USA Today Bestselling Cozy Mystery Author

The Hard Truth About Authors Following Authors

How are you with hearing the hard truth?

When I was a kid, I hated the hard truth. I was idealistic and naive. I thought the world revolved around me, everyone was really good at heart, and everything would turn out great in the end (complete with happy ending). While I still believe in happy endings, I know that they’re not a given.

That was a hard truth to learn.

As I was typing a class lecture today, I got to thinking about hard truths and how peoples’ tolerance or intolerance for them can often determine how quickly they learn and grow. It can sometimes also tell you more about a person than other behaviors.

For instance.

Media works differently than it used to. People want to be treated like people, not like numbers. Especially as a young author with no audience, you have to work hard for each fan you get. However. There’s been a long trend (as long a trend as you can have in social media) of authors doing follow-backs. Jane Doe goes to her RWA loops, her Indie loops, her ACFW loops, etc., and tells all the authors on there about her new Facebook page.

shutterstock_94298329She promises to follow back everyone who follows her. We’re all colleagues, we want to support each other, so we flock to each other’s pages. I’m on Facebook, I think. I should follow her. A new author can get hundreds of likes and follows just by asking other authors.

But here’s the hard truth about those numbers.

Your fellow authors are not your fans. Bottom line. We’re all trying to market / sell books. And being a fan is about a lot more than clicking “like” once in awhile. A fan follows you. And not in a social media kind of way. In a personal kind of way. In the kind of way where they eagerly read your posts, click on your buy links when you have a new book out, review your books on multiple platforms, read your blog, buy your brand. They are your fans.

I am not your fan. And let’s be real. You are not mine. It takes a rare post that will cause me to buy someone’s books these days. Simply because I see SO many of them. I only have so much attention. (Seth Godin blogged about this recently… about the fact that social media is inundated with messages, and putting out messages doesn’t guarantee attention.) I have an entire Facebook page full of follows whose homepage I never visit. You know what that means? I’m one of a bunch of followers, but I’m never going to buy a book from one of those people because I’m not reading any of their posts, hearing about their books, or being consistently engaged with their brand.

But I still show up on their page as a like. Or on their Twitter feed as a follower. Or on their blog as a reader.

Yet there are entire groups of people I follow whose posts I ignore because all they ever do is promote themselves, or because they’re not that interesting, or because they write in a genre I don’t really read. If I were a fan, at least one of those promotional posts would fall on my ears. But I’m not a fan. I’m a follow-back.

Authors don’t need follow-backs.

Authors need fans.

Here’s another hard truth. You can have a Facebook page with 800 followers, none of whom are going to buy your book. Or you might have 45 followers, each of whom will buy your book, because they’re fans.

Statistically speaking, in order to grow a fan base on social media, you have to have two things: engaging content and brand advocates. Your engaging content will encourage people to read your work. Brand advocates will tell their friends about you. That’s how you grow. Not by begging your author friends to follow your page.

I know. It’s a hard truth. I just wrote a page where I encouraged all of my students to go unfollow every author they follow whose books they wouldn’t buy. That’s a hard challenge. But if you’re not actually going to buy books or engage with content, then you are an empty follow. It may hurt the author’s feelings if you unfollow them, but better they have a realistic idea of how many real fans they have than to have a bunch of empty follows and then not understand why they’re not selling a thousand books.

Courney Milan wrote an absolutely brilliant blog post awhile ago about what she called the “error of numerosity.” She’s talking specifically about author newsletters, but the same thing applies to Facebook, Twitter, etc. Padding your social media numbers is not actually going to sell more books. Being a good marketer and a savvy user of social media (if you want some examples, I can send you to a couple… Courtney Milan is one, Cassandra Carr is another, Steena Holmes is another) will sell more books. But having a bunch of author followers (especially, as Courtney addresses, ones that you don’t have permission to use) is not the kind of following you want. You want people who have the time to engage with your brand.

It takes a whole new understanding. Which is understandable, because it’s new media. New rules. Unfortunately, new rules are full of hard truths. And the new rules are constantly changing. What was true of social media two years ago isn’t necessarily true today.

But in general, I think we all need to think about how we respond to hard truth. The unfortunate part is that they’re true, whether we want them to be or not. I think that the best of people are the ones who really, consistently, honestly approach hard truths and assimilate them.

You may ignore what I say. That is completely your decision. It doesn’t mean I think less of you. I’m not here to judge you. I’m here to help you. It’s important for us, as authors, to stick together. To help each other. I want you to find your fans. They’re out there. But if I don’t happen to be one of them (because, frankly, I only have so much fandom to give, and most of it is already taken), I apologize. I’d love to help you find your fans, even if they don’t happen to be me.

What about you? What is your social media strategy? What’s the hardest truth about social media or marketing that you’ve learned?