Today’s topic suggestion comes from author Tina Chan. Thanks, Tina!
Okay, okay, so we’ve all heard it before – you need to get your social media in order if you’re going to be a writer in the 21st century. Here is something to keep in mind when you finish your book and start the process of querying (either to publishers or agents), or alternately begin the process of self-publishing your book: You Will Be Googled.
There’s lots of great articles out there about How To Win At Social Media (and how to make sure that when you are Googled, what potential publishing connections find leaves them with the best impression of you as a writer), so I’m not going to repeat that advice. Instead I’m going to dig down a bit and answer the WHY.
WHY must you Win At Social Media as a writer? Why must you use it at all?
What’s the point?
Why can’t we all just live in our little cabins in the woods and worry only about the writing part of writing, and let the publisher’s marketing team take care of everything else? Why must we be as accessible and as for sale as our books?
Well, partially because that’s how it’s always been. For as long as books have existed, the author has been held up as a selling point as much as the tale itself. This is part of being a published author, like it or not.
Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels sold well not only because it was an enchanting (and moralistic) tale suited for the children of the upper classes, but also because of his connection with his intensely private patroness, Henrietta Howard, and the gossip people loved to spread about them – and he didn’t quite deny. Beatrix Potter was unaware of her own early monetary success but was a consummate storyteller who entertained at parties, and who had family and friends clamoring to know what the next book was about and telling their friends. Charles Dickens did speaking tours, and was as known for his critiques and the weekly journal he edited for decades and his time in facinating prison as much as his novels. The Claudine books may never have done as well if they had originally been touted as being written by Colette instead of the scandalous, society-going, gossip-magnet Willy.
Each of these writers used their social influence to sell their work.
Writers always have; writers always will.
But we have an advantage that Jonathan, and Beatrix, and Charles, and Colette & Willy didn’t – we have social media to help us. And it’s free. (After factoring in the cost of devices, internet access, and software licences, of course).
Paid ads and print placements still exist, but while social media marketing can be fast-paced, exhausting, and sometimes frustrating, unless you elect to pay for digital ads, the only cost is in sweat equity.
And it comes with some distinct advantages that old school marketing doesn’t:
- Social media is in people’s faces all the time. Our phones are always in our hands. More people scroll through social media on their commute to work than read the newspaper. Your marketing efforts – be they paid placed ads in a feed, or a conversation in comments, or an article you posted, or a call to action tweet – are literally right at their fingertips.
- Again, it’s free. Unless you’re electing to purchase ads or specific software (and in the world of apps and startups, you can usually find something that does the equivalent of what you need – or at least close enough – without the high price tag. e.g. Canva vs Photoshop.)
- It can be automated – thanks to Hootsuite, MailChimp, and other similar platforms.
- You can spend a day setting everything up and let the automation handle posting at the right times, on the right dates.
- There are now hundreds of low-cost promotion services as well, which will handle promoting your book to their feeds and newsletter subscribers, operating your sales and giveaways, arranging blog tours, etc. If you’re in the financial position for it, consider farming out the flogging. (Just check that they can actually do what they’re claiming, beware of extravagant promises, and review WriterBeware before you give any of them your money.)
- Contrary to what common Social Media best practices teach us, the internet is a great place to provide long form advertisements and advertorials, as well as a place to provide whole or excerpts of short stories and books.
- Lots of people are more inclined to buy a book if they have the chance to read some of it first, or at least get a sense of a writer by reading longform posts.
- Most people only watch the first 5 mins of a video or read a 500 word blog post. But because there is actually no time limit on the internet, you can make your blog posts and videos as long as you personally want.
- This also means you can post whole bundles of text as well – full chapters, long scenes, whole novellas and short stories. Obviously you can’t do it directly on social media, but you can link to places where the stories are hosted – Wattpad, Inkitt, Tapas, TappyToon, Archive of Our Own, Webnovel, RoyalRoad, Gravity Tales, etc. or even your own blog. It will be less discoverable on your own blog, but the links to the buying pages are right there on your own website.
- Social media is a great place to build a rolling campaign or build groundswell – it’s much easier on social media than in traditional print/TV/radio marketing to start dropping hints every day of an upcoming project to build interest and speculation (for example, Taylor Swift’s lead up on Instagram to the drop of her music video “Me!” – though this may be a case where leaving room for too much speculation bit her in the nose. Some fans were very disappointed when they realized it was just a music video drop and not a clothing line, or that Swift was planning to come out as bi.)
- It’s a great way to establish and reinforce your brand.
- For me, that’s trope-challenging writing, academic-style engagement with fandom topics, and literary-style prose in a SF/F world. I carry that over into my social media and marketing by talking about those very things, yes, but also by engaging with other media that tackle those topics the same way – movie reviews, book reviews, current events, etc.
- It gives you a place to do more than just shout about your books desperately (nobody wants to be around desperation), and instead provides you a subtler way to market your work by interacting with people. As my agent is fond of saying, Twitter is a Cocktail Party – keep it light. Talk to others. Engage, engage, engage. Build your audience organically.
- It also provides you the ability to invite people to view (a curated) slice of your life. You can give people a peek into your wiring processes and behind the scenes.. You don’t have to TMI or share everything, but look, I follow Neil Gaiman as much for info about his books and series as I do for behind the scenes shots of David Tennant being a devilish goof, and Neil’s bees and dogs.
- BRANDING. I keep the color palette of my social media sites, posts, headshots and website consistent so it’s obvious all of this combines to make the person who wrote those books.
Outside of the advantages that Social Media provides you in Marketing your work, it also straight up makes it easier for you to be a productive writer (if, you know, you can ignore the siren call – ironically – of social media). You can:
- Find new writing software that works for you. I wrote Triptych, the first draft of The Skylark’s Song, and my first screenplay in Microsoft Word because that’s what came free on my computer when I bought my first laptop. And there was So. Much. Scrolling. UGH. I have since discovered Scrivener for novels (oh my god, I never write chronologically so the binder feature is so damn useful), and I have adopted CeltX and FinalDraft for comic and film scripts (intuitive formatting! Auto-fill production binders!) I know other authors who dislike Scrivener, and use something else, and screenwriters who hate FinalDraft. The point is, finding a software that works with the style of writing you do means that you’ll spend more time creating and less time futzing.
- Collect media
- Create an inspirational Pintrest board
- Create writing playlists or inspirations playlists on Spotify, 8Track, etc.
- Track articles and images on Tumblr
- Find and contact festivals, events, and conventions. There’s something happening every weekend, all over the world, and you can find information about the events all over social media by following hashtags, groups, or simply asking.
- Easily join social media contests (like #Pitchmad) that help you get your work in front of agents and editors.
- Research and submit to festivals and writing contests.
- Join writing motivation communities like NaNoWriMo or join in on impromptu or organized word sprints voa tracking hashtags or joining fan groups, writing groups, or lists.
- Easily access research materials
- Special Collections
- Academic Articles
- Book Excerpts
- Blog posts and social media of subject experts like pediatricians, law enforcement officers, and historical textiles scholars (and the email addresses or DMs of said experts if you approach them politely).
- Find or build your own writer’s community
- Websites offering curated groups or circles
- The ability to find and interact with beta readers and sensitivity readers
- The ability to talk to other writers and ask questions, like at AbsoluteWrite, Duotrope, or WriterBeware but also by following hashtags like #writerscommunity or #amwriting
- The ability to build organic groups of beta readers and critique partners through chatting with one another via social media.
- Accountability – if you tell people about the book publically then you have to finish it, right?
- Gives you the chance to build groundswell readership – publishing sites like the ones previously mentioned allow you to revise and rewrite a whole novel in real time based on reader feedback. (Pros and cons to that – I find it frustrating and stressful and disingenuous. Other writers find it stimulating, and exciting, and that it helps them produce their best work.)
And most importantly:
Social Media makes barriers of access permeable.
What do I mean by that?
I mean that Social Media has opened the lines of communication and access between authors and the people who buy their books. And authors and publishers. And writers and agents. And authors and reviewers. And authors and research materials. And authors and resources. And authors and their writing community. And, and and…
You can now talk and sell or pitch directly to readers, or book stores, or agents, or publishers. You can talk to other writers directly, or subject experts, or researchers.
It also means that people who traditionally blocked from this access (or had higher hurdles to overcome to gain access) due to their geographical location, disability, ethnicity or cultural background, income, etc. have more equitable opportunities and access to these same people and resources.
Social Media gives writers:
- Direct access to publishers, editors and agents via
- Organic conversations online, including the ability to ask clarifying questions regarding submissions or comment on articles or posts
- Online Pitch competitions
- Advice blogs and columns
- The ability to share ARCS and review copies to a larger number of people, and gives the actual audience and readership a platform to discuss a book, or trends in publishing, or tropes.
- While there is immense value in trained critics and reviewers, there is also immense value in the audience speaking for itself. (Just look at how much Venom was panned by critics but embraced by the general audience. There can sometimes be a disconnect between what the critics hail as worth investing in, and what the audience does.)
- This also has made the field more equitable in terms of which books get reviewed and what kind of buzz they garner. Selfpubbed or indie/small press publishers can’t always afford to (or even qualify to) submit to all of the big industry trades that require print copies to be mailed in, or require a fee. However, the rise in indie hobbiest book bloggers online means that a book can still be reviewed, making book review culture more of a meritocracy. Books with big financial marketing backing are now not the only ones that are being buzzed.
- A megaphone and a platform for #OwnVoices
- With direct communication with readers, agents, and publishers, those writers who have previously not had as much access to publishing opportunity or who were gatekept out of the community can speak up, and communicate directly with those who want their books.
- Authors working with a disability – both physical or mental – can use social media platforms to have greater accesses to physical spaces (such as a library with lots of stairs but no elevators), or utilize software (like text-to-speech or screenreaders) to write, research, and pitch their novels. We can also use social media and new software technology to say, give a presentation to a school that our disability or mental health may keep us out of, or to read our book outloud to children on our behalf, or to take meetings without having to navigate travelling to the agent or publisher’s home base.
- It also makes accessing research materials, locations, maps, images of places, and speaking face-to-face with agents/publishers/fellow writers without having to travel easier for authors at a financial disadvantage or from a low-income background.
- Utilizing story sharing sites like Wattpad allows writers to tap into not only a community of fellow writers and their shared experience, but also have the advantage (dubious or not, as I mentioned above) of getting real-time feedback and critiques from the readers themselves. They provide the ability to workshop and live-edit a story as it’s being written.
- As the resurgence of episodic storytelling like Game of Thrones has proven, humans love cliffhangers and ongoing stories and the joy of guessing what comes next. Social media allows writers to return to the early print publishing tradition of serializing a story – dolling out parts week to week, or month to month, without the increased costs of physically printing all those little chunks.
- Allows authors to give things away to readers more easily – to find and reward those readers who like swag, prizes, letters, personalized emails, copies of their books, etc.
- And it allows readers to give authors things (fanart, presents, feedback, thanks, letters, etc.) more easily as well.
- Allows readers and fans easy access to author’s appearance schedule, and one that can be kept up to date more often and more swiftly as well.
- Gives writers the ability to run a Fangroup or website for other people to discuss topics around your work with one another, like the fan groups and trade magazines / fan zines of old but more interactive, with a microphone for everyone.
- And lastly, it connects writers directly with people who are willing to be sensitivity readers, and a much easier way to find them.
So while the lure of Tumblr is great when you’re in the middle of writing stall, and you may lose enough productive house to Instagram that you curse social media for ever being invented, remember that there are a lot more benefits to having it as a writer than not.
But don’t just take my word for it.
I asked my authorfriends way they used of social media, and they replied:
Alex White: Social media is how I got off the ground, making my contacts and creating an author brand. I use social media as a way to interact with fans, create community, and so on. And I’m pretty sure that’s despite my being terrible at it!
Alexandra Perchanidou: Asking opinions during research/drafting, research EVERYTHING that has to do with plot, depending on the world building. [Social media also provides you access to] Mentors: following the life/career of any author you aspire to emulate and learning from them without having a formal mentor/mentee relationship.
Wendy Lynn Clark: Co-workers: if you are full time writing, social media is listening around the water cooler to news, trends, etc. They will also celebrate your successes and empathize with your failures.
‘Nathan Smith: Social media allows networking from within marginalized identities on a much, much easier level than before—I can find other queer writers, readers, publishers, editors, cover artists, you-name-it, and bypass (some of) the frustrations of being queer in a non-queer environment. It also allows those voices an opportunity to have virtual meetings/discussions/dialogs that are so plentifully found in places like cons/festivals/events, but rarely inclusively.
Mike Perschon: Social media made my career, insofar as publishing and presentation opportunities. I’ve only once had to submit an article for publication. Every other publication I’ve made, and many events I’ve attended as a guest-of-honour or keynote came to me via Twitter or my blog.
Derwin Mak: Social media was helpful for me in that there are Facebook groups about anthology calls for submissions, and that’s how I found out about some markets. I’ve also seen writers develop a certain type of online personality to appeal to an audience, that is, selling the author as a personality/celebrity versus selling the book itself. However, I’m not convinced that going on social media to develop a reputation as a certain type of personality actually helps to sells books. Some writers aggressively pursue a left-wing persona, and some writers aggressively pursue a right-wing persona, and they get plenty of likes and followers (and dislikes and trolls), but how many of those followers actually buy their books?
A.J. Phoenix: Wow. Loaded question. There’s so many ways in which I know social media helped me. In fact, given that I go by a few nom de plume, I’m not sure I’d be an author if not for the internet. I was able to test out my original, unedited work with audiences over social media. I built my own community/brand, email list, and ARC team through social media. I met and learned from other authors in my genre because of social media. I learned how to advertise through the internet and social media. The list goes on. I’ve only touched upon the tip of the iceberg of what social media can do for an author.