Being a self-published author is very confusing. The problem isn’t a lack of advice, but too much, a lot of it conflicting. Social media is a good example. On the one hand you are told to prioritise and not waste time ‘playing’ social media when you could be writing your masterpiece. On the other hand you are told to build your platform and not publish anything until you have a ready-made audience.
Facebook is the way forward, or it is a waste of time.
Blogging is a time drain or a great way for people to connect with you, the author.
Twitter is a distraction or…
I joined Twitter in 2012 but had no idea why. A few friends had joined so I thought I would too. I saw it as a nice way of keeping in touch with certain celebrities I admired. I found – unsurprisingly – that a number of my favourite authors used twitter and started following them too. It was an eye-opener. Some were just as I imagined, others… less so. But I was amazed how many would interact with their readers. It seemed a great way for those already established to reach out to their audience, but for those of us less established? I wasn’t sure.
By the middle of March this year my book had been published for a couple of months and I had been blogging for a year. My Twitter followers had risen from a paltry 30 to a slightly more respectable 70, but for some reason people were not flocking to follow me. I’d been hash-tagging for all I was worth and would get the occasional retweet, but as a promotional avenue twitter seemed a dead end. When I looked at how other self-published authors used twitter I found a number with 20,000, 50,000 or over 100,000 followers; churning out tweets and retweets seemingly every minute of every day. Was this what I had to do to get the best out of twitter, turn myself into a promotional machine? I understood the concept – tell your message enough times to enough people, some are bound to bite – but it didn’t seem the right approach for me. It felt soulless and impersonal.
Then again, maybe there was something in their approach. I started looking up other authors on twitter and following them. I did this for 30 minutes a day because I was worried that it would become a time drain. Amazingly, many of the authors who I followed, followed me back. My follower numbers grew. Within a week I had a thousand followers, many of them authors like myself. This was great, until my timeline became filled by endless promotional tweets and seemingly mindless retweets by those that preferred the blunderbuss approach. What made this worse, I was losing any meaningful contact because of all that extra noise. This was a real shame because a number of people were contacting with me, giving me feedback on my blog, my tweets. Others were writing really insightful comments and sharing their writing experiences but I was missing them because of the noise.
That was when I discovered Hootsuite. It’s a website and app which allows you to create custom timelines from lists. For those that don’t know, lists are a way of grouping together followers within Twitter. I created two lists, one for friends and one for what I called “interesting people”. Within Hootsuite I was able to look at a twitter feed (or stream, as they term it) that contained only those tweets of the people on that list. If I looked at the “friends” stream only the tweets from those listed as my friends would be there.
It was wonderful. Instead of being like a bear watching thousands of salmon swim past, occasionally swinging out a paw in the hopes of catching a fish, I was able to identify those people who seemed interesting, and those that engaged with me. I discovered a wonderful writing community who supported and encouraged each other. I discovered wonderful bloggers. I helped and encouraged, and was helped encouraged back, by many people. And I also discovered new readers.
But calling these people new readers is a disservice. For authors, twitter has changed our relationship with readers. The term readers is too passive. Instead I got to feel what it was like to read my book through others eyes by receiving tweets like the following:
These wonderful tweets and others like them at a time when I was struggling to find the time and enthusiasm to finish the first draft of the follow up to Second Chance. They were the social media equivalent to 3 triple espressos. Instead of becoming a time drain twitter redoubled my energy levels and commitment to write.
I’m so glad I decided to give twitter a chance. It has been more rewarding than I could have imagined. If any author asks me whether they should use social media I would say yes. You can use it as a selling tool, but if you want to get real value don’t treat your followers as prospective customers, but as prospective friends. It’s much better for the soul.