I recently gave a presentation to the Historical Novel Society conference on effective social-media strategies for historical-fiction authors. The goal was to share what I’d learned after ten years of stressing over my social-media presence: was I doing enough to sell books? Which platforms should I be on? What should I post and how often?
After many chats with fellow writers who felt the same pressures, I’ve realized that social media works best for authors if we acknowledge two key concepts:
- Social Media ≠ Book Sales
Yes, you need to have some kind of online presence. But there’s no direct correlation between being super-active online and having a best-selling book (especially within the genre of historical fiction). It may be disappointing to hear that there’s no magic bullet or secret sauce, but this also takes some of the pressure off. Your book sales are not completely dependent on how much you tweet.
- Focus on Connecting, Not Promoting
The best use of social media, career-wise, is to build relationships with fellow writers and readers. By making genuine connections, you can find beta readers and critique partners for your next manuscript; build a group of people you can later approach for book reviews and blurbs; and one day you might all asked to be on a panel at the Historical Novel Society Conference!
It’s fine to pick just one of the big three social-media platforms—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram—or to experiment with all three.
–Traditionally, the best place to find historical-fiction readers. Authors usually set up professional “Author” pages to maintain privacy for their personal pages
–Recent changes to Facebook’s algorithm have led to much lower engagement for professional pages, i.e. far fewer people seeing your posts
–For me, Facebook is most helpful as a way to keep up with what people are reading
–Some of my favorite book-centered Facebook groups for historical fiction:
Historical Novel Society
Bloom with Tall Poppy Writers
Historical Fiction Booklovers (BookBub)
American Historical Novels
Passages to the Past
Lake Union Bookclub
PBS Books Readers’ Club
–Skews younger in general, more YA/fantasy/romance than historical fiction
–@HFChitChat is a helpful, supportive community that sponsors Q&As, get-to-know-you sessions and monthly virtual book chats. Follow the account to connect with other hist-fic writers.
–For writers with finished manuscripts looking for representation, there are younger editors and agents who are very active on Twitter and offer occasional opportunities for you pitch them directly. The biggest are #RevPit (i.e. Revise and Resubmit) and #PitMad (i.e. Pitch Wars)—both have websites that describe their process.
–Growing increasingly popular with historical-fiction writers, although as of now, I’m not aware of central “communities” focused on hist-fic (as there are on Facebook and Twitter).
–Bookstagrammers have become a very important part of the book marketing ecosystem, but the popular ones are inundated with free review copies from all the major publishers. If you’re not being pushed aggressively by your publisher, you’ll probably have to pay for a bookstagram tour to have your books featured on any of their pages.
Examples of different approaches historical-fiction writers are using:
–@elizabethblackwellbooks: A very basic “starter” page. For now, I just post reviews of books I’ve enjoyed, making sure to tag the authors
–@Carrie.Callaghan: Book-centered, beautifully staged photos
–@camilledimaio_author: a well-rounded mix of book content, travel pictures, writing updates and personal/family pics
–@finola_austin: great example of an author incorporating Instagram Live videos into her content. Lots of cross-promotion with other writers
Trends Going Forward:
–Since Covid, most of us have become a lot more comfortable appearing on screens and chatting virtually. Expect to see and use more video content in writers’ posts.
–BookTube and BookTok skew younger in terms of content/genre, but it’s worth keeping an eye on them to see how they develop.
–Social media is always changing—and you should, too. Experiment with new channels and don’t be afraid to fail. It’s also fine to walk away from what’s not working.
A final piece of advice to all authors:
You may think you’re building an audience by building your following on Instagram or Twitter, but those platforms own that information—not you. For long-term career growth, try to build a newsletter email list of people who’d like to stay updated on your work. It doesn’t mean you have to produce a monthly newsletter—it’s fine to only send one when you’ve got big news, like a new book coming out.