Social Media: Some tips on the when, why, and how

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Did some of you cringe at the title of this post? Social media is something that seems to come naturally to some people and sends others running in the other direction. Most of you probably know what I mean when I say social media, but if you don’t, this is a group all term for blogging, twitter, websites, facebook, myspace (well, maybe not anymore–lol), google+, youtube, flicker, etc. Basically anything that puts you out there on the internet for other people to find. You might have noticed, that was a big long list. Let’s face it, we can’t do all of it–keeping up with every possible (and ever changing) social media outlet on the web would be a full time job.

So as novelists, which of these do we really need and how can we use them to our best advantage? **As always, the common disclaimer here–this is just my experience and what I’ve picked up over the years.**

The Pre-Published writer:
If you are in the pre-published stage, in particular still working on your first book and are not yet to the querying stage, my advice to you is to not worry about social media. You don’t need to try to keep updating content on a blog or worry over what to say on facebook or twitter–spend that time writing instead. You might want to go ahead and purchase the domain for the name you intend to publish under (though be aware that your publisher may decide not to use the name you pick–even if it is your own name. My first name is actually Kalayna-Nicole so I own kalaynanicoleprice.com but my  publisher immediately decided the name was too long to look nice on a cover. Good thing I also own kalaynaprice.com and kalayna.com–all of which lead to the same landing site). If you do purchase the domain, don’t feel too pressured to put more than a space holder up yet.
You might be tempted here to say, but I could be building an audience! Yes, that is possible. But an audience for what? You have no release dates, and no guarantee that your current project will be the one to sell. In my opinion, your time is better spent honing your craft and getting the book finished and polished. Which leads to the next stage.

The Querying Writer:
You have a polished manuscript now and are actively on a quest to find an agent/editor. Now you probably do want a website, but keep it simple. (This next bit some people will highly disagree with but . . . ) Don’t put samples of your writing on the website. Why? Because some publishers have very strict rules about what can be released word count and content-wise. Putting stuff up on the web can actually count as first publication, so you have to be careful.
If you want, you can go ahead and start blogging and tweeting, but keep it professional. You’re still not building an audience at this point, you are just proving that you have initiative and are willing to self-promote if the target of your query googles you. Here’s a hint: don’t blog about how many rejections you’ve received, or bemoan or badmouth the industry or industry professionals–that will not impress. Also, don’t expect a website/blog/facebook to attract an agent or editor to you. They have thousands of query letters hitting their desk. They don’t have to go out searching the web looking for talent.

The Contracted Writer:
Congratulations, you’ve now sold your first work. Yes, it’s going to take a year or more to hit shelves, but you sold! Now is the time to start social networking in earnest. This is when you definitely want a blog, twitter, facebook, goodreads–where ever you can get your name out there so people have the highest possibility of running across you and your upcoming book. Remember, still keep is professional and get permission from your publisher before you release cover art, excerpts, ect.

The Published Writer:
Your work is now out there for all the world. You had  flurry of activity in social media before the release, but don’t think you can drop off now that the book is out. You want people coming back, checking in, and remembering your name so they know when your next book is going to be out. Blog regularly or at least on a set schedule (and this is one of those “do as I say not as I do” things, as my blog is terribly neglected at the moment) try to tweet at least a couple times a week and make sure you respond to friends and comments on twitter/facebook–wherever. But don’t let it consume your life. Writing the next book is still the most important thing. You might have to block into your schedule times you will devote to social media, and when that time is up, step away. It is too easy to get caught up in it and lose valuable writing time. My best advice is to link as much as it as possible. As in, have facebook automatically pull your tweets so you only have to actively post in one place. Also port your blog to other sites automatically, again so you only have to write one blog that ends up in multiple places. Yes, some of your readers will overlap and see the same material, but you are still widening your net.

All of that said, the very most important thing when it comes to social media boils down to three things: Be personable, be professional, and be able to turn it off and get back to work.

Happy Thursday everyone!

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13 comments to Social Media: Some tips on the when, why, and how

  • Kalayna, that is excellent advice, a concise and clear timeline for social media attention. I can only add my agreement that the year between contract and publication (or 1.5 years or 2 years) is vital for getting your name out there and building an audience. David B. Coe is doing that for his DB Jackson release. Y’all can google him to get an idea what he has done in the pre-pub stage. Very nice work.

  • mudepoz

    Oh my. I’m already messed up. I’m already branded as a zombie freak and overall odd person. Fortunately, it’s under my nickname. Which is my kennel name. Which is…I’m doomed. I need to start over. I will feel sorry for the woman who has my married name 😉 Besides, my name is already listed with way too many sites, and writing writing is already buried unless you use my initials.

  • As an unpublished author who’s been blogging for over a year now… I think this advice is mostly spot on, though I don’t agree 100% on the question of blogging in my current state.

    An unpublished author doesn’t need a blog, sure. But there are some potential benefits, I think. As long as you don’t go into it expecting to build an audience, yet if you blog somewhat consistently you may eventually find yourself interacting with other like-minded individuals. At least for me, this has been valuable, as I’ve become part of a community of writers that are supportive of each other and who do a lot of mutual Alpha- and Beta-reading. My writing has improved because of the critiques I’ve gotten from other writers in the blogging community. I also, incidentally, got my first paying gig as a writer as a direct result of my blogging activities.

    There’s also a certain amount of psychic benefit to putting your words out there and finding that someone reads them, however, few that number may be. (I mostly count my regular readers on two hands, but this doesn’t bother me since building a massive following isn’t my goal at this stage.)

    There are other ways to get the benefit of critiques, but almost any of them are going to take a lot of time investment, regardless – whether you join a large online critique group like Critters, or join a forum group, or reach out to fellow bloggers. With the blogging, you get more personal encouragement to keep up the good work or to get back to writing. That all said… keeping it in perspective is important. You can’t let the blogging take over your life. I very rarely post more than 4 times a week, and most weeks I post only 2 or 3 times. I’m not consistent in when I post because I’m busy, and I have to let the blogging fit around the other, higher-priority parts of my life – including writing.

    My meager $0.02.

  • Kalayna, something that’s been a thorn in my side for a while is Twitter. I’ve been told that I’m doing it wrong. -laughs- Apparently there are ways to organize it so that one can actually read it and have it make sense. Can you recommend the best Twitter organizing tool?

  • Megan B.

    Thank you for this post. This is the best social media advice I’ve read for aspiring writers. And believe me, I have been stressing about the issue. There is a lot of vague information on the web about it, so I really appreciate your precise and to-the-point tips.

  • mudepoz

    Misty, have you used Tweetdeck? I can’t C and P on my Ipod with wet fingers, but you can organize it into columns and actually hold a conversation. My politics are on one column, friends separated into another, weirdos (um I mean followers I don’t know) in another. Very useful. I am too social for my own good.

  • Mud, no, I haven’t used anything yet. I’ve been reading Twitter on the Twitter page. Which reminds me of trying to hold a conversation with someone while in the midst of the crowd of drunken revelers at Five Points on Saint Patrick’s Day.
    When I admitted this at Stellarcon, I was informed I was doing Twitter all wrong. 😀

  • Misty – I like TweetDeck, but the older version. (Apparently the newer version isn’t great.) Others I know use HootSuite and Triberr. They organize columns of different threads (hashtags, direct messages, etc) so that you can follow multiple conversations at once.

    And on that note: This is useful stuff, Kalayna. I’m definitely at the querying stage, but I started blogging/tweeting before that. I use Twitter, but primarily for the social aspect. I’ve been able to connect with other YA and SFF writers on Twitter, and the community there is great. There’s lots of encouragement, some productivity threads, and even the occasional opportunity. I also occasionally blog, usually less-than-weekly (writing time is more important) and often sharing my conference/convention panel notes. All the while I try to maintain a positive, professional attitude because I recognize that in these places, *anyone* could be reading. But I’m still trying to put writing first.

  • Thanks guys. I’m glad people found this useful!

    Misty, I second (or is it third at this point) the vote for tweet deck. It makes following threads of conversation much easier.

  • Thank you, Kalayna – this feels like permission to relax a little. You took one more thing off my to do list when I really needed it, because I’m overwhelmed. A couple weeks ago I actually decided NOT to participate in a scholarly anthology – something I never thought I’d say no to. But at the project meeting it became obvious that unrealistic/unclear deadlines and a lack of coherent rationale for the book means that this project has, at best, a 50/50 chance of ever being finished and sent to a publisher, let alone finding an audience. Sure it would be a publication credit, which matters in my job, but only if it actually gets published. To make that gamble, I’d have to drop or further delay three different WIPs including my scholarly essays I promised myself I’d get done this year. Walking away from the project made me feel like a quitter, even though I know it was the right decision. It’s good to see concrete information here about how to prioritize what matters and what is just a distraction, and it’s good to have a pro reinforcing the idea that saying no to some things at certain points is the right way to move forward.

  • Julia

    Sarah, I just want to say (as a fellow academic) that it sounds like you made the right call. This doesn’t sound you’re being a quitter. You’re making a strong commitment to your actual works in progress. Good luck with them!

    Kalayna, thanks for this post. I think I need “social media for introverts.” 🙂

  • From what I’ve seen the best Twitter organisation tool is a 15 year old. 🙂
    I don’t “get” twitter. It’s like an RSS feed full of garbage no-one cares about right? (part joke, part my real opinon)
    Facebook is one of the most powerful tools at the moment. If you get concerned by the number of other social media outlets, you can’t go too far wrong by concentrating on facebook. Just remember that everything you put on facebook stays forever and is possibly seen / read or searched by everyone including government agencies. So if you are writing a spy thriller that involves the destruction of key sites anywhere just be aware that, especially if you are unpublished, your posts might have unintended meaning.

  • Hi Julia! Thanks for the encouragement; sometimes it’s hard not to get pulled in five different directions, but when I let it happen, nothing gets done. Good luck with your own work!