Saturday, 26 September 2009

Isn't Twittering for Birds? - Nicola Morgan

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:
  1. Don't panic, Captain Mainwaring. It's not even a commercial.
  2. Take your time to try various possibilities 
  3. 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?"
  4. Doesn't matter whether you take it ultra-seriously or dip in and out  -  do it your way
  5. Don't let it take over your life, ever
  6. Enjoy it or don't do it
  7. People survive perfectly well without all of this
  8. 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.
Blogging, then, can be very rewarding. But you have to want to do it; you have to know what you want to say, and be prepared to open up your personality (or I guess you could always invent one if you wanted  -  though it would be very hard to keep up for any length of time). It's a form of writing itself, very real, very good fun, very flowing, very instant. And it can lead to a greater "platform" or profile, too.

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 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
What about Facebook? I do that too, but less than I used to now I use Twitter more. For me, Facebook is purely social and relaxing, nothing to do with work-related "networking". My Facebook "friends" are more genuinely friends, though I admit I haven't physically met them all. How much time? Some days only a quick look; other days I'll get involved in a fun message thread (especially if people like Gillian Philip, Philip Ardagh or Bookwitch are on form!) and come back several times during the day. What do I get from it? Contact with friends. Fun. Relaxation.

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.


karen ball said...

As always, loads of excellent advice. Thanks so much. I didn't know The Bookseller was on Twitter.

Anonymous said...

I liked the other parents in the playground, but I don't think they shared my interests very much. And the children grew up. I like my neighbours, but again I'm not sure we share interests in the same way. I even like my family, but outside those I live with, the same problem again over shared, or lack of, interests.

So that's why this online networking is such fun! (But do feel free to offer me money, whenever you want to.)

Nicola Morgan said...

btw, also blogged on my own blog today about this and am going to do "how to blog" and "how to Twitter" posts v soon. Blog is - thee's a link to the right of the ABBA blog

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Nicola I see you posted at 04.32 (on a Sat!) which by its sheer accuracy means it wasn't a pre-selected timeslot! So now we know how you fit all this in!

Penny Dolan said...

Really useful and excellent, Nicola, especially when doubled with the need to be a publisher blog. Thanks!

Nicola Morgan said...

Actually, Dianne, it was pre-selected! I think the reason it was so accurate was that I only changed the hour digits, and left the minutes at whatever it was when ! made the selection! So, this means I saved time, rather that spent time - how's that for time-management?!! On the other hand, I was awake at that time, worrying about all the things I need to do. Gah.

Nicola Morgan said...

Penny - thank you! And thank you for contributing to the blogoffee day yesterday!

bookwitch - agreed.

Karen - ah, you twitter. Did I know that? Must go and see ...

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Speedy! Forgot to say thank you... thought the blog extremely useful... and like the human connection aspect.

Anonymous said...

Great minds, and all that... I have stopped picking times like 07.00 and go for whatever minutes I happen upon. Makes it look more real.


But I never sleep, either.

Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) said...

Great post, but I find with tweeting, blogging and facebooking, writing time gets seriously lost! Still, it's all part and parcel of building one's profile. I think I might join bookwitch and give up sleeping...

Nicola Morgan said...

Absolute vanilla - yes, you'd think so, but I often find that the more I set myself to do the more I get done. But I do agree and I very often get to the end of the day and wonder how I did everything exceot the difficult thing: write (as in books not blogs).

Someone made a very good point to me recently, that in your list of daily or weekly tasks or targets, the creative bit should be at the top. Mine isn't but I'm trying to get there.

Anonymous said...

That's why I haven't dusted for, oh, er, well, rather a long time. Seems antisocial to dust when everyone else has fallen asleep.

Katherine Roberts said...

You wrote that in half an hour? Respect! You are a way faster blogger than me!

I am now feeling quite inadequate... does this mean I have some form of writer's block?

Stroppy Author said...

All good stuff, as usual. But because Twitter changes so quickly it is easy to get sucked into wasting lots of time - worth a warning to new twits :-)

Nicola Morgan said...

Stroppy one - good point; with Twitter you have to learn as you go along, but it's getting started so that you're in a position to see what's happening that's the key.

Ketherine - you may be right: it may have taken a bit longer but maybe time passes when you're having fun! Also, I had been thinking about it a lot already and was blogging to similar effect on my own.

You certainly don't have writer's block - I bet every time you know what you want to write it's easy. With blogging, it's the thinking of what to write that's hard, I think. Also, I probably came back and redrafted a couple of times after scheduling it. So, yes, it prob did take more than half an hour. Fear not!

Gillian Philip said...

I love Facebook but have never quite got to grips with Twitter. There seems to be more to it than I thought, and I am now inspired to try a little harder. I'm far too scared of you not to. And thanks for the namecheck!

Paul Lamb said...

But has anyone quantified the benefit to a writer of all of these social networking sites? It seems to me that all of the people who would follow a writer on these sites would already be a "customer." Does it somehow attract new people who don't know the writer or haven't bought her book? I realize it can increase "profile" but that's a vague sort of thing. How does that actually translate to sales?

Stroppy Author said...

I'd be surprised if I won any readers from using Twitter - a few from Facebook, perhaps. We write children's books, and children don't use Twitter, so that's not how it's going to work. But I have built up relationships with publishers and others on Twitter, so will see some increase in business from that rather than from increased sales. It's better - selling another book must make more money than selling a few more copies of an existing one!

Gillian Philip said...

But how do Twitter users generally work it? Do you go to the individual pages of people you're following, or do you generally just follow the feeds on your home page? It seems very staccato and disjointed compared to Facebook, but I can see I might be missing something. I realise these are Idiot's Guide questions, but I've genuinely got no idea.

Nicola Morgan said...

Does it translate into sales and can you measure it? Actually yes. If I had time (it would be a waste of time) I could trawl back and count the messages from people who say they've bought my books (ok, they may be lying). Sometimes they say this in emails, sometimes on Twitter, sometimes on my blog - and I do usually know which of my Twitter followers have come via my blog and v-versa, and which Twitter followers have come through the chain of other Twitter followers and then come to my blog, through which they get to know me, and then, often, buy or borrow my books. And sometimes tell me. It all depends how you do it but most importantly it depends whether the people who find you then think they might like your books - which makes it all come back to the books. Thank goodness!

Nicola Morgan said...

PS Stroppy Author - yes, kids don't use Twitter, but it's very often their parents who buy their books, not to mention eg school librarians. And adults read teenage books too ...

Stroppy Author said...

Many of my books are for people too young (under 12) to be on twitter, so it's a bit different. And my older readers are often 'reluctant readers' so not on twitter either. Your readers are older, I know :-)