I won't pretend to be an expert but I think a lot of author guides have an overly generous approach to being online. Send to your mailing list every few weeks, Tweet hourly, or every 15 minutes, post to your blog daily or every few hours, make sure you're frequently Facebooking, use Instagram, Pinterest, Bebo, Google +. Flickr, Goodreads, LibraryThing, Meetup, LinkedIn and dozens of other social media sites.
It quickly gets overwhelming and looks more as if an author is trying to build an online empire than showcase their books. Personally, I think that there's a smarter approach than carpetbombing the Internet.
There are a few goals that authors should keep in mind when deciding on their online strategy. The reasons to be online are:
- to make people aware of their books (and where they can be purchased)
- to keep themselves in potential readers' awareness between releases
- to lure in potential new readers between releases
To achieve those goals, there are a number of tools that an author can use:
- a dedicated website, including a blog and purchasing links
- a mailing list that readers can sign up for
- Facebook and Twitter (I separate these two since the majority of people use one or both)
- other social media
How an author uses these tools varies depending on the size of their fan base, the length of their backlist, and how often they release a book.
A website is non-optional. There are a number of user-friendly options to build a site: Wordpress, Blogger, Wix, Web.com, etc. I recommend keeping the website simple and uncluttered (it makes it much easier to look at on different devices). It should be easy to find information on your books and links to your purchasing platform. When setting up my site, I looked at over a hundred websites by different authors, both in and out of my genre, to get ideas of what to include and what worked and what didn't.
A blog is a good idea. Personally, I think it's the best medium for keeping readers updated on your progress and it's a good draw to bring in new potential readers. A lot of new writers make the mistake of focusing exclusively on their publishing progress, but unless they already have an existing fan base, that's not likely to encourage people to visit. Some authors provide short flash fiction pieces, others use guests to cross promote, some have regular features. There are lots of options, but whatever you do, be prepared to do it well and regularly so that your readers can rely on you.
The next issue to consider with a blog is how often to post. A daily blog post can be time-consuming, even if an author prepares the content in advance. I think reliability is more important than frequency. If a writer only does a post once a month on the second Monday, that can be more of a draw than one who might post daily for a week and then be off-line for another two weeks. I post twice a week, one is always my weekly update and the second is a look at things that interest me and that I think will interest readers. Twice a month, I have a feature: my Heroine Fix (on the heroines who inspire me) and my Ink Tip (writing and editing techniques as well as publishing and promotion tips).
A mailing list is also a good idea. It's something that people have to sign up for, so it's a way to measure and reward your fan base. A friend of mine with a large fan base and backlist offers a "starter library" of four or five books for every person who signs up on her mailing list. She releases a book each month and does a newsletter each month reminding people of her two or three most recent releases. She also does draws and contests through her mailing list, such as giving a signed copy to the first person to tweet her new cover.
I have a smaller (but awesome and dedicated) fan base, and I only release one book and one short story each year. I only do a newsletter when I have a new release. I've seen other authors who do frequent newsletters but not frequent releases and readers can get in the habit of ignoring the newsletter if they don't see value in it. Then, by the time the new book is ready, they've unsubscribed or simply don't open the emails.
Twitter and Facebook are good tools for connecting with readers on a regular basis and keeping an author in their awareness. But readers will not stay for a steady stream of "Buy My Book" posts. Authors who are funny, insightful or helpful on their social media can reap big rewards in terms of potential sales because people are already interested in hearing what they have to say. However, social media can also be a huge time-vacuum, so it's best to budget time and ideas in advance. Again, reliability is more important than frequency, but there are limits. Facebook penalizes infrequent or under-noticed posters since their systems depend on popularity. The more interaction a post has, the more Facebook is likely to make sure that people see it. Infrequent Twitter postings can be buried and vanish under an avalanche of trivia.
When it comes to other social media platforms, an author should carefully weigh whether or not their potential readers will frequent that platform. Age, interest and the platform's activity level should all be taken into account. But so should an author's available time. I'd love to be more active on Goodreads but I simply don't have the time. I've had to choose to focus my attention on Twitter and Facebook, since that's what the majority of people use.
It all boils down to finding a strategy which is comfortable and sustainable. And making sure that you still have time to write the next amazing book.