Month: April 2017

Social Media Mistakes to Avoid

Social Media Mistakes to Avoid

Full disclosure: I am not a marketing expert. I’m a writer. I do live with a computer geek, which gives me a few insights. But mostly I respond to social media as a participant. This is not going to be one of the billion posts about how to maximise your social media. It’s a post about what to avoid doing, particularly if you’re new to the whole ‘self-branding’ thing. Social media mistakes can cause all sorts of unexpected problems.

First, an anecdote. Once there was a writer (not me, a friend!) who wanted to get her book accepted by a publisher. She had been told by others (but not me) that the way to do this was to have a strong social media profile. The word around the traps was that Stephanie Meyer and the 50 Shades of Grey author (does anyone remember her name?) had been picked up by mainstream publishers because of their social media profiles. Ipso facto, to be picked up by a publisher you need to be huge on social media.

So in order to shine a light on herself, this writer (still not me) put a fair bit of money into building a website, getting a Facebook author page, jumping into Twitter and exploring other social media platforms. She got active chatting in groups, she did various ‘launches’ of her presence, she generally tried to be noticed. And in the process, she swiftly built up a reputation.

Unfortunately, it was exactly the wrong kind of reputation. People started telling each other that she was someone to be avoided. Her name began to have negative associations, including with publishers that she tried to friend online. At the same time, she was being exploited by those who make income out of aspiring authors, paying a lot of money for, at times, dubious results. Her social media presence was working against her, rather than for her.

What went wrong? Here are some of the things I think might have helped.

  1. Learn the etiquette of social media. Just like in real life, there are certain things that people disapprove of online. Extremely personal disclosures in very public groups, controversial comments for the sake of being noticed, appearing extremely judgemental – these are all things to be avoided. I’ll talk about crafting a profile in my next social media post, but the rule of thumb is, if you wouldn’t stand in Bourke St mall and shout it, it’s not appropriate for social media, where what you say can be heard by just as many strangers – and will stay around long after you’ve jumped on the tram! Be particularly careful with the ‘extremely judgemental’ one. Read your comments through before posting – can they be misinterpreted in a way you didn’t intend?
  2. Learn the etiquette of groups. If you are part of a group on social media, it will often set out its rules on a ‘pinned’ post or sidebar. Read these and follow them. If you don’t, you may be shouted down or even kicked off.
  3. Don’t friend spam. Nobody likes to feel like they are being used. If you make friends with people solely to promote your book to them, they’re going to see right through it. Just because someone is online, doesn’t mean their brain has been eaten by zombies. I know it can seem like it from some of the comments, but most people are still just as intelligent as they are in real life.
  4. Don’t friend spam other people’s friends! Don’t go through your friends’ ‘friend’ lists and contact all those people asking them to be your friend. A lot of people have a policy of only accepting requests from people they know, so will delete random requests. Others will accept them once they’ve looked at the profile, but if they see that your profile is all about ‘being an author’ they will know you’re wanting to friend them for promotional purposes. Also, you may well upset the people who ARE your friends by contacting all their friends – it can make them look complicit.
  5. Be mutually supportive. If you say you’re going to follow a writer friend, don’t forget to do it. Then put them on your ‘white list’ or your ‘definitely need to keep following this person’ list so you don’t accidentally end the connection. Then retweet or like their posts and engage in friendly online dialogue – don’t just tick them off as a ‘like’ and forget about them. Better still, buy their book and review it. They’re more likely to return the favour if they feel there is a genuine, supportive connection between you.
  6. Remember who your followers are. If Facebook is mostly friends and family, don’t put endless posts publicising your books. If Twitter is mostly fans or fellow writers, tweet about writing or book events, but don’t tell them about your underwear. Make sure your content fits your audience.

It’s a big scary social media world out there, but like any new arena in life, you can spend some time doing research. See how others behave. Talk to friends. Read various blogs and information sites to see how different social media platforms are used. It’s difficult to fix things if you’ve created a bad impression so it’s worth spending the time to get it avoid costly social media mistakes.

Sometimes writer’s block wears a disguise

Sometimes writer’s block wears a disguise

After I finished my PhD in Creative Writing I went through a prolonged period of writer’s block. I couldn’t write anything. I couldn’t even read. I felt no desire to put words on a page. There were no stories bouncing around inside my head. Ideas no longer blossomed in the middle of the night. It was like driving along a highway. Everything was banal and unchanging: there was no beauty and no joy. But I didn’t realise I had writer’s block. I told myself I was burned out. A PhD is an exhausting marathon. I’ve been lucky, I guess: before this the ideas were always reliably there, even if I didn’t have time to catch them. So I thought I was someone who didn’t get writer’s block. I didn’t recognise it.

Only now, when the ideas and words are flowing again, have I seen it for what it was. And I’ve realised I didn’t recognise it because it didn’t look like a ‘thing’, a solid, rectangular block sitting in the middle of the road to creativity. Instead it was a pocketful of excuses: recurrent ideas and anxieties that robbed me of my confidence and my sense of myself as a writer. Now that I’ve grabbed these whispers and dragged them screaming into the light of hindsight I can see that together they form a seething shape that looks suspiciously like a block. So I thought I’d share a few in case they’re hiding in your pockets and cupboards too. That way you’ll recognise them when you find them.

The Voice of Writer’s Block

“I don’t have anything to say…” – true, it’s all been said before. And if you look around, someone else is probably saying it right now. But they are not you and they not saying it from your experience and perspective. So just say it and someone is going to appreciate your unique perspective.

“I’m too busy with my real job” – okay, it’s important to earn money, but sometimes we prioritise by accident, not by design. I realised I was prioritising my own writing to the bottom of the pile even when I could have made space for it. Sometimes ‘too busy’ hides a sense that what other people want from you is more important than what you want for yourself.  The solution is to prioritise consciously and place greater value on what you want to do.

“My cat/dog/child/cactus needs me” – yep, they probably do. But how much? I’m guessing not 24/7.  Now’s a great time to teach them a little bit of independence.

“I’m not a real writer” – no matter where you are on the climb up Writer Mountain, there’s always someone ahead of you. Someone who hasn’t got a publisher thinks the person who has is the ‘real writer’. Someone who has only one book thinks the person with three is. And so it goes on. If you put pen to page, you’re a real writer. Forget comparing yourself. Just write!

“But none of this helps me overcome writer’s block,” I hear you say. “It just makes me argue with myself.” So what did I do once I recognised these voices and saw them for what they were? Well, that’s a whole other blog post.