~ Aadrit Banerjee
If writing a book is the first step, then marketing it, and ensuring it reaches the targeted readers is the final and the most important step for it bridges the space between the author's writing room and the reader's shelf, guaranteeing the book's critical and commercial success, the author’s fame and ingenuity, and the publishing firm’s established legacy. In today's world of media and technology, there are several strategies that authors and publishing houses have at their disposal to promote books and tap the potential market. Social media is perhaps the most sought-after. In contrast to other forms like newspapers, magazines, TV, offline outreach programmes, networking through direct mail, billboards, etc., social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and so forth, are characterised by speed, and easier accessibility. It also ensures wider dissemination of information and immediate response in real-time — facilities that are usually absent in the other media platforms. Therefore, social media with its immense benefits can become an effective instrument in the hands of the marketing team, and authors, to promote a book, connect with their readers, and boost sales.
A Solid Social Media Presence:
Before anything else, a solid social media presence is the key to the trade. For an author, and/or the publishing house, an active social media presence across diverse platforms ranging from Facebook to Twitter, is indispensable in today’s world where people, and even the reading public, increasingly depend on their online spaces, and virtual networking, where their identities rapidly merge and become like their online avatars. This necessity to adapt to the social media world to market their products is corroborated by the online presence of notable authors like J. K. Rowling, who has 14M followers on Twitter, and traditional publishing firms like Penguin and Ukiyoto, which maintain an active engaging presence across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. These social media profiles are marked by frequent carousel posts, videos, status updates, shorts, reels, etc., posted at different time schedules throughout the day, targeting different aspects of the market. What becomes clear from this observation is that opening a social media account is not in itself sufficient, authors and publishing houses must post frequently to maintain an active presence that solves multiple purposes: gain followers, and have an established follower-base, that works as a reliable market force. The 14M followers of Rowling translate effectively into a 14M–people market base, such that whenever Rowling launches a book on her Twitter it automatically taps into this vast online market.
At the same time, social media comes with a sense of uncertainty — not all the 14M people would end up buying the book — unlike in a face-to-face physical interaction, where the probability of the audience purchasing the book is higher. Therefore, it is important to strategize and compartmentalize the target audience online. This could be achieved by following back a trustable and loyal cohort of people, who would be genuinely interested to interact with the books (and related products) that are being marketed. There is the follow-for-follow strategy, by which authors and publishing firms can ensure both a trustable and a wide, loyal follower base.
Maintaining One’s Voice:
Next on, it is important to maintain one’s voice on the platform, and this stands particularly true for authors. Uninspired posts, random tweets, and weak posts on Instagram or Twitter can have opposite effects. For instance: a cursory glance through Devdutt Pattanaik’s, one of India’s highest-grossing mythological authors, Instagram and Twitter page reflects a certain pattern of how his posts transport his author persona onto the social media page thereby establishing a certain credibility. For publishing houses, this step ensures that their policies feature prominently on their media platforms, for instance, Ukiyoto’s Instagram and Twitter pages regularly highlight its inclusive approach, and its emphasis on Indian and regional languages, and its recent focus on translations.
It is necessary for the author and the publishing business firm to also remain topical, and sensitive to contemporary events and issues. Otherwise, constant posts about the only book–promotions, appear to be excessively market-oriented, and artificial. Connecting with the readers is the sole mantra, and maintaining a natural and human presence on social media achieves the same. Therefore, responding to contemporary society, and particular events are imperative, and in the long run helps in holding onto the market. For instance, a review of the social media platforms of authors and publishers would reveal how a majority of the posts are about contemporary issues: queer movements, comments/reactions to socio-political issues, an obituary response to the death of a particular person famous in the literary world or otherwise, posts commemorating birthdays/death anniversaries of prominent literary figures, or significant events specific to the author’s profile, the publishing firm’s policies, etc. It was thus not surprising that most top-notch Indian–authors across their platforms, and even publishing houses, posted about the recent Odisha triple-train accident displaying a human side, and sympathetically connecting with the milieu that defines their market.
Designing Social Media Posts:
While designing posts for media platforms, authors and publishers sometimes place their products in response to such contemporary issues. For instance, social media posts during Pride month celebrations in June, see publishing houses advertising their queer-themed books, while authors such as Pattanaik frequently advertise their works about a specific festival, like Diwali, when that is being celebrated across the country. This attracts the readers and contributes to the significant promotion of the titles.
Posting Recommendations & Shareable Content:
Offering recommendations also help in establishing the author’s credibility, while the publishing houses can use the same strategy to advertise and promote titles that they have published. Aleph Book Company and Harper Collins regularly feature posts, often designed topically, recommending readers to purchase books that they publish. Most of the content shared specifically about books, sales, marketing-related content, etc., should be shareable encouraging readers on various platforms to share them amply and attract potential readers, thereby widening the market reach.
An active presence also entails constant interactions that include: commenting on other’s posts, sharing posts of others about your work, etc., replying to comments on your posts about books, conducting regular live sessions on Facebook, and Instagram, and holding discussion spaces on Twitter, specially designed for book promotion, and even otherwise for informal meetings, etc., aids in the entire process of reaching out to the potential market and boosting book sales. Publishing houses, for instance, like Penguin, often conduct interactive live Instagram sessions with their authors marketing their recent titles, while authors frequently come on live Instagram/Facebook live to promote their books, and speak to, and connect with their readers on a real-time basis.
Posting Diverse Content:
Posting trailers, book promotion videos, snapshots of offline events, announcements of physical author meet-ups, book launches, or a live tour of the author’s writing room/publishing house’s office, etc., are only some of the various strategies that ensure a smart social media usage and can be effectively used both by the authors and the publishing firms. Shashi Tharoor’s Twitter handle for instance embodies all of this: regular and diverse posts, announcements of his book launches, retweets of other’s contents and reviews of his book, comments and replies on book posts about his work or that of other authors, videos of him reading something, topical posts, and targeted marketing of his author brand, and books.
Dormant Media Presence:
Another interesting trend is also visible, that of maintaining an almost dormant media presence, and posting only when a book is about to be launched. This has been followed by several writers, most notably by Ocean Vuong, who has 278K followers on Instagram, but only 8 posts centred mostly around his books and their promotion. However, this requires the author to have a considerable readership and established credibility, and is not suitable for authors who are using the media space to promote themselves and their works.
Giveaways have become especially important in recent times, and free book giveaways, often on special occasions, and especially upon a book launch, are liberally indulged in both by authors and their publishing camps, attracting young media users, and the social media market in general. For instance, A Suitable Agency on the 30th Anniversary of Vikram Seth’s “A Suitable Boy” conducted a free book giveaway for the readers upon completion of a quiz. Often, giveaway rules require sharing the media post about the book, mandatorily following the page, tagging multiple people in the comment section, and other measures that work on certain competitive ethics, and automatically ensure book promotion and marketing.
Ensuring efficient marketing of the book, such that it maintains an almost tactile presence across social media platforms, requires well–planned and directed use of the various hashtags, and responding appropriately to the algorithm. Personalised hashtags based on the author's brand, the publishing house, or the specific book being promoted and advertised could be used and circulated. This ensures that whenever across media platforms like Twitter or Instagram, readers click on, or search using the specific hashtag then all related tweets, and posts, using it are featured.
Tuning the algorithm could be achieved by investing selectively in advertisement packages on various media platforms, or by using a particular social media analytics feature that presents data regarding a particular post’s reach and impact on the said media platform. Moreover, it is also advised that authors and publishing houses should post different content across different social media forums, following the difference in the algorithm and features of each platform. So, micro-text posts about books would go for Twitter, while Instagram would be more suitable for book cover reveal, etc.
Social media is a field of immense possibilities when it comes to the area of book promotion and marketing, and the above-listed ways are only some of the several innovative mechanisms and techniques that social media presents before the cohort of authors, and guild of publishers, to effectively aim and profit out of their market. Today, as the potential of social media comes to be recognised, authors and publishing houses have dedicated and specialised social media teams that analyse and look after the online market, and promotions across such diverse online platforms. The secret ingredient however is dependent on how well every faculty is balanced and a certain valuable ethic is developed and used to reach and connect with the audience through a mix use of various social media sites.