Let me tell you a story about how I joined Twitter.
I didn’t join it at all.
In 2008, someone created a fake profile for me, photo and all, and started tweeting out my blog posts! People were replying to me and everything. Once I got wind of what was happening, I wrested control of the account and I grumpily determined it was time to succumb to that whole social media thing.
So yes. I now have ~92,000 Twitter followers and social media has since become the foundation of my entire career, but I can also relate to the deep reluctance some authors have to engage with social media, especially during a time when some of the social media platforms are in the news for less than savory business practices.
But take it from me: It pays to be active on social media. Even if you don’t want to.
It doesn’t have to be your life, it doesn’t have to be an endless time waster, and you can be active on your own terms. But you should have a good, solid social media presence if you want to raise your platform as an author.
Here’s a guide for social media for authors.
“Sure,” you might say, “Someone who had social media foisted upon them involuntarily in 2008 might have benefitted from it, but people like you had a 10 year head start! How could I possibly catch up?”
It’s never too late.
In many ways, social media is still in its infancy and there are always new accounts catching fire and plenty more people who don’t have wildly successful accounts but who benefit from simply being active.
“But wait!!” you might be protesting (I treasure our imaginary conversations), “I’m not a published author. I have nothing of value to tweet about.”
Not true. There are many unpublished authors who gained traction on social media by being super smart and engaging.
Camryn Garrett is Exhibit A. Over the last few years she posted such smart things and engaged with authors in such a genuine way that she was soon on nearly everyone’s radar in the publishing industry. She now has a hot book deal and she’s still a teenager!
There’s no time like the present. Get going.
Listen and learn
One of the most under-appreciated elements of being active on social media is that it’s a terrific tool for learning more about the publishing industry.
Follow the agents who represent your favorite books. Follow your favorite authors. Follow publishing experts. Participate in discussions.
You’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll come across interesting articles about the business and how much you’ll learn through osmosis.
Also, pay attention to what works on social media. Don’t necessarily imitate, it pays to be yourself, but think about what it is about popular accounts that is contributing to their success.
Find your niche and provide value
You don’t have to join and be active on every social media platform. You’ll likely go crazy if you try to do that, or you might suddenly wake up and find you’ve morphed into a Kardashian.
Instead, focus on the social media platforms you actually enjoy.
Better yet, if it’s important to you to build a following, think about the reason someone should follow you.
Most importantly: how are you providing value?
For instance, my following on Twitter has never really been about how witty or clever I am on Twitter. Instead, I’d wager most people follow me as a way of keeping up with my blog, which is my true social media “base.” That’s the real value I provide people.
Other people on social media are super witty and clever, some are master curators and share all the best articles, some people are very engaging and spark interesting conversations, some people are wildly stylish, some people have the best takes on popular reality shows.
Find your niche and stick with it consistently for a while, converse with other people in your area, and you’ll soon find your audience.
Twitter for Authors
If you want the pulse of the publishing industry, Twitter is the place to go. It’s where many important conversations are happening, it’s where agents and editors are tweeting their manuscript wish lists, it’s where people get into spectacularly heated arguments that make the War of 1812 look like a stroll through the park.
For the uninitiated, Twitter is essentially a stream of short posts. Twitter posts (“tweets”) are limited to 280 characters so there’s an incentive to be concise, punchy, and witty. You can “retweet” someone’s tweet, which pushes that tweet out to your followers — some tweets end up going viral and are retweeted tens of thousands of times. You can also share links, post a series of tweets in a “thread,” and share photos and videos.
Your experience on Twitter is almost wholly dependent on who you follow, so choose that list carefully. You can also click hashtags, where some conversations take place such as #MSWL (the aforementioned manuscript wish list), and see what’s trending.
More Twitter tips:
- Invest some time in choosing a good profile photo and a good cover photo and color scheme for your page. You’ll become almost synonymous with your profile photo because of the way it appears in peoples’ feeds, so choose wisely.
- A great way of meeting people and gaining followers is to reply to people you like and whose followers are people you’d like to follow you. Use that reply button! Converse freely.
- If you want to have an active feed but save some time, you can use a service like HootSuite or Tweetdeck to schedule tweets in advance. That way you can devote, say, an hour on the weekend and spread a bunch of tweets out throughout the week. Careful though, sometimes the mood on Twitter can change quickly when tragedies happen, and those scheduled tweets can stick out like a sore thumb.
- Think twice and even three times before tweeting. You can quickly become famous for all the wrong reasons if you say something you really shouldn’t.
- Don’t hesitate with the Mute and Block buttons. One of the downsides about using Twitter is that there are a whole lot of crazies out there who can pop into your feed and say horrible things. Block/report or mute those people, don’t reply, and don’t even hesitate to do it.
Some of the best authors and publishing types on Twitter include:
And some non-publishing types you should definitely follow:
Facebook for Authors
You probably know how Facebook works, and if you don’t know how Facebook works you probably have your own personal reasons for not being on Facebook.
So rather than explaining how Facebook works, let me focus on a key decision you need to make as an author: Whether to post as an author from your personal account or whether to start a separate Facebook page.
Personal Facebook accounts
This is your usual Facebook account, only if you are planning to be more public, you can set your profile to allow people to follow your public posts. This means you don’t have to friend anyone you don’t know — Facebook automatically adds anyone who adds you as a friend to your followers, and they’ll see your public posts (for instance, I have 821 friends on Facebook, who are people I know, but 7,946 followers).
If you want to post something to just your friends, you can choose that option before you publish the post:
On the other hand, if you want to keep your personal life totally separate from your book life, you can create a separate author page.
You’ll need to tend to your page separately from your personal account, which means if you want to share to both your friends and to your page, you’ll need to do it twice.
You can also set up pages for your individual books, which will allow people to “like” those pages, and they may show up on their profiles.
So which one should you use?
Pros and cons of profiles vs. pages
The benefits of using your personal profile include:
- Facebook favors personal posts in the news feed, meaning more people are likely to see your posts if they’re from your personal profile rather than your public page. (This difference has been especially noticeable lately)
- You only have one place to manage, as opposed to remembering to check two different places on Facebook.
- Mark Zuckerberg uses his own personal profile when he wants to broadcast stuff widely instead of a page. Enough said.
The benefits of having a separate page include:
- You can place ads using your author page, plus you’ll have access to additional analytics tools
- You can add other people to help you manage your account, and you’ll have additional functionality like the ability to schedule posts.
- If you’re using a third party tool like HootSuite, you can also schedule posts from there.
More Facebook tips:
- Facebook is all about engagement. The more people who like, comment and share a post, the more likely other people are to see that post. And the more someone interacts with you, the more likely they are to see your future posts. In other words: optimize for engagement.
- Because engagement is so important, you don’t have a whole lot of incentive to post all the time. But it does pay to stay active. Try to post at least once a day.
- If you have a blog, make sure your posts share properly on Facebook. Paste a link into the Facebook debugger and see if there are any errors. If there are, fix it or get some tech support ASAP.
Some of the best authors on Facebook include:
Instagram for Authors
An image and video platform? For books?
Authors are great on Instagram too, and it can be an awesome way to convey your personal style and taste. Lately, authors have also been using Instagram Stories to connect more directly with their readers and potential readers. (Stories are essentially short videos and annotated photos that can be strung together to create a nice little personal narrative).
One drawback to Instagram is that it’s harder to drive traffic to your blog or author page, but if you’re looking for engagement, Instagram is an awesome place to find people.
More Instagram tips:
- Use hashtags and locations wisely if you’re trying to build your audience. People really do look at those and even follow some of them.
- Cultivate your style and try to make your images fit cohesively together. If your profile is eye-catching when people visit it, they’ll be more inclined to follow.
- Comments are a great way to be noticed! Pick a few accounts you like and engage.
- Doesn’t hurt to have a cute pet. Just saying.
Some of the best authors on Instagram include:
This post could go on endlessly so I’m just going to focus on the Big 3, but rest assured there are thriving publishing communities and authors on Tumblr, Snapchat, discussion forums (including mine)… you name it.
And if you like those platforms the best… go for it! There’s no right or wrong way to go about this. I do think it makes sense to at least have a public profile on Twitter so people can reach out to you if they need to, but beyond that, just go with what feels right.
Along those lines…
Be genuine and have fun
If there’s anything I can leave you with it’s this: social media is social.
Seems simple, and… it really is. Social media is all about what you make of it. If you’re having fun, chances are your followers will have fun. If you’re not having fun, take a break!
I’ve met some of my best real life friends through social media, it’s become a guiding light in my career, and I’ve had a ton of fun.
So… THANK YOU to the person who started my fake Twitter profile and forced me to join. I had no idea what a wonderful ride it would be.
Need help with your book? I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.
Art: Bal du moulin de la Galette by Auguste Renoir
Rachel capps says
Really useful information, thanks for blogging about this!
norman luxton says
“Follow the agents who represent your favorite books…” More info about how to do that, please: how do I find Annie Proulx’s or Alice Munro’s agent?
Nathan Bransford says
As a general rule, if Googling fails, check the acknowledgements sections of books – authors often thank their agents there. Otherwise, if you’re a member of Publishers Marketplace you can search deal announcements and you might be able to find the information there.
I’m just starting to follow authors on Instagram (Daniel Kraus and David Arnold) and am enjoying it.
Thanks Nathan. This is really useful information. Unfortunately, my Twitter presence has de-evolved into posting criticism of President Trump. Must stop creating potential powerful enemies..
Anne Carroll says
Great info, thanks!
Bryan Fagan says
I finally took to twitter in January. I am surprised how much fun it is. It is my style of communication. I was called a rock star by another writer. My ego was sky high. Still is. 🙂
Social media is huge. We need to accept it and embrace it. You are so right when saying follow your niche. That right there is the bottom line.
Holland C. Kirbo says
Thanks, Nathan! This is great information and really helpful. I took the plunge into Twitter last summer and to my surprise, have found it an enjoyable experience. It takes time, but it has a great author community and lots of supportive people.
Thanks for the info. I don’t think I’ve ever read such info all in one place and concisely arranged. Wonderful. But I had to laugh. You said social media doesn’t have to be your whole life. And then you went on to say exactly how life arresting (well, it seemed like it) all the steps are and how many things you need to pay attention to. I have friends who love to write, and they are quite good at it, but hate thinking about all the other nonsense that comes with selling books nowadays. Because they are old, tired, or have many pressing “business of life” duties. It’s not at all like the old days when you merely had to be an awesome writer, get an agent, said agent makes sale, and the publisher did all the promotion where author shows up for arranged book talks and signings. Now the author has to wear all those hats and make all arrangements, with the addition of social media, even when a publisher picks you up. James Michener wrote a novel entitled, The Novel, in which he lays out the 4 steps of becoming a noteworthy author. None of which, of course, included the merits of social media, because it was published decades ago. I fully realize that social media is necessary today, but I’m thinking holy cow! And wondering how many wonderful authors would have ever achieved national and international acclaim if they were also responsible for their own social media promotion. Ernest Hemingway? On Twitter? He might have done himself in even earlier. Not a complaint, really. Just an interesting comparison. And yes, I really do have friends who aren’t able to, for whatever reason, grapple with social media in order to promote their books. I hear about it all the time. You can’t just be a terrific writer anymore; you have to be everyone and everything.
Nathan Bransford says
Hemingway was an incredibly canny self-promoter. He would absolutely be on Twitter if he were alive today.