Last night I was having a discussion on a forum, when the subject came up of authors on social media, with the usual list of names and how they manage to interact with their fans. It occurred to me that this is a grey, murky area for writers.
As a fan, what do I expect from the authors I follow? I expect them to interact, to put up posts that keep me informed of their activity, that make me feel good about following them and that are reasonably entertaining.
No pressure, then.
As a writer, I started on social media with a few real-life mates, my family and some close online friends. My words were read by people who already knew me and, presumably, liked me. I bantered, I stuck up my political leanings (a little – I’m pretty circumspect, anyway), I didn’t really worry about what impression I might give anyone of me.
And then I released my book. Suddenly my blog began to be read much more widely. My twitter followers expanded to dwarf those I followed. My facebook friends became wider with more writers following me, and, later, readers.
Now, let’s be realistic here. I’m not madly popular. I’m not at household-fame status, even in my own household. I’m an indie author who’s probably, optimistically, starting to break through a little. Like a little pop in the bubble-wrapped ceiling that is a writing career. Yet, already, I feel things changing.
I’m much more circumspect what I post. I will often now like posts that make me smile but are full of non-pc elements, but not share (I have a filthy sense of humour). I’m much, much more careful what goes up of my family, aware that even my friends list is huge, let alone that most of my profile is set – necessarily – to public.
I don’t critique as much as I used to, and I’m more selective who to. I don’t want to be seen to be ripping shreds into a newby writer, me a published author – despite the fact my critique style is unchanged in years. When I blog now, I try to be more informative, less ranting for personal reasons.
Slowly, inexorably, I’ve become more professional in what goes onto SM. Which is fine. SM seems to be the platform I am most confident and accessible on. It makes sense for me to think about what I want to achieve on it.
But no one tells authors what to do. We expect them to go from larking around with their mates to interacting like pros without any guidance. What is too friendly? What is standoffish? How do you maintain the balance of multiple interactions, across multiple platforms, without spinning in circles? So, in the interest of discussion (and because, you know, it’s blog-day), here are some of the things I do to keep SM in-check, professional and not drive-me-insane busy.
- Multiple posts. For me, they’re a no-no. I know I can schedule my blog to go out at Friday every week, every three hours. I don’t do it. I post my blog once (sometimes, if it’s relevant to a discussion or a time of year, I’ll post it again months later.) I post it on facebook, on twitter, on google plus and on a couple of forums, and that’s it.
Usually, though, someone or ones is kind enough to retweet it, which keeps it active. Some of those do it in a new post, and I retweet those (which brings some traffic to the other SM account, so that’s a win-win). This way, yes, my blog might be posted by me three times – but each one is different. No one, but no one, but no one likes repeated content.
- Finding time. This is the killer. I could, quite literally, spend all day in forums and facebook. I have so many active groups and threads, I get a few alerts every minute. When I do post up something of interest, I get lots and lots more.
It is okay not to respond right away – provided you do, eventually, respond. Sometimes, that might only be a like because it’s also okay not to write back to everyone. I used to try to do that and it is no longer possible. I am only one person. Do what you can within your limits and remember the like-button is your friend.
- Being professional. This is entirely up to every writer. You are your own brand. Your publisher might set guidelines and there is an expectation you follow them, but outside that your online persona is your own. If you want to write voicey blogs that rant and curse, do so – it hasn’t hurt Chuck Wendig. If you’re not a blogger and think you have nothing interesting to say, become the person who can be relied on to know the relative effects of centrifugal force on a space-habitat and I can tell you, hand on heart, you will be a valued friend. If you like geeking, geek.
Being professional on social media doesn’t mean being soulless and formal. It doesn’t mean never showing anything of yourself. It does mean keeping your SM content representative of who you are. Your brand. For me, that’s chatty, informative blog posts, and a lot of chatty interaction with people. Oh, and pictures of jam once a year, because I’m always ridiculously proud when I make it. That’s okay, too….
- Understanding that SM is just one parameter of writing intervention. Some do conventions instead. Some use newsletters, or their website and keep it up to date with content. Some use their publisher’s page. It’s up to you.
We are starting to feel as if, as writers, we have to get this SM. But we don’t know what ‘getting it’ entails. There is no norm. For every Neil Gaiman, interacting casually to so many people, there are ten other writers keeping it small and building up a loyal body of people interested.
- Whatever you do will be right for some people and wrong for others. That’s okay. That is life. You cannot please everyone. For each person who laughs their way through a Wendig blog, another will be offended and never go back. For every person who wants a personal response to their message about how much they love your book, another will cringe if the author goes back to them.
Once you accept you cannot win, but can only do your best, things get easier. You don’t like my online interactions, don’t friend me (but don’t, as someone recently did, tell me you want nothing to do with me and still remain friends. Neither of us will benefit from that, or feel comfortable – I cut the friendship). You like my blog but hate my posts, follow the blog only. It’s a big world and we cannot connect with anyone, on any medium.
6. Lastly – enjoy what you do. No one likes a complete misery (unless it’s Eeyore like mutterings we can snigger at). If you hate a platform, don’t do it. Really. We’re only here for a wee while, don’t make yourself do something you hate.