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Should Influencer Marketing Be Used for Self-Published Books?

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.

Can social media influencers help authors sell more books?

Can social media influencers help authors sell more books?

Influencer Marketing for Books

During the coronavirus pandemic, I was contacted by an author who asked for my input on self-publishing print-at-home materials for homeschooling during the crisis. The reasoning was that parents, now tasked with schooling their children, would welcome the help. In theory, that makes sense. But there were some huge obstacles.

While these electronic materials were created, they were not yet packaged to make them marketable. That could take months to complete. By then, the pandemic could be winding down (we could only hope!), and things could be returning to some semblance of normal, including schools reopening. Demand for these materials could peak and plummet in a matter of weeks or months. That could mean a lot of upfront investment without a sustainable way to recoup it.

But the primary challenge was the author’s hope of using social media influencers with a large number of followers to market and sell the materials. The plan was to sell the materials on a website using PayPal. Influencers would then receive a share of the sale.

Let’s break down why I didn’t think an effort like this would work, regardless of whether it was launched to take advantage of pandemic sales opportunities or not.

How Do You Find Influencers?

As flippantly suggested by a popular marketing guru, you would find influencers by searching relevant topical hashtags on the likes of Twitter, Instagram, etc. to find people who are using these hashtags. Then you would direct message them to offer them an influencer deal. Do you have any idea how much time that could take? Some popular hashtags have literally tens of millions of posts. Then you have to look at possibly thousands of bios of those who post using those hashtags. It could literally take weeks or months to do this.

Then once you start looking at these potential accounts, how many followers should the account have to qualify as a “large amount of followers?” A thousand? Tens of thousands? A hundred thousand? Millions? Remember, too, that numbers and hashtag use don’t always signal that an account is worthy of consideration. It must be a good fit for your offering.

Here’s an example to illustrate the situation. I received an influencer offer from a clothing company outside my home country who was “impressed” with my Instagram account and wanted to send me samples so I could post photos on Instagram of me wearing them. Didn’t they even look at my account and see I don’t do this kind of thing? Plus, it was for items I never wear. So even free samples wouldn’t be enough for me to bite on this one.

In another instance, a sales management software company reached out to me on LinkedIn about promoting their product on my feed. While I do discuss sales in my books and blogging, I focus on sales for small businesses and solopreneurs. They definitely don’t need software to manage a sales team since they don’t have one. No thanks to that offer.

If you reach out to influencers who are not a relevant fit for your product, you will be ignored, maybe even blocked.

Luckily, there are websites that specialize in connecting influencers with sellers and advertisers. Do a Google search for “influencer marketing,” and you’ll likely see a ton of ads and results for these sites. They allow you to search and filter the profiles of thousands of influencers who are interested in these types of deals. You’ll be able to see info on past performance and what that influencer charges to post. Depending on the site, there may be free, free trial, and paid programs for businesses to use. Even if there’s a fee, this dramatically cuts the time and effort needed for research and outreach. Note that the fees paid to influencers are in addition to any fees to use the site.

Pay-For-Performance Versus Pay-To-Post

Prior to the social media era, influencer marketing was more about posting unique, trackable links on an influencer’s website. The influencer would be paid if a click resulted in a sale. The influencer was paid a percentage or flat dollar figure as a commission for the sale. This was usually referred to as affiliate marketing or referral marketing. As a blogger-influencer, I found it to be a waste of my time and energy to post HTML code for the links since it resulted in few sales.

Today’s influencers may be a little less inclined to accept these performance-based affiliate deals. They may ask for sellers and advertisers to pay them upfront to post—in cash, not in free product or performance-based commissions. Payment in free products also doesn’t pay the bills. And since many influencers have invested heavily in building their social media following, they ask sellers and advertisers to pay them to help recoup that investment and make an income.

How Much Should You Pay Influencers?

Costs to hire influencers varies widely. It is dependent on several factors including size of following, past performance, quality of following, and relevance.

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Influencers listed on the influencer marketing websites mentioned earlier often post prices they charge. Statistics about performance, audience, and market reach are also included. This can help you make a decision about which ones will be right for your goals and budget. Also a plus for using these websites is that they handle performance reports and influencer payments for you.

Keep in mind, though, that a single post on any influencer’s profile is short-lived. So blowing your budget on a single post for a popular influencer may not yield results. Like all advertising (and using influencers is advertising), frequency and relevance are the keys to successful campaigns.

Unique Problems With Influencer Marketing for Self-Published Authors

Using influencers for products that are highly visual—such as clothing, food, beauty products, homewares, etc.—can be a win for sellers. But books? Not so much.

Think about this logically. If your book is hundreds of pages, chances are that hired influencers will not read the book before posting about it. The most they’ll be able to say is, “Check out this book.” Not a ringing endorsement. And if you require them to read the book, up goes the price since that could take hours of their time.

There’s also a risk for influencers who post about a book that is bad or at least deemed bad by their audience. That could harm their reputation. So they may be less inclined to work with unknown and self-published authors.

The Best Influencers for Selling Self-Published Books

Now that you know more about the influencer game, would you use it for your self-published books? Personally, I have my doubts about its effectiveness for self-publishing.

But there is a group of people that are highly influential when it comes to encouraging people to read books: friends and family. As found in my 2020 Book Discovery Survey (results are discussed in the video below), friends and family was the top source readers used to find books to read. "Friends and family" word-of-mouth marketing is like the 1980s shampoo commercial where happy shampoo users told two friends, who told two of their friends, and so on, and so on.

Yes, this is slow marketing. Yes, it’s difficult to control the outcome. But readers who have actually read your book and tell their friends and family about it are the real influencers you should be targeting.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2020 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on June 03, 2020:

Peggy, my survey definitely confirmed that our friends' recommendations are important! Thanks for chiming in and have a beautiful day!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on June 02, 2020:

I have read many books that friends told me were good, and vice versa. So your last paragraph rings true to me. Thanks for sharing more of your expertise with us.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on June 01, 2020:

Linda, authors are a little less likely to use influencers. But when they hear the gurus extolling how easy it is, I just want them to be aware of what's involved. Thanks for stopping by and have a great week ahead!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on May 30, 2020:

This is very useful information, as always, Heidi. I've never thought about the potential link between influencers and books that we self publish. Thank you for another informative article.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 28, 2020:

Pamela, this whole influencer thing is new and evolving. Glad you enjoyed the discussion. Thanks for reading and commenting! Have a beautiful day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 28, 2020:

Marie, you've got the right mindset by writing for the expressive joy of it! For those who are running it as a business, well, they need to be ready for all the marketing and everything else that goes with it.

Friends and family, word of mouth marketing still trumps any marketing. I wish I could impress that upon self published authors who are struggling because they think they need to do what the big publishers do. They don't!

Thank you, as always, for your most thoughtful comments! Stay safe and well!

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on May 27, 2020:

This excellent article was all new to me. I did not know about influencers for self published book and I found this article very interesting.

Marie Flint from Jacksonville, FL USA on May 27, 2020:

Heidi, as a writing hobbyist, I enjoyed reading this entire article and listening to your video podcast.

Personally, I am most apt to read a book given to me, which is just as you said--friends and family. In advertising, I have always believed there is nothing better than word-of-mouth. And the best part of that is it's free.

I'm terrible at marketing. I write when I feel like it. Read when I'm not writing, gardening, or sewing--or commenting via the Internet!

Unless one is living in New York, rubbing elbows with publishers, and writing full-time, one will probably not make much of a living by writing. There is the rare occasion, of course, when a particular style is "discovered" and goes to the best-selling list. Usually, after that, an author is expected to do book signings and tour. (Not exactly my goal.)

Self-publishing satisfies one thing: the desire to express myself and at least believing that I'm sharing it with someone. Ideally, it's something that brings joy and a new insight to the reader. That's my reward, and it's probably all I could ever hope for.

Thank you for this interesting presentation.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 27, 2020:

Flourish, you nailed one of the biggest issues I have with the influencer game! I ranted on that in another post on celebrity influencers. With all the scandals and shenanigans, it's a big risk for both advertisers and influencers. It's why I don't have a lot of faith in the influencer marketing game. I think authors are better off building their real influencer audience through friends and family.

Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful comments! Have a wonderful day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 27, 2020:

Adrienne, YouTube is one of the hot platforms for influencers. It kind of confuses me because who has time to watch all these people's videos? That's why I just don't have that much faith in influencer marketing, even though it's much more evolved than it used to be.

Thanks so much for stopping by and adding the point about YouTube! Have a great day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 27, 2020:

Hi Liz! So many problems with using influencers. I haven't even scratched the surface on the topic! Thanks so much for chiming in. Stay safe and well!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 27, 2020:

Bill, I think influencer marketing is the most complex form of marketing because it's so granular. I have better things to do, too. Glad you've chosen a life that's good. Thanks for chiming in, as always, and take care!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on May 27, 2020:

Sounds like way too much work to me. I have a garden to grow. When would I find the time for marketing or influencing. lol Life is simple here, and life is good.

Wishing the same for you always, my friend.

Liz Westwood from UK on May 27, 2020:

You lay out the problems that might arise, when trying to use influencers to help market self-published books, very clearly. Your points make a lot of sense.

Adrienne Farricelli on May 27, 2020:

Hi Heidi,

Thanks for sharing so many great tips on using influencer marketing to promote self-published books. I have seen lately an upsurge of influencers on YouTube promoting all kinds of items and brands. I only learned what a "shoutout" was just recently. This is not surprising considering the influence of some Youtube celebrities.

FlourishAnyway from USA on May 26, 2020:

I had no idea what was behind the curtain with the influencer business. Wow, now I’m wondering what kind of qualifications a person needs because the people I see doing it aren’t always the best at what they’re doing. Many just fake it, but I guess convincingly. It’s definitely not the right fit for a self-published book. Then you also have to think about the reputation and choices that the influencer makes. Suppose they get themselves into a situation and your product or book is already associated with them?

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