7.6 WRITING AS A CAREER: SOCIAL MEDIA
As an author, online publicity is a large part of the job, even if it doesn’t seem like it. Social media is your opportunity to sell your book in a different way from the way it’s explained in the blurb. You can go into more detail about the content, use visual and audible methods of talking about it like moodboards, fanart, playlists, and be much more approachable and personable than simple portrayed through a professional biography.
More importantly, as a career author, the aim is not only to promote a single book, but promote yourself as a person. Social media helps you to build a following of readers who will stick with you through every book you publish. You are a brand, and readers who feel like they know you personally through the content you put out will remember you and your books and become a long-term customer of your work.
I recommend that all authors be on two websites at least, Twitter and Goodreads. Here, I’m going to explain how to use them in easy, simple ways which are low pressure and self-sustaining, without adding stress to your career.
Try using them as a user initially, just to get an idea of what you look for as a consumer. It will make your content more relatable, and you’ll come up with your own ideas and tips along the way.
Remember, the most important thing for an author to do is write more books. There is no need to make sure you’re using every single possible social media site if you have no books to market. These are all tips for thing you can be doing in small moments of time you have available – but your main job, first and foremost, is to write. As much as possible, whenever you can. The rest can wait.
Twitter is a busy medium to take in at first, but it’s one of the most important to use to be part of the conversation in the publishing world. To start, follow the authors of other books in your genre, and see what they’re tweeting about. Follow the people they talk to, and go from there.
Choosing a username
The Twitter search function is quite terrible, and if the username (not the display name – the bit after @) isn’t in the format @firstnamelastname then your profile won’t come up when people search for you, to follow you or tag you in a post. If your name is taken, then I suggest the format @firstnamelastnameauthor or similar. What comes after your name doesn’t matter, as long as when people start typing your name, your profile pops up in the suggestions.
List all your books in your bio, and keep it up to date! Use the link to send people to your website, where they can find the links to all your other social media accounts on the main page.
There’s an option to choose one tweet to ‘pin’ to the top of your profile, so whatever you tweet, it stays at the top. This means it’s the first thing that visitors see, so you want to utilise it to give them all the information they need. Use this as a follow up to your bio – include links to all the social media you didn’t include in your bio, and include a picture too.
Use your book covers as your banner, in as high quality as possible. Remember to check that the covers are full size in view in both mobile and computer browsers.
Update this whenever you have a new cover reveal.
Running giveaways is a good way to both gain new followers and promote your book.
Tweet something like:
RT this to enter to win a signed hardback copy of [book], [US/UK/INT] only, ends [date] @[Publisher’s Twitter] #booktitle
Include a picture of the cover and some art or a moodboard.
When you’re ready to choose the winner, take the numbers at the end of the tweet’s URL and plug them into a website to randomly select one of the retweets.
Get involved in weekly community chats – #ukya, #YAtakeover, etc. this is a good way to make connections and your tweets will reach a lot of people if you use the hashtag.
It’s important to interact and become friendly with bloggers online, so that they’re likely to recognise your name and recognise it when they’re sent a proof or see it online. Even just being around on twitter frequently makes people think of you when they’re recommending titles in things like twitter chats – e.g. #UKYAchat, #sundayYA.
It’s also a great way to learn community etiquette, such as whether authors should respond to Goodreads reviews, how to request advanced review titles, etc.
- Tweets with pictures in generally get more views (you can click to see the statistics of any tweet you post, including the number of people who clicked on a link in the tweet)
In my experience, most traffic comes via Twitter, and bloggers then follow me on other platforms – except Wattpad, where I reach a new audience, and Tumblr, to an extent. Most YouTube views come from embedded videos on other platforms, for example.
Hashtags can be an incredibly effective tool to utilise to promote your book, as it succinctly allows people to discuss one topic.
Holly Bourne’s feminist Young Adult novel What’s a Girl Gotta Do? was promoted very effectively in 2016 using the hashtag #IAmAFeminist. People used the hashtag to provide reasons for why they considered themselves feminists, and the movement was shared widely beyond Bourne’s circle of readers.
@Junodawson #IAmAFeminist because, actually, what kind of monster *doesn’t* strive to make the world an equal, fair place.
#ReadtheOnePercent promoted books with minority protagonists after a survey found that only 1% of books published in 2017 had BAME protogonists.
A quick guide to Twitter etiquette
It’s easy to get drawn into arguments/ controversial statements which can have an adverse effect on sales if you’re a new author who doesn’t understand the culture of online social media.
Tweet genuinely, and like a real person, not a scheduled marketing machine.
Do not say anything negative unless you are making a useful contribution to the conversation. Collective mourning of tragedies doesn’t help anyone.
Do not subtweet. Don’t. People can usually work out who you’re talking about, even if you think they won’t – and it makes you look petty.
However, as always, there are exceptions to the rules – author Justina Ireland has become very successful purely through getting her name out via twitter scandals.
Her critiques, which take the form of Twitter threads and blog posts, are exasperated, ironic, and funny. She has taken swipes at the white YA superstar John Green (“Can we get a Kickstarter to get John Green some black friends?”), diversity panels at publishing conferences (“‘separate but equal’ conference ghettos”), and even her own shortcomings as an advocate (“I am not always a good ally. I’m terribly ableist and overlook neurodiverse discussions and religious discussions. I’m working on it.”)
Twitter controversies can have a huge impact. The Continent, a Young Adult novel due to be released in 2017, was cancelled due to reviewers on Twitter raising concerns about the book’s content and starting a petition against its release.
One reader observed that Drake’s cast of characters included “Magic Black people, Ninja Asians, and uneducated, ruthless Natives who get drunk and try to rape the precious white girl.” Another wrote that the whole thing had “vibes of colonization.” A petition surfaced urging Harlequin to delay publication of the book and address “the troubling portrayals within of people of color and native backgrounds.”
Being ‘too much’ online
The author’s place online is a difficult one to navigate. Often, people love seeing their favourite authors online because they might share small snippets about their favourite characters. But sometimes even this can be received badly. J K Rowling frequently releases canon details about the Harry Potter series, nearly a decade after the release of the books. Fans often react badly to this, as it feels like she’s ‘messing with their childhood’ unnecessarily.
Pottermore and J.K. Rowling’s tweets, by contrast, don’t feel like expansions of the world, but rather like they’re limiting my own interpretations of it. Each bit of new information, released at any time and demanding my immediate attention, closes another door in my mind, eliminates more possibilities. It feels whimsical and arbitrary, paper-thin and precarious in a way an official companion simply wouldn’t.
John Green was also accused of being too present in fandom and on social media sites like Tumblr by some of his fans, even though his YouTube channel was where he began his career, and helped launch his books into success.
He has a social media presence that is equivalent to that dad of a kid in your friend group.
Cassandra Clare has posted about how much her books’ fandoms impact her mental health, and how she feels unable to go online anymore, after a fan egged the car of someone involved in a TV adaptation of her books:
Every time I’ve posted anything on Twitter for months now, it became a reason for reactions of hatred and vitriol. I’m tired of being yelled at every time I say anything.
She felt that being a female creator gave her less lee-way to convey her own opinions that a male creator.
Does the level of interaction authors can have with fans change as authors grow from a debut unknown into a bestseller? Fandom is a wonderful place for fans to share their love. But how much should the author be involved in this? For example, should authors be involved in the book blogging community, especially in a community that are reviewing their own books?
- Daily writing progress chat
- Polls about character names
- Asking for help – anyone know anything about [obscure topic in your book] who I can ask a few questions?
- Links to interesting things you’ve seen online that are related to your book
- Sharing bloggers’ content
- Creative pictures of your books with objects included in the book (Moira Fowley Doyle does this very well)
- Fanart/ commissions drawings of your characters
- Book hauls of books you’ve purchased/received
- Pictures of early writing notebooks/notes about your book – comparing the first draft print-out and finished book
- Your book in emoji format
- Venn diagram of crossover between your books
- Fashion of the characters
- Locations in the books
- Deleted scenes/short stories
- Written interviews
- Behind the scenes of the writing process – what you’re working on at the moment
- Research you’ve done for your writing
- Cover reveals
- Interviews with people in the industry – editors, publicists, agents, bloggers, etc
- Your favourite recent books
- Pictures of your bookshelves
- Sneak peeks of your next book
Building a Network
- Start with Twitter and aim to reply to one person’s tweet a day, and post two of your own. To start, that’s all you need to do – and by the time your book is released, you’ll have built up a community that there will be plenty of people excited for your release. I’d aim to try and participate in a chat even if there’s one in your genre, even if it’s scary – you’ll make so many new friends.
- Remember that people can see your following/follower ratio, so mass following people in an attempt to get follows back works – but it will look bad. People can see you’re just out to gain followers and not actually building up a personal connection with your readers and assume you’re a spam account. Try to make authentic connections.
- Twice a day or more as you choose – the more the better!
Lauren James was born in 1992, and graduated in 2014 from the University of Nottingham, UK, where she studied Chemistry and Physics. She is the Carnegie-nominated British Young Adult author of The Loneliest Girl in the Universe, The Quiet at the End of the World and The Next Together series.
She started writing during secondary school English classes, because she couldn’t stop thinking about a couple who kept falling in love throughout history. She sold the rights to the novel when she was 21, whilst she was still at university.
Her books have sold over fifty thousand copies in the UK alone, and been translated into five languages worldwide. She has been described as ‘Gripping romantic sci-fi’ by the Wall Street Journal and ‘A strange, witty, compulsively unpredictable read which blows most of its new YA-suspense brethren out of the water’ by Entertainment Weekly.
Her other novels include The Last Beginning, named one of the best LGBT-inclusive works for young adults by the Independent, and The Loneliest Girl in the Universe, which was inspired by a Physics calculation she was assigned at university. Lauren is a passionate advocate of STEM further education, and all of her books feature female scientists in prominent roles. The Quiet at the End of the World considers the legacy and evolution of the human race into the far future.
Lauren is published in the UK by Walker Books and in the US by HarperCollins. She lives in the West Midlands and is an Arts Council grant recipient. She has written articles for numerous publications, including the Guardian, Buzzfeed, Den of Geek, The Toast, and the Children’s Writers and Artist’s Yearbook 2020. She lectures at the University of Cambridge and Coventry University, and works with Writing West Midlands, providing creative writing courses to children through the Spark Young Writers programme.