:
- The One Thing You MUST do to Succeed in Social Media, April 2010
- Why Caring is a Powerful Business Advantage, June 2010
- Caring is power, December 2010
- Actually Caring About People Will Always Matter, May 2012
- Truly Embracing Your Audience, November 2014
- Embrace & Engage Your Audience, January 2015
- Truly seeing writers (and readers), November 2019