Altogether now: if you’re trying to put food on the table with your writing efforts, then social media is a necessary evil. I know it, you know it, your seven year old nephew knows it, everyone who cares about book sales and making a name for themselves knows it. If you’re one of those writers fortunate enough to be able to eschew social media completely and still make a living in any way, shape or form, then hurrah! Hats off, I salute thee, please tell me your secrets especially if they don’t revolve around having direct access to a large publishing house’s marketing team and budget because I’d LOVE to take a break from feeding my soul into my phone on an hourly basis (this being a large part of why I’ve started searching for representation this year, because hot sausage I’d like to spend more time writing and less time plugging myself in increasingly new and exciting ways).
If, however, you’re like me, and extremely dependent on the various different hells sites out there for book sales, finding new readers, discovering opportunities to submit to things and general feedback and support from others in the genre who can help a writer to thrive despite the multitude of ups and downs inherent in this game, then you’ll no doubt be on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tik-tok, Youtube, Faceyou, Tubetok, Twitgram, Fuckface, Cockdoodle, Wangwinkle, Gramcoke and a large section of all the other permutations of digital socialisation that exist out there, and you’ll be pushing your books, and your face, and your own personal brand onto anyone else who will listen on a daily basis.
And you’ll be finding it extremely challenging.
Because it’s a lot. It takes a lot of mental energy. It is addictive. It is triggering, in many cases. It can lead to sleepless nights, and existential crises, and mental health relapses, and all manner of unpleasant things, if not handled carefully. It takes effort, and maintenance, and interaction on a much broader timescale and intensity than we are used to interacting with people out in the real world (especially at the moment, while we are all in isolation). And there will probably come a point at which you’ll get so burned out you’ll think ‘Nah, I can’t be bothered with this nonsense anymore,’ and you’ll announce a social media hiatus, only to come crawling back with your leg between your clubbed tails a few hours or days or weeks later, knowing that there isn’t a huge amount of choice about it, because social media is, in essence, the best way of reaching a wider audience FOR FREE that exists. Ugh. The wheel turns, doesn’t it.
And so, without wishing to push unsolicited advice on anyone without being asked, because yawn, I’ve instead opted to document the things that have helped me in the last few years since I really began focusing on social media as a means of getting my work out there. I’m doing this because I like to muse over things of a social nature, and get my thoughts down (I am A Writer after all), but also it might help if you’re floundering. It might not. At the very least it stopped you misery-scrolling for a hot minute, or maybe it staved off that argument you were about to wade into with that troll called IHatePeople07467683.
So here it is. Stuff that helps:
Social media for an author can actually be fun!
I know, I know, I sound like an episode of Sesame Street, but its TRUE. I’m a firm believer that I get out of life and human interactions what I put in, and this applies to my social media efforts. So, if you like movies and books and shit jokes and pictures of cats and pastry and landscape photography and art and crochet then it makes sense to immerse yourself in all of that, and by this I mean, enjoy it. I spend large parts of my day enthusing about movies I love, for example, because it makes me happy, and in doing so, I make friends. Sure, it might not immediately result in my latest novel going straight to the top of Amazon’s bestseller lists, but I think of social media as a long game. Eventually, those friends are going to want to support my work, because that is what friends do. And I support them in turn, as much as I humanly can. (This doesn’t mean you should beat yourself up if you haven’t bought your friends latest novel or retweeted them or whatever- you can only do so much in a day. Anything you can do, they will appreciate. Most normal people understand we all have a lot to do and cope with.)
I think of this as the digital equivalent of being someone who doesn’t look inwardly all the time and talk solely about themselves on social media without taking a breath. I mean, I used to do this, because it’s a natural place to start, right? I’d talk about myself, my books, my feelings, my opinions etc. And I still do, of course I do, because those things are good, relevant, worthy things too, and why shouldn’t you be the most authentic, straightforward, honest version of yourself you can be? You should be free to tell the world you’re having a shit day or your opinion on this thing or what you ate for dinner or when you last listened to Pink Floyd and so on. And frankly, the thought of advising anyone to curate their social feeds to include this prescribed thing and that advice-thing makes my skin crawl, BUT, in the spirit of documenting what’s worked for me, I generally find I enjoy places like Twitter and Insta a lot more when I open up the conversation to others. I some of this is that I’m afraid of coming off as a bit of a bore, in large part, one of those people at parties who sidles up with a wide-streched rictus grin and says, uninvited, with dead eyes boring holes into your soul ‘I’M A FUN PERSON’, whereupon everyone else rapidly moves away, like bacteria steering clear of penicillin in a giant petri dish (wow I am stretching these analogies aren’t I). I’ve also been conditioned by years of awful networking events during my time as a marketing person- always ask people about themselves etc. I’m also just genuinely intensely interested in other people, always have been, always will be. And so, I make social media fun for myself. I have said this before- although it is work, and it is professional, I treat it like being in a virtual pub, and it’s a place for me kick back, sometimes. Until it all goes Pete Tong, that is. More on that later.
Outrage posting generally makes me miserable
So someone douche-canoe made a douchey luke-warm take on something in the world of publishing, book reviews, movies, horror, cooking, most likely for the sole purpose of getting on someone’s radar via way of OUTRAGE TWITTER, and it has offended you to the point where you have to quote tweet and strenuously shout this nonsense down. And oh, boy, have I been there. I have scrolled, and stopped dead, and been outraged. Trust me, I have. And I’ve hit that quote tweet button, or that Comment on Post button, and I’ve declared my strenuous denial of said Bait Post, and I’ve felt better about it for the twenty seconds of ignorance I had before the realisation that OP was probably off in a corner gleefully slapping the one-eyed snake over my post (sorry for the implications that these posts are all dudes, many of them aren’t, I know this, but the masturbatory definition as provided by Urban Dictionary was frankly far too good to not use), because THAT IS WHAT THOSE PEOPLE WANT, and then I have felt dirty and cheap and in need of a shower and just, ughhhhh.
Now, there are some occasions where, quite rightly, Outrage Twitter has its uses, mostly in identifying and condemning racism, misogyny, sexism and all other types of nasty, abusive behaviour targeted at individual groups in a way that makes the genre safer and more inclusive for all- and when it comes to tearing down anything hate-filled, abusive, gate-keepery or harmful, I am all about Outrage Twitter. I know there is a hot debate about freedom of speech and cancel culture, but if I saw someone being bullied, ostracised or targeted in a social situation in real life, I would like to think I would speak out against it- in fact, I know I would, because I can be a real gob-shite at times, particularly in the rare occasions I get angry (bullying in particular is something that sets me right off, grrrrr). But. But.
I’ve been so much happier since I stopped Outrage Posting. I really have. It’s very Pollyanna, isn’t it? Who fucking cares. I’ll do anything to protect my mental health, and not feeding trolls and knobends the vital interaction food they crave is my jam, these days. I am not here for it, and I am much happier for it. That being said, I do slip up from time to time, but that’s okay, it’s literally only an app on my phone. Not life or death. I have to remind myself of that a lot more than I like.
Not everyone is going to like me, and that’s okay
Same rules as with real life, right? Not everybody is going to sip your brew and enjoy it. I know this. I’m alright with it. I can be an acquired taste. I can be abrasive, or too openly depressed, or too quick to judge, too slow to trust. It’s all good. It’s all gravy. I don’t need the entire world to like me, innit. Phew, what a relief.
Notifications erode your soul
They do, they really do. I have turned off every single notification except for my gmail and whatsapp notifications, and I have muted most of my whatsapp groups. I don’t discuss work on messenger unless I’m logged into my desktop. I won’t answer dms or emails until I know I can do it properly, with my full concentration on the subject matter at hand. Oh, and the sheer relief of knowing that every ping on my phone is actually from someone I like or value and prioritise personally rather than some malodorous fuck-knuckle who thinks that self-publishing is for losers is IMMENSE. I highly recommend it, folks. Those little notification thingies wear you down, hour after hour. My focus is so much greater when I control them. I also don’t have that sensation that I’m getting overwhelmed anywhere near as much as I used to.
Going viral is hell
Trust me on this one. It is. You don’t want it. It feels like you’ve been slammed into wooden stocks on the village green and pelted with rotten fruit by the locals for wearing a slightly low-cut top or flashing a bit of ankle. To begin with, they’re laughing, you’re laughing, everyone is having fun, but then they swap fruit for chunks of rock or burning clods of manure and it’s horrible. It’s invasive. Chasing viral fame ain’t it. It suckkkkkssssss. It also doesn’t sell books one tiny bit. Because guess what? The things that go viral aren’t those beautifully photographed book stacks or amazing reviews of your latest work, the things that go viral are about why the word ‘fanny’ is funny to British people or a random joke you stumbled upon on reddit or a fucking pancake that looks like it has Betty White’s face in it and IT WON’T SELL BOOKS. So take the pressure off yourself, because its exhausting chasing those likes. I’ve stopped, and I’m happier. So much happier. I live in perpetual fear of another viral post.
Sarcasm and snark were making me miserable
They just were. I don’t think I have the energy for it, mostly. I’m a sarcastic person a lot in real life, but in real life I can wink outside of an emoji, or soften a sentence with a hug, or make it more obvious immediately that my sarcasm is a form of affection (because let’s face it, is is), but I do this less so online these days, I think in large part because life has been an unending wasteland of shite for a whole year now and I feel like everyone is so much more fragile (myself included). Sarcasm is easy to misconstrue and snark can definitely make me back away for fear of being hurt- although having a thick skin is a part of this game, there is no need to relentlessly stick your hand into an open flame, is there? Not for me, at any rate.
Its okay to step away from something that makes me uncomfortable
By this I mean: arguments. Being tagged in a game I didn’t want to play (big props for the guy who once tagged me in a game about mental health, labelling me a ‘window-licker’, gosh that was fun). People who’s feed made me unhappy, or feel squirrely, or make me tired, or even angry. Do I risk an echo chamber by curating my online world so much? Possibly. But is the whole point of being social, to, like, constantly hang around with people whose fundamental worldview is so completely opposed to mine? I don’t know. I’m not talking about people who think marmite is alright or whether someone is conservative or liberal or believes in god or doesn’t, because on the whole I love the diversity of opinion you come across in the world at general. But in exactly the same way that I might steer of certain people in the pub and in my offline social circles, I gravitate more towards people who communicate the way I do, and I find that trusting my gut is important, the more time I spend online. It also helps me stay out of conflict. And I HATE conflict. Passionately.
People respond well to instruction (if you ask nicely)
Depressed about that post or thing you made that nobody shared?
Well, did you ASK them to share it?
Or did you just put it out there and hope for the best? Because that only works with people who are famous, generally. And if you’re here, reading this, chances are you ain’t. And you’re going to need to tell people what you want out of them. Want them to buy your book? Then ask them, nicely! Want people to spread the word? Follow your page? Share your post? Tag you in something? Don’t ask, don’t get. My most enjoyable posts are where I ask a direct question or make a plea for a certain type of interaction, and get it. Not everything you do will garner attention or get traction, but that’s okay, you can’t win them all. Keep on plugging. It pays off, eventually. I don’t have the adequate tracking software to confirm this, but I do know that I spend zero money on any other means of advertising, so I can say with the utmost confidence that 90% of my monthly book revenue comes in via social media efforts. It’s been trial and error, but I have learned that asking openly and politely for your followers to engage with your stuff generally pays off, and also converts.
I do not negotiate with trolls
I block ‘em. Screw those guys (said in Southpark voice)
I have accepted that people like to see my face
Selfies are okay. They really are. Faces are okay. Posting a picture of your face is not ‘playing a game’ or ‘thirstposting’ or anything other than what it is: literally sharing a goddamn picture of your face. I refuse to be shamed for sharing what I look like. Literally no time for that.
Hashtags are still useful but in small doses
Hashtag spam, above all else, makes a post really hard to engage with. I tend to use up to three hashtags at the most on any given post, unless it is Instagram, where I am still trying to build my audience and also, hashtags are much more of an accepted thing- the post layout there is so much gentler and more forgiving of tags. Everywhere else, I tend to yikes a bit if I see a hashtag-stuffed post and it makes me a bit leery, no idea why. I certainly don’t see any increased engagement because I use them. Unless it is something super targeted, like #WiHM, or something trending, I use them sparingly, and I think people genuinely prefer this.
At the end of the day, I step away from my phone
Yeah, right, who am I kidding?? Of course I bloody don’t. But I do step away from the work side of using my phone. Evenings are reserved for sharing art, shitposting about movies, sharing jokes, enjoying the company of like-minded people, and not really about trying to sell books for me. This presents problems with different time zones, but the days when I was continuously trying to promote myself well into the midnight hour are long gone, mostly because I was burning out. So I kick back in the evenings, paint, scroll, watch films, chat to those I want to chat to. Boundaries are important with this job, and the only way I preserve my energy is by setting strict personal boundaries in place.
And that’s it, really. None of this is rocket science, or particularly ground-breaking, but writing it did help me scratch an itch I’ve been trying to get to for a while, and for that reason alone, I’m glad I did. Maybe I’ll add to it as I think of more, keep it a rolling diary of things that work for me. Hopefully, someone might find it useful. If not, like I said- at least it occupied a little chunk of your day in a way that didn’t involve feeling your blood pressure climb up through the roof and leap off into the stratosphere.