By Aislinge Samuel
Anyone else get information overload when trying to choose their next book? With so many novels being published—and let’s not forget self-published works—it feels like there’s an endless list.
With an over-saturation of the book market readers are swimming through a sea of books, and authors are struggling to get their books seen and heard—or rather read. In a clickbait culture where traditional marketing can be hit and miss, authors can have a hard time finding the right space and marketing tactics for their work.
As a result, some authors have turned to their own forms of marketing on social media. Readers now have the opportunity to discover new books by interacting with their authors. This has led to readers forming parasocial relationships with authors, as the writers of their favourite books share their thoughts, lives and writing processes.
Parasocial relationships are generally one-sided. It’s often seen between audiences and influencers, where the viewer maintains interest and invests time and energy into the other person’s life. But the influencer might not even know who they are.
While some readers may very well be in a parasocial relationship with their favourite author, other readers may actually interact with authors. Social media has created a platform for people to comment and directly communicate, often creating feelings of a tight-knit community.
But this varies depending on the social media platform: Facebook and Instagram focus more on engagement, while Tiktok’s fast-paced, scroll-focused platform is better suited to authors getting their books noticed via particular trends.
One such novelist is Xiran Jay Zhao, author of Iron Widow, who gained a huge amount of traction for her book through social media, particularly Tiktok. I discovered Iron Widow through a Tiktok of Zhao’s and it embedded a seed of intrigue in my fantasy-lover brain. And when I happened to see it in a bookstore, I immediately picked it up. It wasn’t until months later that I started to see the book in traditional marketing.
Zhao’s Tiktok followers, over 100 000 of them, regularly see her in cosplays of her own characters, humorous videos and commentary on how she gained popularity for her book (in a rather meta-analysis).
Some of her videos include how to pronounce the names and places in her book—an often hot topic with fantasy books—talking about romance tropes within Iron Widow, and explaining why she dressed as a cow in her author photo (it was an old promise to a friend).
Similarly, author Jennifer L. Armentrout, known for her fantasy series Blood and Ash, and others, has nearly 300 000 followers on Instagram. Her posts are a range of book updates, celebrating publishing milestones, funny photos, and cute pets.
By following her, readers get direct updates and can celebrate the milestones with her, laugh and bond over similar experiences we enjoy with friends and family in real life. This has led some readers to follow Armentrout for more information about her books, and the author herself.
Armentrout has also extended her interactions with her readers beyond online communication by starting Apollycon, a convention for authors, publishers, vendors and readers to all get together. The popularity of her books and her online presence have aided one another, and Armentrout now creates open spaces for other authors and readers to discover each other.
Social media provides a platform for authors to create new kinds of relationships with their readers. Both the creator and the consumer now have access to new ways of interacting with each other, whether it’s the launch of new books, key life events or just sharing thoughts on their favourite reads.
For readers, waiting for news on your favourite author’s new book, from the actual author, is a new way of funnelling the endless booklist into a more manageable and enjoyable reader experience.
Authors are no longer so beholden to traditional forms of marketing and have some control over their books’ presence in the online world. In some cases, it is the author’s own endeavours on social media which gain their book popularity. They understand how to utilise trends, become popular on different platforms and, as all authors are readers themselves, they understand the impact of personally engaging with their readership (such as appealing to the cosplay community).
This is not to say that traditional marketing doesn’t work, but for authors who take a personal interest and can utilise social media it can certainly be to their benefit, and the benefit of their readers.
Aislinge Samuel is currently undertaking a Master of Creative Writing, Publishing and Editing at the University of Melbourne. She is the current co-editor of the MZ blog, and enjoys writing, baking, and playing with her cat. More of Aislinge’s work can be found on her Instagram @ash_with_ink