Social Media Marketing Basics for Authors

Woman holding book with embossed cover.

Kima Jones of Jack Jones Literary Arts says, “Book publicity is book discovery.” This is true for both legacy marketing and social media marketing. In fact, if you have a publicist (or are doing your own outreach to magazines, reviewers, podcasts, etc.) your legacy and social media marketing campaigns will work in tandem. That means, social media marketing is more than just posting selfies and pictures of your lunch. It’s about building awareness around your book, your campaign, and you as an author.

Man standing near a stack of books making the OK sign.

Let’s first begin with debunking a couple of myths.

  1. All publishing houses provide publicity, so if your book is being published the publicity will be taken care of. Sorry — not true! Even if you do have publicity help, you will probably want to supplement it. And you’ll definitely want to add a social media campaign to your plan. Why? Because social media is the easiest and most cost effective way to connect with potential readers.
  2. Publicity is unaffordable. Ok, it is pricey. You can be looking at $10,000 or more to hire a publicist. But you can also hire someone to take care of small chunks of your campaign, such as only handling print media, only handling broadcast media, or only handling social media. Outsource the parts of publicity that you can’t or don’t want to deal with.
  3. Social media takes tons of time. It doesn’t have to. Sure, you can spend all day making reels, TikToks, and posts. You can also create a monthly plan, dedicate a day each month to making your posts, pre-schedule everything, and forget about it. A good social media strategy can result in a lot of traction with not a lot of time commitment.


  1. Think about your book in cultural context, such as news hooks and holidays to which it ties.
  2. Think about the themes of your book and make a list. This can be helpful when creating posts.
  3. Think about your origin story as a writer — in your life, in your career, and in the project you’re publicizing.
  • Based on the ideas you came up with (above), decide on three messages. These are your brand pillars. Most of your social media posts should relate to these pillars. They’re also your touchstones when creating your content calendars.

  • Soft promo vs. hard promo — Soft promo integrates lifestyle and culture. We also think of this as storytelling and value-adding when creating posts. It’s information you share that helps build name recognition (see below) and generate following WITHOUT directly selling anything. Hard promo offers specifics about a product or an event. You’ll include event time or sale price and a link to buy or participate. You social media posts need to be a combination of these, with a great focus (say 75% to 25%) on soft promo.


While your social media campaign may center on a various topics (your book release, an upcoming author event, a tour), strategy should also include increasing name recognition. This means you’re not necessarily focused on IMMEDIATE SALES but on building your platform. Although social media has a lot of built-in immediacy, it’s also an important tool in the long game of brand awareness and community building.


Showcase other authors and literary initiatives. Use your platform to share about your work and events, but also dedicate a percentage of your posts to shout out writers you love or whose books are coming out soon. If you support a literacy organization, a writers workshop, an initiative for youth writers, etc., shout it out! (And if such an organization is not yet on your radar — find one or two. Make sure you’re tagging the authors and organizations you mention!


A traditional book campaign is 6-10 months; a social media campaign can follow this timeline. Allow at least 3-4 months leading up to the book launch to generate awareness and enthusiasm. This is when you can share a cover reveal, an excerpt, and reviews. You can also reveal book event dates and a tour schedule if applicable.

During and after the launch you’ll share images and videos from events, photos of fans with the book, reviews and quotes, and personal experiences from your events and travels.

Social media should extend well before and after the book campaign begins and ends so you’re not bombarding your followers with information and then returning to radio silence. Instead, think of your pre- and post-launch months (and years) as time for name recognition and community building, while also reminding followers about your book(s) and where to purchase your work.

What About Indie Presses?

A woman sits on a sofa by a sunny window reading a book.

It’s no secret that 2022 was rough for the publishing industry. Book bans took place across the country, a merger between two major publishing houses was blocked by a federal judge, and low wages led to strikes. It’s a lot to unpack, but — at least for me — the question it raises is: What about indie presses?

Why doesn’t the writing community, once and for all, elevate indie presses to the level of cache enjoyed by indie record labels?

In the 1980s and ’90s, the recording industry was large and corporate — a near monopoly. “Only six major labels remained: Warner, Universal, Sony, BMG, EMI, and Polygram,” reported a 2012 “Current Popular Trends in the Music Industry” study. “In 1998, Universal acquired Polygram, and six years later Sony and BMG merged.”

A bookshelf holds rows of colorful books.

Similarly, in book publishing, the “Big Five” publishing houses are Penguin Random House, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, Hachette, and HarperCollins. In October, a federal judge blocked Penguin Random House from buying Simon & Schuster, which would have merged two of the world’s biggest publishers.

In the record industry, however, indie labels stepped up. (And in truth, independent labels and studios had been putting out great music almost as soon as commercial recorded music began — but this blog post isn’t intended as a timeline of the record industry.) I’m thinking of Sub Pop in Seattle, which signed Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Mudhoney; Merge in Durhamm NC, which released albums by Superchunk as well as Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane over the Sea, The Magnetic Fields’s 69 Love Songs; and Fat Possom Records in Oxford, MS, thrugh which The Black Keys released Thickfreakness and Rubber Factory, and Solomon Burke release his Grammy-winning comeback album, Don’t Give Up On Me.

The combination of these bespoke labels that were launching major careers was on the rise at the same time home recording became viable. The GarageBand turned every home into a potential studio and “bedroom” albums were made by the likes of Bright Eyes, Josh Rouse, and Hiss Golden Messenger, among many others. Check out this list of 16 famous albums that were at least partially recorded in home studios.

An old man reads a book on a bench. He's sitting outside a rundown old house.

My point is, small labels and self-released records gained cache. Even though they didn’t have the money to back giant stadium tours by the likes of Taylor Swift and Beyonce, they were able to gain notoriety, big name artists, and major awards.

The same has not happened in the publishing world. The standard remains with the Big Five, though one could argue those major imprints are much more concerned with releasing WHAT WILL SELL A ZILLION COPIES over what is edgy, experimental, culturally prescient, and boundary pushing.

That’s not to say NO important books are coming from major presses. Of course they are. The graphic novel Maus by Art Spiegelman is one example. Bestseller and Pulitzer Prize finalist There There by Tommy Orange was published by Vintage, an imprint of Penguin.

But the recently banned The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi Durrow was published by Algonquin; the trilogy Crank by Ellen Hopkins was published by Margaret K. McElderberry Books; and here’s a staggering list of 35 impressive books released by indies in 2021.

How close are we to considering indie publishers with the same cache and cool as indie record labels? Can we agree that indies are the tastemakers? I hope so.

But self-publishing as a writer is still a long way from self-recording as a musician — at least in terms of acceptability. There’s long been a pall of unprofessionalism cast over self-publishing. Poor editing, grammatically challenged, “hobby” writing, tacky cover art, clunky layouts. And while self-publishing platforms have made serious strides to improve the self-published product, desktop publishing is not regarded with the same welcome as bedroom recording.

I don’t have answers to this dilemma, but I do hope that as the Big Five publishers continue to face turmoil and missteps, independent presses will gain more support from readers. And I have hope, too, for improvements in desktop and self-publishing. To inspire you, too, here is a list of the 30 best self-published books of all time. Happy reading!