by Eric Smith

As a literary agent, I’m lucky enough to go to a lot of writing workshops, where I usually dish advice about one of two things: query letters or social media. When it comes to social media and publishing, digital platforms have a special place in my heart.

After all, Twitter played a big role in how I got discovered for my first publishing job, when the lovely team at Quirk Books reached out after noticing the brand I’d cultivated for myself. I also found author Samira Ahmed via a Twitter pitch event, and after signing her as a client and selling her debut, Love, Hate & Other Filters, it went on to become a New York Times bestseller.

So yeah, I’m a bit biased. But I’ve seen the good social media can do for a career firsthand.

So, let’s spend a little time together talking about how you can use social media as an author. Because the work starts long before the book sale — and it’s not all about selling books, despite what you may have heard.

1. Community over sales

This is the social media hill I will die on. Using Twitter is great for getting the word out about your book. But if all you’re doing is tweeting or posting your Amazon link again and again… nothing is going to happen. That’s not how you get sales and that’s not how you should be using social media to engage with the book world.

Instead, use social media as a means to:

Get involved in the writing community.

Get to know other writers. Talk to industry people. Meet booksellers and librarians. Even if you don’t have a book out yet or a deal in place, laying the groundwork here is so important — not just for future sales and support, but for the emotional benefit of finding your people in this quirky publishing landscape.

Use as a tool of endearment to connect with readers.

Okay, I realize saying something like “tool of endearment” makes me sound like some kind of heartless start-up bro, but here’s what I mean.

As an avid reader myself, when I look at my bookshelves at home, there are certain books I refuse to give away or let people borrow. These books are by authors I’ve become close with on social media. They’re the authors I’m most vocal about, whose books I push when I write the occasional freelance post or appear on a podcast.

Through interactions on social media, these authors have become endeared to me. And that level of personal connection is something no publisher or advertisement can buy you. It’s an emotional connection.

So use social media to communicate with your readers — your community. Respond to their tweets and their emails. Ask for their opinions, and run the occasional Ask Me Anything (AMA). That close tie will make them your fiercest advocates.

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2. Share, don’t make it all about you

But how do you start to engage with the community? How do you get book people interested in what you’re saying and what you’re all about? By sharing.

Look, no one wants to hang out with that person at a party who is only talking about themselves. You know that person. They make every office party about them. We’ve heard the story of your vacation like a dozen times, Chet. Let someone else talk.

Share blog posts. Advice. Dish about what you’re reading. Make recommendations. Tweet articles that are interesting. Boost up other people.

If it’s all you, all the time, it is going to be hard to build a following.

3. Scheduling is your friend

“But I don’t have time to tweet and read Twitter all day! I’m writing!” Alright, cool. You do you. But these days, readers expect to get updates from their favorite authors online. For those of you wrestling with the time constraints of figuring out when to share stuff, there are so many great tools that help do this for you.

Hootsuite and TweetDeck are great examples of Twitter tools that will let you schedule stuff out.

Me, I’ll schedule tweets out a week in advance. Links to articles and blogs I’ve found interesting. I’ll usually do this on a Sunday evening, and it keeps my Twitter active all week, even if I’m busy with work.

4. Understand social media is a long con

So, you’re following the right people and you’re tweeting out great pieces. You’re recommending good books and getting involved in discussions. But you still only have a handful of followers.

Social media is a long con. It takes a while to build your audience, your followers. Remind yourself you’re in this for a long haul, and it’s okay if you only have a few hundred folks following you. It’s a start, and that’s just fine. In my experience, it’s better to have a few followers who care about what you’re saying and meaningfully interact with you than to have dozens of followers who are just a number above your bio.

5. Use the tools you’re comfortable with

I get it. It can be a lot to manage a presence on multiple channels, like Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, Snapchat… and not all of them might be for you. My Facebook fan page for my author life gets so little love, because I know that’s not where my strength lies. After fiddling around with some of these social media tools, determine what works best for you. If you just can’t bring yourself to use one organically, it’s okay to let it go.

I’ve signed up and given up on Snapchat more times than I’ve attempted and given up going to the gym. And that’s a lot of times.

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It’s okay to focus on your strengths, both in your writing and in your digital platform tools of choice.

6. Platform exists outside of social media

If you’re writing nonfiction, you’ve likely heard the “platform” talk from every article on the internet and speaker at a conference. If you’re wrestling to figure out how to handle social media, if it’s a tool you’re just not a master of, that’s okay. Remember, the concept that platform exists outside of social media.

Speaking engagements. Freelance articles. Writing and publishing essays. Recommending books on discovery sites like BookBub. All of that counts as platform, just as much as having some blue checkmark on Twitter does.

So relax. There are other ways to prove you’re an expert, other than your numbers on social.

7. Show readers you appreciate them

There are a lot of ways to treat your readers using social media, which will only help with the whole endearment factor we talked about a little earlier.

Offer exclusive content on your social media channels. You know those moments when you’re promoting yourself? This is what you should be doing (as opposed to just sharing Amazon links). Maybe you’re sharing an excerpt or a sneak peek of some upcoming cover art. Or maybe you’re reposting fanart readers have sent you.

And try to find small, non-promotional ways to say thank you. That’s the great thing about social media. You can reach out and with the click of a button, you can easily say thanks to a passionate fan.

Showing this kind of effort isn’t just a way to show fans you appreciate them. It’s a way to get new fans. Because readers talk.

8. Host truly epic giveaways

Sure, you can do the usual when it comes to giveaways.

Fans love bookmarks, posters, signed postcards, signed bookplates, all that good stuff.

But social media allows you a bigger reach, and the chance to work outside the box. You can give away bigger, more exciting items. Maybe it’s an annotated copy of one of your books. Or a limited edition print.

I like to give away extra books to librarians and teachers on social media. I’m lucky enough to receive a lot of advance review copies of friends’ books, and as awesome as that is, I can’t keep all of them. Doing Twitter giveaways that other people signal boost (by retweeting, sharing, etc.) — specifically targeted at teachers and librarians — not only helps do some good… it gets me in front of the people who will potentially be advocates for my own books down the line.

And that’s a key part of it, really.

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Not only do these kind of “big deal” giveaways get your readers excited, it helps draw in potential new readers. They’ll start following you and paying attention to what you’re publishing. And while not all of them will be there for your work (let’s be real, some are going to be there just to win prizes), those who are will get those updates right from the source: You!

9. Check out pitch events

Pitch events are one of my favorite things in the publishing world on social media. If you’re unfamiliar, every now and again throughout the year, authors can tweet pitches about their books during events like Pitch Madness (#PitMad) and #DVPit, and potentially catch the eye of an agent or editor.

These events, organized by published authors and industry professionals, have some truly astonishing successes — authors nabbing agents and securing deals. It’s a great, accessible way to get some publishing pros looking at you and your work.

However, be careful! If you’re entering one of these events, make sure it’s being run by a professional in the field. If they aren’t a published author or an industry professional, move along. Focus on the events that attract real agents and editors. I stress the real part of that because recently, I’ve seen some fake profiles set up to troll writers. And that’s awful. Be sure to research the hell out of anyone who requests a manuscript from you.

10. Lurk on #MSWL

Speaking of hashtags, another great one to spend a bit of time on is the Manuscript Wishlist tag. Agents (and editors) will often list what they are looking for using #MSWL — sometimes on a set day, and sometimes randomly. I know I use it whenever I see something that makes me want a book about that particular, well, thing. It’s an easy way to get a sense of what an agent’s tastes are like. And even if you’re not planning to pitch your work any time soon, it’s a great way also to get a pulse on what’s about to trend in the traditional publishing landscape.

That said, don’t dive in and write something just because you saw an agent tweet a wishlist item in that hashtag. I’ve had a few folks reach out with ideas in progress because they saw I wanted on #MSWL, and they thought they might write it.

Write what’s in your heart, not what’s based on some random request, my friends. Your readers will be able to sense your passion — or lack thereof — on the pages.

And that’s it! Good luck out there!

Culled from Book Hub

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