The buzz on social media
How can you put online networks to use without creating a monster that consumes your writing time? We survey six writers for effective goals and strategies
Published: February 8, 2011
|First came websites, then blogs, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. By now, most writers realize that these online tools can help them enhance their careers. Some of them may be reluctant but pragmatic social-media users who realize that their editors, publishers or publicists want them to use these tools. Others are enthusiastic converts.|
One thing’s for sure: In a competitive publishing world, it’s hard to get attention. Social media give us more ways to do that, but they’re in addition to, not in place of, print reviews and interviews, personal appearances, and face-to-face contacts with editors and agents. Writers need those outlets, too.
Talk to writers about Twitter or Facebook and eventually they’ll ask: “If I use social media to promote myself, when will I write?” Without a strategy or goals, social media can be a black hole that swallows your time.
To help sort it all out, we asked six writers—of fiction, general nonfiction and business titles—to share how they use social media to achieve their goals. Each, it turns out, has a slightly different approach designed to meet his or her needs. As you’ll see, one size doesn’t fit all. Here’s what they had to say.
In an essay for worldhum.com, David
Farley gives readers pointers on surefire ways to write a boring travel
story—something he could never be accused of doing. Farley delivers some
of the best travel stories in the country (included in many “best of”
anthologies) with wit and wisdom stoked by an insatiable curiosity about
people and places that takes him to corners of the world most of us
miss. His über-bizarre tale An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church’s Strangest Relic in Italy’s Oddest Town is cited by many critics as one of the best travel books of 2010. Farley writes for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Bon Appétit, Condé Nast Traveler and Slate.
How do you use social media? In addition to my personal Facebook profile, I created pages for my book, An Irreverent Curiosity, and one for the co-subject of my book, The Holy Foreskin
[referring to a relic stolen from Calcata, Italy]. The same for MySpace
[another social-media site]. I use Twitter to promote my book. I also
have an account for The Holy Foreskin, where I tweet the history
of this unlikely relic and links to news items about other holy relics. I
have a blog on my website, but I mostly use it to publish reviews about
my book and interviews.
What is the place of social media in your writing life?
I go in phases. There are times when I’m on Facebook and Twitter quite
often, but then suddenly feel the need to have real face time with
people and, for a week or two, log on infrequently. Often, especially
with promotion, social media can be a bit overblown and its benefits
exaggerated. I still think—at least at this point—that doing radio and
blog interviews, getting the book reviewed in print and online
publications, and word-of-mouth publicity is better than social media.
The social-media addicts in my life—particularly the Twitterati—seem to
exaggerate its benefit.
Benefits, disappointments or surprises? Because I’m
an author and widely published in various magazines and newspapers, I’ve
earned credibility on social media. I have followers on Twitter, for
example, because I’m seen as an authority or professional on certain
issues in the field of food, travel and writing. I don’t believe this
is the case with everyone—in most instances, it may be the other way
around [the Internet has helped authors gain recognition]—but this is
how it worked out for me.
The financial benefit? It has definitely helped
spread the word about my book, but it’s really impossible to measure how
that has translated into actual book sales. I think my own personal
Twitter account has been more beneficial than the account connected to
my book because my personal account has more flexibility in terms of
subject matter, while the account linked to my book is defined by the
book’s subject matter.
Find him at: anirrreverentcuriosity.com, dfarley.com, twitter.com/david
farley, and twitter.com/holyforeskin. Farley also regularly contributes to worldhum.com blogs and the New York Times’ In Transit blog.
The author of Escape From Corporate America: A Practical Guide to Creating the Career of Your Dreams, Pamela Skillings put her journalism and entrepreneurial skills to work to create a thriving freelance coaching and consulting business, Skillful Communications. She works with individual clients on career changes and job-interview techniques, and provides training and consulting services to corporations and organizations. Her articles have been published in The New York Times, and her blog, My Manhattan, appears on about.com.
How do you use social media? I share my blog posts and interesting news with my connections and have found sources for stories via Facebook referrals. On LinkedIn I keep in touch with clients, former colleagues, and other business-related connections, and use it to research jobs and companies for my clients.
On Twitter I share interesting content, research what people are buzzing about, and find expert sources for articles, books and blog posts.
I currently maintain a blog about New York City on about.com, a blog focusing on career-related issues, and one giving advice on job interviews.
What is the place of social media in your writing life? It’s essential to my success. As a writer, I think there are special challenges. Every day I “create content” as part of my job. After spending hours writing, I am often creatively tapped out. The last thing I want to do is try to write a clever blog post or status update.
Social media present amazing opportunities to connect with clients and influencers, who can help you build your business. But, do you really want to share the same information with your clients that you’re sharing with your best friend or mom? Success in social media requires authenticity, but too much authenticity can compromise your brand as a professional. You have to find the right balance.
Benefits, disappointments, surprises? New clients have found me through my blogs and social-media profiles. LinkedIn has helped me get referrals. My blogs, and the fact that I had a healthy subscriber base for them, helped me to find a great agent and ultimately sign a book deal.
The financial benefit? Social media helped me become too busy to maintain my online presence as actively as I’d like.
Find her at: escapefromcorporate.com, skillfullydone.com, biginterview.com, and twitter.com/skillful.
Pamela Redmond Satran
Photo by Alexa Garbarino
The author of 17 books, including the New York Times bestseller How Not to Act Old, Pamela Redmond Satran turned her blog into a book. She also has written 10 baby-name books co-authored with Linda Rosenkrantz. Her website, nameberry.com, attracts 3 million page views a month. She has also published six novels and is the creator of the digital novel Ho Springs. Satran is a columnist for Glamour and writes frequently for both print and online publications, including The Daily Beast and The New York Times.
How do you use social media? I have a personal Facebook page. It’s definitely a way to connect with people in the business informally. I may link to a review of my work or a promotional video, but I don’t see my page as primarily a promotional tool—I think of it kind of like going to a gathering that’s part business and part pleasure.
I have separate Facebook pages for How Not to Act Old, my blog and book, and for nameberry.com, my website based on my baby-name books. I use LinkedIn to connect with editors and other writers to pitch new work, ask questions, find and make new contacts. I use this less regularly than other social media, but it’s been most useful when I have a targeted goal, e.g., to find an editor at AOL to talk with about running a piece on names.
I blog at both hownottoactold.com and at nameberry.com. These blogs are in support of the books and aim to encourage people who like my writing and viewpoint to buy the books.
I have two primary Twitter accounts, a personal one that’s very focused on writing and one for nameberry.com. These are another way to connect with people, to develop a “brand,” and, in the case of nameberry, to drive traffic to the site.
Pamelaredmondsatran.com is a kind of general umbrella site for all my different projects and a way for people to find me and my agents, to learn more about what’s new, and to connect with my books and other writing projects.
What is the place of social media in your writing life? How Not to Act Old started as a blog, so from the beginning there was a lot of reader interaction. After the book came out, the publishers and I decided it needed a Facebook page. I used it at first like a blog, but nothing was happening. I discovered that Facebook works in different ways than a blog. Facebook is a lot more interactive. Facebook created a community that jumped off from the book around people who had the same way of thinking about age. It relates to the theme in a much broader way than the blog. A lot of the communication was about things that wouldn’t lend themselves to a whole blog post. It’s more personal, less of a post.
Benefits, disappointments, surprises? I’ve gotten tons of interviews and other publicity from being online and easy to find—journalists can contact me directly very easily. Recently, BBC Radio interviewed me spur of the moment about the most popular British baby names. That was fantastic. The invitation just appeared in my e-mail box. The producer called 10 minutes later.
When I was selling my historical novel The White Lie, I actually Facebook-messaged an editor I was “friends” with but barely knew and asked her to read it. She responded immediately and did read the book right away, though another editor ultimately bought it. That kind of access wouldn’t have been possible without Facebook.
The financial benefit? In the case of my nonfiction books, visibility and sales have been greatly increased by being online. I turned my blog into a Times bestseller and translated a series of bestsellers (the baby-name books) into a major website that attracts half a million visitors a month and is officially making a profit.
Find her at: pamelaredmondsatran.com, hownottoactold.com, nameberry.com, twitter.com/prsatran, and twitter.com/nameberry.
A bestselling author of four novels, including Eddie’s Bastard and Somewhere South of Here, William Kowalski uses social media primarily to connect with readers and promote his books. In addition to his novels, he’s published two works of hi-lo fiction (stories for adults with literacy issues). He has contributed to The Writer and reviews fiction for the Toronto Globe and Mail.
How do you use social media? I use Facebook as a way for fans of my work to connect with me and leave me messages. My ultimate goal is to do most, if not all, of my self-promotion through Facebook. It’s incredibly convenient, precisely because it is so popular.
Williamkowalski.com is a place for fans to learn about my new releases and about me personally. It has the added bonus of allowing me to link book images directly to Amazon, so they can order titles right through the site. It’s also linked to my Facebook promotional page. My goal here is simply to boost my Web visibility, so that when people google my name they have somewhere to go right away. The website allows people to contact me directly about my editing and mentoring services.
I’m a member of the reddit.com community, a news-aggregator site that keeps me well informed and offers users the chance to engage in neatly organized discussions on any topic they like. Reddit is a fantastic place to ask questions about unfamiliar subjects and to seek expert advice. ... I keep myself anonymous on Reddit, but I turn to it often for research.
I was reluctant to use Facebook at first, but now I am wholeheartedly enthusiastic about its possibilities. I’ve always divided my career activities into two categories: writing (an art) and publishing (a business). Publishing includes self-promotion, which is what Facebook is for. But because the life of a writer can be an isolated one, Facebook helps me stay connected to friends and family I wouldn’t hear much from otherwise. Reddit, on the other hand, allows me to engage in discussions with people whom I would otherwise never get to meet—ensconced as I am in my little studio in remote Nova Scotia—as well as to read about things I would never learn from the newspapers.
Benefits, disappointments, surprises? I’m surprised at just how important social media have become to me personally and professionally.
The financial benefit? The media I use have unquestionably given me greater exposure, which translates into greater sales. ... It seems that having a Web presence is obligatory for authors. ...
Find him at: williamkowalski.com.
Author, editor and workshop leader Marla Miller found a niche teaching writers how to market their work. She put her years of experience to work by offering workshops at conferences, and now she is taking her efforts online. Marketingthemuse.com features Quick Query Critique Workshops on video and an author-interview series in which published writers discuss their work and offer writers advice. Her Critique My Query feature appears twice monthly on The Writer website, WriterMag.com. She’s turning her blog Gladly Gray or Not: Women Discuss Aging In Our Anti-Aging Culture previously on more.com into an e-book. While stepping up her Web presence, she continues to teach writers how to market their work at conferences, including the Southern California Writers Conference and the Santa Barbara Writers Conference.
How do you use social media? My goal for all social media is to attract writers who need and want the resources offered at marlamiller.com. Historically, I’ve used Facebook to grow friendships, most of them with creative artists. Through my association, I have been able to connect, interview and affiliate myself with many writers whose access would be far more challenging (and time-consuming) without Facebook. I also just launched a Marketing the Muse page for “writers only.”
I became a believer in Twitter’s worth recently when I entered a talent search at the Oprah Winfrey Network and needed votes. I contacted AARP [American Association of Retired Persons] tweeters across the country and asked them to vote. They loved my “Aging: Aging Well In Our Anti-Aging Culture” video and sent their “tweeps” a link to it. I was very touched, actually.
What is the place of social media in your writing life? I adore social media because I am a social animal who also has a reclusive side. This medium allows me to mingle without getting dressed up!
I’ve heard it said by industry insiders that there really is no better time to be a writer. The Web has offered us an opportunity that few of us have had prior to the creation of cyberspace.
It’s also tricky to navigate. I tell writers all the time, stick to your own kind. Do not sign up with any fast-talking service that promises to get you out there and your book on Oprah. I call this the 21st century’s answer to “snake oil” salespeople: They make money from you for them.
Benefits, disappointments, surprises? I’ve been facilitating Marketing the Muse workshops since 2003. Since focusing all my energies on the Web, my outreach has multiplied manyfold.
Almost all my business begins via social-media sites, either by seeing a group I want to join, or a name I want to friend, or a tweeter I want to follow. I would not have this relatively easy access without social media. I know this to be true because for 20 years, I freelanced the old-fashioned way, i.e., by phone, fax and snail mail. For jobs, speaking gigs, etc., my website is the only calling card I need. It’s money well spent.
The financial benefit? I’ve snagged a few speaking engagements, but I have not monetized marlamiller.com yet. We are at the “building content” phase with hopes of packaging/selling by early this year. What writers need to learn is how to sell to the cyber marketplace. It begins with building your list and finding writers who are doing what you ultimately want to do—selling their wares. Find them and study their sites. A fan e-letter that compliments their strategies may reap big rewards.
Find her at: marlamiller.com, marketingthemuse.com and twitter.com/writersmama.
The key to John Borchardt’s freelance success is specialization. He writes primarily about science, technology, business and career management. His books, such as Career Management for Scientists and Engineers, are geared toward business. He’s published more than 1,200 articles in consumer and trade magazines, online and in encyclopedias. He also writes for large corporate clients.
How do you use social media? I use Facebook to keep editors, industrial clients and other writers up to date about my professional activities. For example, I recently posted on a trip I made to Rochester, N.Y., where I presented a workshop on job hunting for the University of Rochester chemistry department and [at the same time] interviewed three sources for an article I’m working on. I use freelancesuccess.com, a restricted-membership social site, to interact with writers and editors who discuss various professional developments and often ask each other specific questions dealing with issues encountered in their writing.
On LinkedIn I interact with prospective employers. This has not been very productive for me. I receive several serious invitations annually to apply for full-time positions, but prefer to freelance. I do keep my profile updated. Also, I frequently engage in discussions on topics I write about.
I write two weekly blogs [see below].
What is the place of social media in your writing life? I would call myself a pragmatist when it comes to social media. I get some assignments through social media, but I get most through personal contacts made during my [previous] full-time-employment career and people [I meet] while attending science and engineering conferences. I have gotten work also through people finding and reading my articles available online. This includes a book contract.
Benefits, disappointments, surprises? My best social-media experience has been freelancesuccess.com. I have received useful advice from other writers that has resulted in assignments, finding sources, and solving freelance business problems I was having. I have been disappointed in LinkedIn, since I had expected that this would be a substantial source of contacts that would result in paid assignments. I have found the discussion groups disappointing, since many of the posts aren’t discussions but advertisements for services and products unrelated to the focus of the discussion group. I had lower expectations for Facebook. On both freelancesuccess.com and Facebook, it’s very interesting to read about projects that writers I respect have been pursuing. These two sites lessen the feeling of isolation I sometimes feel spending so much time working alone in my home office.
The two book publishers I have dealt with view a blog on a subject closely related to my books as much more valuable than a website.
The financial benefit? I estimate that my activities on social-media sites contribute less than 5 percent to my annual writing income.
Find him at: Lab Management Matters blog at labmanager.com and a career blog for the American Chemical Society at acs.org.
Elfrieda Abbe is the publisher of The Writer. Her many articles for the magazine have included book reviews and interviews with Joyce Carol Oates, Rick Bragg, Alan Furst, Margaret Drabble and other authors.||