9 Social Networking Tips for Authors

In only a few short years, the ability to use social networking as a literary megaphone has gone from an afterthought to the focus of most marketing and image shaping…’Everyone is now focused on it, because when it works, it can be a runaway train.'” -WSJ

This morning’s Wall Street Journal featured an article about YA author John Green, whose novel-in-progress just hit #1 on the Amazon and Barnes & Noble bestseller lists. The Fault in Our Stars is outselling The Hunger GamesGame of Thrones, and Go the F*** to Sleep.

Yep, I said novel-in-progress. It’s not even finished yet. Won’t be published until 2012.

Say what? How did he pull that off? Green and his publisher, Dutton, give full credit to social networking. Green has developed a fiercely loyal fan base, including 1.1 million followers on Twitter and tens of thousands on sites like Facebook. Oh, and he’s posted 900 videos on YouTube. Nope, not a typo: 900.

Feeling intimidated yet? I am. Sheesh, I was excited last week when my Twitter following made it into triple digits. How can any author manage to be successful at social networking and still find time to, you know, write books?

Fortunately, I was able to find the answer to that question right here in Minneapolis. One of the many things I love about living in the Twin Cities is The Loft, a literary mecca that offers classes and networking opportunities for authors of all kinds. This summer, I’m taking a workshop series with editor and author Jacquelyn Fletcher about successful social networking for writers.

Here are the 9 best tips I’ve learned so far. These may not turn you into the next John Green, but they might help you gain a little confidence and begin building your own fiercely loyal fan base — without giving up all your writing time.

1. Support your fellow authors. If you’re just starting out, one of the easiest ways to build a following quickly is to find authors in your genre who already have large followings, then make friends. Support their books with Tweets and Likes, comment on their Facebook pages, interview them on your blog. Their followers will notice you, and some of them might become your followers, too.

2. Set a schedule. You don’t need to Tweet, Blog, and dazzle your Facebook friends every single day. Few authors (never mind Mr. Green) do it all daily. Try creating a weekly schedule, with each site assigned to a time slot: you might visit your Facebook page on Mondays and Wednesdays, Tweet on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and write a new blog post every Friday. Give yourself room to breathe — and time to write.

3. Link, link, link. Each of your sites should display eye-catching links to all of your other sites. Some fans will follow you everywhere, but others might only hang out with you in one place. Be easy to find. Give readers lots of different ways to connect, hear what you have to say today — and discover your books. Wherever they go, there you are.

4. Dress down for your photo. In years past, writers — especially romance writers — were advised to wear a suit when posing for author photos. It conveyed professionalism and showed that we wanted to be taken seriously. Today, that advice has changed. Readers in the Facebook era expect authors to be friendly, open and approachable. If you wear a suit in your author photo, you risk being viewed as old-fashioned and out-of-touch. Go casual.

5. Skip the hard sell. If all you ever say is, “Check out my book!” “Buy my book!” “Hey, have you heard about my book?” you won’t build a following; you’ll make people nauseous. Social networking is all about creating community. It’s the 21st-century equivalent of becoming pen pals. So chat back and forth. Get to know people. In other words, be social. Act like a friend, not a used-car salesman.

6. Be generous. The most successful social networkers add value to the conversation. They share opinions, personal experiences, information. When you’re hanging around the watercooler — or the bar at a writer’s conference — what do people come up and talk to you about? You’ve just found a good topic to share with your followers.

7. Don’t react to criticism. You will get negative comments. It’s the nature of the ‘Net. Anonymity has conditioned people to let loose — and sling mud — much more freely. By all means, correct mistaken information and delete personal attacks, but don’t let minor disagreements make you crazy. The community of fiercely loyal fans you’re creating will give a virtual smackdown to anyone who needs it.

8. Get creative. View social networking as a creative challenge. Jacquelyn Fletcher gains more followers from her podcast (created via PodBean.com) than from any other source. Author Kelly Corrigan helped boost her memoir onto the New York Times list by holding readings in friends’ homes and posting the videos on YouTube. Brainstorm ideas. Try something new and different…maybe even a little crazy.

9. Get help. If social networking truly makes you miserable, don’t do it. There are plenty of people around these days who are good at it, and some of them are available for a fee. Hire a publicist, a virtual assistant (you’ll find a growing list of resources right here), or the Twitter-savvy teen next door.

Seen any cool, creative or super-successful social networking by authors? Feel free to share examples in the Comments.

  • Isn’t he inspiring? This is a great post! I’m blogging about Green on Sunday and I’ll link to this. You’re saying some important things. Including the fact that social networking isn’t for everybody.

  • Thanks for the good, concise tips, Shelly! I’m definitely behind the curve in this area and I appreciated the advice about how to create a following & also how important it is to chat & be friendly, not just blare announcements about coming books. (Frankly, that’s my inclination:)

  • Shelly – these are fabulous tips! The podcast book group on YouTube sounds like fun, I have to check it out. Some people are so creative. Thank you so much for giving me more ideas (though my family may not thank you… :-) )

  • Thank you for sharing these fantastic tips! I find it a real struggle to balance freelance writing (nonfiction), fiction writing, and social media. I’m not sure whether I’m really “building a platform” at this point, but I do know that social media has helped to connect with a lot of other fabulous writers. Twitter and Facebook are my work-at-home water cooler.

  • Great tips for social networking. And I’m working on them. Just need to know who to keep writing my book, do promotion, and take care of family all at the same time. Guess that’s what multi-tasking teaches us.

  • Great tips and so concise! As they say here in Italy where I live: brava!

    What I find terrifying about marketing/social media networking is the AMOUNT of time (and energy) it takes! If you do all you’re supposed to do (as per your tips), WHEN do you find the time to write?

    I’m working on a strategy to control the amount of marketing/networking one needs to do.In other words, what kind of marketing gives you the GREATEST return? And then stick to that and drop the others.

    I’d love to know what you think works best for you and why!

    It’s my first time here, btw, and I love the look of your site, dark and blue, very attractive!

    Also just tweeted about your post!

    PS.My own site is Claude Nougat (I notice your comments only allow for Claude as a reference)

  • Thanks everyone! I just went to the latest workshop on Saturday and got even more great tips — will post those later this week. It’s hard to say what’s most effective for me so far, in terms of sales, because my books aren’t up yet. I will say, though, that I get far more hits on my site via Facebook than from any other source — like 3X as many hits. And I’m not even all that active on FB yet. For writers with limited time to spend on social networking, FB might be a good place to spend it.

  • Thanks for the overview! It seems today, that any author setting out to establish themselves has to have that wide-screen perspective.

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