Linkedtwitfacetumbletube - From The Other Side

 Nicky Schmidt

A while ago I posted a piece about social media on my blog and how the business of building a platform, when you don’t have a book to market, is an exercise in play and procrastination. 

To take this further and clarify what I said, I want to explore and expand on the benefits of social media.

Social media has an unquestionable and powerful place in the marketing mix. Its effectiveness, however, depends on entirely on how you use it. To restate the point, if you don’t have a product to market, don’t bother. Yes, go ahead and set up your social media platforms – so someone else doesn’t take your name - but then get on with writing the book. (You can indulge in a bit of social networking to connect with your peers, publishers and agents and to understand the nature of the beast – but avoid being sucked in.)

Let’s assume that you’ve written the best book you can and now need to implement your marketing plan. 

As I said in another earlier blog post about the basics of marketing, the best form of marketing is word of mouth. 

The other critical form of marketing is customer engagement and customer relationship management. 

What social media offers is the opportunity to leverage both of these vital elements in a highly personalised way.  It allows your readers to talk about you and your book (word of mouth) and it allows you to have a conversation with your readers (customer engagement - which can in turn encourage word of mouth).  How win-win can you get?! 

At this point, two things arise: 

First off, most authors I know aren’t using social media to talk to their readers. They’re mostly using social media to chat with family and friends. While it’s important that writers have a place to share their woes, successes and daily cat pictures, to think that you’re marketing when you’re chatting to your pals misses the point. 

Secondly, while your pals may buy your book, they are not your market. And those who persistently promote their books to their friends mostly waste their time and irritate their friends.

So how can you use social media as a marketing tool?  

Engage, be real, be relevant 

Picking on the point above let’s realise for a start that you should never shove your book down anyone’s throat – no one likes it, neither your friends nor your market.  

Really good and effective customer relationship management is a two way street, it’s about having a conversation – and, like branding, it’s about being real. That means is you have to listen to what your readers are saying. And social media is a brilliant way of doing this. Write a blog post and reply to comments. Tweet something interesting, and respond directly with @ to any replies. Post interesting Facebook statuses and respond to comments.Thank people for following you. Use people’s names. Speak with them directly.  Engage, engage, engage - and promotion will take care of itself. Also remember that every person you ignore is a person disappointed and potentially a customer lost. 

People, being what they are, want to be heard. While they want to know about you, they also want to be seen as important in your eyes. It’s like any relationship and it is basic psychology.  Readers want to know you care enough to talk to them. And they will always expect real life, real human engagement with you. Consider this point next time you’re irritated by a call centre.  

Remember also that as a children’s or YA writer you carry responsibility. You may even be something of a hero because you’ve spoken to something in your reader through your book.  And being a hero is a tough act and not to be taken lightly. 

Customer relationship management, especially via social media, is so much more than promoting your books, your awards and the good reviews you’ve received.  In fact, if all you’re using your social media platform for is to say “Me, me, me!” you may as well go off and boil your ears. 

The best way to understand any of this is to put yourself in your reader’s shoes, then plot your social media strategy accordingly. 

Now, let’s consider that critical thing – your market. 

Go where your market is 

A debate arose a while back on Facebook (yes, it has its uses) about how effective social media is in marketing a book – and many authors complained that they saw limited benefit in it and far more benefit in doing school visits.  It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out this one.  School visits put you in direct contact with your audience, make you real, and give you, on the back of an entertaining presentation, the opportunity to engage your market - and sell your books.  For too many children’s writers though, the social media platforms we’re using go nowhere close to putting us in contact with our readers.  Young adult writers have a far better chance than children’s writers.  But here reality asks why any self-respecting teen wants to connect with some old fart (yes, you and me, dear), unless they’re saying something relevant (irrespective of the guise of that relevance). 

You have to go where your market is and you have to give it what it wants. Many people have said it’s important to be on Tumblr because loads of teens are on Tumblr. That may be so, but it’s only going to be effective if your market is following you and you’re connecting – and I mean really connecting - with them. 

And how do you encourage your market to follow you – well, again, first write a brilliant novel and then make sure you have lots of relevant and interesting things to say. To be perfectly honest, I’m not convinced that social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr offer much return on investment for children’s authors. Facebook has an age restriction. Twitter has never been a huge hit amongst teens. Tumblr, maybe, but only if you're able to connect with the teens who use it.  Goodreads, on the other hand, is definitely an option with teen readers.  Given all that, you are probably much better off focusing your efforts on your web page and a blog – a place where your market can reach you and interact with you in a safe space.  And in terms of what you post – make it relevant to your books.  Written a story about a pirate?  Write a post about pirates, treasure chests, antique maps and desert islands, post pictures of same.  Don’t bang on about your awards and your reviews, because the sad truth is that aside from you, no one really cares. Do things that are inclusive, involve your readers.  What they want, as I said above, is real engagement.  So make sure your posts are interesting and entertaining -  and then, critically, allow and encourage your readers to interact. 

The alpha and omega of social media is about conversation and interaction and community 

John Green, together with his brother, Hank, is brilliant at using social media to connect, particularly via the Ning group, Nerdfighters and YouTube vlog (video blog, for the uninitiated), Vlogbrothers.  It’s well worth looking at what they’ve achieved because the whole thing is about engaging with readers and building a community that provides a safe space for angst-ridden teens.  As a by-product, that community will inevitably buy any book Green ever writes.  

Green has done two brilliant things – he’s written wonderful books that are relevant to a particular group of teens – and he’s leveraged his market and built spectacular brand loyalty by creating a unique customer management strategy. He gives, he gets back. 

As I keep saying, this is where power of social media lies – engaging with your market. Correctly employed, social media presents a unique opportunity to connect directly with your readers and to interact with them.  Via various social media platforms you can build loyalty and a following and in doing so tap directly into your market.  You get them to buy into your brand by dealing with things that are important to them and maybe you even get to tell them about you and your book.  The most important thing though is whatever you do has to be two-way traffic. The alpha and omega of social media is about conversation and interaction and community. 


Born and raised in South Africa of central and northern European heritage, Nicky is an ex scriptwriter, copywriter, and marketing, brand and communications manager who "retired" early to follow a dream. Although she still occasionally consults on marketing, communications and brand strategies, mostly she writes YA fiction (some of which leans towards New Adult) in the magical realism, realistic and supernatural genres.
When not off in some other world, she also writes freelance articles - mostly lifestyle and travel - for which she does her own photography. Her work has been published in several South African magazines and newspapers. As well as being a regular feature writer for Words & Pictures, Nicky also runs the SCBWI-BI YA E-Critique group.
Nicky lives in Cape Town with her husband and two rescue Golden Retrievers.


  1. Wow. John Green. I had no idea.
    Great pointers, Nicky, thanks. Makes a refreshing change from the advice we used to see all over the web which I seem to remember was 'build a platform and a brand even if you haven't written your book yet' :)

  2. This is brilliant, Nicky. Makes a lot of sense. My girl doesn't bother much with Facebook. With her it's all twitter, instagram, and snap chat. But then she's 18 now. As for me? I'd better get writing.

  3. A great guide, Nicky. Thank you. For my (young) teenage son, Facebook still 'the' thing.

  4. This is really thought provoking and useful, Nicky. Thanks for taking the time to write it.

  5. Glad if it was helpful in any way!

  6. John Green is a really interesting example, because I think that convergence of great writer and smart marketer doesn't happen very often. And while a great writer is more or less the same thing as it was five years ago, the role of marketing has changed enormously in that time.

  7. Thank you for posting this. It is something that I'm giving a lot of thought to bearing in mind that I'm writing for 7-9s.


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