Q3: Social Media

(This question is part of a larger subseries called Perpetual WIPs: Literary Agents. For the remaining questions, see here.)

Is an author’s Social Media platform and experience important to you at all? If you advise authors to be more active in Social Media, what do you think are the most important tools/sites to use? What do you think it’s important not to do?

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Things like Twitter and being part of an online community are great for many reasons, but if a writer isn’t online, it won’t sway my opinion about their book. Social media presence is something that can be built later, and even then only if it seems necessary. Non-fiction writers are different. They need a presence first, and it matters a lot. But with fiction? All I need is a really good novel.

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Once we have a book deal, I think it is important that all writers, at minimum, have a website and probably a professional/author facebook page. But I think it is important for writers in certain genres (like kidlit) to be a little more active on social media.  Most of my (kidlit) clients tweet, some of them blog, and I do think those things can help them sell books (and get people to signings and other author events).

As for what not to do: don’t air any dirty laundry on social media– if I find a writer complaining about other agents rejecting them or, really, ranting about anything I’m less likely to want to work with them. (And, obviously: ditto finding anything sexist, homophobic, racist, or generally crazy etc.) And writers should always remember they are in a very public space: unless you are actually writing about these things I’d stay away from discussing divisive topics like religion or politics. The idea behind a writer using social media is to get a bunch of people from all kinds of different places and backgrounds to like you and want you to succeed, so make sure that, at all times, you are presenting your very best, most likable face!

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Yes. Websites are crucial. Twitter and facebook too. Do NOT bad mouth people or behave badly. Stay civil, especially politically.

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It’s important, definitely a plus when I’m considering signing someone. I do recommend authors get themselves out there, especially since so much book shopping is done online these days. I’m not entirely convinced that you need to use a specific site. There always seems to be a new one. I think the quality of  interaction with readers or friends is the most important bit. If you don’t know how to use, say, Pinterest, and never have anything to say then what good is that? Better to find one  you are comfortable with. That said, I try to get my authors on Goodreads, Twitter and Facebook.

As for what not to do: remember to be professional. Anyone can read what you say, including potential editors, agents and readers. Maybe you don’t have many followers NOW, but pretend you have already reached the level of success you aspire to whenever you hit that “post” button. Get separate private and personal accounts. That way your elderly relatives won’t share naked baby pictures with your agent, and you will have a place to kvetch about how long and difficult the querying and submission processes are without risking offending someone. Don’t be too negative, it can be a turn off. If that feels too restrictive, remember that things you LOVE, especially books but also TV, movies and other media is a great place to start meeting like-minded folks.

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It’s useful to know about if it’s huge, but it’s not as important as the book, especially in fiction. I’d advise an author to be active on dedicated accounts on Twitter and Facebook, and blogging can be helpful as well. But only to the extent that the author is comfortable with it. You use social media to build word-of-mouth, so if you’re not happy and forging meaningful connections, it’s not worth the time and effort. You could be writing instead!

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It’s not that important for fiction, but I’m definitely impressed by authors who have an active, professional social media presence. An unprofessional presence (think overly negative posts, poor spelling and grammar) is worse than none at all.

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Social media is important but in the case of fiction, no MORE important than writing a great book.  And when I am choosing a new fiction author, the author’s social media prowess doesn’t factor into the decision much at all. Non-fiction authors are a whole other kettle of fish.  I do check an author’s social media before I offer rep and that is largely to spot any red flags…like are they grossly inappropriate on their blogs, are they unprofessional in their public persona?  I don’t claim to be a social media expert so I advise authors that they should explore finding the social media venues that work best for them but I don’t make mandates or give specific instructions.  Personally, I am a big Twitter fan and I don’t love Facebook for my own use, but lots of folks feel the opposite way.  Blogging can be done effectively or really ineffectively, especially if it feels like the author would rather have her teeth pulled than write a blog post.  It shows and who wants to read that?  Authors need to get that social media should be social and informative and fun.  It isn’t really about just screeching BUY MY BOOK over and over and over again to the exclusion of any other interaction.  No one wants to listen to that.

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It’s nice if they have a cool social media platform… but I’d much rather have somebody with a truly phenomenal book and NO social media savvy. If it’s a choice between “getting more twitter followers” or “learning to be a better writer” — I’d opt for the latter.

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Twitter is a popular Social Media site for authors and for agents. It’s probably of greater value for building a following than Facebook.  Of course, in five or ten years these two sites may be obviated by some shiny new Social Media site.  For now, however, Twitter has a certain utility for authors, because it is a social media site built around connection by mutual interest, rather than my mutual acquaintance.  That is to say, you choose people to follow on Twitter because you’re interested in what they have to tweet about and not necessarily because you know them, whereas Facebook requires that each user acknowledge and approve a shared connection in order for each to view the others’ posts.  Twitter makes it easier for people to discover you, because privacy on Twitter is not as much an issue as it is with Facebook.  There are, however a panoply of social media, social blogging, and aggregation sites, (some devoted specifically to books and reading) one can find a niche in (Tumblr, Reddit, Goodreads, etc.).  I think the most important thing is to try everything at least once (except maybe 4Chan, you might want to leave that site alone) and to be familiar with the different types of social media sites available.  If you don’t feel like you’re hip to what’s happening on the interwebs, then consider reading or subscribing to a few tech blogs or online magazines that comment on internet phenomena (Wired, Boing-Boing, Gizmodo etc.)

You’ve probably already heard this before, but don’t be a spammer and don’t be a creep.  You can’t browbeat people into liking your work through repetition or stalking.  On Twitter, don’t “buy” followers.  Really, on any social media site, don’t try shortcuts that will make you seem more important that you are in an effort to win a genuine following.  The purpose of social media is not to sell things to unwitting consumers, but to make genuine connections with other people.  If by dint of those connections you manage to encourage some sort of commercial transaction to occur outside of that connection, then that’s gravy, but it’s not the point.  The point is to promote yourself by being likable, by being interesting, and by being engaging, and you can’t hope to do that if you’re constantly talking about things that are important exclusively to you.  On the flip-side of that, don’t be timid about self-promotion. Don’t be afraid to engage people on social media.  Send out invites, welcome new followers, start conversations with people you don’t know.  When you begin to feel comfortable that you know the people who follow you and where their level of interest in you lies, a bit shameless self-promotion is sometimes warranted.  Don’t be afraid to ask your followers to help  promote you to their friends and followers.  So long as it’s not the only thing you write about, it should be fine.  Anyone who doesn’t want to help you won’t, but a few will, and that’s how you increase your following.  Also, don’t be boring.  Don’t post about being hungry, or sleepy, or about anything that you don’t think would be entertaining for someone else.

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I do think it is important but great writing will always win me over in the end. I think it is important for authors to enjoy social media. So picking a platform that they feel comfortable on and enjoy engaging with is the most important thing. I also say spend 10% of time marketing 90% being a real person.

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Depends on what you mean by “important.” Will 300k Twitter followers make me want to sign a book I wouldn’t regularly represent? No. Will a complete lack of social media presence make me not want to sign a book I normally would? No. I would love if a book I loved also came with a writer with 300k Twitter followers, but it’s no requirement. I do think writers should do social media, but only to connect with people. There is also no one way to do social media. You don’t have to do Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and your own blog all at once; try them out and pick which work for you.

The number one thing you don’t want to do is go in intending to use it to sell your book. You want to know how many people who pitched me on social media got a request from me for pages? None. How many have I chatted casually to and later asked about and read their work? About a dozen.

Number two thing: Don’t be a total jackass. Acerbic is fine; we aren’t all puppies and rainbows. But there is a line. Recently an author was dropped by his publisher for tweeting a racist and sexist comment at someone who made a homophobic comment. If he had tweeted something like “You are a terrible human being” instead, he’d have gotten his point across without being a total jackass and losing his publisher.

On a related note, don’t forget the value of in-person socializing. Going to conferences can be nice for meeting editors and agents, sure, but you also meet other writers, make friends, and build relationships. And, if you’re like Victoria Schwab, you can even hug Neil Gaiman. Essentially, your focus should be on meeting awesome people who love books, both online and off. Good things will follow.

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2 thoughts on “Q3: Social Media”

  1. Hello Dahlia,
    I love this post and I would like to know if you would allow me to share some of this on my own bloggy, giving you credit, of course. I follow you and enjoy your posts!
    Samantha

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