Thursday, 6 June 2013

Authors: What Type of Social Media User Are You?

Being a successful author used to be a lot easier.  You sat in a freezing cold attic with little food, scratched away with your quill pen long into the night, abjuring all human contact in order to follow your muse. And then, after you died in misery and penury, your manuscript would be discovered, become a bestseller and you would be hailed as a genius. Simple.

But now, oh the horror of it, {cue dramatic drum rolls} we indie authors have to do our own marketing!  That’s right, those books don’t sell themselves and as more authors choose to self-publish it becomes even more imperative to make your books stand out from the crowd and be noticed.

Jane Austen - Wikimedia Commons Public Domain
Jane Austen 

Now, as you might have gathered from my earlier post ‘WritingSuccess’, I’m not a great fan of rigidly following other writer’s paths to success and it is important that you find a way of promoting your books or articles that works for you.  It’s more of a buffet approach, where you can read what has worked for others, appreciate the success they have achieved and then pick out the bits that resonate with you.  But there is one thing that is getting increasingly hard to avoid and that is social media.

Now many of us authors are shy, introverted creatures who feel much safer tucked up behind our laptops dunking chocolate digestives in our tea, but if we want our work to be noticed in the big wide world, we have to be brave and dip our toes into the churning ocean that is now social media. ‘Write and they will come’ is a nice idea, but your stories and characters will probably get a bit lonely and your light will remain firmly stuck under the bushel if you don’t get on with choosing your profile picture and writing your blurb.

I know that it can seem daunting and, to be quite honest, you will probably have to develop a thicker skin, as at some stage you will probably encounter a few internet trolls, jealousy or nastiness.  Just let it go and do not respond is probably the best policy.  Some people just cannot help themselves and if you feed a troll they will just keep coming back for more.

Probably the two most important resources that authors use are Facebook and Twitter.  Setting up accounts on both is a straight forward exercise and there is plenty of help on the internet to get you started.  With Facebook you can set up a page as an author or you can set up pages for your individual books, although you will need a personal account in order to do this.  With Twitter, you just set up your account and happily start tweeting.

Now this is not a ‘how to’ article, as there are already thousands of them out there written by experts who know a lot more than I do about the technical stuff.  I just wanted to ask you what type of social media user are you?  What are you hoping to gain by using these tools?  It might seem like a strange question, but many social media newbies can scupper their chances of success and becoming popular, by only focussing on what they can gain.  They view it as a simple marketing exercise and, probably with the very best of intentions, plaster the social media networks with their links and promotions. This is known as spamming and is very much frowned on and can even get your account terminated.

But why is this spammy approach regarded as such a bad thing you may be asking?  Isn’t getting my book links out there what I am giving up some of my precious writing time to do? Well, it is because being overly promotional is simply not how social media works.  The clue is in the word ‘social’.  These tools were set up so that people could socialise and communicate with each other, places where they could build up online communities.  View it more like a real world conference or party.  Would you just go barrelling in there, thrusting your business cards into people’s hands, not even waiting for them to respond before you moved on to the next person? No you would not.  You would take some time to introduce yourself and let others introduce themselves also.  You would chat and establish some common interests and only then, when you have made a connection with the other person, would you give them your contact details or promotional material.  One of the simple things that we can forget when we are online is that we are still dealing with real, live people, not just a faceless computer, so treat them the way you do the folks you meet in your offline life.

A very good way to approach social media is not to think about what you might gain, but to concentrate on what value you can give. You know the Law of Attraction even works in cyberspace; the more love you give out, the more love you will get back.  Think about it.  If all you ever tweet is promotional links to your books or blog posts, are you offering your followers value?  If you have a Facebook page that again is full of links to your books or only talks about you, are you really engaging with your followers?  Now there is nothing wrong about promoting yourself, talking about your achievements and books, but that is what your website is for. It is all about achieving that crucial balance between not losing sight of what you are really there for, which is promoting your books, and wasting long hours chatting, arguing or commenting that doesn’t bring you any tangible reward for your time.

Be disciplined, create a plan and, if you know that you can easily get off track, set yourself a time limit.  Remember though that social media is about sharing.  Social media is about connecting and being generous.  Make your Facebook page interesting to your followers by sharing resources, articles or links from other authors or experts.  ‘Like’ and share stuff that your fans have posted if you think that it is interesting and gives value.  Engage directly with the people who have generously given their time to like your page, start a conversation and have some fun.  Make you page a fun and interesting place to visit.

On Twitter, it also pays to be generous and offer value.  Just don’t tweet your stuff, spend some time retweeting other posts that you have found interesting or helpful.  If you have read an interesting article written by another author, tweet it for them.  Twitter was also designed to talk to other users, which is something that is easy to forget when we are in marketing mode.  Start a conversation, join an interesting thread, but keep it polite and respect the views of others.  It is too easy to get carried away in the anonymity that is the internet, but the words we post are potentially out there forever and it is hard to take them back.

Another thing to think about with Twitter and Facebook is what type of followers do you want to have?.  The people you really want to connect with are your readers and potential readers, the people who are going to buy your books.  But I see author after author Twitter account, including my own, where all the followers are other authors or people working in publishing. Now I’m not knocking this as it is great and very helpful to connect and build relationships with other people in your industry, but are they going to buy your books?  It is well worth taking the time to identify your readership and making the effort to encourage more of them to follow your account.

If we are honest we would all love to create that tweet or post that goes viral, that is shared by hundreds if not thousands of other social media users, potentially putting our book into the hands of millions of people. But this is far more likely to happen for you if you have taken the time to create a strong network of online friends that you communicate and share with regularly. What you give out comes back to you, so go and have some fun out there in cyberspace.  Maybe don’t take your marketing and promotion so seriously; go and connect with some like-minded people and organically grow your online presence over time.

Jane Austen Image Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

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