During the past few years of writing online — mainly nonfiction — I made several attempts to do social networking, with about the same level of enthusiasm as I approached doses of cod liver oil as a kid. Do I hafta? So not-me. If I was well socially integrated would I spend most of my time alone writing the stuff of nightmares? Or taking prolonged journeys to otherwhen? Whose idea was it that authors need to engage in ongoing self-promotion? This bites.
I’ve had to overcome this initial turn-off. The endless spew of ads on social networking platforms hasn’t helped.
After multiple false starts, I began to get the hang of it. Reading interviews and posts that led me to realize I don’t have to self-promote, I can engage, got me over the attitude issues.
Social Networking Breakthrough
Engaging on social networks remains a challenge, because I have the social impulses of an asocial mole rat. Yeah, I wrote an article on mole rats. That’s another thing I do that involves not having to deal with other people too much. Yet, I felt this major sense of relief and lightening up with that realization that engagement may trump the hideous practice of flogging product, and now I pop on Twitter and Goodreads and feel much more at ease posting whatever I feel like and following who I want to and unfollowing as needed.
Unfollowing is crucial on Twitter or you end up with a feed crammed with auto tweet ads. Many people haven’t gotten the clue train that spamming the feed isn’t appealing behavior. It’s the online equivalent of shoving your book in the face of each person several times in a row at every opportunity.
My followers on Twitter and Goodreads have multiplied — so handy to send invites to all my Twitter followers with one click! and my Klout score is above average, which seems pretty good given that “Bat Hughes” didn’t exist a year ago. It probably helps that I linked accounts where I’ve been active under another persona for years. My reach on Google+ is tiny so far. I’m late to it, and maybe I don’t grok it.
From Solitary Writing to Growing a Network
An online friend introduced me to the concept of interlinking years ago, and I think it’s an effective way to increase your online reach. You link your websites, profiles and social networking accounts to each other as much as possible. It’s easy and takes only minutes. Not only does this make it easier for potential readers and other allies to find you, it can help your Google ranking. I discovered I can put my WordPress blog feed on Goodreads and Google+. That was a fast and gratifying process. Likewise, I added my Twitter feed to my Amazon author page.
When I sprang for my website domain, I was happy to have established social networking platforms to add to it. The theme I chose allows a translucent band of social networking icons on the home page that link directly to my profiles on each site.
Social Networking for the Shy
One way to deal with the stress of public presentation is to have a persona do it. That’s why Bat Hughes came to be.
I was so shy, and so intensely in need of a way of coping, that by the time I was in junior high I was making myself take acting, speech and choir classes. Masochistic, yet effective. I even joined an after school junior high drama group called the Thespians. That’s funny now, but it took courage. Many of us were social outcasts. One of us committed suicide and that still haunts me.
I continued this strategy of training myself to interact with groups and perform in public through the first semester of high school. Then I asked my guidance counselor to help me get out. I took the California High School Proficiency Exam and transferred to my local junior college, sparing myself the remaining 2 1/2 years I would have had to do time in high school. I’d discovered the bars in my early teens, and have always preferred older friends, so the social adjustment to college wasn’t nearly as challenging as remaining in that backward high school environment would have been. I majored in drama.
All my life I’ve used the skills I learned from acting. They’ve seen me through working in teaching, hospitality, sales and other weird things I’ve done for money. Oddly enough, learning to put on a character and do what has to be done works for presenting yourself in contexts where there’s no live audience. There’s still an audience, whether it’s the twitterverse, your blog readers, potential readers for your books, other writers, allies — editors, reviewers, publishers, bibliophiles of all kinds.
My persona remains honest, it’s simply a role I take on to do things that normally make me squeamish, such as interacting with people in public, discussing my work, hell, anything that doesn’t involve being by myself in peace and quiet.
Social Networking Results
The best result of this experiment so far is an increase in active followers on Twitter — the ones who retweet and reply.
The business part of my brain grasped a point years ago, that who you’re reaching matters more than the numbers — the point is to reach your audience. To that end, after the first flush of seeking out writers and others in horror, science fiction, dark fantasy, mystery and entrepreneurial types, I started watching for readers and reviewers.
I followed advice to set all this up before publishing a book. The downside is that at times it feels silly. I expected to have more pro sales to report.
As in all my entrepreneurial adventures, if I wasn’t capable of pretty absurd levels of optimism, not to say self-delusion, I’d never get anything done. So I forged ahead, creating an author platform for happy events that haven’t happened yet.
Despite feeling self-conscious and disappointed, I still believe that building a platform in advance is worthwhile. It takes time to build connections. If I waited for a major breakthrough, I’d have to start from zero. Now all I need is something to announce.
Okay, a little good news for 2014: being included in Apokrupha’s Vignettes from the End of the World, and a review of my first eBook, The Animals of London, on Amazon.
A few people even bought the first episode of Vampire Madam, despite the fact that it’s a short story about vampires and every few days someone needs to announce that vampire books are over. So I don’t have to go out in the yard and eat worms. Remember that song about the worms crawling out of your mouth? That’s what I hear when I become discouraged. Anyone know what movie that’s from?
A few unexpected pleasures in social media: I like helping people and publishers whose work I enjoy reach more potential readers, viewers, listeners and so forth. I like discovering writers, photographers, artists and other talented people who might not otherwise have come to my attention. I like the growing diversity and international influences I’m finding through this adventure. Okay, more optimism — busted.
Still, my world is growing, and for someone capable of spending days at a time alone, that’s a good thing. Making more steps toward supporting the small publishers who are publishing short fiction and novels in horror, science fiction fantasy and spliced genres has been one of my favorite parts of the adventure. The little I made selling fiction last year I spent at small presses. Tiny thing, yet a good one.
Oh, and the first time a major writer I admire followed me on Twitter it made my day. Still does, when I get a follow anywhere from writers, editors and publishers whose work matters to me. Some of these may be autogenerated or managed by other people, yet I choose to enjoy a sense of connection.
People I’ve never heard of often add bits of fun, mind-expansion and kindness to the Twitter adventure — that’s one of the things that keeps me at it when the relentless buy-me shrieks have me wondering if I ought to ditch social networking altogether. So:
Thank you to everyone who takes the time to create thoughtful, entertaining and worth-reading posts and responses on social media. I couldn’t do it without you.
A bow to George Takei for being entertaining and awesome on Twitter. Now that’s how it’s done. Yes, that George Takei. From Star Trek.
Resources to Learn How Authors Use Social Media:
An inspiring interview with author Mike Jung. He wrote the middle-grade fantasy Geeks, Girls and Secret Identities. His approach changed my view on social media.
Ellis Shuman provides an excellent example of thoughtfulness and valuable content on Twitter. His books include the Bulgarian novel Valley of Thracians and the short story collection The Virtual Kibbutz. I discovered how to find and drop unfollowers and many other helpful tips from this post:
Veteran marine Lofthouse’s post has a wealth of insights on using Twitter. He’s the author of the novels Running With the Enemy and My Splendid Concubine. His post inspired me to show appreciation to new followers and people who retweet by sharing their content instead of trying to thank everyone in tweets. After the initial pleasure of being thanked a few times, those endless lists of thank yous begin to be more clutter to wade through to get to the few bits of material on Twitter that have value.
“I almost never thank anyone for retweeting my tweets. Instead, I visit their Twitter page and RT something interesting they tweeted—if I can find something interesting.” — Lloyd Lofthouse
Food for thought, if you’re looking for more engagement on social media. Go forth and be valuable.