Should Authors Be Social Media Experts?

by Mike Duran · 36 comments

It wasn’t long ago that I railed against Twitter and vowed to remain Twitterless. Now, almost three years later, I have 430 Twitter Followers and am a fairly big Twitter fan. Furthermore, since that little rant, I have purchased an SEO friendly web template, installed a Google Friend Connect box (in my sidebar there), embedded a Twitter widget below every post, a Feedburner widget, joined LinkedIn, joined Goodreads, developed an RSS feed, and expanded my Facebook presence. So what happened? How did I go from being generally resistant to social media, to jumping on the bandwagon?

To put it simply, I just got serious about my writing career.

Call me a sellout or a shill, but I came to realize what most experts are saying: The market is changing and authors need to adapt. Because of the decreased investment of publishers, platform development has become a necessity for the aspiring author. Nowadays, publishers want to know that authors are working the system, using all the tools at their disposal. And really, the market is wide open. The only real obstacle was me. Once this sunk in, I realized I could either rage against the machine or get in line. I chose the latter. And it’s paid off.

But not everyone is so easily swayed.

I spoke via email to an author recently about ways to increase their web traffic and expand their web presence. They did not know basic HTML, were not interested in optimizing their website, did not Tweet, retained a rather small circle of Facebook friends (and liked that), and generally viewed social media with disdain. When I pressed this author about expanding their use of social media, they fell back on four common objections:

  • I don’t have the time for social media.
  • I’m not computer savvy.
  • Social media takes away from actually writing.
  • Social media requires marketing skills, which I don’t have.

Okay, if you’re Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, perhaps I can understand using these excuses. (In fact, Rowling’s last tweet, 3 months ago, read:  “…you won’t be hearing from me often I’m afraid, as pen and paper are STILL my priority at the moment.”) Apparently, social media is a luxury for some best-selling novelists. But if you’re a new, midlist, or unpublished novelists, believing the above excuses is self-sabotage. And let me be clear: These ARE excuses.

But I’m NOT computer savvy, you object. I’m NOT a marketer, and I really DON’T have time for Tweeting and Facebooking and blogging. I can’t be a writer AND be a social media expert.

And maybe that’s part of the problem: We think we have to be experts, as if only savants can master social media. Listen, I can sympathize with these objections… if they were leveled by your 92 year-old grandmother.  However, managing a blog, Tweeting regularly, learning basic HTML or web design,  and building your own platform, doesn’t require some unique, high-level skill set. Yes, it involves time. Yes, it involves a certain acumen. But this is not gene research, people. I’ve been married for 31 years and I can assure you, understanding HTML is a lot easier than deciphering female communication. So when I hear authors go on about computer illiteracy and reasons they avoid social networking, all I tend to hear is blah, blah, blah.

Several of my Facebook friends happen to be children of people I know. Not long ago, one of those kids (a 20-something) began posting some risque pictures and saying some disturbing things. Hey, she’s an adult. However, I happened to speak to the parent about this and they shrugged. “I can barely check my email, much less go on Facebook.” As if ignorance is a reasonable rejoinder. Memo to parents: If your child is computer literate (especially a teen living under your roof) and you are not monitoring them on the grounds that you are a computer illiterate, please check yourself. Parents CANNOT afford to be computer illiterates nowadays.

Well, the same is true of authors. Authors cannot afford to be social media illiterates.

If you choose to remain Twitterless, blog irregularly, shrug off platform building, and repeatedly break The 10 Commandments of Social Media, you forfeit the right to bitch about your writing career. Of course, these things are no guarantee of increased sales or a bigger fan base. In fact, the author who is shrill, one-dimensional, insecure, and uncreative, will only amplify their issues with social media (which may be one reason why writers subconsciously avoid social networking). Nevertheless, there are very few legitimate reasons why an aspiring author should not be growing in social networking.

Part of the beauty and power of social media is that it is accessible to the average person. You don’t need a degree, a diploma, a brand name, or tons of money. Yes, it takes time. It takes persistence. It takes creative energy. And I’m guessing you have those things.

But everything else is just an excuse.

* * *

QUESTION: What’s your biggest frustration or obstacle to expanding your use of social media?

Marianne Harden May 2, 2011 at 6:37 AM

Nice post. And thanks. This girl needed the kick in the pants.

Mark H. May 2, 2011 at 6:53 AM

“I’ve been married for 31 years and I can assure you, understanding HTML is a lot easier than deciphering female communication.”

Ha! There’s the line of the week, right there! Thanks for the laugh.

Kay Johnson May 13, 2011 at 6:44 AM

I agree. Classic.

Katherine Coble May 2, 2011 at 7:02 AM

I cannot fathom why ANY writer would be adverse to social media. A writer’s gift is ostensibly the trafficking of thought an emotion via the written word.

By existing predominantly as a series of written exchanges, Social Media are the _best_ chance a writer has to engage the world on her own terms.

Katherine Coble May 2, 2011 at 7:03 AM

*and emotion

Mike Duran May 2, 2011 at 7:24 AM

I agree with this, Katherine. We writers love to gab. Especially about our stuff. Social media just provides a bigger outlet. I understand that the sales end of things can be a turn-off for writers. I’m not a marketer. But marketing is just one of many things a writer has to learn to navigate. It’s weird, but after six years of blogging, second-guessing, stressing, and adapting, I’m really beginning to have fun with this. It would never have happened if I dug my heels in and pleaded ignorance. Thanks so much for commenting, Katherine!

Sally Apokedak May 2, 2011 at 7:23 AM

I also loved the female communication line along with the blah, blah, blah bit which I’m assuming is also what you hear many times when females speak.

Mike Duran May 2, 2011 at 7:25 AM

Give me a few minutes to interpret what you just said, Sally. 😉

Bruce Hennigan May 2, 2011 at 7:38 AM

“In fact, the author who is shrill, one-dimensional, insecure, and uncreative, will only amplify their issues with social media . . .”

Mike, I think you hit on a very important, but little recognized fact. As writers, we are very comfortable with the word processor or the legal pad. We can bleed all over the page in private. But, to interact with others in a live fashion can be intimidating. After all, it is our flaws and insecurities that drive our writing. To become more social animals may flatten that drive. I’ve been listening to a great many author interviews on podcasts and I am amazed at how poor we are at communicating when our livelihood is just that! Maybe it is the live interaction that stymies us. After all, there is no “delete” button to push when we come across as socially awkward. A couple of years ago I completed an apologetics training program and I was required to attend the Dynamic Communications Workshop by Ken Davis. I didn’t need this! I speak in public. I am a published author. I know how to communicate. But, the four days changed my life. If we as authors are to advance ourselves in this new social media culture, we need to pay attention to the basic skills of communication and interaction. And, social media is a big part of that. Thanks for the post. I’m working on my new web page right now and getting my twitter account and new Facebook pages ready. Perhaps you or one of your blog readers could provide a basic list of the most important social media outlets we should take advantage of.

Mike Duran May 2, 2011 at 9:00 AM

Bruce, there’s so much great stuff out there. You might begin by checking out Jody Hedlund’s website, especially her How Essential is an Online Presence to a Writer’s Career and Writer Resources. Also Michael Hyatt has great stuff, see his The Beginner’s Guide to Twitter and Do You Make These Ten Mistakes When You Blog? But really, there’s reams of great help out there.

xdpaul May 2, 2011 at 7:38 AM

I am, at this point, a content developer, not a content distributor. When I have something that readers want to read, and can read, I’ll expand the platform as necessary. But it doesn’t do me any good to worry about platform when I don’t have anything to launch from it, yet.

Having said that, I’ve developed the skills to build platform (two blogs, cross-blogging, facebook, twitter, website management) over time, often at the encouragement of Rachelle Gardner and others. But I don’t think it makes much sense for me to ratchet stats until I’ve got something that people may actually want to buy?

Mike, would you say that The Resurrection gave your social media practices something to center on and grow from? Clearly, you built influence and platform years in advance, but did having the book make a difference in your approach, reach or content?

Ted Dekker has an extensive social network, but much of it is centered around his metastory: the “world” in which he writes, and ideas that are spawned there. I’d bet his network would be pretty dormant if he didn’t have any books to peddle.

Mike Duran May 2, 2011 at 9:29 AM

Dan, this is a great question. I started blogging when I was unagented, before I’d even started writing a novel. This blog and my web presence will probably far exceed anything I ever write. That’s not to say one or more of my books may never take off, but that I believe an author’s web presence is more important than we tend to think. As I said in my post Blogs and Brands,

“…perhaps the biggest element in building and sustaining an author brand is not an author’s books, but their blog. A writer’s books support his blog, and not vice-versa. Your blog does more to further your ‘brand’ than your novels do. ”

Yes, my book contract has definitely garnered me more readers and a focus to much of thought. But it’s all revolved around having a existing platform to do so. All that to say, you should start pulling out the stops now, Dan. You’re a good writer, a witty person, knowledgeable of the industry and the genre you’re aiming at. I’d be reluctant to “expand [your] platform as necessary.” After all, foundations are laid BEFORE the framing begins.

BTW: I had no idea you were on Twitter.

xdpaul May 3, 2011 at 7:41 AM

I guess I’d put it this way: I blog and tweet and interlink to pursue my own interests right now. I’m not sure how many of my books will sell based on my thoughts regarding Snorri Sturluson’s impact on a Euhemerist inquiry into Norse mythology.

I participate in Bruce Bethke’s Friday Challenge, even posting topics on Flash Fiction once a week. But I guess I see the book as the true platform for connecting with readers: that’s what I want to give them, and until I have that, what am I? Just some guy online. Until then, my own random, stupid thoughts are, well, random and stupid. Fun for me, less fun for others.

I’ve been following Decompose since, oh, I don’t know, 1842 or something. A long time. You’ve always had interesting things to say about publishing and the CBA, your life and literature. And the Lakers, but I can forgive you for that, even if you don’t repent. Your online journal reads like an online journal should. My personal diary? My most innermost thoughts?

“Dear Diary:

Thaumaturgy is an expression of magic, but can it be studied? Did the Apostles study scripture in advance of working miracles? Was that a required component over in conjunction with the deep magic? How can one distinguish between miracle work and the legends of the Djinn? Are they all anti-natural nonsense?

Thanks, Diary. You’ve been a big help.”

My daily thoughts are like this: strange and random. I’m as likely to do a seven-part series on the Gordie LaChance Parallax as I am on a topic that might be consistently interesting to an audience. I believe Rachelle would describe this as “unfocused” and she’d be right.

For goodness sakes, I work in marketing and I know that my product, as it is, is a nightmare for distribution.

I don’t write non-fiction to any great degree. I can’t tell writers how to write well, because I’m ignorant. I really don’t like the security and privacy flaws of facebook, even though I am there.

Ultimately, I understand Amanda Hocking’s megamillion dollar success (and stress) comes from the demands of social networking but, right now, any rare time that I have to write, aside from the occasional “chip shot” comment, needs to be in the books, the books, the books.

The year that I blogged (200+ posts) and networked the most was the year I was least productive in the fiction realm. I know there needs to be a balance, but right now, I’ve got to get a book that works. I’ve finished two unsellable novels, am wrapping up a third and I really don’t believe it is good enough to go to market. #4, I think, finally may have the hook I’ve been looking for, but who knows if I can deliver?

But I’ve got to get the thing written. I could network for the next 50 years, but if I never have a good book, I’ve spent my resources on a launchpad at the cost of a rocket.

Jessica Thomas May 2, 2011 at 8:02 AM

I too shunned Twitter for a long time. I just didn’t get it. Why would people want to know every time I go to the bathroom? Well, I get it now, and I finally have a Twitter account. Nevermind I’m somewhat behind the game with only a couple dozen followers but you have to start somewhere.

And yes, true, HTML is easy. As far as websites go, an author really only needs to know HTML and CSS. Both are “computer” languages, sort of, but they’re pretty much plain english and don’t require advanced logic. (Actually, because of browser incompatibilities, you can almost chuck logic at the door with CSS. It’s trial and error. For those with an artistic bent, it’s actually kind of fun.)

To plug my own blog, I talk about HTML and CSS (among other things) as part of Techie Tuesdays, and specifically my Newbie series. Tomorrow I’m going to be talking about web servers. Not getting too deep into the technology, but just outlining the basic architecture it takes to power a web site. And, I try to make it entertaining:


Jill May 2, 2011 at 9:54 AM

I admit to still being bemused by Twitter. I don’t know what to say in sound bites. The world is so complex to me–way too complex to break into short tweets. Unfortunately, I have the barrier of my own brain to get over with that one.

On the other hand, I LOVE building websites. HTML is a new, exciting language for me. I do get a little discouraged by blogging, however. I spend so much time blogging and leaving comments on others’ blogs w/ little to no return from fellow bloggers. It makes me feel as if I’m revisiting my childhood in which I was the kid always rejected and ignored or bullied. Heck, I would love to have the bullied part if it meant people were responding–because little to no return means hours and hours of time wasted.

Facebook is a tough one, because it began (for me) as a family and close friends network. Now that it’s expanded beyond that, I’m a little uncomfortable w/ posting pics of my children or giving out private info.

Tony May 2, 2011 at 10:53 AM

I have two problems:

1. Beyond fiction, I don’t have much to say.

2. I have a deep fear of saying something stupid. Online, stupid statements can haunt you forever. Unlike in reality, when only one or two people will witness your worst blunders, online the world is watching. That’s a heavy burden.

But I agree. If you want to maximize your chances of getting published, you need to at least dabble in social media.

Mike Duran May 3, 2011 at 6:33 AM

“I have a deep fear of saying something stupid.”

Every serious blogger must confront this fear, Tony. This is not unique to you (just scan my archives if you need proof). In a way, the possibility of saying something stupid not only helps us mature and forces us to think through issues, I wonder if it isn’t what actually makes bloggers interesting — not that they might say something stupid, but that we are just average people, full of flaws and opinions and prejudices, who have stepped out of our comfort zones to say something in a very public way.

Shawneda Marks May 2, 2011 at 12:22 PM

Great article. I would expound on that but men like things short and simple and I think online in tweets. 🙂

Gina Conroy May 2, 2011 at 6:05 PM

Great post! Where’s your shareaholic buttons! 😉 WP plugin makes it easy for people to retweet/facebook and share your posts in other formats!! No worries, I installed it in my tool bar and sharing now!!

Mike Duran May 3, 2011 at 6:37 AM

You’re right, Gina. I only installed WP TweetMe plugin. More than once I have considered switching to the shareaholic buttons. I don’t care for some of the appearances. Nevertheless, I think I’ll take your advice and fiddle with that this week. Thanks for visiting!

Gina Conroy May 3, 2011 at 11:12 AM

They’re just really convenient at the end of posts and simple enough that I had no problem installing. Now choosing WHICH to display was a guessing game, but I went with the most popular.

I’d like to extend an invitation to be a guest columnist at Writer…Interrupted. A post on this subject matter would be perfect! 😉

Mike Duran May 4, 2011 at 6:30 AM

Gina, thanks for the offer! I’ll email you…

Marleen Gagnon May 2, 2011 at 6:15 PM

I’ve always believed the social networking is a way to connect to the world and if you’re a writer you should be involved. I have a presence on line. If you spell my name correctly you can find me. But I must say fighting a bobcat seems easier than getting people to like my facebook author page. I was up to 2am last night working through it. I listened to Obama’s speech on the television when it happened last night. I am not a newbie on the computer, but it is frustrating at times.

Mike Duran May 3, 2011 at 6:43 AM

Marlene, I have refrained from starting a Facebook Fan page for myself, basically because my main FB serves the same purpose. I checked out your profile and noticed that you have a pretty small FB following for your main page. It’s a long process, but I’d encourage you to begin to search out like-minded authors and readers on FB, friend them, and interact with them. Thanks for commenting and good luck!

Marleen Gagnon May 5, 2011 at 3:28 AM

Thanks, Mike, I am working in that direction.

katdish May 2, 2011 at 6:39 PM

Many of the writers I know are introverts by nature, so social media is not something that comes naturally to them. But trust me, they can be trained.

Tracy Krauss May 2, 2011 at 6:58 PM

Yes, times they are a-changin’ and we can’t afford to sit by and let the train go by. Good post. I was just as resistant, with all the same excuses, just a couple of years ago. But like you, I figured out if I wanted to take this writing gig seriously, I had to learn the ways of this ‘new world’ order

Lenore Buth May 3, 2011 at 10:37 AM

Okay, okay, I get it. Finally stuck my toe into Twittering and the others are on my mind. Horror stories about Facebook have held me back up till now. My biggest reason not to is time. If I were a Thoreau, all alone at a Walden Pond (with a generator and Wi-Fi) it might be possible.

My question for you: HOW do you keep all these plates in the air and still work on your book and have a life?

Nikole Hahn May 3, 2011 at 10:39 AM

It’s such a balance to keep though because social media is fun once you discover your brand and direction in it and addicting. It’s the procrastinators tool and requires more discipline to make sure that you are keeping your word count goals every week.

But yes…I, at first, was resistant, but not overly so. Can you reccomend one program that updates all to keep it simple in social networking?

Nikole Hahn May 3, 2011 at 10:42 AM

I have a fan page because I’m trying to keep my main fb page to people I network with, family and friends so I have a semi-private life there to communicate with people I know.

Rachel May 3, 2011 at 11:51 AM

Great post, Mike! I was recently stewing about this and wishing I didn’t have to do it, but you’re absolutely right. I’ve just always been more of an introvert–if you can believe it…lol.

And you’re so funny about the chick thing. Thanks for the laugh…

Tim George May 3, 2011 at 12:20 PM

It is true that everything we put up on the net is always on the net. It NEVER goes away. I maintained a theological web site for six years dating well back before the year 2000. Just did a Google search for a biography I wrote on the site back 1998, used enough wild cards to see what would happen and ques what? That page from a site that I closed down 9 years ago is out there with zero changes on some church’s web site in New York. They haven’t even bothered to change the now dead links that point back to my old domain. No credit given either. Like I said, nothing ever really goes away.

That should both sober us and encourage us about what we put out there through Twitter, Facebook, the web, etc… There was a time when an author’s words might languish unseen by only a few but now someone in China might just be reading a short story I wrote last week.
Over the last 7 days I have had visitors to my humble little site from 28 states and 7 countries. The plus side of that is accessibility. The down side is accessibility. It is a two edged sword.

Thankfully I have a few friend that catch my errors, call my hand when I start sounding like the crazy old uncle everyone was embarrassed by, or otherwise of engaging in some ego-centric whatever rather than serving a real service through my words.

Tim George May 3, 2011 at 12:23 PM

I also see I just put at least four typos out there that will continue to bounce around in cyber space until long after I will care one way or the other.

Beth K. Vogt May 3, 2011 at 9:54 PM

Two favorite lines: 1. I’ve been married for 31 years and I can assure you, understanding HTML is a lot easier than deciphering female communication.
2. Parents CANNOT afford to be computer illiterates nowadays.

And, yes, in between those two statements, I heard what you said about authors and social media. And, as an author trying to conquer, control, cajole … coexist with social media . . . thanks.

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