“Do I really need to do social media?” an author friend asked me a few months ago. “I kind of hate that stuff, and it’s such a huge hassle.”
“That depends,” I replied.
“On whether or not you want to sell books.”
This exchange came shortly before she released her new book. While it was being published traditionally through a well-known publisher, she (like many authors now) wasn’t getting a huge PR or marketing team to back up the release. These days, even traditional publishers expect authors to do a lot of their own marketing, which includes social media.
She’s not alone in her reluctance. Many authors who aren’t already entrenched in the virtual world tend to shy away from the time and effort involved in social media engagement—not to mention the chaos that sometimes ensues from it.
And “engagement” is the key word. Many people—including writers, artists, entrepreneurs, and service providers—realize that social media can increase their business. But sometimes they fail to recognize the difference between “buy my book” messages and actual engagement. The moment you find yourself “selling” on the regular, you’ll see your followers drop, along with your sales. Social media is about being part of a community.
Fortunately, my friend knows someone who was able to hop onto her account (with her permission) to start interacting and gently promoting her new book.
So can you create a platform on social media and keep your sanity intact? The short answer is yes. We here at the Writers’ Center have created a simple and easy guide—filled with no-frills tips—to start you on your journey. In PART 1, we'll offer 10 tips to help plan and launch your social media accounts. In PART 2, we’ll look at taking your social media presence a little further and provide ideas on how to reach more readers and increase your engagement.
1. Start early.
The biggest mistake you can make is rushing to market your book either just before it's published or, gasp, after it’s already out in the world. If you’ve started writing your book but you haven’t started creating your social media platform, get on it now. Readers are always excited to hear about a book, and bringing them along with you on your writing and publishing journey is a great way to share the experience. As it turns out, people like this aspect of social media. A lot.
2. Establish your target audience.
Who is your book for? How old are they? Do they have a preferred platform? These are all questions you’ll want to ask yourself before you get started. If you’re writing picture books for small children, you’ll want to gear your messaging toward parents. If you’re writing for an older audience, you’ll need to determine which platforms they’re likely to use. Establishing your key demographic will show you where your energy and time will be best spent.
Not sure where to start? Check out this Social Audience Guide for some insight into which groups gravitate toward each of the major social networks. Think about your core reader group, but make sure you leave room for other readers too. The goal here is to make sure your reach is as wide as possible, while still hitting your target audience.
3. Create your pages.
For most social media apps, you’ll want to create two separate pages:
- a personal page (for your personal use)
- an author page (dedicated to your books, writing, news, and marketing)
Many authors create just one page and use it for both purposes. But be warned: sometimes your personal interactions and comments may upset your reading community. You may also want to think about whether you’re comfortable with strangers (even nice book-buying ones) having access to pictures of your family or information about where you live. For these reasons, we recommend keeping your professional community and personal community pages separate.
4. Create a content plan.
When it comes to creating a social media profile, every author should ask themselves, “What am I offering to my followers?” In order for people to stay engaged, they want to be entertained, informed, or included in your posts. Some authors regularly post questions that are interesting to other writers and readers in order to generate discussion. Others offer blog essays, news tidbits, insights into their writing process, jokes, daily photos, gifs, or memes. Sometimes you can turn these moments into a “BTW, this news article relates perfectly with my new book” or a “I just finished a chapter of my new book today—yay!” announcement. The trick is to pepper your feed with these types of posts and comments sparingly. A little self-promotion is a good thing, but a whole lot of self-promotion rings false with your followers. Plus, it's just boring to read.
5. Be yourself … but be the best version of yourself.
Some of the best social media author accounts have mastered that combination of charm, humor, and vulnerability that makes them nearly irresistible; their natural interactions create the impression that the author is like a next-door neighbor with an amazing book collection. (I'm looking at you, Neil Gaiman.)
Resist the temptation to put up a front or behave like someone else. Authenticity is a key component of a successful social media strategy. Be sincere and honest, and quell any nerves by reminding yourself that only you can offer your audience the perspective that’s uniquely your own. (The same holds true for your book!) Just remember to avoid TMI—whether that’s your very-personal personal life, daily aches and pains, self-pity, bathroom incidents, or bouts of strong negative emotions. Or bad poetry. (Unless it’s really funny bad poetry and you’re trying to be funny. Then it might be OK.)
6. Show up regularly.
As in all forms of self-promotion and marketing, social media is a marathon, not a sprint. That means putting in the time on a regular—and ideally daily—basis. The best and most sanity-saving thing you can do is set aside a small pocket of time every day to post, comment, like/share, and participate in what’s happening on your social media pages. Ideally, you’ll want to time your posts and comments during a busy social media period, and the start of the workday is usually your best bet.
Early riser or night owl? Going on vacation? You can use a social media management tool (like Hootsuite) to schedule and manage your social media posts, and even post across multiple platforms at once, so your followers aren’t neglected.
7. Join groups.
Get involved with the writing community wherever you can. Social media offers an enormous support network for writers. As ours tends to be a rather solitary vocation, thousands and thousands of writers and authors take to social media for their version of the “water cooler.” Gripe about writers’ block, share editing tips, hear about hilarious happenings and gossip, and even get feedback. This is always one of the fastest ways to gain followers, and follow others. You’ll find that social media is filled with an enormous arts community, so don’t be afraid to mix it up by following editors, artists, musicians, and film folks too.
8. Familiarize yourself with the official—and unofficial—rules of engagement.
Every social media platform has rules of conduct. Bullying, abuse, hate speech, and harassment are all offenses that can not only temporary block your account but also result in its termination. Make sure you read the rules; then follow them to the letter. More important, take note of which user behaviors tend to alienate other users. Name calling, intolerance, impatience, disrespect, and a sharp temper are quick ways to drive away your followers. Be aware that posts and replies containing contentious or extreme political and religious views may also result in losing followers.
9. Hop onto follow threads.
Once you’ve joined a community, you can start or participate in a follow thread. By commenting on the post, it will encourage other people to follow you—with the understanding that you, of course, will follow back as well. Depending on your timing, these threads can be an incredibly useful means for increasing your following in a very short time. Note that some users may decide to unfollow/unfriend you once you follow them back; don’t take it personally.
10. Twitter is your best friend … but not your only friend.
Twitter is one of the most popular places for people to engage and interact, and to date, it remains one of the best platforms for getting you and your books noticed. But it’s not the only place to create your platform. Facebook and Instagram have enormous communities, with just as many opportunities to chat about your book and your writing life. And don’t neglect other platforms. Think about joining or becoming more active on Wattpad, LinkedIn, and Pinterest, or exploring other popular social media platforms outside of North America and Europe.
Remember, anyone can be a potential reader, regardless of their age, where they live, or what they do for a living. And with social media, it's easier than ever to reach them.
Looking for more tips? We’ve got ’em. Check out PART 2 of The WC Guide to Creating a Social Media Platform.