Writer in Residence

Social Media Magic, with Neil Wadhwa

Submitted by Teva Harrison

I met Neil Wadhwa, who is digital marketing manager for House of Anansi Press & Groundwood Books, when my book was written, edited and it was time to release it out into the wild. Scary times for a first-time author. Neil is passionate about books, and his enthusiasm is contagious. He’s a very creative marketer, approaching campaigns from all sides, looking for the best approach to really showcase the books he’s promoting. 

There’s a whack of practical information in here. If you’re trying to figure out how to get more attention for your book, to connect with your readers, to broaden your community, listen to Neil. I always do. 

What pieces do you employ for a digital campaign? What’s the usual ratio breakdown in terms of your time spent on each channel? Is that ROI driven?

It honestly depends on the book and even the author — for each book there’s a baseline I make sure we cover, which includes things like scheduled social posts, news about the book / author included in our eBlasts, blog posts, and depending on our content calendar, contests.

But then I’ll look at what makes the book appealing — is it part of a series? Is it relevant to something that’s happened within the past few months? Does the book have interesting illustrated components? — and start building the bigger pieces around that. The “on-publication” period, which I consider to be the two weeks leading up to pub-date and the one week that follows, is when the biggest push happens across all the channels and networks we use. 

I might spend the most time on Twitter for a campaign, as it’s the easiest network to post and interact on, and post on Instagram daily, but for Anansi and Groundwood, Facebook gets the biggest response in terms of click-through-rates and purchase referrals. There’s less time spent on Facebook, but more strategy.

How important are brand pages, blogs and social integration?

Huge! The campaigns we run at Anansi and Groundwood are the most successful when the authors themselves are active on social media, have their own fan page, and have a semi-active blog. Brand pages, blogs, and social integration add to the discoverability of authors and books. 

Anansi’s social networks are an amalgamation of everything happening with our frontlist and backlist. When an author has their own pages and accounts set up, it helps that author’s fans get the relevant updates they want—there’s no “noise” from updates that have nothing to do with that specific book or author—which typically results in some action taking place (e.g., an RSVP for an event, a purchase being made, or even a simple retweet or post share) at a higher rate than if the author’s fans were just using Anansi’s accounts as their resource. 

How do you, personally, feel about social media? 

I use Twitter as my everything—from sports updates to messaging TekSavvy when I have an internet problem.  It’s a news hub for me, and considering I don’t have cable, like many people I know, social media really has become where I turn to for nearly everything.

In general, each major social platform serves a purpose, which I think is great, but I’ve always been more observational than active when it comes to my personal social accounts. For anything relatively new—like Boomerang, Snapchat, Periscope, Reco, Litsy, or MC Snap, for example—I often make accounts and use the networks / apps to see how they could be used for Anansi or Groundwood before making my own personal accounts.

Is there a dramatic difference in voice between your personal social media voice and the one you bring to The House of Anansi Press?

I’m probably more colloquial and outgoing on Anansi’s accounts as opposed to my own. I treat Anansi’s social accounts like they’re my personal accounts, and my actual personal accounts get relegated to “secondary” status.

That being said, my approach with Groundwood’s accounts is a bit more “professional,” as the audience for Groundwood Books is comprised of parents and institutional buyers (i.e. they’re buying for other people), as opposed to Anansi (buying for themselves). I generally change my “voice” for each message depending on what I think works best for the audience of each specific book and author.

Do you find that the amount of time you spend on your personal accounts has been impacted (either increased or deceased) has changed since you began doing digital marketing?

It’s increased just due to the fact that I’m always online and it’s easy to switch between all the accounts I use, but my level of actively posting on my personal social accounts remains unchanged—I’m lazy on my personal accounts!

I think all the posting I’ve done over the years on work accounts—I was the Digital Marketing Manager at a software company before coming to Anansi—has resulted in my mind turning off the “you should share this online” switch in regards to my personal networks. The company accounts get all my love. (Sorry, personal accounts.)

Do you find that your social voice changes when promoting different books or interacting with different communities? 

Absolutely! Each book is its own entity and gets treated as such. The voice I use when discussing books suitable for National Aboriginal History Month is very different than when I’m discussing new titles releasing under our Spiderline imprint; the voice I use for A Small Madness, a Groundwood Book about teen-pregnancy, is very different than the voice I use for Bad Singer, an entertaining non-fiction Anansi book about amusia. 

This is why it’s so important to make sure audiences are segmented (and why it’s great when authors have their own social accounts and blogs); our Mailchimp account has over 10 different lists, and we even have a Twitter account dedicated just to our poetry titles (@AnansiPoetry). Each book gets its own voice.

Has doing this work impacted your personal voice?

Even though it’s all online, constantly interacting with people over social networks has oddly made me a lot more talkative in real life, but I don’t think it’s changed my personal online voice. (Weird!)

How important is a strong social media footprint for an author today?

This is going to sound weird, but it doesn’t have to be strong, it just has to be. Authors need a way for their fans to connect with them, while simultaneously introducing themselves to a new audience. 

If you’re an author with 20 Twitter followers and 6 Facebook Fans, that’s fine, because everyone starts at that level, but at least it gives your fans a direct path to communication with you. As an author, you don’t even have to use your social accounts just to promote your books and events 24/7—post what you’re eating, talk about where you’ve recently travelled to, share an article you thought was interesting. Everything you do is another insight to who you are as a person, and will help make your fanbase even stronger. Audiences aren’t just interested in the books, they’re interested in the person behind the books. Stay at it long enough and your social media footprint will become strong without you even realizing it.

What kinds of books behave best in social media campaigns? Is it more about the book itself or the author?

I’ve personally found that books in a series perform best, as well as books that touch on niche subjects (or “traditional” subjects in non-traditional ways). For the most part, books by new authors (or international authors that are new to Canada) need a bit of extra social love, whereas books by authors who have already published a book or two can fare a bit better with less of a social push. 

How important is author/illustrator involvement in the execution of a strong social media campaign?

There are “big” authors that don’t have any social media presence, which doesn’t hinder the execution of a social / digital campaign (Patrick deWitt doesn’t have any social accounts, but people will buy his books based off his name alone, for example). But for the most part, author/illustrator involvement will always take an online campaign from good to great.

It’s important for authors (and illustrators, if applicable) to be involved in the campaigns not only to make the campaign stronger, but to reach people who don’t know a thing about Anansi, or don’t have any interest in publishers themselves. Not everyone is going to be an avid reader to the point where they follow publishers’ social accounts, and author involvement help gets around this. Authors and illustrators also have their own built in networks that have been built up over the years, and being active on social media helps reach these networks directly.

What are the channels you currently employ for a campaign? Are there channels you used to use but don’t any longer? Why?

The core channels we use in one form or another are Facebook, Twitter, Mailchimp, and WordPress, with secondary networks being Instagram and Goodreads, and tertiary being Snapchat and occasionally Vine. 

The one channel we used but ultimately abandoned was Periscope. We tried it out a few times — we lived streamed our 2015 Poetry Bash, a tour of our new office, and even an interview with Kelly Mellings — and the results were encouraging, but I always run into technical issues when streaming over Periscope, whether the issues are on my end or on the audience’s end, and there’s just a general lack-of-interest (I’ve found, at least) in getting people excited about watching a Periscope live stream. I’m glad we tried it out, and I’m certainly not ruling it out of anything we do in the future, but for now… it’s on hold.

Are there a few key best practices an author (self-published or with a publishing house) can employ to lift their work through social channels?

If you’re an author currently reading this, I would encourage you to do the following:

  1. Start a blog and create a content calendar. Setting up a blog is simple (WordPress, Tumblr, and Squarespace are all great options) and you can schedule posts weeks and months ahead of time.
  2. Start a newsletter. All the content from your blog, and snippits of your book(s), fits in the newsletter perfectly (the content is also great for sharing on your social networks), you can schedule newsletters ahead of time (an update once every 4-6 weeks is fine) and there are several great (and free) email marketing tools available online. 
  3. Be consistent. Don’t let large gaps of time go between your social posts and your newsletters, otherwise you’ll appear inactive, which, in some cases, is worse than having no social profiles at all. If you find interesting stuff online, share it! It’s your profile, keep it active.

And throughout all this, ask for help where needed. I’m speaking as someone who has experience with digital marketing, so I know it’s not as simple as I’m making it out to be (and I’ve purposely omitted a few things), especially for authors who are suddenly trying to figure the online world out. If you’re self-published, turn to your friends and Google for advice, if you’re an author working with a publishing house, don’t be afraid to email the digital marketing team for advice!

Do you ever check out and turn the phone and computer off, or are you monitoring whenever you’re awake?

I’m monitoring whenever I’m awake—nights, evenings, weekends, anytime… but I love it. I get to talk about books non-stop! The one time I fully unplug is when I’m on vacation, and even then I might check-in here and there when the wifi is good.

What are your favourite book-related accounts from each channel you use?

On Instagram I’m a big fan of Tiny The Usurper and Penguin Art Group, I love everything Melville House does on Twitter, and I really enjoy how Bookriot uses Snapchat to showcase new and noteworthy books. I’m on the /r/books subreddit often as there’s a continuous flow of author and publisher news I spend time reading, and it looks like I’m following no book-related accounts on Facebook (this has a lot to do with how I use—or, don’t use—my personal Facebook account).

What are your favourite accounts that have nothing to do with books?

This list is super-small (mainly because all my favourite accounts are book or publishing related): I just moved to a new house with a balcony, and Summer is about to begin, so houseplantjournal on Instagram has been pretty great to follow, and on Twitter I’m always enthralled by the stats posted over at Ace of MLB and the logo history posted by Chris Creamer (my personal Twitter account is all sports and publishing).

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.

Teva Harrison is a writer and graphic artist. She is the author of the critically acclaimed graphic memoir, In-Between Days, which is based on her graphic series about living with cancer published in The Walrus. It was named one of the most anticipated books of 2016 by the Globe and Mail, which also named the author one of 16 Torontonians to Watch. She has commented on CBC Radio and in the Globe and Mail about her experience. Numerous health organizations have invited her to speak publicly on behalf of the metastatic cancer community. She lives in Toronto.