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Social media for writers

Last night, I and an extremely talented writer friend attended the Pacific Northwest Writers Association’s monthly meeting to hear former-book-agent-turned-business-development-guru-at-Penguin Colleen Lindsay and writers Nicola Griffith and Kelley Eskridge discuss social media for writers. The official name of the presentation was “The Writer as Marketer: Using Social Media and Digital Tools to Build a Platform, Connect with Readers, and Grow Your Community Online,” which also pretty much sums up the content.

As I progress through my novel and my thoughts turn to publication, I think more and more about social media. A bulk of (if not all of) the marketing responsibility for my book will fall to me, and so social media participation in some form becomes a requirement for me. At the same time, as a casual participant now, I can honestly say I despise it when authors constantly tweet, blog, Facebook, or otherwise trumpet about their novel, their novel, or hey, their novel. It’s spam, and it’s irritating. It does absolutely nothing to make me want to read the book, and instead makes me want to hide the person so I don’t have to be inundated with those messages anymore.

And that was, ultimately, the most important point the speakers drove home last night. Authors who use social media to beat their followers over the head with marketing messages have missed the boat. This isn’t “marketing media” or “business media.” It’s SOCIAL media. Writers should use these tools to engage with people socially, to create a friendly, interactive community.

Written in my notes (underlined and circled): “Most books are sold because the reader LIKES the author.” Not because the reader likes the author’s writing, but because the reader feels a connection to the author and likes the person. Social media, then, becomes an especially critical tool for writers, because it enables us to reach out and create relationships with lots of different people who may, in the future, buy or, just as importantly, recommend our books.

It’s up to me to define the community I want to create. I’m a clicker trainer, and the book I’m writing is a mainstream novel about training a curly coated retriever for a field trial. My community could consist of people who already know me, dog lovers, clicker trainers, people who love curly coated retrievers, and people who hunt with their dogs. If my novel were a genre novel — a mystery, for example, or a fantasy — I could seek out organizations or groups that cater specifically to readers of that genre. I’m not sure a group that caters specifically to mainstream writers exists, though I’d love to hear about it if it does. Additionally, my community could include writers, writers specifically of mainstream fiction, agents who rep mainstream fiction, and editors who purchase mainstream fiction.

It sounds very cold, doesn’t it, to break down my potential community in such a calculated way. If I were putting together this list to find people to spam with book news, I think it would be cold. But that’s not the point. The point is to find people with SIMILAR INTERESTS, and to seek out relationships with them. How? By commenting on their blogs, by responding to posts on Facebook, by responding to or retweeting their tweets. By reaching out as as individual who LIKES what they do and who they are. By being the friend to them that I want them to be to me. And then on my end, giving them content (targeted to the audience I identified) that engages them and encourages them to keep the dialogue going.

So if I do all that, and if I mind my social media etiquette — minding what I share, acting like a grown up, and apologizing when I put my foot in it — will I end up with a super popular blog or a million Twitter followers? Oh, I doubt it. Some people are able to create hugely popular online personas, but I don’t think it’s reasonable for everyone to expect those kinds of results. I think it’s more likely that I will meet some truly cool people, make some friends, and establish a nice-but-smallish core community that will grow after I release my first novel — and hopefully with each subsequent release.

If you find the whole social media thing overwhelming, don’t feel like you have to do it all. Pick one to be your home base. Maybe it’s a blog. Or Facebook. Or Twitter. Pick one, and put your energy there. You don’t have to be online managing it all the time. Once or twice a day for a limited time is fine. Schedule your time… just don’t forget to expand your community by giving back to others.

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