I need to build a "social media platform" to market my novel -- help!
February 12, 2014 6:41 AM   Subscribe

In order to get my novel published (comedic science fiction), I've been told that I need to build a social media platform (website, facebook, twitter, etc.) and that if publishers see that you have a following they're more likely to take a chance on you. I'm building a website and getting a facebook page in order, but I'm not sure I get twitter, I'd like input on where on the web my audience may already lie, and I need to get over my aversion to self-promotion.

A few years ago I wrote a novel, which friends read and loved, and which I was very proud of. After a few attempts to find an agent, I got discouraged and quit trying to get it published (they all said "there's no market for comedic sci-fi" -- but that was then). I've decided that this year I'm going to do everything in my power to get this thing published, so I'll at least know I gave it my best shot.

The novel is comedic science fiction, I think readers who like Douglass Adams, Terry Pratchett, or Christopher Moore would like this book. It has strong characters, particularly strong female characters.

I have hired a professional editor who is currently working the book over, I hope to have it in submittable form by the summer. So over the next few months, I want to start building some sort of online presence for the book.

My plan is to build an eponymous website and publish a new short story to it each week that is based in the same universe as my novel, they will be mini-prequels, so folks can see my style and maybe get excited for the novel. I also plan to blog, probably just general funny stuff and about the process of writing. I perform stand-up comedy too, so I'm pretty confident I can bring the funny.

But everyone's telling me I also need to be tweeting. They also say I should be going to other blogs, commenting on other websites, and starting to be "part of the conversation." I don't really use twitter -- don't really understand its benefit to be honest, and the idea of sending random tweets out into the ether for a self-promotional purpose seems kind of sad to me. Plus, the idea of engaging in other folks sites or retweeting them so that they'll follow me or whatever just seems disingenuous. It also seems like a lot of extra work for an uncertain benefit.

So please help me out here, do I need to get over myself? Are there other avenues that I'm not even thinking of? Are there online communities that I should be getting involved in, but don't even know about?

This is my first question to the hive-mind, so any advice you can give would be hugely appreciated.
posted by rkriger to Media & Arts (19 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have much advice on the promotional activities, but you might try Kindle publishing -- many nice authors have found their audience there without publishers.
posted by zeikka at 6:44 AM on February 12, 2014

Who is "everyone"? Are you planning on getting an agent?
posted by mynameisluka at 6:49 AM on February 12, 2014

Best answer: the idea of sending random tweets out into the ether for a self-promotional purpose seems kind of sad to me.

Yeah, don't do that. It seems kind of sad (and annoying) to the people who get those random tweets too.

Engaging on twitter is a lot of work, and lots of people are terrible at it. But starting early is the way to go.

Here's what I would recommend: concentrate on making connections with the kinds of people who seem like they would enjoy your book. Presumably you also like books like your book, so when you see someone talking about how excited they are about Christopher Moore's new book, you can chime in and say how you hope it's as good as _, and wasn't XXX great, and ugh the movie adaptation of ZZZ, wasn't that the worst? Find people who are having conversations you want to be in. DO NOT tweet "come look at my blog if you want more funny SF!" Put a link to your blog in your profile. If you connect with people, they will check you out.

If you're funny, twitter is a great place for one-liners (maybe you're not one-liner funny).

Note that all this is super labor-intensive and may not be the best use of your time. But IF you really want to create an authentic twitter presence, this is a good way to do it.

(You might also want to get active on goodreads - leave fun reviews of the kinds of books you like, books that are like your book, and link your profile to your blog and twitter.)
posted by mskyle at 6:57 AM on February 12, 2014 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: "Everyone" so far is the editor who's working on my novel, who has experience in the industry, a publishing coach I've spoken to, various people experienced in social media, and blogs I've reviewed about how to get published. The goal in all this is actually to get an agent, and from there to get a publisher -- seems even getting an agent is an uphill climb. If I can't go the traditional publishing route, I plan to self-publish (ebooks, print on demand, etc.) but first I want to try a traditional publisher.
posted by rkriger at 6:59 AM on February 12, 2014

I like the idea of writing some content on your own page, but use the social media channels you already have and use. Write to Facebook when you have new stories to share. Your friends and family, who already like your work, may re-post it if they like it. You have to build an audience organically with this sort of thing.
posted by xingcat at 7:08 AM on February 12, 2014

If you've hired an editor, I would also consider hiring a social media expert with publishing experience who can help you draft an actual social media strategy that makes sense given your resources and knowledge. Like an editor, it's an investment.
posted by Jairus at 7:12 AM on February 12, 2014

I need to build a social media platform (website, facebook, twitter, etc.) and that if publishers see that you have a following they're more likely to take a chance on you

This is not Field of Dreams. There's a huge step between "building [it]" and having "a following" and that step is a whole lot of work.

The primary problem is the bootstrapping problem. Even assuming your novel is amazing and millions of people would love it and name their kids after its characters, they're not really your "following" until they know who you are (and know what you've written). Getting there isn't easy (if it were, everyone would do it, etc...) and I don't have any great ideas for promoting books, so maybe some other folks will have some.

I'd worry less about building those things and more about your over-all strategy -- HOW are you going to gain a following? Once you have a following you can get evidence of that (facebook, twitter, whatever) to pass along to the powers that be.
posted by toomuchpete at 7:14 AM on February 12, 2014

Best answer: I've spent the better part of the last ten years working in genre publishing as everything from a slush reader to an acquiring editor, so I've often been your target audience.

First, assuming that you have a super amazing book, having or not having a social media platform isn't going to be the thing that makes or breaks you. Having a strong social media following makes you a safer (and thus more appealing) option, but it's not a hard and fast thing you Must Have To Be Published. That said, I'll be honest: I completely agree that there's no market for comedic scifi, and if you want to traditionally publish, you're going to have to sell the hell out of yourself. Even if your book is balls-out amazing, signing a comedic scifi novel is a big risk. Knowing that the author has a huge social media following makes it slightly less risky.

If you decide to develop a social media platform to make yourself more appealing, you want to develop a social media platform for you the author, not your book. I mean, yes, totally have shorts in the same universe and that sort of thing, but keep in mind that you're marketing yourself more than anything else at this point. You build a following for yourself, and you build relationships and contacts within the industry--then when it's book time, you hope that some of those relationships and contacts will review your book, or tell their twitter followers to go buy your book, or whatever.

You can't view your social media stuff as a means to an end. It needs to be a thing you're doing where you actually interact with people, and you're personable and friendly. The authors who are best at social media let their relationships develop organically, and will never need to send out self-promo tweets, because their promo efforts will be integrated into their social media persona. Instead of sending out one tweet that says "My book releases DATE!", you have six months of "Just got the contract for my book--so excited!" and "The cover art showed up today, and I can't wait until I'm allowed to show people," and "I'm giving away an ARC of my new book--retweet if you're interested in winning it!" Those tweets are in the middle of all the other chatter--projects you're working on, talking to other people about their projects, etc.

I mean, I won't lie--social media as a whole, and Twitter especially, is a lot of work for uncertain reward. That said, it can be a really powerful marketing tool if you learn how to use it effectively, and I think that dismissing it as a thing that you don't really see the point of is probably shortsighted.
posted by MeghanC at 7:28 AM on February 12, 2014 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Thanks for your clarification.

My background: I had a book published by a Big Six (Five? Four?) publisher (Harper) a few years ago. My day job is owning a social media strategy and marketing firm and I've spoken and taught widely on this subject for several years.

My take on this: Your number one priority right now should be selling that book. Do what it takes to get the polish it needs. Your agent and (hopefully) publisher will likely have strong opinions about what you need to do in terms of social. Keep in mind that everything from character names to world names to titles can change once your book is in a publisher's hands.

For me, I found that social media was mainly a way for publishers to vet that I was ready, able, and willing to promote my book (translation: That I am not an inarticulate, people-allergic cat lady in a basement somewhere, but am a person willing to go out in the world and talk about my book in a non-threatening way). One thing to remember: You can have 0 Twitter followers and write a kick-ass book and you will still sell the book. I promise.

That said: Social media is a process, not an event. It's built on relationships, conversation, and repetition. Whatever you decide to do, find something you can commit to and perform over time. Think of it as layers of paint, or something.

Right now, I'd use social as a chance to further develop your voice as a writer (be funny! have an opinion!) and to connect with other readers and writers around your shared passions. These people will be your network once you have a book to sell, and it will feel (and be) way more organic if you reach out once you have a solid connection rather than just plunge in all self-promotey. The rule of thumb I always use, for everyone from huge food corporations to individual authors on social media, is 90/10. 90 percent everyone else, 10 percent you. If you start to see social as a way to communicate with, collude with, and GIVE to your readers and not the other way around, you'll be halfway there.

Good luck with your book and your foray into the wild world of social media for writers!
posted by mynameisluka at 7:29 AM on February 12, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Twitter is like a cocktail party in that there's a lot of talking going on and you can go from conversation to conversation and sometimes its hard to get a word in edgewise and most of the conversations will be about something you're not interested in. If you were at a cocktail party and just kept talking about yourself you wouldn't get a lot of people taking part in your conversation. Of course some people (i.e. already famous people) are basically holding court and dominating the conversation they're in. Trying to get them to notice you is probably not the best use of your time, you want smaller conversations with the truly dedicated to a given topic you're also interested in cause they'll actually listen when you say something to them if its on-point.

Ideally at a cocktail party you would find the group talking about sci-fi and comedy and you'd pipe in now and then with your thoughts, if you think they're relevant. At some point you'd have the perfect thing to say and gradually people start to be quiet and listen when you talk. Some of those people at the party are probably creators too. They might ask if anyone wants to see their art or their music or their writing and of course you want to look. These are interesting people you're talking to after all. Tell them if you like it and what you like and the kinds of things you want to hear as a creator. And gosh, you're a creator too! Ask people to look at your stuff on your site. People want to find good things. Some will like it and look for more from you.
posted by Green With You at 7:51 AM on February 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Regarding self-publishing, why not publish those short stories online as web pages (or even broken into a series of pages/blog posts), and sell each complete short story for $1 or something, to 1) give readers a chance to say "thanks" with their wallets, 2) generally gauge interest, and 3) show potential traditional publishers that you are actively marketing your material. Then if you still can't get the novel published through traditional means, you can continue to self-publish. A few years ago, self-publishing was still a viable route to becoming financially successful, but that might have changed if there has been a ton of people trying to follow Amanda Hocking's footsteps. She's still successful (NYT), probably because she now has name recognition, and her bio will always include "sold more than one million copies of her self-published novels."
posted by filthy light thief at 7:56 AM on February 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Twitter is a pain in the ass, as far as I am concerned. I write sf too, from time to time, so I suppose it helps that I have over a thousand friends on Facebook... but I only have a couple hundred on Twitter. I like the chit-chat on FB, but I don't indulge in much on Twitter. Unless I have a specific subject, Twitter is more work than not. I did a humorous sf-based almanac feature for some months a couple of years ago, and that was easier to deal with. It helped that I'm a cartoonist, too, because I had a blog for the almanac. Again, it was fun, but a lot of work and I don't feel i got a lot out of it. Still, if I was flogging a book, which I am not just now, I might reactivate it just to amuse people and maybe gain a few more followers.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 8:05 AM on February 12, 2014

Follow other authors on Twitter. See how they interact with fans and which of their tweets get a lot of retweets and favorites (Twitter's equivalents to Facebook shares and likes).

Has anyone mentioned librarians? They are a secret underground network of book-pushers who would probably love to start a word-of-mouth buzz for the next Douglas Adams.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 8:30 AM on February 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

if the book is amazing, it's probably going to sell -- even if you have zero social media presence.

if you have a huge social media presence and the book is no good -- it's not going to sell.

don't get me wrong, I do think it's important to establish some sort of online presence when you're starting out. being accessible (a basic website, Twitter account, maybe a blog) really is the baseline for being a writer nowadays.

but the leap between that baseline and having a presence that actually gets agents' & publishers' attention, a following that helps sell your (already good) book -- it's massive. I mean, I have seen it happen. it's those writers who make blogging, tweeting, tumbling a job, investing hours and hours (and HOURS) daily into developing a charismatic and helpful online persona. but anything less than that, and -- tbh -- it's kind of an echo chamber out there nowadays. I've seen a whole lot more writers nab agents despite very limited online presence, because their book was great, because their query rocked.

my advice (coming from an author who overextended herself on social media, burned out quickly, pulled back, & is happy once more): find the social media avenues you actually ENJOY. when you're having fun out there, people can tell, and they're more likely to follow. maybe that's reviewing SF books you love on Goodreads and cross-posting them to a blog, along with short & amusing observations about writing, comedy, and the SF genre. maybe that's following every SF author you can find on Twitter and replying to them from time to time; and also tweeting a funny thing or two a day. maybe that's joining a site like Critters or the forums at Absolute Write and making some SF writer friends (AW is how I met my best writer friends years ago, almost all who are published now). maybe it's e-publishing shorts on your website, although you'll need a following in other outlets to drive traffic there. if you do choose this, also consider whether your time's better off spent working on another novel.

but most importantly (by far!!) polish that book (with the help of critique partners! so important) and write the best damn query comedic SF has ever seen. get agents chuckling in the very first paragraph. do tons of research and query correctly, and only contact agents who represent books like yours. also: get to work on a second book. once you get the call from an agent, they looove to hear you've got something else in the works.
posted by changeling at 8:54 AM on February 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

"publishing coach"? I'm a published SF writer and that phrase sets off alarm bells in my head. You shouldn't need a publishing coach to get published. Is this someone you're paying for advice?

(And of course people "experienced in social media" are going to tell you to be on social media. Consider the source when you're getting advice . . . )

Putting up a website and blog can't hurt. Tweeting can't hurt--if you enjoy it. But if you're tweeting explicitly to spam people about your book, you're going to be doing author social media wrong. The most successful authors I know on twitter are mostly doing precisely what everyone says not to do--tweeting pictures of their pets, talking about meals, ranting about movies they've seen and hated. Social media for successful authors works really differently than it does in other fields. Metafilter's own John Scalzi is a good example--take a look at his blog and the things he blogs about. It's largely disconnected from his books, though he does talk about books (and his own books) sometimes. Instead, he talks about his family, about politics--he's presenting himself as an interesting and likable human being.

As someone who has been there, far more important than all of this is polishing your book and your query. And a far better expenditure of your money, rather than paying for professional editing or "coaching" would be to attend a few SF cons and start networking with other writers (many of whom might be willing to swap manuscripts and offer editing advice for free!)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:13 AM on February 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

I wanted to add onto Mskyle's and Changeling's comments about developing relationships on social media. I have enough of a following (even after periods of being fairly quiet) that I get a couple of tweets from people a month who insist that I should promote their Indiegogo, movie, record album, video, etc.

Invariably, they have never communicated with me before then. One film director was doing a project I would otherwise support, and gotten a highly respected actor/director to support her project ... but fairly obnoxiously sent the same tweet to hundreds and hundreds of people, linking to her crowdfund site. Periodically I explain that I block and report spam.

Instead, I've found that you can occasionally promote your work, as long as it's in your regular feed (you're not directly spamming people you talk to - "hey @coolreader122, have you read my novel about bionic grasshoppers yet?"), and you spend most of the time communicating something of value - ideas, suggestions, conversations. I have had some great conversations and experiences on Twitter... like group watching a monster movie and commenting ... reacting to a news story with people I've gotten to know. So don't worry about being disingenuous. Find people who you'd talk to at a dinner party, and talk to them. If you have deep thoughts, fine.

I also agree that Absolute Write is a nice spot to join. There are lots of interesting science fiction blogs - long before I ever read anything of John Scalzi's, I was attracted to his blog. Livejournal used to be ubiquitous.
posted by mitschlag at 4:36 PM on February 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

As a sci fi book consumer, one of the ways I hear about new (to me) authors is reading / hearing a short story of theirs. Whether it's Escape Pod, Asimov's, or Fantasy and Sci/Fi -- publishing a short story people like in places where people read short stories means your potential audience can get to know you and seek out your other stuff themselves.
posted by garlic at 12:03 PM on February 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Chip Macgregor, a literary agent, writes alot about marketing for writers on his website. Pay special attention to the posts written by Amanda Luedeke; she posts about marketing, and often about social media, every Thursday.
posted by lharmon at 6:39 AM on February 14, 2014

Response by poster: Hi all, I'd just like to thank everyone for taking the time to provide answers to my questions. You've really helped me understand twitter better, and pointing me to Absolute Write was a huge help.

I've now set up a website at www.ryankriger.com, where I'm trying to make this whole social media thing happen.

posted by rkriger at 8:25 AM on April 9, 2014

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