So independent author to independent author, let’s talk about social media. In case you haven’t noticed (HA!), there’s been a lot of angst over social media as of late. As in, multiple folks are being downright vehement on whether some sites deserve patronage at all.
Uh…do y’all want to make money? Because unless anyone is confused, your humble narrator is in this gig to make money. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I love writing stories, and have done it for free. But at the end of the day, from this author’s perspective, social media is primarily a business tool. Not a soap box, not a place where I’m going to espouse my opinion on the world’s events, but something that helps me to keep the lights on by building a following. Oh, and also a place to run ads. Can’t forget the ads.
No, this is not going to segue into a long discussion about ads.* Instead, I’m going to use the below picture as a training aid for Young’s Three Tenets of Author Social Media:
Tenet #1: Social Media is a great way to connect you to people you’ve otherwise would have never met.
I’ve talked about Itifonhom often on here. What I have not talked about as much is that we met purely through chance on FB in a World War II discussion page. Itifonhom hails from Europe and I haven’t been there in over a decade now, so very low probability of us otherwise running into one another. This would be bad, since as you can see the man does an amazing job of putting my vision to digital pieces. This, in turn, helps Anita C. Young put together excellent ad copy. The rest is, as they say, [alternative] history. If you’re an independent author or small press looking for artists who are motivated and wanting to make a name for themselves, social media is where it’s at.
There are plenty of other professional interactions that make social media worth it for us indies. Twitter has provided me with an extensive network of folks who I will likely never, ever meet in the flesh, especially during the current pandemic. Fellow historians on there are especially helpful with excellent research suggestions, while sci-fi fandoms are almost all represented with some sort of “list.” In addition, Twitter and FB contacts have provided me with writing gigs (e.g., talking about the “Third Strike Controversy” at Pearl Harbor) and shout outs that have really helped marketing the Usurper’s War to foreign countries.
Tenet #2: Any interaction on social media should be geared towards growing, not lessening, your audience.
Regardless of their country of origin, I am confident my readers are intelligent, savvy people. They have their reasons for their beliefs and actions. Most people willing to take a chance on an independent author likely meet the same description. Ergo, you know what they’re probably not using social media for? Getting scolded about how they lead their lives, what they should mark on the ballot, or the latest societal crisis of the day. Just think about your average angry social media post and how that made you feel. I have personally never seen a screed that made me decide “Wow, that person is super smart and knowledgeable…”. On the other hand, I wish I had $1 for all of those interactions that made me say “I’m never buying anything from that person…”. I might not be able to retire, but I’d probably have a car paid off.
Pleasant or funny posts, on the other hand? Well, I have had literally dozens of people tell me, “Hey man, I’m going to give you a shot because [insert crazy “crack fic” FB post / tweet] was hilarious.” Now has that always worked out? Well, come on, no one hits every pitch. But some of my most ardent fans / friends are people I’ve met on other folks’ feed. Keep it light, keep it neutral, and save politics and other stuff for private conversations. If you want to write opinion, contact your local newspaper. Yes [best selling author] ignores this rule. They also have people who will pay $50 for their grocery list. If you’re reading this blog post, I’m guessing that doesn’t apply to you. (Note: If it does apply to you, feel free to throw me a shout out in your newsletter. I’m not too proud to ask for help.)
Tenet #3: The internet is forever. Social media is forever +1 lifetime.
That author who has people buying their grocery list for $50? Odds are, they got that following by keeping their head down and protecting their brand. I think we can all think of at least one or two recent examples where, say, a best selling author has almost literally reenacted the Joker scene from The Dark Knight with regards to a treasured franchise / brand.
Good news: You will likely never light several million dollars on fire with some ill-placed Tweets or FB posts.
Bad news: What you put next to your brand name defines you much, much more as an independent author than a traditional one. Off the top of my head, I can think of at least three authors who are on various “Will not work with…”-lists due to their social media. Why? Because they have tweets, FB posts, etc. that pretty much make them radioactive. As in, “Wow, I look forward to being on a press junket and getting asked about that idiot…”-levels of setting off the Geiger Counter.
Are such backroom choices fair? I’m sure the folks in question who missed out on $$$$ would say no. But is it factual? Been in the room when the decision got made. Writing is a business. Editors, publishers, fellow authors, etc. work hard to build their brand. They have zero interest in having some other yahoo’s insults or inflammatory comment tick off half their audience. This goes doubly so if you’re an independent author. Ergo, if you’re an indie, post nothing on your professional page you wouldn’t double down on in the middle of a 60 Minutes interview.
On top of what you are willing to say, guard your author brand like the valuable it is from morons in your life. This means, for starters, keep a close hold of who has the keys to your professional pages / accounts. Additionally, don’t let “friends and family” feel like your professional page is their playground. No matter how funny your cousin / friend / etc. thinks they are, some of your readers will probably disagree. Therefore, don’t let them come in and otherwise screw up important posts like book launches or professional interactions with the fans. As an author, don’t go and do that to your friends / fellow authors.
Finally, I don’t say “zero tolerance” often, but have no mercy with people who are genuinely rude on your professional page. No matter the personal relationship or past interactions, this is not someone acting in your best interests. Especially if they make racist, sexist, or derogatory comments there. You wouldn’t let someone spray paint negative things on the front of a physical store front. Don’t let them do the same to your internet presence.
As always, my advice is worth at least what independent authors have paid for it. (“Wait, I didn’t…” Exactly.) But I hope it helps you wield social media like Musashi with a boat oar. Good luck!
*Postscript–I think I might have a handle on ads at the moment. I’ve tried some new things with BookBub Ads, Amazon, and a different approach with FB post boosts. But despite getting amazing ad copy from the better half (as seen above), other more capable marketers (e.g., H.P. Holo) have pointed out how quickly things have changed for them in a matter of months. If it goes well, I’ll talk more about it.