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Bestselling author Terry Fallis: "Books don't market themselves"

Terry Fallis, the Canada Reads winner for The Best Laid Plans, talks about bringing an engineer's sensibility to his work, a Margaret Atwood tweet that made his day, and what he is looking for in our upcoming Twitter competition. 

When did you first start using social media and in what role? 
I started podcasting in April 2006. I co-created a weekly show about public relations called Inside PR. Over the next four years, I co-hosted over 200 episodes and then turned the mic over to a colleague. The show still runs today. I’ve podcast all three of my novels and plan to continue that tradition. I started blogging in January 2007 and still blog today, albeit perhaps not as often as I ought to. I’ve been Tweeting since May of 2008. I’ve certainly been on Facebook since the early days, too.

You studied engineering, got into politics, and now you are a writer. Do these things have anything in common, or are they all completely different?
I think there’s lots of common ground. In my mind, it all starts with engineering. I like to think I bring an engineer’s sensibility (methodological approach to problem-solving, structure, discipline, planning, logic, reason, etc.) to everything I do, from planning and then writing novels, to running political campaigns, to dealing with client challenges. 

As well as being an author, you run a communications consulting agency. Do you apply your own advice to your writing career?
Yes, I like to think I do. My involvement in social media, not to mention my heavy schedule of library talks, festival readings, and book club visits, is driven by a belief that books don’t market themselves. Readers want to make a broader connection with the story. Sometimes that means a connection with the author. I think it's how you sell books in this country.

Is there a line when it comes to self-promotion? How do you make sure you aren’t coming on too strong?
This is very important. There is definitely a line that one should not cross. Social media is not a forum for book sales. It’s a meeting place for a community of book lovers to get together to share content, talk about books, and even get to know authors. I think tone is very, very important. You never want a hard-sell (“This is your lucky day! / Our operators are standing by! / Please buy my book!”) feel to what you do in promoting your book or yourself. If your tone reflects how genuinely  humble and grateful you are, you should be okay… provided you actually are genuinely humble and grateful!

How does having a presence on social media affect your career? Does it help to sell more books?
I truly believe readers are looking for ways to connect and engage with the authors of the books they’ve enjoyed. It deepens the reading experience. In the past, readers could attend readings and literary festivals, and they still do. But social media has allowed readers to connect with authors on a whole new level through Twitter, Facebook, blog comments, etc. It brings readers and writers closer together, which is good for both.

Do you have a personal story of a social media interaction that has gone horribly wrong?
I always try to be very careful, but I do remember once mentioning which book had just been tossed off the Canada Reads island a hour before the show aired on the radio. (I’d been listening to the live stream online.) Listeners out west weren’t very happy with me.

What about a social media interaction that made your day?
I’ll never forget when Margaret Atwood Tweeted about enjoying my first novel to her 350,000+ followers. I didn’t touch down for a few weeks!

What is your favourite social media tool for promotion and why?
I like the spontaneity and immediacy of Twitter and Facebook, but I still find blogging and podcasting to give me the most scope.

What advice would you give a first-time author trying to build a following?
Resist the temptation to follow everybody so that they’ll follow you back. It’s not the quantity of your following, it’s the quality. I think your following will be more loyal and lasting if you just share good content, be nice, engage with others online, and steer clear of being too overtly self-promotional. The audience will find you, perhaps slowly, but they’ll stay with you if you stay engaged.

Terry Fallis is the author of four national bestsellers. His debut novel,The Best Laid Plans, won the 2008 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour and was crowned the 2011 winner of CBC Canada Reads as the “essential Canadian novel of the decade.“ In January 2014, CBC aired a six-part television miniseries based on The Best Laid Plans earning very positive reviews. It is also in development as a stage musical by Touchstone Theatre in Vancouver. The High Road was published in September 2010 and was a finalist for the 2011 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour. Terry’s third novel, Up and Down, was released in September 2012. It debuted on the Globe and Mail bestsellers list, was a finalist for the 2013 Leacock Medal, and won the 2013 Ontario Library Association Evergreen Award. Terry’s fourth novel, No Relation, hit bookstores in May 2014, and opened on the Globe and Mail bestsellers list. Terry lives in Toronto. Follow Terry Fallis on Twitter @TerryFallis.

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