It's free and can be really effective. It can also be very time-consuming, can actually put potential readers off if used clumsily and can expose you to some unpleasant people.
Plenty of choice
There are so many platforms to choose from and straight away I'd say limit yourself to a handful. If you're new to this, read the notes below and choose the one that seems to suit you the best to start with. Once you have a handle on this you might like to have a go at another one. It may also be a matter of trying out which one seems the most user-friendly to you.
I'm going to give you some of my personal tips here. The four most useful, in my opinion, are Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and Pinterest. If you find something else that is really effective let me know on:
email@example.com or put a comment below.
Features of the various platforms
I'm not going to show you the mechanics of using these as they change all the time. It's best to go to the site and let it teach you itself. You can find the URL for each one simply by Googling the name.
This is my all-time favourite. This is mainly because of the retweet function. Here's a story:
A woman was trying to visit an art gallery with her disabled friend but the gallery wouldn't let them in. The woman, who had a mere 100 followers, described her frustration on Twitter. Most of her followers retweeted and then their followers retweeted to their followers. Within a few hours thousands knew about this gallery and it was even visited that afternoon by a government official.
Now, imagine that with your books. 500 of your 2,000 followers like the sound of your book, so retweet it to their 2,000 followers. Not everyone will buy but even if only 15% do, that's quite a few.
I also like Twitter because you only have a limited number of characters for your message – this makes you write tightly and stops you wasting time.
Here are some more functions of Twitter.
· It allows you to create lists, so that you can talk to like-minded people when you wish. I'm on many lists, some created by myself, some by others. Here are three examples: writing friends, YA literature, and music world.
· You can send direct messages to people who follow you.
· You can find people who don’t follow you –even celebrities and presidents of the USA- and message them publically.
· It allows you to post pictures and videos.
· You can post links and it will often pick up the picture from that link – remember posts with pictures always work better.
· It will recommend people for you to follow.
· It provides you with notifications of who has replied to, commented on or liked your post. You can also have these notifications sent to your mobile phone and email.
· You can use the # plus subject to find readers including ones who are not following you. You can also use the # to find information on specific topics. Three I use are: #amwriting, #introtochildrenslit #Holocausteducation
· If you use Tweetdeck for your posts, you can schedule them in advance.
· It's easy to block or mute someone who gets annoying.
This provides the following features:
· You are allowed to write as much as you like.
· You have a timeline. I use this for personal news.
· You can create pages. I have an author page, one for each of the imprints I manage, one for each book I have published or written and one or two for other things. The pages also allow you a call to action.
· You can create groups. There you can chat to other people about concerns you have in common. I am a member of several groups e.g. International Flash Fiction Network, SCBWI British Isles North West, and Writers Who Want to Write without Fear of Rejection. I run 1940s Authors. You can upload all sorts of files to the group.
· You can pin a post to the top of your page or group.
· Facebook will suggest "friends" and people will contact you with requests to be "friends".
· You can "unfriend" connections.
· You can link up to Messenger from Facebook and send direct, private messages to people you follow and who follow you.
· You can pay for advertising, limiting the budget and picking a certain demographic. Facebook supplies the tools for you to be able to analyse the outcomes.
· You can create or find out about events. Facebook keeps a handy record of all of the events you're signed up to.
· It keeps a list of notifications and you can opt to have this fall into your email inbox.
· You can schedule posts for the future.
This is more of a business site. I never put anything personal there nor do I rant about politics. I only use it for work-related posts – i.e. writing, publishing or teaching. Here are some of its features:
· Your profile is much more dynamic than on all other platforms. You can really create something special here. Also you can download it as a PDF and use it as a CV. Every new publication should go on there. Personally I download the PDF every time I add new information to my profile. Just in case Linkedin has a wobble and loses the lot.
· You can use it to headhunt. Maybe you can find that book designer or children's librarian. And you may be headhunted.
· It offers groups. I'm a member of several, e.g. Children's Publishing, Writers Hangout, LinkEds and Writers. I run the University of Salford English Network – this is for alumni, present and past staff and post grads on any of the English programmes.
· It suggests who to connect with and you get invitations from individuals to connect. Here, I connect with other writers, publishers, school librarians, teachers, editors, those who work in the theatres, booksellers and people who look like potential readers.
· You can post texts of any length, links, pictures and videos and you can also upload longer articles such as a Word document or as a PDF.
I must confess to really only using this for curating my research. I proactively look for pictures that help me with my novels. When I find something that is really spot on, I save it to one of my boards. This is very effective- I have 1920s' fashions, 1940s' fashions and picture of ladies' pistols, for example.
Occasionally I look at other people's boards and occasionally other people look at mine.
You can "pin" any picture even if it is copyrighted because you'd only referring to it, not using it commercially.
Once you've joined Pinterest, your computer will prompt you to "pin" any picture you encounter. It does this very unobtrusively.
Even with minimum activity like this I am gradually making more people aware of what I do. I also have a call to action associated with each of my boards.
Don't be clumsy
None of your posts should say "Look at me. Look at me." You should use the 80/20 rule. Only 20% should be about yourself - and I'd also say that of that 20% only 20% should be direct promotion – "Buy my book" and the rest should just be of what is of interest to your readers. The other 80% should be you interacting with other people – e.g. retweeting, sharing, liking, commenting, asking and answering questions.
I actually keep a list of all of the things I do and rotate them on each of the platforms. It looks like this:
What I'm doing right now
What I like
Subject matter of book
Interesting web sites
These follow the main "about me" or "buy my book post". However even these two may sometimes be subtle. Here's an example:
Call for submissions Chapeltown
· Ask questions
· TRT interesting webs site *
· GJ Facebook
· What you like
· Linked in – what I'm doing
· Lists (Here I add any new people I follow to appropriate lists and then concentrate on one of my lists.)
Unless otherwise stated, these are for Twitter. Notice the first two items are promoting other people's events. So, I go onto Twitter, paste the Kickstarter link and say why this is a good project. (Note this has now finished.) Then, I will react to four people's tweets before I get back to work. I look at the notifications first, as I do for Facebook and Linkedin.
The * shows where I've got to.
I have a separate routine for Facebook, where I also rotate this list through all the groups I'm a member of.
I recommend Twitter for Writers by Rayne Hall. Much of what she says here applies to the other platforms: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22710858-twitter-for-writers
How do you maintain time to write?
You have to, and in my case also find time to edit, publish and market my own books and others'.
I see my social media time a little like making a visit to the water cooler in the office. It's actually a bit of a break but I have to get back to work. So, I post:
· First thing in the morning
· After I've been writing for two hours
· After I've been writing for another two hours
· After I've checked my email
· As I finish each item on my "to do " list
I also every so often schedule a few Tweets. I do look at Twitter and Facebook and react to them when I'm out and about and have a few moments to spare. E.g. when I'm waiting for a tram or for my order when I'm alone in a café.
This way I both limit and guarantee my presence.
Talking of email
This can also be very time-consuming but it also important to maintain – there might be an exciting offer from a publisher or a question from an eager fan. Fail to answer either and you ruin your reputation.
I actually get around 200 emails a day. After all, I work as a publisher and as an editor for multiple imprints, Twitter, Linked in and Facebook send me notifications and I'm interested in a host of different things. I rarely spend more than half an hour on them, however.
I usually look after lunch. First I look through all of today's and yesterday's. I respond to anything that needs a quick response – query from an author whose book I'm working on now for example, or from one of the people who publish me. If something needs a slightly longer response, I put it as urgent on my "to do" list.
Now I start timing myself. I go back to the top of the list and "tidy up" the first three days. Much of the material is now out of date so not worth looking at. It can be deleted. Some needs filing. This usually only takes me a few minutes. I then have the rest of the half hour to take a more leisurely look at some of the interesting things that have recently come in.
I'll then keep my email open and from time to time I'll take another look and see if there is anything urgent I can answer quickly.
Who to connect with
Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin make lots of suggestions. They're often very good. Make sure that there is a mini-profile on Twitter or Linked-in. Don't accept anybody who has a blank profile or who has nothing in common with you. On Facebook you're usually fine if you have twenty or more mutual acquaintances. If in doubt, you can click on their name and find out more about them. You are probably all right as well if they only have a few friends but these include people you know really well outside of social media.
Beware, though, a lot of male American military personnel who seem to prey on women. Don't respond to them.
After each foray on to a platform I request five connections and accept or decline any suggested connections.
What if somebody gets nasty?
If it's just that they irritate, annoy, try to draw you into an argument or say nasty things about your book on Twitter you can "mute" them. You can also block them completely. You might want to "switch them" back on again later. You can "unfriend them" on Facebook though this is rather more permanent.
If it's slightly more serious and you feel threatened or they're clearly stalking you, even if it's only online, making threats or harassing you sexually, don't hesitate: contact both the platform provider and the police.
Don't ever get into an argument.
Don't worry: it's quite rare.