Social Media Doesn’t Sell Books. So Why Bother?

Julie Trelstad
Julie Trelstad

You ask "what's the best social media strategy to sell books?"

My answer, "social media doesn't sell books."

So why bother? You might ask.

Because the book industry has changed. Trends industry-wide show that most book sales (both print and e-books) are moving online. There are fewer booksellers to hand-recommend your book, and—according to Bowker’s Books in Print, there were over 2 million books published in the U.S. in 2015. Yikes!

You should also consider the fundamental difference between marketing activities and sales activities. Marketing, which includes social media, advertising, and media and in-person appearances, creates awareness around a product, which in turns primes the salesperson (that Indie bookseller, the clerk at Barnes & Noble, you in your newsletter, or that bald Amazon Buy Button) to complete the sale.


In marketing there is an old adage about the "rule of seven," the idea that to remember a product, a consumer needs to see it seven times. This concept has been a mainstay of modern marketing since the 1930s, but it’s still true today. Often readers don't even register a book cover until they've seen it multiple times. You've probably purchased a book recently that you'd seen so many times you had to buy it! (Or maybe that's just me. Hello, Little Fires Everywhere, which is everywhere!)

The marketing research website Brandlective The Rule of Seven & the Modern Audience notes that the rule is still true, just different:

We’ve identified that connection with the consumer should still be made seven times. However, the scope now covers a more extensive range of mediums.

So what that means is that you need to continue to create awareness of your book in as many places as you're able. Plus, social media brings people to your site, which gets them to sign up for more reminders

Social media might not sell books directly, but the repetition may well influence a book buyer's decision next time they are shopping for books. And, a strong social presence does help you bring readers to your website and make them more likely to sign up for your e-mail newsletter.

And e-mail newsletters do sell books! Think about it, in your personal newsletter, you can ask directly for someone to buy your book, and it does work! According to Wordstream, a popular blog about online marketing, "59% of B2B marketers say email is their most effective channel in terms of revenue generation," but I've seen this in my own practice. When a reader is aware of a book, it's much easier to complete the sale with a simple ask.

book marketing

Julie Trelstad

Julie Trelstad is a book publishing pro (former acquisitions editor, digital rights director, publisher) who teaches writers the art and science of book publishing to support her serious book habit.