Saturday, 1 March 2014

Social Media and Authors: Participation and Presence

The importance of social media for writers continues to be a hot topic and is one of the aspects we'll discuss in How to Publish and Market your Book, the day course I'll be running with Ali Luke at Trinity College, Oxford on 10th May (see the Fictionfire website for more details - there's an early bird discount price until March 16th). Here's the article I wrote for Writers in Oxford last autumn after attending a fascinating discussion where the speakers were Simon Rosenheim of Imago, and Dan Holloway, who is such a superb spokesman for indie publishing.


Dan Holloway at last year's London Book Fair
‘They pay you, they forget about you and about five years later return your rights to you,’ says Simon Rosenheim of Imago, a publishing solutions company, talking about the traditional model of publishing. Cue battle-weary grins from assembled writers in an upstairs room of St Aldate’s Tavern on October 2nd. Simon describes the old throw-money-at-it-and-see-if-it-will-stick approach to marketing before he and creative polymath, poet, publisher and performer Dan Holloway show us the benefits of using social media to create our online presence. This, as Simon says, leads to publicity which is both free and targeted - and therefore more efficient.

This is great news – and I think we all know it. The problem for us as writers, though, is how to target it. Oh, and the effort of it all! Simon (who, ironically, is on neither Facebook nor Twitter) discusses how you need to be active and engaged, but able to recognise when you don’t want to devote any more time to it. At that point you can walk away – or hand the management of your social media presence to a professional. He reviews the unfathomable mysteries of Google algorithms, shape-shifting, unpindownable things that they are. I’m unsettled to hear that the keyword-selection technique no longer guarantees Google will pay much attention to you. Take that, you SEO spammers in my inbox!

Dan describes how he wrote a novel on Facebook and how his following helped him to sell many copies in Blackwell’s. His multifarious activities are proof that you can create a significance presence through social media. He demonstrates Twitter in action, projecting his Twitter-stream onto a screen, telling us to ‘think of Twitter as a big party and what you have to do is find your group of people’. (Some parties, though, are populated with crashing bores or look-at-me poseurs. So it can be with Twitter.)

One member of the audience spots that his Tweets probably amount to 300,000 words - couldn’t he have been writing books instead? Dan stresses how prolific he is in other areas and claims only to spend half an hour a day on Twitter. If that’s the case, I’m going to have a private chat with him: I love both Facebook and Twitter, but the latter is the biggest time-suck known to man.

The secret is management. Dan shows us hashtags and lists as ways of managing the endless stream of tweets. He claims that ‘there’s something wonderfully serendipitous about Twitter’. That’s so true: through social media you hear about events and make friends and connections in a randomly exciting way. It builds organically. Through Facebook and Twitter, I’ve found digital greetings often lead to personal meetings. Advice is sought and given, opinions shared, heads shaken in despair, congratulations offered. As Dan says, on social media ‘the real and the digital meet’. Whether you’re independently or traditionally published, you can’t allow it to rule your life – but you shouldn’t rule it out of your life, not if you’re an author in search of a readership. When you do a deal with a publisher, they’ll be looking for you to set up your Twitter-list anyway …

Now, I’m off to investigate the possibilities of Pinterest …

Lorna Fergusson is socially present at and and @LornaFergusson on Twitter.

Dan Holloway is on Twitter at @agnieszkasshoes and on Facebook at . He has blogged about social media and community building at 
His latest book is Self-publish with Integrity: Define Success in your own Terms and then Achieve It

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