Writers and Social Media
This is a contentious topic – all the social media gurus out there are telling you to promote yourself, to network, and keep sending your message out there, ‘cuz it helps develop your brand identity and sooner or later somebody’s gonna listen.
And, as a writer, you are a brand, and the work you create is a product.
Which is fine, but how do you make sure it gets read by somebody?
Personally, I like WordPress for the internal promotion through using tags and categories, it helps my posts reach a targeted audience – you folks out there who are at least interested in the same things as me, unlike sending stuff into the abyss of verbiage that is Twitter, or me spending years cultivating relationships on Facebook.
But you get superficial followers, the kind of ‘you like me, so I like you back, but you don’t engage with my work’ kind of thing. Before you get offended, don’t worry, I don’t take this stuff personally. Nobody has time to deal with the avalanche of text that is produced daily online. Everyone has to be selective.
The problem is the market is glutted – everyone lives in a time of too busy, too much to do, so reading stray fictitious pieces tends to fall by the wayside. So how do you ‘sell’ your work? (I use that term loosely — even giving it away is hard enough, how do you get any kind of readership?)
As a copywriter (someone who writes content for advertisements or the web) I know the importance of writing for your audience. Great copy reads like a personal letter to the person, maybe not the ‘Dear Jane’ pretentiousness, but you walk through your reader’s mind, understand their fears, their worries, their hang ups, and you write for them. As a unique person.
Not as a demographic.
Seriously, in a failed ad campaign, I’ve had clients describe their prospective customers as ‘wears an iWatch and drives a BMW’ without a sense of the person behind the product. So what problems does their product solve for this customer? How the heck can you sell it to them?
This is the fundamental problem of advertising – how can your product solve a need (either real or socially created) that your prospective customer faces? You figure this out, and communicate it in a way that the customer understands, and BLAMO! you have a sale. (Or, at least are that much closer to selling.)
Which is fine for copywriting, but what about fiction?
Well, I’m sure you could find a hot market (*cough* gay male erotica *cough*) but what if you just want to write what you want, and push things the way you believe they should be pushed and tell the story in the best way you know how?
You just do it. (To borrow an advertising slogan 😉
Great, but what if nobody’s reading it?
You could shelve it, and say, fine, then I’m going to write some gay male erotica for South Asian markets (seriously). Or, you could send stuff out to various lit mags (hello, Twisted Sister) and hope for the best. At least, you might connect with like minded people.
Which brings me back to this whole premise of writers and social media. What is the point of being on social media (aka the great time waster) if you’re not cultivating relationships?’
(Note: a relationship is more than just a ‘follow’ or a ‘like,’ a relationship is something that friends or coworkers have, where two people are interconnected and have ongoing discussions, and the time spent together is seen as mutually beneficial.)
This leaves your ‘please RT’ requests falling flat.
So why the heck are you on social media?
To connect with people who might read your work, or share your work, but –
Due to the nature of the glutted market, any sharing or interaction is minimal. So, you are engaging in relatively superficial interactions, with no return on investment (ROI); which means you’re working hard, but not getting anywhere.
Now, the internet does make the world a small place, but –
I suggest you start smaller. Like right in your own backyard.
Go to your local literacy festivals, library events, book launches, and writing workshops. Heck, hang out at your local indie bookstore for a while, you’re bound to meet someone, and when they ask what you do, you can say, ‘I’m a writer…” and all kinds of doors will open.
In my tiny backwoods corner of the universe, there’s been a literacy festival within driving distance for three weekends in a row. That’s one every weekend, in case you missed the math.
What do you do at these events?
Talk to people. (Yes, walk up to them and talk in real life.) Ask them what they read (or write). Ask about real-life writing groups. You’d be surprised at the points of connections. I now own a stack of books by local authors (some indie, some conventionally published) that I’m dying to get into. I’ve discovered new tiny publishing houses, fantastic authors, and some great writing.
But guess what? Those authors (and the publishing houses) benefit too. I buy their stuff (they get my money, as opposed to a big box store that doesn’t need it), and I’ll probably buy from those folks again in the future, or figure out a way to connect online, and keep the relationship going.
This my friends, is what social networking is about – establishing connections, mutual benefits, and brand loyalty. (When I want noire from Northern Ontario, I need look no further than Latitude 46 Publishing. Truly. They have great stuff there.)
OK, so what else do you do at these events?
Listen. Listen to authors read, listen to them talk about the craft of writing. Listen to other people talk about their favorite books and writers, it may open a whole new door for you.
In the case of workshops, it’s even better, because you usually get to read each other’s work, and grow from a critique standpoint, so again, it’s win-win. I often leave these workshops with various emails and contacts for other writers and we might swap manuscripts and continue to critique each other’s work; or, at least I have another friend in the field, someone to tell me about upcoming events and items of interest.
You need to join. Join in conversations, in discussions, even if someone’s great-grandmother’s memoir project doesn’t turn your post-apocalyptic dystopian crank, you can learn from them, as they will learn from you. Relationships are, about being mutually beneficial. It’s win-win.
Before you get all up in arms, let me explain. Go back to the basics of copywriting – know your potential customer. In the writer’s case, it’s folks who read and enjoy books. (The literary festival, library or bookstore in their natural habitat.) Added bonus if they are writers as well. So, go where these #amwriting peeps hang out in real life, to cultivate real relationships.
And (hopefully) through these relationships, your work will find an audience, a critical eye,, and you both will grow through the process.
Which brings us to the final point of this – the craft of writing in itself. (Or did you forget about that as we’re talking social networking?)
The time spent on social media (and promoting your product) is far less valuable then the time spent actually writing (and creating great products).
Think about it – time on Twitter or Facebook means time lost for writing, with no real benefit to interaction.
(It might be fun, but there’s little to no ROI – you’re in the hole, mathematically speaking.)
Now, I’m not saying be a social media hermit (although I know many writers who are, and simply focus on writing instead, arguing that 500 words on a blog post could have easily been 500 words on a draft); but, be selective. Yes, you’ll find signs of me over on Facebook and traces of me on Twitter @lizmcadams753), but I’d rather spend my time actually writing, not tweeting about writing.
So that leads me to practice. This means turn off all distractions (especially social media) and write.
And that’s what I’m doing.
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