This is a guest post by Sara Shepard, author of the Pretty Little Liars series and upcoming series The Amateurs.
It’s funny to think that the world was very different ten years ago when I launched my first YA book series, Pretty Little Liars, but it was. First off, I barely had a book launch for the series. I went to two bookstores, one of them in my hometown—and my mother walked through Barnes & Noble, trying to drag teenagers to the chairs set up, saying, “My daughter wrote a book. You’d really like it!”
Unsure of how I could make a name for myself, I created a MySpace page. I went to Meg Cabot’s and Stephanie Meyer’s MySpace pages and tried to poach their friends. (Sorry, guys.) It worked—or something worked—and Pretty Little Liars gained a steady, faithful readership long before the TV show debuted.
Between then and now, I’ve written 18 books for the series, six books for the Lying Game series, two for Perfectionists, three standalone novels, and developed my new series, The Amateurs. If you’re playing along, that’s 30 books in 10 years. During this time I also moved across the country, went through a divorce, moved across the state, and had two children. People do more than this in 10 years, but I name all these things because this left me little time to stay up-to-date on what was happening on the YA scene, much less on the ins and outs of social media. In some ways, I think that my MySpace days were the only time I was really ahead of the curve—and I had no idea what I was doing.
These days, with the YA field so crowded with amazing works, writers, and ideas, it’s tantamount to stay informed and plugged in. I was fortunate enough to have the power of PLL on TV to raise awareness for the PLL book series, but when it came to launching a new series, I thought the power of PLL would carry me through. But guess what? It didn’t. What I realized is that I hadn’t put in any work to get the book out there and books don’t become visible by magic.
That’s when it hit me: I needed to go back to my scrappy MySpace roots, back when I was a debut. It’s a whole new generation of YA readers today, people who want connection, conversation, and relevance. Now, I’m preparing to launch my new book series with Freeform (Disney/Hyperion), The Amateurs, and I’m taking nothing for granted.
That’s the secret—as an author, you can’t take anything for granted. It’s about finding your readers—and new readers—and remaining dedicated to them. Here are some social strategies I’m using for (hopefully!) second-term success.
It’s All About the Pitch
Readers fell in love with PLL, so I figured they wanted something similar yet different to what PLL was. It’s where I started in thinking about The Amateurs—a series full of mystery and soap, but with a different formula. The characters in the new book are often very damaged, far worse than those in PLL. I also brought in two male POVs to shake things up. The story also has a huge twist at the end. I used these hooks to entice new readers when talking about the series on Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, whatever. I want to make sure people know they’re not going to be reading a Pretty Little Liars part 19. This is something new, but they’ll love the world just as much.
Support Your (Online) Reviewers
Bookstagrammers, Booktubers, and book bloggers make a huge difference. It’s so wonderful to see the passion in these readers—they’re gushing about books they love in the same way I would have as a teenager/young adult. Connecting with them, reminding them how much they matter—that’s huge for a new series. Almost more important than getting a mention in a magazine. (There. I said it.)
Keep Your Friends Close
On social media, YA authors celebrate other YA authors. I’ve always known this—since I started out, the YA community has been small, tight, and supportive. Only now, since so many people don’t live in New York City (including me), so much of the YA author-to-author love is communicated online. And as weird as it is, fans love to see authors communicating on social. It’s like a peek into a world book lovers have been long fascinated with. (Think about the famous letters between Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West, Anais Nin and Henry Miller, and Sylvia Plath’s miserable letters home.)
I see it like this: I get to communicate with a friend I know in the business/ support someone’s book birthday/ write a shout-out to someone new I admire… and fans get to see what writers talk about when we’re not, well, writing books.
Make New Friends, Too
Something else I’ve noticed is that when you follow a fan on a social site, it makes their day. This summer, I wanted to expand my Instagram account, but I wasn’t really sure how to do it. So I decided to follow all the PLL (TV) fan pages (again, I realize how fortunate I am here to have this built-in following. It is because of a lot of hard work on the show’s part for sure.). I can’t tell you how many reposts I saw of screenshots showing simply that I’d followed people.
If you’re an author, and you connect with a reader, the reader will be thrilled if you follow them. Know why? Their posts show up in your feed now, which makes you more likely to get a peek into their world. (Which is often a lot of fun!) When I started out on social, I followed very few people because I didn’t want a clogged feed. But then I realized: that’s not why I want social media. It’s about connecting. Supporting. Saying to everybody, “Your posts are awesome, too. We’re all awesome!” And, of course, we all are.