17 July 2012

Save Your Writing Life: How NOT to Let Social Media Take Over—Part II

Part II --  Asking for help and making my biggest mistake,
sort of 

As you know from my last blog post, I was drunk with social media.

You know. Picture any Western where the cowgirl is stumbling from the saloon, looking happy as hell, yelling “Yippee!” and shooting off her gun. Too many saloons, too many drinks, too much time playing poker and having fun.

We all know what happens to her. She takes a header and lands face first in the dirt.

That’s what I did.

I felt foolish, stupid, out of control. Social Media was running my life, not vice versa. Kind of like when I was a smoker. The cigarettes controlled me, not the other way around.

More important, my writing suffered. I was writing maybe half the amount of time I had before, and I was finding it harder and harder to focus. I felt out of control. I felt like a failure.

But I don’t stay down long. I dusted myself off, sobered up and asked myself, “What do I need? How am I going to get out of all these saloons and get to work? What had other writers done?”

Asking for Help

I decided to call on members of my posse. They had to have made decisions about social media, hadn’t they? They had to have a plan? Or even if they didn’t have a plan, they had to have figured it out by now, right?

And it wasn’t as if I could drop it altogether. To have a career as an author, a writer has to have a presence on the web to build a readership and connect with those who will love the work. After landing a major agent, one of my critique group members was told by the agent she had to be at least on Facebook, Twitter, and have a website. She was told she needed to make herself known online—and that was before the agent went out with the novel. The agent even assigned an intern to help.

This is not a choice unless you want your book to die right after publication.

My Posse

I emailed four members of my posse for their advice:  Cheryl Strayed, Christina Katz, L.J. Sellers and Jennie Shortridge.

Cheryl writes novels and memoir, and if I have to tell you who she is, you’ve probably been living in the woods with Bigfoot.
Christina does just about everything and publishes helpful books for writers and mama-writers.
L.J. is a self-published mystery writer with amazing marketing chutzpah (and now has a big publishing deal with Amazon).
Jennie is a four-time novelist, queen of marketing (one of brains who created the Seattle7Writers), and her next novel will be out in 2013 in hardback, a triumph in the publishing world.

I asked them, What do you do online to give yourself a presence and why? Here’s what they emailed back:

Photo by Mr. Sugar

Cheryl Strayed, author of the novel Torch, her memoir and Oprah pick Wild, and Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Life and Love from Dear Sugar

            Here's what I do: I work the hell out of my Facebook page. It takes very little time to post links, comments, little bits of stuff here and there. I get tons of traffic on my page. I'm guessing most of those people, like me, have little time to read blogs or email newsletters. I think having a solid, active Facebook page does more for me than a blog or newsletter would.
Cristina Katz, author of Writer Mama, Get Known Before the Book Deal, and The Writer’s Workout.
            I do pretty much everything and update/upgrade every six months to keep up.
            I recommend creating a Wordpress.org blog that can serve as blog and a website. Go Daddy offers hosting for them.
            Typepad also can work as a blog/wesbite and would be simpler but I didn't care for their interface.
            I've posted a list on my blog of the things authors can do:  http://christinakatz.com/publishers-online-tools-every-author-can-should-master/

Jennie Shortridge, author of Riding with the Queen, Eating Heaven, Love and Biology and When She Flew

            With any kind of marketing, it's really helpful to see what other authors do, and decide which things you like or don't like. You'll only be successful doing those things you like doing, so choose for your own personality. Most marketing these days happens online, so check out authors' websites, Facebook pages, etc. With websites, you need a few key elements: about the author, about the book, order the book, events, contact/join mailing list, and of course links to social media and blogs. Readers really like having more detailed information, too, a "behind the scenes" look at the author and/or book they can't get anywhere else. I try to include some kind of background information about each book, and/or things inspired by it, like music or recipes. A lot of authors do contests and things like that to get repeat visitors, but I don't like doing that. To make my site more “sticky,” I put news and my blog on the home page, so that the content changes frequently.
           I use Maddee at Xuni.com to design and update my website. I provide her with the raw material: copy, photos, whatever. She works with my input, and I choose imagery from dreamstime.com, where you can download free images in the public domain. It's a great resource. I now send images I find there to my publisher to “show” my ideas for each new cover.  
            In addition to Facebook and (begrudgingly, Twitter) I have a presence on Red Room (which is really great) and to a lesser extent, Good Reads. I do more when I'm in promotion mode than when I’m between cycles, of course, but I try to keep somewhat current, just by posting something here and there or commenting on others’ posts. There is an old adage that if someone gets seven impressions of, say, a book (1. a review, 2. see it in store, 3. hear about from friend, 4. see author on TV, etc.) they will be more likely to want/purchase that thing. So it can’t hurt if they see you on Facebook here and there, or a review you wrote on Good Reads, or a blog you posted to Red Room. Speaking of blogging, book blog tours are wonderful. One good company doing that (among many) is TLC Tours.
            The other promotional methods that work well for me are reading events (not only the reading itself, necessarily, but also the promotion that goes into it, the stack of books that sits at the front of the store for an extra couple of weeks, and getting to know the bookseller personally), occasional email newsletters, and attending regional bookseller trade shows to meet lots of booksellers. Throw in a little radio here and there, a few reviews and profiles, some fundraiser appearances or writing conferences . . . it’s just really a big mix, and I’m always trying to think up new things, inside and outside the box.

L.J. Sellers
Author of provocative mysteries and thrillers and her latest Detective Jackson mystery Liars, Cheaters and Thieves.

When she started:
            The great thing about blogs now is that they’re so easy to set up, and both Blogger and WordPress let you create pages on your blog so that it has some depth like a website. And with sidebars you can create a newsletter look.
            I do e-zines only when I have a new release. But a lot of writers do them more frequently.
            Blogger is a good (easy) place to start if you just want to have a website presence and a place to express yourself and draw readers. Then see how it goes. Have fun with it.
            I’m on my third website design and I paid different designers for each version, spending more each time. But as my readership grew, so did the importance of looking professional and making a good impression. My website is set up in Wordpress and incorporates my blog, which is pretty common now. It’s so easy to update.
            I’m also part of a group blog, Crime Fiction Collective. And of course, I have several Facebook pages, and I’m on Twitter and Google+.

My Take on All of This

That was a lot to chew on. I liked what Cheryl did and would love to just work the heck out of Facebook. She went stratospheric with Wild so entered entirely different territory. But I didn’t have a novel to push, so I needed more of a presence online to show my chops as a writer.

Christina had great ideas, too, because she’s a writer’s writer, trying to help other writers with their marketing and management. She, however, markets non-fiction to writers, and that’s a specific niche. I read one of her books, Get Known Before the Book Deal, and used a few of her ideas, but I can't do them all, so I need to make choices based on my needs.

Jennie reminded me to do what I thought I’d like to do, not what I’m supposed to do. I loved all her advice. Jennie’s a wrangler; she could move a whole town from one place to another. I’m not like that. I need eight hours sleep, and I’m a slow writer. Her specific, helpful ideas made me think seriously about a blog.

L.J.’s another marketing maven and her best advice was “Have fun with it.” Her enthusiasm for a blog made me see how a blog would really help me as a writer of fiction.

My Analysis

These four authors were doing everything they could to connect with their readers. That meant they were doing everything I was doing and much more.

With their input and what I knew, I analyzed my situation:

·      First, why was I doing social media at all if I didn’t have a novel out?
o   To begin building my readership and get known online.

·      I had very good pieces in two anthologies, so could I direct readers there?
o   Yes, I needed a place to talk about them and start attracting readers.

·      I was on too many social media sites that were repetitive with business related info about publishing, agents, e-publishing, etc. Could I drop one or two of those?
o   Yes. There are only so many articles I need to read about those subjects.

·      If I wanted to reach readers, where could I go that would be better than just the blogs and groups that dealt with the craft of writing or how to get published?
o   I needed to be more focused on being active in reader communities such as Goodreads and Shelfari.

·      What overwhelms me?
o   My email inbox. Three of my social media sites have groups specific to a subject.
o   Much of my email was coming from those. I needed to unsubscribe.

·      What is the most important thing I should be doing?
o   Finishing a novel and getting it to my agent. Writing.

·      What would be most beneficial right now for me as an unpublished novelist?
o   Creating readers. Giving them a taste of my writing. Giving them stories.

·      What could create readers? How could I give readers a sample of my writing?
o   A blog.

That sounded like the best choice. And, because I was editing and revising two novels, the idea of writing something new and short excited me. Okay. All I needed was an idea for a blog and a focus, a blog name, and a schedule.

Soon I had my blog up and running.

My Mistake

Call me a nitwit. Call me dunderhead. Call me whatever.

I had added yet another social media item to maintain, and this one demanded not only daily maintenance, but creativity. (See Why I Haven’t Blogged in Over Two Months)

I did give myself credit for not working LinkedIn, dropping group emails, reducing my email inbox, and establishing a writing schedule, never mind restraining myself from reading everyone else’s blog and following every cool site they posted.

But now what? What could I do? I couldn’t just drop my blog. I enjoyed hearing from my readers. I enjoyed writing the blog posts most of the time. Plus, once I publish a novel, I’ll already be up and running and won’t have that to do.

But, everything goes back to that: finishing a novel and getting it published.

Again, the trick is to do the most important thing first—write.
The best way I can help myself do that is to keep social media sane and manage it. And I have found a way. I’ve developed a strategy.

For the next post, I’ll tell you what that strategy is and it's not necessarily about fixing my use of social media. Intrigued? Stop in for Part III.

How about you? Have you made mistakes and how did you fix them? Or if you haven’t fixed them, want some ideas on how to fix them? Do you have a social media strategy?

Leave me a comment, and I’ll even do a little counseling on your particular problem. Or if you prefer, we can brainstorm privately. I would love to hear outrageous ideas for managing social media. We’re creative aren’t we? Let’s blue sky!

Thanks for being there!

Special thanks to my posse, Cheryl, Jennie, Christina and L.J. Plus, a big howdy do and thanks to Becky Green Aaronson who likened social media to The Wild West in a comment on Part I.

A few links to other good posts about this topic:
My Love / Hate Relationship with Social Media by Literary Agent Rachelle Gardner

Do Unpublished Writers Have to Blog? By Mary Kole of kidlit.com & Movable Type Management

Where I work. A photographic peek into my writing spaces.
A confession: What happened after my six readers responded to my novel.


caryl said... [Reply to comment]

I like the idea of working facebook more. I've posted links to my blog on FB and have gotten few hits or comments from it. I'm thinking that people just don't have the time to read blog posts. Or more specifically- they go to FB for short blasts of info.

Your post mentioned giving a sort of "behind the scenes" glimpse into a writer's life, so I'm going to start posting updates on FB about my writing process. Maybe that will spark some interest.

Twitter sucks me in with all of the interesting links that people share- I can easily lose a lot of time there. I'm stepping back from it a bit.

Thanks for addressing this topic. My serious writing has suffered since I jumped on the "build a platform" bandwagon. Obviously, I won't have anything to promote if I don't get it done.

Lori Orser said... [Reply to comment]

I don't know what to DO on Facebook! I post links to causes, and I get emails any time a "friend" posts anything, and it's not promoting me or my book or my writing! ARG! (sorry). I'm not on Twitter, because it would be one more thing to suck me in. I was on LinkedIn, and learned a lot, and met some friendly people and some total wack jobs, and I guess I'm still "in" it but I ignore it now (talk about time-sucking... ). I have a blog (actually I have three; one is LeeScott58 on wordpress; I sometimes interview other writers, sometimes write "Tall Tales of Badlands Archaeology" (hope it might turn into a book some day), and just general stuff; then there's my dog's blog, which is just for fun (kimikotheakita.blogspot.com) and honestly, I think she blogs more than I do (she's very smart and very clever to be able to use the computer, n'est pas?); and the newest is on wordpress but has a "website" name -- www.prairierosepress.net -- because I've been publishing ebooks, so far for me and another person, and no, I didn't charge her anythin as we were both learning and she wanted to have a "publisher" on her book! And all three get ignored. I have no idea what to do with Shelfari or Goodreads. I'm a member of Goodreads, but I don't know what to do there. I keep getting requests to "follow" people (I don't even know) on Shelfari, and I don't know the point of either of those! And I end up with maybe half an hour for writing. Having been gone, I have over 1600 emails right now (and I've been putting them off -- too much time -- so it's just getting worse) HELP!

Patricia said... [Reply to comment]

There's a ton of excellent advice here, Val! With my second novel in editing mode at the moment, I'm attempting to figure out what marketing strategies to use. I'm going to spend some time carefully digesting all of this post. Thanks for sharing!

Autumn said... [Reply to comment]

I have to agree about collecting/having way too many links ~ I find that Twitter feeds into that a lot - now I have a long list of links that I never go back to - definitely an area that I need to trim: either use it or lose it. And to ask: when will it be enough? How many articles do I need or am I using it as a way to procrastinate - which is probably the key to it.

Valerie Brooks said... [Reply to comment]

That's really the point, isn't it, Caryl? That if we don't devote the time to our writing, why have a platform or do social media? I know people who have tried all of them then narrowed down the ones that they can stick with or like. I think you've already determined a few steps you can take. I think many people, especially readers, like to be a fly on the wall. Giving them an insider's view of what we do is interesting to them and helpful to us in educating our readership as to the workings of a writer. We aren't just eating bonbons and daydreaming about what we'll do with our next chapter. It's all damned hard work.

Focus on the writing. The rest is for later.
Thanks for stopping by with your comment,

Valerie Brooks said... [Reply to comment]

Lori, how do you DO all that?? Honestly, I'm tired just reading about all that you do. How do you even write a book?
I'm getting ready to look at Shelfari and increase my activity on Goodreads (but not just to sell my novels in the future) because the people on those sites are readers. I'm with you. I need to know more about how they work and how to reach my audience. But first--finish a novel and get it published. All this other busy work won't help.
Dump all your email. Or as I do, I go through it and cull the emails first, then go to those that need my attention. The rest, the in betweens, I just dump. I think the lesson in this is to cut back. Cut back on the blogs, cut back on whatever is sending you emails, cut back, cut back. Unsubscribe, unsubscribe, unsubscribe!
I'm not sure what you consider the most important out of all that. Are you working on another book? What's most important to you? You seem to do so much, but I can't tell what you're most passionate about. And aren't you the WWW membership chair?
Lordy, lordy! This will require a major makeover to get you more than a half hour of writing.
When do you do your writing? First thing? It doesn't sound like it.
Ok, more on this. Let's email.

Valerie Brooks said... [Reply to comment]

Thanks, Patricia! I think the next post will be helpful in establishing a strategy. In the meantime, soak up what you can from this post. Digest it. Next time, we'll be more specific and focus on an individual approach. Or at least I hope so! So much to take in and digest, I agree.
At least we can help each other. That's a balm.

Valerie Brooks said... [Reply to comment]

Gosh, Autumn, I know what you mean. I love reading about everything to do with writing, but after a while, I was just overwhelmed and nothing sunk in. Some of it sounds like Greek, to be cliche. I think it has to do with the idea that we're doing something useful for our writing, but actually procrastinating, while justifying to ourselves that we must do this or that in order to succeed.
Well, great. But what if we don't have anything to market? What the heck good is it?
Sometimes it's like collecting all these great recipes, but never using but two or three and never becoming a great cook. But damn, we have an impressive recipe collection!
Ok, enough of that. On to writing. Part III will help I think.
I hope. :)

Deborah Batterman said... [Reply to comment]

Oh, I love the spirit of this post -- you're lucky to have such a savvy posse. Which of course makes me lucky by association with you. Best of all, some of things they said really are in sync with my own thoughts about the ways in which social networking suits me (and my purposes) best. I have my own timetable for new blog posts and I've been pretty consistent. Little by little a writer's presence grows. One day, maybe by leaps and bounds. It is a balancing act, for sure.

Becky Green Aaronson said... [Reply to comment]

Howdy, partner. Thanks for the fun, informative post, and thanks for the mention. It's all great advice, especially, "Write first." I often feel the urge to take my laptop somewhere like the beach or rose garden where I'm forced to unplug. Perhaps I'll have to follow my gut and make that my new strategy to pull myself away from the social media "saloon."

Unfortunately, the bottom line, as you and your posse stated so well, is balance, discipline and prioritizing. Damn.

Autumn said... [Reply to comment]

Val ~ love the comment about the recipes! That is so true, you nailed it there.

And I agree (about needing something to market) ~ when I read all these posts about ppl updating their blogs and feeds (on several sites) and checking this and responding to that - well my head starts to spin. Either I really suck at time management or they have one heck of a system!

Can't wait for Part III! :)

Britton Minor said... [Reply to comment]

This, and your last, are excellent posts--full of practical advice from those who are seasoned. I appreciate you taking the time to help the rest of us!

Valerie Brooks said... [Reply to comment]

Thanks, Deborah, for always being on top of things! I've been selling my anthologies at a booth at the Salem Art Festival with Red Moons Publishing, a writing collective. Have been offline for three days. Lovely!
I give you a big brava for setting a timetable and being consistent. That's half the battle, isn't it? Yes, our presence does grow just by being there for short bursts. Consistency really helps, even with consistent bursts.
I just read the NYTimes article where the creators of phones, computers, and internet devices are saying that they may be harming people with their addiction driving devices. Wow!
In the meantime, as authors, we need as with any possible addictive activity to learn that if it's controlling us and not vice versa, then we need help. Many of us have control, but it's difficult when we have so much to choose from and we're so responsible and think we need to do it all.
A tough balancing act.

Valerie Brooks said... [Reply to comment]

I love that--"damn."
Damn tootin'!
I think we all need a place where we can go that has no wifi, and in the next post, I'll address that, too.
And, fyi, I love mentioning you. You're a force of nature!
Thanks for stopping by, pard!

Valerie Brooks said... [Reply to comment]

Autumn, I think I have it figured out--everyone else doesn't sleep. That's the only way they can find time to do all that.
My problem is that even if I had the time, I don't want the interference. Kind of like trying to paint with the wind blowing 50 mph. Or trying to write when your brain is saying, "Oh, yeah! I should say this in blog." or "Shoot, I need to write back to _____ and let them know I will send that article right away." Are brains are getting sliced and diced and in a way, we need to reprogram ourselves. More consistency as Deborah above says. I haven't been online except to check email with my iPhone, which I find easier to purge than on my laptop. All kinds of tricks. We need to adopt those that work for us and stay away from the time sucks. That's so damned hard!
Keep up the good work. When your head spins, you know it's not for you.

Valerie Brooks said... [Reply to comment]

Hi, Britton!
My pleasure. We're all in this together and sometimes we need to get these troublesome aspects of the writing life out in the open.
Hope you're doing well!

Valerie Brooks said... [Reply to comment]


The advice I have offered to clients for a few decades now--about how to write around the demands of ordinary life--still holds true for this new version of "ordinary" for writers, which necessitates social media involvement on top of every other damn thing: Go Away, with a capital A, for five days a month. Or at least make that a goal; if five days out of thirty devoted to your work once a month is the goal, you will probably at least manage to do it every three months, and that will be better than what you're doing now.

The capital A part means that you physically extract yourself from your ordinary world (the dishes, the dog, the laundry, the kids, the phone AND THE EMAIL) so that it can't call to you with the siren song of "first, I'll just take a minute to..."or "first, I have to take care of..." or "as soon as I've done...then I'll get to my writing."

The first time I tried this myself, I wrote more in five days than I had in five years.

There are ways to do this on the cheap: I've found a couple of places at the coast that writer-friendly owners rent very inexpensively, as well as some sponsored by writers' groups; you can share costs with another writer; you can find someplace to house-sit or pet-sit for free.

The advantage of the Go Away Plan is that you can postpone difficult decisions about building a platform, or experiment with them, while also carving out dedicated, sacred writing time.

The importance of five days is that Day One and Five are spent packing, traveling, and setting up, or the opposite. Day Two is spent doing absolutely nothing, because you CAN. (But remember that doing nothing is actually a really, really important part of the writing process in which your subconscious artist finally gains some ascendency.) Day Three, at least in my experience, is taken up by thrashing, moaning, self-flagellation, and self-doubt (also apparently a really important part of the process, at least for us neurotics); the advantage of being Away is that you can scream and cry under the table, watch trash TV all night, eat an entire pan of tuna casserole, and nobody will know). Day Four is when you get your act together, because you realize you've got to actually write some damn thing in order to justify this whole deal.

Day Four on my first Go-Away (beginning actually at midnight of Day Three, after the tuna casserole was gone) was when I wrote fifty pages.

Try it.

Valerie Brooks said... [Reply to comment]

As usual, you're funny and the best!
You've also beaten me to the punch. This is one of my suggestions in Part III, and you know how well these getaways have served me over the years. I love your advice to get rid of all the demons and also take a day off. I particularly like getting permission to eat an entire tuna casserole while watching trash tv. Think I'll give it a try in September.
Let's all get crazy!

Kirsten Steen said... [Reply to comment]

Finally getting caught up! And what a great post...and comments. I have to say I loved Barb's comment which gave me permission to have those completely 'useless' days when trying to work. I tend to beat myself up, forgetting those times are essential as well. Can't wait to read the next post.
Thanks for your always giving and helpful attitude toward other writers! You are a treasure!

Valerie Brooks said... [Reply to comment]

Yes, Barb's comment truly addresses that "guilt ridden" component of the youngster who was always told to "stop daydreaming."
You're very welcome! Thank you. I've never been called a treasure before and that just made me warm and fuzzy all over.