When I was in college, my initial major was landscape design and architecture. For some strange reason, I had visions of designing golf courses with fancy clubhouses around the world. But, my dream was crushed as a sophomore student when I was graded on our biggest project of the year. I was given the task to design the structure and landscaping for a new county library near the college. Each of the six professors in my department would assign a grade.
When the big day arrived to receive our grades, I was stunned. One of the six professors gave me a failing grade of D, while another professor gave me a quite positive grade of B+. Likewise, my scores from the other four professors were all over the place. I remember feeling bewildered by the wide range of subjective marks. I couldn’t tell from the inconsistent grades whether I really good or really bad. That event dislodged my faith in the schools’ architectural program so much that I dropped out and switched my major to marketing – where all of the grades were a lot more objective.
I share this story as an analogy to the way I see too many publishers assigning dubious grades to authors based on their social media following. They judge authors based on the numbers they see online. For instance, I’ve sat in several meetings with literary agents, acquisitions editors, and marketing directors who ask misguided questions, such as:
- Is this author on Facebook and Twitter?
- How many followers do they have?
- How often does the author post and do they get many shares and retweets?
Making acquisitions and marketing decisions based on an author’s social media popularity is like assigning grades to students based on their accent or physical attractiveness. It’s subjective and largely unrelated to the actual skill set needed to succeed.
There is little correlation between the amount of Facebook followers an author displays and the amount of actual book buyers they generate. Here are three reasons why:
1. An author could have thousands of followers, but not one of whom might actually purchase, since they are only following that author for the time being because it’s free.
2. Social media followers can easily be bought and faked. I’ve seen authors plant their Facebook account with thousands of “followers” purchased on Ebay.com and other sites. There are also free apps, such as StatusPeople, which let you see the amount of fake and inactive Twitter followers in someone’s account.
3. A recent study by McKinsey Consulting revealed that email is 40 times more effective than all social media combined at acquiring new customers. In light of this study, I still hear publishers rave about how their placing more and more importance on social media.
Convincing someone to buy a book is a subjective process, which will never change. Yet, we have access to so much objective data about what works and what doesn’t. The question is if we’re willing to acknowledge the objective data and ignore the subjective social media hype.
Informed publishers should focus greater concentration on numbers that reveal more substance to an author’s platform. I recommend these four:
1. Email list and performance
The size of an author’s email list is a better number to objectively grade an author’s marketing skills. It’s one thing to get someone to “like” something on Facebook. It’s a bigger challenge to create content that leads people to voluntarily register for an email list and consistently open the emails that they receive. And, just as a reminder, email has been shown to be 40 times better than social media.
2. Monthly website visitors
Social media numbers can be easily faked. But, an author’s website traffic tends to be a more legitimate number. Google Analytics is free and makes it easy for authors to run reports and provide this data. At the very least, publishers should request information from authors on the amount of monthly unique sessions, users, and page views to their site. In addition, ask for reports that show traffic going from the present back to the past 18 months. Don’t just look at the present numbers, look at how the author is trending.
3. Speaking schedule or webinar participants
Authors who get face-to-face with their readers tend to be better marketers than those who camp out behind their computer screen. Ask authors to provide a history and upcoming itinerary of speaking engagements and booksigning events. Online webinars and webcasts can also provide indications of an author’s presentation prowess and audience size. Ask for figures regarding the amount of webinar frequency per year and average number of participants.
4. Previous sales history
Building email lists, generating web traffic, and attracting speaking engagements are key skills. But, they are still distinct from actually selling books. Some authors know how to work hard, but not smart. They generate a lot of activity, but it doesn’t transfer into actual book sales. Most publishers wisely check an author’s past sales history using BookScan (authors can check their own BookScan numbers using Amazon’s Author Central account). An author’s sales history can be the most objective numbers available and should be given important weight.
If you feel nosy asking authors for details about their platform, for crying out loud, remember your offering someone a legal book contract and take a big financial risk. A little due-diligence helps bring much-needed clarity to the decision.
Publishers should avoid assigning subjective grades to authors based on their dubious social media popularity. Instead, publishers can make better decisions by reviewing the four types of objective data described above. This information provides a better picture of an author’s marketing skills. It also gives a clearer sense of what an author has done in the past and what they’re doing at the moment.
Armed with the proper data, publishers can peer into the future with more certainty and envision an author’s capability when the critical book launch day arrives. And, that’s a day you want every author to get passing grades!
Publisher grades notwithstanding: It’s important for every author to build a large online following. That’s why I created the 4-part step-by-step video course called How to Build a MASSIVE Online Audience for only $49. Each video is only 10 – 15 minutes and comes complete with viewer exercises to help you make progress immediately.
Use this link to watch the preview video or click on the image below.
Exam picture courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net