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The prehistoric author, and other animals

Some writers, or so I’ve heard, do not love social media. They do not love and adore creating websites. They would rather boil their feet than spend hours on Twitter.

If you have ever checked out my Twitter account or Facebook author page, you will notice that I am like a Trappist monk when it comes to my use of those platforms. And – I survive: an Authorsaurus.

The fact is, there are a million different routes to building an author platform and they’re all kind of fine. Here are some of your options.

Do nothing – you’re still writing your book

If you are still at the stage of writing and editing your manuscript, then quite honestly you are doing the most important thing in the world for you right now. I mean, you should probably check that you are still married and that your children haven’t gone feral, but aside from those things, you should just let the manuscript swallow your thought and your energy. You don’t need to do anything else.

Do nothing – you just hate Twitter

OK. Let’s say you’ve got to the stage of getting an agent or even a book deal. But you just don’t like social media. You aren’t good at it. You don’t want to do it.

So fine. Don’t. If a traditional publisher loves your book, they’ll still buy it. They’ll structure their marketing campaign in a way that takes into account your preferences.

I would say that you should still create a website and build a mailing list. You can just pay someone to perform the first of those tasks if you want. The mailing list itself just involves writing a reader magnet (a free download for your newsletter subscribers), then writing emails. And you’re a writer, so you’re not allowed to dislike tasks that involve only writing, right?

If you’re trad published, it’s not obligatory to operate a mailing list, but I see a ton of authors who, after two or three books, realise they need one and start to construct one. Well: better late than never, but it’s a grievous waste to have let three book launches go unharvested. Knowing your readers is the greatest security you can have. Well, apart from being a global #1 bestseller, anyway. That’s good too.

Use social media as a private networking tool

I do not love or trust Facebook. If you look at my author page, you’ll see it hasn’t been updated in literally years. I simply never go on there or think about. But …

There is one private group I use very often. It’s a private group for a bunch of crime authors, some very high profile. We share stories, ask advice, have a moan, shout hooray, and tell incredibly filthy jokes. It’s been one of the real joys of my authoring career and an endless source of easy networking.

There will be networks of that kind that are there to support you. Finding them isn’t always easy – often you meet someone at a live event, who then passes you the online invitation – but they can be a real joy and a source of professional support. Fun and useful; the best combination you can get.

Use social media as a public networking tool

Networking doesn’t have to be done in private though. In every ecosystem within publishing (crime, YA, women’s fiction, whatever else), there’s a constant chatter among publicists, agents, booksellers, bloggers and other industry types.

If you like being part of that conversation (and I mostly don’t), then participate. The key here is simply enthusiastic, positively-tinted engagement with everything that’s going on. If your community is all lit up with the quality of a new debut, then read the debut, add your comments, share a cover image, and so on. Most of this chat is probably on Twitter, but you’ll easily enough locate it. Just follow the chat.

You don’t have to be too strategic in any of this. Or rather: the strategy IS the participation, the fellow-feeling. If you have a track record of that engagement, it is vastly more likely that the community will support your debut when it comes out.

Notice that this strategy doesn’t involve much direct interaction with your audience, though. You’re interacting mostly with the industry group that interacts with that audience. Going the logical next step 

Use social media as an audience interaction tool

If you are serious about self-publishing, you will almost certainly want to grow your own Facebook following. If you’re publishing traditionally, then it’s by no means obligatory – but it will certainly be helpful.

Either way the principle is the same. You have to talk relentlessly and only to your core audience. If you write sweet historical romance, then the theme of your author page should be gentle historical romance. Snippets you found during your research. Images that move you. Books you love in the same genre. And so on.

It’s easy to think that someone else has more likes / retweets / followers than you, so you should do more. The result of that thinking is that you start giving away prizes in exchange for likes. (“Like my page and get the chance to win enough biscuits to fill a swimming pool.”) The real problem with those gimmicks is that they work. You get a ton of likes. You deliver a lot of biscuits.

The problem is that your likes are phoney. They have polluted your audience. Your organic reach will drop to nothing. You basically have to delete your page and start again.

So, sure, if you want, if you want to be the most golden and least prehistoric of authors, run an active author’s page on Facebook. But stay true to your audience with every post and every engagement.

What about you? What do you do? What do you avoid? And have you ever filled a swimming pool with biscuits (or, hell, cookies if you must - but I'm British, so I say BISCUITS.)

Biscuits. Biscuits. Biscuits. Biscuits. Biscuits. Biscuits. Biscuits. Biscuits. 

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Comments (7)
  • Reassuring post, Harry, for me and the rest of the dinosaurs. Like you say, the writing comes first. My only social media platform is instagram which I use as a book of commonplace featuring research, ephemera, photos of locations etc. (Click here to visit)

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    • Checks marital sta… oh.

      I'm stuffed. Not married. No kids. Looks like I'm not allowed to write.

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      • The opposite - you've got NO excuses ...

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        • Oooh, got you good there :-)

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        • Hi Harry. It seems I'm not on my own regarding the reluctance to engage with social media. I wouldn't say I was an authorsaurus, more like an authoronecell still covered in primordial muck. In other words, I have no platform at all. For some reason, I find promoting myself on social media embarrassing, on top of which, I've no idea where to start. 

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          • Yah! Don't worry about it. Mark Dawson is the king of all things advertising and plays a pretty mean hand at social stuff too. His three top tips for author-led marketing (in order)?

            1. Mailing list

            2. Mailing list

            3. Mailing list

            I'd say the same, except I'd probably put them in a different order ;)

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            • Me too. I'd probably put number three top.

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