Manage your expectations

An author known for her nonfiction work recently complained that her social media followers hadn’t purchased her first novel.

She was terribly disappointed. In fact, it was clear she felt betrayed by the thousands in her social networks.

I understand her frustration.

Like so many other authors, she has heard lots about the importance of social media in book promotion. There’s a reasonable expectation that a chunk of those connections will buy your book, right?

Unfortunately, it’s an expectation that isn’t necessarily based on reality. And that’s why it’s important to manage your expectations.

Manage your expectations about social media

manage your expectations 2There are a couple of reasons why any author, but especially this author, might have unrealistic expectations about what’s possible with social media.

To begin with, social media algorithms are such that most of your followers don’t even see what you share about your book. This is especially true with Twitter. Blink once and your feed has all new tweets.

And if most of your connections come through your Facebook business page (which is not your profile), fuhgeddaboudit. The only way most will see anything there is if you pay to “boost” a post so it gets fed to more newsfeeds.

Just ask famous authors

In addition, the size of your social network isn’t an accurate predictor of your book’s success, as The New York Times points out in “Millions of Followers? For Book Sales, ‘It’s Unreliable.’

For example, popular musician Billie Eilish has 97 million Instagram followers and 6 million Twitter followers, but only sold 64,000 copies of her book in the first six months.

Billie Eilish has 97 million Instagram followers and 6 million Twitter followers, but only sold 64,000 copies of her book in the first six months.Click to tweet

But here’s there’s another even more important reason why the disappointed author’s social media followers didn’t buy her book: They weren’t interested in it.

Who’s in your networks?

Pretty simple, isn’t it?

This author’s social network is built around an impressive nonfiction body of work that has no connection to her novel. That’s why it’s unrealistic to expect that those she’s connected to for one type of writing will automatically be interested in anything she writes in a totally different arena.

It’s a reminder that you need to know your book’s target audience. They might not be your colleagues on LinkedIn or your high school classmates on Facebook.

Friends and family might disappoint, too

I also hear regularly from many authors who are crushed because too few of their friends and family are buying their books.

I feel their pain, believe me. Don’t get me started on how my siblings were too busy to watch me talk about my first book on national TV.

Some push their relatives to review their books on Amazon, then are annoyed when they don’t.

Your relatives are doing you a favor when they don’t review your book. Family reviews violate Amazon’s review policy because relatives can’t be objective.

(Look at it this way: It’s one less opportunity for you to be disappointed.)

Your relatives are doing you a favor when they don't review your book. Family reviews violate Amazon's review policy because relatives can't be objective.Click to tweet

Try to be fair

If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll realize there’s a good chance your friends and family aren’t interested in what you’re writing about.

And, quite frankly, it’s unfair of you to expect them to spend their hard-earned dollars on something they won’t read.

You might think they should do it out of loyalty, or maybe curiosity, but I disagree. Judging by the number of authors who complain about close connections who don’t buy their books, I’m a bit of a lone voice here.

Continue to tell your friends, family, and social media connections about your books. It’s a smart thing to do, and it’s not a waste of time.

But don’t hold it against them when they don’t buy. They know what they enjoy reading, and it might not be what you write. It’s not personal — it’s life.

Manage your expectations about the marketplace

You also want to manage your expectations on a more macro level — the publishing universe.

Unless your book is on a very niche topic, it faces a lot of competition.

That means that yours has to be better. You also have to work to make sure the people you wrote it for know about it.

No overnight successes

Even with a great book and an exceptional marketing effort, most of us aren’t going to hit The New York Times best-seller list. Bona fide best sellers (as opposed to short-term Amazon category best sellers) are usually traditionally published books by authors with large, well-established audiences.

You’ll also be less stressed if you don’t see your book’s launch as the be-all and end-all.

Sure, do your best to introduce your book to your ideal readers as soon as it’s published, but don’t stop there. If you understand that this is a long process that only starts with a launch, your book sales are more likely to meet your expectations.

Introduce your book to your ideal readers as soon as it's published, but don't stop there. If you understand that this is a long process that only starts with a launch, your book sales are more likely to meet your expectations.Click to tweet

And please, try not to be angry or disappointed with people who aren’t as interested in your book as you’d like. Writing, producing, and marketing a book is hard enough. Protect yourself by avoiding that extra, toxic layer of resentment.

Focus instead on reaching your ideal readers. It’s the best use of your time.

Much of this is article is about understanding your book’s audience. Who do you think is most likely to buy your book?

(Editor’s note: This article was first published in January 2014. It has been updated and expanded.)

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  1. Quite informative especially to NewBie authors who are seeking acceptance of what they’ve written. You’re right friends and relatives have no interest in what you’ve written or how well it has been written. And as you’ve stated, they also don’t want to hurt your feelings in any manner. The only exception to this would be a friend/relative who a published author, where they would put their relationship to you on the back burner, and evaluate your endeavor on its own merits.

    The only thing friend and relatives are good for is to buy copies of your book, so you can start off with a HIGH RANKING on Amazon. And the more friends/relatives you have the better off you are.

    1. Thanks, Robin. I’ll disagree with you on that last point, whether you’re a newbie or not. If friends and family aren’t the target market for a book, they aren’t going to buy it to support an Amazon best seller campaign. Honestly, if they’re not interested, they’re not interested. As authors, we always want to be putting our time and energy into reaching the right people — and there’s a good chance they aren’t the “closest” people.


  2. I agree completely. My family are not very interested in what I write because it’s folklore. They may be when they get my age but my buyers are seniors or others buying for a present for seniors.

  3. This article is right on target. You’d have to move mountains to have friends and family believe in your work. Even though they may not be interested in the type of things you write about, it is also hard for people you grew up around to take you seriously.

    1. You make a good point about being taken seriously, J.B. I hadn’t thought about it like that, but you’re right.


    2. I agree about friends and relatives usually not taking one as seriously worthy enough for them to
      buy your book. What’s that old saying about “familiarity breeding contempt?” O K, it’s not contempt but more like blatant disinterest. More likely to buy your book are people you’ve met for the first time. — Philip Reiss

      1. Philip, while the disinterest doesn’t leave an author with a good feeling, maybe it’s just as well. The lack of interest leaves you with more books to give to people you can count on to leave an honest reader review at Amazon and other online retailers, eh?


  4. I have a lot of readers, but I don’t know what they like reading. I don’t know if my writings is what they wanted in the first place. I just write and people read. I’m fortunate that people enjoy my writings. Most of my readers are from the UK. I guess they like what I have to say. I’m grateful for that.

    1. Norma, I’m sure you’re glad that you have those readers and don’t have to rely on family and friends.


  5. On the contrary, all of my friends and family purchased copies of my books. I don’t know if it is out of curiosity, loyalty or a matter of interest in the topics. I am grateful for them, they are my true inspiration and now my books are purchased internationally.

  6. I think along with publishing our first book we also need to develop a thicker skin, and try very hard not to be so disappointed, and hurt, when family and friends do not respond as we had hoped they would, just for our sake. Remember, we did not originally write our book or books for family and friends, we had a passion or driving force for doing so, don’t lose sight of that, and continue on. Feel good about yourself for completing your book and having it published, then find the right market for your material, and you won’t be so personally disappointed. Best of luck to all authors out there.

    Mary Byrne

    1. Mary, you are so right! I think part of the problem is that writing is so personal — that book is such a part of who we are — that we feel let down when those around us don’t seem too interested. But we’re not always that interested in their passions, either, right?

      Thanks for the wise observation.


  7. Thank you for writing an article with the intention of reducing our (authors’) heartaches. It is indeed painful to see our perceived closest companions (friends and relatives) when they don’t buy our books. It is even more painful to see them spend money buying something else (like other books). What Sandra shared is of course truism – if we lower our expectations, we reduce our disappointments (which is also shared in my book “Wisdom on How to Live Life”). But then it begs the question: what or who is a friend? When we (authors) are in need of support and they don’t give it, are they “true” friends?

    1. Good question, Tommy. In situations like this, it helps to think about the other ways that friends demonstrate friendship. If you (the proverbial “you”) hadn’t written a book, you wouldn’t be questioning the friendship, right?


  8. I tend to give family and close friends my published books. Those interested in writing a review are greatly appreciated but mostly they offer verbal comments.

  9. Good article. But I was thinking just the other day that [some of] my family and friends seem the MOST interested in my books. I write memoir—maybe they’re just checking to see if I renamed-then-bashed them, or they’ve seen me scribbling forever and wonder what all the practice has amounted to. Some are also loyal reviewers (with prodding), and they do seem to earnestly enjoy the books. But your point about finding appropriate readers holds true in my case just as much. We want being ‘a household name’ not to mean ten households.

  10. Thank you for this encouragement, and reminder that not everyone who knows an author will be interested in reading what they write! That has been slowly dawning on me since my book was published. Some say they will buy it, but really don’t. Others have bought it, and it really is ministering to them. Which is what the goal is anyway.

    1. I’m glad it struck a chord with you, Rebecca. As you’ve realized, your goal is to reach the RIGHT readers, and that isn’t always the people closest to you. It’s not personal — it’s just life. We’re all different and because of that, we have different interests.

      Whether or not somebody buys and/or reads your book shouldn’t be a friendship test, right?


  11. Good advice. But even if family and friends don’t read your books, some of them may either recommend them, and/or buy them as gifts. One friend of mine (bless his little cotton socks) has bought dozens of my books to give to his clients, friends, new friends. He gets me to sign them, and they make good introductions for him. Win-win. Some friends expect freebies, and get moody when I ask for a slice of their weekly wage packet because I’m their chum. They don’t always get the point, and even if they do they still never buy a book…

    1. Thanks, Arabella. Nobody’s disappointed when a friend buys dozens of their books as gifts, so no need to manage expectations in that situation. I’m curious about something else in your comment, though. Do you ask friends outright to buy your book?


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