Social Media Matters

In January, I wrote a blog post offering twelve steps toward building a platform in 2012, and promised to write a specific blog about each step throughout the year. Today, I want to focus on why writers should embrace social media. There are two important reasons : first, it builds a fan (or customer) base and, second, it allows you to interact with readers, which also strengthens your customer base.

Engaging in social media need not take a lot of time. If you plan carefully, you can execute a strong social media strategy in less than 90 minutes a day. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn might seem the most obvious social networks to begin with, but there are a number of writing and book sites that could provide as much or more exposure if you plan accordingly.

If you write fiction or nonfiction books, I recommend you have both Facebook and Twitter accounts, and use them to provide “news you can use” type updates and tweets. The rule is everything you post should provide some kind of value, so endless postings asking people to buy your book is a no-no. In fact, it’s likely to lose you more followers than you gain.

It’s okay to promote your book or some other service occasionally, but you’re better off providing useful information and a link that drives readers back to your own website where you offer your books for sale. The softer sell is always preferred. A good rule of thumb is 10 percent promotion/90 percent information.

But I also like to post helpful writing and publishing information on sites like www.shewrites.com, www.redroom.com, www.fictionaut.com, www.goodreads.com and www.waenetwork.com (Writers, Agents & Editors) to help drive traffic back to my website. Comment on others’ posts and comments, and always provide a link back to your own site.

I usually spend about 30 minutes in the morning looking through Twitter posts and re-tweeting those I think will be helpful to writers. I also look through all my e-newsletters to see if there is industry news or information I can post to my Writing & Publishing group on Facebook (you can join here). I do the same at mid-day and again in the late afternoon or evening. I don’t always have time to do this, but I make it an intention every day.

Whenever I post a new blog entry, I post it to Twitter, which automatically posts it to Facebook and LinkedIn (this is a simple linking process on Facebook and LinkedIn; just do a search for “linking to (whatever site you want to link to).” If you use a software program like www.Hootsuite.com, which has a nominal monthly fee, you can schedule a day’s worth of Twitter posts (some experts suggest 15-20 tweets a day; I probably manage five or six) all at once and forget about it the rest of the day. I also like using www.Tweetdeck.com, which is free, because you have more flexibility in commenting on and retweeting other people’s posts.

Join writing groups on LinkedIn, and follow agents and editors on Twitter. If you blog, make sure you post a link to it on all the writing and book sites I mentioned above (keeping in mind the 10-90 rule).

Remember, in today’s publishing world, it’s all about exposure: how many “followers,” how many “connections” and how many “friends” you have. That is especially true if you are self-publishing. Yes, I know, it’s annoying and so high school. It’s also one of the best ways to build a platform and get noticed. So get cracking. And let me know how it goes.

12 Things You Can Do to Build Your Platform in 2012

The New Year always brings renewed commitments. For writers, that usually means something along the lines of “I promise to commit more time to my writing,” or “I will complete my novel (memoir, short story collection, poetry chapbook) this year,” or perhaps “I’m going to do more this year to market my work.” If that last one resonates with you, read on for some tips on building your platform this year.

I recommend you do one every month, and I will be writing in detail on each at the beginning of the month from now on. By the end of the year, you’ll be better positioned to sell your work, or at least answer the question, “What is your platform?” when an agent asks.

  1. If you haven’t already, start a blog. Yes, I know. Everyone and his dog has a blog. But it’s one of the fastest ways to build a following. (See Why Should Writers Blog?, Jan. 13.)
  2. Engage social media. It doesn't have to be Facebook, though Facebook is the social network with the most users. There are a number of sites for writers that offer ways to promote your work. Check out redroom.com, shewrites.com, fictionaut.com, and the new Writers Agents and Editors Network site founded by super-agent Jeff Herman and his wife, Deborah. Even goodreads.com – which is focused more on readers – offers promotional pages for authors.
  3. Speak out. Become an expert in your field and go out and talk about it. If you’re a nonfiction writer, offer to speak to groups who are interested in the topics you write about. Give a free lecture at your local library. If you write fiction, offer to do a virtual chat with book clubs. The more you speak, the more you’ll be seen as having expertise in writing. And if you’re not comfortable speaking, sign up for a local Toastmaster’s course. I guarantee it will bring returns in spades.
  4. Teach a class. Do you have a community college in your community? Admittedly, education dollars are more limited than in previous years, but teaching a local adult ed class is a great way to become better known in your community (and to sell books!).
  5. Volunteer. With a school, a writing program for kids, anyplace where you can offer insight and information to young writers. This is so important! We are responsible for bringing up future literati. Take it seriously.
  6. Review others’ books. On your own blog or on reader sites like Goodreads or Amazon. This is another opportunity to give a little and gain a lot later.
  7. Self-publish an e-book. It is becoming simpler by the day. If you have a novel or nonfiction book that’s complete, well-edited and ready for prime time, pay a little bit of money to have a great cover designed, format it so it reads well, then make a .pdf file and upload it to Amazon’s self-publishing service. You can’t lose.
  8. Send out a monthly e-newsletter. This is one way to keep you and your book in front of people who don't do social media. There are several really good services and they are not expensive (I’ve used both ConstantContact.com and Ratepoint.com). The advantages are worth the investment of time in learning their platforms and designing a pleasing template.
  9. Join a writers organization. I recommend national organizations, like PEN Center USA, the Authors Guild, the Writers Guild of America, West, and others. Each has different criteria for membership, but if you qualify, belonging is well worth the nominal yearly membership fee. I belong to both the Authors Guild and PEN Center USA. The free legal and contract advice alone is worth it. 
  10. Launch a virtual book tour. There are two kinds: You can do a phone or Skype meeting with a book club or a media personality. Easy peasy. Or you can set up a virtual book tour where an interviewer asks you questions in a closed teleseminar. There’s a great explanation of both here.
  11. Add value. It's not just about you. If you’re using social media, pass on some information other writers can use. A link to a particularly good article on self-publishing or how to write a query letter. What to ask an agent if you are offered representation. Ways to structure a novel. Whatever you can offer in the way of added value, do it. And refrain from the obvious sales job. People don’t like to be pitched on social media.
  12. Pay it forward. (With thanks and a nod of the head to my friend Catherine Ryan Hyde, who wrote the book Pay It Forward.) Listen, if you want people to help you, you have to help others. If you’re in the position to help a new writer, do it. A little friendly coaching, taking time to offer some sage advice over coffee, whatever it is, it’s time well-invested. You never know when that person may be in a position to help you and your career. Believe me, people remember. Pay it forward.