Not so long ago, agents and even some publishers insisted that authors (including aspiring authors) needed a social media presence. But that is slowly changing as it dawns on everyone in the publishing industry that an online presence is the means to an end rather than the end itself.
Social networking comes down to GIVE: four simple questions you have to ask yourself.
- Goals: What do you want to achieve with social media?
- Inspiration: What inspires you? What strengths and talents can you offer to others?
- Viability: How much time and effort do you want to put in?
- Enjoyment: Are you going to enjoy doing whatever you decide to do enough to continue doing it indefinitely?
One of the classic newby mistakes of social networking is that we writers tend to start blogs about writing. Do you see me raising my hand? Yep. I have a writing blog. And a twitter feed for writers. Is that going to help me sell books? Probably not. I didn’t think through my goals before I started blogging. I went to a local Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators meeting with a friend and heard an agent tell us that all aspiring authors had to have a blog. My friend and I decided to begin a blog together. Since we were just starting down the road to publication, what interested us was writing, and ergo, that’s what we blogged about. I don’t regret that at all. I learn by writing, so writing *about* writing was my way to move up the learning curve. Eventually though, I hit the point where I wasn’t learning anything new by creating articles for beginning writers, but I didn’t feel comfortable offering writing advice that went beyond the basics. At the same time, my blog partner had personal issues that took her away from blogging, so for a year and a half, with the exception of the First Five Pages Workshop, I handled the blog on my own. I let myself get overwhelmed. Instead of being able to focus on reading other blogs or craft books or just interacting with other writers via social media, it was all I could do to keep up my “required online presence.”
The solution? I examined my goals. Over the course of my blogging journey, I have met fantastic writing friends and critique partners. I learned a lot, but there is much more I want and need to learn. I want more time to read blogs and craft books, to read everything. I want to encourage and support other writers and connect with readers so I can learn more about what they want to read. Most of all, I want more time to write.
There isn’t any one way to achieve your social networking goals. The most important thing is finding a vehicle that will connect you with a network of people in a way that meets your goals and inspires you as a writer.
Before investing time into any social medium, make sure it will work for you in the longterm. That includes matching the type of medium to your goals and inspiration; they all have different strengths and conventions.
- Google+ is Google’s big push into social connectivity, and it is trying to push participation by factoring your “author rank” from there into engine results. Joining Google + lets you build circles to push content to those who are most interested in that content. The premise is based on the idea that you will create original content that will be “shared” by your followers and that you will, in turn, pass content created by people you follow to your followers accompanied by value-added commentary or notes. Google+ also lets you “hang out” with people via real-time chats.
- Blogging (Blogger or WordPress) is a format that works best for creating longer, meatier posts and connecting with other writers about the process of writing and the process of publication, or with readers via book reviews and contests. The main interactivity for blogs comes from the comment mechanism that lets your readers react to what you posted or lets you react to content posted by others. This is a wonderful way to build relationships, learn, and start discussions. There are no built-in sharing mechanisms for propagating the content you create, but various “add-in” technologies or applets let you make it easier for readers to Tweet about it, add it via Google+, or share it via another network.
- Twitter lets you connect with other writers by sharing links, quotes, thoughts, or ideas. It is also great for building an audiences through humor or short, pithy commentary. Compared to other forms of social media, the shelf-life of a Tweet is very short. If your followers follow a lot of other people, it’s easy for your Tweets to get lost in the noise. On the other hand, it’s easy to gain popularity simply by tweeting or retweeting good information that people will enjoy retweeting to their own followers.
- Facebook is a more intimate venue if you like to share opinions or details of your day to day life and create personal connections. Facebook pages, a separate feature, lets you build an area where fans can connect with other fans and find information about your upcoming events. On the flip side, you can support your friends by “liking” or commenting on what they post, even if you prefer to post fairly infrequently yourself.
- Tumblr is somewhat more impersonal than Facebook, but it provides a fast, flexible, and easy interface designed for sharing photographs, links, quotes, or shorter text posts. Its strengths lie in flexibility and in the easy way it lets you share content you find interesting with people who have “followed” you. There’s a mechanism for commenting and “liking” posts as well, but reblogging is in itself a sign that you enjoyed the content.
- Pinterest is similar to Tumblr in that it is based on the idea that you will “share” visual content that interests you. It’s designed primarily for photographs and illustrations grouped into categories called “boards,” which makes it a fantastic way to collect visual inspirations for your books and characters and share them with your readers. You can can even create private boards if you want to use them exclusively to keep track of things like character wardrobes, setting details, or whatever
- Goodreads is perhaps the most undervalued social network for authors and readers. It provides the cover image, description copy, and publishing information for virtually any book along with the cumulative “rating” provided by all the people who have already read it. You can read or provide reviews for any book and pass your opinion along to your friends. You can find friends with similar tastes to yours and start building relationships with them. There are even online book clubs. You can enter or provide giveaways or various contests, share snippets from your blogs, and interact with readers in many different ways. Note, however, that Goodreads was just purchased by Amazon, and there’s no telling what will happen with the services they offer or what they plan to do with the information you provide. Both offer free author pages that you can personalize with your photograph, bio, and books.
Like Goodreads, any social medium is subject to change. Use the above list as a starter, not an all-encompassing menu. New social media pop up all the time, and they can fade just as quickly. Remember MySpace? Consider who you want to reach, how you want to reach them, and what kind of content you want to provide to find the vehicle that will help you achieve your goals and keep you inspired to continue.
As you can guess from the above list, users of different formats of social media have different expectations. Blogging, for example, works best on a set schedule so that your readers know when to stop by to catch their favorite feature. Tweeting too frequently can clog your readers’ feeds and result in them “unfollowing” you, but if you don’t Tweet enough, you can’t build much of a following. Writing long diatribes on Facebook is a great way to get yourself “unfriended.”
Before you jump into a particular social network, take the time to investigate what works for other people on that network, how often you will need to provide original content, and what your “followers” will expect in reciprocity.
With any form of social medium, creating original content takes little time compared to how long it takes to read other people’s blogs. For most authors, it also yields the least success. Social networking is all about being social. Sharing. Giving back. Building up others. If you don’t have the time to do that, then you aren’t creating a network and having an online presence isn’t going to do you much good. If you’re not the kind of person who wants to engage with people, put up a static website and don’t worry about the rest. Really. Chances are, if you don’t like being social–on the Internet or in real life–you aren’t going to be good at it if you force yourself to try. You also have to be careful not to take on so much that your writing time gets sucked away.
A joint blog may be a good solution for writers who may not have a ton of time, or those who are hesitant to jump into social media too deeply. I definitely prefer to have someone to share the responsibilities, the occasional aggravation, and the success. For me, assessing my goals, inspiration, and viability led to inviting a new blog partner to join me, and I am beyond lucky to have Jan Lewis sharing the workload at Adventures in YA Publishing. Clara Kensie, a long-time critique partner, is also back to host a Question of the Week segment on Sundays. And of course, the incomparable Lisa Gail Green is still critiquing the First Five Pages Workshops with me each month.
If you are considering a joint blog, or any kind of shared media, be sure to leave yourself room for branding. I have had to slowly transition my Twitter feed back to my real name, because I made the mistake of setting it up as a blog-related feed. I have also only recently discovered that we can post on the blog under separate names. Branding is critical in building relationships with your readers and potential readers. Investigate the options available for whatever kind of media you are considering, and remind yourself that you can’t build relationships on anonymity.
In case you missed that last sentence, let me restate: your online presence is all about relationships. You don’t have to do it, but if you choose to be online, make sure you participate in a way that doesn’t become a chore. Have fun and don’t make it all about you. Make it about the people you like and respect. Share information. Pay it forward.
Consider who you want to reach and what *they* want. Then GIVE.
Martina Boone writes primarily for young adults. She’s the founding member of Adventures in YA Publishing, a Writer’s Digest Top 101 Best Website for Writers site, and also has a website , a Twitter feed, and a Tumblr feed. She mainly uses her Pinterest account to help her visualize the worlds and people who populate her stories. Her Facebook and Google accounts are mostly sad and orphaned children, and she uses her Goodreads account to keep track of her TBR pile. Between the various media accounts, she has over 10,000 followers, which still makes her scratch her head in wonder, disbelief, and overwhelming gratitude. She is repped by Kent Wolf at Lippincott, Massie, McQuilkin.