Most aspiring writers have heard this advice: before you can even think about being published, you need to establish an author platform. For many of us, it seems like a weird thing to do before you’ve actually written anything that anyone besides your family, friends, and critique partners would know about, and I have heard rumors recently that some editors and agents are seeing the platform as less of a must-have before working with a new writer. After all, isn’t it better for both the aspiring writer and their would-be agent/editor to have that writer working on their manuscript instead of posts and tweets and status updates? I’ve also heard rumors of a bit of a backlash against all the social media mongering most writers have had to engage in. One writer recently said that her writers’ group is dropping their collective blog due to lack of time and traffic and I’m not surprised by this.
So my question is: Has social media reached a saturation point for many writers?
Sometimes I think so. And not just because I feel so overwhelmed at times by all the venues I’m supposed to take advantage of that I would like a reason to stop.
When I signed with my small press, I like, many newly minted writers, was advised to set up an author page on Facebook, a Twitter account, keep up the blog, and get on Goodreads. (This was only about a year ago and since then I’ve made an author account for Pinterest but have not yet gotten around to figuring out Instagram or Vine. I figure if I wait long enough the next big thing will come around and I will jump on that.) If I take account of how effective each of these social media venues have been in establishing me as a writer (don’t make me say “my brand”), I think the results are mixed.
Facebook has been a wonderful thing for me, personally, and probably helps professionally. Before starting my author page, I reconnected with old friends, boyfriends, acquaintances, and former students whom I would likely never have heard from again pre-Facebook. It’s fun knowing the names of their kids, what they’re up to, who’s gone bald. Professionally, I was asked to join a group of other new indie and small press writers and that has been a boon. We share each other’s triumphs and help each other through the setbacks, we promote each other’s stuff on our blogs and on the collective blog, Indie Ignites, and are indispensable to me for advice and at times shoulders to cry on. My author page gets some traffic, I think, but nothing that would impress most writers. My most popular posts are not links to blog posts or sharing other writers’ book news – they’re birthday wishes or on-this-day-in-history reminders about writers or brave women or just pop culture silliness (My most popular post in months involved announcing that I share a birthday with John Turturro, Frank Gehry, Brian Jones, and Paul Krugman. Go figure). So I now subscribe to site that sends me daily emails about famous birthdays and try to post any time there’s a cool writer or important (to me) historical figure celebrating a milestone. Maybe it gets people to think about my books?
I am a most reluctant Tweeter. I just don’t feel I have a lot of interesting stuff going on on any given day to tweet about. If I think of something funny, I’ll tweet that, and the 140-character limit has forced me to edit each bon mot into byte-sized chunks, which could be a good thing. But as my number of followers grows, I grow more skeptical. I have absolutely no idea who most of them are and doubt that they have read, let alone enjoyed, my books. I suspect many of them are bots, but most seem to be writers’ services (self publishing houses and formatters, blog tour coordinators, etc.) hoping to get my business. My worry about Twitter is that for me at least it is an ever increasing but closed circle of writers following each other and trying to get each other to read their books. I have hooked up with some great bloggers through Twitter, though, and when I got my most recent cover from my publisher, I tweeted “Anybody want to do a cover reveal” and was gratified to have a lot of people ready and willing to reveal my cover to the world.
My worry about the closed circle applies even more to Goodreads, unfortunately. I’ve basically stopped using it, though I get (and accept) several friend requests a day. I was turned off of Goodreads months ago by a rash of trolls posting scathing reviews of books that they could not have read because the book wasn’t out and they hadn’t received an ARC (advanced reader copy). Who does that? I don’t want to know. And I may stop accepting friend requests from people I don’t know because I’m being inundated with “read my book” messages. Believe me, as a writer, I know how hard it is to get people to read your work. But if we’re all just shouting at each other “Hey! Read my thing!” then who’s actually reading the things?
I discovered Pinterest as a “private citizen” without a book to shill and fell in love. How did I ever make dinner without it? So it seemed logical to create an author account and post images related to my books, vegan recipes related to Snark, and other YA- related fun stuff. I still like doing that, but I’m having a hard enough time keeping up with a demanding full time job, life, family, and trying to squeeze in writing time to keep up with it like I once did.
I’ll admit it – I went to Tumblr at fist because I’d heard all the kids were doing it. And I love Tumblr. I love following the person who is cooking all of the burgers of the day from Bob’s Burgers and those obsessing about the movie Velvet Goldmine and I used to post my blog there. I know other people blog on Tumblr but I find it cumbersome. My images never loaded properly (and I see lots of other people’s tumblrs filled with what look like blank versions of old Polaroids, so I’m not the only one confused by this). Tumblr seems to wrk best for quick bits and a link to a blog site rather than a blog itself, but again, I am not presenting myself as an expert here in any way. If Tumblr works for you, please tell me how!
So that’s my history with author platforms. I’d love to hear any advice you guys have (or questions even) about how to do it more effectively. I’m certainly not a model to follow but as I figure out what I’m doing, I’ll share with you guys. Assuming there are some of you out there and the blog part of the platform is reaching anybody. (For now, please imagine me tapping the edge of a microphone and saying “Is this thing on? Is anyone there?”).
If you’re a newbie setting up author platforms, good luck to you! It can be a lot of fun and you can learn a lot about yourself and writing and different audiences. Just don’t forget to keep up with the writing that led you to create the platform in the first place.