by Sadie “Mother Horror” Hartmann
If it’s true what they say, word of mouth advertising is gold, then social media is your best friend.
Your annoying, obnoxious, embarrassing best friend. I get it. So many people weigh the pros and cons of maintaining a relationship with social media and find the consequences outweigh the benefits. I understand. I’m not writing this piece from a posture of downplaying the negativity in order to convince anyone that they can have a stress-free social media experience. I honestly don’t believe that’s possible. What I will do is unpack some of the ways writers can utilize various platforms by taking advantage of the strengths by locking down the weaknesses. As someone who has decent-sized platforms on Instagram and Twitter with access to analytics, I can provide valuable information supported by those numbers; what works and what doesn’t work broken down into ideas that are easy to assimilate and replicate.
A while ago, I tweeted that I was writing this article and I assigned homework. I told writers to check out Stephen Graham Jones’ blog DemonTheory.net
SGJ collects most of his social media mentions, articles, live events, speeches, awards, reviews, almost everything online pertaining to him and his work in separate, categorized blog posts. This is an extremely comprehensive resource for fans, journalists, and himself! This website can be used to source anything regarding SGJ’s writing career over the years.
This is the blueprint.
Writers starting out should one hundred percent replicate a version of these archives now while there isn’t too much to manage. Seasoned authors could do this work a little at a time to get caught up. Why? Because it’s worth it. Because you will have these links at your fingertips in a moment’s notice. Because when someone is doing an interview for you or writing a review or an article about you, this website/blog is information about you and your work controlled by the most important person, you! Google searches (HOMEWORK: Do a Google Search on yourself and see what happens) will yield results outside of your control, so take some of that ownership back and gather the links you think represents the body of your work. It helps if the website is functional and up-to-date. Bonus points if it is sleek and professional looking too.
Side Note: I cannot stress how important it is for all your links to work everywhere. Check your Goodreads profile, your social media bios, Your links to buy your books, all links you share should be checked and double checked. There is nothing more unprofessional than clicking on a link that is broken or redirects to something else entirely.
Professional Headshots/Author photos/Pictures:
I can’t stress how important it is to have some quality photos of yourself out there on the web. As someone who conducts a lot of interviews, makes graphics for YouTube events, blog posts, etc. I Google search authors all the time in order to grab something copyright free to use for various projects, write-ups and graphics so that I don’t have to reach out to the author and wait for a response. When I was making YouTube thumbnails for Celebrate Horror 2020 and 2021, I had to look up photos for fifty plus people and some of the results were extremely limiting. If you don’t have good photos of yourself out there, people will stalk your profiles and be forced to screengrab bathroom selfies, wedding photos, or your Twitter account picture. They are likely not going to ask you for a photo when the internet is at their fingertips so take back the control and make a file of headshots/photos and populate a blog post or your website with them. If you do an interview, attach a photo you like in the email correspondence so that they don’t hunt for one and the more unique SEOs out there publishing your photo, the better your Google Image results will be.
(HOMEWORK: Google Search “images” for ‘Author Mike Thorn’ or ‘Gwendolyn Kiste’)
If you Google the question, “What is Instagram” the answer will drastically change depending on the year. Instagram used to be a photo sharing app. A photo with a caption. It was a refreshing change of pace from Facebook users who were weary of a feed full of ‘hot takes’ and updates.
I’ve had a dedicated bookish account on Insta for five years; the golden years were between 2017-2019. My account grew by the thousands. I could post a photo and watch the notifications roll in as a result of an organic algorithm centered on order and not ‘importance’.
Influencers caught the attention of companies. Community hashtags like #bookstagram changed the way publishers launched promotional campaigns. Then Facebook bought the app and it all went to shit really quickly. In the last couple of years, in order to compete with TikTok, videos or “stories” began trending and now Instagram is a clusterfuck of photos and videos with half your audience split between the two. Is it worth a writer’s time to promote there? Three years ago? Yes. Now? I don’t know. It would be tough to build an audience on Instagram without doing videos, which is time consuming. My suggestion is if you are already there, stay. Do a mix of photo and video content and make use of a free promotional tool. If you’re not there, skip it. You don’t need it. The biggest benefit is just being there so that influencers can tag you in their photos (this is a good reason to have your author name as your username) and users can follow you or check out your link in your bio which should direct them to your website–having good photos of your books on your feed with a caption that details the plot or showcases blurbs/reviews is good. Don’t share actual links in comments or captions–nobody can or will take the time to copy & paste that into a browser and they are not hotlinked. You can only share links to your stories if you have 10K+ followers. You CAN host a giveaway through a willing influencer and those do pretty well–or an influencer that likes your work can host a cover reveal and share links in their stories. So if you have a relationship with someone who has a larger platform and they’re willing to boost your work, these are all good reasons to be there–some traditional publishers might require it.
Oh Twitter. So Twitter can feel like the trenches of Facebook but since a tweet has limited characters in which to work with, the heat is restrained to simmers and boils instead of full-on grease fires that will burn your house down. People try to do long tweet rants metered out into threads but honestly, I have yet to see those do big numbers unless you’re a verified pundit or celebrity.
Twitter provides some great tools in order to curate your feed and manage the chaos as best as you can but nothing can take the place of good ol’ self control. So if Twitter steals your joy, you can really just dip in and dip out for announcements or a quick tweet and then just retreat back to real life. I will caution that engagement, socializing, is an important aspect of social media so if you announce your book was optioned for a movie deal and nobody seems to care, it could be because you haven’t cared about anyone’s achievements either; works both ways. You get what you give in this case. Which brings me back to that curation. You can mute words that bring up triggering conversations/discussions. You can set notifications to show you relevant tweets from people you are interested in and you can mute mutuals that you are following that you are not interested in and nobody will be the wiser.
The best tweets are usually accompanied with a visual. For example, if you tweet an instagram or youtube link and the preview is a tiny box without an image, I promise you nobody will engage with it.
But if you link to a YouTube panel of authors you were a part of and you include the thumbnail graphic or a screenshot, people love that!
This Tweet earned more that 40K impressions because it had a hashtag, the tagged creator retweeted, it had a graphic and a lot of people could relate to it. It had 62 QTs where people shared their own, personal religious background and engagement with Midnight Mass. I also tweeted this close to the show’s debut when it was trending and a hot topic of conversation. This exact tweet wouldn’t do these numbers now.
The same sort of thing happened when I tweeted about going to see A Quiet Place 2 on opening night and tagged John Krasinski. He retweeted and commented on my photo of a big tub of popcorn in my lap at the theater. Ride the waves! It’s worth the engagement. I’m a firm believer in having a professional looking Twitter banner and changing it up often to reflect different things you’re promoting. If you’re promoting your 4th book release but your banner is about your debut novel from ten years ago, this is wasted retail space. Use it like a billboard! Advertise yourself.
I think authors need to know that people really do follow you on social media so they can keep track of everything you’re doing. I know that folks get uncomfortable about the ratio of self promotion versus everything else, but trust me, your audience doesn’t get bored of the promo–it is what we are there for, mostly.
Cynthia Pelayo has a great article about sharing yourself on social media so I won’t reinvent the wheel, I’ll just direct your attention to it so you can wrestle with your own, personal sense of boundaries and such, Managing a Professional Author Online Presence.
I have no clue what I’m doing on TikTok. I’m pretty much of no use to anyone when it comes to TikTok advice. All I know is that the algorithm is organic and anything has the potential to go viral. I’ve talked about this before but Stephanie of “Books In the Freezer” shared a video of some books that were difficult for her to get through and it went so incredibly viral, people were buying the books she mentioned left and right to the tune of thousands and thousands. Barnes & Noble has a display table at most locations that is dedicated to what books are trending according to influencer recommendations. This works in the negative direction too. I’ve seen authors suddenly get all this unwanted engagement over an issue pertaining to the book and it’s very upsetting to watch. There is this sense of entitlement that users demonstrate when commenting on a creator’s video; a demand for the creator to respond or perform. It’s extremely unsettling and I would hope that anyone signing up for a TikTok account knows that it can be a very vulnerable situation and to use the platform with eyes wide open to the potential hazards and privacy concerns. It does seem more volatile than Twitter or Instagram and more like Facebook but with a younger, more hostile crowd. That’s just my take away and subject to opinion.
The bottom line here is that an internet presence is there to support the craft. If it ever feels imbalanced or not worth the extra work/effort, it’s easy to walk away from it and switch to a different way to reach out to your fanbase, like newsletters, interviews or live guest appearances such as AMAs (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit, IGTV, YouTube, or Facebook. There really is a plethora of ways authors can interact with readers and build that fanbase–it is my strong opinion that anything free and easy to use should be utilized in some capacity. Self promotion is a huge part in making that leap from hobbyist to full-time career. A really good way to sort through the priorities is to filter everything through the lens of two different goals in every situation:
Am I trying to network/build relationships?
Am I trying to market/sell something?
The answer to these questions will serve the goal more effectively.
Let me know if this was at all helpful and feel free to engage with me on social media. I tweet about this subject all the time.