Writers and social media

I am off this evening to sunny Bristol, where I'll be on a panel for the Royal Literary Fund, discussing the topic Social Media for Writers: Brave New World or Circle of Hell? If you are in the Bristol area and of a literary bent, please do come along and join us. It's free and starts at 7.30pm - the location is Waterside 2, The Watershed, 1 Canons Road, Harbourside, Bristol BS1 5TX.

If you aren't able to join us, just a few passing thoughts.

A platform
For quite a while now publishers have been very excited about writers (particularly book authors) having a 'platform'.

This does not mean that you should rush out and buy a train set (though feel free to do so, should you wish), but rather that you should have a mechanism for making yourself visible to as many potential readers as possible.

You might think that a publisher's website does this. After all, every book should be listed there, and they usually have some kind of author profile. Here, for instance, is mine for St Martin's Press, my main US publisher:

To be fair, it does also include a twitter feed and links to my books. But really... not only is it rather outdated, who looks at a publisher website (other than authors)? As a buyer you might go to a bookshop website, or an author's website - but it's pretty unlikely you'd even known which publisher to look at, let alone visit their site.

Given those two visit points, it's a good idea to have an author page on Amazon (here's mine) and a website (ditto) - but even these will need some first contact to encourage someone to go to them. And that's where the social media side can help.

What I can say for certain is that mentioning a new book on Twitter or Facebook or whatever won't sell lots of copies. It may well sell a handful, but don't expect floods of sales. But if you plug at social media over a reasonably lengthy period (we're talking years, not weeks), you can build up a network of contacts who will be interested in your work.

There are lots of hints and tips for doing this, but I think two are key:
  • Don't be always selling. No one likes 'Buy, buy, buy' all the time. (Or for that matter, 'Here's my breakfast' or 'Aren't my kids amazing?') I reckon at least 90% of your output should be funny observational material or stuff that's interesting for your target market.
  • Remember it's a conversation. Don't just broadcast, respond to others, particularly when they reply to you. The idea is to build a relationship, however stunted by the technology.
It's not really possible to quantify the benefit as an author from being accessible via social media (and I'd include blogging like this as well as part of a social media platform). But if you do it right it doesn't need to take up a huge proportion of your time, potential readers will be more interested in your work, and you will benefit from the contributions of others. What's not to love?