Being a millennial, I understand how unhappy, jaded, and completely dunderheaded my generation is because of social media. I was eight years old when AOL first sang me the song of its people. (It went something like this.) Now, I have “phantom limb twitches” every three minutes thinking that I’ve received some sort of notification.
Social media is doom, gloom, and unhappiness, and you’re a free spirit who ain’t lettin’ no man or no government tell you how to live your life. In fact, you may go as far as a Belgian music sensation and view Twitter as something like this:
Prends guarde à toi, indeed.
But as fake, evil, and completely fabricated as social media is, if you are an author, you might do well to learn to play with fire. Unless you’ve been living at the bottom of a well, you’ve probably observed that pop culture, business, and pretty much every other aspect of modern life revolves around some sort of virtual social outlet. The literary world is no different. I would never go as far as to say that participating in social media is necessary for literary success, but if you are absolutely determined to remain unplugged, I beg your patience for a few empirical points…
I don’t condone stalking. I never encourage it. However, I will say that you can employ the endless reaches of social media to get the skinny on what’s going on in the literary community. Agents, publishers, writers, book sales, awards, contests—social media is the perfect place for a newbie author to sit back and observe, rather like a vulture scanning the highway…
Ok—so that wasn’t a very good metaphor. Like a hungry waif perusing a vitrine before deciding what to do with the nice man’s copper.
Find the agent you want. See what he/she is selling or is interested in. Find successful authors. See what they do and how they do it. Find books that are rising to the top. See who is selling them, who is promoting them, and how both of these things are being done.
Trust me—they’re Tweeting all about it.
Looking to meet beta readers? CP’s? Illustrators, editors, proofreaders or medieval swordsmanship scholars? By all means, go into your local Starbucks and sound the cry through cupped hands, but if you want to avoid some angry looks and a possible citizen’s arrest, let me get you in on a little secret…
I have found these people—every single one of them—on some form of social media.
I live in France. I go to conferences across the United States and try to explore at least one new country every month. I meet incredible people (a media manager from Brazil, a belly dancer from Geneva, etc.) who help me all along the way, but I can assure you that none of these relationships would be possible and/or sustainable without social media.
Over one million books are published every year, and that’s in the U.S. alone. How do you make your book stand out? What pulls an Indie author into the realm of best-sellers?
Hustle, my friends. Good, old-fashioned hustle.
Gone are the days of symbiotic author-publisher relationships. Gone are the days of sponsorship and obligatory patronage. Gone are the days of bemusing publishing voodoo. In our instantaneous, globally-connected world, we can do what our parents could not.
We can be entrepreneurs.
Today, you can write, format, print, and publish a book in the comforts of your living room. Of course, fresh air is good to clear the mind and one must arguably get enough vitamin D, but it is completely possible. And (Get ready for this!) that book can be successful.
Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. A successful author isn’t just an author—she’s an editor, part-time marketer, designer, and campaign manager. All of these things can be stressful and incredibly time-consuming, but they are doable thanks to our world of mass-connectivity.
Let me say that again: It is doable. People have done it before. And trust me when I say that those people are making a lot of money right now teaching other people how to do the same thing. Of course, you can go pay for media marketing classes and Facebook Ad courses and whatever else you want to pay for, but you can learn quite a bit by just sitting back and watching. How is this/that author advertising on Facebook? What does he include in his newsletter? How is her agent marketing her book? What sorts of advertisements catch your eye, and what makes you want to follow one author but not another? How are authors pitching on Twitter? What kind of books are agents looking for on #mswl Wednesday?
You can learn a lot on social media by just being present.
Building Your Brand
Do books sell? No. Authors sell.
Do you think Harry Potter would have been nearly as successful as a one-book standalone? That Stephen King would have earned his “Master of Macabre” status if he had stopped at Carrie? All of these authors are in themselves a brand, and the diffusion of that brand is arguably what bolstered their careers far beyond a single work. You know who King is without having read anything he’s written. Rowling is a household name, even if you haven’t read HP.
I had a banal understanding of how important it was to make myself “known” as an author, but only when I had signed on with Blaze Publishing was I given the 411 on author branding. In this article, Theresa Meyers explains author branding far better than I ever could:
Meyers makes a solid point. A fan’s attachment to a book can only go so far. Get that fan to fall in love with the author, and you’ve got a lifetime of business.
Branding is something that you can start before you type a single word. My “author brand” revolves around my activities as an author-adventurer. (My business card literally says, “Author-Adventurer.”) On my various media outlets, you’ll see countless pictures of places I’m visiting, crazy stories about those places, and tiebacks to what I’m writing. The author-adventurer label may not encompass everything about me, but it’s a personable, relatable part that I want to share with my readers.
Want to know something crazy? People are much more likely to buy something from you if they know you—or feel like they know you, anyway. This is all a part of author branding: If your readers feel like they are somehow connected to you, that they are invested in your personal story rather than just your fictional one, you are turning a simple investment into compound interest.
So how do you make these connections? How do you relate to your readers and develop that kind of relationship with your audience? When we’re talking about hundreds of thousands to millions of people, the answer has to be social media.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to post every single photo of your dog’s post-op neuter scar; there is such a thing as a healthy boundary between your professional persona and your private life. However, rather than thinking of that boundary as a wall, I like to see it as a permeable membrane. It is ok to let your personality—your sincere hopes, dreams, wishes, emotions, ideas, and creative sparks—filter into what you post.
As much as I love my book, the goal of this debut goes far beyond an audience liking Patel Patterson and the Apocalypse Key. Sure, I want people to enjoy Patel, but even more than that, I want them to make a connection—a relation, if you will—that keeps them engaged and interested. An engagement can only go so far with 72,000 words, but a connection with me, H. Kates the Author, can extend far beyond my own story.
Lemony Snicket, or Daniel Handler, is an excellent example of this concept. Handler seamlessly wove his own author brand (the mysteriously tragic and elusive tale of his alter ego, Snicket) into The Series of Unfortunate Events, so far as to bring his fictional mystery to life. Neil Gaiman is also very good at connecting with his readers. Even though I will never know @neilhimself, every time I see a funny Tweet or an interesting Instagram picture from the “Good Omens” set, I feel a little closer to his work.
I get it. You don’t want to do it. It’s a drag, it can be rather invasive, and—to be completely honest—developing a social media persona can be both exhausting and disheartening. What I’m struggling with is a classic chicken and egg problem—I’ve got all my social media/outreach networks up, but I’m trying to build hype around a book that doesn’t come out until October. That is, I’m trying to build a marketing platform for a product that does not yet exist.
Do authors become successful because of a good social media platform, or does an author develop a good social media platform after being successful? I don’t know the answer to that question; I’ve seen both happen. I’ve seen both not happen. Again, if anyone has a formula for this stuff, please feel free to send it my way.
However, what I do know is that you can never hurt yourself by lining up more opportunities. Your social media platform may not be the effort that propels you to scintillating success, but it can play a part in how you get there.
Can you be an author without social media? Absolutely. Would I have been able to get where I am today without my social media connections? Absolutely not.
If I still haven’t convinced you and you’d like to see the lighter side of some nice people who do good things with the internet, please tune in at the end of the month for my interview with the folks of the MIDDLE GRADE BOOK VILLAGE. In the scope of networking, writing, and the literary community as a whole, this is an article you do not want to miss.
Well, I’m off to Romania to hunt vampires. Catch you on the flip side.
 If you have, I am so sorry. That sounds horrible.
 I mean, if you’re reading this article, you’re past that point, anyway.
 And trust me. I love this book.