I know that many aspiring writers who happily read blogs or belong to writing forums are nonetheless very wary of the more dynamic forms of social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest and all the others. Which wouldn't matter, except that it is genuinely harder and harder to make any kind of way as a writer without doing some of this stuff - not least because publishers will be wary of a writer who is invisible in social media terms.
But the good news is that it's perfectly possible to have a useful presence out there. So to that end I've asked Anita Chapman, who as Neets Marketing runs courses in social media management for authors and publishers, to talk about how you can get involved without selling either your soul or your entire working life.
And the other good news is that it can be fun. I've taken part in some really good discussions of writing topics with some well-known writers, all in 240-character tweets, I've made contacts that have resulted people buying my book and offering me work, and it's the main way I keep in touch with my writer friends and potential colleagues and collaborators all round the world.
So, in the Itch spirit of overcoming the fear by understanding more clearly what's involved, over to Anita!
Over the past few years, I’ve trained and worked with unpublished writers; and authors who write for traditional publishers, and who are self-published. Emma invited me to write about social media for aspiring and new writers, and for anyone who feels a bit daunted by it all, so hopefully the following post will take away some of that fear that can stop you from getting started.
Why do writers need to use social media?
These days, authors are expected to have social media accounts set up, and to know how to use them, whether they’re published traditionally, by a corporate or independent publisher. And of course, if you decide to self-publish, you will do all of the marketing yourself. If you’re unpublished, but submitting to agents and publishers, it’s a good idea to set up social media accounts and a blog now.
Many authors set up social media accounts and start a blog before they’re published. When a book is released, there is so much to do already. In the run up to publication date, there are deadlines to meet and often the next book to write or edit, guest posts to draft and interview questions to answer for a blog tour*. And then there’s the hunting down of the right outfit and cake for that launch (ha) as well as other stuff. The last thing you need is to be learning how to use social media then, and unfortunately it’s not possible to build an online presence in the two week period before your book comes out.
I know authors who have been in that situation, who wished they’d started sooner, but then built their presence steadily before the next book, and are now doing really well. If you’re in that situation, don’t worry - just think about moving forwards and plan for the next book. Blog tours can be arranged between books as well as around the time of launches too.
And if, when you get that book deal, your publisher asks you to write under a different name, you’ve already learnt how to use social media and built your network; and you can change the name on your social media accounts - so I wouldn’t let that stop you from setting up accounts now.
Where does the fear come from?
The fear mainly relates to unpublished writers not feeling worthy, not knowing how to deal with potential unpleasantness (which is talked about in the press a lot), and not knowing what to do. There’s also the worry that strangers can see what you post online.
How can you protect yourself online?
You can block and report accounts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram; and you can set up posts on Facebook to be seen by certain friends only. On Facebook, if anyone is being unpleasant, you can unfriend them. You can also choose who sends you friend requests and who to accept as a friend. Check Privacy, Timeline and Tagging, and Apps under Settings on Facebook especially carefully (also see my postscript below, in relation to the recent Cambridge Analytica data breach).
If revealing too much of your personal life to strangers is a concern, think before posting photos of your family and where you live and post photos of places you visit only after you leave.
How can writers get started on social media?
Start with Twitter, Facebook and if you have time, Instagram which is growing in popularity. Observe those authors who use social media well, and start to build your online presence. It takes time to gain the right followers, i.e. other writers and authors, and those in the book world as you grow your network; plus book bloggers, booksellers, librarians, potential readers, and followers relating to your brand who may help to spread the word about your books (see “What’s your brand?” below). Build your online presence slowly and steadily, looking for those Twitter and Instagram followers mentioned above.
On Twitter, try not to just retweet. Quote tweets, adding your own comment. Create your own tweets relating to your brand (see below) or to what’s trending (a nice easy way to get started, and to get your profile out there). Get to know the writing community by taking part in writing chats such as #WritersWise #writingchat #histficchat, and use hashtags for writers such as #amwriting (there are many others – see my post on hashtags to understand what they are and how to use them).
On Facebook, make friends with other writers, authors, book bloggers and join Facebook groups for writers and bloggers, as well as those relating to subjects and themes from your books, and your interests. Before your book is released, you can set up a Facebook Page so readers can keep up-to-date with your news, but Facebook Pages tend only to be effective (i.e. Facebook shows these posts in News Feeds) when you pay to boost posts or create adverts using Ads Manager.
If you can, set up a blog and learn how to write an effective blog post, i.e. one that gets the page views. This is good practice for when you write guest posts for blog tours.
Who is the online you?
Decide how much of you, you want to give online. Will you talk about your family and your personal life, your political views, or will you keep your online presence just about writing and general interests? If your book is a memoir or about something going on in your life, then you may want to share more of yourself online.
Be aware that if you talk about politics, religion, big issues, there will be tweet replies and Facebook comments which disagree with you (some more diplomatic than others), and it’s worth thinking about whether you want to, and are able to deal with this. Make these decisions early on, and don’t go on social media after a few drinks – I have seen many a Facebook post and tweet deleted the morning after the night before.
What’s your brand?
Think about what defines you and your books and aim to focus on those subjects and themes when you post on social media.
Getting past the fear factor:
Just get stuck in. You’ll need to invest time in social media to be successful, and make it part of your life. Building your presence slowly and steadily works well, if you haven’t got that book deal yet. Observing those who know what they’re doing is key. It’s better to make a beginner’s mistake before you’re published (such as copying in lots of people on a series of tweets which have nothing to do with them), and of course, don’t say anything online which is offensive to others. I’ve heard stories about authors not being taken on by agents and publishers because their social media accounts haven’t shown them in the best light. It’s worth thinking carefully about what you’d like agents and publishers to see if they google you or look at your social media accounts.
My social media blog for writers includes how-to posts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, blogging and more. Many author guests have visited to give their advice on book marketing and social media too (see my bio below for the link). Good luck!
*What is a Blog Tour? Authors often take part in a blog tour near to the publication date of their book. It can last for a week, two weeks and occasionally a month; with usually a series of daily (one or more) guest posts/interviews and reviews from advance copies of the book (known as ARCs) appearing on book blogger blogs. Guest posts can be on other types of blogs too. Blog tours are often organised by publishers, and also authors by approaching bloggers directly or via a blog tour organiser.
postscript: The above post was written before the Cambridge Analytica data breach revelations, and this article, at The Guardian explains how to protect your privacy settings on Facebook. The information relating to the App Settings page on Facebook and ‘the apps others use’ is particularly helpful.
Anita Chapman is a writer, freelance social media manager with clients in the world of books, and a tutor at Richmond and Hillcroft Adult Community College (RHACC), Surrey (UK). She runs her own one day social media courses for writers in London and York, and teaches a ten week course, Social Media for Writers and Bloggers at RHACC. Find out more via her website, www.neetsmarketing.com, where there are links to her social media blog for writers (with how-to posts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and more), and her writing blog. Anita is on Twitter @neetsmarketing and @neetswriter.
And if you're a writer new to the Itch, do have a browse. There's a search box up at the top of the right-hand side-bar, which should help you find particular topics. Or click straight through to The Tool-Kit, which is where all my most substantial posts about the art and craft of writing are listed.