My Writing · Opinions

Social Media for Writers-building an online platform

image © Rawpixel via shutterstock.com

Daunting? Yes, a bit. What I expected? No. Worth it? Definitely.

This is not meant to be a definitive guide. It’s a look at what’s worked for me with regard to promoting my writing. If it helps you become better informed for doing the same, then that’s great. But I present it in the hope it’s interesting for its own sake.

Five years ago I published my first novel, Change of Life. But of course that wasn’t the end of the process of being a published author. It was merely the end of the beginning. The next stage was marketing.

I’d written it to be read. I wanted readers. The book was available as a paperback and as an e-book. It was available to buy online and in the few bookshops I’d managed to persuade to stock it.

But if nobody except me and my nearest and dearest knew the book existed, let alone anything about it, then it wasn’t going to be bought or read.

So how to get it noticed?

The advice on writers’ street was to get onto the social networks. Authors, it was said, needed a strong online presence. They needed a social media/online platform. Now, up until 2010, a platform to me was where you boarded and exited a train. So, I found myself at the foot of a learning slope of at least Ben Nevis proportions, if not quite Everest. And the slope would lead me to this virtual platform.

It was a bit daunting at first, but I did my research, assembled the necessary kit and set off.

EXPLORATION PHASE:

image © Rawpixel via shutterstock.com
image © Rawpixel via shutterstock.com

Although I was relatively tech savvy, I knew nothing of Facebook and its siblings. I’d heard of them of course, but being of a certain age, i.e. over fifty, they weren’t my natural habitats and the landscapes were totally unfamiliar.

WEBSITE: With my husband’s help, I got myself a domain name, a web hosting package and I set up a website. I furnished the site with home page and an about page. I included information about my writing and my novel and where to buy it.

image © 360b via shutterstock.com
image © 360b via shutterstock.com

BLOG: My first solo expedition was blogging. I chose WordPress as the host. I was impressed by both the clarity and ease of use, and the level of support it offered. I still am. So I claimed a spot and set up my online base camp there.

image © Gustavo Frazao via shutterstock.com
image © Gustavo Frazao via shutterstock.com

TWITTER: From there I visited Twitter. Nobody from my real life was on there and the land of 140 characters was completely alien. But gradually I got the hang of it. I followed people and people followed me. I got to know the etiquette, found some good Twitter mentors and some lovely Twitter friends amongst the other writers who are on there. I set up a link from my blog to Twitter, and from Twitter to my blog and moved easily between the two.

image © Twinsterphoto via shutterstock.com
image © Twinsterphoto via shutterstock.com

FACEBOOK: Encouraged by all of this, I then ventured out into the wilds of Facebook. I befriended the members of my friends and family who were already there and some of the writers who I ‘knew’ from my pre-publication days when I hung out at the writing peer review website You Write On. I also joined some Facebook writers’ groups and set up an author page. And, as I’d done with Twitter I linked my Facebook presence to my blog.

GOODREADS: It wasn’t until 2014 that I ‘decided’ to join Goodreads. I was sort of gently coerced there by another writer whose book I’d reviewed on my blog. This writer has a bit of a presence on Goodreads and was very keen that I post my review of her book there.

PINTEREST:  I enlisted on Pinterest around three years ago. This was following a suggestion by my daughter that I could make up storyboards of characters, settings, and plots solely for my own use.

LINKEDIN and GOOGLEPLUS: I have never visited either but both keep sending me emails to tell me I’ve friends there who want to hook up.

image © mama_mia via shutterstock.com
image © mama_mia via shutterstock.com

 

SETTLING DOWN – MY SOCIAL MEDIA HOMES:

So where did I eventually settle? Where did I chose to lay foundations and build my platform? Well,  it’s been a slow but steady journey of exploration. But I would say that five years on, and with another novel published along the way, I now have my own, well-established platform access points. There are two of them and they are here on the blog and my Twitter feed.

WHY MY BLOG?

As my own knowledge about blogging has increased, so too, I hope, has the quality of the blog. And you know what? I love it. I love WordPress, its friendly knowledgeable and helpful staff and its real community feel. I love posting. I love tinkering with the look and the feel of my blog. I love interacting with visitors and fellow bloggers, ­­most of whom I’ve never met, but who I count as friends.

I just love the whole blogging thing. It may have started out as a way of shouting into the darkness about my marvellous novel, but it very quickly became about so much more. It became my own personal magazine where I could express my news, views and current preoccupations. Although I have links to my novels in the sidebar, I only wrote posts about them at the time of their publication. The blog is not about selling, but it is about visibility and connecting.

And even if I never publish another book (which I hope isn’t the case) I will continue to blog for its own sake.

BLOG vs WEBSITE

My website, however is no more. It proved, for me and my lack of expertise at the time at least, to be too difficult to use. Adding and updating material seemed ridiculously complicated and, besides, nobody ever visited it – or if they did, there didn’t appear to be any way for them to contact me via the site. BUT time has moved on, so has website design, and so has my knowledge, so never say never. I may yet set up a website separate to the blog and make that the place that is exclusively about my books.

WHAT’S SO GOOD ABOUT TWITTER?

Being on Twitter is similar in effect to doing the blog. What began as a way of marketing my books, quickly became so much more. I now have a supportive network of other writers who all tweet and retweet for each other. Besides writers I also have tweet contact with all sorts of people, some of whom are readers of my books, but most of whom are not. Being on Twitter has gone way beyond shouting out ‘buy my book’ – a mistake lots of authors new to Twitter make – and is about networking in general. It’s about engaging with other people and giving and receiving all sorts of support, advice and encouragement. By using Twitter lists I’m able to keep the whole thing manageable and productive.

My blog is linked to Twitter so that when I put up a new post an alerting tweet also goes out.

As with the blog, I count several twitter friends as real friends even although we haven’t met.

FACEBOOK IS NOT FOR ME:

As far as promoting my writing, Facebook is not for me. I’ve tried it and it was just frustrating. I was bombarded by other writers wanting me to shout about their books, but who rarely reciprocated. My author page was full of other authors – again they just wanted publicity for themselves in the main – but no readers. So I’ve taken down the author page and keep Facebook strictly for real world friends and family. I visit less and less and would probably leave if it wasn’t that it’s a good way for me to keep in touch with my nieces and nephews who are scattered across the globe.

OTHER ONLINE PLACES:

I couldn’t get along with GOODREADS at all. It seems unnecessarily complicated and not worth the effort. I like PINTEREST but so far have just done it for fun although I’m coming round to exploring its possibilities for book marketing and publicity.

TO SUM UP:

So, what advice would I offer to authors setting up their online platform?

Take your time exploring.

Choose the networks that work for you and concentrate on them.

Be patient. Relationships worth having take time and effort to develop.

Share stuff about yourself and your wider life. Don’t just shout ‘buy my book’.

Return favours and support that others give to you.

 

And, ironically having said all that, I think I’ve found most of my small but loyal readership by word of mouth and by being in the ‘also bought’ bit on Amazon when readers are buying books that are in a similar vein to mine. That’s not to say social media makes no difference to your popularity as an author, but I think it’s more about visibility and relationships with readers rather than it having a direct bearing on sales.

 

And Finally:

There is a massive amount of advice out there on how authors, both traditionally and self-published, can, and indeed should, use social media to promote their work. A lot of it is good advice, but there’s a lot that’s really more about the person offering the advice raising their own profile, or trying to get money out of the unwary and less knowledgeable. There are many self-appointed experts. So do your own research, make informed choices and do what feels right for you.

Good advice and information can be found at:

  • The Alliance for Independent Authors website.
  • The B.R.A.G. website here. They have just done an analysis of how readers and authors find each other online.
  • Pewinternet here have also carried out research on the use of different social media in general, including by gender and age group in the USA.I found this particularly interesting as I suspect my target readership are not big social media users.

So there you have it? I’d be interested to hear your experiences of using social media to promote your books. Please do leave your comments.

 

 

19 thoughts on “Social Media for Writers-building an online platform

  1. Great post Anne with useful advice. Like you, social media was new to me until a couple of years ago but I’ve taken to it and really enjoy Twitter. I avoided FB until my MLItt class set up a FB group so I felt pressured to join. I use FB more for ‘real life’ friends and family and use Twitter to ‘meet’ like-minded folk such as yourself and have since met many in real life. I’ve had the most benefit from Twitter with info on workshops, competitions, submissions etc. and as I work from home it’s been handy to break the isolation of having no colleagues to chat with during the day. I’ve only very recently started with Pinterest (I’ll blog about it soon) and hope that future readers of my novel might enjoy dipping into the setting of the book and a bit of 80s nostalgia. Blogging for me was originally a way for me to record my MLitt course but I’ve kept it going and it has become a bit of a hobby for me although some time periods have been more active than others. I started with Blogger but on advice following a social media workshop, I moved everything to WordPress which I also find really easy to use. I never started social media to sell a book as I was unpublished so for me the main thing was to engage with other writers but I’m hoping that one day I’ll have readers of my novel who will be able to find me. I haven’t got a FB author page or website as Twitter and WordPress seem to work for me so far…

    1. Hi Helen, your experience and feelings on social media seem very similar to mine. I look forward to your post on using Pinterest. As always, thanks for visiting and commenting.

  2. Great, informative post, Anne, thank you. I’ve found social media immensely useful for being in touch with other writers and for the camaraderie and support that brings. Like you, my blog and twitter are my main places, although I’m quite liking instagram too these days. I’m not very active there yet, but think I would enjoy being more involved.

  3. I found your post upbeat and quite readable. In a nutshell, nothing happens overnight. And it does make sense to focus on the things that are working. I continue to find my blogging to be rewarding in a number of ways. I like the fact I have more things to blog about than I may actually post about due to various reasons. Yes, when you’re in a position where you’re actively editing the content that will make it all the way to a post, instead of wondering what you will post about, then you have arrived on some significant level.

    I agree with you that Facebook can be a challenge. It depends on what you want from it. What I have a bit of problem with, or maybe it’s just a fun pet peeve, is the fact that people will be quite lazy about things and treat their Facebook posting as if they were maintaining a blog. They fancy themselves to be bloggers with an audience. And that’s just wrong in many ways for me because these Frequent Facebook Posters do get the feedback and encouragement from their set group of Friends to continue to post memes and other notoriously ephemeral tidbits.

    Well, Frequent Facebook Posters are not Bloggers. And Bloggers aren’t necessarily Writers either! No, to actually be a writer is something else entirely. Ideally, or at least to achieve the maximum and best results, one begins as a writer and writes, writes, writes. And then, perhaps, one takes one’s writing passion and enlists it in the service of blogging. Of course, to each his or her own. Some people want to just leisurely post various items and that can be great too. I guess I feel that some of these FFPs actually would like to do more but are settling on a little fun routine that they’ve fallen into. In fact, some of these FFPs do go on to create proper blogs. So, you never know. Some will move on to more and more substantial writing and various other content.

    1. Henry, thank you so much for your thoughtful response.
      I agree that bloggers aren’t necessarily writers, but it was my way in. I enjoy the process of producing posts about whatever has caught my interest, and it’s great practice for the writing muscles. I like your description of the process as ‘enlisting one’s writing passion in the service of blogging’ – that perfectly describes my route into blogging. I hadn’t thought of the concept of the FFP, but you’re right, there are such creatures, and they certainly don’t appeal to me.

  4. This is a great post, Anne. Except for FB, I’d say our journey has been very similar. I started on FB, then WP almost 3 years ago. It took me a while to develop Twitter and LinkedIn, but I do enjoy them both. Pinterest – I have an account, but I do little with it. I’m not sure I see the need. I bookmark things I need for future reference. So now I’m off to buy your book.

  5. Hi Anne, your experience is similar to mine in many ways. A primary school teacher here, Scotland, joined FB when my sister said I should but abandoned it because it didn’t interest me. My brother set up my blog during a period I was off work and couldn’t do anything else.
    Suddenly, my writing was out there. It’s been an amazing experience being here on WP and I wouldn’t go past it for what it brings by way of encouragement and support.
    I did end up linking my blog to FB and Twitter and do a little of both now but not very comfortably. Keeping to the character count is an issue although I’m a bit better at it now than I was. (not that you can tell from the length of my comments!)
    Facebook still eludes me by way of attraction; I can’t get to grips with some of the finer points and it is flooded with general trivia, a fair proportion of which my own kids contribute. :/
    I think I did register with Pinterest but have done heehaw with it. I might look at that again given what you’ve said can be done with it. I’ve also heard that Instagram can be useful but haven’t ventured there just yet.
    It’s very helpful having someone else’s experience to draw on. Thank you for sharing yours.

    1. Hi, ‘scottishmomus’. Thanks so much for visiting my blog and for commenting. Yes, our experiences are very similar. All the best with your blog which I’m now off to visit. 🙂

  6. Ah, social media. It seems we can’t escape it. Having teenaged children has been exceptionally helpful in that I’ve got a couple of experts at my elbow who are always keen to point out just how much I don’t know and have been missing out on. (ugh) I wholly agree with your point, Anne, that you have to pick and choose, and sometimes attempting to spread yourself too thin is a disaster waiting to happen. I’m just not that clever, and if I had a 25th hour to my day, I’d spend it taking a nap rather than tending to more social media.
    I find I have to use it, and manage it, and cultivate it to some extent, and given my druthers I’d likely chuck the whole thing to the curb–except for Pinterest, which I try to make a wide berth of as it’s nearly as addictive as a drug to me. Oooh, such pretty pictures.
    Your journey of discovering where you’ll invest your time seems utterly reasonable to me, and I suppose it’s one of the things I find most charming about you: your sense of balance.
    There we go. Big fan of your writing. Big fan of your common sense. 🙂

    1. Shelley, as always, thank you! To be admired by one of my blogging heroines is very satisfying. (cue smug smiling)

      I do try to be sensible, but it doesn’t always work. As my three-year-old granddaughter often says, sometimes I’m a ‘silly Grandma’.

  7. Thanks Anne, this was really helpful. I’d been considering building a website and putting it off, it seemed like a huge undertaking. You were the third person who enthused to me about WordPress. The others are a photographer and a ‘socially-engaged artist’ (that’s what they’re calling us nowadays). I set up my blog on Friday and four days later I’m completely hooked.

    I’ve been using Facebook since 2010 as a place to keep in touch with people, support causes, vent frustrations and occasionally share work. It is a mixed blessing, full of annoying stuff, but without it I wouldn’t have discovered amazing images and info from around the world, been reunited with old friends and kept in touch with new ones.

    I’ve been aware for a while, though, that it was time to find another place for my work. I want to keep it simple for now and WordPress looks ideal. If I understand it correctly, I can add layers and detail to my blog as it evolves. I still feel a bit uneasy about self-promotion (I think that’s a hang-over from a guid Scots childhood. I can hear “big-heid”, “who does she think she is?” and “she’s a right swot” very clearly!). But like you I want to share my work when I’m pleased with it and even (heaven forfend) make a living from it.

    I suspect that having the blog will also shape the work. I like that idea.
    All the best with yours.

    1. Hi Jan, yes, the self-promotion thing can feel awkward to lassies with our ‘brought-up-ness’ 🙂 I’m sure your blog will grow steadily and organically. Thanks for dropping in here.

  8. My readers and I created a book based on their comments (written experiences) about menopause, called Letters to my Little Sister. We have sold a few hundred already. But I feel I have failed at using social media to promote it. It is as though I have missed some elemental component in it all. Anyway, I am filing this post so that when things are quieter this afternoon I can come back and read it properly, I am sure I will learn something that i can use. Thank you! c

  9. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading about your wanderings through the social media fields. I have to admit that I can totally relate to the confusion and my own personal slow processing of what in the world it’s all about, and how do I even use it? My teenagers have (quite reluctantly) helped introduce me to the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Vine. It seems that as soon as the parents become interested in their social media world, they are quick to switch to the next big thing – just to keep us confused and out of their business!

    I have a couple of childhood friends (reaquainted through FaceBook) who are writers. One, an historian, is taking us on the journey of writing his book about a local amusement park that has been around for over 100 years. He’s done an excellent job of capturing our imaginations, and I’m sure all of us following along on FB will be purchasing the book when it’s done.

    Another friend writes a fictional superhero series, and he (annoyingly for me) links his Goodreads and Twitter feed to Facebook. He goes overboard on those hashtags. It may be that I just don’t have the interest in that style of writing. But he’s quite successful with those who follow the superhero world.

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