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.)