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.