Instagram for Writers

June 6, 2019 § 36 Comments

Flatlay of laptop, teacup, teapot, sugar, milk and paper on wooden tableSocial media is a distraction from our writing. Social media can be a support system for our writing—creating community, building readership, and allowing us to practice our craft. Writer Twitter is definitely a Thing, with terrific advice in #askagent, and editors tweeting calls for submissions and pitches. Writer Facebook includes genre- and demographic-based groups that foster literary citizenship and build real-life connections as online acquaintances meet at conferences and readings.

But Instagram? The one that’s all about the pictures? Sure, there’s #bookstagram, where book bloggers share their reading piles and recommendations and authors reveal new covers. But what’s the benefit for writers on a primarily visual platform, and why should they bother?

Instagram is (so far) the calmest, sanest, and most relaxing social platform, with three big benefits for writers:

1) Make genuine connections with people who want to read your work.

Writers don’t need 20,000 followers on Instagram. Writers need engaged followers. “Engaged” means people who like or comment on your posts, and a good engagement rate is about 1%. That’s right: If you have 100 followers, and one person comments, you’re doing well.

This is not how most people think about Instagram. We see “influencers” with 200K followers and ask why we should even bother. But look closer:

Influencer AllThatIsShe – 529K followers, engagement about 0.7%

Memoirist Dani Shapiro – 19.3K followers, engagement about 1%

Memoirist Esmé Weijun Wang – 9.4K followers, engagement about 0.8%

All three of these people are proportionally influential. The influencer makes fun and funny visual jokes. The writers share writing news, book tours, personal stories behind their work, and moments of joy and poetic wonder from their lives. AllThatIsShe’s comments include lots of casual interaction like sharing summer plans and laughter at her clever photographs. Dani and Esmé’s readers give their own responses to prompts, wish the writers well, share corresponding moments from their own lives. They actively engage in meaningful dialogue with the writer and her work. That 1% are people who will show up to a reading and pre-order your book.

Instagram is economical. You don’t have to fly across the country to a conference that might take 50 waking hours. Spend that same time in 15-minute Instagram sessions interacting with writers you’d like to know, and that’s 200 days of cost-free relationship building. You don’t even have to wear pants.

2) Write better.

The Instagram caption is perfect for encapsulating a moment. In 50-100 words, writers can practice craft at the sentence level. We get to write in short, manageable chunks on busy days.

When writing captions, tell a moment that is a whole moment. Stay in the scene, or in a single thought. The medium is the message: there is no “and then I realized…” because the venue says that for you. Being a caption establishes, “I thought this was important to crystallize and share with my readers.”

Writing in this constrained form is the ultimate flash. How fast can you bring a reader into your mood? How much emotional impact can you create in under a minute? Can you draft a killer first sentence that makes readers click to read the whole thing? That’s a skill all writers need for work in every medium.

3) Get Inspiration and encouragement.

When I’m posting regularly, I see more stories in the world. I’m more likely to ask questions of the people around me, and truly listen. This spills over into my longform writing, making me more curious about my characters and more conscious of the circumstances that make people who they are.

Posting a micro-essay is like a low-stakes “submission” to the world. There’s no “dislike” button, so I get the encouragement without the rejection. The level of engagement tells me what people enjoy reading, and comments suggest future blogging topics for Brevity and writing questions to address in my next book. Every little heart makes me feel like someone is interested in what I have to say and reminds me to write again tomorrow.

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If you’re just getting started on Instagram, or you want a more enjoyable experience that benefits your writing, a couple of quick tips:

  • Line breaks. One of the great mysteries of Instagram! To get an empty line between paragraphs, make sure there is NO SPACE at the end of the paragraph. Hit return. Type a period or emoji, NO SPACE, hit return and start your next paragraph. There are apps that allow you to type a caption and copy-paste with empty lines, but it’s an extra step. Keep your Insta commitment small.
  • Don’t worry about the follow/unfollow thing. Many “large” accounts are using follow-bots to artificially build their numbers. When you click through to see a profile with thousands of followers and very low followings, they are going to unfollow you. Only follow back if you’re truly interested in their content.
  • To build your own followers, find people you like from other social media or real life. When you follow, comment on their most recent post with what you like about it and say where else you know them from. Make sure your profile says what you do and your name is identifiable. Show your face in your profile picture. Participate in following threads on Facebook and Twitter.
  • An engaged Instagram presence doesn’t have to be time away from your writing. Unlike influencers who need current daily content, writers can do just fine with 1-5 posts/week. Don’t bother to post on the weekends unless you love it.
  • Don’t get sucked in. Stay limited and specific: take 20 minutes and post one picture, write one solid caption. In your down time (subway, waiting room, on the potty) take 15 minutes and comment on 10 people’s most recent post. Like 10 more posts you actually like. Follow 3 new people and comment on 1 post each. Then close the app and look around for a story to tell.

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Wanna know more about writing on Instagram? Brevity‘s Social Media Editor Allison K Williams will be teaching Instagram: Improve Your Craft, Grow Your Readership as a live webinar for Hidden Timber Press on June 15th. Sign up here!

Just Like the Cool Kids

April 11, 2019 § 6 Comments

After our attempt to create viral cat videos ended in editorial lacerations…after trying to make “fetch” happen…after our unfortunate experience with twerking (Dinty’s back will heal soon!), Brevity has finally become cool.

We got on Instagram!

Brevity posts writing moments and thought-provoking images. We’ll also be seeking writers for short term Insta-takeovers of image series with accompanying text. (If you’re interested, slide into our DMs!)

Why Instagram? As Twitter becomes politically challenging and Facebook brings out the family racists, Instagram has remained relatively sane and relaxing. Creators are sharing meaningful images and carefully crafted words in a supportive community. Captions are becoming flash nonfiction. Writers are connecting with a lively community of readers and fellow wordsmiths. Celebrity book clubs share novels and memoirs with vast audiences who want to be part of a literary community. Instagram readers are becoming daily more sophisticated, more visually-attuned, and more willing to spend a moment with beautiful words.

We want to reach our readers where they are. Thank you for visiting the magazine and blog online, welcoming us into your inboxes, engaging with our tweets and participating in the Facebook group. Thank you for saying hi at writing conferences and reviewing Brevity authors’ books on Amazon and Goodreads.

Instagram is one more place to share a small part of your literary journey.

Won’t you join us?

PS – for Insta-takeover requests, please contact us on Instagram, that way we don’t lose your message!

Building Your Twitter Following

February 12, 2019 § 11 Comments

Does Twitter help sell books? Nobody knows. Barnes & Noble customers rarely announce “I came in because of this tweet!” But being visible in the online writing community can be a source of support and inspiration, and enough agents and publishers look at follower numbers to make it worth growing your presence on Twitter.

Twitter basics are just like showing up at an enormous pool party already in progress: Watch conversations before interacting, interact kindly and pleasantly and avoid “fighting words” unless you’re doing it on purpose. Just like that party, you get to swim when you like and stay dry when you want: Twitter rewards occasional involvement throughout the day or week rather than constant checking.

We talked last week about “what the heck to post on Twitter.” But the early days often feel like speaking timidly into the void (647 following! 12 followers! Augh!). How can you organically grow an online community who share your interests and want to hear what you have to say?

The best way to get followers is to follow people, but not randomly. Who will you enjoy reading and who will follow you back?

  • Use Twitter follow-frenzies. Search your Facebook writing group for a post asking members to comment with their Twitter handles. Follow them all, and post yours as a clickable link. If you can’t find a follow-thread within the last six months, post one: “Hey, let’s follow each other on Twitter” plus your link will do just fine. It is polite to follow back everyone who follows you unless you actively dislike their bio/feed.
  • Go to users’ actual profiles. Hit “follow” and wait for a moment—Twitter will suggest more people you might like. Follow them, too.
  • Visit your favorite literary magazine or author’s profile. Add their followers. Use the “followers” list, because the “following” list is likely more famous and less motivated to follow back.
  • Follow other writers with low follower counts. Someone with 367 followers is more likely to follow back than someone who already has 70K.
  • Follow people who liked a tweet you also liked, or whose response you liked.
  • Search hashtags like #amwriting #writingcommunity #writerscommunity #amediting and #cnf (those are clickable links to those searches). Follow people who use those hashtags in tweets and/or their bios.
  • Use Lists. To keep track of the people you want to read in that blur of new tweets, assign people you follow to lists. For example, I made a list of “Agents” so I can read only tweets from literary agents I follow. You can also look at someone else’s list: Click on a profile, click Lists, and click on a list. For example, here’s all the AWP presenters for this year’s conference. If you’re attending—or want the conference buzz—subscribe to see those tweets. Then click List Members and follow everyone who seems interesting.
  • Unfollow people who don’t follow back after a few weeks unless you are specifically interested in what they have to say. (Michelle Obama is probably not going to follow me back.) Most of my non-mutual followers are news, politics, public figures, literary agents and publishing houses. You can use a tool like Tweepi (start with the free plan to see if it’s for you) to sort your list and easily unfollow non-followers, or just scroll down your Following list on Twitter—it’s in chronological order.
  • Don’t bother to follow back travel bloggers and business coaches with huge follower and low following numbers unless you’re really interested. They are using bots that will unfollow you after you follow them (this also happens on Instagram). Dudes with two first names (like ‘Robert Walter,’ ‘James Joseph’), very all-American profiles, and jobs that are military or military-connected in Africa or the Middle East are bots or scammers.

“But Allison,” you ask, “How can I engage meaningfully with the thousands of followers I’d like to have?”

You don’t have to. You’re not on Twitter to talk to anyone, you’re on Twitter to talk to everyone. It’s not like letting your best friend sit next to you at lunch—be part of a great conversation this minute, then move on. Support the people you know well or in person. Retweet writers and cool things to read. Post things you find funny, interesting or cool. Step back and engage meaningfully with the community as a whole, rather than focusing on individuals. Let Twitter wash over you like a wave—and get out of the pool when you need a break.

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Allison K Williams is Brevity‘s Social Media Editor. See you at AWP!

The Time Aspiring Writers Spend on Writing-Related Activities

January 23, 2019 § 7 Comments

jared bilskiBy Jared Bilski

  • Tweeting funny comments, often involving coffee, along with the #amwriting hashtag – 8%
  • Posting photos on your Instagram of a coffee cup and a leather-bound journal; a coffee cup and a laptop; or a coffee cup, a leather-bound journal and a laptop along with the #amwriting hashtag – 6%
  • Obsessively checking your #amwriting tweets and Instagram posts for engagement and responding when necessary – 11%
  • Posting long, meticulously proofed posts to a variety of Facebook writing groups, posts which are ostensibly about a ridiculous technical concern you have about your incomplete (novel/memoir/screenplay) but are really ways to remind others you are, in fact, a writer even if you feel like you are a fraud with a dogshit idea for a (novel/memoir/screenplay) – 17%
  • Pensively smoking hand-rolled cigarettes – 7%
  • Crying – 11%
  • Crying while reading David Foster Wallace while pensively smoking hand-rolled cigarettes – 9%
  • Letting people know you’re a writer during completely unrelated conversations – 10%
  • Research (i.e., stalking the social media accounts of famous authors for whom you harbor great resentment and jealousy toward because if you had even a third of their connections and trust money you would be the one talking to Terry Gross about your latest novel instead of writing these goddamn #amwriting posts) – 3%
  • Finding creative ways to convince your parents big things are happening with your writing while also casually asking them for money – 16%
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    Jared Bilski
    is a writer and comedian who lives on a creek in Collegeville, Pa. He’s written for The Washington PostMcSweeney’s Internet TendencyFatherly and a bunch of websites that no longer exist. The brand/third-degree burn on his left shoulder is a permanent reminder of the stupidity of his youth. Find him on Twitter at @JaredBilski.

 

Can’t Means Won’t

January 22, 2019 § 8 Comments

The first day of a new circus workshop, there’s always one. Leading warmup, my fellow coach announces to a room full of high school students, already groaning in a leg stretch, “We’re gonna go for gold! Slide that front leg toward the splits!”

Near the side of the room, a kid bails out onto his butt, muttering, “No way, I can’t do that.”

Our coaching ears perk up. I call across the mats, “There’s one word we don’t want to hear in rehearsals. That’s ‘can’t.’ Because can’t means won’t—”

The students who’ve worked with us before chorus along. “—And won’t means push-ups!”

I explain. “When you say ‘I can’t,’ you’re telling your own body, ‘I quit.’ We can’t help with ‘I quit.’ Instead, try to identify the problem—I’m losing my balance! My knee hurts! My partner keeps dropping me!—and we can help you figure that out.”

My coaching partner adds, “If we hear you say ‘can’t,’ you owe us five push-ups. And then you’ll be stronger!”

Splits are hard, and for every high school dancer who wants me to lift her front leg to increase the stretch, there’s another ten students grimacing with their legs at a 90-degree angle. Not every circus move needs the splits, but lengthening their hamstrings helps these students achieve more in rehearsal, and the long-term benefits of enduring unpleasantness to achieve greatness will serve them far beyond next weekend’s show.

The ‘can’t’ whine I most often hear from writers is about platform. I hear it as misery:

I don’t understand Twitter. I’m too old.

I hear it as snobbery:

For one thing, I don’t do social media, and don’t intend to…until I retire: Whatever rewards may come from being an author, it’s not worth my privacy or putting my current (quite nice) paycheck at risk.

I hear it as despair.

Nobody pays attention to me online anyway.

Can’t means won’t. Won’t means working much harder to sell not only your book, but your query, concept, and voice to agents, publishers, and readers.

This ‘can’t’ includes two fundamental misunderstandings:

  1. Platform=Twitter, Facebook and blogging
  2. Engaging in building platform means revealing everything about your personal life online.

Platform is the number of people you can reach who might buy your book. Twitter and Facebook aren’t actually that effective, but they’re good for constant low-level engagement with your readers and other writers who will champion your work.

The best platforms are public speaking, mass media, and newsletters. Can you speak about the topic of your memoir to people with the same problem or challenge? Can you publish an essay about it, or send press releases to line up interviews? Can you build a list, one email at a time, of people who’d like to be updated once or twice a month on your work, and share something cool, funny or useful?

Privacy is relative. Creative nonfiction writers are often very self-revelatory about one particular story. But spilling your alcoholism or distance hike on the page doesn’t mean having to reveal your current marriage issues. Social media works for you: you do not work for social media. You are under no obligation to be more or less private about any particular issue. You can engage in politics publicly or not. You can post pictures of your face or not. What matters to your readers is whether you have something interesting to say, and that they’d like to pay (eventually) to hear more.

Sure, you can sell a book without any platform at all. If what you have to say is incredible enough, you can sell it written in crayon on a burlap bag.

Most of us are not that good.

Most of us depend on a mix of excellent-but-not-earthshaking writing, intriguing story, reasonable platform, and literary citizenship. More of one compensates for less of another: someone with millions of Instagram followers and a fascinating story don’t have to write as well as a writer’s-conference veteran telling their unique spin on the recovery memoir. Incredible writers can have a smaller platform. Literary citizens known for sharing others’ work will find promotion opportunities for themselves come more easily.

Don’t say you ‘can’t’ do social media, because that’s not helping you. Instead, identify the problem:

I’m shy. Promote your subject expertise rather than your own life.

My family is super nosy and easily offended/I work for the government. Establish your online/promotional presence under a pen name. By the time you publish, that persona will fully exist.

I despise social media. Build that public-speaking career—local clubs like Lions and Kiwanis are a great low-stakes audience. Get everyone’s email and start your newsletter.

Embrace platform-building as a challenge. What you have to say is meaningful, so why not start sharing it now? Why not reach toward the people who need your words even before your book is out?

Later in the circus workshop, I heard ‘can’t’ again, from the bar of the triple trapeze. I called out, “McKay, you owe me two!”

McKay smiled. “Only two? I thought it was five.”

“It’s been a long day and you’re working hard,” I said.

McKay popped out two tight, sharp push-ups, hands under his shoulders, his body perfectly aligned, then got back in line for his next turn on the trapeze—a tiny bit stronger than before.

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When she’s not blogging here, Brevity‘s Social Media Editor Allison K Williams teaches Starfish Circus, a school residency & camp program in which 50-150 students grades K-12 put up a full circus show in two weeks. It’s pretty cool.

Blogging into the Quantum Foam

November 14, 2018 § 18 Comments

euniceBy Eunice Tiptree

I hit “publish,” and there it goes – out into the blog-o-sphere for all the world to see, another post launched into space. And there it is, another post no one will view, lost in the cosmos.

Although public, my blog is more secret than Trump’s tax returns. I have no followers, except for one kindhearted friend, and most posts come up with zero views. Oh, once in awhile someone strays onto the site and quickly vanishes – poof –  as if into the Oort Cloud.

When I say I post into space, that’s a pun. I started my blog nearly four years ago to mark the 50th anniversaries of the Gemini orbital program, posting as each flight came up. I’ve been marking the anniversary of every step to the moon. I grew up in those days, an acolyte of Walter Cronkite, and as a magazine writer I wrote about the Shuttle program for more than a decade.

At first the blog was truly secret, telling no one as I played with it. I’ve since let a few people in on the secret, but other than the one friend, I’m still waiting for them to drop by. I’ve never tried to publicize the blog at sites where space enthusiasts might gather. For some reason – perhaps age – I don’t care. I’m jaded about social media and value my privacy more than publicity, especially in this day of Trumpian self-promotion. When I think of the word brand, it’s cousin, branded, comes to mind – as with a cow or Chuck Connors (see short-lived 1960s TV shows). I guess I’m a Luddite. I still listen to CDs and LPs and watch old VCR tapes. The only streaming I do is in the bathroom.

Sure, when hitting “publish,” I feel foolish knowing no one will read my words, feel a momentary flutter wishing to be heard. I’d like to have readers, but not “followers.” Trump wants followers; I don’t. I admit I am on Facebook, but rarely post anymore – don’t want the grim reaper of Facebook compiling data on me. Anymore, I rarely glance at it, and then only to see if anyone I know has died.

I enjoy my secret; it makes my blog stand out by being hidden. I enjoy the writing. The blog has changed with time, my writing has changed – that’s the reward. When I started, I wrote it imagining I was part of each crew and described the sensations of the missions as I flew them. I still do that but slowly shifted to shorter entries where I fish out key moment of the flights or little-known aspects to amplify. It’s fun digging through the surface, mining the missions for something new that surprises me. It’d be nice to welcome you aboard the capsule . . .

2018-11-09_0727. . . But the older I get, the less I think about being published. Call it the J.D. Salinger Syndrome. I had my run a long time ago in the golden age of desktop publishing (as in PageMaker, v.1), writing to an audience of thousands every month.

If readers find me somehow – that’s fine. If not, I think we’ll connect anyway.  Everything I write changes me. What changes me touches the people I know – and spreads from there.  I think of it in terms of physics, the concept of quantum foam. The theory states that at the quantum level, space/time is not smooth, but bubbles like foam, a foam that is everywhere. I see it as connecting everything, with our actions bumping into those of everyone else. Every writer is a published author with no need of platforms and publications. It’s all published in the quantum foam.

So why am I submitting this for non-quantum publication? Good question.  Certainly not to gain publicity for my blog. I’m not going to reveal its name.

Perhaps I’m fooling myself, masking a desire to be published as grand as any. Or perhaps I’m a troll, trying to stir up trouble with this essay, make a name, practice for a run for the Presidency.

Perhaps I am submitting this because I don’t expect it to be published. What editor would publish a piece whose premise is you don’t need an editor, a publication or even a reader? Maybe I’m just making a cosmic joke.

I’ve said too much. Excuse me now, as I need to prepare to journey to the Moon with Apollo 8. It’s going to be fun. As Jim Lovell radioed as the spacecraft went behind the moon for the first time, “We’ll see you on the other side.”
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Eunice Tiptree, too old to be usefully employed, writes every morning.  Afternoons, she tends the weeds in her yard.  She also enjoys writing about herself in third person as if she was a big shot.  Once upon a time, she was a he and he was the publisher and editor of Countdown magazine. 

Twitter for the Distractible and Retiring

October 30, 2018 § 13 Comments

black and white headshot of a white woman with shoulder-length light hair, a striped scarf and a black scoop-neck topBy Kirsten Voris

Disclaimer: This is not a Twitter primer. It’s a look at how one writer began to get over herself and hammered the first nail into her media platform.

I have two domain names and no website. A poorly curated LinkedIn. Otherwise, I have shunned social media. When I hear the word platform I close up like a Venus flytrap at mealtime. I hate the idea of spending time on it. My words, I decided, will sell themselves. Magically.

Then, in August, I attended a Memoir Proposal Workshop at the Hippocamp Creative Nonfiction Conference. I have no proposal-ready memoir, but I like to over-prepare. As it turns out, I needed to be on-hand to receive a message from the cosmos via Brevity’s Social Media Editor, Allison K Williams.

NEWSFLASH: I don’t need Instagram and Facebook and Twitter to have a platform. It’s more effective to do one well.

Only one!

My all-or-nothing thinking was still coming to grips when Allison described her Twitter tending.

Once a day, during the morning bathroom visit. Then, fini.

Limits! Here was an example of someone who could set them. Could I?

My butt-in-chair writing lifestyle is fragile. I rely on the Pomodoro technique. My writing partner. I need scaffolding. Accountability. Do I want to add platform grooming to the list of things I am compelled to do to sell the writing I have only just begun producing?

Or was it another task I’d abuse to avoid my date with @tomatotimer?

Seated among the motivated and the proposal-ready, I gave in to the ambient vibe. Writing memoir? Platforms are just part of the deal.

I chose Twitter.

Because: character limit. And I could manage it during my morning toilette.

But I needed more limits.

Limit One: There is a Time for Tweeting and a Time for Writing and it’s Not the Same Time.
Recently, I went on silent retreat. No phone no computer no talking. For three days, I did one thing at a time. When I came home and began unpacking, sorting, emailing, eating—simultaneously—it felt icky. Multi-tasking confuses me.

Limit Two: Hit Send and Let It Go.
As of this writing, I have tweeted 9 times. With each tweet, I fret: I’m unoriginal, un-writerly, dull. Oh, and self-absorbed. But tweeting is like writing an essay. At some point, I have to decide I’m done.

Limit Three: Keep it Writing Related
Twitter is a distraction minefield. My no-go list: Cats. Celebrities. Celebrity cats. Old boyfriends. People who suddenly stopped talking to me. Politics. I make an exception for Turkish politics written in Turkish by former neighbor @aykan_sever. Otherwise, Twitter is for my writing life, not @RealGrumpyCat.

Limit Four: No Late-Night Tweeting
The night I set up Twitter I could not sleep. I kept thinking about the profile I’d posted. In haste. Really? Why those seven words? It was well past midnight when I got up and dosed myself with homeopathic nerve tonic. Eventually, I slept. But I didn’t get on my phone. The phone amplifies ruminating. It’s a bright light. If I don’t sleep I can’t write.

Limit Five: Tweet to Give Love Not to Get It
Writers and editors have read my essays. Journals have published and rejected them. What have I done for these folks lately?

I’m part of a community. Tweeting, retweeting, liking and commenting on blog posts, essays and insights that inspire me is a way to support the community. Plus, I feel good when I do it. Plus it’s better than imagining everyone in Platform Land is ignoring me out of spite because my credits are 3 essays and an (unpublishable) 600-page manuscript.

Having established limits, I come to the heart of the problem. I still don’t want to draw attention to myself. Without a platform, I have heard, I’m as good as invisible.

Yes. I think. Right on.

However, few will see my work. And I claim to want that kind of attention.

I write because can’t think of a more gratifying way to spend my precious life energy. I dread writing and feel amazing when I’ve written. By joining Twitter I put myself on notice. I take my writing seriously. Twitter is part of my job, which is writing. This is my mantra.

But I need more than a mantra. Twitter requires stickers. I paste them in my journal, a visual reminder of each fearsome task I complete.

I have a vast sticker stockpile. I love to sticker shop. And take coffee breaks and watch cat videos. During writing time. Even without social media, I am distractible. So why not tweet? And commit to tweeting well? In support of my job. Which is writing.

I gave myself a frog sticker for writing this blog post. I will earn a dragon for sending it out. I celebrate patient improvement. I can learn to shill. Who better to shill for me, than me?
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Kirsten Voris tweets @bubbleate and gardens in Tucson, Arizona. You can find her #CNF @SuperstitionRev, @theknicknackery, @hippocampusmag and in two forthcoming anthologies. She is currently reworking the biography of a stage mentalist and planting her winter garden #amwriting #gardening.

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