December 2, 2021 § 7 Comments
A memoirist recently shared her querying frustration: “An agent really liked my work, but said I didn’t have enough platform. But I have a website and I’m on Twitter and Instagram!”
Out of curiosity, I checked. The author’s website showed she wrote occasional humor pieces, loved knitting and had two dogs. She’d published on a couple of literary blogs. On Twitter she had 400 followers; on Instagram she had 185. Nothing in any location suggested she’d written an intimate, soulful memoir about Culturally Relevant Topic.
When Ashleigh Renard (platform expert and author of SWING) and I co-host The Writers Bridge Platform Q&A, we’re frequently asked for numbers. How many clicks make a “viral essay”? How many followers show an agent you have “platform”? How many places do you have to publish? How many years will you have to do this?
You knew this was coming: “It depends.”
Followers can be bought, so numbers don’t tell the whole story. Followers can be generated through #writerlifts, in which everyone agrees to follow everyone else and some of them actually do. If you’ve seen Twitter accounts with 20K followers / 19K following, those are not meaningful numbers. People have followed back politely, not because they’re interested in what the many-followed person has to say. What matters more is engagement—how often do people have a (short) conversation with you online? How often do they comment on your photo, not just click a heart? How often do you share information related to your topic, your writing or your book? Does that information get reshared, or discussed even outside your own feed?
Plenty of people have sold books without being on social media. Plenty of people have sold books with 100K followers. Plenty of people with 100K followers haven’t sold a book.
I know all this, Allison, I hear you cry through the ether, but please just give me a number!
- If you’re writing memoir, it helps to be connected to readers who will later spread the word about your book, at least ten thousand of them. This can be across social media, newsletter, other types of mailing list, public speaking/teaching, or establishing yourself as an expert in your topic. Many of your followers will overlap…so aim for a total of around 50K engaged followers.
- If you’re writing self-help, business, or wellness (or your memoir focuses on one of those angles) you must have at least one very large following, which could be 100K+ on any single social media platform, YouTube, a podcast, or speaking regularly to groups of 1000+ whose ticket price includes a copy of your book.
- If you’re writing a “big idea” book (like Malcolm Gladwell’s work) or narrative nonfiction, you mostly need bylines in significant media, like the New York Times, the Atlantic, Harpers, etc. Places where you’re demonstrating that your work appeals to a wide range of people who are ready to have Opinions about your topic.
- A “viral” essay is 100K plus views, often more.
But I’m going to self-publish!
That’s great! Do you want people to purchase and read your book? Do you want to reach the people who need your message? Every publisher needs platform, even if that publisher is you. Self-publishers would be wise to start with at least half the numbers above.
Two things sell books: interest in the topic and recognition of the author. “Building platform” is simply making as many people as possible aware that you’re writing something they care about, so when your book baby hits the shelf the bookstore aisle will be full of people stopping, saying, “Hey! I’ve heard about that author!” and buying your book. The sneaky algorithms that pump ads into your social feeds and your Google searches are also looking for authors they’ve heard of, writing about subjects of interest. For both people and numbers, your continued, engaged presence in the world is how you become someone they’ve heard of.
Very often, authors publish widely and consistently for several years before landing a book deal. Humorists write columns, or they get their work into the world so someone will let them write a column. (To see what working towards getting a column looks like, follow Lucie Frost on Instagram/Twitter, where she shares fun facts, regularly, in a specific voice.) Literary writers publish essays. Commercial writers publish magazine articles. Very, very few writers generate one magical, beautiful book and publish on the strength of the writing alone. Are you better than Joan Didion? Go for it! But if you’re not, if you know your writing is still growing but your subject is important, focus on making the most of the platform you have.
- A clean, well-designed website that shows your topic clearly, and establishes your expertise and/or skilled interest.
- Social media on which you appear regularly and engage in discussions.
- Getting short pieces into the world, then sharing the best quotes through your newsletter or social media.
- Starting a spreadsheet NOW for the mailing list you’ll be able to start in 18 months.
Platform takes time and effort to build, and yes, takes away from your writing time. But the good news is, you can do 15 (focused) minutes a day for two years, listening to your audience, caring deeply about other people having the same experience, adding topics as you discover them…and your platform will gradually assemble itself.
Ashleigh Renard and I will be going more in depth on Making the Most of the Platform You Have on the next Writers Bridge, Tuesday December 7th at 1PM EST. It’s always free, always recorded, and you’ll get the Zoom link by signing up here.
Allison K Williams is Brevity‘s Social Media Editor and the author of SEVEN DRAFTS.
November 16, 2021 § 4 Comments
Buuuuuuuuuuyyyyyyyy myyyyyyyyy booooooooook!
We’re all afraid of sounding like that, or wearing out our welcome by spamming our acquaintances with ads. But you’ve probably heard marketing expert Dr. Jeffrey Lant’s “7 Touches” theory—the potential customer must hear about the product seven times before deciding to buy. Social media counts as maybe 1/4 of a “touch,” because a tweet or Insta post goes by so quickly. Do you really have to post 28 times before someone buys your book?
But you can make people aware of your book—or your course, freelance services, or webinar—without directly advertising. A light touch brings your work into your community’s consciousness, so when the time comes to buy, they remember what you’re selling.
Social media bios. Most social sites allow one link, and most people put their website, most recent publication or latest offering. But travel writer Erin Van Rheenen has cleverly set up a “links” page on her website. Visit her Instagram bio and click through: you’ll get a page of links to Erin’s most recent articles and podcasts, her blog, and her mailing list signup.
If this feels beyond your website-building skill level, try the free service Linktree, which lets you easily enter and update links for your book, articles, webinars, services, etc., then creates a single link to the list.
Email signature. If you’ve ever gotten an email from me, it probably had a picture below my signature, like this one for a virtual memoir intensive I’m teaching with Dinty W. Moore in January:
In email, the picture is a clickable link. I include a text link for people reading with assistive devices, or whose email loads photos slowly.
Sell one thing at a time, or your signature becomes a crazy quilt that’s easy to ignore. Start using the signature 2-5 weeks before webinars; longer before bigger-ticket items with a more substantial commitment. If you’re not actively selling, use your signature to invite mailing list signups, promote your latest blog, or make graphics featuring your great reviews or blurbs. Setting up an email signature takes 15-20 minutes the first time; about 5 minutes once you know how.
Blog…for SOMEONE ELSE. The personal blog is dead. Unless you’re working in a specific niche or you’re consistently hilarious, blogs aren’t growing readership like they did in the early 2000s. Only your most die-hard fans will visit a blog on your own site. Instead, pick a literary site you admire, or a site dealing with an issue or interest you write about. Read their blog(s). What hasn’t been covered in the past 6-8 months? Check for submission guidelines and pitch or send a finished blog that’s clean, proofread, in their word count, and fits the tone of the site.
Sites like Brevity, Jane Friedman, Craft, Electric Lit and many more use guest bloggers—start where you love to read. If that feels like a big leap, try trading guest blogs with another author—you’ll give each other new audience eyes. Reaching someone else’s pre-existing audience is much easier than drawing eyeballs yourself.
Offer a resource. An ebook or pdf of a first chapter; tips about your subject; a website page listing literary podcasts or another resource. Include an ad midway for your latest book or service; even better, tie the resource into what you’re selling, like Free PDF of Six Ways to Edit Your NaNoWriMo Draft (PS I Sell Editing Services).
Promote other authors’ work. Rather than just liking/retweeting the happy published-essay news, pick a quote you love and/or say what’s great about the article. Post a picture of a book you like and say why, then tag the author, their agent and the publisher. By praising publicly, we subtly establish ourselves as arbiters of taste, building our own authority as teachers and authors. Tagging also means you just created content for someone else, who is then more likely to reshare it…also promoting you.
Be a guest. Maybe you’re ready to speak at a writing conference. Or your local library. Or the Lions Club lunch. Or a college class. Or on a podcast. If you can package your point of view as a 15-45 minute presentation with specific takeaways for the listeners, you don’t even need a published book. Marketing yourself as an expert—or just fun to listen to—guest can lead to same-day book sales or class registrations. Long term, public displays of expertise serve as part of your author platform, making it easier to sell your book (or your next book) to agents and publishers.
All these techniques are gentle touches, rather than direct self-promotion. My email signature sits below a response you asked me for. If you’re checking out Erin Van Rheenen’s social media, you already want to know more—her easy link is a service. Blogs and reviews are informative to their readers. Everyone wants free resources. Guests are fun and enlightening. By attaching your ad gently to a product or service your audience actively wants, the recipient remembers that you gave them something they enjoyed…and oh yeah, you also have a book for sale.
Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor and the author of SEVEN DRAFTS: Self-Edit Like a Pro From Blank Page to Book. She’ll be teaching a 5-day virtual memoir intensive in January, with Brevity’s Editor-in-Chief Dinty W. Moore–more info/register at Rebirth Your Writing: Memoir Large & Small.
February 11, 2021 § 20 Comments
By Ashleigh Renard
Last week “harsh writing advice” was trending on Twitter, spurred on by one bonehead tweet that declared that our writing friends are our competition. Well, if we think the prize in this game is winning the attention of a top agent or editor, maybe the bonehead is right.
But if our perspective expands just a tad, we may remember that all of us in publishing—writers, editors, agents, and booksellers—are tremendously outnumbered by the ACTUAL READERS. Our ability to connect with readers is what agents and editors are talking about whenever they mention “platform.” And it is those dear readers who are the most often forgotten about until we have something to sell them.
Here’s how to change that and put readers at the center of your daily writing practice.
Just as writers diligently research comparative titles for queries and proposals, we need to search out “comp authors” on social media. Comp authors are the established, published writers in our genre, who have a large following and engage regularly on their chosen platforms. Followed strategically, their social media accounts can help us determine where our potential readers hang out and what they already consume with vigor.
To determine your comp authors:
- If you could switch accounts with any writer in the world today, who would it be? Who shows up online in a manner that appeals to you?
- Choose someone you like. This should not be a hate-follow. You will be studying what they do well and why readers flock to them. Liking their work will help you get the most out of this practice.
- Find common themes with your own writing in their books and their presence on social media—grief, body positivity, travel, parenthood, nutrition, chronic illness, humor, etc—but your stories do not need to be identical, because of course they can’t be.
What to do with your comp authors:
- Turn notifications on for 3-5 accounts on your favorite platform(s).
- Pay attention—what do readers react to quickly and exuberantly? Are they following the account for encouragement, commiseration, or to be entertained? What types of posts inspire the most interaction? Does your target reader enjoy a quick punchline or an Instagram mini-essay. Do they want to laugh or want to cry?
- Engage by joining the discussion in the comments. When you feel you have something witty and supportive to add to the conversation, do. Comment and respond to comments from others. You’re not there to steal the show. You are there to give genuine support to the community your comp author has already assembled. Add value by listening, offering assistance, and being your real self.
- If you have chosen accurate comp authors and are really paying attention it won’t take long before you start to notice gaps in what the writer is offering, gaps you can fill with your unique experience. What holes do you notice in the support the comp writer is giving the readers? How are you positioned to fill these holes and meet these needs with the differences between you and the comp author? This is where you get ideas for your own social media content. Actively noticing the gaps in what the authors already in your genre talk about can even help you narrow the focus of your memoir, prescriptive nonfiction project, or the way you will present yourself as a novelist.
- Support the author and practice your literary citizenship. When you buy the author’s new book (because you actually like their writing, remember?) buy an extra copy and hold a giveaway on your Instagram or in your newsletter. On Instagram, tag the author, the editor, the imprint, and their agent. Share to your Story and tag them there, too.
- YOU ARE NOT AIMING TO BE FOLLOWED BACK BY THE WRITER. Please remember this is not the goal. The purpose is to focus your online offerings to become a creator who followers of your comp author would recommend to their friends as another person who offers great advice/encouragement/education online.
One pertinent and caring comment from me on an Elizabeth Gilbert post led to Liz responding for a brief conversation in the comments, 1600 new visitors to my Instagram account and 150 new followers, many of whom became beta readers for my memoir. Positioning yourself as a writer who should be read by readers who love your comp accounts comes earlier and is more in your control than whether your title will be shelved next to your comp author at a bookstore or whether you’ll be put on a panel together at a literary festival.
Keep your writing friends close. Share editing and submissions advice and support. But remember we are all of more value to each other when we prioritize growing our own readerships. Newsletter swaps, giveaways, and shared book events all have a wider reach when we actively seek out our audience, and have a finger on the pulse of what they love.
Ashleigh Renard’s debut book SWING – A Memoir of Doing it All will be available May 2021. Follow her on Instagram for daily reflections and advice for writers, monogamists and moms.
Need more ways to connect with readers without sacrificing your writing time on social media? Join Ashleigh Renard and Brevity’s Social Media Editor Allison K Williams for Reach Your Readers, Keep Your Soul: 8 Weeks to Author Platform.
January 5, 2021 § 21 Comments
Mine was a clever ad. The local Jewish paper has around 16,000 weekly subscribers from Denver and the surrounding area, and my story is about growing up in Denver within a Jewish family with mental illness, and how I made my way out, found my way back, and came to understand and forgive (even myself).
With Hanukkah beginning in two days, my part-time-publicist brain planned a 3 x 4 in. color ad for $900.00:
Who Needs Hanukkah Gelt?
How about Judith Sara Gelt’s
It would run on the first day of the eight-day holiday. The woman selling ads for the paper had been as excited as I was.
Ad Person—Mazel Tov on the book! This is great news and I think the readers would love to have the opportunity to purchase it.
Me—I sent over a copy last year hoping the paper would review it but never heard back.
Ad Person—Oh, let me mention that! Maybe a review can run now!
Her rejection email arrived the next day.
Thank you for your interest…
Sexually explicit and not appropriate flashed neon.
I thought, The paper is sacrificing my $900?
(FYI, there is explicit, not offensive or gratuitous, sex. It hadn’t bothered my previous reviewers.)
Then I realized I had entirely missed the mark. Sending this ad to a paper with an “explicit-sex” taboo (most likely set by the paper’s Orthodox owners), cost me time and trouble. Plus, my family had known these owners through decades. My brother still does. This cut deep into my confidence. The back of my hand still stings.
Besides, Ad Person certainly wouldn’t read it now. I actually lost one reader.
When my book was released in 2019, the truth—authors must be willing to promote their own books—worked under my skin, and my hackles rose. Hadn’t I already done enough?
Before publication, every protracted, onerous undertaking toward publication felt doable, even energizing. I had closed out a middle-school teaching career and was fifty-three when I began. It took fifteen years to produce the final manuscript. Writer’s block? No idea what that felt like! Paragraphs took shape eight to ten hours a day. Editing and critique? Loved it. I took a class to refine my work at the sentence level and spent the following year revising the 300-page manuscript page by page. Not hard work—hard fun.
Then I waded through warnings (Your odds of being published are 1 to 2%) and ferried myself around the country to conferences where I could meet agents. I submitted queries. Submitted. And submitted. And submitted. I waited. And waited. And waited for decisions. But excitement whirled in the possibility of a happy outcome. And there was one!
My university press did its job publicizing my book within their resources. I wasn’t completely self-marketing hostile. Here’s where I stand, well, wobble—my webpage is fairly professional. I have an Author Facebook Page. I’m on Twitter (I no longer post there) and Instagram (I’ve never posted there). I’m on LinkedIn and Goodreads. I have an Amazon Author Page. I belong to four Facebook writers groups I don’t actually follow. I began a mailing list and sent three (or four?) MailChimp newsletters. I paid for a Kirkus Review (thank god it was good), and purchased ads in Kirkus publications.
I’m still a failure as an ad agent.
There are zero indicators my book is selling or that many readers have seen its pages. I’m not unaware of where to look for help. I’m overwhelmed by the help out there. I’ve seen a bajillion notions for how to market books successfully.
Brevity’s blog and sources like it offer manageable, contained lists of steps from successful authors. In a Writers’ Bridge video chat, I heard realistic social-networking approaches broken down masterfully. (Still, my visit ended early. The pace of brilliant ideas flying by overwhelmed me.)
So, my stomach will not settle. My chest is tight as I write this, forgodssake.
If I’m ever to get my book into readers’ hands, I must accept my publicity and promotional responsibilities and either:
Hire a genius, million-dollar publicist.
Hire a topnotch, million-dollar therapist.
My genius publicist, who is very expensive because they are a genius, will know what kind and where, and how often to place ads, and will arrange events and have conversations with important, connected people, and send mailings and do whatever else there is to do… Then, because they are the genius, I will do whatever they ask.
My topnotch therapist, who is very expensive because they are topnotch, will unravel underlying issues mentioned in my memoir like depression (mine), and although I’m medicated, thoughts of advertising can nudge me, TV remote in hand, downhill and onto my sofa.
Their combined top-notch know-how will eliminate my emotional weaknesses preventing me from marketing my book.
(My stomach is relaxing!)
Do you know a genius publicist? A topnotch therapist? I’m willing to pay.
Have them get in touch at judithsaragelt.com. (I may need both.)
Judith Sara Gelt is the author of Reckless Steps Toward Sanity—A Memoir, winner of The High Plains Book Award, Debut Book. Her work has been in Nashville Review, Superstition Review, and River Teeth, among others. She lives in Denver. Find her at her webpage and on Facebook. Other social media destinations are…under construction.
October 29, 2020 § 7 Comments
Read that question again. Not as “Do you need a PLATFORM to sell a book,” but as “Do YOU need a platform to sell a book?”
We usually think of “platform” as “social media.” But there are literary platforms and mass-media platforms, too. Some memoirs sell on powerful writing alone.
How do you know if yours is one of them?
Memoirs fit roughly into four categories, and each category needs different elements to sell. Yes, a strong social-media platform can be one of those elements, but it’s not the only one. Let’s break it down:
Voice-Driven memoirs are collections of anecdotes, essays or loosely-connected stories. David Sedaris falls into this category, as does Jenny Lawson—authors we want to spend time with, to enjoy whatever story they want to tell because they’re telling it. Comedians’ memoirs are also in this category. Their plot might be “I grew up, I worked hard and then I got famous,” but we want to hear that story from the person inside it.
Character-Driven memoirs are often generational family stories through the eyes of the narrator, like The Glass Castle or The Liar’s Club. Or the reader navigates a particular situation or time in close concert with the narrator, as in The Year of Magical Thinking. The journey is through time and personal change, rather than up a mountain or around the world.
Plot-Driven memoirs focus on a journey, from Point A to Point B. There’s usually a physical element: sometimes these are places on a map, as in Wild; sometimes the journey is through addiction, or traveling from sickness to health as in Porochista Khakpour’s Sick.
Personal Record memoirs survey a place, culture or time. Orange is the New Black (women’s prison), Kitchen Confidential (professional cooking), and Maximum City (Bombay) each encapsulate the writer’s personal intersection with a larger phenomenon. “Legacy” books—collections of family letters, parent biographies, community histories—fall in this category.
The sellability of each type of memoir—to agents, publishers, and ultimately readers—tends to spring from these elements:
Voice-Driven Memoir: Come Spend Time with Me
- Personal Fame from public speaking or a public career like theatre, dance or politics.
- A unique, consistent, often funny, voice.
- Mass-Media Platform: publications in newspapers and newsstand magazines.
- Social-Media Platform: a high-engagement blog with hundreds of comments per post, or social-media accounts that regularly receive thousands of likes.
Character-Driven Memoir: Personal Change, Beautiful Writing
- Excellent writing with a strong narrative voice.
- Deep insight into oneself and the human condition, expressed on the page.
- A “hot essay”—a literary or mass-media publication that draws wide attention.
- Literary connections: teachers and workshop leaders who promote you to their agent and publisher, and will blurb your book.
- Literary platform: a body of work in literary journals and upscale mass-media; places at selective residencies; literary awards and contest wins.
Plot-Driven Memoir: The Journey Is the Story
- Newsworthiness of your journey, especially if a physical journey has been reported in mass media or an internal journey is related to an emerging hot topic.
- Cultural relevance of your journey, like a significant generational, ethnic, or gender experience.
- A “hot essay”
- Literary platform
Personal Record: My Experience with an Interesting World
- Self-publication and niche-marketing to the community the book is about (your relatives, a geographical area, etc.), though traditional publishing is also an option.
- Cultural relevance, especially if you are an expert on or native of a world that’s becoming newsworthy or topical.
- Social-Media Platform, including incredible visuals that invite readers into the world OR
- Mass-Media Platform, especially regular publication in niche venues about your world, such as popular travel or cooking websites OR
- Literary platform if your writing is voice-driven.
You don’t need to tick off every element in your category. But the more you can achieve, the better your chances of selling your memoir.
If you want to focus primarily on your writing, you’ll need to consciously improve your craft, seek publication in top-notch journals, and cultivate ongoing connections with your teachers. If your physical journey is the fascinating part, try to interest a reporter in your story, or learn to pitch to mass media yourself. If you want to build readership online until you reach critical mass, make improving your reach and content on social media a large part of your writing practice, and write a book that makes social media a positive contribution to your time.
As Jane Friedman says, “Everyone has a meaningful story to tell, but not everyone’s story (or writing) will find an agent or receive a commercial publishing deal.” Your book is worth writing. If you want to sell it, start educating yourself now on how that’s likely to happen, and how you’re cultivating and connecting with the readers who need your book.
Need more platform information? Want to know how to build an audience with or without social media? Join Allison K Williams and Ashleigh Renard for The Writers Bridge Platform Q&A Zoom chat today at 1PM EST (recording will be available). Always free. Sign up here to receive the zoom link.
October 27, 2020 § 4 Comments
I’m not writing this for you. You already know better. I’m writing this so you can forward it to that friend of yours. You know. The one who keeps tagging you in social media posts about her book? The author who, every time you mention you’re looking for something new to read, offers an Amazon link? Who responds to every question even remotely related to her topic with “I wrote a book about that!” blatting away like a lone trumpet in the middle of a string quartet.
Yes, marketing statistics show that people have to hear about your book seven times, in seven different places, before they decide to buy it. But tone-deaf self-promotion does not create a pleasant memory of Oh I should purchase this book. Repeated advertising in social settings creates resentment and irritation, and as I wrote here a while ago, irritation doesn’t sell anything.
Yes, we should be proactive. Yes we should be unafraid to share the news—the wonderful news!—that we have published a book and wouldn’t our friends love to support us? Our friends do want to support us. They just don’t want to do it every day.
Here is how much marketing support you can reasonably expect from your friends:
Two mentions to their real-life friends that you have written a book and it is nifty.
From your extra-best awesome writer-friends: one retweet, one Instagram post, one book review written to Amazon and copy-pasted to Goodreads. More than that is doing God’s work.
From close relatives, and from people who would like to have sex with you: physically walking into a bookstore and ordering one, even two copies of your book.
From your local newspaper: a brief mention of your reading at a local bookstore. Because “Hey, I wrote a book” just isn’t all that newsworthy.
For the press, consider writing PR (or having your insanely expensive publicist write PR) that expresses how your book ties into popular culture right now. Or the problem many people have that your book solves or addresses. Maybe even your unique story about writing the book, if you triumphed over adversity or accomplished a life goal. Not just about your book.
But you can’t send a press release to all your friends. Not even an advertisement disguised as a Facebook comment.
The two best ways to get people interested in your recently published book are to make yourself look like an expert, and show them how your topic is directly relevant to their lives. You do this by offering assistance. For example, if your Facebook friend has a problem that you know how to solve and that is also related to your book, answer their question. Solve their problem. Direct them to another resource that is not your book for more information. At the end of all that assistance, note somewhat self-effacingly, I also wrote a book about this, and here’s the link in case you want to look it up. The product is an afterthought in your service to your friend.
Author Karen DeBonis has a great technique for talking about your topic without talking about your book every time. She has set a Google alert for one of the topics of her book, “people-pleasing.” When she sees a quality article related to people-pleasing, she can tweet or post the link, with a quote from the article and some commentary from Karen about why this information is useful, or how she identifies with it. (Here’s how to set up a Google Alert)
This is double literary citizenship! You’re promoting the writer of the article you’re linking to, and increasing interest in your own topic. You’re helping establish your own expertise, or that you are at least a clearinghouse for this information. When someone has a people-pleasing-related question, they’ll remember, Gosh, I bet Karen knows the answer, and come to her. Then she can answer their immediate question, and gently direct them towards her book. If her book is not out yet, she has incurred gratitude. She has made a deposit in the Bank of Goodwill, which can be redeemed when the time comes to purchase, review or post about her book.
None of this is “being clever on Twitter,” though that can help. It’s not “have a million Insta followers,” though that can help, too. This is doing service you already know how to do, to genuinely connect with people affected by a topic about which you care deeply enough to have written a book.
Self promotion is not self service. Yes, fanfare the news of your new book from the rooftops. But also gently play the symphony of support, solutions, and expertise for your grateful listeners.
Allison K Williams is Brevity‘s Social Media Editor. Join her and Ashleigh Renard for The Writers Bridge Platform Q&A on Zoom. This Thursday at 1PM Eastern is the Ask Us Anything Halloween Party—costumes optional, bring your burning questions about platform, promotion and social media. If you’re on the list, you’ll get the link, or sign up here!
June 23, 2020 § 16 Comments
You have ten minutes, so you open Twitter. No notifications. Your inbox has an auto-message from an author you don’t know, thanking you for following (delete!). You scroll for a few minutes, note the level of political outrage, like a few tweets advertising books (that you’ll never buy but you want to be supportive), retweet a couple of “safe” posts (author quotes, an agent’s advice) and a “writer lift”, and exit, mildly disappointed.
How come nobody talks to me on Twitter? I have #writingcommunity in my bio, I like all my friends’ tweets…maybe I’ll just never be cool enough to get attention on social media.
First, let’s get one thing straight: You do not have to be popular on Twitter to write or sell your book. Twitter is most helpful (but isn’t mandatory!) for how-to/self-help/narrative nonfiction. For memoirists, Twitter can help reach readers, but email newsletters, public speaking, published essays, and Facebook groups (not pages) are all better ways to connect with your audience. For novelists, Twitter is a place to build community, not show how you’ll sell books.
So what do writers do on Twitter?
- connect with writing idols and industry professionals in a low-stakes way
- practice writing tight, focused sentences that provoke and engage readers
- meet other writers and have fun
But Twitter has plenty of unwritten rules, just like every other social arena. Breaking the rules requires deep understanding. For example, if I walk into a Star Trek convention dressed like Henry VIII, I am breaking the rules. If I’m cosplaying as Captain Kirk experiencing historical monarchy in a holodeck, at least some fellow attendees will love me. You don’t have time to learn all the rules, let alone parse that previous sentence, because you need to be writing. So here’s a guide to why people aren’t engaging with you, and what you can do about that.
Are you following too many people? “Writer lifts,” in which everyone who responds to a tweet follows everyone else, give us inflated statistics. If Bob Writer has 14.1K followers/15K following, he’s following too many people to meaningfully interact with any of them. Bob’s followers never see his tweets either, because they’re all following too many people. Writer lifts are randomly following to build numbers, not genuinely sharing interests. Follow people you want to read.
Are your followers active? Every time you log on, check ten people on your followers list. If they haven’t tweeted in a month, unfollow. If you value the connection, find where they’re active and meet them there.
Are you active? Twitter’s a weird, bitter, funny, ridiculous community, but you truly do get back what you put in. If you aren’t responding and/or tweeting for a few minutes 3-4 days a week, other people aren’t seeing you.
Think of your audience. Better yet, think of a specific person you interact with on Twitter, and what they react to. We don’t have to be laugh-a-minute, especially right now, but people interact with tweets that move them. Comedy or tears, a moment of thoughtfulness or joy.
Tweet like a writer. Tweak your first draft. Is the question phrased well? Is your joke funny? Do your sentences that begin and end with strong verbs or nouns instead of prepositions or pronouns? Do your best sentence-level work.
Stay positive. Avoid whining about publishing (or anything else). Ask, “Is this complaint because I personally feel hard-done-by, or is there a larger group or principle at stake?” Then decide whether you want to express rage, bring up a legit issue to discuss, or quip about knowing you’re riled up over something silly. If you can, suggest a solution, or ask for information, instead of just venting.
Take part in conversations that mean something to you. Avoid begging for attention. Tweets like “is anyone out there?” or “I guess I’m not important enough to get likes” are unappealing. Start a discussion with a question.
Skip the ads. Sharing your newly published essay (with a quote, or a sentence about your process or motivation) is great. Sharing your great review, or “hey I published a book today!” gets likes. Posting repeatedly about your book for sale is tedious, and people will unfollow. Spend that time submitting articles or essays that tie into your book, and brag about those instead of another commercial.
When you retweet, comment. It’s fine to just RT, but try to more often have something to say about what you’re sharing. Why you liked it. What makes this author or article important. How that joke made you feel. Even an emoji helps connect.
Find a couple of accounts that are just for fun, like reading the comics pages. I’m a fan of @AITA_reddit (some adult material), and I see other online friends in that feed. Responding to their comments there gives us a low-stakes interaction, and they’re more likely to see my other tweets. Literary agents and high-profile, fascinating writers like Chuck Wendig, John Scalzi, Tayari Jones and C. Spike Trotman often have regular commenters, and you can get to know other writers in discussions.
Adjust Your Expectations
Building connections with readers and fellow writers takes time. My social media helped me get a book deal…after spending five years building bridges to readers through Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, blogging and a newsletter. But I’m not there to rack up numbers. I’m there to share information, make connections, answer questions, and practice writing in those formats. It wasn’t the numbers that got me the deal, it was the behavior. We often dismiss social media as frivolous or shallow, and yes, wide swaths of it are. But Twitter also holds professional camaraderie, writing-process and publishing support, and literary news. Truly connecting on Twitter takes time, and genuine interest in the community—exactly like connecting anywhere else.
Allison K Williams is Brevity‘s Social Media Editor. Follow her on Twitter for writing tips, publishing news, and fabulous GIFs.
May 26, 2020 § 33 Comments
Myth #1: platform = social media followers
You may have seen writers on Twitter with statistics like “20.1K followers, 20K following.” Some writers build these numbers with “#writerlift” posts (everyone follows everyone else), or use apps to mass-follow hundreds of accounts, hoping they’ll follow back.
That’s not a platform. They have racked up numbers with people they can’t actually engage with. They are followed by people who clicked as reciprocation, not genuine interest.
Even truly impressive social media followings seldom translate to actual book sales. Social media numbers reflect, rather than cause, popularity.
Myth #2: platform = going viral
Only sometimes! If you’re writing memoir or nonfiction, writing a “hot essay” can get you a book deal. For literary fiction, a powerful short story in a great literary magazine can get you an agent.
Or it may not. You can’t control what’s going to go viral. Fortunately, the ingredients of “going viral” (tap into a subject people care passionately about, write a unique take and write it well, gradually build your publication credits until you get into more prestigious and prominent outlets) are the exact same ingredients of “pursue a serious writing career.” Going viral is the icing on your cake of dedication and time.
Myth #3: platform = being famous
Famous people get book deals all the time, very often for a ghostwritten book. But famous people are not your competitors. Readers buying A Famous Person I Like Wrote This are not the same people seeking a book that will entertain them, move them, or solve their problem.
Publishers know that. The pool of time and money available for famous person books is not the same pool for not-famous authors.
The vast majority of books are written by people who were not famous before publishing, and most of them still aren’t.
So what IS platform?
Platform is how you’re going to reach the readers who need your book.
- You’ve become a known expert
- Your work ties into (or better yet, sparks) a cultural trend
- Your topic, work or personality draws people to pay to find out more
For nonfiction and memoir, platform is building trust, not numbers.
Think about your ideal readers. What do they need to know? Where are they currently seeking that information? Writing articles, public speaking (when health allows) and email newsletters are all more valuable than social media. Instead of a quick scroll, you have a meaningful chance to build bonds with the people who will trust YOU to solve their problem, whether that problem is, “I need to understand beekeeping,” or “Nobody around me knows how it feels when your kid dies.”
If you’re writing narrative nonfiction, work to establish your expertise in your subject, with a wonderful essay in a good literary magazine, articles for mass media, or speaking to special-interest groups fascinated by your topic.
For the writer creating a beautiful and passionate memoir, zero followers is plenty. That writer’s platform is the excellence of her writing, her fascinating emotional journey, and (hopefully) publishing short pieces that build her readership and reputation. Having followers and fans who will advocate for your book definitely helps you appeal to publishers, but writing a great book is more valuable still.
Here’s the main problem with “building platform”: a “platform” is something you get up on and yell at people.
Instead, build a bridge.
Your bridge is all the ways people who need your book can reach you. You are making a pathway for your readers, and it’s a two-way street. You listen to them, they listen to you.
I use several bridges: In Facebook groups (not my own pages), I connect with writers by offering information, promoting their books, and supporting their writing journeys. It’s not about racking up followers, but establishing myself as someone who is useful, helpful and kind—without a specific transaction. On Instagram, I focus on mini-essays: “get to know me,” “hey I write things that make you think,” and “here’s a writing tip.” Twitter is to amplify other people’s voices, practice being funny in writing, and entertain myself. I write a mostly-monthly newsletter, with the goal of “feel better today, reader! Also, here’s what I’m writing right now.” I stay connected to family and friends, because one Aunt Tillie who makes her whole church buy your book is more valuable than 10K followers on Twitter.
Building bridges isn’t quick and easy. I usually tell writers, it’s going to take fifteen minutes a day, five days a week, for two years. Fortunately, you only need to start with fifteen minutes.
Make some lists: Who are your readers? What are they reading now? What bridges do they already use to get entertainment and information? What websites do they visit, what groups are they part of? Start brainstorming ways you can be on the other side of that bridge.
- Can you write an essay that shows off your voice?
- Can you write an Op-Ed on a subject you’re passionate about?
- Can you think of a topic for public speaking?
- Can you start a newsletter that entertains or informs your readers?
- How can you promote or support another writer today? How can you share valuable information with people who need it?
If you’re consistently entertaining, kind, and helpful in your world, some of your connections will become advocates for your book. You’ll also know more, be a better writer, and understand your readers. Just give it 15 minutes—I’ll see you on the other side of the bridge.
Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor. Her new comedy, The Next Horseman, is a playscript for video chat. Let her know (in comments or DM on Twitter/Insta) if you’d like to review a copy or send one to your local drama teacher or theater group.
March 10, 2014 § 6 Comments
“With great opportunity comes great responsibility.” Jon Fine, director of author and publisher relations at Amazon, invoked two great teachers – Jesus, and Peter Parker’s uncle – when he exhorted us to develop our own social media platform to better market our books.
The panel, titled “How to Do It Now: New Trends in Literary Publishing,” slid sideways, from what I assumed would be the topic of new digital publishing platforms, to the topic of digital marketing. This is a topic I know something about. I support my writing habit – my graduate degree and this trip to Seattle – through my work at an advertising agency, where roughly 70% of our revenue comes from digital marketing. We build social media platforms for national brands, so I have a clear understanding of how much time, strategic thinking, and revenue, goes into constructing a Facebook (or Twitter, or Pinterest) presence that will actually sell something: A lot. A midsize client with a marketing budget of $10MM will spend roughly $4.1MM in digital media, which includes social media. Social media represents $400K of the budget, and this dollar amount covers the salaries of one or two full-time employees who generate and post content, and the ad spend that drives people to the Facebook page.
This was the professional context I brought to a panel in which a room full of authors were lectured on the importance of social media to their careers. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this particular talk. It is in fact an echo of what many writers hear from their agents and publishers: Start a blog. Get at least 800 followers on Twitter. Get at least 1000 Facebook friends, or fans of your author page.
Agents and publishers who are pressuring writers to do this don’t know the return on investment for these efforts. This isn’t an indictment of the publishing industry –measuring the return-on-investment on social media is complicated, and involves expensive research. Even brands with big, $10MM budgets will forego the cost, accepting as truth that even if they don’t know exactly how much in sales social media can account for, they’d be selling less product without it.
In the absence of social media return-on-investment data for the average author, let’s use some old-school direct marketing numbers as a proxy. As a rule of thumb, a 1% response rate on direct marketing efforts is a good one. Say you have the magic number of one thousand Facebook friends, or fans of your author page. If you reach every single one of them at least three times with an announcement of your book release and a link to Amazon, you should expect ten of them to buy your book. That’s right – ten. Let’s make that number a little – or even a lot – higher, because after all these people have some personal connection to you and are more likely to buy. Say you get an extraordinary buy rate of 20%. That’s 200 books.
Take a moment to imagine how much money that puts in your pocket. It’s not nothing. Now – take another moment calculating how much time you spent developing your online community, creating content to share with your friends, marketing your personal brand on your blog and in places like Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and Pinterest. As panelist Rachel Fershleiser, a successful writer, editor, and digital media expert who works for Tumblr, said – in the most honest and gratifying moment of the talk – if you actually do all of this, “you will never sleep again.”
Every author should establish a social media platform. I’d never argue against it, given what I do for a living. But there is only one reason for an author to lose sleep over social media: advertising dollars. If you or your publisher is paying hard cash for advertising that drives people to your blog or your author page on Facebook, go all out. There will be an incremental pay-off. But if this does not apply — scale your effort to the reward. Writing for social media should never take time away from something you’d rather be writing instead.
Stephanie Bane works at a Pittsburgh ad agency with a particular expertise in digital and social media.