By Martha Brockenbrough
People are always on the lookout for the silver bullet of social media: that one foolproof thing that effectively promotes a book. There isn’t one, and the fact is, you’re far more likely to shoot yourself on the foot than strike it lucky. Unfortunately, 2015 has been the year of the gaffe, the pile-on, the career-toasting debate. High-profile writers such as John Green, Andrew Smith, and Meg Rosoff have found themselves in the social media red zone, and it’s been awful.
Part of the frenzy—which started with content in books, comments to a newspaper, and a reply to a detractor’s Tumblr post—is due to the fame of these writers. But another part is the nature of the beast. Social media is a terrible place for complex, nuanced discussions. Twitter is especially bad, because character count is limited and angry tweets pile up like astonishingly fast. For controversial stuff, Facebook and Tumblr are better, as long you take the same care you’d use in a face-to-face discussion.
What’s more, as social media has evolved into a sometimes-rude marketplace of ideas, it has diminished as a marketplace for stuff, and probably for the best. No one wants thinly veiled book ads, spammy direct messages, or repetitive self-promotion. No one wants to be friended by anyone on Facebook only to receive an immediate request to “like” their author or illustrator page.
What does work? Cultivating relationships the same way you do in real life: Be interesting, be interested, be useful, be positive.Be smart, too. It’s not just readers you’re reaching out to. It’s booksellers, teachers, librarians, bloggers, and other people who connect to many people at once. Think of these as your power connections. Over the years, key ones can put your books into a lot of young readers’ hands.
Some effective things to do:
– Establish a clear, concise identity. Mention your work and your website in your profile, and use your book cover or a good photo. Make it easy for people to know who you are and what you do.
– Be useful.I’ve created common core-focused guides for two of my books, and I share these both on social media and on my website so teachers can easily use my books to support classroom work. Offer Skype visits of varying lengths to round this out.
– Be visual. Use a service like picmonkey.com to turn favorite book quotes (from your work the work of others) into graphics. Did a reader make fan art for your book? Share it and praise that talented soul.
– Be interesting—and be interested. Talk with other writers and with your power connectors about books you’re loving, your pets, or even fascinating articles you’ve read. Make yourself a source of support and cheer, and people will be glad to cheer you on when it’s time.
Martha Brockenbrough’s latest young adult novel, The Game of Love And Death, was a finalist for the 2015 Kirkus Prize, a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2015, and an American Library Association Booklist Top 10 YA Romance. She is on SCBWI’s Team Blog, is the founder of National Grammar Day, is the former editor of MSN.com, and has been a media strategist for fifteen years. More at www.marthabrockenbrough.com.