Using Social Media to Build Your Author Brand

This is a guest post by Colleen Coble. She is the author of thirty-five novels or novellas and has won numerous awards, including the Romance Writers of America prestigious RITA, the Holt Medallion, and the ACFW Book of the Year. She is also active on Twitter and Facebook. If you want to guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.

Allen Arnold of Thomas Nelson and and Karen Ball of B&H Publishing Group recently presented a morning track for multi-published authors at the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference. When Allen started talking about building a tribe and using Twitter and Facebook, I saw the color drain from quite a few faces.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/fotosipsak, Image #8147213

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/fotosipsak

Jumping on the social media bandwagon is easier for some of us than for others, but it’s so worth the effort it takes to connect with your readers. Allen sent all his authors this video, and it really shows the power of social media.

When Mike Hyatt first started talking about Twitter, I didn’t understand the value, but I’m always looking for new ways to connect to my readers. I decided to give it a try. It didn’t take long to realize this was the greatest thing to come along to help build my author brand. The results?

In the past year since I started using social media, my newsletter signups and website traffic have gone up nearly 50%. The pre-orders of my book from booksellers (i.e., “laydown”) between my last two books increased 40%. I’m not saying it’s all due to social media. Thomas Nelson has done a phenomenal job marketing my books. And, my husband has worked hard to get out bookmarks and signed bookplates to my readers who sign up for my newsletter. But I believe the defining difference is social media.

Here is how I’ve used it:

  1. Tweet several times a day and have it feed over to Facebook. I respond to posts on my Facebook wall and to any mentions or direct messages that I get in Twitter. I get to know my readers so I can build a sense of community. I don’t follow everyone who follows me like some do. I am more excited to follow those who are following 50 people than those following 100,000 because I know that person is one of my tribe. If a follower is clearly a spammer, I don’t follow them back.
  2. I blog and ask for reader opinion about covers, names, themes, etc. I always listen to my readers! For example, I recently asked for opinions on the cover for my first historical romantic mystery. When my readers didn’t think it looked suspenseful enough, my fiction team changed the sky to stormy. That touch was just enough, and it was all thanks to my readers.
  3. Allen suggested I give away a free download of Distant Echoes and Alaska Twilight on my website so I did. I also created extra content with an epilogue to Cry in the Night that’s available exclusively to newsletter members.
  4. I figure out what my hook is for each book and participate in blogs that might connect me with readers who are interested in that subject.
  5. Participation in online reader groups like GoodReads helps me find readers who like my type of book.
  6. Organization is crucial. I use TweetDeck to organize my Twitter feeds and stay on top of things that are happening in the industry.
  7. I re-tweet posts of interest.
  8. When readers email, I reply.
  9. I run contests on the blog and my website and give away copies of my newest release to help create buzz.
  10. When asked to guest blog or do online interviews, I make sure to find the time.

I know this seems like a lot of work, but I only spend about 15–30 minutes a day on it. My fabulous editor at Thomas Nelson, Ami McConnell, recently told me she’s come to realize we must love our reader. That’s what drew me to social media in the first place—that desire to connect to my readers and to consistently deliver the reading experience they expect.

Some people worry about privacy issues, but I haven’t found that to be a problem. There might be a few kooks out there, but most people are just average folks who want to feel a connection and to be part of something.

If this seems intimidating, start small. Start with Twitter and feed it to Facebook. You’ll find it doesn’t take nearly as much time as you think. Once you’re comfortable with that, move on to other areas and start building your tribe. The rewards are great!

Question: If you are an author—or want to be an author—how are you using social media to connect to readers and build your brand?
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  • http://www.faithimagined.com alisa hope wagner

    Bravo! Great post. Social medium is the next step to building "community" with others. There are blessings and curses that come with social media, but Christians must muscle there way in! Our influence in the media world is imperative!

    I also love what you wrote about the readers. If writers don't have a heart for their readers, what the heck are they writing for?

    I look forward to reading your books!

  • http://www.facebook.com/shawneda Shawneda Marks

    I'm an indie published author and I use Facebook, Twitter and my website as my main hubs for "reader interaction". I'm on my second first novel and am excited about the feedback I've already received and looking forward to connecting to readers once it is officially released in December. I'm planning to implement the newsletter thing it's daunting but I'm gonna do it. Thanks for the great post!

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  • http://www.blogsofbooks.com Susan K. Stewart

    Thank you for a real-life experience post. I'm working on my brand while writing my non-fiction book. I believe I'll have an audience that I'll be able to show to editors. In the meantime, I'm enjoying my friends.

  • http://twitter.com/DianeStortz @DianeStortz

    Thanks, Colleen! Do you or Mike know any children's writers–particularly those who write for preschool or early elementary ages–who are using social media successfully?

  • http://twitter.com/colleencoble @colleencoble

    I'm not up much on children's books but it's MOMS who buy the books, not the kids. So there is no reason it wouldn't work just as well. Hang out in places moms hang out like MOPS online sites and mom bloggers, any sites that talk about kids.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/pressedforward pressedforward

    Good ideas. Grandparenting sites and blogs too, probably. I've got a good start on those. Thanks again!

  • http://suspensenovelist.blogspot.com Peg Brantley

    Great post, Colleen.

    I love not only the author/reader connections on Twitter (specifically) but also the sense of community with other authors.

    I feel like I’m a bit of a spy following agents and publishers, and I’ve found a new author, moleskine notebooks and kitchen knives. I follow the news from Aspen which is near my fictional town, and the United Network for Organ Sharing, the topic of which has a direct connection to the story I’m writing.

    All through Twitter.

  • http://alex-moore.blogspot.com Alex Moore

    enjoyable & thorough…great discussion.

  • http://marlataviano.com Marla Taviano

    Thanks, Colleen. Great stuff.
    "Love our reader" is great. Wise, biblical, and it works. When I'm focused on my readers and ministering to/blessing them, God takes care of stuff for me. When I'm focused on myself, blah. Everything falls apart.
    Congratulations on your awesome success! And thanks for being so personal and available!

  • http://twitter.com/colleencoble @colleencoble

    A reader mentioned the post seems to indicate Karen Ball works for Thomas Nelson so I thought I'd clear that up. She's with Broadman and Holman and Allen Arnold is fiction publisher at Thomas Nelson. :-)

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  • http://fbx.bz/E Michael Fraietta

    Great post! I have a suggestion for another way to utilize SM to build your author brand:

    I have an author (client) who monitors the above mentioned but also monitors mentions of other authors and book titles of his genre. This allows him to reach out and suggest his own book to those interested in his genre. He finds those he reaches out to are rather receptive and appreciate the suggestion.

    Michael Fraietta
    Filtrbox
    @MichaelFraietta
    http://fbx.bz/E

  • http://twitter.com/colleencoble @colleencoble

    That's a GREAT suggestion, Michael, thanks!

  • http://www.DeniseHunterBooks.com Denise Hunter

    Great stuff, Colleen. I use social media to connect with my readers also, and am finding that I love the connection. Does it sell books? I hope so, but I also want to foster that relationship because they're not just potential sales, they're people.

  • http://www.leadershiplessonsfromthebook.com Bill Bliss

    Colleen, Great post! As a new author of a book called Leadership Lessons From THE BOOK, you have given some great suggestions on using social media. I encourage any reader to visit the video you highlighted at the beginning of the post – it alone is quite informative about what it is we are dealing with regarding social media.

    Thanks,

    Bill Bliss

  • http://www.LisaTawnBergren.com Lisa Bergren

    Excellent reminders, Colleen. And I hadn't thought of finding your tribes according to subjects of common interest! Doh! Will do so, going forward…

    I want to encourage all to tread very carefully, however, in visiting another person's site and commenting as a thinly disguised method of promoting one's own book. It's read as slimy and self-promoting and basically, as a form of spam. The goal is to build an audience of your own–not mooch off of another's. And if you're involved in those communities, honestly involved because of a shared interest, the honest, clean opportunities for promotion will arise.

    Lisa Bergren

  • http://twitter.com/linc0lnpark @linc0lnpark

    I live on #twitter… really. I absolutely adore my fans — and am honored 2 B followed by so many fantastic, lively tweeps1My twitter feed goes to @facebook, @goodreads @amazon… everywhere! My readers deserve the best #digital communication I can offer them. Many listeners of my #podcast come from twitter; and vice versa. The digital space allows me to communicate in the same unconstrained way I write. I'm a human #hashtag! ROFL

  • Karen Ball

    Colleen, imagine my surprise when I got an email from an agent today who said, according to Michael's blog, I was now working for Nelson! I hopped on over and grinned when I read your first line. So, just to be clear, the wonderful Allen Arnold is, indeed, at Nelson, but I am at B&H Publishing Group, the publishing arm of Lifeway.

    And thanks for a great blog post!

  • http://twitter.com/colleencoble @colleencoble

    Yes I cleared that up in an earlier comment! Hey, I would like it if you were working at Nelson! :-)

  • http://LifeAsPrayer.wordpress.com Lisa Colon DeLay

    Wonderful post. If Social Media is just a fad, then so is the internet.

    I used social media (twitter and facebook) to attract Christians and spiritual journeyers to my site about integrating spirituality, prayer, and walking with God. Right off the bat, in just six weeks, I saw my regular readership expand 33%. Blog hits went from 15-20 per day, and in just a few months quadrupled. When I did a guest post at stuffchristianslike and tweeted/linked to it, in one day, 500 hits from that source alone.

    I agree, it's a lot of fun to interact with visitors and fans. Let the good times roll.

  • Lisa Harman

    Great post Colleen.
    As a pre-published fiction author, I have learned so much about the publishing industry through information shared on Twitter, Facebook, and Blogs. And yes, as a reader, I have discovered new favorite authors through social media.
    As a writer who spends many hours a day alone, working on my craft, social media helps me to remain connected to friends, family, and fellow writers. I guess that is the beginning of my tribe.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

    I totally agree with Colleen. Finding the moms is key. “Mommy bloggers” are a very popular category.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

    I modified the first sentence to make it clear that Karen works for B&H Publishing Group. Thanks.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

    This is an important point to remember. I couldn't agree more.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

    This is the way rumors get started! (Maybe your boss will see it and give you a raise to stay!)

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Beaconhillnw Jim

    good points on using social media to build author brands…might be useful for those who consult and do viral marketing as well.

  • http://www.buildingchampions.com Daniel Harkavy

    Thank you for sharing your insights. My blog will go live this week, I just signed up for FB and Twitter. I look forward to seeing how this helps us with our mission to make a difference in the lives of many!

    Daniel Harkavy

  • http://twitter.com/krichellegroth @krichellegroth

    Thanks for your interesting post on social media. I am writing my first Christian Young Adult fiction novel. I've been considering using Tweet Deck to manage my tweets. I have a Facebook personal account to stay connected with family and friends. I plan to set up a public Facebook fan page to connect with others on my writing and am looking for suggestions on naming it.

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/saraflower saraflower

    Absolutely crucial information! Thank you. :)

  • gerald chodak

    the video has been removed. Is there any other place to find it??

  • http://twitter.com/MSandy4 Sandra

    More authors are finding the joy of publishing their works with ebooks and other sites. Having long been forsaken by the traditional publisher, we are doing it ourselves.