Someone, somewhere has told you that if you want to take your writing career seriously you need to harness the power of social media. So now you’re here. You’ve probably got your best sceptical face on, prepared to hear me out and then point out the fatal flaw in my argument; that Facebook is for teenagers or that Twitter is a time-suck and procrastination tool full of people discussing the contents of their sandwiches. To a large degree you’re right on both counts, but don’t let that deter you. I’ll explain why.
Firstly, you need to get started. Twitter is my area of expertise, so let’s assume you’re going to tweet. You need to pick a name. While names like @fluffybunnikins101 or @snugglyjumper are as cute as all get-out and just express, like, so much about your personality, they’ll do nothing for your profile as a writer. Try to get a user name that’s as close as possible to your own name (or the name you’ll be writing under). Twitter is going to be a useful tool, so take some time to get that and your avatar (the small icon that represents you) right.
So now you’re staring at a blank page, wondering why on earth no-one is tweeting to you and where to go now. This is the point where countless would-be tweeters fall by the wayside. Basically, no-one knows you’re here yet. You need to find some people to follow (so that their tweets will appear in your timeline). To start with, you should follow me (@janetravers) and not just to boost my follower numbers. Once you’ve found me, find my lists @janetravers/recommended and @janetravers/inkwell and follow everyone on each of those. The former are respected writers, publishers and agents who blog freely and give of their time and expertise to help upcoming writers; the latter are supportive, friendly, talented writers who are willing to engage and chat with newcomers.
Now you can get tweeting. If you reply to other tweeters and engage in conversation, you will soon acquire followers of your own. Twitter is a two-way street, though; don’t just tweet into the ether without ever engaging with others or you’re wasting your time. You may have heard that Twitter etiquette is a minefield for newcomers, filled with unspoken rules and obscure text speak, but that’s not strictly true. The main rule is as simple as it is in the real world; be polite. Treat others as you would like to be treated (or tweeted…). There are a few other Twitter-specific rules, and I may go into those in more detail in another piece.
Now that you’re tweeting, you’re just wasting valuable time during which you could be writing, right? Wrong. Twitter has endless uses at every stage of the writing process, such as for research. Do you want to know whether readers in the US will understand a particular Irish expression? Tweet and ask. Are you having trouble naming a character? Tweet your options and let your audience pick. Want clarification on an obscure point of law, or a medical treatment, or a building technique in Outer Mongolia? You can bet you’ll find an expert on each who can help you, just by tweeting.
@TonyNoland: ‘I’ve used Twitter for feedback on ideas, as well as to recruit beta readers for stories.’
Then there are those awful days that every writer has, where the whole endeavour seems singularly pointless and every word that issues from your pen drops like lead onto the page. This, for me, is where Twitter comes into its own. If you’ve built up a good support network on Twitter, then this is precisely what they’ll do – support. They’ll rally round, buoy you up and calm you down. Through Twitter you’ll find willing readers who’ll point out flaws as well as the written gems that you’d forgotten; who’ll suggest a solution to a problem character, or a plot twist that will enliven a flagging mystery.
@writermels: ‘Gosh, I will say support [is my favourite thing about Twitter.] I can vouch for that today!’
So now you’re over the writing hump and you’ve finished your magnificent opus. But where to send it? There are experts on Twitter dedicated to guiding writers in the right direction, through sheer love of their craft. Agents will advise on query letters; publishers on what’s hot and what’s not. Again, see the @janetravers/recommended list for a mine of fantastic information.
Lo and behold, for now you are published! You’re done with Twitter and social media now, right? Wrong, so wrong – this is where social media really comes into its own. Going back to your earlier point about Twitter being a huge procrastination tool, this is when that fact works in your favour. Yes, a certain proportion of people on Twitter at any given moment are there to slack off. They want to be entertained. So, if you tweet about your new book, they might listen. If you link to a blog post about a funny story that happened while you were editing your book, they might read it. If you tweet a picture of your book on an actual shelf in an actual bookshop, saying ‘Look! LOOK! That’s my book, that is!’ they might look. And, if you tweet a link to where they can buy your book, they just might buy it.
And then – ah, then – you can connect with your audience in a way that writers of previous generations could only have dreamed of. Denise Deegan – author of the hugely popular Butterfly Novels for teens – is far more Facebook savvy than I. I asked her why she liked Facebook.
‘I have a Facebook fan page for the Butterfly Novels. It means that readers can get in touch with comments on the books. They can also chat with me. Getting their feedback means so much. My books are like my babies – I pour myself into them, and then send them off into the world. If I never hear how they’re getting on there is an emptiness. Before Facebook and Twitter I really didn’t hear much. No one had my contact details.
Facebook is a two-way thing and I love that. When I was growing up, you’d never dream of contacting an author. Now teenagers can contact me, ask questions, ask for advice.’
@mduffywriter: ‘It’s a unique and engaging way of promoting your book. It’s a two-way process… It brings the author closer to the reader, and vice versa.’
Such is the fascination with social media these days that pop culture is beginning to eat itself, spawning the social media book. I was already a Twitter convert when I had an idea in April 2010, to use Twitter to collect recipes from celebrities and friends and compile them into a book for charity. Tweet Treats was published by O’Brien Press earlier this year. And so, I’ve received all the benefits of social media that I listed above, and more; social media actually launched my writing career. That first book deal led to being signed by an agent, and I can see a real writing future ahead of me.
Do you still need convincing?