Most indie authors know that getting your name out there is one of the hardest things anyone can do. Fortunately, in this modern era there are a wide variety of tools and options for you to get your message out there in the great digital beyond. The more tools you use, the more likely you are to set yourself apart from the huge volume of material available online.
These are the most commonly used social media tools and the sites that have really pushed the evolution of what we now understand as social media. These three sites are crucial to any modern day author who want to make a serious run at being a professional writer/selling their books online. The real challenge lies in building the audience, which I admit, can sometimes be an arduous process.
If the only people you're advertising on Facebook/Twitter/your blog are your friends, it won't matter how often you're tweeting or updating, you won't get very far. In my observation of what other writers (and my own experience), I've seen people get a fifteen to twenty percent participation rate from friends and family who are interested in their writings. Unless you have a built in audience of marketing professionals as friends who have their own audience of voracious readers, it's little better than talking to yourself.
This is where being on Twitter and using it effectively comes into play. In my experience on Twitter, I find using hashtags (#) is a great way of helping people find my website and my book. Something I've taken to doing regularly is tweet once or twice a day with hashtags of relevant media (tv shows/movies) along with a link to my book. Since I wrote a science fiction action/adventure novel, on Friday nights during Fox's TV Fringe, I tweet something silly or clever relating my book to that night's episode - sometimes relating it to a scene in my book. With all the people also tweeting #Fringe as they watch the episode, my tweet about my book shows up in their search results, and if I've made my tweet intriguing enough, I usually see a spike in traffic to my blog/book sales.
Facebook on the other hand, I don't use in the same way. I created a page for my novel The Twelve Stones (which you can easily "like" right here on my blog... hint hint), but I don't use it much because as I said, the only people I'd really be talking to at the moment are people from my friends list who already know I wrote the book and are tired of me yammering on about it. Plus, my friends aren't a very large audience of readers. This is why I limit posting from my Twelve Stones Facebook account. Without many people on that list (I'm currently at 32 or so likes on the page), it would be pointless to constantly post things from that account until I had built a genuine base of readers who have found that page because of them liking the book. I believe when I hit about 100 likes of non-friends I'll begin using the account to promote the book better, including creating targeted ads I can buy on Facebook to get more exposure. Facebook IS the future and you ignore it at your own peril.
(Btw, the analytics included on the Facebook pages are second to none and I highly recommend looking into your numbers and exploiting those to help you find new readers)
I won't go into much about Blogs. They've been around for years, and there's not much I can say about having one that you
1) don't already know
2) hasn't already been said a thousand times in a thousand better ways than I could say.
The important lessons to remember though are:
1) Always link your book within your blog posting to help with your Google search results.
2) Link to past blog postings (when relevant) to help increase your Blog's Google score
3) Put yourself on a regular schedule of writing clear, concise and RELEVANT content to your readers.
Other Social Media avenues
Here are a couple more sites independent authors (Especially KDP Select Members) should sign up for and use to your advantage:
Triberr.com: More than anything else, this is the site that has helped expand my blog reach across the globe. Be sure to check it out, but do so responsibly. If you use Triberr.com correctly, there's really no limit to the reach and scope of your audience. Take the time to set up an account, and talk to other people on how to best leverage your Triberr experience to help readers find you. The best advice I can give about this site is find the tribes that are most relevant to your writing.
Shelfari.com: I'm relatively new to this site, but it's a great add on to Amazon.com's e-book store. Amazon has embraced the independent author like no other site (with the exception of Smashwords.... more on them in a second) and Shelfari is somewhat of a Myspace/Goodreads hybrid that helps readers follow what their friends are reading. As an author, you can instantly see who has downloaded your book and you can send them a message as well as letting them easily contact you. Very cool stuff.
Goodreads.com: Same idea as Shelfari, except they got there first (but, as we all know, being first on the internet doesn't always make it better). My money is on Shelfari overtaking Goodreads as the place where readers gather and share with their friends the books they are reading, but I've been wrong before (But that's only because I thought I was wrong about something else. Turns out, I was right). My only thought is Amazon is doing a lot to take the lead on e-books and securing its place as the dominant online presence for e-books. I have a feeling Amazon will be throwing a lot more money Shelfari's way than what Goodreads will ever see.
Smashwords.com: Smashwords is a fantastic place to put your independent novel - that is, if people already know who you are and where they can get it. I started there, but as an unknown, I had no built-in audience and my work was ignored.
I believe that KDP Select and Amazon.com exclusivity for 90 days is the right path for an unknown with his first novel like myself. Because of my promotions, my novel is paired with other books who already have a large audience and I'm constantly adding new readers every day. Each time I've run a promo day on Amazon, my book has ended up in the top five bestsellers list. This tells me I am building my audience for my series The Twelve Stones and in the future, those freebies will pay off in a big way.
I know some authors dislike the idea of exclusivity to Amazon and I can sympathize with that idea. However, my experience taught me that without an audience, I will be ignored on Smashwords and with Amazon I've sold more novels using the KDP Select promotions than I ever thought possible (not counting the freebies). I believe a truly successful author will use both Smashwords and Amazon to their full potential. Since I'm writing two different series of books, my plan is to alternate between Smashwords and Amazon for the two novels. My hope is to create a feedback loop alternating between huge promotional days and a wider audience on Smashwords.
The Hard Part:
Unfortunately, with the expansion of social media, even if you use every one of the sites perfectly and do everything you can, it's still not a guarantee that it will work. The democratization of promotion through social media has enabled jackasses like myself to get my name out there in ways I never thought possible, but, there is a much higher signal to noise ratio. On one hand, the publishing industry acted amazing gatekeepers keeping terrible books (badly edited/written) off the market, but on the other, people with talent and a great book often had to go years receiving nothing but rejection letters. Fortunately with the incredible explosion of tablets and e-readers, the self-publishing stigma is no longer as it once was. The highest grossing movie of the last few years (which was released last weekend) started out as a self-published trio of novels.
You have to look at using social media as just another way of breaking through. Keeping at it day after day (along with writing more books) is the only way you can break through. Hard Work will beat the Talent Who Gives Up every time. Hard work + Talent turns you into an unstoppable force of nature. I know which one I want to be.
One last thing I'd like to add, don't advertise to writers, all they're doing is trying to get you to read their stuff too. Advertise to readers. Keep your social media strategy plain, keep it simple and your readers will find you.
Social media is just another aspect of the job. If you stick with it, there's no telling how high you can go.