You can’t swing a cat without hitting a Kindle marketing article that tells you to use social media to sell your books online. Well, that cat needs to be put to sleep. There’s one and only one situation in which blogging, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other social media can sell books: If you’re already a successful author with a bazillion followers.
Before I show you the convincing evidence that social media cannot sell an unknown author’s book to save its life, I want to clarify a misconception. Despite what you hear, building a social media network isn’t easy or fun. I run five blogs (for pdf ebook downloads) and four Twitter and Facebook accounts (for various non-book clients). I also teach blogging workshops. So when I tell you that social media is the most frustrating, time-consuming, energy-sucking, life-draining, stick-a-spoon-up-your-bum experience you can think of, I am saying it from a position of expertise.
First, you’re going to experience so many technical problems you will contemplate one of two options: Murder or suicide. You will pay lots of money to strange people who tell you things you don’t understand and don’t want to know.
Blogs are particularly difficult to start and maintain. You don’t get a lot of visitors by writing crap. Popular blogs feature well-researched, well-written posts. And that, as every writer knows, takes time. Lots of it. Time you are not getting paid for.
And don’t buy into the false promise that getting followers to your blog, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and YouTube accounts is easy. Let’s take blogging for example. You better know the principles of SEO (search engine optimization) and how to integrate them into the copy, headlines, title tags and architecture of the site or your audience will never break out of immediate family and friends. Writing an effective blog post will take you a minimum of one to two hours and you’ll have to do it a minimum of three times a week to get on Google’s radar.
See, the thing nobody tells you about social media is that it takes scale to make it work. You need tens of thousands of followers before you start seeing results. Even small companies realize that getting critical mass on blogs and other social media takes full-time, dedicated employees to make it work. And those companies will be more than glad to tell you that it’s almost impossible to sell through social media networks. They’re wonderful to achieve communication and brand objectives, but sales? Not so much.
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Let me give you an example that will put you off social media forever. I’ve been selling ebooks off my blogs for years now (they download as PDF files). After three years of intense work, the biggest blog in my portfolio attracts 25,000 unique visitors a month. That would be great if every one of those visitors were there to buy my books. But they aren’t. They go to my blog to get information and be entertained. Do you know how many of those visitors actually go from my blog posts to the book page? About 5,000 a month. Do you know what my “conversion rate” is (number of sales divided by number of visitors)? About 1% (industry average is .5 to 1.5%). That means about 1% of the people who read about my books in my blogs actually buy them.