Last week, I discussed websites and blogs for writers. This week, my focus is on social media. Beyond personal use, authors can use social media to promote their writing and to connect with the writing community. There are a myriad of different apps available, each with a slightly different focus, so where should you start? Facebook and Twitter are the two most popular platforms, so I’ll begin by discussing them, and throw in Instagram as a bonus. At the end I have a general discussion about priorities, time commitment, degree of difficulty and cost.
A Brief Outline For the Novice
To use an app, you first create a personal profile. You can then post text, photos or video to your page, which anyone with access to your page can see. Alternatively, you can send a private message (PM) to a single person or group.
To increase exposure for a post or page, you can pay to promote it.
Hashtags—preceding a word or string of words with the symbol #—make your post easy to find for someone looking for comments on a particular topic. Typical writing hashtags include: #amwriting, #writerslife, #writerscommunity.
From your personal page, you can invite people to be your friend. If they friend you back, they will see your posts and you will see theirs. Most people only friend people they know. You can join writers groups to get help with anything from finding critique partners to sharing the pain of rejection.
You can also create an author page, which helps to separate your online private and professional lives. Your author page will have followers, not friends. People follow businesses or celebrities even if they don’t know them personally, so this enables you to build a larger audience. If you don’t have the time or money to set up a website, a Facebook author page can work as an interim substitute.
If you write a blog, share it on Facebook to either or both of your personal and author pages. The largest number of views on my blog come from Facebook.
Promote your book on Facebook along with links for where to purchase. By paying to promote this post, you can reach a broader audience.
Facebook tends to attract an older demographic, so is appropriate for adult books or children’s books pitched to parents.
A post on Twitter is called a tweet. Your Twitter name, starting with the symbol @, is called a handle. For example, my twitter handle is @AJBartonOnline. You follow people on Twitter, which doesn’t have to be reciprocal like friends on Facebook.
Twitter has a very strong #writerscommunity. People in this group understand that agents and publishers like writers who have a social media presence, so if a writer follows you, the culture is to follow them back. In this way, you can develop a strong following relatively quickly.
Various groups organize “pitch parties” where authors can tweet a pitch for their novel identified by a specific hashtag. If interested, agents can then request an emailed submission. Some agents also post a #MSWL (manuscript wish list) about types of books they would love to represent, and writers can respond.
Twitter has a slightly younger user group than Facebook.
Instagram is specifically designed to share photos and videos. For this reason it’s popular with photographers, artists, dancers and other professions with visual appeal. It’s not as important for writers, unless you are promoting middle grade or YA fiction, as Instagram is popular with a younger demographic.
Priority: Facebook and Twitter are pretty much essential. To refine your focus or add other apps, research your target audience to establish the best fit. Bear in mind that there are social media fads and fashions, so what works this year, might not work next year.
Time Commitment: This is totally dependent on how involved you become and how disciplined you are. The key is to find a balance between being engaged enough to benefit from it and getting distracted.
Rule No. 1: Establish a time limit.
Rule No. 2: Stick to your time limit.
Degree of difficulty: It is straighforward to set up an account. Input your name, basic contact information and upload a photo. On Facebook, make sure you select appropriate privacy settings—you can choose who can see the information you post.
Posting is also easy. It takes a little more skill and understanding if you pay to promote posts.
Cost: Setting up accounts and posting is free. To promote posts, you can pay anything from a couple of dollars to thousands. I’ve done this on Facebook as an experiment, and $20 bought me thousands of views, but I wasn’t promoting books sales at the time, so I can’t comment on how effective it was for this purpose. Get professional advice or start small and use trial and error to see what works.
Once you’re up and running, you need material to post. Why not post book reviews for other authors? When you are published, you will crave reviews for your books, so why not share the love.
Next time: A Beginner’s Guide to Online Book Reviews
Note: Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments, as I’m sure there is much to add to this discussion. I am happy to update the blog with reader input.