X is for (E)xposure.
(Yeah, so sue me. Or give me an idea of another “X” word to write about.)
Before an author publishes a book, they revise it, edit it, copyedit it, proofread it, and format it. Through each of those iterations, the book becomes better and better. By the time it hits stores, it’s the best version of that book the author could write.
But that’s not enough for the book to sell well. Rather, potential readers need to learn that the book exists. The author needs exposure.
Once upon a time, authors were told that the only exposure they needed was a good website and a blog. Authors were expected to post regularly to their blog, building an avid following of readers. A handful of authors mastered the platform, creating a veritable new form of entertainment and attracting tens of thousands of fans. Most authors, though, maintained a steady communication without substantially changing their readership statistics.
Various social media began to appear on the scene—MySpace and LiveJournal, which gave way to Facebook and Twitter. New forms evolved, taking advantage of near-ubiquitous cell phones equipped with cameras—Instagram and Snapchat. Tumblr filled a need for some people, and LinkedIn and a thousand other services for other online denizens.
Authors followed the developments. Sometimes, they reserved accounts so that other people could not use their names on the various social media sites. Other times, they developed unique marketing plans that took advantage of the various media. In each case, a handful of authors mastered the new platform. Most, though, used the various services without gaining a substantial number of new readers.
So, what’s an author to do?
First, figure out which media work best for you. Consider whether you prefer words or pictures. Are you better with pithy sayings, or do you best express yourself in flowing paragraphs? Are you primarily a computer user, or is your phone surgically attached to your palm? Take stock of your preferences, and choose modes of communication that play to your strengths.
Second, determine your social media schedule. Your schedule is a guideline, a reminder to make posts on a regular basis. It doesn’t bind you to specific topics on specific days, but it helps you to structure your broad range of ideas. Set your schedule by creating a chart for each form of social media you intend to use:
• In the far-left column, write down half a dozen broad subject areas that appeal to you. These can be specific books you want to promote, causes that you believe in, holidays or vacations or other activities you want to share, etc.
• Across the top, write each day (or time of day) you intend to post. All forms of social media work best when your contact with followers is regular. Plan on maintaining your frequency for an entire month. Therefore, don’t lie to yourself that you’ll post once an hour, every hour, seven days a week—you won’t be able to keep up that pace. Be realistic.
• Complete your grid, sketching in a subject-matter idea for each time period. You don’t need to go into detail; just leave yourself enough information that you can jump into your social media post when you’re ready. You’ll have one entry in each column (each day or time of day you intend to post). You may have more than one entry in each row (if you have more days than you do topics.)
Third, stick to your schedule. Consider your social media — the exposure that’s going to result in sales of your books — as important as creating the books themselves. If necessary, draft posts ahead of time, maintaining them in a spreadsheet or word processing file so you can cut and paste them into social media. (Depending on your media of choice, you might be able to raise your profile by sharing other people’s posts (“Share” on Facebook, “Retweet” on Twitter, etc.) Don’t allow your account to consist solely of sharing; advance your own personal agenda.
Fourth, restrict the time you spend on social media. As your exposure builds and your social network expands, you’ll be tempted to spend more time interacting with other people. Some of that interaction is good — it helps to build fans. It gives you a break from the strain of creating your books, and it’s fun. But it’s very easy to forget how much time you’ve been online—time that could be spent writing, or with family or friends.
At the end of your first month, set aside some time to study your social media. Consider whether you stuck to your schedule. If you didn’t, determine why you didn’t, and whether your modifications were for good reasons or bad ones.
Also, review the effect of your social media campaigns. Did you increase the number of followers? Did you increase the amount of interaction with existing followers? Did you connect with more prominent members of your online community? Did you see an effect on book sales?
If you saw improvement in all metrics, fantastic! You can continue doing exactly what you were doing.
If you saw improvements in the amount of interaction but not in the number of sales, consider continuing your same plan for another month (or two). It often takes time for social media contacts to “mature” into purchases.
If you did not see improvements, then consider ways to change your plan. Are there other topics that interest you that might be of greater interest to your social media community?
Are you posting often enough to build a community? Are you posting too often, so that your posts are ignored as if they were spam? Are you using the correct form of social media to find readers interested in what you write? Can you try another social media platform, where you might receive greater exposure? Modify your plan, taking into account answers to these questions.
So? Where are you going to start your social media plan for exposure? What social network will you target first? And what are three topics you’re especially interested in discussing?