Article: Yes, Social Media Can Sell Books. But Not If Publishers Sit on Their Hands #motownwriters

December 8, 2021December 8, 2021 by Jane Friedman 16 Comments

Ever since social media appeared in the mid-2000s, publishers and authors (and marketers) have argued about whether social media actually sells books.

I thought this was an open-and-shut case, but every so often it has to be re-litigated.

YES, social media sells books. See what’s happening on TikTok for the most recent example of how and why.

But does an author’s personal social media following sell books?

Often. Usually. But not magically without any effort whatsoever.

Which brings me to the New York Times article published yesterday about celebrity-authored books that aren’t selling all that well. It’s titled: Millions of Followers? For Book Sales, ‘It’s Unreliable.’

Is it really unreliable? Or is it publishers falling asleep at the wheel? Or is it the case of not-so-great books being published and no one wanting them?

There’s a lot of context missing from the article—things we don’t know about what’s happening behind the scenes marketing-wise. But if publishers’ marketing teams truly believe an author’s large social media following will, of its own accord, lead to enormous book sales, that’s pretty simplistic and naive. Maybe these publishers assumed the celebrity authors would do more than they did, on social media, to talk about the book and move copies.

But most authors, even celebrities, need to be assisted or receive direction on how to do this well and in a way that has meaning and leads to sales. The NYT article makes it sound like publishers are just sort of sitting on their hands, waiting for the millions of followers to just show up and buy the book. No decent marketer today with a pulse thinks that just happens, and publishers tend to employ smart people. At least that’s what I’ve always thought. Then I read this quote in the article:

In an effort to mitigate these issues, some book contracts now specify the number of posts required before and after a book is published.

That is not going to fix the problem. And it’s very depressing that anyone in publishing today thinks it will fix the problem. It sounds like an executive’s bad solution.

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