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Social Media for Authors: Forever in Search of Buzz

If you’re unsure where to begin, start by doing one thing really well. We’ve transformed our culture from the model of passively receiving information, with a few voices speaking authoritatively to everybody else, into a multitude of diverse perspectives and commentaries on a much wider and richer spectrum of topics. If there are qualms, they are usually about quality or quantity. Most of the time, though, it seems people give up too quickly because they don’t know what to do or where to look. Specific online communities are an excellent starting point, allowing you to gingerly experiment with the level of interaction and exposure you feel comfortable with before venturing into what may feel like the more public sphere. Figment.com is for teen fiction; Shewrites.com connects women writers (and the Op-Ed Project offers real-world workshops to give them access to a larger stage); Fictionaut.com, a site for which I serve on the board of advisers, aims to recreate the MFA-style peer-driven workshop critique. Certain multivoice blogs also function as communities, giving readers opportunities to contribute. The Rumpus, HTMLGIANT, and the Nervous Breakdown are a few examples.

Mass customization and an expectation of personalization at every level are the hallmarks of the information age, and there’s no reason why your publicity strategy shouldn’t be tailored precisely to your needs as well. You don’t need to have a presence on all platforms, but you should be aware of them. Mediabistro’s blog Galleycat is a hip, tech-savvy eye on publishing, with a focus as much on authors as the industry. For the truly hard core, Mashable.com offers the latest social-media news and trends. One day, some corporations will have figured out how to effectively monetize the digital economy, and we’ll talk about all the things that used to be free, scarcely believing it ourselves. Take advantage of this moment. These are your resources, and yours alone to invest in and manage.

Many authors wonder about the best way to represent themselves online. Should you have a clear distinction between your private self and your public identity? Ideally, you will one day have many more fans than you can maintain a one-to-one relationship with, so I encourage authors to develop a channel of communication that serves and grows their existing audience with a mix of relevant news and just enough personal disclosures to keep it human and enjoyable as a medium for social exchange. You choose where to draw the line. While I often post where I’m having lunch and with whom as a way of giving attention to places and people who are deserving of it, I would rarely offer more than a vague sketch of someone with a role in my personal life. The content that you choose to post via whatever social-media platform you choose should comprise whatever you are comfortable with, and the disclosures that feel natural and pleasurable to you.

A consistent theme I hear from authors grappling with this new landscape is their fear of overpromoting their work. But very few people, in my opinion, correctly promote themselves enough. Perhaps it’s my profession that colors my perspective, or my having received one too many e-mails on the day of the reading or book launch. The correct timeline for promoting an event, by the way, is to send out details one month in advance, with a reminder two weeks later, then a few days prior to the event. Linking to a Facebook invitation in subsequent status updates does the trick. Consistency is key.

Often the word brand is seen (by literary authors, anyway) as a tremendous turnoff. I would argue that in our capitalist culture we’re all raised on brands. If a certain soda maker halted production today, and you came across a red billboard with a white wave fifty years from now, you’d know what it used to be selling. A brand is a clear, consistent message, streamlined and with a minimum of clutter. To achieve this on a Web site, your information needs to remain current and laid out in a way that allows people to find the information they’re looking for immediately, without any distracting bells and whistles. As far as social media goes—whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Foursquare, or other platforms—you need to share information of merit efficiently and in an open manner. For instance, consider the time of your post. Weekday mornings have the most eyes.

A few years ago I decided print was dead and the future was alive and well in cell phone novels. So I went to Japan. It was true; everyone was reading them on the subway, and there was plenty of flashy technology to occupy my mind while I was there. But what resonated most was that I was in the midst of a culture far older than my own. And the message was simple: Books change. Stories are forever.

Lauren Cerand is an independent public relations representative specializing in strategic consultation, whose clients this year include authors Diana Balmori, Meg Cabot, Tayari Jones, and Terese Svoboda.

WHAT KIND OF SOCIAL-MEDIA USER ARE YOU?
I’m a talker. Sign up for Facebook and Twitter. If you already use these platforms socially, begin to share news about your writing life. Figure out how best to tell your story in an engaging but professional way. (And unless you have 5,001 friend requests, don’t set up a fan page for yourself. Yet.)

I like visuals. Tumblr is for you. Most posts are simply images. So far, Tumblr users skew young, so it’s an especially helpful platform for those who write for teens. Tumblr is so easy to use that many “blog-to-book” deals begin here. 

Just books, please. Join Goodreads, Shelfari, and LibraryThing.

I like to listen. Broadcastr is all audio—stories contributed by users from around the world that you can search by subject and location. After listening, leave comments, rate, and share with your writer friends.

I want to hone my craft. Try Fictionaut. You can post your own writing, invite critiques, join and start communities, and follow writers and readers whose tastes you share. 

I’m focused on career. She Writes has Webinars on every aspect of the publishing business (that anyone can download) and a stable of real-life experts on tap. 

Always looking for a party. The Rumpus, the Nervous Breakdown, and HTMLGIANT feature rowdy conversations and ample opportunity to be entertained, and to join the fun.

Coming soon: Look for our new column on how authors can leverage social media to connect with readers.

Reader Comments

  • abrandolph says...

    I definitely admire the useful bits of advice in this reading. It is very helpful to have the importance of social media reiterated as well as given as a precaution because it's a possibility for both good and bad habits. Overpromotion? No, it's more like inaccurate promotion. "Consistency is key." And don't forget, "Weekday mornings have the most eyes." I wonder how leisurely people are on Fridays...

    I personally think the website Fictionaut (which I've honestly never heard of until reading this article) would be something very benificial as I am one who likes to post my own writing, leave it up for critiques, comment on other's posts to voice my opinion and add to the discussion and become identified by my choices of engagement, and I would like to discover writers AND readers who's tastes I share. Fictionaut.com requires an invitation to join, so before finishing this comment I have requested an invitation. Please join me!

    Again. This article has proven very useful. Thank you Lauren Cerand.

  • marcus_speh says...

    Thank you for this overview and opinion—I have recently deactivated my facebook friend page because I found it too restrictive: fb still resembles a club. Instead I started a more open environment—kaffe in katmandu, using the very viral tumblr— because, as a writer, you don't necessarily just want to reach out to "friends". In this respect, I think the new google plus with its "circle" concept and its link to the omnipresent search engine and plenty of other services, will soon outflank facebook...more important for writers is, I think, blogging. i've written about this recently at the view from here. Cheers from Berlin!

  • Lee Lowe says...

    If I wanted a buzz, I'd invest in a good loud kitchen timer.

  • LaurenCerand says...

    Thank you for the kind words. Kristie Leigh, as it currently stands, the limit for Facebook friends on a personal page is 5,000. After that, you cannot add new friends. A fanpage is theoretically unlimited. My advice is, as always, to consolidate information and energy in as few, well-focused places as possible. Better to have one dynamic page than two or more that potentially languish from lack of attention, fragmenting audiences and floating around as "orphans" once the campaign for that book has wound down -- truly, the very last signal that you would want to send potential readers about the level of attention you accord your work.

  • KristieLeighMaguire says...

    Great article. I am confused about something though. Why not start a Fan Page at FB unless you have 5001 followers? This doesn't make sense to me.

  • leekearneyma@yahoo.com says...

    Thanks for the concise article on social media. As a senior and a writer all the tech stuff seems overwhelming. I was able to gather some names that I plan to check out. Again thanks for keeping it simple. Lee Kearney

  • VDouglas says...

    With the publishing industry so much in a state of flux these days and according to reports somewhat reluctant to take the chance on an unknown author, it is increasingly necessary for writers to start generating buzz themselves. As a writer published with an e-pub but seeking that elusive bigger contract, I've been intrigued to see some name authors promoting their books online. I'm also constantly in search of new ways to promote my own books, in the hopes that the next query letter will have someone peeking at my FB profile to see my author page and book pages. It's a changing world, and we're all trying to change to meet it.

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Social Media for Authors: Forever in Search of Buzz (May/June 2011)
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