Social Media for Writers-building an online platform

image © Rawpixel via shutterstock.com

Daunting? Yes, a bit. What I expected? No. Worth it? Definitely.

This is not meant to be a definitive guide. It’s a look at what’s worked for me with regard to promoting my writing. If it helps you become better informed for doing the same, then that’s great. But I present it in the hope it’s interesting for its own sake.

Five years ago I published my first novel, Change of Life. But of course that wasn’t the end of the process of being a published author. It was merely the end of the beginning. The next stage was marketing.

I’d written it to be read. I wanted readers. The book was available as a paperback and as an e-book. It was available to buy online and in the few bookshops I’d managed to persuade to stock it.

But if nobody except me and my nearest and dearest knew the book existed, let alone anything about it, then it wasn’t going to be bought or read.

So how to get it noticed?

The advice on writers’ street was to get onto the social networks. Authors, it was said, needed a strong online presence. They needed a social media/online platform. Now, up until 2010, a platform to me was where you boarded and exited a train. So, I found myself at the foot of a learning slope of at least Ben Nevis proportions, if not quite Everest. And the slope would lead me to this virtual platform.

It was a bit daunting at first, but I did my research, assembled the necessary kit and set off.

EXPLORATION PHASE:

image © Rawpixel via shutterstock.com
image © Rawpixel via shutterstock.com

Although I was relatively tech savvy, I knew nothing of Facebook and its siblings. I’d heard of them of course, but being of a certain age, i.e. over fifty, they weren’t my natural habitats and the landscapes were totally unfamiliar.

WEBSITE: With my husband’s help, I got myself a domain name, a web hosting package and I set up a website. I furnished the site with home page and an about page. I included information about my writing and my novel and where to buy it.

image © 360b via shutterstock.com
image © 360b via shutterstock.com

BLOG: My first solo expedition was blogging. I chose WordPress as the host. I was impressed by both the clarity and ease of use, and the level of support it offered. I still am. So I claimed a spot and set up my online base camp there.

image © Gustavo Frazao via shutterstock.com
image © Gustavo Frazao via shutterstock.com

TWITTER: From there I visited Twitter. Nobody from my real life was on there and the land of 140 characters was completely alien. But gradually I got the hang of it. I followed people and people followed me. I got to know the etiquette, found some good Twitter mentors and some lovely Twitter friends amongst the other writers who are on there. I set up a link from my blog to Twitter, and from Twitter to my blog and moved easily between the two.

image © Twinsterphoto via shutterstock.com
image © Twinsterphoto via shutterstock.com

FACEBOOK: Encouraged by all of this, I then ventured out into the wilds of Facebook. I befriended the members of my friends and family who were already there and some of the writers who I ‘knew’ from my pre-publication days when I hung out at the writing peer review website You Write On. I also joined some Facebook writers’ groups and set up an author page. And, as I’d done with Twitter I linked my Facebook presence to my blog.

GOODREADS: It wasn’t until 2014 that I ‘decided’ to join Goodreads. I was sort of gently coerced there by another writer whose book I’d reviewed on my blog. This writer has a bit of a presence on Goodreads and was very keen that I post my review of her book there.

PINTEREST:  I enlisted on Pinterest around three years ago. This was following a suggestion by my daughter that I could make up storyboards of characters, settings, and plots solely for my own use.

LINKEDIN and GOOGLEPLUS: I have never visited either but both keep sending me emails to tell me I’ve friends there who want to hook up.

image © mama_mia via shutterstock.com
image © mama_mia via shutterstock.com

 

SETTLING DOWN – MY SOCIAL MEDIA HOMES:

So where did I eventually settle? Where did I chose to lay foundations and build my platform? Well,  it’s been a slow but steady journey of exploration. But I would say that five years on, and with another novel published along the way, I now have my own, well-established platform access points. There are two of them and they are here on the blog and my Twitter feed.

WHY MY BLOG?

As my own knowledge about blogging has increased, so too, I hope, has the quality of the blog. And you know what? I love it. I love WordPress, its friendly knowledgeable and helpful staff and its real community feel. I love posting. I love tinkering with the look and the feel of my blog. I love interacting with visitors and fellow bloggers, ­­most of whom I’ve never met, but who I count as friends.

I just love the whole blogging thing. It may have started out as a way of shouting into the darkness about my marvellous novel, but it very quickly became about so much more. It became my own personal magazine where I could express my news, views and current preoccupations. Although I have links to my novels in the sidebar, I only wrote posts about them at the time of their publication. The blog is not about selling, but it is about visibility and connecting.

And even if I never publish another book (which I hope isn’t the case) I will continue to blog for its own sake.

BLOG vs WEBSITE

My website, however is no more. It proved, for me and my lack of expertise at the time at least, to be too difficult to use. Adding and updating material seemed ridiculously complicated and, besides, nobody ever visited it – or if they did, there didn’t appear to be any way for them to contact me via the site. BUT time has moved on, so has website design, and so has my knowledge, so never say never. I may yet set up a website separate to the blog and make that the place that is exclusively about my books.

WHAT’S SO GOOD ABOUT TWITTER?

Being on Twitter is similar in effect to doing the blog. What began as a way of marketing my books, quickly became so much more. I now have a supportive network of other writers who all tweet and retweet for each other. Besides writers I also have tweet contact with all sorts of people, some of whom are readers of my books, but most of whom are not. Being on Twitter has gone way beyond shouting out ‘buy my book’ – a mistake lots of authors new to Twitter make – and is about networking in general. It’s about engaging with other people and giving and receiving all sorts of support, advice and encouragement. By using Twitter lists I’m able to keep the whole thing manageable and productive.

My blog is linked to Twitter so that when I put up a new post an alerting tweet also goes out.

As with the blog, I count several twitter friends as real friends even although we haven’t met.

FACEBOOK IS NOT FOR ME:

As far as promoting my writing, Facebook is not for me. I’ve tried it and it was just frustrating. I was bombarded by other writers wanting me to shout about their books, but who rarely reciprocated. My author page was full of other authors – again they just wanted publicity for themselves in the main – but no readers. So I’ve taken down the author page and keep Facebook strictly for real world friends and family. I visit less and less and would probably leave if it wasn’t that it’s a good way for me to keep in touch with my nieces and nephews who are scattered across the globe.

OTHER ONLINE PLACES:

I couldn’t get along with GOODREADS at all. It seems unnecessarily complicated and not worth the effort. I like PINTEREST but so far have just done it for fun although I’m coming round to exploring its possibilities for book marketing and publicity.

TO SUM UP:

So, what advice would I offer to authors setting up their online platform?

Take your time exploring.

Choose the networks that work for you and concentrate on them.

Be patient. Relationships worth having take time and effort to develop.

Share stuff about yourself and your wider life. Don’t just shout ‘buy my book’.

Return favours and support that others give to you.

 

And, ironically having said all that, I think I’ve found most of my small but loyal readership by word of mouth and by being in the ‘also bought’ bit on Amazon when readers are buying books that are in a similar vein to mine. That’s not to say social media makes no difference to your popularity as an author, but I think it’s more about visibility and relationships with readers rather than it having a direct bearing on sales.

 

And Finally:

There is a massive amount of advice out there on how authors, both traditionally and self-published, can, and indeed should, use social media to promote their work. A lot of it is good advice, but there’s a lot that’s really more about the person offering the advice raising their own profile, or trying to get money out of the unwary and less knowledgeable. There are many self-appointed experts. So do your own research, make informed choices and do what feels right for you.

Good advice and information can be found at:

  • The Alliance for Independent Authors website.
  • The B.R.A.G. website here. They have just done an analysis of how readers and authors find each other online.
  • Pewinternet here have also carried out research on the use of different social media in general, including by gender and age group in the USA.I found this particularly interesting as I suspect my target readership are not big social media users.

So there you have it? I’d be interested to hear your experiences of using social media to promote your books. Please do leave your comments.