Social Media for Writers, Yes or No

First published in Writing Magazine November 2020

I am returning to writing after a break of around 15 years. During this time social media has expanded massively and I’m finding it all rather overwhelming. I’m hoping to resume writing some articles for magazines as well as venturing into the world of fiction, both short stories and eventually a novel. As a novice writer, do I need a Twitter account, Facebook profile, Instagram page, YouTube channel etc in order to be taken seriously? If I do create them what should I be using each for? Or should I not worry about these things for now and just get on with the writing? 

Susan Brookes – Morris, Wythall

It’s a good question, Susan, and one to which, I suspect, there is not a definitive answer. I would certainly get on with the writing! For without that, you won’t need social media – apart from the usual looking at kittens and posting photos of one’s breakfast. And I would, anyway, try to make writing the priority as Twitter and the like are massive eaters of time. (I speak as one who is on a screaming deadline to deliver a manuscript yet made her first job of the day the uploading of photos to Facebook of her cat on his third birthday!)

If you are going to be writing magazine articles, then the magazines themselves will do a lot of the promoting – although you can always help boost the readership. However, if you are planning on writing a novel someday, then it is wise to start thinking about getting online now.  Some authors, of course, do not use social media at all and it does not appear to make any difference to their sales. But I would say that those are the ones – often household names – who had established themselves way before the social media explosion. For new writers, an “online presence” is considered essential and is actively encouraged by publishers.

Caroline Vincent, who offers marketing services to authors, using a range of media, explains it thus: “Generally speaking, you will find that your readers do spend time on social media. Mostly on a daily basis. Would you want to miss out on opportunities to interact with your readership?”

Caroline does, however, sound a word of warning: “The biggest mistake you can make as a budding author is to use social media solely as a marketing tool. Be sure to engage, to share and reciprocate.”

In other words, posting “please buy my book” every hour on the hour, is soon going to put off potential readers. You should aim to begin conversations, to be interesting and interested and to involve yourself in the whole publishing world – reaching out to librarians and booksellers and literary festivals and so on, and other authors too. This way you will become part of a community where news gets passed around.

As Caroline says: “Readers like to talk about books they love online, on Twitter and in Facebook groups; a presence there means you can connect with them, and share your books, upcoming releases or sales. In that way, your books almost automatically find their way to a larger audience. For instance, you could share an Amazon review online. Who knows it won’t inspire your followers to check out your book on Amazon and buy it?”

But how do you get started and which platforms do you need? I would begin with a very simple website that you can build yourself for free through WordPress or similar. This can give some basic information about you, with a photograph, mention past published work and be a point of contact. You can add the web address to any pitches you send to magazines, or with story submissions, to show you are a professional.

You could also create a simple author Facebook page, and set yourself up on Twitter and Instagram. But just have a bit of fun with the latter two for now and make a few friends and contacts if you can. It’s probably a good idea to sign up for Goodreads also – in readiness for when you have that book published! But the important thing is to get on with the writing, so you’ve got something to promote and talk about later, when you are ready to be reaching out for readers.

You might like to read an article on this by Caroline, that you will find on her website. carolinevincent.co.uk/reach-your-readers/. Check out what she has to say about “Author Branding” too. Because this is also something you can begin thinking about now. What sort of writer are you going to be? In which genre? What is your unique selling point? Is there something quirky or unusual about you? Can you capitalise on that?

I have sat in on a publisher’s seminar about social media that suggested authors pick one platform and concentrate all their energies on that, but you won’t necessarily find what suits your style and interests until you’ve felt your way into all of them. I was late coming to Instagram, for example, but find it really fun, and warm and generous (not something you can always say about Twitter!) and find that I get more response percentage-wise in ratio to my number of followers than I do on other platforms. So I wish I’d started earlier. On the other hand, my books only make up a small number of my posts. And it’s very difficult to know how many readers decide to try you out as an author because they liked your photograph of cheese scones!

In short, throwing your all into social media is hit and miss at best, and a veritable minefield at worst, but these days it does need to be done. I would suggest you set a limit on how much time you are going to invest there – say put aside a maximum of half an hour a day to start with – or you won’t get any writing done at all.

My final piece of advice would be: get a cat. My birthday boy has 141 likes already!

Good luck.

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