Publishers Weekly’s recent article Teenage Tweetland by Karen Springen investigates the importance of social media platforms for authors trying to capture the teen reader. The article examines many of the top social media sites and gives examples of authors successfully using them to engage their readers. The article notes that some authors devote up to several hours per day maintaining their social media presence, while others consider it a burden. The verdict: a well-attended social media platform can help sell books, but the hot social media space for teens evolves quickly and authors will need to adapt.
The PW article demonstrates the importance of linking authors through social media with their audience, especially for books aimed at a teen audience. The article recommends that authors select platforms that their audience uses, but only ones they themselves feel comfortable using. Examples include YA author John Green, who has 1.5 million twitter followers, 1.1 million YouTube subscribers and over 400 000 Tumblr followers. While Green’s social media platform with the largest scope can arguably said to be his YouTube channel that he shares with his brother, Green asserts that Tumblr is “right now a bigger deal than facebook or twitter” and that the best use of Twitter is to promote one’s tumblr. Green says that social media promotion helped him sell “a LOT” of The Fault in Our Stars leading up and at its release. But a year after its publication, “it’s other people talking about it, not [Green], that sells it.” Green’s case is one that demonstrates the benefit of an active social media presence and fan base: it helps get the initial word out there, while engaged fans keep spreading the word after the book moves off the frontlist.
As a reader, I like to keep track of my favourite authors through social media – in fact, it is one of the primary places I learn about books I might like to read. Being able to engage with an author’s online content, and having the illusion of intimacy that social media gives, allows me to be a more involved reader and fan. I follow and engage with John Green on all his social media platforms, for example, in addition to being a consumer of his books; in fact, I was aware of his social media presence before I became a reader. The same can be said, for me, of Neil Gaiman, Maureen Johnson and Kate Beaton. In reverse, when I find an author I like, one of the first things I do is look for their Twitter account so I can stay connected with them – frequently I find that they have no meaningful social media presence (Daniel Handler, Jonathan Safran Foer, Donna Tartt, I’m looking at you). I count this as a missed opportunity for the author to promote themselves to their fans.
As a publisher, this engagement on established social media platforms is highly desirable for an author, from the acquisition of their manuscript to the publication of their book, because it indicates both a built-in audience and some measure of sales for the author’s book. As a publisher, I would look for an established social media platform from any new author I would attempt to acquire; if they don’t have one, I would suggest getting at least one platform, probably either Facebook or Twitter, depending on what the author is comfortable with, and the demographic they are attempting to engage.
Besides building engagement, social media platforms also allow publishers to mine data about an author’s fans. Through platforms like Twitter and Facebook, the publishing house can establish information about where an author’s fans live, and provide concentrated real-life media promotion to those areas, adjust print runs accordingly, tap overlooked markets, or keep those destinations in mind should there be an author tour. The publishing house can also find out more about the readers’ other interests, which may help them discover new trends. The information about a customer’s specific reading habits (as discoverable on GoodReads, for example), or general interests (such as on Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube) has not been freely available in the past. I would argue that access to this trove of information is something that publishers should seize upon and use to their advantage, especially during the midst of the digital and e-reading revolution. Social media benefits both the author and the publisher: the author can interact with a fan base and self-promote, while the publisher profits from the author’s established fan base and free information on the consumers of the product. Overall, as both a reader and a future publisher, I think that engaging readers through social media has become an important and necessary part of the job.