I was at a party the other day with a lot of writers and publishing industry folks. At one point in the evening, one of the Penguin editors paid me a really nice compliment, calling me an example to other authors of how to do social media right.
I was equal parts flattered and surprised, and I spent a lot of time thinking about it afterward.
Social media is a something that writers spend a lot of time fretting over. Are you tweeting too much? Blogging enough? Are you overly self-promotional? How do you get the major players in the marketplace to retweet you? Should you have a separate author Facebook page or is your personal one enough? If you aren’t social media savvy enough, will it impact your sales?
There are people who claim to know the answers to these questions. Heck, there are people making a full time living purporting to know the answers to these questions. But, you know what I think? I think nobody knows the answer. Marketing via social media is in its infancy, evolving so fast that its impossible to say there are any hard and fast rules to how it should be done. And even if social media had been in place as a marketing tool for a hundred years, it would still be more art than science, full of exceptions that supposedly proved the rule.
The truth is this: I never actually had a social media plan. It was a thing I used, aided more by a gregarious/outgoing nature than anything else. I am, first and foremost, a communicator, and social media is just another way to do that. The fact remains that many of the most successful authors in fantasy barely use social media at all. But that compliment got me thinking, and I realized I do have some habits. To the extent it’s helpful to people, I offer them up here:
- I try to tweet between 3–5 times a day. Some days I tweet as many as 10 times, sometimes as few as twice.
- I don’t worry about the time of day that I tweet. My audience is too diverse. Some folks are up and reading in the wee hours. Some folks on their lunchbreak at work. Some are in the Philippines. Some are in California. Some live a few blocks away from me.
- I tweet to self-promote. Good reviews, good news, interviews, guest posts, blog posts, etc … That all gets tweeted. There has never been so much of that that I don’t also tweet random thoughts, snarky humor and funny photographs of stuff I see every day. If I’m lucky enough that it changes in the future, I’ll reconsider.
- I occasionally tweet inspiration/encouragement. I do this VERY occasionally and I make sure I’m tweeting to myself. I don’t want to come across as a sad sack trying to talk themselves out of trough.
- I occasionally tweet writing advice, but only in the context of lessons I just figured out for myself. I am nobody’s writing guru and don’t aspire to be. You will notice that the most successful writers out there rarely/never tweet writing advice. Folks who are unpublished and/or haven’t had real self-publishing success tweet writing advice constantly. That’s backwards and irritating. I am nowhere near as successful as I want to be, and therefore don’t consider myself to be in a position to be giving anyone advice.
- I never comment on political/religious issues. I want people to think of me as a writer, not as a member of X or Y social camp. There are occasionally issues that strike me so hard that I can’t help myself, but I try to steer clear.
- My Twitter feed pipes directly to Facebook. I never update my Facebook status solely. I manually copy/paste my tweets into Google+. I still think that G+ is a ghost town, but it is a powerful platform that may get real attention someday, so I feel it behooves me to take the 30 seconds to post there.
- I don’t get into arguments or take people on in the public square. If someone snipes at me on Twitter, I ignore it. Unless the insult is totally over the line, I suck it up and let it stand (including on Facebook). If it’s too egregious, I just delete it, or delete the whole status update/tweet (I also do this if folks hijack my comments thread on Facebook to get into a political argument).
- I try not to say stupid/offensive things on social media. When I inevitably make the occasional mistake in this regard, I delete the offending tweet and don’t draw further attention to it by issuing thirty follow tweets apologizing. Likewise, I am careful never to tweet anything that is likely to be construed as insulting.
- I NEVER “livetweet” anything. Not movies, not concerts, not games. It annoys the HELL out of me and I can’t imagine it appeals to other people either. The closest I come to this is when I go to cons, and even then it’s no more than 10 tweets or so, spread out over an entire day, talking about the cool panels I’m on/in the audience for, and pictures of costumes.
- I try to be funny. I take time to think of what I’m tweeting.
- If I have a good idea for a tweet, but it’ll keep, and I’ve already tweeted a bunch that day, I’ll write it down and save it for later.
- I don’t have a separate “author” Facebook page. I have one Facebook page, and it’s my personal page. I accept *all* friend requests, unless they’re clearly from a p0rnbot or someone interested in romance, or a lunatic, or someone who has a clear and public political/religious agenda.
- I do not followback on Twitter. I never ask others to follow me. I never ask people to retweet my tweets. I try to respond to every @ I get, but often don’t have the time.
- This isn’t really a pattern, but it’s worth mentioning. When I see someone with several thousand followers who is also following several thousand Twitter accounts, I tend to think that’s all followback solidarity and not real interest in what they’re doing. When I see someone with several thousand followers who is only follow 100–300 or so accounts themselves, I tend to think that’s a person with a powerful fan base.
- When I read social media, I scroll through my Twitter and Facebook feeds and go back no further than 1 hour. It takes me about 5–10 minutes to skim this way and I do it a few times a day. I never check Google+.
These aren’t rules. They’re patterns, and I reserve the right to change them at any time. I certainly don’t prescribe them for anyone else. I’m just trying to lay out the patterns in my social media presence that are informing my style.
I have absolutely no idea if they are effective in helping generate interest in my writing and/or selling my books. I do think they help, but I have no idea how much. There have only ever been 3 Internet based events where I could immediately see a spike in sales (via my amazon sales rank and bookscan numbers). These were:
- A blog post by a major Internet personality popular in SF/F plugging my book.
- My blog post on the 18 Rules of Writing.
- The listing of CONTROL POINT on Wired magazine’s summer reading list.
Other than that, I have no way to measure how effective my social media style is.
In the end, I have to think of it much like writing itself. You do it because you love it, because there’s no guarantee it’ll come to anything, even when folks call you a “success” at it.