The Social Author: Writers Grow Readership, Communities Online

The book publishing industry is turning to social media for publicity. Does it work for authors?

For most of history, authors have seemed removed from the reading public, and marketing a book to readers once it was published was done through a publicist—leaving newer writers who may not have connections or resources, including many women, at a disadvantage.

Now, writers have a new way to promote their books: social media. More authors than ever are taking advantage of the platform that social media provides to promote their books; to carry on dialogue with readers about their stories as well as important issues; to build communities and more.

We're thrilled to welcome Aditi Sangal cover this new trend in publishing with her first article for Women Investing in Women Digital. 

When Kudrat Dutta Chaudhary self-published her debut novel, she found that the traditional publicizing route full of book-selling stores and chains had to go out the window to make way for social media publicity.

After creating a page for her book, Laiza, on Facebook; and deciding to publicize aggressively on Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn; she created a buzz. In the small town of Chandigarh, India; everyone knows her as the author of Laiza. This buzz earned her over a thousand ordered copies, and an entry into the Indonesia International Book Fair.

"Marketing is all about social media," said Chaudhary. She is satisfied after taking it upon herself to market her books and finding success when the price of marketing after self-publishing seemed daunting.

Thousands of writers across the world self-publish or approach publishers. The marketing costs go up and down depending on the route they take, and even then, they cannot shy away from being their own marketers.

And with technology and social networks increasingly gaining importance in everyday life, social media has become a key marketing tool. Many large-scale publishers are embracing this new way of marketing.

While the trend of using social media to market a book is becoming more popular, there is no data to support that exposure through social media can effectively translate into book sales. However, the process of marketing has become much more cost-effective.

Three years ago, when Scott Haas published his third book Back of the House: The  Secret Life of a Restaurant, he was appalled to learn that the publicist planned to market his book through social media.

Relaying the responsibility of publicity from well-developed, in-house publicity models to constantly changing algorithms of social media platforms can seem risky to those who have long been a part of the industry.

But publishers are not flinching at this turn in book publicity methods. Shikha Sabharwal has been in the publishing industry for the past nine years, and currently works at Prakash Books. She strongly recommends incorporating social media while marketing a book.

"The book's success depends a lot on how well it's promoted," she said , also highlighting how the emphasis on book publicity has increased recently.

Social media publicity is also important because of the platform it usesthe Internet.

"Online sales from sites like Amazon now account for almost 60 to 70 percent of total book sales," said Sabharwal. This is a stark change from the previous 20 to 30 percent share of online sales over 10 years back, according to her. In this scenario, it becomes important for publishers to reach out to book readers and buyers online, and social media becomes the best medium.

Sahil Dutta understood this fact, and helped Chaudhary market Laiza.

"It's the easiest resource available to an authorand to the reader," said Dutta. Using social media platforms for marketing makes the book more accessible to people. The process of knowing more about the story and author becomes easier, and buying the book is just a couple clicks away.

This is not what made brands out of publishing houses and authors, however. The brand of publishers is important, which made publicity networks more reliable, according to Haas, a U.S.-based author who published his fourth book, Those Immigrants!, this summer.

"Their calls get answered; mails get replied. They have a brand; their network respects them for a brand," said Haas.

As a debut author in the industry, Chaudhary found these brands out of reach. To make the process easier, she self-published.

Haas argues that sending out query letters and manuscripts to multiple places is a rite of passage that every author should believe in.

"The book goes to certain places, you follow up, and then you pray," he said.

Not everyone wants to leave it to prayers. Harnidh Kaur published her collection of poems, The Inability of Words, this year. Her publisher decided to print her book in small numbers, but made it clear that they wouldn't help her market the book.

She didn't think about finding a publicist, and announced her book's launch to her Instagram network of 10,000 followers and many more on other social media platforms to market her book.

With the odds of finding a readership for poetry playing against her, she kept her expectations modest. However, her network was built years ago, and the response surprised her. Since she first published her book, she has restocked three times, and now opened the sale to an international market.

Kaur has changed the way she sees social media. It's her new-age network, and her marketing tool. She said she wants to be less like a salesman and publicist, and more of an approachable author. It works better as a two-way street.

“I get to meet people, and feed off their energies,” Kaur said. “You become an achievable aspiration: ‘Oh hey, I know her, I can do it, too.’”

In a social network of people, it's all she wants.