Let us hearken back to the days when dinosaurs ruled the earth…or at least when it was publishing dinosaurs who decided which books would make it to print and which would never see a bookstore shelf. How could a budding author gain readers without a publisher? How do you start a business? What’s that lump on my neck? The world got its answers as the Internet put the power to promote into the hands of the artists. As for the lump on the neck, see a doctor; self-diagnosing by using the Internet is a bad idea.
You’ve written a book using your word processor of choice. You have Internet access. What’s next? Choose your book’s format(s): eBook or print-on-demand, and the place(s): either a geographical location or online, from which it will sell: Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes & Noble are three major sites for self-publishing. After that, just kick back and wait for the money to roll in…or you could try some of these DIY methods of leveraging the awesomeness that is social media to get the word out.
- Facebook. The first thing you’ll do when your book is for sale is post a link to your wall. That’ll reach all your friends, plus some of your friends’ friends. To expand your reach on the world’s largest social network, create a Facebook Page for your book. You could also consider taking out a Facebook Ad. It’ll cost you, but the amount you spend is up to you.
- Goodreads. A social media network for authors to promote and for readers to share their recommendations. There are lots of tools for authors to creatively promote their works.
- Twitter. This immensely popular network has proven that 140 characters can be worth…well, more than 140 characters. When you set up your account, make your user name instantly identifiable, whether you are tweeting as an author of many books or if you are setting up an account to promote a single work. Use the hashtag (#) before a contiguous string of characters to create a searchable topic, and mention other authors and readers of your works using the at sign (@) before their username.
- Google+. Rumors of this under-appreciated social network’s demise abound, but it’s still alive. If you’re not on G+ yet, do sign up. While similar in most ways to Facebook, it has managed to remain free of many of its competitor’s more annoying features (games, pokes, etc.), while more intellectual pursuits thrive. Promoting a book using Google+ requires diligence–post often.
- LinkedIn. If Facebook is a tailgate party, LinkedIn is a job fair. Focusing on career networking, the network’s 161,000,000 users in 200 countries aren’t there to play Farmville or share pictures of their Orlando vacation–they are there to present their professional faces to the world.
- YouTube. Is there a video component to your book? Can you come up with an idea that can be put to video? YouTube is ubiquitous across the world and across devices. YouTube videos are viewed on computers, smartphones, tablets, gaming consoles, and anything with a screen on it.
- Amazon. The retailing behemoth offers communities and customer discussions. The latter appear on a book’s page. Even for many bestselling books, though, this feature is not popular.
- Blog. You’re a writer–write! Blogs are easy to set up–WordPress and Google offer excellent free blog hosting, with premiums (custom URL, no ads, etc.) costing just a few bucks per year. Setting up a blog is simple. You don’t have to write a line of code, there are hundreds of free templates to choose from, and if you require more functionality, both hosting plans offer hundreds of free third-party plugins that install with the click of a button. Must-have plugins include those that put social media buttons on all your blog’s pages (a “+1″ button for G+, a “Like” button for Facebook–there are buttons for every possible social media site that would matter).
A successful blog is one with many readers who return often. To maintain a successful blog, you must post often, and if you allow comments on your posts, you must respond to those comments. A blog is more than a log or a diary–it is a community, and in order for a community to thrive, all members must feel like they are a part of that group. Of all the social media outlets mentioned in this post, a blog requires the most work, but it can also be the most satisfying; you design it, you create the content, and you shape the tone of the community.
Here are a few tips that apply to all of the ideas mentioned in this article:
- Set the tone. In the absence of real-time voice or face-to-face communication, intentions don’t often come through. As the owner of your page/blog/account, you are responsible for keeping the interest of your readers/fans and for maintaining an appropriate level of decorum. Before embarking on any online promotion, map out your strategy, and prioritize the tone you will set and how you will maintain it. One crucial question you should answer before you type one word: How much freedom of speech will you allow?
- Use tags and keywords. In YouTube and blogs, posts allow for tags, which are words or phrases that, when entered into online search engines, will return that post. Always enter tags when the option is available. Keywords can be words in posts or descriptions that will likewise show up in search engine results.
- Link to and mention others. The best way to get the word out on any network is to include links to other sites and to mention other blogs and social media users’ pages. The best way to get your blog to show up prominently in search engines is for many sites to link to it; you can make this happen by commenting and guest posting on other blogs. On Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and every other network, when you “+1,” “Like,” or in any way mention, repost, or link to another user’s page or external site, many other users will see it. The more you do this for others, the more they’ll return the favor.
Al Natanagara is a writer, journalist, and blogger whose career includes stints with ZDNet, CNet, CBS, LexisNexis, and Law Enforcement. He has written on a plethora of topics ranging from homicide forensics to urban parenting, to fine pork barbecue.