Social Media for the Socially Inept
If anyone had suggested to me five years ago that I would write an essay on how to use social
media I would have not only laughed but possibly run away. It's not that I don't know how to
behave socially. It's just that I am a naturally solitary person. One of the reasons I wanted to
become a writer was so that I could A) fund my habit of buying books and B) have an excuse to
go far from other people and spend time playing with pretend people in my imaginary worlds. I
like social contact, but just in limited doses, in smaller groups and in more intense conversations
than one generally gets in large gatherings. If I have to be in large groups at conventions or
writing conferences or at appearances of any kind, I work hard to make sure I get a break every
2-3 hours or I start to believe that everyone hates me (perhaps, at that point, they do).
I am a new convert to Twitter, Facebook and Tumbler. And surprise, surprise -- I love them all,
in varying degrees and for different reasons. I'm even on youtube! Yes, the person once voted
most likely to never have a photograph taken of her in adulthood. I have long been a blogger on
livejournal (for about 8 years now, I think). I originally got into blogging because my agent
suggested that it was a good way for writers to have contact with fans and to get new content up
on the web on a regular basis. He cautioned that of course, it was not for everyone and not to feel
obligated to blog if it didn't work, but he suggested it as a possibility for those who were willing
to try. I was extremely skeptical, but a couple of my agent's other clients were blogging and I
liked their blogs.
After a few glitches, I discovered that I enjoyed blogging. I used it as a warm-up in the morning
before I got started on the regular writing of the day. It was a good way to get the juices flowing
without feeling like the pressure was on to be creatively brilliant (never a good thing for a writer
to feel). I wrote about writing, but also about family, about triathlon and other races. There were
a few notable occasions when what I wrote was too personal, and I got some sharp responses. A
couple of other rather painful occasions, my agent or editor called me to ask me to take
something down that I had put up that was either offensive to the book-selling community or that
I was not yet allowed to advertise. I became wiser about double checking with them about when
I could make certain news public, and simply in general about what I wished to share, what
persona I wished to have on-line. I think at this point I have a good sense about what I blog
about and don't blog about.
- The writing process, what makes you crazy, what you love.
- Books you love. Other authors love it when their books get love and some will even send
you nice notes thanking you. Plus, readers of your works will want to know what you like
to read so that they can try it out. Chances are, if you liked it, they will, too.
- Your childhood. For a children's writer, this works especially well. It reminds me of
what it is like to be a teen, for example, and it gives teens a reference point when they
look me up. Not that I think I'm still a teen. I know the truth, that I'm old.
- Hobbies you are passionate about. I blog about triathlon, knitting, quilting, crocheting,
food, survival challenges, and sometimes these relate to writing, sometimes they don't.
Your fans and friends are actually as interested in all the things that make you a fully
rounded person, not just the ones relating to the book world. I find other writers introduce
me most frequently as "the writer who does Ironman" because it is unusual. What do you
do that's unusual?
- Almost anything that seems personal, but isn't really, like your favorite music, your
favorite treats, and so on.
- More personal topics if you can write about them passionately and dispassionately at
once. I've blogged about depression, about health and eating, about scholarships and AR
and No Child Left Behind (Which I fondly call No Child Allowed to Go Ahead). Don't
be a jerk. If someone disagrees with you, you don't have to respond. If you do, respond
coolly perhaps a day or so later, after you've had a chance to think about it. And since it's
your blog, you have the ultimate power. You can just delete the comment without any
repercussions at all. It is a delicious sense of power, really. All those people you hated in
high school, if they come on your blog, you can take away their words without having to
argue with them at all. (By the way, this is my advice in general for dealing with
obnoxious people on-line. Don't engage. It's never worth it. Never.)
Don't Blog About:
- Arguments with a spouse or other family member. Your argument is only for today. The
internet is forever.
- Your Amazon ranking. It's boring for one thing. It's crazy-making for you and others, for
- Specific examples of people who annoy you. These people may see your post on-line. It
has happened to me! If you must, don't name names or places and be as general as
- Books you hate (especially ones that are popular). This is dangerous because fans of that
book may end up getting angry at you and also because other authors are simply people.
You may meet the author whose book you panned on line and they read your review.
Now what are you going to do at that dinner party?
- Details of negotiation, including the final amount of a book deal. This should be obvious,
but it's not always to people who are not social aware, like moi.
- Books you have not yet sold. I know, I know, this is tempting. If you must do so, be
cautious. Do not offer titles or too many specifics. You will be surprised how many
people will email you in six months and ask you about that book they want to read that
isn't available yet.
- Your kids. I've worried if it's safe, but as my kids have gotten older I have found that
they don't want to read about themselves on-line from my point of view. I either ask
permission to do this or talk about specific children in veiled terms.
- Politics. Sorry, I don't blog about politics. Sometimes I do blog about things that might
just nudge against politics, and of course I know that Orson Scott Card does this. But he
can handle the backlash. I can't. I'm a wimp, so I simply avoid it.
On to other forms of social media. Facebook I originally got on so that I could monitor my teen
daughter's contact with other teens. It sounds a little silly now, but that was my original
intention. Before that, whenever a friend of mine tried to tell me about why she liked Facebook
and how she got sucked into spending time on it, I thought -- I don't have time for that. And
besides, if there were people in my life I wanted to spend time with, I would call them up on the
phone or meet them in person. I didn't need to do it on-line. Within about three months of being
on Facebook, I had sold two books to an editor I met up with again there. We chatted on
Facebook, and then on the phone and I pitched up some ideas, then sent her some books. I won't
give Facebook all the credit, and I don't recommend you get onto Facebook hoping for a book
deal. But good things do happen there.
You must decide for yourself once you are on Facebook what kind of "friends" you are going to
accept. It took me a few months to realize that I did not want to "friend" everyone who had read
a book of mine. Sorry to my fans, but for me, Facebook is a place where I connect with people
who know me and my family and to whom I can talk about my family. I occasionally talk about
book release dates or cross-post blogs that I think will interest family and friends, but Facebook
is not a place for me to shill. Actually, I don't shill anywhere really. But I do hide people who
annoy me on Facebook. I purposely leave Facebook to look up articles that are mentioned on
Facebook that I want to read because I don't want friends and family to have to wade through
articles on their news feed. I also have to hide people who go to Facebook to play games because
Facebook gives me an update on those games every ten minutes, which I don't care about. I want
people on Facebook to tell me about their actual lives, and perhaps post photos now and again. I
don't want links there to other cool places on the internet or to inspirational posters. This is my
peculiar preference, but that is part of what figuring out social media works for you. You need to
know what you are using it for and what you are not using it for. These are my choices and no
one will make the same choices I do. But think about it a little before you jump in all the way.
Twitter is a newer addiction. I probably spend more time on Twitter than on Facebook. Twitter is
the ultimate water cooler experience for me. Friends and family are not there at all. Instead, it is
a bunch of writers, geeks, and other professionals in the book world. Because you are required to
write in bits of 140 characters or less, this isn't the place for long arguments. It's a great place in
my view to see links to other places on the web of interest. A tag line and a short link allows me
to decide if I want to see more. It's all book-related stuff because that's what I choose for it to
be. OK, I admit I follow a couple of non-book related people, including Josiah Bartlett, Alan
Cumming, Lance Armstrong and David Tennant (or their incarnations, whoever writes tweets for
them). On Twitter, there is no reciprocity, so if someone wants to "follow" me, I don't have to
follow them in return. I follow who I want, they follow who they want, and if I decide not to
follow, there's no messy "unfriending." On Twitter, there is also no need to feel like you have to
"catch up," as I sometimes feel on Facebook. I only read what I want to read when I want to read
it. If I'm not "at work," i.e., down in my office at my computer, I'm disconnected. I don't miss
Tumblr I am still new to. I cross-post my livejournal blog to Tumblr and have for six or seven
months now. It is easier to post pictures and audio or video there than on livejournal in my
opinion, but it is also an enormous well of weird stuff. Like Twitter, and unlike Facebook or
livejournal, you don't have to friend others. You follow the blogs you want to follow and they
can follow you back -- or not. This isn't high school. It's the internet, where you can waste as
much or as little time as you want on such things. I know there are many, many writers who find
it dangerous to hang out on-line for too long. These writers do weird things (weird to me) like
unplug their internet access to get work done. I don't need to do this, probably because I am not
naturally particularly social. I can only spend a few minutes on Facebook or Twitter before I get
bored and go back to my book. I also think it is good for my emotional health and my profile as a
writer to hang out a little more on social networking sites than I would have a tendency to.
Not that you should feel obliged to use social networking as a tool, writer or not. Suzanne
Collins, author of The Hunger Games, is nowhere on the web that I can see. Neither is JK
Rowling. Social networking sites are not a guarantee of success in the publishing world. If you
go onto them thinking that this is your way to sell a book to an agent, to increase your book sales
on-line or in stores, you are probably going to be disappointed. You are definitely going to be
annoying, at least to me. I will unfollow you immediately if everything you post is about your
latest book, and not feel a moment's guilt about it. You can tell me that your book is out once or
twice. You can link to reviews. You can even quote a few bits and pieces. But you have to have
something else to talk about. You can't just be a robot trying to get people to buy your book. I
want to follow you on Twitter because you are interesting, funny, wise, or crazy in a nice way.
I am a different person on Twitter than I am in real life. I am a different person on Twitter than I
am on Facebook or on livejournal or Tumblr. I'm not sure how to describe the differences, but I
suppose it is like putting on a mask for a part in a play. I become "Author Mette Ivie Harrison"
instead of just plain old Mette. On Twitter, I say some pithy things about writing, occasionally
rant briefly about schools and teens, and talk about pop culture. On livejournal, I write about
authorly stuff, do interviews with other authors, have book recommendations every week, and
talk about triathlon. On Facebook, I occasionally update about my race schedule, about who is
where in the family, and may talk tangentially about politics and religion. On Tumblr, I am very
eclectic and do some of everything. As I said, I'm still figuring Tumblr out. On youtube, there
other than a couple of vlogs about my writing space and about my feelings on romance. There,
too, I am still experimenting.
In the end, if I have one piece of advice to give about social networking it's this: do it because
you like it or don't do it. Try it out just to see if you like it. If you don't, drop it. Your books
really can sell without it just fine. If you find yourself unable to write at the rate you used to
before you were on social networking sites, it may be a sign that you need to unplug. If you are
annoyed with more social contact than you want in a day, it's not for you either. But you can
figure it out, even if you are not socially adept. The great thing is that because it's on-line, you
can manage it much more carefully than you could manage a dinner party or a meeting in a bar at
a con. You can be witty all the time because you have time to figure out what to say. And while
you're waiting for the muse, you can get back to your real work, your writing.
Read more by Mette Ivie Harrison