Last January I posted on my historical book promotion efforts: and at the end I talked about poking a tentative toe into the murky sea of social media. Some time back Rowena kindly invited me back to provide an update on my adventures with Facebook, my successes and failures, insights and disappointments, and finally, after missing many deadlines, here it is.
Why Use Social Media?
Why did I decide to put so much time and effort into social media, I hear you ask? Because over half my readers are under the age of 35 and I wanted to contact them directly – as well as older readers, of course. And also, because fans are different these days – they want a two-way dialogue with the authors whose books they love, and social media offers the best way to do this.
Ten, even five years ago, email was one of the key ways for authors to communicate with fans, particularly young fans (I used to get email from roughly 1 in 300 of the people who had bought my books – or, at least, had read them). However a one-to-one dialogue is very time consuming and most authors don’t or can’t find the time to reply individually to hundreds (or for big-name authors, thousands) of emails a year. Now, with the rise of social media, email contact is fading at the same time that fans’ expectations are climbing. Few people read book review pages in newspapers these days, or go to conventions, while launches and signings have almost disappeared, and only celebrity authors go on book tours. But more than half the population of Australia (and most other developed countries) use social media regularly, and that’s where any author who wants to communicate with fans should be.
Using social media effectively is about:
- Making contact with people who love the kind of books you write.
- Engaging in two-way conversation with them.
- Being a real person, not a promotional huckster; and
- Helping others, answering questions and sharing resources.
I’ve concentrated on Facebook because:
- It’s the most used social media platform in the world, with 750 million users and still growing rapidly. More than half of these users log on every day, and 85% weekly. In Australia alone there are more than 10 million active users, defined as those who use Facebook at least once a month.
- It’s a relatively gentle introduction to a social media environment.
- Its features are more comprehensive than other popular social media sites.
- It’s easy to contact people with similar interests – for instance, the 3,400 people in English-speaking countries who have said on Facebook that they are specifically interested in my books. This number may seem small (for a range of popular authors, I’ve calculated that specifically interested fans typically number 1 person for every 300-400 books sold worldwide) but they are among your most committed readers and it’s good to reach out to them and find out what they’re interested in. Also, given that word-of-mouth is one of the key ways that readers discover new authors, committed fans are vital to the success of your new books.
- Another advantage of Facebook is that it has terrific metrics – you can get a wealth of detail about which groups of people are visiting your Page (and which are not). Also, if you use Facebook ads, there is instantaneous feedback as to whether they’re working or not – and if not, why not. You can stop the campaign immediately and change it to better meet your objectives.
The most effective way to use Facebook is via a business Page set up for individuals (eg writers, artists, bands, public figures) wanting to use Facebook for business purposes. This Page contains a range of features designed to help users connect with you. Note that business Pages are different from the most commonly used type of Page, a personal profile page for an individual to use in a non-commercial way.
To set up a business Page, go here and follow the steps. Once a business Page has 25 fans (ie, people who have “Liked” it) you can apply for a ‘vanity’ Facebook URL, which is a neat, logical and distinct URL for your page. Mine is http://www.facebook.com/ianirvine.author.
Facebook Pages come with several standard apps (or tabs) such as Info, Photos, Discussions, Notes etc. Thousands of other apps are available for a myriad of purposes – for instance, to create a tab for all your books or your latest book, your Twitter feed, to run a poll or a promotion. For ideas on what apps are available, Google “best apps for Facebook business pages”.
My Facebook Page
My daughter Fiona, a social media whiz, put together a 30-page strategy for me. I provided the content and she set up my Page. It’s called a Page though it’s really a site with many different tabs and more than a hundred (printed) pages of content, not counting the Wall where most of the social interaction takes place.
Your Facebook Page should not try to reproduce your website, but it’s important to have blurbs, covers and other information about all of your books there. You should also have a landing tab (this is where people will arrive until they Like your page, after which they’ll come to the Wall) with a large cover picture and clear details about your most recent book. It’s a good idea to provide buttons or links for fans to order your books from a variety of outlets, not just Amazon. Also include links to your website and specifically to first chapters, FAQs, interviews, book trailers and other material of interest to many readers. It’s better to keep the latter info on your website as it offers far more flexibility in presentation.
How the Page Works
The key to success on Facebook is to get a large number of people to Like your page. They have to Like it to be able to comment or post to your Page. Once they have Liked it, they receive a news feed of your posts, which, as well as the social aspects, has obvious promotional benefits. Also, your news items of particular interest will often be reposted to other Facebook pages, gaining thousands of extra views. The interaction can’t just be one way, though. It can’t just be the author relentlessly promoting his or her books – it’s important to listen and respond to what your fans have to say and interact with them as a human being rather than a promotional robot.
Even if you’re reasonably well-known as an author, however, you can’t merely set up your Page and expect people to come – in 6 months time you’ll be lucky to have a couple of hundred fans, which isn’t enough. In my view, for Facebook to be of much use as a promotional tool, a Page needs to have a minimum of 1,000 fans, and the more the better.
Fiona set my Page up in the dying days of 2010. Initially I wanted to use it to promote my Grim and Grimmer humorous fantasy quartet for children. The last of these books was to be published in June 2011, so I only had 5 months from setting up my Page until the final book would be in the bookshops. Therefore I set myself ambitious targets for the number of people to Like my page:
- 1 month from creation: 300 fans
- 3 months from creation: 700 fans
- 6 months from creation: 1,500 fans
- 1 year from creation: 2,500 fans
Promoting my Page
To achieve these targets, I had to strongly promote my Page. I’ve done this in a number of ways, including directly to my contacts by email, by contact via newsletters, blog tours and other online places, by running competitions and with advertising on Facebook and elsewhere.
Email and Internet
To raise awareness of my Page (and promote the Grim and Grimmer books) I’ve done many things, including:
- Emailed over 600 contacts and recent fans individually, and contacted another 1,500 or more people via various writer’s lists and newsletters, and on blogs.
- Put info about the Page and my competitions prominently on my huge, redesigned website, and installed Like buttons on every page.
- Posted many sets of books to online reviewers. This gained 8 reviews, including 2 in the NSW Writer’s Centre weekly newsletter which went out to 6,500 book lovers.
- Two blog tours for the Grim and Grimmers, including 32 posts on other book blogs, totalling 40,000 words.
- Tweeted excepts from the Grim and Grimmers,
- Attended various conventions including Supanova in Brisbane (23,000 people were there).
- Established presences at various other internet sites including GoodReads, Google+, AboutMe.com, Shelfari etc.
Initially I set up a weekly competition entitled 300 Books in 200 Days, where I planned to give away three of my signed trilogies or quartets every week until July (since changed to 500 Books in 300 Days and now running until the end of 2011, at least). All new visitors to my Page arrive at the Grim and Grimmer tab, which has covers, blurbs and reviews for these books, plus links to sample chapters, readings etc. Visitors have to Like my Page to enter the comps. So far I’ve given away over 200 books, which I’ve mailed to winners all over the world. Every month I give away a set of The View from the Mirror audiobooks – 91 hours of magic, action, adventure and a little romance – and this prize has proven very popular. I suspended the book giveaway comp for the month of April in order to give away an iPad 2 – a very successful promotion.
Note that Facebook has strict rules governing the use of promotions, which can be found here. Facebook doesn’t allow competitions or promotions to be run on its pages; they have to be run and hosted on a separate app, and winners notified by email or other means, not via Facebook message. I use the EasyPromos app to run my competitions ($15 per promotion) and I’m very happy with it. To see the current promotion, or enter it (remember to Like my page first, ha!) you can click the Promos tab on my Page Wall or go here.
You should also be aware that competitions where there is no skill involved, ie where the winner is selected randomly, are illegal in quite a few countries, and penalties are severe. For this reason, I restricted my iPad 2 giveaway to Australia and obtained a NSW permit for it ($75), which covers the whole country. My book giveaways, which are selected on the best answers, are games of skill, not chance and don’t need a permit.
Apart from great metrics, advertising on Facebook has another terrific advantage: members indicate what they’re interested in when they set up their Facebook account (books, music, movies, etc), and you can target ads directly to those people who are most likely to be interested in them. For instance, in the Ad Creator I entered the main English-speaking countries (Australia, UK, US, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and Ireland), then ‘Ian Irvine” under ‘Specific Interests’, which revealed that 3,400 people in those countries were specifically interested in my books. Clearly, it was very important to attract as many of these people as possible to my Page, so I directed one version of my book giveaway ad to them.
This process will only work if you’re a reasonably well-known author with a following, of course, otherwise your name won’t come up under ‘specific interests’. But you can do many other things. For the Grim and Grimmers, I directed other versions of my ads to people who like humorous children’s fantasy series such as Artemis Fowl, Bartimaeus, Skulduggery Pleasant etc. In this way you can target as few or as many people as you wish, for any author or book series that’s relevant, or any combination of these.
With these ads, you only pay when someone actually clicks on the ad and is taken to your Page, so at least you know they’ve seen the content there. This doesn’t mean they’ll Like your page, of course. I gained a high proportion of Likes for the ‘Ian Irvine’ ads described above, and also for the iPad 2 giveaway I ran for the month of April. My book giveaway ads have a much lower rate of Likes – clearly, lots of people don’t want free books enough to Like the Page and enter the comps, but I’ve also realised that the comps should be easy to enter and have simple questions, otherwise most people won’t bother. It’s important to monitor the performance of your ads every day and stop any campaigns where you’re getting lots of clicks (for which you pay) but not many Likes.
Since January, I’ve done over three months of carefully targeted Facebook ads. I’ve also done other ads, including a NSW Writers Centre e-ad which went out to 6,000 people on their mailing list.
As I was in a hurry, because of book publication dates, this program was more expensive than it would otherwise have been. I’ve spent about $2,000 on advertising, and a good swag more on giveaways, postage etc. if I’d set up my Page a lot earlier, I could have gained much of my exposure and fans incrementally through blogs and other routes, and avoided much of the expense. But I don’t regret it.
Success or Failure?
As of late July 2011, my Page has 2,100 fans and a fabulous level of interaction – some of my posts have had 70 or more replies. It’s a terrifically warm and supporting environment and has become very important to me, both promotionally and personally.
But has it worked, I hear you ask? Well, I can’t say that the sales of Grim and Grimmer have been spectacular, but:
- The series has been exposed to at least 15,000 people who otherwise would have known nothing about it;
- The Grim and Grimmers have gained a lot of reviews they would not otherwise have had, every review has been favourable and quite a few have been raves.
- Book 1, The Headless Highwayman, which had a big initial printing last year (around 10,000 copies) reprinted in May before the last book, The Calamitous Queen, was published;
- So, definitely not a runaway bestseller, but I’m pleased that I’ve made a significant contribution to the success of these books.
Will I be continuing Facebook promotion for my long-awaited new epic fantasy series, The Tainted Realm, which begins with Vengeance in November? Too right I will! In fact I’ll be expanding the advertising, and the competitions, including another iPad 2 giveaway in a month or so. Stay tuned.
Not least, my Facebook Page has put me in touch with thousands of my most enthusiastic and loyal fans, and the dialogue I’ve had with them has been precious indeed.
And thanks very much to Fiona, for the strategy and for setting up my Page and giving me continuing advice and assistance with it. I could not have done it without you.
I’d just like to take this chance to thank Ian for his generosity in sharing this information. He has gone out there and done all the research. Then he’s taken the time to write this detailed and comprehensive guide. Show a little support and go Like his Facebook pages!