Do Fiction Writers Need to be on Social Media?

Does chocolate cake need icing? Does my dog need doggie treats? Do children need playgrounds? Um, no to all, but they’re nice. Seriously, why wouldn’t you do everything you possibly can to get yourself noticed? Are you committed to getting an agent or will you sit in your drafty attic loft, starving, alone, miserable, agentless, with a manual typewriter, but knowing you’re a “real” writer? I mean, I happen to like my chocolate cake sans icing, with just a sprinkling of powdered sugar. Some agents say, “Don’t bother. I don’t even look at author blogs.” So you might ask yourself, “So why should I bother?!” Well, because not all agents say that.

I don’t give my dog doggie treats because she’s too fat and doesn’t listen to me anyway. But after reading an interesting query, I go straight to the author’s website or blog to “see” who they are. If there’s nothing listed, I google them. Yup. I do.

“The voice of a novel is a fictional voice. Therefore, the novelist doesn’t need a platform,” one of my blog followers opines. (Hi Megan! Thanks for the e-mail!) And I think city children do need playgrounds because they suffer from a lack of greenspace and outdoor time but I rarely took my own kids to playgrounds because we live near the beach and quite a few nature preserves. I say the authors behind the fictional voices can benefit from a little platform to stand on.

Is being on Twitter, hearing what editors are saying, listening to agents tweet, going to hurt you? If the answer is yes, than definitely stay off Twitter. But if it will help you in your query process or in your writing, than skulk and/or participate in the conversation. In this competitive industry give yourself every advantage you can, for crying out loud.

If you’re going to play in the social media playground, don’t use it as an excuse not to write though. Put up a website with some basic information about yourself and walk away and work on your manuscript. Or, if you’ve got some discipline, start blogging a little. For fun. So you know how. So if an agent or editor does want more information about you we have something to see.

It’s like a good college application essay. When so many high school kids have 104% averages, perfect or near perfect scores on their SATs, enough community service hours to put flush toilets in all of India and leadership positions in all the right places, how does the college admissions office decide who to let in? They look at what stands out about the student. When I have 276 queries in my inbox and there are a number of manuscripts that all look promising, yet I’m being extremely selective in my offers of representation, how do I know who to choose? The author who has a smart or funny or interesting or quirky blog or website or Twitter feed, that’s who.

But that’s just me. I mean, I prefer powdered sugar to buttercream on my chocolate cake after all.

What playgrounds do you play in, actual or virtual? 

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16 Comments

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16 responses to “Do Fiction Writers Need to be on Social Media?

  1. I admit it, I have a bit of a love affair with the social networking world. I started blogging a year ago (after years of thinking about it) and I love it. Maybe it’s because I always wanted to be a newspaper columnist — it was kind of my own personal column. The side I didn’t expect was the connection with other writers; I’ve made so many friends through my blog that I can’t imagine giving it up. Between that and Twitter, I’ve entered a community of wonderful writers. I love it. I also am on FB (mostly because of my college age kids), but I also dabble in Goodreads, Google+, Stumbleupon, Klout, and most recently Pinterest. There’s just SO MUCH — but lately it all seems to be the same people from my community and so it’s all good!

  2. From all that I’ve read online and in print, I definitely think social media is a necessary for getting the word out about any type of book – fiction, non-fiction or even for the coffee table book I’m working on.
    I spoke with a highly respected PR person today about possibly have them do the PR for my book. When they were done asking their questions, I asked, “What about using social media?” Unfortunately they weren’t aware of the power it has; they did not know a Facebook page could be used to promote a book.
    The next publicist I spoke with knew social media was important and highly recommended a particular company’s site to use social media to promote my book.
    Linda, thanks for confirming what I have been thinking – social media is the icing on the cake.

  3. The playground analogy is apt. Social media is a place to connect and kick back when you need a break. It’s the writer’s water cooler. Like the playground, it’s a place to make new friends, not just build an audience. I’ve met people through Facebook, Twitter and my blog who I’d never have met in real life. While they’re potential readers they’re so much more.

    I found a beta reader through Twitter and received character name suggestions from Facebook friends. I’ve turned a well-received tweet or status update into fodder for a blog post or newspaper column. I’ve found these communities to be generous and supportive, filled with reader friends who’ll jump up to give you a push at the top of the slide. Wheeeee!

  4. Forgot to add earlier, writing is a solitary endeavor for the most part, and when you take part in blogging or twitter, eventually you’re going to bump into your own kind, which is nice.

    In the end, hopefully it will help (crosses fingers) something I have written to sell and help my agent (again crosses fingers since query 1 will be sent in next few months)sell more books,but also somehow along the way all the blogging and tweets helped me find a new group of friends.

  5. I love social media. Facebook has let me reconnect with lots of old friends, and stay connected with friends and family who live far away. Twitter has given me access to all sorts of people in the industry — writers, illustrators, editors, agents, booksellers, librarians and reviewers. Even when I’m not engaging with them directly, listening in on what they’re saying has taught me a lot about the business. I started blogging because it seemed like the easiest way to have a website. Turns out I really enjoy writing in the short-essay format, putting my words out there, and getting instant feedback.

    Having said all that, social media are among the best productivity killers I have ever experienced. Jumping between windows while trying to write makes it just about impossible to concentrate. And it’s way to easy to fall into the trap of telling myself, “I’ll start working right I check Facebook.. Twitter… etc.” and pretty soon the morning is gone and I’ve got nothing to show for it.

    Lately I’ve learned to turn off the ringer on my phone, close all my internet windows, and do nothing but write for an hour or two. I have been amazed at how easy it is to write when the distractions are eliminated. Going back online is the reward I give myself after I’ve worked for the allotted time.

  6. Megan

    ps. Of course it takes a whole village to create a beautiful book — not just the writer. But that’s why I feel each collaborator should perform the role they are absolutely best at performing. I’m not great at blogging, because I tend to rant about things that annoy me in that particular genre, and I feel like it sends out a lot of negativity. Instead, I’d rather use a rant-idea to develop a character and show how the situation or behavior leads to downfall.

    My $.01 extra…. 😀

  7. Megan

    Thanks for this post, Linda!

    I love social media when it enriches my life. What bothers me is the lack of control of privacy, which sometimes feels a bit scary.

    The other thing I don’t like is the idea that writers are “hiding” if they aren’t on Facebook. That feels like a really evangelistic perspective (i.e. people are “hiding” or “unaware” if they aren’t Christian, Muslim, Hindu, etc.) I think some writers and create professionals simply prefer to spend more time off the computer, off their arses, and out in the world really moving around and connecting with people. Personally, I got off Facebook for about ten days and was amazed at my increase in productivity, how many people I (really) met, how many events I attended, and how happy I felt. I of course missed the circus and the interactions with friends, but my life felt full and complete.

    I also find myself really drawn to authors with an element of mystery: Joyce Carol Oates, Cormac McCarthy, Tom Wolfe…these are writers who really live off the internet grid and their work speaks for itself.

    I guess I’m in the middle — I want the work to speak for itself and I want to spend MOST of my time writing a book, then the next book, etc. Marketing and promoting is a natural part of the process, and I did that with my non-fiction book. But I’m also a big, big fan of letting the agent do the agent-work, the publisher do the publisher’s work, and the fiction writer staying in that space that is necessary to continue writing vibrant, beautiful books.

    My $0.02! Thank you again for yours!

    -Megan

  8. I might be partial because I teach social media for writers, but there are paradigm shifts that will take something that “once was a nice extra” and make it a requirement. For instance, in 1985, if you knew how to use a computer you could name your salary because solid computer skills were so rare. Now? When any five-year-old can use a computer and navigate the web? We can’t get a job at Wal Mart without some basic computer skills.

    Guarantee you that social media is the same. Now? When people are moaning and groaning and don’t want to learn to blog or tweet? No, it isn’t mandatory. But there are a lot of hungry indies who understand the need to go after readers where they live…on Facebook. The competition is getting steeper and there are many indie authors who are just as talented as the trad counterparts (in the writing dept.), only they work harder and they are hungrier. In five years, those who don’t have a social platform will be a sad anachronism from another time and as professionally competitive as a job applicant who cannot open e-mail.

  9. I use social media for a variety of reasons. The most obvious and common reason to use different platforms is to stay connected with friends, but for the past year or two I’ve really been using it to explore the publishing world. I’ve read a number of articles that are helpful, funny, clever, or honest that have probably shaped me as a student and a writer in some way. For the past few months, I’ve been using Twitter and Facebook (and just recently, my blog) to promote the start-up literary magazine I work on with my peers. I’ve even been sharing these articles or videos that I’ve read or seen to our magazine’s followers. I think it’s important to use social media (be it Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, WordPress [or any blog site], and even Pinterest) to discover what another person (or company) is about.

  10. Right now I’m on the outside of the playground looking in. I feel like the super shy child–always afraid the other kids won’t want to play with me. I’ve completed my first manuscript and haven’t done anything with it. Maybe it’s because writing has always been an intensely personal exercise for me. I love to write and yet have never considered myself a writer. If I start a blog, who’s going to read it? Am I that interesting? Does anyone care about what I have to say? I’ve joined some writer sites and read their blogs about publishing and agents and writing styles, but I come out more confused. I don’t know how to make myself stand out in all this. Do I self publish? Do I look for an agent? I feel like the playground has too many sandboxes and I don’t know where I fall in all this. Frankly, I feel like I’m lost in a sandstorm.

    • Everyone has a different learning style, Lorraine. Watching before participating is totally valid, if that works for you. But once you go into the playground, play with what you like! Don’t go on the swings if what you like is the slide. Maybe you want to just put up a website, with some pertinent information about yourself, what you write, why you write it, where you are in your journey? Then, when you eventually start to submit, I’ll have something to look at! And taking baby steps is fine! Like commenting on this blog. Well done. You’ve dipped your feet into the kiddie pool. Now you can take the next step (or dive).

  11. I wrote a newspaper column (literally called “Rhonda”) for five years, so I’m used to people being all up in my business and having some level of access to the real me. But I absolutely get how uncomfortable it can feel, especially at first, for writers of fiction to put themselves up for review. Some people write fiction to escape their reality.

    Blog, twitter, and facebook stalking really did help me land the best new agent on the scene, though, I think. And she probably stalked back a little, to make sure I’m not a complete weirdo. Or to make sure I’m just weird enough.

  12. TheOthers1

    I blog regualarly and for the longest time have actually been using my site to write my stories. I haven’t thought about the necessity of being on sites like twitter or blogging to use aS platforms for a lot of reasons. A) I’m just starting to get serious about my writing so thoughts of people seeing my work through those forums hadn’t crossed my mind and B) I’m already on there, but don’t see myself using certain ones as a platform. I guess I look at my twitter page as a place to vent about other things, like my students. Perhaps I should think a bit more deeply on this as I work on completing some manuscripts. Thanks for the advice. 🙂

  13. Well said. It’s completely reasonable for an agent to want an author who will partner with them in wanting to sell books. Like the analogy you painted of the starving artist in the attic, books simply do not sell themselves. A little “oomph” is needed.

    For those who argue against social media, I tell them it is the way for the reader to fully connect with the work and writer. People are passionate about their favorite authors (I am) and this is a great way to add a deeper dimension to the book you created while typing away in the proverbial attic.