Six well-known authors and writers, who are experts in this type of personal branding, share their methods and suggestions on how to use social media to push yourself forward in the writing industry. Whether you’ve been using social media for a while or you’re just starting out, you might learn something new.
1. Sign Up for the Big Networks
It can be difficult to sift through all of the available social platforms and decide which ones to focus on; it helps if you think about what it is you want to achieve. If you’re looking to get your name as a writer out there, it makes sense to use the networks with the most users to boost your presence. That means Twitter and Facebook, for sure, but Tumblr and Google+ are also rising in popularity for writers.
Susan Orlean, New Yorker journalist and author of The Orchid Thief, looks at each platform as a different kind of party. “Twitter is a noisy cocktail party, with lots of chatting and quick interactions, a kind of casual free-for-all,” she says. “Facebook is a combination high school and college reunion and therapy group. Google+ I haven’t figured out yet.”
Twitter certainly seems to be the top go-to network for writers, and it’s incredibly useful. Meredith Hindley, historian and writer for various publications like The New York Times and Humanities, says, “It’s both social and a big RSS feed, which makes my information junkie heart happy.”
2. Interact and Engage — Enthusiastically
It’s easy to forget that part of successfully using social media is actually being social. While linking to things you like and adding commentary are part of the whole deal, it’s important to engage with followers in order to keep them. As a writer wanting to gain a following, you have to try to keep everyone interested in you.
John T. Edge, food writer, columnist for The New York Times and author of Truck Food, uses Twitter “like a madman” when he’s traveling. “I use it as a kind of diary to track things I saw, music I heard, food I ate.” Edge combines his genre with interesting tidbits that aren’t necessarily related to his writing. Your social media account doesn’t have to be all writing, all the time.
With Facebook, it’s all about pacing yourself. Allison Winn Scotch, author of the bestselling Time of My Lifeand the forthcoming The Song Remains the Same, says, “I think Facebook users get annoyed if you post too many status updates, so I’m careful to only post at most once a day, and more realistically, a few times a week.”
Make sure your personality shines through all platforms. Karen Palmer, author of the novels All Saints andBorder Dogs, says that readers are drawn to a writer’s voice more than anything. “The most interesting folks are those with curious minds, oddball insights, passion and humor.”
Overall, it’s important to remember the golden rule. Tao Lin, author of Richard Yates and Eeeee Eee Eeee, makes sure to use social networks “without feeling like I’m doing things I wouldn’t want other people to do to me…or that I’m doing things that will alienate people who, based on experience, I like being friends with.”
3. Minimize Self-Promotion
Fight the urge to promote everything you write — your followers don’t need constant reminders that you’re a great writer.
Winn Scotch says, “What [readers] prefer is seeing who you really are and getting to know both your tone and your attitude. If they like what they read in that, they’ll often gravitate toward your books.” She also advises writers to think about what they like to see, and to avoid controversy. “I’m not a huge fan of reading divisive political statements in my feed, so I never do it myself.”
To minimize self-promotion, Edge suggests finding “a way to be honestly self-deprecating.” In the same vein, Lin posts things on Tumblr “that convey alienation, depression or loneliness in a non-’cry for help’ manner.” These methods might not work for you, but it shows that you should focus on specific topics to stop yourself from becoming your own worst advertiser.
4. Consider Privacy and Comfort Levels
You might be hesitant to join these global virtual communities in which your information and viewpoints are available to anyone, but it’s all about focusing on what you’re comfortable with in a public sphere.
“I found social media hard to navigate at first, because I’m a private person,” Hindley says, but she soon found topics she felt comfortable discussing, such as books, history and her writing process. “Every so often, you should review your tweets to see what you’ve been talking about. Ask yourself if you’re comfortable with the image you’re projecting. If not, make some adjustments.”
At the other end of the spectrum, Lin is very open about his contact information with those who follow him on social networks, and he even gave out his phone number when someone asked for it in an HTMLGIANTcomment thread. “I’ve never had problems — that I can remember — from people having my contact information,” he says. However, proceed with caution.
5. Find a Happy Medium
Stay away from extremes when it comes to expressing yourself. “Your tweets don’t always have to be sunshine and rainbows,” Hindley says, “but if you’re constantly complaining or being a drama queen, people aren’t going to want to follow you.”
This is something to keep in mind not only for potential fans, but also for potential agents or editors. You should own your voice, but be professional.
Of course, it always helps to be interesting. No one will want to follow you if you’re saying or posting things that everyone else is saying or posting. Edge says, “I focus, as best I can, on stories that don’t usually get told.”
6. Make Valuable Connections
Use social media’s endless networking possibilities to your advantage. “Have fun with it and engage with other authors you admire,” says Winn Scotch. “I follow a slew of writers whom I don’t know personally but whose observations on pop culture, for example, I find funny as hell. And you never know where that connection can lead.” She says that those connections are important not just for aspiring authors, but for seasoned authors as well.
That said, it’s important to be somewhat selective when choosing your followers. “I also find that following too many people can lead to chaos in my feed,” Winn Scotch adds, “so I don’t follow everyone.”
7. Keep Up Appearances
Make sure you never let your accounts fall by the wayside. “Don’t neglect your profile,” Hindley says. “Fill it out in such a way that it looks like you have a little gravitas.”
In addition to posting regularly, update your Facebook profile picture or cover photo (every six months is a good time reference), change up your Twitter background and even consider paying for a premium Tumblr theme to spice things up. Show your followers that you’re active and you want to be using social media.
8. Aspiring Writers vs. Seasoned Writers
You may be wondering if there are different ways up-and-coming writers should use social media as opposed to those whose work is already established.
“Social media is an extension of your voice,” says Orlean. “For aspiring writers, it’s a chance to practice miniaturization — how to say something interesting in a very concise way — which is, in itself, a good writing exercise. Seasoned writers might look at it as an ongoing book tour, or at least the Q&A part of the book tour.”
Lin, on the other hand, doesn’t think there’s a difference. “I feel like what I try to do myself has remained somewhat constant throughout my time having these [accounts].”
So it’s up to you how to present yourself, but you should be honest with followers about your work’s progress.
9. Don’t Obsess Over Number of Followers
It’s likely that you’ll become preoccupied with how many people you influence through social networks, but it’s important to let that go.
“Don’t obsess about your number of followers,” says Orlean. “Just be genuinely engaged, and people will listen.”
10. Don’t Force It
It’s alright to admit that social media isn’t for you. “If after experimenting for a while, you find you don’t really enjoy it, don’t do it,” Palmer advises. “It’s obvious to others when your heart isn’t in it. And should you come to find you like it a little too much, use social media as a reward for doing your real work — writing.”