The Right Way to Use Social Media for Authors

The right way to use social media

The Right Way to Use Social Media for Authors

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I have a confession to make: I am a very sporadic user of social media.

I was late to the game in the first place, reluctantly jumping on board Facebook after resisting years of friends’ exhortations, because I just couldn’t get my mind around the concept of broadly announcing the minutiae of my life on a mass forum. If I have things I’d like to share with people, I told my friends, I will do that directly, and I don’t need to broadcast the details of my life to other folks.

Yes, I’m aware that this makes me sound like a dinosaur and possibly a bit of a curmudgeon. I have confessed in these posts before to being a very reluctant user of most technology, generally forced to adapt to a rapidly evolving world by my tech-savvy early-adopter husband, who has in no small part kept my business relevant through his efforts.

I know there are upsides to being able to share in the lives of people you might not otherwise find the time to reach out to directly, and I see that there can be value to these platforms, and often I genuinely enjoy them.

But I also see the downsides, not least of which is the amount of time and energy they can chew up not just in mindless scrolling, but in how much effort it requires to “do” social media according to its experts and “best practices” as a seemingly essential tool toward building your author career.

It’s a mixed bag professionally as much as it is personally—I relish connecting directly with fellow authors, editors, agents, and other people who are passionate about the field I’m also passionate about, but social media can sometimes feel like one more obligation on my to-do list that is almost always brimming.

My solution is not so much chosen as defaulted to: I am not on every social media outlet and don’t try to be. Sometimes I post regularly, genuinely happy to engage on social media. Other times I will go days and sometimes even weeks without posting at all, without even opening up social media and looking at others’ feeds. 

I’ve paid attention to expert advice enough to know that my erratic social media behavior works some sort of dark magic on these sites to ensure that I am constantly having an uphill battle with my posts to reach people, thanks to the mysterious and terrible algorithms I do not pretend to understand.

Read more: “Are You Creating Your Writing Career or Someone Else’s?”

But it’s not so much a deliberate choice I’m making, or a statement, or any kind of digital detox I’m consciously trying to instill in myself. My social media erraticism is just a natural outgrowth of trying to focus on my priorities, needs, and desires in the overarching context of my career and my life.

How Are You Using Social Media?

As an author—as any kind of professional in an industry that relies so heavily on awareness, outreach, and engagement—social media can be a valuable tool to help you find and engage the readers who will help you build your career.

But doing it halfheartedly, by rote, or with a hard-sell approach won’t net you those results any more than not using it at all. Numbers of followers don’t matter if they aren’t genuinely engaged with you and/or your work, as marketing expert Dan Blank shared in a recent post.

Dan is one of my favorite marketing experts because of his “human-centered” approach—one that eschews “best practices” in favor of finding an organic approach that feels right for each author, and for practical tips on how to do that I highly recommend his blog, podcast, book Be the Gateway, and We Grow Media company. (I have no affiliate relationship with Dan or anyone.)

Social media can be a valuable tool to help you find and engage the readers who will help you build your career. But doing it halfheartedly, by rote, or with a hard-sell approach won’t net you those results any more than not using it at all.

I’m not a marketing or social media expert, but like most of you, I do have to navigate it as part of my business, and in this post I want to talk about how to determine how much social media might work for you and your career, without tipping over into where it’s negatively affecting your creative time, attention, or well-being.

That balance may fluctuate based on what you’re working on, your state of mind, and what else is going on in your life at any given time.

I use three questions to help me find the answer and guide my social media behavior:

What Is the Cost-Benefit of Using Social Media Right Now?

My approach to marketing has always been an organic, grassroots one: I rarely take out ads; I refuse to subscribe to the hard-sell “sales funnel” approach to marketing my business; and I don’t follow trends as far as what seems to be working to draw eyeballs, like those trendy daily short videos with captions that seem to be all the rage right now.

Don’t get me wrong: I actually love content like that. I find myself coming back to some of the same people over and over whose daily short tips and presentations I really enjoy. I see that it would very likely benefit me and my business to do something similar.

But I also weigh creating my own against what it will cost me—in energy, creativity, and time.

These slick, appealing videos, for instance, may take only 15 minutes or so a day once you get the hang of them, as Dan Blank said in a recent post regarding his, but I am already scrambling to find time for all the creative and professional pursuits that are important to me at the moment.

Right now I already feel like I am digging deep into my creative well nearly every day on existing goals and commitments, and it’s hard to imagine finding more reserves for a whole other prong that taps into my creative energy.

My laissez-faire approach to marketing isn’t necessarily the right way, or for everyone. There’s every chance I am kneecapping myself, marketing-wise, and limiting my reach to a more modest pool.

But generally I decide to be okay with that. I weigh the cost benefit of adding slick social-media posts, or another social media outlet, or more frequent posts, to my to-do list, and when I find that it simply doesn’t feel worth it to me, I just don’t do it.

That’s not to say that I might not decide differently at a different time. Our creative bandwidth, desires, and urges can change, and smart creatives frequently revisit their goals and practices and evolve.

Two additional questions help me determine those goals:

What Is Enough?

This is a concept I’ve been working with for quite a while in my mind, in many walks of life, both personally and professionally. What is enough: enough success, enough work, enough money, enough renown?

What is enough: enough success, enough work, enough money, enough renown?

Right now I am fortunate enough to be enjoying a very busy time in my work. I’m fully booked with editing projects, and I have a fairly packed schedule of speaking and presenting engagements, in addition to writing assignments and of course my own self-generated work, like these weekly blog posts, including my How Writers Revise feature, which takes a fair amount of time and energy, and the follow-up books to Intuitive Editing that I am working on. My schedule is full and I am making a comfortable living.

What more do I want?

A broader platform and more reach comes with more potential demands on my time and energy, and I try to weigh what that might offer me at the moment versus what it might cost me.

I already work a lot. I don’t really have the bandwidth to add much to my slate, and while I’m a big fan of money, as are many of us, how much do I actually need? Its value lies in what it buys me, and right now my most precious commodity is time, the exact thing it generally costs to make more money or have more “success.”

Read more: “When Will You Be a Success?”

But that calculus is different for every creative, at every stage of their career. There are times of expansion and change in my career when I periodically reevaluate this balance.

Asking yourself one last question can help you figure out what matters most to you right now.

What Is the Big Picture?

Maybe it’s a function of getting a little older, but I find I frame much more through the lens of, What will matter to me, looking back at the end of my life, about how I lived it?

Over and over the answer for me comes back to the people I have shared my life with, and the meaning I have found. For me, it doesn’t feel like I can adequately develop the kind of deep, rewarding relationships that are important to me via the mass scale of social media. And the deepest meaning I find in work is doing the actual work itself, rather than publishing it, and engaging one-on-one and in direct contact with authors.

At the core, I think that’s why I let social media languish when I don’t feel like dedicating time and energy to posting or scrolling and commenting. And why I mostly don’t worry too much about it.

Read more: “Life Lessons from William Shatner

Posting and commenting can feel like a nonnegotiable obligation when you have so many experts and industry pros inundating you with advice about the necessity of regular social media habits, and dire consequences for failing to adhere to them.

But consider that maybe the only opinion about how you spend your time that matters is your own, and that your goals may be broader and deeper than simply gaining followers or audience or even building a successful career. 

Maybe the only opinion about how you spend your time that matters is your own, and your goals may be broader and deeper than simply gaining followers or audience or even building a successful career. 

Those things matter—don’t get me wrong. But what matters most to you? When you are lying on that clichéd deathbed thinking about how you lived your life, will you count its value to you in followers and “reach,” or will it be in the people standing there with you, and those who shared the journey—and the journey itself?

The truth is that there’s no “right” way to use social media—just as there’s no one “right” way to write. To me, the best way to use it—as with all tech tools—is any way that feels healthy and rewarding to you.

Read more: “Prioritizing Your Life

I’m thinking aloud here, authors, and I welcome your thoughts and input as I mull over all these ideas. How do you use social media, and why? Does it feel like an obligation, or is it something you genuinely enjoy, and if so in what ways? What works for you as far as balancing career and personal life? How do you prioritize where you put your time and energy professionally and personally?

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16 Comments. Leave new

  • Hi Tiffany: All good points here, I agree. I used to go back and forth with social media posts at first, but now I’m well established in it. It’s over ten years. I started with blogging weekly about fiction and free short stories (which got me many guest blog opportunities), then added time on Twitter, added Facebook’s fiction groups and Goodreads reading groups, and recently added Instagram. And I post on Linked-In reading groups as well. I’ve met loads of really great readers, authors, reviewers, editors, artists on these sites. For me, it’s about connecting to people and professionals in my genre and in the book industry. There’s a lot to learn along the way. Social media is not about book promotion or selling, it’s about building relationships and engaging, and yes it’s time-consuming. I do think that takes consistency. When readers or authors see your name and your comments/posts on a regular basis, it becomes friendly and builds not only a fan base but expands your author platform to a wider audience.

    Reply
    • I am in AWE of all the prongs of social media you’re active on! And I feel tired just reading it. 🙂 Am I just a grump…?! I so see the value in all that, in community, connection, and even contacts–but when I think of dipping my toe into more all I see is my never-ending to-do list in front of me and I worry I can’t add one more thing to it.

      I agree with all your “pros” regarding social media, and I think you’re so smart to do it. It sounds like you’ve managed to find a way to incorporate it into your daily schedule in a way that’s more than just not overwhelming, but nourishing to you. (Feel free to share your tips!) 🙂

      Thanks for sharing your perspective–and helping to broaden mine.

      Reply
  • Maria Karamitsos
    July 13, 2023 12:59 pm

    Social media has been a great way to connect with so many people. I schedule posts in the morning, and will check once or twice a day. I like the connection part of it. I don’t care for the hate often spewed. I stay away from all that. I try to keep all my interactions positive and light, and those who support me, I always support back. We all have to help each other. We’re all in this together!

    Reply
    • Agreed about the ugly side of socials–I try to avoid that too, and don’t countenance it in replies to my posts (not that I see that very often, fortunately). I do like the connection and community aspect–particularly in our industry, which can feel so isolating sometimes.

      Where I sometimes get hung up is with time, unfortunately. I find I’m not even as diligent as I wish I were with calls and texts to close friends, so I often worry that time I spend on social media cuts further into that connection time. Could be I’m just very poor at time management…. 😉 Thanks for your insights, Maria!

      Reply
  • These days I am feeling very overwhelmed by social media because there are too many platforms. Choosing the one to devote my time and attention to seems so daunting. The only one I use with any regularity is Twitter because I can quickly engage with others with short posts. I only follow writers and others in the publishing industry so that makes my feed more manageable. This is a great post to bookmark and refer to. Like writing, finding your own process that works best for is key.

    Reply
    • It WEARS MY ASS OUT these days, Cate! 😀 I wish it didn’t–and it doesn’t always, but more so than it used to. I suspect it’s a factor of social-media oversaturation, as you say, and overstimulation with our constant-input world. I feel like it comes at us from all sides these days, and it’s information overload–even when it’s just social updates and posts from friends. When so much of our total bandwidth is consumed with that steady stream of input, it just doesn’t leave much even for the kind of contact we might otherwise relish, maybe.

      Are the current Twitter troubles affecting your affinity for that platform at all? I like each of them for various reasons, but none of them feels like such a great fit that it’s not an effort to keep up with it–and I’m so disgusted by how Twitter is being managed right now that I find I’m drifting away from it more and more.

      I think you’re right: Social media use is just like writing–or really most of life, right?–in that we each have to find what feels best for us. Thanks for weighing in–always enjoy seeing you here.

      Reply
  • Dete Meserve
    July 13, 2023 10:13 pm

    Social Media is how I communicate and amplify the themes in my novels. It allows readers (and potential readers) to engage with me on ideas that I’m writing about or thinking about. It also allows me to understand what resonates with them. If I do a post about living each moment to the fullest, for example, and the reaction is positive and engaged, I know this is subject matter to continue to bring up and to consider writing about. This is a conversation and I have a lot of metrics to see/understand what people engage in and hear what they’re thinking.

    Reply
    • That’s interesting you use it that way–it correlates to what this blog is for me, actually. I tried using socials this way–as a deeper, more direct connection to authors and for exploring ideas I’m working with–but for me it never felt organic or as if it found its audience, the way I do here. I think I also started thinking about how dependent those connections were on the platforms, rather than being a direct line between me and authors, so I migrated that kind of interaction here.

      When it works well and feels right for an author, I know social media is a great way to reach readers and interact, though. And gives you lots of creativity, flexibility, and options. Thanks for sharing this–food for thought.

      Reply
  • Kathleen Basi
    July 14, 2023 1:42 am

    Everything you said here is like balm to my soul. I have tried a lot of things and I just suck at it, because it doesn’t feel authentic. I could learn it, b/c I am a smart, competent woman, but it feels like a soul suck. So I hobble along in mediocrity and I am finding myself more okay with that. I find that my personal Facebook, which is ridiculously big b/c of author and composer connections, is very successfully b/c I am authentic on it. My author page does okay. IG is mediocre, but I keep trying—and that’s where I draw the line. Just like you, I have loved ones to nurture and books and music to write. I need my soul more than I need to be viral.

    Reply
    • Kathleen, it’s funny you downplay your adeptness with social media but then say how well you’re using Facebook. 🙂 I hear a lot of people say that you have to find the platform that resonates for you and the people you want to engage with, which makes sense. Probably Facebook feels the most organic to me too, but I have to admit I’m just overwhelmed by all the algorithms and best practices. I love figuring out things like that, but only if they really intrigue me–which social media might if I didn’t have such a full slate.

      That said, I think I have more leeway in being lackadaisical about it than authors might; I know how important it is to agents and publishers–and to readers. But like you, that’s not my prime metric for determining how I use my time.

      I love that you mention authenticity. That’s key, isn’t it? No matter what format you’re engaging on (or not!), I think people connect to people who are real–and that’s what the joy of any of this is to me, anyway. Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

      Reply
  • I find social media a serious distraction from my Herculean effort to become a good writer, a serious reader of fiction while keeping myself informed about the business side of writing. But putting my own views out there? That can be a minefield!

    I tried to get my feet wet, posting on one site where the subject was editors for hire. I posted my view that there were charlatans, true, but a good one was essential, not only for the often published but also for the yet-to-be-published. One can get into a trance in writerly isolation, imagining ourselves geniuses or hopeless hacks. We’re probably neither. It takes feedback to help us see reality. I’ve known well-read, good writers who have lost their way writing in isolation. I know I have.

    Pretty innocuous, right? But this set one member off on a tirade. How did I know what was essential??? I back peddled apologies but it was exhausting and I felt a waste of valuable, ever-receding time and now fear posting my opinions.

    I don’t want to post hate by any means, but I do have strong, often iconoclastic opinions. I find it exhausting and disingenuous to tread a safe line.

    So now, aside from the occasional comment I post here, I keep to myself and just write. But maybe this is cowardice.

    Am I alone on this?

    Reply
    • Hi, Maryann! Nice to see you here. But I’m sorry to hear about the trolling you’ve encountered. I’m always so taken aback and even shaken by that too when I see it–even if it’s not directed toward me. One of my biggest complaints about social media–and the internet in general–is how it has dehumanized people online in some cases to where we treat people virtually in ways most of us would never treat them face-to-face.

      My conscious approach has become to stay as high-road as possible, try to listen to what the person is saying and what’s behind it (fear, insecurity, pain, etc.) and respond as kindly and compassionately as I’m able–to Sarah Silverman them. That way I feel I’m not part of the problem or contributing to what I worry is helping chip away at our common human connections and contributing to our terrible current polarization. But I agree with you that it’s hard to take those types of comments, and it always takes me some time to calm my stress response, process it, and formulate a level, nonincendiary response.

      I’m sorry it made you fear posting your opinions–I think that’s one of the good uses of social media–to see what others believe, expand our own horizons and more deeply consider our own views and why we hold them–even if we stay firm to what they are, making sure we’re doing so having considered other aspects of the issues. I also think respectful dialogue and exchange of ideas is a key way back from our current divisiveness. I’d like to be part of that solution. In fact, this exchange with you is helping me formulate what I feel about social media and why–so thanks for that. 🙂

      I think you’re dead right to have your number one goal be to make sure you’re caring for your own psyche, though, and doing what’s best for you–plus giving your attention and energy where it’s most rewarding to you, whatever that looks like. But I hope we won’t give up on one another as a species. I can’t shake my core optimism and faith in us, even when I feel bleak sometimes over what I see in headlines and comment sections. 🙂

      Thanks for this bit of connection online–it was a nice way to start my morning.

      Reply
  • Sorry to be so late in this reply to your reply!

    Loved what you said about looking at the source. In the case I encountered, I think that writer was fearful, perhaps unable to afford an editor for hire and perhaps wounded from overly critical, ham-handed readers.

    Dogs bite when they’re frightened and feel threatened.

    You also reminded me of what a gift social media is for disparate people to exchange ideas. It can be incredibly enriching on so many levels.

    And I do think developing a thick skin is an essential tool for me in my writing journey. Just take a moment to think before pressing ‘send’! I must say, you do it so well.

    Reply
    • Great image about the dog–it’s true. I used to volunteer at a shelter and I learned to respect dogs’ reactions as the only way they had to express fear or needing space. That’s a helpful idea to keep in mind, because it helps me not take it personally with people, either.

      And I’m not always great at responding rather than reacting–but I am getting better at taking a breath to encourage myself not to knee-jerk lash back, and sometimes that’s enough to give me that clarity. Thanks for the response, Maryann.

      Reply
  • Great insights! Using social media effectively is crucial for authors to connect with readers. ATReads is a fantastic platform for writers to share their work, engage with a literary community, and grow their audience. Highly recommend joining ATReads!

    Reply

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