I joined Facebook in March 2007 while standing behind the front desk of the Swan half of the Swan and Dolphin Hotel in Walt Disney World, Florida. (The first post on my page was from the colleague standing at the computer next to mine saying, ‘hello from 2 feet to your right’.) I joined Twitter in 2009 when I saw Ashton Kutcher being interviewed on Oprah, saying he wanted to be the first person on there to get to 1 million followers, and Oprah signed up and followed him there and then and I will do anything Oprah tells me to do. I can’t remember when I joined Instagram but I started using it regularly during my first visit to the most fun crime writing festival in the world, Harrogate, in 2015.
I used it to connect with other writers, to follow my favourite ones and, beginning in 2010, to push my self-published non-fiction titles. When my first thriller was published by Corvus/Atlantic Books in the summer of 2016, I went to town with it on my social media. In between, a major publisher hired me to attempt to work the same social media magic I had on my own books on theirs; this was before publishers did that routinely and started hiring people who knew how to do it. By the time my fifth thriller 56 Days came out in the summer of 2021 – for which, in tandem with both my US and UK publishers, I had a massive #56daysto56days social media countdown – I had been on social media as an author for 15 years and I was absolutely exhausted. I was done. I resented the fact that I was expected to use it to promote my books when my job was just to write them. And Sally Rooney seems to manage fine without it, doesn’t she?
Fast-forward to today, and I am using Instagram more than ever before. I have a new book, Run Time, out on August 11th and so far, in service to the social media gods, I have found myself wearing the Ghostface costume from Scream, locking myself in my utility room with the lights off and a torch on, pressing tiny versions of my book covers onto tiny Lego books, putting together a Spotify playlist, stroking my book cover inappropriately, and making boxes and boxes of popcorn purely for the ‘Gram. And I am LOVING it. I am having so much fun. And as we venture back out into the world of book launches and writing festivals, people are telling me something they never have before: ‘Oh my God, I love your Instagram!’ Now, if my publisher told me to stop using social media, I’d be annoyed about that. So what changed?
Well, I had a bit of an epiphany. Back in the days before social media – or, at least, back when we only had Bebo and MySpace – I worked seasonal jobs abroad. And at the end of the season, or whenever some of us met up for a reunion, or when friends I made in those places travelled to other places together, I would come home, download all the photos I’d taken from my digital camera which was approximately the size of a brick and weighed at least a whole pound, set them to music using Windows Movie Maker and my clunky Dell Inspiron laptop (hello, Ken Burns effect!), and then I’d burn the movie to a DVD and send a copy to everyone as a gift. I’d even get proper DVD cases sand print fake movie-style covers for them. Later, I’d start uploading these movies to Facebook and tagging my friends in them – much easier! I was also an avid photo-album keeper and scrapbook-maker as well.
In 2022, my place to be creative like that is on Instagram. In other words, I’m a creative person and Instagram is just another place where I can be creative. It’s an outlet for my creativity, or a platform for it. It never feels like a chore anymore. (Facebook does, so I barely use it, and I only have Twitter on my desktop, not on my phone, so I’m not on there as much.) I don’t worry about followers or trends or whether or not anyone looking at my stuff is buying my books too. Honestly, I don’t care if they are. As Brendan Grace’s character said in his episode of Father Ted, I’ve had my fun and that’s all that matters. And there’s no point thinking about that stuff anyway, because you shouldn’t ever balance all the weight of your business, promotion, etc. on a free-to-use app that can change everything on you at any time, as we’ve seen recently with Instagram promoting video (although they’ve just announced a backtrack, the app won’t stay the same forever. None of them do). So my advice is, if you’re an author on social media, stop moaning about it and start having fun – or abandon it completely, because if it’s not fun, you shouldn’t be doing it. If you can, embrace it as another place to stretch your creative muscles.
If you too are feeling like you’re SO over it, try…
- Changing how you think about it. If you write books, you must be a creative person. Treat it as another place/way to be creative. Failing that, think of it as the place where you can connect directly with your readers. (Ideally, it’s both!)
- Don’t follow trends. Who cares what music is trending in reels right now, when is the best time to post, or what idiotic challenge is doing the rounds? (I don’t!) Do your own thing. Be genuine. Don’t worry about all that crap.
- Be the user you want to follow. My favourite writing advice is to write the book you want to read, and I think you can apply a version of that to social media. Who do you like following online? What kind of stuff do they do? Take inspiration from them.
- Forget the hard sell. Don’t post advertisements. Post things that people can enjoy even if they have no interest in buying your book now or ever, e.g. I’ve been counting down my top 10 horror movies on Instagram as we get nearer to Run Time’s publication day. Each post is a reminder that Run Time is coming out, but it can also stand alone as a movie recommendation.
- Have fun. And if it’s not fun, don’t do it! Abandon the apps or networks you loathe and focus on the ones you like. Or don’t do it all. If you’re not having fun, what’s the point? Find a way to make it fun – or stop.
(c) Catherine Ryan Howard
Run Time is out on August 11th and available to pre-order now. Catherine will be launching the book in Hodges Figgis, Dublin on August 18th and Waterstones, Cork on August 19th. All welcome. Catherine’s Instagram is at www.instagram.com/cathryanhoward.
About Run Time:
Final Draft, a psychological horror, being filmed at a house deep in a forest, miles from anywhere in the wintry wilds of West Cork.
Former soap-star Adele Rafferty has stepped in to replace the original actress at the very last minute. She can’t help but hope that this opportunity will be her big break – and she knows she was lucky to get it, after what happened the last time she was on a set.
Something isn’t quite right about Final Draft. When the strange goings-on in the script start to happen on set too, Adele begins to fear that the real horror lies off the page…
Order your copy online here.