Does Social Media Suck for Selling Books?
Updated: May 1
I’ve suspected for a couple of years that social media isn’t an effective way to sell books. Others are confirming my suspicions.
One of the latest confirmations is by Allison K. Williams, an author and book marketing consultant. She wrote a recent guest article on Jane Friedman’s widely-read blog about the publishing industry. Here are some excerpts (my bolding):
“Social media does not drive book sales. Social media has never driven book sales.”
“As a valuable tool, social media helps nurture relationships built over time through online and real-life interactions in multiple contexts. But social media channels are not tools to move product.”
“Surprise! No one sees your Facebook posts unless you pay! Surprise! No one sees your Instagram posts unless you make video!”
Williams teaches classes on writing and publishing books, and her article suggests better ways to market books, including (my bolding again):
Know your mission, why it matters, and who needs your work.
Have at least three paths to connect with your audience that are not social media—events and appearances, writing and publishing essays, op-eds or blogs, interacting in real-life groups, etc.
Create an email list and start writing to your audience regularly.
Be able to write a press release or pitch that serves the magazine/podcast/newspaper’s needs—not just your own.
Engage regularly with other writers as your colleagues, and copy the behavior of authors you want to be shelved with.
Williams and Friedman are just the latest to say social media isn’t as effective for selling books as people think. An independent current report on social media reach and engagement reveals part of the reason:
The organic reach of Facebook posts has declined to just 2.50 percent.
The engagement rate for Facebook posts has declined to just 0.20 percent.
Those current data mean that if you are hoping to reach 500,000 people on Facebook without buying FB ads, you can expect that only 12,500 people are likely to see your post. And perhaps only 1,000 will engage with the post by giving likes, comments, shares, or clicking a link.
Tim Grahl, a professional book marketer and indie author, preaches about some of the same points raised in the article by Williams. Here’s a link to see one of his newsletter articles where he urges authors to think of social media as a mechanism to connect with people based on common interests rather than trying to sell books.
Both Grahl and book marketing pro David Gaughran say their experience shows one of the most effective mechanisms for selling books online is spending a few hundred dollars on paid promo sites to stack ads timed to coincide with a Kindle price discount. Based on using paid promo sites for clients, Gaughran has developed a current list of the top paid promo sites for 2022.
Personal perspectives: As a retired management analyst with the federal government, I’m somewhat skeptical of large-scale studies because variables might skew the results. Statisticians refer to this as the margin of error.
As a book marketing analyst, I’m even more skeptical about the numbers authors toss around while bragging that 1) they reached tens of thousands of people with their posts on social media and 2) they got umpteen likes and comments and shares.
THE NUMBER OF SALES IS THE MOST IMPORTANT OUTCOME for online book marketing. Nothing else matters. Not how many people see your posts. Not how many people engage with likes or comments or shares. Not even the number of clicks to go to Amazon.
SALES. Repeat that to yourself a couple of times. Write it on a sticky note and put it on the edge of your computer monitor.
So, how many people are likely to buy your Kindle title from Amazon after clicking a link in your Facebook promo post to see the book? Not as many as you would like. Trust me.
Show me the verifiable data, I tell authors; show me the screenshot from your KDP Select account. Some do, but not many.
I compare their KDP data with the data I collect from using social media to promote books I’ve written or helped other authors publish. That analysis gives me a good idea of valid results.
I have an example based on a recent Kindle promo by Michael Hogan, author of the book Women of the Irish Rising released in November of 2021.
He ran a five-day Kindle price promo in mid-April that reduced the price to $2.99 from the normal list price of $9.99. He promoted the discount on his FB author page, several FB pages and FB groups he and his friends control, some large public FB groups where he is a member, and he bought an Amazon ad.
How many people saw all his promo posts on Facebook, and how many people engaged by giving likes or comments or shares? Neither of us has all the data for those metrics.
During his promo, I tried to help by posting his promo to reach more than 700 followers on my personal FB page and the FB page for KindleBookPromos.com. I don't know how many people saw my posts that resulted in two likes, no comments, and no shares. However, two people clicked the Bit.ly shortened link I embedded in an article on Medium about how he tied the promo to an event in history.
Here’s the key question: How many sales resulted from his Kindle price promo? The data from his KDP Select account showed 10 sales during his promotion—5 Kindle sales at $2.99 and 5 paperback sales at $19.95.
He says Amazon charged him a total of $13.80 for costs per click resulting from five click-through sales. That indicates the Amazon ad was at least as effective as all the Facebook posts.
For comparison, here’s an example from personal experience. I ran a 99-cent Kindle promo November 24-30 for an award-winning 2015 anthology I edited and published with 22 contributors (including me). Relying exclusively on Facebook, I posted the price discount promo in selected FB groups with a total of 506,000 followers.
My KDP Select account shows my promotion produced only five sales of the Kindle version during the five days. Bummer.
All of the above, in about 1,000 words, is why I believe social media sucks for selling books.
If you disagree and have verifiable data showing you sold lots and lots of books by using a promotion on social media, send me a screenshot from your KDP account. If you want to see my screenshot from November of 2021, just ask me.
As always, I welcome your feedback by posting a comment or sending an email to email@example.com. And before you leave, I hope you’ll click here to join my network and receive monthly updates about what I’m doing to help writers understand options for publishing and promoting books.