Too often I hear writers say they don’t see the point of social media, while others say they will use it after they’ve written their book. It’s a common refrain: writers just want to write.
Many writers shy away from social media because they think it is nothing more than hype and sales. These are the same people who use Google search engines, rely on online banking, and carry a cell phone. Their anti-technology rant and avoidance of commercialism seems only to apply to their own craft.
Let me be honest: you can’t send in your manuscript in a typewritten format today. It must be a digital submission, even if you have Kindle-proofed your manuscript.
Instead of resisting, consider social media as tools in your writing shed. These tools will make your work easier if you treat them as such and don’t become a tool to them. You can use social media to write, research, build an audience platform, publicize and sell a book, attract invitations for speaking engagements and guest appearances, and create a direction connection with your readers.
Social media will improve your writing. Those who whine that they won’t have time to do both – write and use social media – need a reality check. If you have a 500 word daily writing goal to produce 10,000 words a month, it will take one year to produce a manuscript of 120,000 words. Let’s compare: the average blog post is 500 words. So if an author blogs once a week for a year, he or she will have produced 24,000 words (or 20%) of a manuscript. Writing for your blog complements efforts writing for a manuscript. And unlike writing the grocery list, editing your kids’ homework, composing a business letter, or the many other ways in which your inscription skills come into play in everyday life, blogging is a type of publishing.
Need proof? Many bloggers have found the discipline and format conducive for producing books and even movies. Julie & Julia, Eat, Pray, Love, and the Happpiness Project are three of my favorites. Writing is writing, but a blog is not a book and a book is not a blog. Before investing heavily into a book project or story idea, blogs can be used to test your material. The audience provides feedback through comments, helping you find weaknesses or strengths in your story idea and overall writing style. Sometimes a blog helps “kill your babies” in your manuscript – and those parts that don’t belong in your book might belong in a blog.
Authors also use social media in their writing when they join online writing critique groups, chat rooms, forums, and discussion groups. Social media can offer you the discipline to practice writing. It is great if you have a group that you can meet face to face, but writers too often find themselves isolated from one another without social media forums. It reminds me of the ways in which the successful model for Weight Watchers meetings – the weigh-ins, support, focused message, goal setting and affirmations – migrated to online communities. Authors weigh-in when they post their blogs and comments, engaging in friendly conversations as they share their written work. The dynamic feedback of social media allows an author to be affirmed, receive constructive criticism, and set new goals.
Social media are tools for an author’s research. Back in the day when publisher’s had “fact checkers,” it required an enormous amount of work to track down information, verify the facts, and obtain corroborating evidence. Today it’s a simple matter of keywords and search engines.
You don’t need a Twitter account to search for information about your subject. #Hashtags are now a powerful search strategy for many authors. Journalists will often ask a question on Twitter and find sources in less than a minute for a breaking story. Authors of history also dig up old facts in a snap with their Tweeps.
You don’t need to have a Facebook profile to find information, either. But, if you are on Facebook, explore the communities of those with whom you share similar interests. Your social networks will offer suggestions and provide leads you may otherwise not discover. The same is true of LinkedIn, a platform of choice for professionals, experts, and industry authorities.
The simplest tools allow authors to spend less time on research than ever before. Google Alerts is a good example. This resource allows an author to receive weekly or daily email digests of everything new on the internet related to a selected keyword or phrase.
Social media metrics can convince a publisher there is a market for your book. When you use social media to attract a following of readers, it is possible to provide descriptive statistical evidence of target markets for a publisher. Fifteen months ago, acquisition editors were just hearing about Klout; now they overvalue this metric. The key is to grow a following of devoted readers through the content of your messages, posts, and blogs. Content is king, so your writing must be rubies and pearls. Agents and acquisition editors may not necessarily find you through your blog or witty tweets. However, when you send a proposal and manuscript they will look at your social media presence and review your metrics as they consider the merits of your prospectus.
Is social media the secret to success for an author? No. The secret is to write a good book that will appeal to a quantifiable audience. The more members of a target audience who read your book, the more word of mouth recommendations work to boost sales in your favor. You need both – a good manuscript and word of mouth endorsements – for your book to be success. Social media magnifies this old fashioned yet simple truth.