© Udra11 | Dreamstime.com – Social media
By Chris Hutton
I have been eager to write all week. The second half of my Martian short story Inflow is begging to be told. I’m also eager to cleanup my house, read some new books, and just spend a little time with my family. So of course I find myself engaged in an endless exploration of social media, and while I believe myself to have some modicum of talent in media, I award myself very few points for my social skills. I am blindly blundering into the world of Facebook, Twitter, and that biggest mystery: Instagram, all the while stumbling through the dark grasping and trying to feel my way back to safety, as if edging my way through some insane hall of mirrors. And yes I mixed metaphors there.
Essentially, I know crap when it comes to social media. I can find my way around Photoshop and digital software, maybe do some basic web design, etc., but when it comes to posts, likes, tweets, and whatever other insane messages are sent into the social ether, I might as well be a Luddite.
But building on a theme from partnerships to support networks to just plain networking, I inevitably find that if I want people to read my work, if I want a publisher to take me seriously, and, moreover, if I want to actually one day be a “professional” writer, then I have to not just wade into social media, but dive all the way in. In this age of self-publishing where one person’s serialized web novel, becomes a self-published book, and then a traditionally published novel, and a best-selling one at that (I’m looking at you Andy Weir and The Martian), or another person’s online fan fiction becomes a modern day pop culture phenomenon (Fifty Shades of Gray), I have to admit to myself that to get recognized now, you pretty much have to have a pre-built audience. How do you do that? Social media, of course.
And apparently you can’t just set up an account and expect the readers to come to you. No, there’s real work to do.
So, over the past three weeks, I’ve set to work building my brand. I’ve created a professional Facebook Page for myself as a writer, a Facebook page for my upcoming graphic novel, converted my unused Twitter account to my writing Twitter account, created an Instagram account, created a blog, and joined an online writing community. And even that is just the beginning.
You can’t just have accounts. You have to learn the method of the medium. How do you engage on Facebook? On Twitter? On Instragram? What builds an audience? How do you even get an audience started? How do you keep them engaged once you have them?
These are all important questions, and hell if they haven’t plagued me for most of September 2016. So I set down and thought about what type of writer I am. I’m a genre writer, focused on horror and science-fiction. I inserted that in my bios where I could, made sure my background imagery reflected it for each account, and have tried to include corresponding hashtags into my posts to draw in readers.
Even then, content is king. Let’s say my readers know that I write character-focused horror and science-fiction with a love for exploring individual psychologies, especially atypical ones. Great, but the audience still has to have something to read.
That leads me to editorial calendars. I can’t just generate content the day of a posting. No, I drafted out a map from September through December. I laid out general guidelines, and altered them as test engagements showed gaps in my programming. In the end I settled on the following:
Mondays – Promotion of a new story from me (which requires I write a story every week)
Tuesdays – I make recommendations on books or comics that I’ve enjoyed and hope that my audience will like, and post an image to Instagram that looks at the daily life of being a writer.
Wednesdays – I talk about events or comic book issues that are launching that might be similar to the topic matter I’m tackling in Arcas.
Thursdays – Generally these are news days. I scour the web for articles on Science, Technology, Science-Fiction, Horror – things my readers might like – and I post an image to Instagram that looks at the daily life of being a writer.
Fridays – I promote my latest blog about writing (one more thing I have to generate)
And that’s the skeleton, because apparently one or two posts a day don’t cut it, since for some reason one’s entire audience is not online at the same time every day, and you have to hit numerous times in hopes that a fraction of your audience sees your posts. Thus I spread out those promotions at different times over every one of my professional channels. Beyond that, I plug in random article posts, I retweet things my audience might enjoy, and I look for random happenings that might fit my brand.
Yet again, these posts have to vary. Some should include links, others just be insights. Some should have pictures, some not. The visual layout of the posts have to have variety, and flavor so as to not bore my audience and hit them over the head with the same thing again and again.
So wonderful, I have a basic content plan that requires two original photos a week, one original story a week, one original blog a week, one recommendation a week, one event to promote a week, random news and support opportunities that I can promote, and anything else that I can think of, bearing in mind that all of it must be suitable to lovers of sci-fi or horror writing.
Once again, however, you’re left with the issue of gaining that audience. So that brings me to my personal networks. I reached out through my personal Facebook to every contact that I have and invited them to my pages. I searched for friends on every channel that I’m using and followed them. I search repeatedly for fans of science-fiction, horror, comics, writing, reading, space, Mars, etc., looking for people I don’t know that might like my work, and I follow them. And on and on. And then I make sure that for my biggests posts, I also share them on my personal accounts directing people to my blog or my writing community, or my other professional pages, so people who missed the invite but might be interested can see my work.
But following and reaching out to friends isn’t enough. You have to build an audience that is beyond your actual social sphere. So I respond to every message I receive over any channel. I call people out in posts, I look for opportunities to start social media conversations, and generally try to engage as directly as possible, wherever possible. I retweet, I like, I share, all of it, because I like the material, and because practically-speaking, that is the hard work necessary to engage and build an audience.
Yet with every day that goes by, I learn more about each and every channel, and I realize I really know nothing. Apparently there are whole websites devoted to helping you find audiences, like this one: https://manageflitter.com/. You can find potential persons to follow, you can see who has followed you back and who hasn’t, what accounts are spam, etc., so that you can clean up your feeds – and that’s just for Twitter. Also, there’s this other thing with creating lists so that can view different twitter feeds by topic areas… I haven’t even started exploring that one yet.
It looks as though, I’ve just hit the proverbial tip of the iceberg.
Hell, for a closer look at twitter engagement alone, see this article by Dmitry Selemir.
What’s the point of this, you ask? It’s not about what I’ve done. It’s about the part of writing that we as writers often forget, one of the many things we overlook. If we want to be read, we have to get our content out there, and we can’t wait for that big deal or that big break – we have to make it for ourselves. The days of the hermit writer, if they ever existed, seem to be no more. Yes, I can still engage my audience from the comfort of my writing cave, but I do have to engage them. We all do. What’s more, that audience doesn’t exist until we reach out and find it, craft it, mold it, and let people know that we exist. Thus I’m writing free stories for the first time, forgetting about traditional publishing, forgetting about waiting to be signed, and just putting out my work, and hoping that the audience likes it as much as I do. That’s what we have to do as writers to get read.
So if you’re still struggling for your big break, like I am, please don’t wait for it. Start engaging. Delve into whatever social media networks you can, and have a plan. Have a brand. And follow it. Be reliable. Be varied. Promote your peers. Find your audience. Engage your audience. And give your audience content, because that is what we are here for – that is we do: create. Yes, it’s a lot of work to build a brand, and mine is only now starting, but if we want to be read, and not just by our significant others, friends, and family, then we have to put in the hours to get our work in front of the right eyes.
I hope that this doesn’t seem too cynical, self-serving, or unauthentic. It’s not. I am struggling to build a brand while maintaining authenticity, avoiding automated follow programs and automated messaging programs, crafting all my posts myself, and meaning every word that I type. I hope that any writer building their brand is striving for that authentic engagement. But the reality is that we have to build an audience, and engage them, in order to ever be read. And that’s what I want – to be read. Plus, I really am bad at this social thing, so tackling social media is something that I have to methodically plan – not something that comes natural for me (but my social foibles are a topic for another day).
So anyway, I hope this isn’t too much of a rambling mess, and that if you made it this far, that you found something useful in my journey, some nugget of wisdom or moderately decent advice. It has to be hidden in this post somewhere, right?>
Anyway, Good Luck, Everyone, and Happy Writing!
And while we are on the topic of social media, follows and likes are always appreciated.
Finally, if you have any tips, let me know, because this is all still very new for me, and I’m just beating my head against the wall trying to figure it out. Thanks, again!