Time was, all writers had to do was write. We did the cool creative end of things and left the business and marketing to other, more qualified souls.
Today, writers can no longer afford to leave their fan base out in the cold. Thanks to the Internet, there are more words than ever competing for readers, so breaking through the clutter requires more than eye-catching marketing. It requires interaction.
I know “marketing” is a scary word for some, but I promise the kind of marketing I’m talking about is nothing to be afraid of. You don’t have to come up with marketing campaigns, slogans, or spend countless dollars on advertising. Marketing today is as simple as striking up a friendship — and just as effective.
I’m talking, of course, about social networking. The whole point of social networks is to bring people together — family, friends, acquaintances, co-workers, etc. — so you can stay connected and share things of interest with their friends. Personal news, photos, videos, cool links, and more; it’s all part of the “stream” of information you constantly receive from your friends on networks like Facebook and Twitter. Best of all, social networks and the services they provide are entirely free.
Even if you’re not a part of any social networks, I’m sure you’ve heard of Facebook and Twitter. They’re the big two, with more users than any other networks, because they do what they do smartly and efficiently. They’re also super easy to use. Yes, they do require you to give up a small amount of privacy (as the news headlines love to remind us), but it’s no different than inviting a new friend into one corner of your life, and any risks are minimal since you have complete control over the flow of information.
But how can a writer use social networking to further their career? That’s the question, isn’t it? There are tons of social websites out there where you can find job listings (including the site you’re reading right now), but that’s not the kind of networking I’m talking about. To answer this question, let’s take a step back and look at the bigger picture for just a moment.
To be a successful writer in this day and age, you have to put yourself out there as a brand. Make your name recognizable to readers who like what you do, and make it as easy as possible for them to find more of your work. Most freelancers write for lots of varied publications and websites, and you can’t count on those places to link to all of your other work for you. So having a way to corral your entire body of work together in one place is crucial.
Start with a website: www.yourname.com. If you don’t have one, get one immediately. Link to all the blogs, websites, and magazines where you write. Put photos of yourself (if you’re camera shy, suck it up, because letting readers put a face to the words they read helps them feel like they know you, which invests them in your work all the more), a bio/resume, and if you’re professionally published, put links to places where readers can buy your work (magazines, books, etc.). Keep a blog and let readers know what you’re working on, what you’ve done that’s generating a lot of feedback, or just whatever’s on your mind. Offer helpful tips on a subject you’re knowledgeable about, or go deeper into a subject that you didn’t have room to expand on in a recent published article or book. Last but not least, link to the social networking sites you’re a part of.
But now we come to it: which social networking sites should you join for the most effective self-promotion? There are a ton of social networking sites out there; feel free to try any and all of them, but only a few of them are likely to reap any results.
Beyond Facebook and Twitter, probably the most crucial one for writers is Scribd. If you don’t have a Scribd account, sign up at once. It’s the best place on the web to share your work with others, and it’s incredibly simple to use, allowing you to upload PDFs, Word docs, or even PowerPoint presentations into online documents that anyone can read. Once you’ve connected with friends there, you can share your work with them, or discover great works by others and share that with your readers, too. Most of the material on Scribd is easily downloadable, or can be read either online or on your mobile device. You can even embed Scribd documents into your own blog or website, the same way YouTube users embed videos. I use Scribd to post free samples of my novels and other creative works. These are things I could post on my personal website, but putting them on Scribd instead makes it infinitely easier for my readers to share my stuff with their friends.
Another great one — particularly for creative writers — is one that most people would never think of: DeviantArt. Their Literature section is host to user-written prose, poetry, scripts, and more. And just like other social sites, you can connect to others and share your work between friends and fans.
There are a ton of social networks out there targeted specifically at writers, but I’m not all that impressed with what I see from most of them. Many of these networks amount to little more than niche book clubs, with only a few hundred or thousand users each, and mostly feature writers hooking up with other writers for critiquing, advice-giving, and general camaraderie. If that’s what you’re looking for — and there’s nothing wrong with those things — then by all means have at it. But with all of the social networks out there, I spend my time only on the ones that can truly help build my brand and get my work in front of more readers.
Here are a few other generalized social networks to consider:
- A hot up-and-comer right now is FourSquare, which lets you “check in” at real-world locations so your friends know you’re there. I always check in whenever I hold a book signing, for example. Or a freelance journalist might check in at an event they’re covering; FourSquare can help you find friends and acquaintances who are also there. (Facebook just this week launched a new feature called Places that’s very similar to FourSquare.)
- Another fun one is Formspring, which connects users through the process of asking and answering questions. It’s direct, focused interaction with your readers made easy. On the downside, there aren’t a ton of users on Formspring yet, so it’s a bit lonely.
- For branding purposes, I strongly recommend getting yourself listed as an entry on Wikipedia (here’s mine), putting your profile on Google (this is me), and if you have anything in print, putting together an Author Profile on Amazon (me again) is a must.
- Resumes/CVs are a necessary (if boring) part of the freelancing process. For online resumes, Ceevee, Raveal, and Magntize offer some of the best-looking and most robust services out there.
- If you want to connect to your readers through what you’re currently reading, the leaders of the pack are Shelfari and GoodReads.
With tools like these, you can join the ranks of the savviest modern writers who understand the value of turning fans into friends.
And if I missed any good social networks, please share your favorites in the comments!