Social Media for Children’s and Adult Books: Who Posts Where?

Look at some of the top authors on Twitter and you’ll see that the list is pretty evenly divided between authors of books for children and adults.  Paulo Coelho weighs in at 12.2 million, followed by JK Rowling at 11.3 million.  Then a steep fall to Anthony Bourdain (6.1) and John Green (5.33), Stephen King (3.52) and Neil Gaiman (2.62), and Chris Colfer (2.52) and Margaret Atwood (1.7).  You get the idea.

Facebook mirrors Twitter in that Coelho is still at the top, but with 20.5 million followers.  Others are closer to parity with their Twitter followers, e.g. Stephen King has five million on Facebook while John Green (who’s on every major platform) has three million-plus on Facebook. James Patterson has a healthy 3.7 million.  Lemony Snicket has a half million under A Series of Unfortunate Events and Rick Riordan has more than three million under Percy Jackson.

Beyond Twitter and Facebook, the numbers are generally much smaller and harder to track.  Still, in conversation with agents, publishers, social media gurus and writers, it’s clear that authors are generally encouraged to embrace one or more social media platform. However, what they really accomplish in promoting themselves differs depending on what their goals and expectations are their level of commitment and skill.

To post or not to post

Most agree that authors should engage with social media only if they are comfortable. Rachel Fershleiser, HMH Executive Director of Audience Development and Community Engagement, says she’s a “huge believer in authors setting their own boundaries,” both in terms of where to post and what to write about.  She encourages authors to try Instagram, because it’s generally the least contentious, and allows an author to express his or her personality “without the stress” of a network like Twitter. Writers House Digital Director Daniel Berkowitz thinks that, for many, how one interacts on social media “almost runs counter to how an author operates.” Authors want their posts to reflect the same level of writing that their books exhibit, and so are anxious about achieving that, especially on “of-the-moment” platforms like Twitter.  In her blog post, So You’re An Author Without a Social Media Presence: Now What?, Jane Friedman warns that, while engaging in social media offers “an opportunity to learn about your readership as well as better establish your platform,” it’s “not necessarily an opportunity to hard sell the book you’re about to release.”

Finding the right channel (or platform)

Some authors take naturally to a particular channel, and some channels are ideal for certain types of books.  According to Julie Trelstad, whose company Julie Ink helps authors with their digital platforms, YA authors interact with their teen fans on a range of platforms, especially YouTube, Facebook and Instagram.  But reaching young readers directly (at least through middle grade) is difficult.  Because of COPPA laws, children’s books can’t be marketed to their target audience (if under age 13), so authors have to broaden their scope in order to reach the key influencers.  Establishing oneself within the children’s literary community – with teachers and librarians – pays off in brand awareness and, hopefully, in sales.  Meanwhile, authors can attract children to their own websites through games and activities.  Trelstad’s children’s book authors tend to rely on Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook and YouTube – though she thinks the latter is underutilized except by BookTubers.  Video and chat service, Google Hangouts, is used in classrooms to host authors, and some book clubs have started using it too, because up to ten people can be on one chat.  With fewer authors touring, this is likely to become more popular, aided by Google’s significant presence in classrooms.’s Pete McCarthy believes that, done right, social media is “one of the most cost-effective ways” of marketing an author.  He believes middle-grade authors often ignore Goodreads because they forget it’s a good place to meet their readers’ parents.

There are other places where authors have staked their claim: Sci-fi author Chuck Wendig has a writing blog, Terrible Minds, and is big on Twitter, while Veronica Roth curates a Tumblr called The Art of Not Writing, where she mixes writing tips and book-related updates with popular internet memes. She and John Green are active on Snapchat and on Instagram (197.3k and 2.3 million respectively), and so is Chris Colfer (1.2 mil.).  Not too surprising, Anthony Bourdain has taken to Instagram (2.4 million), as have other cooking and lifestyle authors, but most have followers in the thousands – and the bigger numbers belong to children’s authors like Rick Riordan and Green.

Social media’s dark side

Inkwell’s Stephen Barbara, who agents both adult and children’s books, cautions that there are risks to authors: “For writers, social media can be a great place to share one’s ideas and enthusiasms, and to connect with readers and other authors. These online communities have their own rules and norms, though, and sometimes writers run afoul of what the larger crowd thinks—politically, socially, for choices they’ve made in their careers. That’s when we see the controversies, the pile-ons, the readers saying they won’t buy an author’s books again. Sometimes what you don’t know can hurt you, online,” says Barbara. JK Rowling discovered this recently when she apologized for one of her political posts, and authors like S.E. Hinton and Meg Rosoff have been dissed for a range of transgressions. recently had a story about these “culture cops.”

Barbara encourages his clients to use social media if they are passionate about doing so, “and some have done amazingly well on one platform or another. It works especially well for inherently social books—the sort of books people want to discuss endlessly (e.g., Between the World and Me). It’s more complex than merely setting up a Twitter account, though. It’s how you use it, how it fits with the larger story you’re telling as an author. And it can be challenging because things in this world change so quickly. Tomorrow there will be a new platform people are using.” Fershleiser says that, in some ways, “adult authors have more freedom” because they don’t have to worry about offending parents or librarians – though they still have their readers’ sensibilities to consider.  Generally, the younger an author’s audience, the more thoughtful they have to be about how much they want to say.

Still, as Lucille Rettino, VP Marketing and Publicity at Tor/Forge makes clear, children’s book authors need to be on social media because “with teens, it’s almost expected that they will have some sort of relationship with their authors.”  What happens, she wonders, as these teens become adults?  Will they have the same expectations?

Other options

Most experts think that an author website is a plus, especially if it draws readers to it, as in the case of sites for kids, with games and activities.  With authors of books for adults, there are other benefits. Bestselling author Joseph Kanon says that “the feature I most enjoy is hearing directly from readers (I try to answer everybody who writes in).  I can only hope this helps builds a readership– in any case, it’s a delight to hear from people (even when they’re pointing out mistakes).” Pete McCarthy believes that, if an author has, or plans to have, several books, a website is “a good center of gravity” – where videos can be posted, events listed, signup encouraged for a blog or newsletter, etc. He also thinks that a website can show the author in a different light from, say, a more serious Amazon or Goodreads bio.  He points to Stephen King as an author who has managed to show different aspects of himself on different platforms.  For authors who fear the complexities of managing multiple platforms, tools like Buffer and Hootsuite help manage the process.

Meanwhile, new options are looming. Amazon is supposedly working on two social media networks:  Spark, a shopping social network, which will rival Pinterest’s social commerce network and Anytime, a standalone messaging app, which could challenge WeChat, Facebook, and Snapchat.

The point where authors have done their part and publishers take over is hard to define, but publishers interviewed agreed that publishers buying ads on Facebook and using Goodreads for pre-pub promotion made sense, and several mentioned  that some Instagram influencers and BookTubers, as well as bloggers, are getting paid for their promotional efforts.  Companies like BigHoncho manage these campaigns.

In Conclusion

So what is the golden mean between no social media and too much?  Here are some general rules, according to the experts interviewed here:

  1. Have goals, manage your expectations, and accept that you are not going to become a social media star, because that’s not your job. John Green, the exception, rose to YouTube stardom quite apart from his novels, though it dovetailed nicely with his success as an author.
  2. Participate in social media with a consistent brand, key words, colors etc. Where possible, make sure everything is searchable. But remember that each platform and network has its own personality, so adjust your voice accordingly.
  3. Be consistent with the social media channels you decide to post to. Pay attention to what works and do more of it, regularly. Jettison the rest.
  4. Think long and hard before posting controversial views that may turn off your fan base. That is especially true for YA authors.
  5. Adult authors, be more visual – use videos, Instagram and YouTube. And consider Google Hangouts for books clubs. Nonfiction authors, use Pinterest, especially for crafts, design and cookbooks.
  6. Middle grade authors, remember your readers’ parents are on Goodreads.
  7. YA authors, use every platform, but remember a lot of your audience is on YouTube, so don’t leave it to BookTubers to promote you.

And then there’s Jane Friedman’s advice: “If you hate, dread, avoid, or rail against social media, don’t use it. There are other things you can do: write guest posts or articles for website and blogs, be a guest on podcasts or vlogs, do your own audio or video content, teach online classes, organize in-person events or signings, participate on private message boards, be a guest at book clubs, and reach out personally to people in your network through a personal email (which is always underestimated and undervalued as a marketing and promotion tool).”

Circling back to Inkwell’s Stephen Barbara, when a writer engages in social media, he or she has to know how to navigate the conversation.  But if successful, “there is a path to the audience. Hans Christian Andersen used to fly a kite to let people know he had finished a new story. Now authors send up a post on Facebook or Twitter, and hopefully they gather readers in a similar way.” To quote another major multichannel success, Martha Stewart: “That’s a good thing.”

Leave a Comment


  1. Aug 7, 20175:04 pm

    Excellent article. Social media is a must for everyone in the book industry. Thanks!

  2. Aug 7, 20175:28 pm

    Good information to consider. Thank you.

  3. Aug 7, 20176:30 pm

    Very interesting information. Is clear, if you are not in social media, you are invisible.

  4. Aug 8, 20178:08 am

    for your reminders that take off the pressure: 1.) no expectation to be a Soc Me rock star and 2.) stick to platforms where your readers live AND that you *enjoy*.

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