Is Social Media Overrated for Authors?

Seth Godin thinks so:

In Godin’s view, the emphasis on building author platforms has gone too far. If so many authors now approach social media as a part of their jobs in the digital era, it’s at least partly thanks to their publishers, who have assiduously told them it is.

As have a great many others.

But does it really work? From a talk at the Digital Book World 2015 conference this morning:

For one thing, that can make it hard to build a following, Godin says, and for another, doing so isn’t just about driving engagement on social channels, anyway.

Establishing and maintaining a loyal audience is by its nature a long-term investment, and what loyalty looks like online can sometimes differ considerably from what it looks like offline, “where the real work” gets done.

I’ve previously offered my thoughts in this vein.

I’m not sure I agree author platforms are unnecessary or pointless, but I think Godin is 100% right that they’re not an end in themselves. Bottom line, you’ve still got to write good stuff.

FWIW: Godin has a pretty impressive platform.

FWIW2: I came across the DBW piece in my Twitter feed.

More on Tweeting Links to Amazon

As I mentioned last week, I decided to rethink (again) how I used Twitter to promote my books. I found the first day that I was getting a lot more clicks on book links than when I first started doing it. Tracking things through the weekend suggests that wasn’t a fluke.

The last few days, I’ve been getting around 50 to 70 link clicks on my Tweets, of which around 20 are going to Amazon. That’s not as much as that first day, but it’s a significant trend. It suggests that, in fact, you can drive traffic to your book pages on Amazon through Twitter.

What’s the difference? I think, as with all social media, an awful lot depends on how you do it. Initially, I was doing nothing but book link tweets, and doing it as often as three times in an hour. For this latest project, I was mixing them with tweets to my blog, and tweeting no more than one link per hour.

Going forward this week, I’m going to be spacing them out even further, since it’s also clear that tweeting more often is not generating more clicks. My clicks, retweets, and favorites did not change appreciably even though I was tweeting three times an hour (two blog links and one book link). So I’m going back to no more than two per hour, with a generally equal mix of blog and Amazon links. I’ll report again if I see any meaningful changes.

What’s harder to say is if this is affecting my sales. I haven’t seen any major changes, but it appears the downward trend since New Year’s has leveled off. Still, more traffic to Amazon can’t hurt.

Yes, I’m Tweeting Book Links Again

After discussing the Twitter Book Link issue with some other authors, and reviewing my sales for January, I’ve decided to give it another try with tweeting links to Amazon. But I’ve changed my approach from how I was doing it before. Initially, I was doing it almost constantly, at times as often as every 15 minutes, with nothing else to break up the stream of book promos. This time, I’m going to be more sparing, no more than once an hour, and I’m going to continue the blog and review tweets as I’ve been doing.

Why the change? Well, in the back of my mind all along was the knowledge that my uptick in sales could have been due to something completely unrelated, like the holiday sales season. So I was watching to see if things slowed down after New Year’s, which they have. So in the interest of gathering more data, I’m going to conduct another experiment.

I’ll be updating this week if there are any significant changes in my sales patterns.

Kicking the Amazon Link Tweet Addiction

Today is the last day I’m going to provide updates on my experiment in no longer tweeting links to my Amazon book pages, because as far as I’m concerned now, this is no longer an experiment, it’s my approach going forward. (If you’re just coming across this five-part series, you should read Part 1Part 2Part 3, and Part 4 first.)

To put a bow on this undertaking, these four days have easily been my best four-day sales period since I began publishing my stuff back in October. I beat my previous best (last Fri-Mon) by 20%, and my third-best (Thanksgiving weekend) by 110%. And when you consider that the #2 spot includes about three days when I was blacklisted by RoundTeam and my book tweets got far less engagement, I think the conclusions are pretty clear.

So if it doesn’t work, why does everyone do it? My guess is that’s one of those questions that contains its own answer: Everyone does it.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in nearly 20 years in writing and publishing, it’s that there are very few shortcuts to success, and most of them involve being already famous or deeply connected with people who can let you past the usual gatekeepers. For the rest of us, there’s just the hard work of honing your craft and building a following. Blasting out links to your book pages is easy, and it makes you feel like you’re doing something. But the truth is, you’re probably not.

[Update 1/7/15]: I’m off the wagon, but I’ve changed my approach again.

Death to Amazon Book Link Tweets, Day 3

If this is the first post you’ve read on my theories about using Twitter to sell books, you should first read the earlier posts: what got me started on this, why I think it’s useless and why it may actually hurt your sales, and what I’ve seen since I stopped doing it.

The main thing I wanted to see yesterday was whether the dramatic spike in my sales Thursday was a fluke. I’ve had one-day sales spikes before, and I know they can happen for a variety of reasons or no apparent reason at all. So I was watching carefully for a drop-off.

There was no drop-off at all. As with Thursday, yesterday was my best Friday ever, and at 4:30 p.m., this is already my best Saturday ever, and if my usual evening sales trends continue tonight, I’m on track for best day all-time.

All of this is since I stopped tweeting links to my Amazon books pages. I’ve not done anything to directly push my books sales since Thursday morning. Instead, I’ve been tweeting links to my blog posts and book reviews. And the sales boost has continued even though my Twitter engagement and blog traffic has leveled off a bit since peaking Thursday.

It may not work for everyone, but at this point, I see no reason to go back.

[Update 1/7/15]: I found a reason.

You Need to Stop Tweeting Amazon Book Links, Day 2

Since I got a bit long-winded yesterday, I’m just going to share a couple of screenshots as an update.

Here are my sales for December. Note the previous Thursday dips and what happened yesterday after I stopped tweeting promotional links to my Amazon book pages. (I took this screenshot at 8:00 am, so ignore the point for today.)

dec sales

As you can see, yesterday was not just my best Thursday ever, but my best weekday ever and my third-best all time. I’ve also annotated what happened last weekend when I was briefly blacklisted by RoundTeam.

Now here is the track record for The Wizard’s Daughters yesterday on authorRise. Note the point where I stopped tweeting to Amazon and started tweeting to my blog.


AuthorRise lags about an hour behind, so the book is actually up to #7,334 as I type this. It’s jumped about forty points in the bestseller lists since yesterday morning.

It’s only one day, true, but I think the trend is fairly clear:  Tweeting links to your Amazon book page probably does nothing whatsoever for your sales and may be hurting them.

[Update 1/7/15]: I’ve reopened the experiment.

Tweeting Amazon Links May Be Killing Your Book Sales

Yesterday, I discussed my growing doubts about the usefulness of Twitter in selling books. Yet I had little to go on beyond intuition and some anecdotal evidence from my own experiences and those of a few other authors.

So I’ve decided to conduct a test. Starting at about 8:00 a.m. PST this morning, I’ve stopped tweeting book links altogether. I’m going to continue this at least through the weekend. Instead, I’m going to concentrate on tweeting links to my content, both here and my reviews on Christina Harding’s blog.

I decided to start today for a specific reason. Thursdays, for reasons I am still pondering, have been terrible selling days for me. I’ll be cruising along on Tuesday and Wednesday, then bam, Thursday comes and my sales take a nose dive—only to spike up again on Friday and into the weekend. I don’t know why this is so, but the pattern has been pretty clear.

So I figured that if stopping the book links was going to hurt my sales, Thursday would be a good day to test it, since, how much worse could it get?

What’s happened so far? Well, today is my best Thursday ever. It’s just after 5:00 pm here, and I’ve already more than doubled my average Thursday sales figures over the past month. The Wizard’s Daughters has jumped 20 spots in the bestseller lists since this morning, and the usual big dip from Wednesday has disappeared. This is of course only one day—less than one, actually—but it does suggest that book links were not driving my sales.

Another interesting effect is that my Twitter engagement (we discussed this yesterday as well) shot up significantly. My total engagements, link clicks, retweets, replies, and favorites each hit all-time highs. The highs for link clicks almost doubled my previous best day, and the high for replies almost tripled it. And this is despite sending about half as many tweets as I was doing before.

What else has happened? Traffic on my blog has skyrocketed (in fairness, I wasn’t promoting it much before this week). I’ve gotten—by far—more hits today than ever, as well as far more comments. And I can see from my WP stats that many of you are sticking around and exploring. A few of you have even signed up for my newsletter (please?).

All of these things are the sort of engagement you must have if you want to be a successful indie author.

So why in the world would stopping book link tweets increase my sales, and conversely, why should tweeting book links hurt them?

This is, again, mostly instinct, but I suspect it comes with the nature of the medium. I come from a background in publishing and social media, so I really should have known better, but when I got set up on Twitter and saw so many other authors blasting out book links 24/7, I figured there had to be a good reason for it. So many authors couldn’t be wrong, could they?

But it’s axiomatic among social media professionals that Twitter is not well suited for direct sales. It’s just too abbreviated and ephemeral. Twitter is best suited for driving people to richer content where you can engage them and then—only then—start working on a sales pitch. Another axiom is that hitting people with the same pitch over and over is much less effective than using fewer, more carefully crafted messages.

I suspect that what’s going on with the book link Twitter storm is that potential readers are simply tuning out the sales pitches as white noise, and in the process missing the fewer links to good content.

There’s another conclusion that follows from all this, of course. If tweeting Amazon links on your own is a largely a waste of time, then paying other people to tweet them has to be a complete waste of money. I’m sure there are people who will disagree with me on this point—perhaps violently—but it would take some good data to convince me. I’ve done it twice myself, and I can’t say with any confidence that either effort resulted in a single sale. Certainly there was no perceptible bump.

I’ll be updating this experiment throughout the weekend as I have more results to report.

[Update 1/7/15]: I’ve reopened the experiment.

Thoughts on Using Twitter Effectively as an Indie Author

After a couple of months of using Twitter to promote my indie author career, I can say with confidence that I’ve learned two things:

  • Twitter is effective for driving traffic.
  • Twitter absolutely sucks for selling books.

This may come as a surprise to the many authors I see pushing links to their Amazon book pages non-stop on Twitter, but it’s one based on some fairly solid analytics. And if you’re using Twitter without using any analytics, you’re not really using Twitter, you’re just playing with it.

The first thing you should be doing is tracking your engagement using Twitter’s own tools. Just point your browser to[your username]. What you’ll see is a list of your tweets, along with charts showing the engagements you got: link clicks, retweets, favorites, and so on. Further, you can click any tweet and it will pop up a summary of everything that happened since it went out. Another good tool I’ve started using is Author Rise, a new initiative that lets you track your book’s sales rank against your Twitter reach.

So why do I think tweeting book links is largely a waste of effort? It’s from following this data, specifically tracking link clicks. During Wednesday’s 24-hour Twitter period, which just ended as I type this, I got 14,132 engagements—an all time high (largely because of this). That’s great!

But from that I got a whopping 25 link clicks. If you’re doing the math, that’s a 0.17% click rate. That’s not so good.

Yet if you dig a little further, it gets even worse from a sales standpoint. Pulling up my WordPress site stats, I see that I got 23 referrals from Twitter during the same period.

Read that again. 14,132 engagements, 25 link clicks, and all but two of them went to my blog.

This leads me to believe that very few people actually click Amazon book links. It’s possible that I’m an outlier, but having spent a lot of time tracking how effective certain book teasers are and changing them often, I’m convinced this is a valid observation. I’ve been watching things like this happen for weeks.

More—admittedly anecdotal—evidence came to me this past weekend, when I had the best three-day sales period for The Wizard’s Daughters so far. Yet this period coincided with a brief blacklist from Round Team, during which my engagements plummeted. I got a mere 5,130 on Sunday—which was so far the best sales day ever for that book, during which it hit #47 on the Amazon Historical Fantasy bestseller list.

There’s probably not much harm in tweeting Amazon book links. I’m just not convinced it does much of anything.

Nat Russo, whose blog I’ve recently begun following, has more in the same vein.