5 Reasons Why Your Online Marketing Doesn’t Work

PhotobucketI’ve written a great deal about why social media might not sell books, and how your efforts at audience development impacts your career.

I’d like to take a new twist on this familiar topic, and speak specifically about why your online marketing might not be working—assuming you’ve reached the point where your intent is to sell something.

1. It’s not personal. None of us like impersonal message blasts. I’m going to assume you’re already smart enough not to do that. But you can still be impersonal with a one-on-one message. How? You don’t actually personalize the message, or think about the needs of the person on the receiving end. You might be using a stilted or sales-y approach that turns people off. You may send messages based on the bullhorn approach, where you yell, and everyone else is supposed to listen.

Instead, try something interactive, engaging, or personalized. Try being a human being. Don’t change who you are or what you do when you market. Better yet, don’t see it as “marketing,” at which point you might turn on your fake marketing voice.

2. You’re too noisy. Are you tweeting the same message every hour? Are you posting the same call to action on Facebook every day? Are you constantly on social media asking people to do something for you? It might be time to shut up. Instead, think about: creating new and valuable content, sharing interesting articles, answering people’s questions, listening to what the community is saying.

3. You’re hitting up the wrong crowd. When you’re starting from ground zero, it can be tough to know who or where to go first. You might not know if Twitter or Facebook is better for calls to action—or you may find it’s really about being on GoodReads for your particular book.

The best 2 pieces of advice I have: (1) Try to identify at least 2-3 other successful authors in your genre, and see where they’re active. If you have a relationship with them, ask what has worked and what has failed. (2) Experiment widely at first, then slowly narrow things down to maximize return on time spent. Whenever possible, measure the impact of your efforts through analytics tools, e.g., Google Analytics or tracking links.

4. You’re bad at copywriting. You must always have an answer to the question that your audience will instinctively ask themselves: What’s in it for me? If you can’t answer that question effectively, then you better be very entertaining (like Carolyn Parkhurst in this YouTube video). Good copywriting is something you can learn, and it’s not about smarmy sales tactics. Rather, it’s about being clear on what makes your stuff unique—its benefits and promises. You sell the sizzle.

5. It’s working, but you’re not patient enough for it to pay off, so you quit too soon. Whenever anyone asks me how I became so successful doing [insert social media tool here], I say two things: patience and persistence. I was never immediately successful with anything until I better understood it, knew what I wanted out of it, and what made sense for my audience. It took practice and paying close attention.

Through it all, you have to be willing to adapt and change your approach as online behavior and tools change. Yes, it’s a bit of a game. But I hope you come to see it as a fun one. No. 6 Bonus Tip: Don’t take it too seriously. That kills it for everyone!

Image courtesy Flickr’s drothamel


About Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman has more than 15 years of experience in the book and magazine publishing industry, with expertise in digital media and the future of authorship. This fall, she's proud to be offering two creative nonfiction courses from experienced university writing professorsFind out more.


  1. Vaughn Roycroft says

    I’ve had quite a bit of time, dabbling in writer’s social media circles, watching so many make the mistakes you list–particularly number two–before actually having anything to sell. Who knew taking forever to get my manuscript ready would be such a benefit? But I hope, having been barraged, blitzed, and spammed by others, I will enter the arena of actual selling with some empathy and patience, and a sense of fun.

    Great tips, as usual, Jane. I especially like number three, and need to get on that right away. Thanks!

  2. says

    great post. i am guilty of number 3, ‘You’re hitting up the wrong crowd.’

    being a novice at social networking, i started in the wrong direction making my facebook a personal, family thing. when i started trying to use it to sell my novel, i was pointed at the wrong audience and it went no where.

    for others, planning social networking out before you start may translate into sales if you can build a following. i think the jurys out on this creating sales if your just getting started.

  3. says

    I love the just shut up part. I have learned to tune out some of my fellow writers when all I hear from them is me-me-me. I also do not connect with them via other networks. Good read!

  4. Heather Reid says

    Jane, thank you for a wonderful post! I love the advice about not thinking of it as “marketing”. It’s more about making connections and being yourself, getting to know your audience and letting them get to know you.

  5. says

    Jane – thanks for the reminders for social media. I go through phases when I wonder if my efforts will pay off. My Big Secret…I would avoid social media at all costs if I could “just write books.”

    Kristen Lamb’s social media book, We Are Not Alone, has helped me launch my platform and manage my accounts.

    Just watched that hilarious video with Carolyn – ingenious! :)

    • says

      “My Big Secret…I would avoid social media at all costs if I could ‘just write books.'” — Interesting comment. This is what strikes me about the current fascination with self-publishing. As a writer, I don’t want to spend all of my free time marketing and selling books. I want to write books!

  6. says

    “Instead, think about: creating new and valuable content, sharing interesting articles, answering people’s questions, listening to what the community is saying.”

    And there you have it. Thanks, Jane.

  7. says

    Great list! Can I add a #7? “Don’t fake it.” If you are selling something, own up to that. Don’t make a new account and then hype up your book under a different name. Don’t pretend you’re doing something for me when it’s really something for you. Sadly I do see a lot of this, and it’s a huge turnoff.

  8. says

    I particularly agree with your comment on copywriting. I’ve seen a lot of writing submissions from authors and the key thing they miss in their cover letter or marketing analysis is why it would benefit the publisher to take a risk and publish their book. If you don’t capture a busy editor’s interest in the first line or two by telling them what you can do for them, your chances of success drop dramatically. The same holds true for social media.

  9. says

    My favorite line in this post: “Don’t change who you are or what you do when you market.” Such true words. Those that know you will wonder where the real you went, and those that don’t will be turned off.

  10. says

    Fantastic post!

    Just started my blog. I haven’t really approached the facebook, twitter world as far as my writing is concerned yet.

    I like the tip about making sure to be yourself. We can all read into whether a person is saying things just to get read or if they are doing them for the good of there audience.


  11. says

    Loved all of this. As authors, we need to sell books, but there’s more to social media than just a billboard hawking wares. This post was perfect. :)

  12. says

    Brilliant, Jane. To be passed along to many newbies.

    One thing that really annoys me about folks using [insert social media tool here] is always taking and never giving. Some folks just send out info, links and requests for my attention and never ‘engage.’

    When I send my own posts, links and comments, it is because I hope to interact with the community I purposefully created. I am always disappointed if my efforts fall on deaf ears, no matter how thrilling the content. Social networking requires reciprocity, not just good posts.

  13. says

    Thank you for providing such thought provoking tips. “You’re hitting up the wrong crowd…..” is really a valuable advice to be kept in mind.

  14. says

    Good stuff, Jane…thanks!

    When I see someone is following me, I always check to see how often they post. If I see more than two or three posts per day, I avoid them like a National Enquirer writer at Happy Hour. I figure, if they have time to post 6, 7, or 8 times a day, they aren’t writing or even thinking about it.

    By the way (could be because I’m “old”…58) but I HATE social media. Figure it’s all part of “the game,” though.

    – James Mayor (www.jamesmayor.com)

  15. says

    You are an excellent teacher. You provide new and interesting material with clear, concise delivery. Thanks so much for this post. It’s very helpful.

  16. says

    Great things that can be tough to keep in mind. I particularly like “patience.” I had a writer who friended me on Facebook and we chatted occasionally for a year and a half. His book was on my mind the whole time, but my reading list always had something urgent. He never tried to sell me the book, we just talked about writing. Finally, I had a break and wanted to tackle something different. I thought of his memoir, read it and loved it about six months ago. I blogged about it, and a few of my friends have now read about it.

  17. says

    Seems like it should be a simple concept, but in the swirl of social media sometimes these finer points can be missed. Thanks for the clarity!

  18. says

    Definitely at fault for #3, but at least I was able to recognize it. Being an indie can often be about trial and error, but if you look around for advice (like this), there should be a lot less of the “error.”

  19. says

    I really appreciate the way you wrote this article. Your first point made me smile because often articles like these sound very “bullhorn: where you yell, and everyone else is supposed to listen.”

    But, you did an incredible job of showing us, through this article, how to engage personally with your readers and consider what we’re looking for on the receiving end!


  20. says

    Novice blogger here, but I think one of the biggest reasons online marketing can fail is superficial interest. So many think that online marketing is necessary for writers, so they do it but unhappily, pushing against this unwelcome force.

    Perhaps the smarter mindset is to welcome this new opportunity for community, to be excited by the possibilities of broader meeting grounds, rather than to consider online marketing as an unhappy necessity.

  21. says

    I guess I’ve never told you something basic; you are my best writing friend in the whole world–mentor and inspiration, too. Can’t fathom how you do all this, but I was once young and bright. Now just bright, too bright by half, because I went the way of the “New Conventional Wisdom” and spent the whole year blogging (3 of ’em), and all the T and FB stuff. A whole year with just enough time left to support life and write the intro and the preface. I hear there’s more to a book.

    Four weeks ago I did a placeholder on my blog , stopped with the exciting/annoying twittering sound on my Tweet
    Deck, visited my FB page “just in case,” but only every couple of days. Now I’m writing “the” book we all and I have deep within. Passion is slowly overcoming excitement. I’m working it, not playing with it. Don’t know who will be out there to love my (non-fiction) book, but I guess I should tune in to that when it’s time…which is not now.

  22. says

    Patience and persistence along with being personal…all essential elements for developing good relationships.

    Thank you for your timely and helpful advice Jane!

  23. says

    I joined Twitter for the sole purpose of marketing. What I discovered was a lot of great people who share my interests and goals. Some are even successful at it. To me, now, Twitter is a place to go for inspiration. It’s how I found this blog.

  24. says

    I have a hard time with all of those! I find it hard to balance “spamming” with getting good content out and not asking anyone to do so much for me. I write a nightly blog, which I have written a book based on- so I feel like i’m giving people content in return for “spamming” them to help me- but it’s been a very delicate balance and i’m still new at it; and unfortunately I don’t see TOO many others out there like me so it’s hard to know where to go or how to start!

  25. Rachel says

    Hi Ms. Friedman,

    If you are still reading the comments, I would like to ask you two questions:

    1) If you find yourself overwhelmed by the social media/platform thing right from the get-go (as I’m sure many creative writers do), is it OK to just pay for a PR firm or a couple freelancers to blog/tweet in your stead? In other words, the Twitter and stuff would have your name, but someone else is writing it instead of you — aka “ghost-tweeting”? Do agents count this against you because you’re not using your “authentic voice”?

    2) I don’t have any friends IRL, so this makes it even harder to get started on the social media thing, because I am not at all social to begin with. I like Hope Clark’s take on being a “shy writer,” but I’m sure she at least has family and some friends in her circle. I don’t have anyone. I really would be going this alone, and I don’t have any money to hire a PR firm or even pay for freelancers (if the answer to #1 is “sure, that’s OK”). I’m unemployed, and a shut-in the likes of which would make J.D. Salinger look like Tony Robbins. If the answer to #1 is still that I, personally, have to do the platform thing as it comes from my POV, then what can I do platform-wise so I don’t have an EPIC FAIL right out of the starting gate?

    Also, I should mention that it’s probably kind of weird that I don’t have any of these things already since I’m only 19. ^_^ But still, inquiring recluses are simply suicidal just to know. (And about #1, as much of a devotee of Salinger’s brand of social networking I am, I’m willing to accept that doing #1, if it were OK, would make me sort of a “phony.”) ;-)