Socially Awkward – Why Your Online Friends Don’t Buy Your Book

I have, apparently, 539 friends. Facebook tells me so.

I have a fan page for my book, with over 1000 likes. My Twitter is a healthy 600 odd and I have over 50 mentions on Google for the title. But you see, I know that not everyone rushed over to Amazon and picked up their copy the day it went on sale. I know this because I sold 23 copies on the first day. That was it.

So how the heck do I get every single one of those people to buy a copy of my book? Glibly “liking” my book page seems to be the done thing, a nod to my efforts, and a polite if awkward obligation by passers-by, as if I am at a cocktail party handing out flyers, a scenario something like this:

“Hey guy, do you know about my book? Here’s a flyer!” I cry, with my Facebook page.

This person, an acquaintance from 1997, who mostly likes kittens and memes about feeling positive, is kind of hampered to have to respond, but takes the flyer based on me two years ago, “liking” his band page (terrible band), and says simply ” Um, I’ll check it out.”

This is how my Facebook Likes seem to manifest. They are not what you call ” convertible” , i.e. they do not equate to a sale.

In the same effort, I respond to others. I write them encouraging messages, using emoticons. I hate emoticons. But if someone I think may buy my book, even out of sympathy, if I use them, I am all for the smileys.

Then I have my real life friends and family. Probably about 100 people on there.

I have a big family, many friends. But I used to be in a band too.

I used to have guest lists for gigs and give free copies of tape mixes and single CDs to give away to the “elite” few (anyone desperate enough to come out in rain or snow on a Tuesday night); these people still give me free stuff too. One friend gives me free tattoos. One always lets me into his nightclub for free and gives me drinks. Another sends me free books and DVDs. I get free haircuts and free clothes. I get dinner. I could probably live in some cities in this world for free, literally, for months on end.

I never pay for stuff with my friends. Hence, I have queered my own pitch, to use a very English saying.

My best friend cheerily calls,

” So, got that book out yet?”

“Yeah, it’s on Amazon. Here’s the link” (ding it on Facebook chat)

“Looks cool! When do I get to read it?”

I feel like saying ” Now, now! Press BUY and get it to your iPad now! I have a Kindle version!”

But instead, I say ” Um – I’ll send you a copy then”

At the cost of $3.

A cousin does the same thing. Then someone who vaguely helped me out during the writing of  the book asks in no uncertain terms ” Send me that book now it’s out?”

Then there’s the so-called “proper fans”. People who did buy my book. People who read it. They then write about it. “Read this book that my friend (ah yes, they are my friend, they bought my book and now they are blogging about it) wrote. Very good”

I am happy. I share their update, and smile.

Until some person I instantly despise, outside my enclave, comments ” Oh hey (blah name) , I was gonna buy that, but can I borrow it? ;)” (Note the emoticon – sly yet encouraging)

The answer comes, ” Sure! :)” (That emoticon again, trusting and open)


  • Randy McNally

    If you don’t need to maintain the contact, don’t bother sending them a copy. That’s what I think. It’s only your profit that you’re spending.

  • MyPenName

    I removed a long diatribe here about ungrateful whelps. I decided to keep it to myself. I feel your pain.

    • Catherine Tosko

      Ha – like to see the diatribe personally!

  • AK

    The thing about books is that to make money off them, they have to explode.

    Whether friends and family buy them or not – that’s almost irrelevant. So you’ll have $300 more or $300 less, what’s the difference? Assuming it took you 100 hours to write your book, that’s much less than minimum wage either way.

    But if your book generates a rising tsunami wave of interest via social media, reviews in high-traffic blogs, etc., then you could be looking at $1,000’s and even $10,000’s. But to maximize the chances of that happening, you need to maximize your initial circle of readers as much as possible.

    If that means throwing your book to anyone and everyone who asks for it for free is what it takes, then so be it.

    At least this is my thinking on how to go about things when my first book comes out this summer.

  • Blair Evans

    Sorry if this has the feel of a rant to it, but someone mentioned a diatribe(?) As background: I live nowhere near anyone on my Facebook friends list. I’m from NZ but live in Portugal.

    I recently posted on my facebook page that I had finished my book and included the links to Amazon and Goodreads. I’m not the kind to friend up with anyone I had so much as sat next to in primary school for a day. I feel I know all of my Facebook friends personally and have a certain ‘history’ with them. Of my 36 ‘friends’, it was from those I have been in contact with the least that any kind of acknowledgement was given. Those that knew I was writing anything at all presumably didn’t think it was news enough.

    Conspicuous by their absence was my entire family. My mother, who has read the book, would have done something if she was on Facebook, but my brother’s excuse will need to be somewhat more convincing. All the others are extended family – cousins and their children.

    To a lot of people, Facebook is just a triviality used for browsing memes, sharing first world problems and giving out of generic fridge magnet philosophy. Those with 500 or so friends have news feeds that resemble a news reader’s auto cue. You’re lucky if your life’s work is still within scrolling distance of these people a day later. Meanwhile, I’m still staring at something adorably cute with four legs that was shared from George Takei’s page.

    The only comment to be made by anybody was left by a Norweigan friend for whom English is not even her native language. I’m about to publish a Facebook page for the book itself. I’m wondering whether it’s even worth inviting any of these people.

    [First post. Hi, by the way.]

  • Dear Catherine,

    You have discovered a Truth about selling books, and promoting your titles. Indeed, not everyone who maintains social contact with you – in person or on-line will buy your books. In fact the formula is that 1% of an author’s audience will spring the $2.99 (for a broad-interest title). That audience can be recipients of an eBlast [Constant Contact or Mail Chimp]; Facebook or your Holiday card list. Send an eBlast to 400 correspondents and you can expect 4-6 eBook sales.

    AK is right – maximizing your circle of readers is key. For instance, Mike Wells, a mid-list author who is capitalizing on a title he published over two years ago has grown his tribe to 25,000 – Lordy, I don’t know how he does it, but he does. Derek Haines and Joel Friedlander – the same. Grow your tribe, and then expect a 1% ‘buy-reaction’.

    I coach my clients to not even publish until they have one manuscript impeccably ready, one manuscript complete and in final draft form, and one manuscript in their mind *PLUS* 500 social media contacts and a TweetReach of 50,000.

    In the meantime, look at it this way: Suppose a reader asks for a freebie eBook selling for $2.99; You ‘gift’ it to them via Amazon’s ‘gift’ option; the sale – once your reader picks up the eBook – counts toward your Amazon ranking *and* you get BACK 70% of your gift in royalties. Advertising (and Goodwill!) for $.89 a pop is wildly cheap compared to GoogleAds, Goodreads ads, and Facebook ads.

    Your Amazon rank is at 509,000 this morning which means you’ve probably sold less than a dozen books this month – on one title. I didn’t make much more than that UNTIL AFTER I published my seventh title; had 2,500 Twitter contacts and 600 Facebook friends. Add in an eBlast list of 423 and last year I made $6655 from ALL sales platforms.

    I’m retiring from promoting and selling my eBooks (sheer exhaustion 😉 but in my ‘hay day’ it took a 25-30 hour marketing week to generate a $700/month royalty check. The Median royalty accumulation for IndieAuthors is $500 annually. I think only the top 5% – 7% make anything over $15,000. Authors in the Top Ten make upwards of $50,000 – but take a look at who the Top Ten are!

    I’m just ‘running the numbers’ based on my experience. Hope that puts things in perspective. Wishing you All the Best as you continue with your writing.

  • With ref to Emily’s (above) comment: I write MG adventure for my ‘wanna-be-rich-and-famous’ ambitions. I killed myself doing virtual book tours, blogging, Tweeting, you name it I did it. I do not think it really made a real difference, except that I do have a small devoted following of moms dying to get the next book for their kids. (Did I mention that I only found out much later that the kid lit market is the hardest??) I also write historical romance under a pseudonym just for fun. I do no marketing at all, apart from a website I update. They are easy to write and (Hey!) make me money. I really don’t know how this whole being a writer and hitting the jackpot thing works but I know that one cannot rely on friends online to become buyers. People buy what they want to read. It’s hard to accept this – so write what you want to write and with luck it will be what people want to read. I have seven historical novels now and as my publishers advised, the more you write, the more you sell.

    • Fiona! ;D

      Big thumbs up! LOL … You’ve got TEN book awards, a SERIES in a popular genre, and a full tribe (including hundreds of FB friends) following you on YOUR terms! Ta DA!

      • Thank you for those kind words. I DO count my blessings, especially when I am feeling a bit bitter and twisted that my fame and fortune is taking sooooo long.

  • LOL Story of my life.

  • Enjoyed your article. Seems to me, friends, family, the nameless masses on FB, may simply not be your market. I give tons away for free. In fact, we may be related. Anyway, selling is about, from what I’ve gleaned, publishing prolifically in popular genres, which boils down to finding the right reader and having her return, then having her tell her friends. Easier said than done.

  • Zeitgeist

    I think all you can do for your book is get people – friends and otherwise – to download the sample and start reading it. Past that, the book is the pitch for money, as the reader – again friends and otherwise – equates the money to the book.

    Everybody asks that with money – is it worth it? – precisely because its money. In favors and barter, people are much more generous, easy going (as the author relates about her band and friends), and less, frankly, cheap. When one can count the favor, quantize the friend to a balance sheet so-to-speak, their behavior changes.

    Interesting question to ask the author: 23 copies were sold the first day, but in comparison how many samples were downloaded? There is the true ‘conversion rate’ number for eBooks worth paying attention to.

  • Judy Haar

    I think it is all about the volume, the key word, of books you generate. I don’t view social media as a great way to sell books. As previously mentioned, you need 1000’s of people buying your book and social media just doesn’t generate enough interest for many reasons. Try other marketing campaigns such as paid advertising, joining popular blogs of like minded people, search ‘ping my site’to get on tons of search engines and directories. This is just a few things to do.

  • I know what you mean. I even consulted with a PR person and i’ve had a about a sale a week (so your 23 on that first day is impressive). I have 500 on my FB and another 500 on Twitter. I follow all the rules and still…sales are almost nothing. Sigh.