Why Authors Shouldn’t Pay for Social Media Services

moneyebooksI accidentally clicked a press release the other day. This release announced an exciting new “social media system” to help independent authors create buzz for books.

A noble goal, albeit a lofty one. Dog Ear Publishing, one of the many self-publishing platforms in the indie author world, offers the service with a nice little bonus: a 32-page instructional eBook.

I don’t doubt the expertise. I don’t doubt that these guys know what they’re doing and want to help authors get established on social media.

What I do doubt is the price tag for the services: $599. Because I’m not sure there’s any proof that social media can drive (that many) book sales for independent authors.

The Social Paradox

Anytime a new author is thinking about venturing into the Wild, Self-Promotional West of the Internet, friends, family and strangers on the street are likely to give the same advice: Get a Facebook Page. Make a Twitter account. In short, START SHARING.

So authors make the Facebook Page. They make the Twitter account. They push forward tirelessly, valiantly, as they struggle to promote a book.

I’ve already talked about how famous authors aren’t using Facebook for much of anything. I did have an interview with one author who has over 1,000 followers on Twitter, but I know for a fact those fans haven’t been goldmines for readership, either.

I’m not saying social media isn’t useful for authors, but I can fully, confidently proclaim that it’s not as effective as people claim. And I really, really don’t think authors should pay a flat fee for it.

Monetization of Momentum, Not Marketing

In Dogear’s press release, the manager of author services, Matthew Murry, points out that Fortune 500 companies have greatly increased their social media use in 2013. Thus, we have the crux of his argument:

“That’s how important social media is. It’s everywhere and everyone uses it. It’s a fast way to get in touch with huge swaths of people. That makes it a really good fit for indie authors who don’t have a budget to do monthly print ads.”

It’s true that Fortune 500 companies are making a hard push into the social media marketing space. I know, because I work with a few.

But Fortune 500 companies have something to sell that’s a vetted solution to a known problem. 

Books, by virtue of the click-and-publish model presented by Amazon, have become largely commoditized. That means, if you’re digitally marketing them, people are going to look right through everything you send their way.

Plus, print ads aren’t what indie authors should be using. What about Promoted Tweets? Google AdWords?

My real problem with social media services is that these are all things that authors can do by themselves, if they feel like researching the solutions.

So Dogear’s audience is for authors who don’t want to do the social part of social media, nor learn anything new, and think they will make over $599 in book sales from social media.

That’s a 50-50 chance, considering a study last year found that half of self-published authors earn less than $500 from book sales. 

The real problem is the model

Dogear kind of wandered into my crosshair, because this was just one of the latest “indie author” services that I’ve seen. I don’t know anything about the company and, really, they probably work as hard as they can to represent their authors. I have no doubt.

That said, I think this is a good opportunity to reflect on exactly how independent authors are going to afford these kinds of premium services. Really, there’s no way the average writer should shell out $599 for a service.

It seems that a lot of these services exploit the hype about social media, without presenting any innovative solutions. Here’s what Dogear offers, specifically:

  • Social media questionnaire to better help us better develop your online persona/brand
  • Custom Setup of Facebook account
  • Custom Setup of Twitter account
  • Two free rounds of revisions to your online profiles (with input from our experts)
  • Social Media Calendar providing ideas and cadence for online interactions through each platform
  • Step-by-Step Curriculum on Social Media basics and Advanced Tips for more sophisticated users
  • Seeding of content (taken from author’s book) set to populate through social media platforms.
  • Full integration of social media platforms on Author’s Dog Ear SEO Web site with blog.*

The last part is sold separately, hence the asterisk. The rest doesn’t indicate any actual work on Dogear’s part that authors couldn’t learn to do themselves. But I suppose, again, if you don’t want to learn social media, you buy it.

How do people buy eBooks?

There is a need for book marketing services for indie authors. This is true. But, so far, the monetization models I have seen aren’t that convincing. Especially given the average indie author’s “profit margin” from his or her books.

I think a lot of the time, authors can get so caught up in the marketing that they forget there’s a book behind it. 

A flat fee is an investment. Is paying for social media services going to be a good investment? Too much smoke and mirrors and, suddenly, you have no room. Just foggy reflections.

The questions no one has convincingly answered yet is how consumers find books online. There’s no unity, no streamlined system and no one place (other than Amazon) that indie authors can use for promotion.

Nothing is a surefire thing for book sales, so every channel has to be used. 

That’s what book marketing services – and authors – need to consider first. Is setting up Twitter and Facebook profiles going to sell enough books to recoup for a $599 social media fee? Is this marketing a good investment?

Are your potential readers on Twitter or is it just a place for authors to tweet about their books to other authors? How will people find your Facebook Page – won’t they have to already know about your book? 

I have downloaded two free eBooks from Twitter, because I follow authors. One was awful. One is good and I will probably buy the second book in the series. In that regard, Twitter was successful for that author.

But I doubt she paid for it.

What do you think? Has social media paid off for you? Would you pay a few hundred dollars for it? 

Photo Credit: Cåsbr via Compfight cc

4 thoughts on “Why Authors Shouldn’t Pay for Social Media Services

  1. Interesting, especially the stats on how much people actually make. I wonder, given that prior to self-publication books written by people which did not make it to publication have a 0 return, if you average professionally published books + the number of books of that never make it out of the desk drawer, you would still get something like ~$500. This is because there are more books that were never published than were published, it’s just that now all those never-books end up as self-published books, and we have actual stats for them.

    Also, you bring up a good point when you ask: does this kind of advertising really work for books? If people read a book, it is generally because someone else, a trusted friend or the New York Times, has recommended it.

  2. Good advice, Blaise. So far, in my experience, social media doesn’t seem to deliver a lot in terms of real commitments (i.e., sales!) but helps lay the groundwork for possible word-of-mouth effects. That’s a tough thing to spend $600 on, and probably as fruitless as advertising. I’ll be interested to hear more about Libboo, though, described in your later post.

    1. Agreed! I think that word-of-mouth is why authors need to use social media, but independent authors shouldn’t be paying for it. It’s never going to be as effective as just having people read a good book and having it recommended to them by friends.

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