Using Social Media to Sell a Self-Published Book

7 years ago

I think if there's one trait about me that has served me the best while at the same time annoying the most people, it is that I absolutely will not tolerate being told that I cannot do something. "No" is the one word that makes me almost pathologically have to find a way, if for no other reason than to go back to the original nay-sayer and proclaim, "See! It could be done -- you just lacked the vision!"

Yes, it is richly ironic that I chose to be a writer and yet I find rejection so odious. I get it.

Now you're wondering how this applies to you.

A couple of years ago, I decided I was going to write a novel. Was I a celebrity, did I have a book deal, or did I once date Hugh Hefner?

No. I just wanted to write a novel. Is that so wrong? I had hope when I started. And yet, even before I was done, the chorus of "that's so hard" was upon me. "It's impossible for an unknown writer to sell a novel these days" turned into a cascade of rejection letters and emails from interns at agents' offices, then editors, publishers, even well-meaning writer friends. The manuscript was barely even done before it was finished, as they say. I did manage to get an agent finally, and she sent it out to all the major publishers. Everyone had good things to say about my writing, but no one was sold on the novel. Eventually the agent gave up, advising me to leave this book behind and start on another one. Frankly, by this time the concept of starting all over was out of the question.

Here's the thing -- I knew the first novel was good, and I knew it would sell, and even though I didn't relish the idea of self-publishing, by then I was on a mission, not only to put the book out, but to convince the world, one person at a time if necessary, that my book belonged on their summer reading lists. In case you’re wondering, the name of that novel is Hollywood Car Wash, and it’s an insider-y Hollywood story about a college student in Michigan who gets a job on a tv series playing (what else?) a college student from the Midwest. When she's in the game, though, she’s told (without irony) that she’s actually “too fat to play a college student from the Midwest,” then she finds that in order to keep her big-deal job, she’s going to have to do everything from losing weight to bleaching her hair to getting new friends, and everything in between. The novel is all based on true stories and real people, and people have told me they find it funny and impossible to put down. Seriously -- people who are not even my friends say this.

So, after climbing my way up the ladder to the world of agents/ publishers, I then climbed back down and released the book as a self-published edition. To this day when people ask if they should do this, I say “try the traditional method first, THEN use self-publishing as a backup,” meaning that I don’t think self-publishing should be your first choice, but it can be a great tool if you feel you have a product (a book) that’s been overlooked.

Back to the story. I still believed in the book! The self-published edition came out. Enter social media: MySpace, to be exact, and Twitter, and Facebook, and anything else I could think of. When the self-published version came out, I spent hours (HOURS) on social media, friending every person I could find who said they liked a book similar to mine, talking to them personally, reading about them, and convincing them that they should read my book for their book club. Social media was my book tour, my publicist, and my connection to people who were interested in my writing. Did it take as much effort to promote that book as it did to write it in the first place? Actually, it probably took more.

But, eventually, guess what? That novel caught on through word of mouth on social media, and the self-published edition sold so many copies that Simon & Schuster bought it and re-released it.

My point is this: if you have the inclination, WRITE THAT NOVEL, and when your friend, or your agent, or your English teacher says, "it's impossible to sell a novel," print out this article and show it to them, then go back to Twitter, and Facebook, or LinkedIn, or wherever your target demographic is hanging out, and talk up your book. Social media is the great equalizer that makes it possible for things like this to happen.

Here are some bullet points, just to guide you on your way.

1. Books are business. The fact that agents/ publishers are rejecting you has less to do with your writing and more to do with the fact that you're not Lauren Conrad, whose built-in audience guarantees bestseller status and a ton of copies sold. Think I'm wrong? Please go now to the New York Times Bestseller list and look for famous people with books. Are they better writers than you? Nope. Just better known. Now go back to your social media.

2. Numbers speak louder than words. If you are rejected by your list of agents and publishers, your next step is to put that book out yourself, then use whatever tools necessary (I recommend social media) to sell enough copies that Big Publishing America has to come back and admit it made a mistake. In case you're wondering how this feels, let me tell you from first-hand experience:


On that day, you will need to hold your hand over your mouth to squelch the words "I TOLD YOU SO," and you will proudly take to your Twitter account and proclaim your victory.

3. Seriously, get in there. In case you're a technophobe, I must remind you that social media is free, and it's there to connect you to your readers. Take that energy you're using to be frustrated, go out, and find your audience. If you need help, feel free to get in touch with me. I have heard everything once, and (like I said), I LOVE proving people wrong.

Lori Culwell
Author, blogger, SEO Expert

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