Overcoming Social Media: A Writer’s Solution
by Kathleen Barber
Many a writer has cringed when their agent or publicist suggested they increase their social media presence. I know I sure did. Let’s be honest, social media can be a pretty terrible place. Depending on the specific site you’re visiting, it can be dominated by your former high school classmates’ political rants, overly filtered images pretending to portray an influencer’s perfect life, or snarky barbs about current events, carefully crafted for maximum retweets. Wading through all of that in search of the literary corners can be a demoralizing chore—not to mention that, when you finally find said literary corner, you’ll be faced with a near-constant stream of upbeat publishing news from other writers. It’s enough to make even the most well-adjusted writers among us jealous.
Between the overwhelming negativity, the unavoidable professional jealousy, and the fact that whole thing can be a total time-suck, it’s easy to consider swearing off social media entirely. And even though I’m someone who usually writes about the negative aspects of social media, I’m here to convince you that you should stick with it.
First—and the thing that kept me from throwing in the towel on the whole endeavor—is the opportunity to connect with other writers. Writing is inherently a solitary endeavor, but that doesn’t mean that you should do it in a vacuum. I can’t overstate how valuable it is to have a group of writers with whom you can discuss things like plot structure, pacing, and character development, and who can help you bounce around ideas when you’re stuck. Sure, these groups exist offline—and if you’ve found an IRL writing group, congratulations to you! I searched unsuccessfully for years to find a group of writers with whom I “clicked,” and it wasn’t until I started browsing online groups that I found one. That first group showed me what I was missing, and I’ve since joined more writing organizations and Facebook writing groups, each of which has proved indispensable for one reason or another.
More informally, though, social media is a great place to meet other writers in your genre. Through nothing more than initially tweeting my admiration at other suspense writers and using my platform to shout about their new releases, I’ve managed to develop relationships with a number of authors whom I hold in high regard, even when those authors live across the country or abroad.
Second—and here’s the reason your agent and publicist are pushing it—social media can be an excellent marketing tool. For that to work, though, you have to be smart about how you’re using it. The conventional wisdom is to determine where your target audience congregates online and to devote the bulk of your attention to that social media network, and I don’t disagree. I’ve found that my readers are mostly concentrated on Instagram and Twitter, so that’s where I spent most of my time.
It’s also imperative to not appear as though you’re only online to promote your book. Social media experts often refer to the “Rule of Thirds,” which counsels you should spend one-third of your time online sharing items of interest for your followers, one-third of your time interacting with others, and the final one-third promoting your product. Rather than just shouting about your book all the time, which can turn off a reader, you’re building connections with them—and helping them see you as a real person rather than just a name. From my observations, readers seem more invested in supporting authors whom they feel as though they “know.” Moreover, if you’re interacting in the community and forging those connections with other writers I mentioned above, they may choose to share your news and promotions with their platforms. Everyone wins!
Some doubt the marketing power of social media. I often see people say that no one buys a book because they saw it in a tweet, but I don’t believe that to be entirely true. Sure, a single tweet—particularly a single tweet by you about your own book—is unlikely to generate any sales, but a series of tweets about your book from readers or other authors does wonders to help build buzz. I’ve heard that a reader needs to see your book three times before they consider buying it, so imagine that prospective reader sees three separate tweets about your book. They might not immediately click a buy link, but the next time they see your cover, they’ll think to themselves, “Oh, yeah, I keep seeing this book. Maybe I should give it a try.”
But is it worth the investment of time to maybe sell one copy of one book? Strictly speaking, no. Your time is worth more than $24.99. However, the calculus changes when you remember that social media is a long game and you can’t precisely quantify its benefits. How much is it worth for a popular author to share your publishing news? How much is it worth for a reader with a large following to tweet about your book? It’s hard to say, but it’s definitely positive. Social media still have its pitfalls, and I still have to set time limits for myself and occasionally engage my app that blocks social media, lest I waste my whole day on it. That said, I am more than convinced that building a social media presence is an important step for any author. The contacts I’ve made in the writing community, and the connections I’ve made with readers, simply wouldn’t have been possible any other way. So, yeah, social media is awful, but it doesn’t have to be.
Kathleen Barber writes stories that will make you think twice about social media. Her first novel, Truth Be Told (formerly titled Are You Sleeping), has been adapted as a series for Apple TV+ by Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine media company. Kathleen was raised in Galesburg, Illinois, and is a graduate of the University of Illinois and Northwestern University School of Law. She lives in Washington, DC, with her husband and son. Follow Me is her second novel. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram at @katelizabee, or visit her online at kathleenbarber.com.