If you are embarking on a writing career—as a freelance journalist, novelist, short story writer or anything in between—effective use of social media can help you make connections, create paying work and bring your words to more readers. But you have to be willing to put in the sometimes considerable effort that it takes to succeed.
Social media (and I’ll treat “media” as a single noun rather than a plural because these days “media was” sounds old-fashioned; let’s face it, Latin is a dead language) is first and foremost about its adjective: social. It is a give and take. It’s about sharing information, commiserating, helping and, yes, on occasion exchanging the odd tidbit of innocuous gossip. The success or failure of your social media presence is entirely up to you and how much effort YOU are willing to put in.
I have been lucky enough to have had some success using social media, due to considerable time and effort on my part, but also largely due to the generosity of the people I’ve met.
This blog post is not intended to be a name-dropping brag-fest, so I’ll refer to the authors and editors who I’ve met, and who have helped me, by their initials only. A diligent researcher/stalker could easily find out who I’m referring to. Suffice it to say, those who are referred to here are nationally (some internationally) famous best-selling Canadian authors (they know who they are). Whoever they are, they are all exceedingly generous of heart and spirit.
Before I joined Facebook and even before Twitter existed, I became a member of an online forum called Absolute Write. This is an international site for authors of all stripes and levels of ability—fiction and non-fiction—editors, agents, booksellers, and industry insiders. Many of the more famous authors and agents operate under a pseudonym but their expertise is easy to recognize and invaluable to new authors.
Because it’s an American-heavy, international site, it’s easy to play Spot the Canadian. The forum has a private messaging feature and building relationships with the Canadian members of the site has proven to be an extremely enjoyable and fruitful venture for me. Using these forums, I met KC, a poet and novelist who has become a trusted mentor and beta reader. He also told me about the Ontario Writers Conference, which I now attend annually and at which I’ve met in person dozens of other authors, like RJW, AK, AB, SC and the other SC, JCS, CB, and so on.
I met RJW, a best-selling author who gave me the name of his agent and allowed me to use his name when I contacted her. She didn’t end up taking on my work, but I’ve been grateful to RJW for all his support over lo these many years.
I met AK, who is a novelist with an eye for cover design. When I posted on the forum that I didn’t love the first draft of my publisher’s cover, she generously offered to play around with the image and text fonts. As a result of her efforts, I ended up with a cover I could be proud to call mine.
To attain relationships like these, I had to build trust by posting frequently and intelligently about what I know (and admitting when I was wrong—ugh!). My online self needed to be trustworthy and approachable. It takes a bit of work but if you find an online forum you want to be a member of, jump in and build some strong relationships with the other members. You won’t regret it.
I have two Facebook pages. One is personal, where I can use privacy settings to post the occasional photo of my family and share a bit more personal information with friends only. The other is a public author page, where I post links to blog posts and reviews of my novel. I use it to post writing-related information and, ideally, build a fan base. I don’t think I have any actual “fans” but I have the page ready just in case. Come on over, like my page, and say “hi:” https://www.facebook.com/pages/Caroline-Wissing-Author/253742287989560
Twitter is the most recent social media outlet I’ve joined but, ultimately, one of the most valuable. Through Twitter, I found out that author AA was coming to my town. She invited me to her reading, where we met and discovered the same publisher published our first books. She gave me advice to increase my readership.
And, in one of the biggest changes to my career path, I was contacted through Twitter DM by PD, the editor of a local quarterly magazine. She wanted to help promote my book and increase Christmas sales by writing a blurb about the novel in the winter issue. She also asked if I would be interested in writing a feature article for the same issue. Heck, yeah!! I interviewed the subjects, wrote the article and enjoyed every minute of it. I also got paid for doing it. I’m working on my second article for the magazine and now have these credits to add to my freelance resume. Thanks, PD, for your support and confidence in me!
Some Last Words
What about privacy? I believe you can grow and maintain a significant social media presence and still retain your privacy. Be careful what you post or tweet. Always think before you post. Always. If you’re unsure, let the comment sit for a few hours, reread it, and if it seems okay, post. If not, DON’T! On your personal Facebook site, use privacy settings diligently to protect your photos and posts. On Twitter, confine your interactions to business-related matters. Keep your personal circumstances as vague as you feel you need to in order to be comfortable.
Writers on social media who post only about themselves and don’t interact by commenting on other people’s pages, or retweeting, replying or favouriting on Twitter, are missing opportunities to connect and grow their network of contacts. And it’s not just about growing contacts, it’s also about making friends because these are real people out there, with experiences and knowledge to share. And one day, it might be you with knowledge to share.
Writers today are living and working in a rapidly changing environment. Let’s face it; we need all the help we can get!!