By H. P. Oliver

Let's be honest. Most writers get into social media for the purposes of gaining a following and selling books. For independent writers/publishers, sites like FaceBook and Twitter offer the promise of reaching many potential readers.

We create our accounts while visions of ten thousand followers dance in our heads. We imagine those followers breathlessly hanging on every word we post and rushing out to buy our books at the mere mention of a new title. (I should probably mention that most of us writers also believe in the Easter Bunny and the Valentine's Duck.)

With an account created, we write profiles worthy of inclusion in the Self-Aggrandizement Hall of Fame. Typically, such profiles include phrases like "award-winning author," even if the award was a gold star our fourth grade teacher stuck to the top of our epic treatise entitled What I Did On My Summer Vacation.

Then we get down to the serious business of posting. Most often, this step involves religiously posting such provocative and stimulating messages as "Check out my new book at http://..." at least six times a day. Finally, we sit back and wait for all those breathless friends and followers who will surely make us rich and famous.

When, as often happens, things don't quite work out the way we expected, we next turn to the myriad of blogs promising to reveal the secrets of social network promotion. And when we figure out that most of those secrets are a bunch of hooey generated by folks who want to sell us something, we abandon our social media accounts and go back to sending query letters to agents who are only interested in representing established, best-selling writers with little need of representation in the first place.

If what I've said so far is depressing the hell out of you, I now say, "Cheer up, fellow wordsmiths!" I'm about to enlighten you with two proven approaches to gaining social media acceptance and unloading all those books gathering dust out in your garage. Plus, I don't even have anything to sell you! (Of course nondeductible donations to the H. P. Oliver Tahitian Experience Fund are always welcome!)


You're a writer brimming with creativity, right? Well, use some of that creativity to develop a profile that actually attracts potential readers.

First, read a bunch of other writers' profiles, and then do something completely different. Avoid the usual BS descriptors such as "award-winning" and "best-selling." Most important, avoid the word "author." You are a writer. You will become an author when you're still selling books ten years after your untimely demise.

And don't waste any of your meager profile space trying to sell books. Use the space to create a persona appropriate to what you write. If you write mysteries, be mysterious. If you write humor, be humorous. Keep your profile appropriate, simple and classy.

Finally, choose an effective avatar (picture) to accompany your profile. Most social media folks would much rather see you than a cutesy cartoon or an ancient image of Edger Allan Poe. Again, keep it simple--those avatars are about the size of a postage stamp--and make it fit your persona.

At the risk of being immodest, I'll point to my own avatar as a good example. That fedora tilted at a jaunty angle has probably attracted more followers than any words I could have put in my profile. Plus, including the Hollywood sign outside my office window visually underscores the era and subjects about which I write.

This is my Twitter avatar. The piece of Hollywood sign visible through my office window and some intentional "aging" of the image go a long way toward establishing a persona appropriate to my swing era mysteries, many of which are set in Tinsel Town. (Actually, I think it's the tilt of my fedora that really does the trick!)


After you have developed a clever and attractive profile, keep followers looking for your screen name and avatar by posting interesting and/or entertaining information related to what you write about. If all you ever post is promotion for your books and/or website, those followers you worked so hard to attract are going to lose interest in a hurry.

By way of example, I write historical west coast fiction set in the swing era (1920s-1940s), so I use my Twitter account for posts about what was going on during that time. Based on retweets and mentions, my Swing Slang Revival series (definitions of swing era slang) and my Tinsel Town Trivia series (factoids about Hollywood's golden era) are going a long way toward keeping my followers interested in a hack writer named H. P. Oliver.

In addition, thirty-plus years as a writer have given me some useful insights into the writing craft, and I capitalize on that asset through my Writer's Notebook series, in which I post hopefully useful writing tips, Internet resources, and quotes from successful and well-known practitioners of our craft.

The three series of posts I mentioned, plus other ideas that occur to me from time to time and replies to follower tweets give me plenty of interesting stuff to throw in with my promotional posts. While I never actually sat down and did the math, I estimate I tweet interesting stuff and promotional stuff at a ratio of about four to one.

Yes, developing all that interesting content to post takes time, but I've always believed if it's worth doing, it's worth doing right. So far the growth of my follower list and the book sales I can attribute to those followers indicate the approach I'm using for hawking my wares on Twitter is working.

Of course, there's much more to conducting an effective book marketing campaign through social networks than I've mentioned here, but most of it can be figured out with the application of a little common sense. One important element to a good marketing campaign, for example, is a dynamic website that keeps followers coming back to see what's new. That's why I created the Features and Writer's Notebook sections on this site. Through them, I use legitimately fascinating and entertaining content to attract visitors rather than relying on their interest in me or my books to keep the webpage hits coming.