Social Media Marketing

Truth, Lies, and What it Means to Win

As a novelist, the two questions I’m asked the most are “What is your book about?” and “How many books have you sold?”

I love answering the first one. Writing was my passion before it was ever my job, and when someone asks with sincere curiosity about something I’ve created, I’m thrilled to share. Yet the second question feels a lot riskier. Part of me wonders what weird rules of society even cause people to ask this—do they also ask restaurant owners how many customers they’ve served?—but I can only assume good intentions. Either they’re excited for me and want to celebrate, they don’t know many novelists and are genuinely interested in the business side of it, or they’re considering a publication of their own and are wondering how lucrative it might be in six months’ time. Maybe a few people simply want to ridicule my low numbers and so-called artistic endeavor, but I suspect most of those are only in my head. Hopefully.

So here it goes: truth, lies, and what it means to win. On second thought, I’ll put the bad news first.

LIES

  • Marketing on social media is easy.
  • I am more interesting than 99.9% of the internet and its users.
  • Tweeting about a book will generate instant sales and dedicated fans.
  • The whole world will immediately know about my book because (a) it’s published and (b) it appears prominently on a Facebook author page.
  • Bloggers make thousands of dollars sitting at home in their pajamas.
  • Any sentence ever uttered that describes a book as “passive income.”

Basically, it boils down to the myth that writers can type a few words, click a few buttons, and watch the money roll in. Sorry, but there is no magic formula.

TRUTH

  • Effective marketing strategies have short-term, mid-term, and long-term goals. Visibility is only part of the equation. Especially on social media, promotion has to be meaningful, targeted, and interactive.
  • I am one interesting voice among millions (billions, maybe, that sounds more depressing). Rising above the noise is necessary, but it’s not just about being louder than everyone else. Social media marketing is about reciprocity and collaboration. People care about people who care about people.
  • In real life, I don’t say hi to a stranger in the grocery store and then suddenly have a lifelong friend. Just because people follow me on Twitter or like my Facebook page, it doesn’t mean they trust me. Building a following is about engagement and consistency over time, not a sudden spike in numbers.
  • We are inundated with people’s online fundraisers and multi-level marketing scams. It takes some repeated efforts for anyone to actually recognize my book in a crowd, but experts will agree that social media users don’t just want a sales pitch. They want quality, enriching content. People need to buy into what I’m offering for free before I ask them to buy what I’m selling.
  • I sometimes wear pajamas when I blog.
  • Behind every “passive income” royalty check are untold hours of writing, revising, editing, and marketing. People who do make decent incomes on YouTube or Amazon Kindle didn’t just wake up one morning and find themselves there. It’s hard work, not magic.

So is writing just a bleak, meaningless wasteland? Absolutely not. While perhaps any art can be defined as “beautiful but impractical,” there are real, useful connections that have come from my social media efforts. Laying the groundwork takes time, and most rewards are not monetary. Yes, I sell books, and I want to keep selling. But winning is realizing that there’s a whole lot of giving that must come before getting.

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The Best Books for Middle School

Finding engaging, age-appropriate reading material for middle schoolers can be hard.

As a middle school English teacher, I often receive questions about finding the best books for middle schoolers. Parents want reading material that’s challenging, educational, and suitable for young minds; students want books that are interesting, relatable, and entertaining enough to finish. In an ongoing project, I’ve asked teachers and students to contribute to this list of the best books for middle school. Whether it’s for a class book report or some fun summer reading, scroll down to find twentieth-century classics, contemporary hits, and a few you’ve never heard of in all genres. I keep it updated, so let me know if there are titles you think should be added to the list.

Best Books for Middle Schoolers:

Low Fantasy (Magic/Myth in the Real World)

Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
Percy Jackson & The Olympians series by Rick Riordan
The Bartimaeus trilogy by Jonathan Stroud
Lockwood & Co. series by Jonathan Stroud
City of the Beasts by Isabel Allende
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Doll Bones by Holly Black
Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins
The Michael Vey series by Richard Paul Evans
The Diviners by Libba Bray
The Inkheart trilogy by Cornelia Funke
The Midnighters trilogy by Scott Westerfeld
Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

High Fantasy (Set in Alternate World)

The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins
His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman
Redwall series by Brian Jacques
The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini
The Harper Hall trilogy by Anne McCaffrey
Dragon Run by Patrick Matthews
The Five Kingdoms series by Brandon Mull
The Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth
The Everworld series by K.A. Applegate
The Selection series by Kiera Cass
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
The Wings of Fire series by Tui T. Sutherland

Science Fiction

The Maze Runner series by James Dashner
The Infinity Ring series by James Dashner
Dissonance by Erica O’Rourke
The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
Virals by Kathy Reichs
Maximum Ride series by James Patterson
Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
Things Not Seen by Andrew Clements
Burning Midnight by Will McIntosh
I am Number Four by Pittacus Lore
The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

Historical

The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis
The Book Thief 
by Markus Zusak
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
A Night Divided by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by M.T. Anderson
Code Talker by Joseph Bruchac
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary Blackwood
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Mystery / Thriller

When you Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddox
Stolen Children by Peg Kehret
Dead Girls Don’t Lie by Jennifer Shaw Wolf
Do You Know the Monkey Man by Dori Hillestad Butler
The Compound by S.A. Bodeen
The Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins
The Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz
Need by Joelle Charbonneau
The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

Literary

Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Holes by Louis Sachar
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
Eleven by Tom Rogers
Long Division by Kiese Laymon
The Big Nate series by Lincoln Peirce

Biography / Nonfiction (YA Editions)

I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
Chasing Lincoln’s Killer by James L. Swanson
Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah
No Summit Out of Sight by Jordan Romero
The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom
March [graphic novel] by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin
Women in Science by Rachel Ignotofsky
The Boys Who Challenged Hitler by Phillip Hoose
The Duel: The Parallel Lives of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr by Judith St. George
Black Pioneers of Science and Invention by Louis Haber
Mud, Sweat, and Tears by Bear Grylls
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Classics – Fantasy and Science Fiction

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams 
The Giver
 by Lois Lowry
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Peter and Wendy by J. M. Barrie
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

Classics – Historical and Literary

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
Animal Farm by George Orwell
The Hardy Boys series by various authors as Franklin W. Dixon
The Nancy Drew Mystery stories by various authors as Carolyn Keene
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

100+ titles for The Best Books for Middle School
Know any novels that I should add? Contact me to add them to the list!