So you want to make your writing commercially successful. So you spend hours plugging away on social media, because apparently ‘that’s the way it’s done’.
Update: there are many ways to market your writing. Social media — at least the way you’ve probably been using it — is not even the most important one.
As a writer, your time and money are finite resources — perhaps they seem even more finite than in other careers. Given that your ‘commercial capital’ right now resides mainly in your head, you should be spending the vast bulk of your time converting that into the currency of words on the page.
The rest of your time? Evaluate carefully. Find out where your efforts will have the greatest return, and focus them there.
For most writers, it’s not social media. Social media can be an effective method of marketing, but most writers are using it incorrectly, which not only makes it a waste of time, but can actually be counter-productive. As a writer, you should try to use social media only after you have a few other things sorted out, like your voice and message as covered in earlier articles.
What wastes your time as a writer on social media exactly? Posting about things, or responding to things unrelated to your forward progress as a writer. Your social media profile is there for several key reasons (or should be):
• to strengthen your reputation as a writer
• to communicate and connect with fans and potential followers
• to showcase your values.
It is not a place to post about what you had for dinner or how you were delayed getting to the shops yesterday. Most of the time when you post about things unrelated to your work as a writer, you weaken your voice. To reach your target market, your output needs to be extremely highly targeted; off topic posts are both ineffective and counter-productive.
‘But…but…but does that mean I can’t ever just be myself on social media?’ says a voice at the back. You can do what you like with social media — that’s why it’s called ‘social’. It’s meant to encourage communication between human beings. But if you want to use social media to make forward progress as a writer, every minute you spend using it needs to be focused on that goal in some way.
Lesson One: you need a social media strategy. You need to decide what you are and are not going to post about. If you write romances, you might want to post about anything relating to romance stories; if you write poetry, post about poetry; if you write novels, post about things to do with novels. Not everything needs to be about you or your latest book — in fact, it would really help if it wasn’t, as we shall see. If you regularly post clever, interesting or fun things about your field or genre, potential readers will begin to check in repeatedly to see what you have to say. Keep this up, and you will become a centre of attention in a particular field. Then, when you do have an item about your own book, people will pay more of that precious attention than they would have otherwise done.
Enough attention from the right people adds up to hard currency.
Becoming a reliable source of relevant, valuable, often fun, often unusual information or insight into a particular field starts to give you expert status. It’s a long term strategy and requires persistence, but promises fabulous results in the future. Your voice and message are strengthened; you become attractive to the right people.
Lesson Two: look as though you have it together (even if you don’t).
One of the most valuable lessons I ever learned in Life was that you can cultivate an aura of competence which can stand you in good stead, even when you don’t quite know what you’re doing. Many years ago, I used to deal with customer complaints in a large internationally renowned organisation. When I was new at the job, there was a great deal I didn’t know about how to deal with various complex situations. But my mentor at the time said, ‘Look competent, project competence and don’t panic.’ The stability generated by me appearing to be competent helped to calm the situation, whatever it was, and gave me time to find out what exactly to do while making sure that things didn’t escalate. Many a disaster was averted using that advice, and over a period of years I came to a point of mastery in a few areas so that the competence wasn’t just a projection.
It’s the same with social media for writers. Don’t just post willy-nilly or react randomly to things appearing in front of you: look like you have it together. If a potential reader goes to your page and sees that your last post was over a month ago, they may wonder if you’re still around. If they see you responding to comments in an unprofessional way, they may instinctively distance themselves from you. Needless to say, these are not the effects you want to create. Get on a schedule and adopt strict policies with regard to what you say and do.
Competence projected over time becomes real ability and confidence, which in turn develops trust from potential readers.
Lesson Three: be social. Create content that will entice potential readers and your particular community to explore and engage with your work. Share pertinent information. Add layers. Even when you talk about yourself and your stories, the content should still be about the reader and what he or she gets out of it all.
Readers pay attention when they are entertained.
Stagger any direct selling on a roughly 3 to 1 ratio. In other words, only put out a direct selling post once for every three social, chatty posts. Any more selling than that, and people will back off and regard your site as a billboard only. And billboards are easy to drive by.
Lesson Four: Don’t pay for advertising until you have all the above in place as a matter of course.
So you see there are ways of using social media to help your writing career. You just have to be in charge and in control: you need a clear goal, a strategy, an aura of competence and a social approachability. Don’t do it randomly, or because you feel you have to; don’t get ‘all emotional’ and reactive because ‘that’s being social’; and don’t get sucked into wasting time scrolling along through others’ news items until you’re lost in their woods.
Remember, you’re sitting on a treasure trove of material: right now, it exists in insubstantial form somewhere in your head. Focus on writing; and then focus on using social media to get your writing to the right people in the right way.