Yes, social media DO work for writers – here’s how

warden abbey 2010 037 (2)Social media are an inextricable part of author life these days – and for some, the value seems dubious. Writers might flog themselves to blog, tweet until they turn blue, but months in, the magic hasn’t happened. Where are the book deals, the viral quantities of fame? Is it worth all the trouble?

I am here to tell you it is. But you may be looking at the wrong things, or have mistaken expectations. Social media have been an absolute transforming force for me, and if the channels were closed tomorrow I’d be howling for their return. So I thought I’d quantify the ways I’ve found it so worthwhile.

Quick background. I’ve been on social media since 2009. My major haunts are Twitter @Roz_Morris  and Facebook. And I blog, obvs. I probably get most of my results from those platforms as they’re where I’m most consistently active, but I also have profiles in the outer reaches of Linked In, G+, Pinterest and Tumblr (see my sidebar).

Building useful contacts

Networking is, of course, the number one aim. Like all professionals, we make our luck by bumping into the right person. Unless you’re born into a clan of literati, you have to build your own black book. Before social media, that came mainly from real-time encounters – book launches, writing groups, courses, conferences. Now we can strike up relationships without being on a guest list. On the internet, a cat can look at a queen (and will probably be photographed doing so).

And it’s much easier to keep our contacts warm. Quick DMs, text messages, Facebook posts are much less effort than letters, emails or – gulp – face-to-face coffee. Indeed, as most of us perform better on the page than at a party, written encounters probably allow us to be more genuine.

But Roz, you might say. What about the numbers? We might have thousands of friends and followers, and thousands we befriend and follow. Setting aside the times we might use social media just because the contact is fun, is it working for our careers? In that clamour, is anyone actually getting anywhere?

I can only speak for myself, of course. But I know this: my career under my own byline has been entirely generated from social media (if that sentence makes no sense, here’s an explanation). Because I blog, tweet etc, I have sold enough books to make it worth writing more; been offered paying jobs, speaking gigs, editing work and spots on online courses; found supporters among influential figures in the writing and publishing world. And I’ve met fantastic people who have become more than colleagues.

annular rings

Social media work. But for most of us, the results are best measured in annular rings, not by weeks or months. But look back several years and you start to see a big change.

(Of course, much comes down to how you use it. What to blog about? This post has some ideas.)

But there are other benefits too, and you don’t have to wait for them to mature.

I'm not skiving. It's research

I’m not skiving. It’s research

Social media helps create a work environment

Non-freelances ask me how I stay motivated if I don’t go to an office. I think they imagine I’m running amok watching Breaking Bad or surfing eBay or strolling to the shops or idling away an afternoon with my horse. Personally I’m too much of an obsessive to skive, but if you are too tempted by the distractions of home, social media can create a circle of colleagues to keep you accountable. On Facebook and Twitter, if you look, there are plenty of writers sharing their milestones or their to-do lists. They just finished a draft. Got edits back. Wrote or approved a press release. Signed up for a course. It’s like mini-Nanowrimo community, except you can use it year-round, 24/7.

If you know how to set up lists on Twitter and Facebook, you can assemble a posse of virtual team-mates whose work ethic will spur you to achieve. (And then make a separate list of people to hobnob with in downtime.)

Social media are a tool for book research

Somewhere, one of your contacts (or perhaps more than one) can verify a snippet of research or point you to a trustworthy source. Of course, you might also get misinformed nonsense, but hopefully you’ll have enough contacts for a reality check.

Social media are a resource for reliable advice on publishing, whether traditional or indie

Thanks to social media, the author corps 2016 is a savvy beast. We’re more clued up about fair book deals. We have our eyes open about the pitfalls and pleasures of the many publishing routes. We have access to fantastic watchdogs like Victoria Strauss, the Alliance of Independent Authors. Other terrific places for advice are Joel Friedlander’s The Book Designer and Jane Friedman – generous, knowledgeable professionals who are raising the general level of publishing knowledge for everyone’s benefit.

But there are so many platforms…

Well you don’t have to do all of them. Which platforms should you choose? I only know what works for me, so put these questions to social media expert Adam Waters in this edition of my radio show.

Although social media might seem ephemeral, they are actually permanent. Years on, you might feel a twitch on a thread, and hook a new person.

message

Over to you. What social media platforms do you like? How do you use them? What works for you and what doesn’t? If you look back over the long term, what have social media helped you accomplish? Any questions? Let’s consult the hive mind.

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  1. #1 by Maureen on August 28, 2016 - 9:37 pm

    I’m always in a love hate relationship with Social Media. I love it because it keeps me connected to my tribe of writer friends and research. I hate it because I get sucked in and spend way to much time on it… then don’t do any writing. I try to limit it to 30 minutes a day (hollow laughter here… ok 60 mins in bites.) I love Twitter because it’s quick and fun. I spend time contributing to FB Groups and thats about it. I have a weekly blog with curated writing craft and marketing links. As I am a children’s writer, I’m not using social media to find my audience tho I do keep an eye on librarians and teachers. I started my blog 8 years ago to learn about the writing business and share information to writers in my country and because I needed a web presence. The weekly time commitment ensured I had a deadline to meet. The content has helped me programme two National conferences. So on balance a win. The key thing to remember is the Social in Social Media. It’s a relationship building network. From this comes opportunities. (PS Loving your writing craft book Roz)

    • #2 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on August 28, 2016 - 9:49 pm

      Hi Maureen! You started a blog and then… you’re programming national conference! That sounds like a win-situation to me. And I agree that it’s possible to get sucked in far more than you might intend… but on the other hand, that helps make social media genuine. (And thanks for the comment about my book! )

  2. #3 by tracikenworth on August 28, 2016 - 9:44 pm

    I’m going to attempt to be more talkative on twitter, so to speak. I usually sit back and let others do so. The problem is in: knowing what to say? Do you talk about your day? Your WIP? etc. And how much is TOO much details? Any advice? I’m learning to be more open on my blog, I’d like to do so elsewhere as well though I don’t have a lot of time to spend doing it.

    • #4 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on August 29, 2016 - 10:04 am

      Traci, if you find it difficult to think of a conversation starter, you could join in a conversation that’s sparked your interest. Or search for hashtags such as #amwriting, which might pull up people who are at their desks trying to get 1,000 words done. Jump on the conversation there and tell them you’re writing too. It’s very hit and miss and you have to not mind if no one responds. But sometimes you find someone heard you.
      Or look for Twitter chats about writing – these are organised events where a number of people gather at a particular time for a discussion. There’s one I know of every third Thursday at 4pm BST, organised by Library Self-e. I think you search for it by the hashtag #selfechat (I’ll contact the organiser and find out for sure). I’ve found these organised chats often continue afterwards into Twitter friendships.
      Facebook is better for this because it keeps conversations together. So if you jump in with a comment, you know it gets seen.

    • #6 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on August 29, 2016 - 10:20 am

      Traci – see Natalie’s comment below. She found a good writing group through Twitter.

      • #7 by tracikenworth on August 30, 2016 - 5:48 pm

        I have a writing group–two actually, but I need to socialize more on twitter. I guess the shy, awkwardness of high school is still in me because I get nervous as to what to say. Lol.

    • #8 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on August 29, 2016 - 10:26 am

      Hi Traci again! I just heard from the organisers of #SELFeChat. Look for that hashtag on Twitter, on the third Thursday of every month at 3pm Eastern, 8pm BST, 7pm GMT. (So I got the time wrong in my earlier comment!)

  3. #10 by authorleannedyck on August 29, 2016 - 12:01 am

    Much like you, Roz, I’ve found social networking–Twitter, Facebook and blogging–extremely helpful in building my author career. I recently discovered how useful LinkedIn can be. Talk about a cat looking at the queen… I’ve connected with publishers and fellow authors. But it is very wise to do your homework and proceed with caution. (For example, what books has that publisher that you just connected with publish? What do they look like? What authors have they worked with? How will working with them further your career?)

    • #11 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on August 29, 2016 - 10:08 am

      Hi Leanne! I’m in two minds about Linked In. I know friends who’ve been headhunted for their dream job from Linked In. On the other hand, Linked In has a funny infrastructure that invites people to endorse their contacts for skills – without any kind of substantiation. So I’m building up a whopping list of endorsements for skills I don’t have.
      So you’re right to be cautious!
      How do you use Linked In? I know my posts get routed there, and I think my tweets do too, but I haven’t had time to suss it out as a meeting place in its own right. Husband Dave is a member of a few groups on Linked In and usually ends up complaining about them, which has put me off.

  4. #12 by Victoria Noe on August 29, 2016 - 12:01 am

    When I first started writing, Twitter was invaluable for contacts. Now I’m writing a very different book and I need help with the research. Facebook has made it possible. Strangers – friends of friends from the US, UK, Ireland and South America – have offered their help because they think it’s an important book to write (nonfiction). LinkedIn has helped a lot in finding people who only use that because they hate Facebook and don’t understand Twitter.

    • #13 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on August 29, 2016 - 10:11 am

      Hello Victoria!
      That’s so interesting about Facebook. I think it’s easier to have coherent conversations on Facebook than on Twitter, where everything just whizzes by. And how interesting that you can get such a swell of support from strangers in that way. I know we hear stories about social media trolls, but my experience is of a genuine, generous community of supporters. It looks like you’ve tapped into that.
      You’re the second person here who’d put in a good word for Linked In. How do you use it?

      • #14 by Victoria Noe on August 29, 2016 - 1:44 pm

        Roz, I’m still working on improving my LinkedIn involvement, but the number one reason I use it is that there are a lot of people who resist social media. But they know they have to be connected in some way. They see LI as strictly work-related – no posting pictures of kittens and food. To them it’s not “social”.

        I’ve found a couple of friends on there that way, but mostly it’s expanded my network in certain professional fields. These are people who read and write books, but don’t understand or want to understand social media. It’s not all job-hunting anymore.

        As long as I don’t comment on my friends’ political Facebook posts, I’m able to avoid trolls. My experience in general on FB is very positive. I’m in a number of groups: some personal interests, some writing related, some in the subjects of my books. I’m just so overwhelmed by the willingness of strangers to help me write my next book.

  5. #15 by Lisa Ciarfella on August 29, 2016 - 12:25 am

    So,started the whole social media thing about a year ago….good caz it connects me to writers, especially FB and my blog, but for introverts like myself, it’s not always easy to do! And the hardest part of blogging seems to be getting regular followers and comments…I blog, but it seems to go out into the void and not come back!

    Going to reblog this now, see what I can stir up!

    • #16 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on August 29, 2016 - 10:15 am

      Thanks for the reblog, Lisa! As I said, give it time. I found my blog readership swelled enormously when I started tweeting, and not just because I was tweeting my own posts. It definitely connects you to a bigger network.

      I’m glad you mentioned the i-word – introvert. I think it’s easier to be expressive on social media than in real-life crowds but you have to think of it as a one-to-one conversation with many possible listeners. Does that sound like nonsense? Don’t think of talking to a crowd. Think of talking and see who picks up.

  6. #18 by acflory on August 29, 2016 - 12:50 am

    I, too, have a love-hate relationship with social media. I have a presence on many platforms but the only one I truly enjoy is blogging [and visiting others’ blogs], so I’m probably not building my brand as well as I should but… -shrug- Marketing and branding are part of a ‘long game’ and human beings can only do things they dislike for so long before the whole thing becomes counter productive. So I do what I enjoy because it means I can continue building, albeit slowly. Life’s too short to spend much of it being miserable.🙂

    • #19 by Lisa Ciarfella on August 29, 2016 - 1:09 am

      Agree! Life’s too short…trying to find the balance is key!

      • #20 by acflory on August 29, 2016 - 1:18 am

        Absolutely!

        • #21 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on August 29, 2016 - 10:18 am

          Hi Andrea! Visiting others’ blogs – I forgot to mention that, but yes it’s a good way of extending your reach.

          However, I think you need to do both blogging and social media, if you can stand to. Blogs are like dinner parties. They’re held in private spaces and interaction is generally small – so you have to visit a lot of dinner parties to meet a lot of people. But Twitter and Facebook are like cocktail parties or balls where you could have chance encounteres with many, many more people. And then you invite them back to your blog.

          Of course, if you hate cocktail parties….

          • #22 by acflory on August 29, 2016 - 11:08 am

            ‘Of course, if you hate cocktail parties….’ Yes.😦

  7. #23 by Natalie K. on August 29, 2016 - 1:36 am

    I love social media because it helped me get serious about my writing. I found something called the Writing Challenge on Twitter (for anyone who’s interested, you can check out writingchallenge.org) and it’s really helped me start writing regularly. No, I’m not published yet, but it’s nice to have a virtual support group of like-minded people. Now I just need to find a beta reader or two…🙂

    • #24 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on August 29, 2016 - 10:20 am

      Hi Natalie! I’m glad you mentioned the Writing Challenge. Traci Kenworth above might be interested in that. And yes, the medium may be virtual, but the support is real.

  8. #25 by Viv on August 29, 2016 - 10:07 am

    I love social media because otherwise I’d be almost 100% isolated as in so-called real life I know…no writers at all (at least, not ones that I didn’t meet through social media and become proper friends with).
    I’m pretty sure I have sold a lot of books because of it, and I get the odd message now and then from people telling me a blog has really hit the spot for them and helped them in X manner. In real life, that happens so infrequently that it becomes alarming when it does (someone local to me told my husband (himself a fairly prominent public figure) that she’s just read one of my books, loved it and is going to get another ASAP. )
    Since it’s quite tricky to get self/indie published books into actual bricks and mortar bookshops (yeah, I know it can be done but it’s not a simple, done and dusted matter. It depends on what bookshops you have locally and your relationship with them and your own personality etc), virtually everything I have sold has been online. And that could not have been done without social media.

    • #26 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on August 29, 2016 - 10:24 am

      Hi Viv! A lot of what you’ve said here echoes my own experience. I think you’ve been blogging etc about as long as I have, so that probably supports my theories about the time element.

      • #27 by Viv on August 29, 2016 - 10:35 am

        I began my blog Feb 2009; I saw a rise in visits that peaked in 2012, then began to decline. I suspect it’s the old numbers game, and the changes to the way google picks up things. Plus, once you get a certain number of subscribers, they read the post in an email and don’t visit the post unless to comment.
        I try to avoid all the writers and writing groups on FB; they’ve become something of a dead end, being echo chambers or argument hubs, but instead have found groups I’ve felt I have interests in (like ones on wells, springs, wildlife etc) and meet people there who share my interests, and sometimes, just sometimes, I share a blog of my own there. Recently one went *almost* viral, and got shared from FB over 700 times. Sadly, no corresponding spike of book sales, but perhaps a trickle might come later once the summer slump is over.

  9. #28 by DRMarvello on August 29, 2016 - 1:29 pm

    I used to be much more active on social media, but I’ve let my accounts go dormant over the past year or so. I pretty much post only when I’m linking to a new blog post, but that hasn’t been happening much either. To give you an idea, I’m struggling with a goal of posting at least once a month to my blog. (Meanwhile, my most recent post was in April!)

    When I was active, I got the most engagement out of Twitter and Facebook. I found it was best when I participated in multi-author social networking events, as those events generated more energy and activity, which raised the visibility of everyone’s posts.

    I think part of the reason I don’t place a high priority on social networking is that I’ve never seen any direct relationship between networking activity and book sales. I realize that sales aren’t the only measure of value, and I do appreciate the connections I’ve made with other authors. It’s just that I prefer to engage with my author friends through forums where the discussion is more robust and where it’s possible to step aside and have a private conversation.

    • #29 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on August 30, 2016 - 8:08 am

      Hi Daniel! I’m glad you’ve mentioned forums. That’s an area I’ve never ventured into, although some Facebook groups probably function in similar ways. And like other kinds of organised groupings (eg Twitter chats) they’re a good way to get everyone talking and interacting – probably more effective than a lone tweet or two.

    • #30 by DRMarvello on August 30, 2016 - 11:51 am

      True about the lone tweets. One thing I’ve learned about social networking is that the best way to get engagement is to engage.

  10. #32 by Don Massenzio on August 29, 2016 - 2:36 pm

    Reblogged this on Don Massenzio's Blog.

  11. #33 by Kathy Steinemann on August 29, 2016 - 4:14 pm

    “On the internet, a cat can look at a queen (and will probably be photographed doing so).”

    I love that bit of your post, Roz.

    Social media is a plus for me as well, but I discipline my time. I see some authors posting so much on Facebook that I know they’re not writing anything.

    • #34 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on August 29, 2016 - 5:53 pm

      Kathy, I’m glad you mentioned the time element. In fact, that’s important two ways. You have to allot a certain amount of time to keep a consistent presence. But you don’t want to waste hours – which is quite easy if you go burrowing down internet rabbit holes.

  12. #35 by Shannon Lawrence on August 29, 2016 - 10:46 pm

    Good social media info, thanks! I tend to stick mostly with my blog and Facebook. I do tweet, but less than I post on Facebook. And hit Google+, Pinterest, and LinkedIn to a lesser degree.

  13. #37 by depatridge on August 30, 2016 - 6:36 am

    Reblogged this on Matthews' Blog.

  14. #39 by dgkaye on August 30, 2016 - 10:25 pm

    Excellent post Roz. I think we all have to find what works best for us as individuals. Also genres will matter to which sites we may gather more readers. I personally am on almost all sites and don’t always have time to visit them, but I send posts to them all, and have found my tribes on Twitter and Facebook too. Now, I must find you on FB, lol.🙂

    • #40 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on August 30, 2016 - 10:48 pm

      Aha, Debby – so you ARE on Facebook! I know we’ve waved at each other from the tweetwires and the Google Tangle. Facebook is my preferred place for conversations so I look forward to seeing you there.

      • #41 by dgkaye on August 31, 2016 - 1:43 pm

        Yes, it seems we travel in same circles. I’ll find you. Odd you hadn’t seen my author page when I post your articles there I always ‘highlight’ your name in reference, which FB should notify when you’ve been tagged, but sometimes hard to figure out FB’s rhyme and reason.🙂

        • #42 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on August 31, 2016 - 5:59 pm

          That IS odd. I hadn’t had any notifications at all. And I’m always sharing posts and highlighting people’s names, thinking I was taking part in some great cosmic criss-cross.
          Which just goes to show that nobody should take advice from me on social media LOL

          • #43 by dgkaye on August 31, 2016 - 10:22 pm

            LOL, but so not true. You rock!🙂

  15. #44 by Jamie Godsafe on September 2, 2016 - 11:46 am

    Thanks for your post. This is something that causes me more pain than anything else. What platforms to use, how to keep my presence focused, how much of my time to let it eat up? So many questions. It’s great to read everyone else’s views and experiences.

  16. #46 by kitglennie on September 14, 2016 - 10:07 am

    For me, at the moment, it’s all about walking that fine line between social media for networking (and learning through experimentation with what works) and the point at which that in itself can slip into procrastination. All this knowledge is necessary, but I also feel like I’m spending so much time getting clued in on how to build peers and followers that I’m distracting myself from the task of writing. Am I doing this in the wrong order? Is there a means of best practice to balance it?

    • #47 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on September 14, 2016 - 5:20 pm

      Hi Kit!
      You raise a good question here. It DOES take time to grasp the rules, whys and wherefores of these media. It also takes time to build relationships. And it’s probably a darn sight easier than filling the blank page.
      It helps to set boundaries. Certainly you have to do the tweeting etc regularly and frequently, but you can ration yourself so that you don’t spend time you’d rather be writing. Depending on your writing routine, you could allow yourself short social media breaks just to keep in touch with a few people or a group. I often like to start work on a piece of writing or editing, then flip to Facebook or Twitter for a few minutes when I need a thinking break. Usually I’m well immersed in my work, so I’m still thinking about it while I circulate and see who’s online. I don’t find it too much of an interruption to wave hello on a discussion or add a comment, then I can whip back into my work. It’s like going into the kitchen in an office – you briefly chat with the people who are there, then go back to your task. Over time, it builds.
      Does that make sense?

      • #48 by kitglennie on September 14, 2016 - 7:53 pm

        It does. Thank you for the response🙂

        The whens too. Less seems like it could be more at the beginning, so I can probably turn my attention to more important places with confidence now and stop researching. Feel it out as I go and not fret so much. 1% building up to 3% of my time, interspersed against a 75/22% writing/blogging split? At most? Overly technical? Probably. I’m very much in my head at the moment.

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