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Misconceptions Of Social Media And Promoting Your Book With Jonathan Jacobs
We have with us, Jonathan Jacobs, a Founding Partner of Digital Natives Group, a digital marketing agency. Jonathan Jacobs has built a seven–figure social media practice, helping to launch social media platforms for global sports brands, projects for Fortune 500 companies, and of particular relevance to the discussion, nearly 100 book launches, many of them which became New York Times bestsellers. I’m excited to have Jonathan here because he clarifies a lot of misconceptions around the role of social media in promoting books. I found our conversation incredibly enlightening. One of the big questions that Jonathan answers for us is the question of, “Why is it that many authors with large social media platforms have tended to underperform when it comes to book sales?” Jonathan is going to share with us that little nugget of insight as well as much more. I hope that you enjoy this episode. Sit back and enjoy it.
Jonathan, welcome to the show.
Thank you so much for having me, Robin. I’m excited to chat.
I am excited to have you because if there’s one thing when I’m helping authors with their book proposals or as they’re preparing for their book launch, I inevitably and invariably get questions about social media, “What is the role that social media can and should play? What are the parameters of the potential benefits? What are the limits?” As you can imagine, I’ve got a fire hose of backlog questions. We’re going to start chipping away. Initially, I’d like to ask you, do you have an overall philosophy about social media and its role specifically for authors?
First of all, Robin, thank you again for having me. Thank you, everyone, who are going to read this conversation. I’m always excited to be able to talk about this subject. The first point that I would make is that when I talk to a lot of authors, it feels like they talk about the book creation, publication process as having a series of gates, “I wrote the draft, I’m going to seek an agent. We have an agent, we’re going to go to a publisher.” I’ve been talking about the more traditional model. This also applies to folks who are self-publishing, “We have a publisher lined up. They’re going to figure out the logistics or I have someone who’s going to do logistics. Now, I’m going to think about marketing.” That’s not true at all. This is not the way book publishing should be working in the 21st century.
We need to be doing all of these things at once. That can sound overwhelming, but the reality is doing marketing alongside working on your book or your book proposal is actually one of the most beneficial ways to write. I go through it myself. It’s very difficult to work on a creative project while you’re also working on your own marketing efforts, but you’re creating a positive feedback loop to say, “I’m going to put my message out there. I’m going to see who’s responding to it. What parts of the message are people going take to? I can better craft my book because of that. I’m getting all these new data points on what interests people about my message.”
One part of my overall philosophy is that there is never a wrong time to start. You can only start too late. There’s no such thing as starting too early, whether you’re a year and a half from your book coming out, ten years from never writing a book. There’s no downside to building community. Number one is that you’re never too early in starting this. The worst thing you could think is that you have to do something before you start marketing. You can start marketing any day. All you have to do is sit down and make an account.There is never a wrong time to start. You can only start too late. Click To Tweet
The other point that is always important is that you need to build your community around you, not around a book title because you are going to go on and do many other things. You’re going to write a second book, you’re going to work on a TV pilot, you’re going to become a public speaker. You are going to launch your consultancy or an online course. There can be hundreds of things that you do to create revenue in your life or to leave an impact. Your book is a moment in time. That book, you may revisit it, maybe part of the series, there’s a whole host of things that book could evolve to become. The most valuable thing is that you have an audience built into you because you can take them from project to project.
Whether you’re a fiction author who’s launching two different series, or you’re a non-fiction health author who wrote a book about fructose and wants to write a book about the keto diet, having those people be a part of your community is a lot different than having them be a part of these individual books. In the healthcare example, the people who care about fructose might not be interested in a book about the ketogenic diet, but if they’re interested in Dr. Jonathan, they’ll follow me no matter what book I’m writing. Always reign your marketing as more about you and about the message you have to share, an experience that you can give then about the particular title you may be working on at that point in time.
I get that question a lot, even with forming a website. People say, “What should the domain be? Should it be my name? Should it be my book title?” What do you advise people at all on that? I get that question a lot.
What I always say is you can buy both. That’s a very simple solution, always do that. You also want to own that real estate. If you have someone who’s got a competing title, or for some reason they don’t buy and pull that traffic away. You should build your main website around yourself because that’s the SEO piece that you want to have for the long-term. If you’re trying to launch future projects, people will start to know you by your name more than those book titles. We all know Jodi Picoult and James Patterson. We know these authors by the names, but I couldn’t sit here and recite all their book titles. If I want to know if something new is coming out, I’m going to say, “Where is James Patterson’s website?”
I always say build it around yourself. Being an author also, there are a hundred different books that can have the same title. We’ve all seen this before. You can end up acquiring a lot of traffic that bounces from your website, which isn’t great for SEO purposes. You end up competing for that page rank on Google against 100 books that may have similar domains because you’re all trying to own your book title website. One caveat to that would be if you are a fiction author who’s got a series that may have ten books coming out in it and you’ve established, there are some folks interested. It would be good to have a separate home for that because you’ve built out a little universe. The default, and even if you’re doing that, should always be to have your author website as your first and foremost home online.
I’m glad to hear that because it confirms I’ve been giving good advice.
There is nothing better than positive reinforcement.
One of the catchphrases that I use a lot with my clients is that you’ve got to keep the main thing, the main thing. Your brand and your business is the main thing. As soon as you make the book as the main thing, you’re in trouble. You have it backwards. You’re going to have a negative impact on that.
I’m going to fudge the numbers here a little bit, but there was a study that came out about a few years ago, and I’m sure through Amazon and Kindle, we have better data on this now. Someone should look that up and fact–check me. The last time I saw numbers on this, the average American man only makes it to page 40 of a book, and the average American woman makes it to about page 60. People are not necessarily buying books to get the information from the book, they’re getting it to signal that they were part of a community. It’s the same way that we buy clothes. I go shopping at a Sneakerhead store because I’m a sneakerhead. I care about sneakers. I’m in that community. I go shopping at Brooks Brothers because I want to buy these suits so that I can signal that I have them. I should have a seat at this table.
We can debate whether this is right or wrong about the way society operates, but the point that we buy clothes to signal something about ourselves and to identify is very true. The same thing applies to books. We have these eight points that we give authors for what makes for a successful book launch campaign. Number two is that you have to build a narrative. For us, that means you have to give away your information. You’ve got to give people something that they’re going to want to follow so that they’re going to give you financial value in return for that. Authors always come and say, “If I’m going to give away everything, why would someone buy the book?”
First of all, if they’re going to follow you for 365 days a year and piece the book together, like a Pinterest post power to them, they should not have to pay for a book. Even if they don’t even crack the spine, they’re going to buy that book because they’re going to say, “I’m a member of this person’s community, and I appreciate and value information. I want someone who comes to my house, post–COVID vaccine, to see this book on my shelf and know that this is an information I’m interested in.” It’s much more about the value they perceive you to have than that particular title.
I love that relationship that you’ve established with them through social media. That brings me to the next area of questioning, which is, what do you see is the most vital role that media plays in this whole dance of promoting and launching a book? That might be a big question, but I know you have a big answer.
It’s a big question. If there is a word or a phrase that I think about when I think about social media, it’s relationship building. That is what it is. It’s establishing a connection of, yes, it’s one too many of you to hopefully hundreds of thousands of people out there. It‘s trying to find a way to create an authentic connection between you and this group of people who says, “I see you and I see value in what you have to share.” We’ve allowed the process of book publishing to become disintermediated. We don’t have to rely on publishers as much to sort through all this noise on both ends. We now can have authors who are going directly to an audience and saying, “I have information that you want.”
You may then bring a publisher back in who says, “I see the value there for sure,” but we don’t have to rely on that piece of the equation anymore. A whole other point is the financial mechanics of the industry. There are less resources to go around for marketing purposes. Authors need to take ownership of the opportunity that social media presents to them. The way I think about it, relationship building has a lot of components. Number one is you can use social media to find your cheerleaders, who are the people that most readily take to your information. If you can identify 50 of those people, and there are lots of little ways to do that, you have Facebook which has this Top Fan Badge that they give some people on your page.
I have not perceived a ton of value from it for our clients yet, but we know it’s there. There are ways that potentially you can create incentives around that using a social media monitoring tool. You can keep some internal notes on who’s engaging most often with your content. You can use that to figure out, “Here are 50 people I want to give early copies of the book to because I know they’ll leave reviews, or I know that they’ll give me good feedback if we do one more draft of this.” Have people help you collaborate on the material. That’s not to say they’re going to decide the direction of the plot, but you can give people the opportunity to name a character or give you an avenue for further research. What’s a question that they want to know the answer to?
We’re trying to form this bond of continuously providing value back to people in a way that allows you to build up that goodwill ahead of making the ask. It’s something we do in our communities all the time. What is friendship at the end of the day? There’s a value in return of, “I’m friends with you, but also it means I’m going to have to rely on you at some point. I do that and it’s okay for me to do that because I’ve done the same for you. I’ve given you that value back as a friend before.” That’s the way it should feel is that it’s not a business and commercial ask but, “I’ve done all these things for you. I hope you don’t mind that, I’m going to ask you to do this thing for me.”
That speaks to the long game because I’ve seen this mistake made over and over again with authors, even traditionally published ones, where they don’t have a lot of social media presence. They don’t have a lot of activity on social media and then the book comes out and they’re like, “Buy my book.”
We have had that happen many times. It is the worst. I always say it‘s one of our least successful project types is when someone comes to us three months before the book and says, “I want to make this thing happen.” At that point, you truly are better off going with PR because you can get the bang for the buck impressions with that. You’re going to feel better even if it doesn’t convert the same way. We never take on projects if a book is let’s say 3 or 4 months from release, and this is not someone who has done anything for their online marketing, they have no PR lined up. They have no previous credentials or credibility to rely on.Your book is a moment in time. Click To Tweet
What’s going to have to happen is that you’ll create a profile, you’ll get two weeks‘ worth of valuable content. You’re immediately going to switch to, “Buy my book.” It‘s the same thing with going into a bookstore. There may be a little bit of enjoyable discovery around, “Here’s a cool book cover. Let me look at that and pick it up, maybe I’ll get it.” For the most part, you’re going to stumble upon hundreds of authors who are going to have a book sitting there on an end cap or a table. You’re not going to pick it up because you have no familiarity with them. You may choose to research it later, but you’re not going to convert to that purchase because there’s no relationship to lean back on.
There’s the old adage in marketing that requires seven touchpoints with a customer before they become a buyer. They have to experience your brand seven times that may mean getting an ad served seven times. It may mean going to a store once, getting an ad served and getting an email. The idea was you had to have seven of those things happen before someone became a purchaser. Seeing that one ad, that one Facebook post are not going to make them buy the book. The other downside to this is whatever work you had done to build your community, you’re going to turn those people off who came in because of all they’re going to be seeing is this messaging about, “Buy my book.” Who wants to see that for three months straight?“
Unfriend or unfollow.
It is the person who is like, “Sorry, I’ve got a call. I’ve got to go.”
“Wait, I’m losing my connection. I’m entering a tunnel or something.” Let me ask you this because it’s interesting too. I think a lot of authors, their more default personality for a lot of them is more introverted. Even if authorship isn’t their primary thing, you see this in scientists as well and some of these top experts aren’t necessarily the people who are like, “Meet me.” How do you support people who are like, “I’m a private person, I don’t like to share?”
I am an introvert myself. I always say if it weren’t for working in this industry, I don’t know that I’d be on many social media besides Instagram or Twitter. I think that would be it. The answer to that is, “Are there people who are successful without social media?” Yes. “Are they few and far between?” Also, yes. “Should you try to copy what they’ve done?” No, because it’s genuinely a lot harder to do that than it is to invest the time in creating community. The folks who do it well are folks who do one of two things. Either they have invested in outside PR who’s gotten them on every major news network, and they’ve gotten many appearances that those touchpoints pile up. That is so much harder from 2016 to now.
We’ve all seen what the new cycle has become. PR appearances are not secure until you are actually on the air. We have had one client, and I’ll never forget the PR agent at the publishing house said, “I’ve never had this happen in my twenty-plus–year career.” They were on the way to an appearance on one of the big four networks and got pulled as they were in the car on the way to the studio. Now we know you cannot rely on these things, they occur. The other way it works is if you have a lot of friends who have high audience numbers on podcasts and social media, so you can rely on them to promote for you. That can lead to success too if you have enough of those chits to call in to convert to that. Both of these rely on a lot of external factors. You can hit your wagons to those, but why not do it with something that’s in your control?
The second part of your question along with that, because the first implied part was how I convince them to do it. How do I get them to authentically come to it? That’s a lot harder. That’s part of the reason they come to work with a team like ours that can handle 75% of what social media needs to be. Where that hard part comes in, especially as we’ve seen with the new channels that are coming up, you have to be willing to put your face there. You have to be willing to take a picture. What I always say to our clients is we are going to do a lot, but we won’t be hands-off. We can’t be over your shoulder every day taking a picture of the food on your plate. I can’t dress up like you and make a TikTok. There’s a real limitation to my abilities or my team’s abilities as marketers.
It is important that it’s the author’s authentic voice because people can tell. It will do more damage than benefit.
There’s a line we always give, and this is nothing that we created for sure. People buy from people. They don’t buy from brands. They buy from the personification of what a brand is. It’s the same thing with authors, “I’m buying because I like and trust this person, not because of this title that exists out in the ether.” How do people relate to people? It’s when you make an emotional connection. None of us want to surround ourselves with people who are plastic or cardboard. We want that three-dimensional character who we can connect and relate with who I have empathy for, who has empathy for me, who listens to what I’m saying. We need to create those bonds between the reader and the author.
The way that we ended up getting them a little bit more engaged is once we start doing some of the social media, they start to see some of that ROI in terms of building a community. They’re usually a little bit more willing to invest the time in making these creative pieces, but it usually starts with what is the lowest lift way to get them engaged? You don’t have to send me a picture of you with a head of cabbage at the supermarket, but send me a picture of what you have for dinner. Send me a picture of your desk with a view out the window. They’re still not on the camera. That ends up being where a lot of the discomfort comes around, the feeling of, “I have to reveal myself or share something from my day.” When we can still keep the camera facing out, it lets us break down that wall a little bit. Eventually over time, they start to get a little bit more comfortable. It’s starting with what are the easiest ways to reveal something without feeling like you’re being vulnerable? You have to be vulnerable to be successful on social media in marketing generally, but that’s a point for a much broader conversation. How can we slowly bring down the wall?
That is such an interesting point though because one of the anxieties that my clients bring to me when we’re writing their book is like, “Is it okay for me to admit that I don’t have it all figured out?” I’m like, “You have to.”
There are some great stories I’ve read, and I used the example before of authors who turned to their audience and they said, “What would that pet’s name be? Help me figure out what you want to hear more of from me.” People want to feel like they’re a stakeholder in what’s happening. When they feel like a stakeholder, they’re more likely to buy that later. Think about how a GoFundMe or Kickstarter works. The idea is to say, people want to have skin in the game. They are okay with a business that’s being built the first time and giving that business money because they believe in the vision, the product, and the people who are behind them. That’s what venture capital is. We’re betting on the jockeys, not the horses.
Let’s talk a little bit about the runway because I know one of the things you said is three months before your book launch is too late to get the result that you want to see. Do you see a sweet spot? I know that probably the best is the longest, but aside from that, if you have somebody who’s looking down the road and they’re seeing this coming, what would you say is a sweet spot runway, that’s maybe not right up against that three-month hard deadline?
I’d still go as long as possible for sure. I’m going to say that again every time. What I would say to that question is, we used to always say, “Give us six months.” That’s usually 5 before the book comes out and then 1 month in and around book launch, either the month of or the month following, depending on when the book comes out. You’ll never know when you’re going to get that big PR appearance that could convert and lead to something. I don’t know how I feel about that anymore personally. I would probably prefer to have eight months, especially now that the volume of content has increased so much this year, if feels like we’re needing more time to lead to that.People buy from people. They don't buy from brands. Click To Tweet
The reason I say this is when we do six months, the way that normally works out is the first month is planning, there goes one month. The second month is in a sandbox, “Can we test content out? Can we see what works? Can we see what doesn’t?” We get two good months of community building, then we get two months of hardcore book sales. We’re starting to feel like we need at least 1 or 2 more months on that, but I would say the absolute minimum, you want to have a good six months to build a campaign out for yourself. The reason being is we don’t want to start pushing people to buy the book until about 8 to 10 weeks before that book has come out.
You can announce that it’s out before that, you can show pictures of it, discuss it, little bits here and there, tease it out. If you’re doing something like a pre-order campaign or heavily pushing book sales, if you start to do it too early, as I talked about before, those early adopters of your message who are in your community group, are the people who are most likely to buy and are going to tune you out because you’re hitting them with sales messaging over and over again. You want to have this balance of making sure you reach people on your channel to buy the book, but also not turning them off from being a long-term member of the group because you’re hitting them with too many sales messaging. It’s a delicate balance there, but we usually say 8 to 10 weeks out is when you can start to do it. Even still, it’s not like you’re posting, “Buy my book,” every day. It’s more of we’re going to do it a couple of times a week, instead of once every couple of weeks.
Not flipping the switch from social and engaging to, “Buy.”
You’re not asking for purchase every single day.
One of the things I’ve noticed that’s true about every industry, especially in any server industry, is there’s always a myth that gets adopted as conventional wisdom, that is very damaging to the people who are following that advice. What would you say is the number one myth in social media that you see, that every time you see it you want to shake somebody and say, “It’s not that, it’s this.”
That’s an excellent question. I’m surprised nobody has ever asked me that before. I’m going to give you an answer about what came to mind right away. If you’ve heard your clients say something, I’d happily try to deconstruct those in some rapid–fire way. The number one thing would be the number of people that come to me and give me the Gary Vaynerchuk or Tony Robbins or Jay Shetty, whoever may be as an example and say, “I want to do this. He said this, therefore I have to do it. She said this, therefore I have to do it.” It’s a myth that it all has to be done the way that you saw someone else do it. The way that I’ve talked about this before is we have clients who come to us, and the case study we’re probably most known for and referenced in my bio a little bit is Dr. David Perlmutter and our work on the book, Grain Brain. I always felt weird talking about it because that book was six years old. That was the best-selling book of 2014 on hardcover nonfiction.
A lot of people came to us and said, “I want you to do from my book, what you did for this book.” I’m happy to try to make you a bestseller, but you have to be willing to experiment because only many people are going to get to the top of the mountain, going up the same way as the guy who came before them. Eventually, if that path becomes so trodden with other people, you’re going to have a mudslide. The ground us going to give out underneath you, and nobody is going to be able to get to the top anymore. You have to be willing to find alternative routes to get up there at a certain point. It’s using some of the lessons about people that these other thought leaders may give you, what are they teaching you about human psychology or effective calls to action?
How they choose to execute based on those insights that works for them, you don’t need to choose to execute the same way. What you need to do is say, “Here’s what I know about people and marketing. Here’s what I know about where I want to get as a brand. Here’s what I know about my brand and what I can communicate about.” What is the synergy between these three things? It will be different and should be different from anyone else out there. The myth is that you have to do something a certain way because you saw somebody else do it. However anybody else did it is not going to work for you because you’re not like anybody else.
That’s brilliant and it’s so true. It goes back to that authenticity. You can correct me if I’m wrong, from my observation, I think that’s the make-or-break quality on social media.
People can see right through it when you’re not being an authentic person. You can build community, but it won’t be as effective. You will get people who are not interested in taking action to follow you for a different reason.
Tell us more about people who are following you for a different reason.
When you have someone who’s not bought into you, then they may be just following because you’re interesting to observe. We see that a lot with influencers. It’s what happens when you moved from the nano to the micro, to the mega influencer spaces. These influencers become less and less effective. They get a lot of followers because people want to be aware of what’s going on, or they think this is an attractive person versus someone who’s following them for the content. The mega influencers don’t have their time and place. They are great for increasing the Q Score of a brand. For our campaigns, we tend to do more nano and micro because they know more about their communities, and we can get better conversion rates. What you see from people who aren’t authentic is you get a lot of audience because you somehow magnetize and pull people in, but they’re not following you because they want to buy from you or trust you as a spokesman or a leader. They’re following you in the way we tend to think about social media, which is, “I want to passively consume content,” versus, “I want to engage with this person‘s material.”
You might have answered one of my questions, but I’m going to ask it anyway to see. One of the things I’m excited to ask you about, because this has been a mystery to me, although I said, we might have broken some ground. I know through some of my insider channels that there have been at least several cases where publishers have paid massive advances to huge social media influencers for books that have then gone on to underperform quite drastically. Tell me more about that in terms of what do you believe is the cause of that?When using social media to help promote your brand, you want to build some friendships. Click To Tweet
Let me break down influencer space a little bit. Let me also put on my hat really quick and say, I don’t like influencer culture. It’s a huge part of why we have the problems in today’s society. There are a couple of different groups here. You’ve got your nano–influencers. A lot of people define them differently, so I’m going to give you my number thresholds for the way I think about it. There are nano–influencers, which are people who have 1,000 followers and below. There are micro–influencers, which from my numbers, 25,000 and below. There’s an influencer, which is about 25,000 to 250,000. There are mega–influencers or macro–influencers, which we say are 250,000 and above. A lot of people have their own numbers around it, that’s how we choose to categorize them. You may hear different numbers from different places. The general idea is super small, average size, and then the big Kim Kardashians of the world.
What we tend to see is this sweet spot for our clients is the nanos and micros. There was a funny tweet and this woman goes, “Twitter users with 150 to 350 followers are the backbone of Twitter.” It’s true, the reason being, when you only have a small audience, you’re much more in tune with what has resonance with them and what doesn’t because these are people who are 100% following you for the information and the content you put out there. They like what you have to say because that’s the only way they’re learning about you. If you’re someone with 150 Twitter followers, there’s not a TV series about you. There’s no press release that’s going out. People have found you because your content is appearing before them on social media. They say, “I think that person has an interesting perspective.”
One of our clients was one of the Big Four Sports Leagues, and we did this influencer/blogger community. We had tracking links to figure out who converted and sold the most product. Who sold the most product are the three smallest influencers. Everybody did the same amount of posting and publishing, but this person, the number one was someone who had about 10,000 followers. She did the most dollars in sales more than our influencer who had over 900,000, who was a part of this. Why is this? To get to your question, in one part, we know that on the small side, people are much more in concert and in tune with their numbers. Once you get larger, it’s much harder to pin down, “Why are these audience members following this person? What part of it is inertia? What part of it is, “This person’s attractive, therefore I want to look at them? What part of it is, “I’ve been following them since the beginning?”
There are two parts of inertia: being an audience member and then being an influencer and continuously collecting attention. They did this other paid campaign that was resonant with their audience, so that helped them build, but that doesn’t make them someone for whom there’s resonance for your potential audience. We see that a lot, there are examples beyond books, in television, in the apparel of influencers, creating new lines and not taking off. Certainly, there are ones who are successful like the James Charles of the world. Some of the folks in the food space worked. I think there are probably a lot more misses than hits though.
That’s so interesting because I know from being somebody who helps people prepare book proposals, agents and publishers are looking for those higher numbers. This seems a very upside–down point of view.
The way I tend to talk about it lately, and I think this is probably a common one in the state of the publishing industry. The industry is like oil prospectors. They are trying to find ways to find black gold in the ground, and they want to do it by limiting the amount of resources that any particular project gets. If you have an author who’s got 100,000 followers, at least you can say, “Here’s something that may make it 1% or a fraction of a percent more likely that this book is successful. Therefore, let’s go with it.” As real, they want to invest a few resources in each of these drill sites as possible. That means they can do a little bit less community building for that particular author.
There are enough counterexamples that make this little fallacy around the potential value of that audience seem more effective. You should build a community. I’m never going to say stop doing it, and they’re not going to buy from you. There are plenty of people who have 100,000 followers and 90,000 of them buy a book. If you’re on the other side of this equation, you want to look strategically at this person’s engagement and try and get some demographic. What publishers tend not to ask about is the demographics of that audience. It’s not the number, it’s what’s behind that number in the analytics that can help you figure out, “We have this author, she builds herself as a beauty blogger, and we’re going to do a book about ten different makeup styles. Let’s dig into her that 100,000 audience, 90% of it is men.” It’s the same thing with any other example if you want to give to that.
One of the things I noticed is when social media first appeared on the scene, publishers were like, “I don’t want to know.” It’s like, “This is a fact, we don’t have to deal with this.” When they finally caught on maybe around 2006 or 2008, somewhere in there, “This could be a real thing.” They almost glommed on and went this other extreme of people with huge followings. It seems they’re still not quite dialed in. I’m generalizing.
They have come a long way. I think Penguin Random House is probably an example of a house that has built a good in-house arm. Hachette is probably another one. The one downside I think is they all see their job, and I understand why because they know where their revenue comes from, is focusing on book sales rather than focusing on community building for the author. I get why, and I do think that it’s shortsighted because if you are truly making an investment in this author, just because they won’t move 5,000 books in the first month, if you choose to focus on community building versus book sales, they may move a factor of ten more books in the long-tail because you spent that time helping them build their community, versus focusing on the short-tail and moving as many books as possible. I get that the mechanics of the industry, the same thing as building shareholder value, focus on the here and now at the expense of the future. I do think that’s the next fallacy to break or the frontier to conquer. On the publisher side of things is to get them more invested in building an author presence, not just in building a book campaign.
This is an important message for self-published authors as well, because something else that I tell my clients regardless of publishing route, is that you’ve got to understand that I don’t care where you started or how big your following is initially, that it takes a good 2 to 3 years for a book to get its legs. If you want to be thinking about long-term, ongoing, repeating sales, you don’t just promote the book for three months and then stop talking about it.
That’s why we always tell our authors too. We don’t like to call ourselves a book marketing firm or don’t come to us and say, “I want to be a bestseller,” because we can try to make that happen but that’s a shot in the dark. There are many factors that depends what is going on in the news cycle that week. It is what are the books coming out that week? It’s how is the New York Times going to decide to start calculating things differently at a given point in time because we all know that’s the list that people care about? Does the New York Times even decide to track your book? One of the projects I’m most proud of is a book that in the week it came out, it would have been in Advice, How-To & Miscellaneous in New York times. It was in General, Hardcover, Nonfiction for Publishers Weekly, but it was number eleven on Publishers Weekly for the week. It did not list in the New York Times at all.
I am convinced it’s because they chose not to track the book. They saw the material and they said they weren’t interested in it. They said they did not want to pick it up for that reason. For me, that was probably at fifteen. That was the moment that I said, “We can’t make this promise to people because we can’t guarantee it anymore.” This isn’t like you have computer mice and you try to say, “I want to move a thousand products at them.” I can try to do that. I have control of the commerce solution. We can run ads and sell them. Not only do I not own the point of sale for you to move your book, but I need to now make sure that a third party is choosing to verify these sales. Say whatever you will, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, etc., people care about the New York Times, and that’s it. I don’t care what they tell you in a meeting, that’s the thing we’re all looking for. We’re not interested in working with someone if that’s what they’re going to hit us on, because we know the real value is going to come from the long–tail of that book. It’s continuing to stay relevant, making sales, building an email list in a community that keeps wanting to buy and engage. Having that book hit the bestseller may help you get those five–figure speaking engagements a little bit faster, but is there more longevity there?
I think so too, sometimes the New York Times initially doesn’t want to list a book. When they see performance over time, they will put it on their radar and they will start tracking it and reconsider it. I know that the New York Times has that editorial board component, which most of them don’t.
That’s why we always say, “Keep us on for 1 month or 2 after the book comes out.” Robin, you go, “I read this interesting book on Sociology,” and you pass it to a friend and that friend reads it, and they pass it to a friend who’s a producer for CBS This Morning. They say, “We should get this person on the show.” All those things sometimes happen. That can be the spark that lights that fire in those couple of weeks after the book comes out, that it may lead to you getting on the list. It’s good to have a team like ours around for that. The point being, it’s great to have that opportunity with on sale because all those pre-orders get to pile in. Sometimes that spark is going to come a little bit later because you’ve been consciously building that effort and that momentum forward. Once you get that CBS This Morning hit, you’ve got this website or the social channels that you can drive all of these impressions back to. A bunch of people goes, “I see the value here. I want to grab this book.”
I love what you’re saying because what I’m getting as an overall message is that social media is not a quick fix solution. It’s not a quick way to make up for not having built a platform.
A lot of people, who are not adopting it, feel that it is juvenile. If you feel that way about it, then don’t call it social media, it’s marketing. It is building whatever words you want to put around it. This is how people are finding out about your book now. There’s no other way around it. It is not the full–page ad in the New York Times.Your social media should be about finding people who want to invest in a relationship with you. Click To Tweet
When I first got into publishing, the premier authors, that’s what they got. The publisher would be like, “We’re spending $20,000 to give you a whole page ad in the New York Times.” People don’t buy the book because a publisher tells them, “Buy this book that we put out money to make.” That’s the last thing they’re going to do.
A good example that the publishing industry needs to follow is the music industry. We’re moving that way, it’s just going to be when people adapt to it. We now have the ability to search through all of this content and find the music that we are the most interested in. We do not have any barrier to entry to find it because even if we want to do the free version of Spotify, we listen to a few commercials while we’re listening to that whole CD. I don’t care if Universal or Sony or Warner or whoever it is is out there making that CD. I can go stream that person’s music wherever I want. Books are moving in that direction. I don’t think we’re 100% there yet. We’re going to get there. Why not prepare for that reality? Now, all I’ve got to do is have this audience and they’re going to come to whatever that particular project I’m working on is. We need to pay more attention to that as the model for what we’re doing.
There were many things that you were saying that my brain was grabbing onto. One of the things we do is we send out a weekly email to our list, and that’s the bottom line. We pick one topic and we give them the bottom line that is the main nugget that you need to get. What would you say is the bottom line on this idea of using social media as an author to help promote your brand and your home and yourself?
The bottom line is that you want to build some friendships, that’s what I think it is. In the same way that you join a meetup group or a social club, and you want to find people who want to invest in a relationship with you, that’s what your social media is. It may seem foreign to you because it’s a different way of connecting, but the communities and the relationships that you develop on social media are friendships. These are people, who you want to give something to, who you want to ask something of, and what is that relationship when done well? That is what friendship is.
Jonathan, thank you again for your presence and your incredibly wise advice and information.
Thank you for having me, Robin. It was a pleasure. Thank you all for reading.
About Jonathan Jacobs
A founding partner of Digital Natives Group, a digital marketing agency (est. 2011), Jonathan Jacobs has built a seven-figure social media practice from the ground up.
As the senior architect of Natives’ digital campaigns, Jonathan has helped launch social media platforms for global sports brands, projects for Fortune 500 companies, and, of relevance to today’s discussion, nearly one hundred book launches, many of them bestsellers.
Jonathan and the team at Digital Natives have worked with dozens of authors to build their brands and online presences, collaborating to build communities that can be called on to convert to actions.
Digital Natives’ work in doing so has been recognized with dozens of awards, including receiving honors from the Webby Awards in 2019 and being named Sprout Social’s Agency Partner of the Year in 2018.
Jonathan is also a champion of Slow Listening, the radical act of stillness in an age of speed, for unlocking better solutions.
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