All this blogging, Facebooking, Twittering, Linkedinning, Diggiting and other more arcane forms of apparently essential author-profile-building - gah, it's amazing we have time to write at all any more! Of course, if you do none of this you are either a) feeling guilty / inadequate b) that and paranoid that every other author must be becoming better known, better connected and therefore obviously more successful than you or c) being rampantly Luddite and proud of your organic writing life and acquired technophobia.
Let's unpick this a bit and then I'll tell you why I use the tools I choose and what they do for me.
Two clichés: 1) there are many ways to skin a cat 2) horses for courses. Building your "profile" as an author can be done in many different ways and we should only do what we want to do and what feels comfortable. We are, above all, writers. If we let ourselves spend more time "networking" than writing and thinking and dreaming, then our profile is going to have nothing substantial to base itself on and we will lose touch with why we exist.
So, my advice to all authors is:
- Don't panic, Captain Mainwaring. It's not even a commercial.
- Take your time to try various possibilities
- Each tool seems completely mad when you first begin - everyone's first "tweet" reads something like "well, I made it 2 twitter - WTF do I do now?"
- Doesn't matter whether you take it ultra-seriously or dip in and out - do it your way
- Don't let it take over your life, ever
- Enjoy it or don't do it
- People survive perfectly well without all of this
- BUT, every now and then you will make a fabulous connection with someone who could end up being a genuine friend, excellent colleague or very useful contact. But the same could be said of going to a party, reunion, meeting, lecture or supermarket ... (It's just somewhat less likely, statistically).
So, what do I do, how much time does it take and what do I get out of it?
I think I am registered on most of those things like Linkedin and a few writerly equivalents the names of which escape me. Which tells you how useful I have found them. As in not. So that takes me zero time and I get zero out of it. (There's a lesson there).
I blog. Obviously I blog because here I am. This blog takes me half an hour a month to write, and 5-10 minutes every time someone else posts, so I can read and maybe comment. I get out of it the feeling of being part of a community (we email off-blog too) and being able to listen to other readers; some people may read me who otherwise wouldn't have; and the act of writing something is good practice. It's fun and it's easy. No pressure.
My other blog (Help! I Need a Publisher!) takes up a lot of time. Maybe an hour a day, often more. I blog on it at least three times a week, and reply to all comments - most posts get around 20 comments, sometimes as many as 50ish. (Yesterday's got well over a hundred!) People also email me off-blog (including agents, editors and publishing industry people). That sounds like a lot of work for no money and it is a lot of work but here's what I get from it:
- it's become a whole new career strand, with invitations to speak to writers (on Creative Writing MA courses, for example)
- it's taught me a lot, as more and more people contact me with their own views, knowledge and experiences; it's broadened my knowledge outside the UK
- I've been interviewed for or done guest posts on many other blogs, which would never have happened
- I love doing it, love the free style of writing and the instant feedback
- I've made friends, genuine friends, as in people I can phone, email and meet
- With one of these new friends, fellow blogger Jane Smith of How Publishing Really Works, I'm planning some exciting ideas which actually should earn us some income
- I know I've sold some of my books, as I've gained readers who would never have heard of me
- people have brought me chocolate. Really. Three times. And people have recognised me by my shoes or boots. Extraordinary.
I Twitter. Twitter is very weird when you start because you're essentially twittering to yourself until people start to follow you. I could write a tutorial on how to get started on twitter but this is not the time for that. (Except to say that if you "follow" me, then I'll almost certainly "follow" you and then you'll quickly see how it works, and I'll help you along. Start your free account at www.twitter.com and in "Find people" put @nicolamorgan).
How much time do I spend on Twitter? Probably 10-20 minutes a day, split into half a minute at a time.
What do I get out of it?
- because I follow the Bookseller, Book2Book and industry experts such as Scott Pack, I know that I will get industry news early, so I'm always informed
- people have come across me through the chain of twitterers
- Twitter is easily linked to your blog, so a) a blog post goes instantly to Twitter, where your followers can "retweet" to all their followers and b) vice-versa, so every "tweet" of mine goes onto my blog automatically, so blog followers see more informal messages than blog posts
- Twitter organises "tweetchats" - so you get to know that, for example, Mon/Wed/Fri, 9-10pm GMT, there's always "litchat", a load of people around the world chatting about a lit-based topic. There are things like writechat and amwriting and pubchat (publisher, not pub ...). Through this, I've made more contacts.
- I love the even greater instant-ness and public-ness. It's like Speaker's Corner except you can only shout 140 characters. (Thank goodness).
- I publicised some Edinburgh Book Festival events on Twitter and I know that some people only heard about them through that.
- And in the last week I have twice been invited to speak, purely because of a message I put on Twitter
- It's fun
- It's free
People can be very disparaging about all this, and use the word "networking" in a very sneery way. Some people, I agree, do it very calculatingly and some do it unattractively. Some people on Twitter can be very boring - there's one person who just says "Morning all" every morning, but on the other hand isn't that what real people do when meeting other real people as they arrive in their offices? This is all, really, about new forms of human interaction. You can call it networking and be disparaging if you want. I call it making human connections. I like doing it.
But, as with all forms of human interaction, it's all about doing what works for you and feels good for you. All I'd say, though, is if you don't try it you'll never know.
This blog post has been far too long - it's kept me from Twitter for at least half an hour.