But Does It Sell Books?

By John Gilstrap

I just returned from a fabulous week in New York, communing with fellow writers at Thrillerfest, the annual confab of the International Thriller Writers Association (ITW).  As always happens when two or more writers occupy the same space, the conversation turned to strategies to employ for the purposes of selling books.

There’s universal agreement that a writer needs a platform from which to launch his or her marketing campaign.  There’s equal unanimity that social media accounts are the way to go.  Dutifully, I’ve established my Facebook page, my Twitter feed and my Instagram account.  In addition, I have a YouTube channel, and this biweekly blog in TKZ.  I attend conferences, teach seminars when opportunities arise, and in general make myself as accessible as reasonable security and privacy allow.

For the most part, I enjoy the marketing side of what I do.  I’m kind of a Type-A personality to begin with so I enjoy the interaction with people, even if most of it is virtual.  If the invested time and effort didn’t sell a single book, I would probably do a lot of that stuff anyway.

So, here’s my first question for the group: Forgetting what the pundits proclaim to be immutable fact, what is your experience?  Do you read blog posts in this space or others that inspire you to buy books by authors you otherwise have not read?  Do Facebook travelogues or Twitter insights make you actually feel so much closer to an author that you’ll plop down some bucks for the latest book?

My second question is closely related: Have social media posts ever driven you away from an author you have otherwise been inclined to read?

My answers to my own questions are yes and yes, particularly with regard to blog posts and Facebook.  Excepting the nonfiction blogs that I lean on for research, I will occasionally read a post from a fiction writer whose voice intrigues me enough to take a poke at the fruits of his or her imagination.  And, sometimes an ill-informed political or social screed will push me to place an author on my never-again list.  I don’t care what side a FB friend takes on a position so long as it is well-argued.  When the name-calling starts, I’m out.  (And that’s exactly why I don’t understand why anyone in the entertainment business chooses to write screeds.)

Now, fair warning: When this post goes up, I will be doing my best torpedo impersonation inside the tube of an MRI machine to diagnose the source of pinched nerve in my neck.  Because I am a raging claustrophobe, I expect to be in a narcotic haze for some of the day, and past experience has demonstrated that it’s best to stay away from the Internet and emails while drugged.  Thus, I will likely not be a part of the conversation.


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About John Gilstrap

John Gilstrap is the New York Times bestselling author of Stealth Attack, Crimson Phoenix, Hellfire, Total Mayhem, Scorpion Strike, Final Target, Friendly Fire, Nick of Time, Against All Enemies, End Game, Soft Targets, High Treason, Damage Control, Threat Warning, Hostage Zero, No Mercy, Nathan’s Run, At All Costs, Even Steven, Scott Free and Six Minutes to Freedom. Four of his books have been purchased or optioned for the Big Screen. In addition, John has written four screenplays for Hollywood, adapting the works of Nelson DeMille, Norman McLean and Thomas Harris. A frequent speaker at literary events, John also teaches seminars on suspense writing techniques at a wide variety of venues, from local libraries to The Smithsonian Institution. Outside of his writing life, John is a renowned safety expert with extensive knowledge of explosives, weapons systems, hazardous materials, and fire behavior. John lives in Fairfax, VA.

21 thoughts on “But Does It Sell Books?

  1. I have very little free time. I work a full time day job and do theatre at night and on weekends. I do follow this blog and one other.

    There are authors I used to enjoy but no longer read because they have shown themselves to be hateful awful people and very nasty and dismissive to their fans. I no longer buy their books. I no longer recommend them. I don’t even read them for free any more (library books). I don’t bad mouth them. I just don’t understand why anyone would want to behave that way, particularly to the people who helped make them rich.

    Hope you feel better, John.

  2. We’re on the same page regarding politics. I really don’t want to know what an author’s opinion is on any given administration, immigration and the Second Amendment. Even if I happen to agree, I don’t want to hear it. Just write a good story for me – That’s all I care about.

    Perhaps it’s to do with my age, but social media seems to have no influence on my purchase of books by authors I’ve never read. If I see announcements for new books by authors I know I like, that’s a different matter. What motivates me to test a new author is recommendation from a friend. “Carl, you gotta’ read this book. It’s so much like John Gilstrap’s stuff.” Word of mouth is the best marketing if I’m the sales target.

    Also, I’ll buy a used book if I like the cover and the blurb on the back. If I enjoy the book, I’ll later buy new ones.

  3. I buy books all the time because of someone calling my attention to them in blog posts or because the author themselves have written the guest blog and I like their style of writing or feel what they say is so intelligent and nuanced, I want to at least dip into the first few pages of their book on Amazon to get a feel for their story.

  4. I have read blog posts in this space and in others that induced me to buy books that I wouldn’t have normally considered. In fact, I think nowadays 75 percent of my book choices are because of blog posts. (I’m not on FB or Twitter or IG, but I imagine they’d have the same effect on me.)

    I have unsubscribed from blogs and turned away from authors’ works because of posts that were . . . “screed” is the perfect way of putting it because it sounds like the screeching noise I hear from the words flying off the screen. I try to be open-minded, but when a rant gets ANGRY (and even hateful), it makes me feel kinda barfy, no matter which side of the political aisle I’m on.

    I hope your MRI goes well!

  5. So agree about the political posts. And I have written an author off because of their FB rants. As for reading posts, I read this one and a couple more, and I sometimes buy books recommended on these sites. Last week I purchased Stein on Writing and another of his books. 🙂

  6. Even in this giant world of connectedness, a selling author would have a hard time reaching me. Yes, blog posts can induce me to buy a book. The bad news is I only read this one & 1 other. So if you’re not on TKZ, you’re not on my radar. 😎

    The only social media I’m on is FB & yes occasionally, someone somewhere mentions a book I want to read. BUT I expressly avoid author FB pages because you can guarantee that the majority of what they post will be “buy my book” posts. That’s not 100% of the time–some authors do make an effort to interact with their readers or subscribers. But I also don’t have time to hear their life stories, even when they’re trying to be relatable.

    Word of mouth is most powerful for me, but word of mouth is usually in the form of my interactions on FB & here, though I do get some “in person” word of mouth recommendations occasionally.

    • We’re at T-minus 55 minutes before I need to leave, and BK, I wanted to ask you to expand on your comment regarding FB pages vs. timelines–specifically, that you avoid authors’ pages.

      Eighteen months ago, more or less, I had an epiphany thrust upon me. I posted some family-related pictures to my timeline and one of the pix drew an entirely inappropriate comment from a friend that I’d never met. At that point, my “friends” number well north of 2,000 because I routinely accepted “friendships” from anyone who reached out to me. The frightening realization for me was that while I choose to live a fairly public life, my extended family has not made that choice. So, by participating in family stuff on FB, by extension, I expose them to a much larger audience than they want.

      Consequently, in the succeeding months, I’ve reduced my friends list to a number that is well south of 1,000. The intent is to ultimately reduce that list to people I’ve actually met and know. I figure it will settle out to around 700. When I get new friend requests from strangers and fans, I send them a note that explains the security concerns and invite them to like my author page. I also post fun stuff first to my page, and then share it to my timeline. Pictures and commentary regarding weddings, funerals, First Communions and kids at the pool will never make it to my page.

      More and more, I think authors and other public figures are becoming more circumspect about their privacy.

      • Ditto for me, John. I have cut back my FB presence to almost nothing. I use it to keep in touch with old buds and strengthen contact with newer ones. But increasingly, I find FB…I dunno….creepy. That is the only word I can think of. Their unwillingness to clean up their act on privacy and other issues makes me want to avoid them. It’s sort of like a restaurant where once you see a roach, you just stop going.

        As for where I get my books, the only thing I depend on is word of mouth from folks I trust…friends, booksellers, a select couple of reviewers who I know aren’t compromised. Life is too short. And if a book doesn’t grab me in the first 50 pages I don’t feel any obligation to stay with it.

      • Apologies–I’m seeing the follow up question after 9p Eastern. To clarify, I do not recall an instance where I’ve visited an author page on FB. I am a FB “friend” to several authors, but it’s because we’re in the same writers organization and during one of the writer org-sponsored classes on marketing (several years ago), as a favor, we all friended each other to begin building a network for each of our author pages.

        As to the privacy thing, that freaks me out. I did happen to read another author’s blog this week who basically said “share your life” with your fans, under the theory that there’s really no such thing as privacy in the digital age. It may be easier to invade our privacy, but I’m not interested in sharing all aspects of my life, nor do I have time to read about any one else’s. I prefer going to an author website if I’m that curious. Like your “About John Gilstrap” page, I can get the gist of who the author is by reading that.

        It may sound cheesy, but the one thing authors have used to attract my attention is to ask readers what they’re reading this week. Some may find it lame, but that’s what I respond to.

  7. I find that I sell books when participating in those fun “what have you written?” threads. I just describe the book and don’t drop a link unless somebody asks about it. I’m in all kinds of fun groups on FB (the only reason to use FB anymore, IMO). I’ve bought a few books off FB and maybe one off Twitter, but mostly I discover books on blogs. “Hey, I read this awesome book, here’s what I thought of it!” I’m also in a nice online book club that reads books I like, so I discover new books and authors that way, too.

  8. Most books I buy are a direct result of blog posts. I appreciate whatever info the author has shared or I like their voice/attitude or I find their story intriguing. FB is the only social media I’m on and that’s mainly as a lurker, not a participant.

    The old rule of marketing was that customers needed to see/read about a product three times before they acted to buy it. Now the repetition rate is more like seven times. To me, FB acts mainly as one of those seven reminders about a book I mean to buy but haven’t gotten around to, rather than a place that triggers initial interest.

    Ranting by any side on any issue is a total turn off.

    John, hoping you find a solution to the nerve problem–those are so tricky.

  9. I guess I’m old school. TKZ is the only blog I read. I’m never ‘induced’ to buy because of recommendations posted here, but I can be induced to seek more information about the book, including reading reviews by other readers. Then I’ll make up my own mind. I do get occasional recommendations from other authors that I know through Goodreads, and my daughter contributes suggestions. Mostly I browse for books and make selections based on title, blurb, and reviews.

  10. Politics have become so divisive, it’s getting to the point where you may soon hear the words, “I’d like to buy your book, but where do you stand on the Trans-Pacific Partnership?”

  11. I read a few blogs and will buy books by those authors, partly because they know what they’re talking about (such as the TKZ authors), so I figure that normally equals good writing – but I also buy as a sort of thankyou for all the great, free advice.

    I also follow a few authors on Facebook. I think the best ones post stuff related to the genre, eg. a crime author may post a photo of themselves visiting the FBI Academy. In other words, stuff that people reading crime would be interested in. I don’t mind an announcement that they have a new book coming out, but I’m not interested in their political views and have unfollowed someone because of that issue.
    Otherwise, I mainly buy books by authors that I’ve read before, but sometimes from a review or due to word-of-mouth.

    • Nodding in agreement, Linda. I do the same thing, only my Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram is filled with authors. I have so many author friends it would take me an eternity to read all their books, but I pick away at my ever-growing TBR list for those who write in my preferred genre. The authors who blog I tend to read first. As you mentioned, I buy their books as a thank you for the helpful advice, then nine times out of ten I end up loving their work and buy their backlist titles, too.

      John, hope you feel better soon. Nerve impingement is no fun. 🙁

  12. I buy books all the time because of something I read in a blog post. Besides here, there are a couple of author’s blogs which regularly feature guest posts by other authors about their new books – I must share the blog authors’ tastes, because at least a third of the time, the featured books appeal to me enough to read an excerpt, and a chunk of them I go on to buy,usually without regret. (Ironically, I don’t read most of either of the blog authors’ own books; they each have a series I love, but the rest just aren’t my thing.) I also buy books because someone on Twitter recommended them and they looked good to me, and again I’m rarely disappointed.

    There are a couple of authors whose books I used to really like, but who have behaved so badly that I now can’t read anything by them. And there are others who I’d never read before I came across their social media, and now I never will. It’s less about the specific political viewpoint (though sometimes that’s part of it), than it is about sheer meanness. Life is too short to spend my free time reading mean people.

  13. I don’t mind someone voicing their opinion in a concise way, but rants of any kind turn me off. Those authors go on my don’t-bother-to-read list. I think the key to having fun on social media and making meaningful connections, personally and professionally, is to remember we have the ability to scroll by certain posts. Approach social media like real life … sometimes we need to brush the sand off our feet and move on. Life is too short to deal with angry, negative people.

  14. I have been sorely absent from TKZ since I spent the better part of last week at the RWA conference in Denver. I still have a serious case of Conference Brain, but I attended mostly marketing workshops this time, rather than craft, and it will be days before I sort things out. I take some gratification in hearing from all the huge names that it’s still “Do what you are comfortable with” and don’t fall into the FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) trap and think you have to be everywhere.

    I still don’t do things “right” but at least I don’t feel as guilty about it.

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