I don’t know about you, but I gave last weekend’s coronation a pass. The pictures on the news though, all that ceremony and pomp, cheekily reminded me of an event I stumbled upon at the National Gallery when I was in London for the Book Fair.
The National Gallery’s Friday Lates is free evening arts programming that varies each week; in this case Life Drawing. Two performance artists interpreted a Renaissance painting from the gallery (The Ugly Duchess) and its themes of beauty and satire, the flouting of convention, in a contemporary way. The audience happily drew along. I thought it a brilliant way to animate a public space and provide audiences a participatory, accessible artistic evening.
Talking about art. . .As promised, below are more insights learned during my recent stint at the London Book Fair. I had planned to write today about both Social Media and Indie (Self-) Publishing but there was so much to say, I’ve split in half.
This issue will look at social media platforms + Gen Z, the demographic publishers are currently obsessed with. The next Letterbox will look at indie/self-publishing.
Keeping up With Social
Authors complain with good reason that it’s difficult to be both chief creator and chief marketer, especially when most writers also need to work to pay the bills and usually have family obligations as well.
All true – and yet there’s nothing to be done about it.
The rare writer like Eleanor Catton can eschew all forms of social media, but that’s because she won the Booker Prize at twenty-eight, sold millions of copies and built an early following and buzz. For everyone else, it’s a necessity, whether they are intrinsically good at opening themselves up and building community online or not.
Engagement with influencers on social is now more important to the success of a book than a review in a traditional media outlet, the accepted wisdom goes.
Despair not if you absolutely can’t spend your days coming up with witty or interesting posts and your nights doom scrolling; there are other options. They include building relationships with book influencers or hiring a social media manager to build/maintain your presence. (An exception is TikTok, where ‘authenticity’ rules, except of course that’s changing.)
Best of all, start a newsletter since publishers and publicists now consider that more important than social media followers. The relationship between author and reader is direct with newsletters, and thus stickier; eyeballs may stop on a social post/reel, or they may just scroll past. And writing a newsletter is…well, writing…and thus more enjoyable to many.
Here are some highlights from a panel of social media experts including Emma Petfield, Head of Digital Marketing, Harper Collins UK; Jules Swain, Social Media Influencer/Book Blogger; Ashley Baugh, Associate Director/Head of Digital, Midas Campaigns; and moderator Naomi Bacon from Tandem Collective.
👉Authors don’t need to be on every platform, but they need to be somewhere. Pick the platform that feels the most comfortable and make sure you engage daily or almost daily. Never allow it to become dormant.
👉Overall: most important by far is to be part of the community. Don’t just post about your own book. Be kind, be considerate, be interested in others. Engage.
👉Never react badly to a book review. There’s usually something to learn. And even if that doesn’t seem true to you in the moment, the community of book bloggers and influencers are very tight. You snark one, and all will know.
👉Be yourself, not just your book. The continual hard sales approach will turn everyone off. Readers, bloggers, social media friends – all want to see you as a human not just as an author. What is the inspiration for your writing? What’s happening in your life? What are you reading? Someone people enjoy this level of transparency, others find it difficult.
(Personally, I find myself sometimes wishing people would share less the minutiae of life such as their digestive functions. And I never mind an author trying to raise awareness of their book, especially if they don’t apologize for it.)
👉Determine who you believe your main reading demographic is, then concentrate on the social media platform where you are most likely to find them. (More below on comparisons between different platforms.)
👉Micro influencers (those with a few thousand followers) who are passionate about your book and with whom you build a relationship are far more important than those with massive followers but with whom you have no relationship. Find a loyal few influencers and cultivate a real connection.
👉Authors should keep current on what’s happening in the industry. Set up Google alerts for hashtags, industry trends, book festivals and lit orgs (especially to do with social media integration) and the platforms themselves to see what’s trending. Read blogs about publishing, writing and social media. (Yikes! A LOT of work.)
👉Understand that bloggers, influencers and content creators are people too, so engage/respond in their feed. Don’t just slide into their DMs with expectations.
👉Across all platforms, people want to engage with short, fun video content that is authentic. Don’t forget that you’re a creator; there can be a story element to it.
Each panelist was chosen because they preferred a specific platform. Below is the rationale for each, as well as the positives and negatives.
Emma Petfield, Harper Collins UK: Instagram
Why: Scopes across ages. Strong, positive community. Upside: Strength and diversity of book influencers, including micro-influencers. Downside: Video becoming more and more important for IG. Users need an innate sense of the visual. Minimumengagement: a couple times a week, preferably daily.
Jules Swain, Influencer/ Book Blogger: Twitter.
Why: #BookTwitter community is long established, very tight-knit, very positive. Lots of authors, editor, agents and industry. Upside: Contact with the trade/industry. Downside: Elon Musk. Twitter is no longer as influential; TikTok is the platform of the future for Book Talk. Recent changes made it harder to get noticed if you don’t subscribe. Minimum Engagement: Twitter algorithm or trends don’t work the same way as other platforms, so don’t need to post daily. But like anything, requires a consistency in time commitment.
Ashley Baugh, Associate Director/Head of Digital, Midas Campaigns: TikTok.
Why: Fun, skews younger and more genre focused, authenticity is key, less self-promotional. Upside: Most direct impact on book sales. It’s also the future of book social, pending regulatory issues. Strong influencer community, including micro influencers, who are incredibly passionate about books. Very good for self-published authors and for backlist; they users don’t care about the divisions between backlist and frontlist, self vs traditionally published. Downside: time heavy commitment.
Minimum Engagement: Daily, but really it’s a 24/7 environment where the latest trends heavily influence what’s happening; so the more you are on it, the more you get out of it. Need to follow hashtags to get a sense of what is going on. Need to find time to create content; can block create video (ie, shoot a week’s worth in one day) but danger is you miss the most current trends.
What’s next: Lemon8, a new app that’s a mix of IG and Pinterest, with a scrollable feed of pictures, hashtags, and long captions. It was created by ByteDance, the same Chinese company that owns TikTok.
The Kids Are Not Alright
Generation Z, aka those born between 1997 and 2012, are one of the hottest conversations going in publishing.
Survey results show they spend eight hours a day online, every day, and have lots of mental health issues with 46% reporting anxiety most of the time. Obviously, these two facts are related.
This generation are very open-minded and liberal. They believe strongly in inclusivity and self-expression. Authenticity is the most important thing to them. They make excellent early adopters and are well used to shifts in technology. Their main social platforms are TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat.
Gen Z have very short attention spans and want to consume content on their own terms. This includes on mobile, with not too many words on a screen, lots of video, and gamification elements baked into everything.
On the whole, they don’t read much. 1 in 15 don’t own a book. The gains made in reading during the pandemic with this generation are gone. Too much text and choice both online and off is a barrier.
Redcards is a tech company designed to help publishers adapt content to appeal to Gen Z. They turn books into a game pack of digital cards, condensing paragraphs to sentences, and chapters to single cards. They mix in lots of visuals and gamification elements to feed the addictive behaviour that’s bred by spending eight hours a day online. And of course they ensure the ‘books’ are completely optimized for mobile because that’s where they are going to be consumed.
Difficult to see how Tolstoy could be weed-whacked into a deck of cards but decry it all you want – the publishers are paying attention. The Gen Z cohort is projected to have a disposable income of $360 billion.
Many other entertainment products compete for this generation’s short attention span. Thus, book publishers are encouraged to put fewer words on the page, serialize story in short bursts, embrace TikTok, optimize design, push mental health content,produce great audiobooks and potentially podcasts, too. The stories must be authentic and personal, and with a very high production quality.
The entrepreneurs behind Redcards are also fathers of Gen Z kids. They highlight studies that show even six minutes of reading a day decreases stress by 68%, leading to better sleep. And this is a generation that definitely needs to reduce stress and anxiety. Thus they argue there is a moral imperative – as well as a business opportunity – to figure out how to make reading attractive to Gen Z.
Authors know #BookTok – books on TikTok – has become hugely influential in bookselling, particularly for romance and YA, although that is widening.
But while 60% of Gen Z use #BookTOK to find books, only 3% of TikTok activity relates to books. So, it’s not currently a huge part of the platform, which means there’s opportunity for growth.
An upside for authors and publishers: GenZ, like most digital-first readers, don’t differentiate between backlist versus frontlist in books (or film/tv for that matter). Hats off to a generation that likes what it likes and doesn’t fall prey to the ridiculous notion that books are passé six months after they hit bookstores.
For writers, I think Gen Z’s embrace of serialization and web novels could spark some creative ideas, while every publisher needs to consider investing in audiobook versions (to which I have come addicted since the pandemic) of their titles.
One thing is clear – this demographic is forcing change in the content they consume and the method by which they consume it. They are far more influential on publishing than millennials, and it behoves any writer born before 1997 to take the time to better understand these potential new readers.
Until next time, friends! Of all the subjects I learned about, indie publishing had the most shocking insights. Look forward to sharing with you in the next instalment.
Today, I have a fun surprise to share with you…
I’ve teamed up with 30 fantastic authors to give away a huge collection of thriller novels to 2 lucky winners. And the Grand Prize winner also gets a Reacher swag pack worth $250.
Enter the giveaway by clicking here 👉 https://www.booksweeps.com/giveaway/win-the-ultimate-reacher-may2023/
Good luck and enjoy!