Growing up in Canada, we don’t’ spend a lot of time talking about the concept of ‘Freedom.’ Not in the way that seems to take over a lot of the discussion in America around what they demand from their society, what they expect of their lives. “Freedom” has never been our primary value in our Canadian society.
But lately I’ve begun to really start thinking about what it means to have freedom, and where does freedom end and privilege begin? What is a basic freedom and what is entitlement? So I turned to my books, to search for freedom and this is what I’ve found.
You’re an author, you’ve spent your life writing and planning for the day when your books are available to the general public, you want to hear from your readers, you want to help your book sales move along. Social media is one of the few free tools you have at your disposal to connect with your readership and your target audience easily and globally. It’s also one of the ways that readers seek to connect to the authors of books that they enjoy, the hand mailed fan letter is sadly a dying art.
Okay, but why Instagram? Why not Twitter or, Tik Tok or, Facebook or, Pinterest? That’s a great question, and each of these platforms have different advantages and appeal to different demographics. Some people manage to juggle a presence on multiple platforms but it’s a lot of work, and it’s likely you will run out of steam. So picking one platform to start out with is more of a reasonable starting goal.
When it comes to responding to a fan base and encouraging buzz and sales, the two platforms readers, reviewers and influencers will be actively looking to reach you the author of the books they’re discussing and showing off, are Twitter and Instagram. There is a healthy Book loving community on TikTok (see New York Times article about Booktok linked at the bottom) but getting on TikTok is more difficult, the demographic is exceedingly young, and the kinds of books people are discussing on TikTok tend to be romance/young adult fantasy specifically. So if you’re a picturebook writer, TikTok is not the right place for you.
It comes down to Twitter vs. Instagram
Twitter is a great place to connect with people within the publishing industry and join in the conversation. Twitter is where you’ll find editors, agents, writers, and everyone else with a stake in the game professionally. If you’ve had a book come out people may discuss it on Twitter and look for you, the author/illustrator, to tag in their tweets. So having a presence here gives you a voice in this discussion with your colleagues. But Twitter is not where you’re going to find your general target audience for the most part.
You will find far fewer publishing industry people publicly on Instagram, but what you will find are your book consumers. 1 billion people use Instagram every month (compared to Twitter’s 330 million) and 80% of those Instagram users will use the app to research products and services. Instagram is designed for showing off luxury goods, books being an enormous niche. If you actually want to help your book sales, Instagram is the app to jump on.
Instagram is a primarily visual platform, influencers/creators reach their audiences with photos and videos, text is secondary. The #Bookstagram world is where you will find the community of people devoted to spending all their time fawning over books. How do you engage with #Bookstagram in an appropriate way? Well, I’ve broken it down for you below step by step…
When setting up your author account keep it simple, people need to be able to find you that’s the primary purpose here. If an influencer or reader is sharing your book, they’re going to try and tag you in that review, so when they type your name in it needs to pop up and be clearly you.
Some authors do not like to be in photos. I get it, it’s not what you’re here for. But think of this as your ID badge. It needs to look legitimate, and a picture of your garden or your dog just isn’t going to work.
If you want to start creating content, posting photos of your life and your work regularly, by all means go for it. But if it’s not your bag, that’s okay. You just need a profile active and professional looking up to respond to your reviewers, to get that professional looking profile you do need to put up a few photos on the page. An empty profile page looks suspicious and people will think you’re a bot. So put a few photos up and call it a day.
This is all pretty easy to navigate if you want to just try looking around but here is my break down if it helps you feel more comfortable:
Profile Grid: Main Feed: These are the photos/videos you see on a person’s profile screen.
Reels: Reels are short form videos, often set to music, currently very popular with Instagram.
IGTV: Instagram TV is where people put up videos longer than 1 minute.
Filters: this is if you have created a software filter program for people to edit their photos in stories, unless you’re a programmer this likely does not apply to you.
Photos you’re Tagged in: If someone puts a post up of you or your book and tags you in that photo, it will appear here. You can adjust your settings so that these require your approval, and if you don’t like the photo you can have it removed.
Home: Home takes you to your main feed screen where you’ll be shown posts by everyone you’re following, and also along the top of the screen you’ll see everyone’s daily “stories” see below for stories.
Explore: This is where you can search for people or subjects using hashtags, Instagram will also show you content it thinks you’re going to like here.
Likes, Comments, Tags: This is where you will have a log of all of the engagement on your posts, if someone likes your photo or left you a comment it will pop up here.
Profile: Back to your main page, this is where you can access logging in and out, switching accounts, and other settings.
If you put up a story of your self talking, remember to hit the captions button. There are a lot of possibilities for adding to your stories but one thing to remember is that most people view stories without sound. So make sure any messages appear in writing as well as with sound.
Being likeable may not seem like part of your job as an author. Traditionally, it doesn’t matter whether or not people like you as long as you can write. But in the world of Social Media, authors who spend time making connections with book influencers, are more likely to get talked about. Influencers are more likely to go out of their way to find your other books, more likely to go out of their way to film more content for your books. Think of book influencers as your champions, if you win them over, they will gladly scream your name from the rooftops until you’ve sold out your print run.
If you’ve never opened Instagram up before and have absolutely no idea what’s happening, it’s worthwhile to take a week to just look around anonymously. It will help you get adjusted before you make a professional appearance.
Book Failure= Financial disaster, not just for publishing executives but everyone in the publishing industry chain.
Taking a chance on an author is a risk for the entire chain with very real consequences. So any reticence to taking on big risk should be seen as responsibility for employees, not just conservatism.
The 5 factors all contribute to creating a picture of risk vs. reward, profit vs. loss.
this issue before in previous parts of this Demystifying publishing series, please refer to them for more details on suitability of text.
Text must be enjoyable and suits: the intended audience, publisher’s catalogue, direction of trends and, vision for future of publisher’s list.
Author’s sales record is indicator of future success or future commercial failure.
“But what if I’ve never Published a Book?”
So, fortunately for you, this is actually a Schrodinger’s cat kind of situation and BETTER than having a bad sales record. There’s no record of failure yet, so there’s equal possibility of failure or success, the only way to know for sure is to see what happens next.
Comparable titles are used to build a case for the financial viability of your book (MSS) Mention them in any submission to either agent or editor.
So “You Matter” “All Because You Matter” and “I Believe I Can” are titles comparable to each other because they have similar themes.
Good comparable titles must be: recent, specific and, successful.
Bonus Points if it’s from the publisher or agent who you’re submitting to.
For the love of everything do not compare your story to HARRY POTTER or THE CAT IN THE HAT or, GOODNIGHT MOON, etc.
Don’t do this when querying an agent, or an editor, or an influencer reviewer, just don’t do it.
It tells everyone you don’t actually read children’s books because you don’t know the current market.
Also it kind of makes you sound like an ass.
Authority: Relevant credentials are key for Non-Fiction authors
Less important for fiction authors.
Relevancy is key here, if you have a PHD in Psychology, and you’re writing about Rocket Ship Engineering, that is not relevant. So, not really helpful.
Quantifiable visibility within target audience: aka do you have people who will buy your book?
Unlike every other luxury consumer good industry (which is exactly what book publishing is,) publishers are slow to see Social Media Influence as genuine proof of money making platform.
This attitude is changing and some big publishers are now producing books by influencers.
This shift will partly be thanks to the NYT article from March of 2021 “How Crying on Tik Tok Sells Books”
Most publishers don’t know a lot about Social Media Influencing and change will continue to move slowly. But it’s happening.
Are people actually in the industry talking about your work?
How can you get them talking about you? Twitter is actually a good place to start, a lot of publishing industry people are on Twitter. And if you follow me you know I’m abysmal at Twitter, I just don’t enjoy it, not enough pretty pictures, so this is a piece of advice I do not take for myself. I’d rather cry on Tik Tok.
Attending industry events, book launches, meeting people. Doing this in the pandemic might be harder but not impossible. Virtual events are hosted all the time and often you’ll find editors or other senior members of publishing houses showing up to them.
Having a well respected agent is also key for generating industry buzz, see my previous blog in this series on Literary Agents.
So when you put all of these things together, along with some other numbers for production, distribution, etc. They start to build a profit and loss statement, they will assess the commercial viability of your manuscript proposal, and from this statement they can decide whether or not to offer to acquire it and also, how much money they can offer you as an advance.
High up on my list of things that upset me is the phrase often used by creatives “I don’t do this for the money.”
I’m not sure exactly when art went from being seen as the work of a highly skilled paid craftsperson, to being a quasi spiritual pilgrimage to be endured only by destitute geniuses with wicked cool hair. But somewhere along the line, that happened, and the creative community has never recovered.
It’s really the most insidious idea that we’ve all embraced without question. One that we’ve been fed by a patriarchal capitalist society that actively feeds off of the unpaid and underpaid labour of it’s creatives. That to truly be an artist of substance, we should do it entirely for free. And on an even deeper level, that artistic work, just isn’t worth money.
There are so many consequences of this. For example, why are most children’s books made by white women? A huge part is that writers and illustrators of most children’s books make almost no money from it, so generally the only people who can afford to devote their lives to it, are white ladies who are already financially secure. To be able to say “I don’t do it for the money” is a privilege and by perpetuating this as acceptable, we are complicit in shutting people who cannot work for free out of the arts.
So if you’re someone who likes to proudly say “I don’t do this for the money” especially when receiving a negative review, I would kindly ask you to please cease and desist for the well being of the entire creative community. Encouraging each other to value our time, and our work, is necessary if we ever want the rest of society to value us as well. By pushing for a shift in values, we work towards change and better conditions for artists in the future.
And if you’re someone who unfollows and abandons creators who monetize their work; rather than getting angry about them “selling out,” maybe closely examine why you feel this anger? And consider supporting their efforts to make a living.