Social Media Roolz!

Social MediaBefore you think, “I was looking for a serious writing and editing website” and click to a different site in disgust, think about this: a great many freelance gurus list social media as the number one method of advertising and self-promotion for writers, editors, graphic designers, and other freelance professionals. Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, as well as interactive blogs and other social sites, are not regarded as a frivolous way of wasting your time chatting (though they can be, if you don’t handle them carefully), but as professional methods of promotion.

I heard this message in two rather different places last weekend. During the first two-day online International Freelancers Day, almost every one of the twenty-four featured speakers said the same thing: if you want to build a freelance business successfully, get onto Facebook and Twitter, and start promoting and interacting. The next day, at Toronto’s Word on the Street book festival, up came the same message again, from a well-known literary agent and from a panel of published authors and literary promoters.

Let’s have a look at the use of Social Media from a novelist’s point of view. But keep in mind that many of these ideas will apply to other types of writers and other freelancers too.

Why Social Media as a Promotional Tool?

So. Why have sites that originally started as ways to send inane messages like “I got my hair cut today” turned into some of the top ways of promoting your skills and business? For writers in particular, there are two main reasons: 1) money and 2) reach.

Money

Dollar SignIt’s been the case for a while that traditional publishers just don’t have the budget or personnel to do a lot of promotion on a new book. They spend most of their time on already known authors, whose works are almost guaranteed to bring in a lot of revenue. First-time writers or those who haven’t sold millions of copies of a previous book get little of the publisher’s time and money, and are left to market their books almost on their own.

They might get advice and a few resources from the publisher, but most of the work is really done by the writer. In fact, many publishers now sign with new writers not just on the basis of a great book, but also taking into account how much promotion the author can do – or, indeed, has already done. If they come with a ready-made audience, so much the better.

Reach

And that’s where the “Reach” comes in. This is what actually makes it better, in certain ways, that the author is taking a hand in his or her own book promotion. They will have friends and followers on their social websites that the publisher simply can never “get at” in doing promotions. They might get an “in” with bookstores or other promoters that would never have happened despite all a publisher’s best efforts.

It’s still a shame that publishers are no longer able to take the responsibility for marketing the books they themselves have decided to publish. And in some cases, the fact that writers take up the slack may be too much of an easy “out” for those publishers who actually could do the work, but are more than happy to let someone else do it instead while they profit from it. Yet in a very tight market where money is indeed scarce, the Social Media phenomenon has become an essential part of promoting a book or other types of art or business.

Self-Publishers Might Say “I Told You So”

In the world of self-publishing, much of this sort of marketing has already taken hold. More and more often lately, an author who has self-published in some way and built up an online following through social media has ended up with a traditional publisher coming after him or her, offering them a book deal, instead of the author going to the publisher, cap in hand, begging to be published. Seth Harwood first published his entire novel, Jack Wakes Up, via podcasts on his website, building a following of many thousands of listeners and fans. Only then did Three Rivers Press, a more traditional, hard-copy type of publisher, become interested.

Must Love Dragons, Monica MarierMonica Marier’s first novel, Must Love Dragons , has just been published this autumn as well. Monica first caught the attention of her publisher through conversations on Twitter, when she wasn’t even really looking for a publisher yet. But she was posting some of the story online, and people were following it and discussing it. Eventually this led to a relationship with the people who wanted to publish the book, and a six-month blitz of editing and reworking. And it all happened, almost by accident, through discussions on Twitter.

These are examples of people who got a publisher after using social media tools. But there are also countless examples of self-published authors who never went the “traditional” publishing route at all, and have used these social sites as their primary means of promotion. In fact, social media sites are probably the main reason that self-publishing has become such a viable alternative to going the traditional route.

How Do You Use Social Media, Then?

As mentioned above — very carefully. If you don’t plan your time well, the various Social Media can be a time-waster. And you can also fall into the trap of self-promoting so much that you turn everyone off. You’ll need some time to feel your way around as you get started, but be sure to keep your ultimate goals in mind.

Don’t Self-Promote Till They Block You

Some people view these social sites in the same way that marketers have previously viewed advertising. They think of them simply as a place where you blare an ad about what you want to sell, blanketing a whole neighborhood with your chosen information in the hope that one or two people will buy. Finding those two people out of a hundred may be worth irritating the other ninety-eight people who don’t like being advertised at.

But that isn’t going to work in a Social Media context. If all you do is get onto Facebook or Twitter and merely blurt out advertising, over and over, nobody will “follow” you. In fact, people will be much more likely to block you than to buy your book or your services.

That’s one of the big appeals to Social Media, and you’d better not run afoul of it. People can turn you off and never see another word you say again. So the more “traditional” method of strafing people with ads simply will not work here.

“Social” means “Social”

social media emotional intelligenceThis is really IT, in a nutshell. Even if it’s counter-intuitive to the mindset of born marketers, and even if it’s different from what has traditionally been taught about how you advertise — the “social” aspect of these sites is primary. Do not join them solely with the idea that you’re going to blast your data at passive receptacles who will hopefully respond by giving you money. The only way social media sites will work for you is if you’re barely thinking of advertising at all, but are using them to get to know real people. If they are receiving some kind of value from you, in the form of genuine interest and social interaction, they are much more likely to return the favor.

You will encounter people you’d never have gotten to know in other ways. On Facebook, you can join Fan Pages for other writers or businesses, and engage in discussions about their work. Many of them will join your own Fan Page as well. While your own followers will be more likely to buy copies of your work or hire you for projects, they may also suggest other ways to market your work. Local bookstore owners might create a reading and signing event. Book club members might buy several books for their November meeting.

Twitter functions in a similar way, even if you only have 140 characters to work with when you post. Through “retweets” — where your own friends repost something originally posted by someone they are following — you will find other interesting people to follow. And all over Twitter, pre-planned “chats” take place that you can join, on topics directly related to your work or other subjects that are simply fascinating. And if you need to know some facts for a piece you’re writing, or want to know where to look for them, just post the question and eventually someone will answer with the information and links.

Best Sites to Start With?

This list will vary from person to person, but I suggest four things.

  1. Blog – Start a blog where you can share information about yourself and your work. Post on a fairly regular schedule so people will always know where and when they can find you. My favorite free blog site is WordPress, but keep in mind that they won’t accept third-party advertising there. You might do better to register your own web domain and have your site administrator download the free WordPress blog program and a good template for you, to set up there. Another good free blogging location is Blogger (owned by Google, so you get some extra connections there, even if blogs here don’t have as many bells and whistles as on WordPress). TypePad is also a great blogging site, though it’s not free.
  2. Facebook – You will have your main profile page, and then you can create Fan Pages. These are pages devoted specifically to your business or your latest novel. You can have one-on-one interaction with your “fans” here, directly related to your work.
  3. Twitter – An astonishingly good place to start getting to know people of like mind, and learn about others. One friend leads to another, to another, to another.
  4. Flickr – If you take any photos or have any graphics (belonging to you, not to others) that can be used in your promotion, put them here. They can be linked to blogs and show up in your posts, or linked to from the other sites.

Many of these sites can link to each other, so that, for example, a blog post you make on WordPress can automatically show up in your Twitter feed and on your Facebook page. Starting with the first three sites above, and possibly with Flickr if you want photos to be a large part of your public face, you can create an extensive circle of friends and fans that a publishing house can only dream of reaching.

And, incidentally, you may also sell a lot of books too.

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