Thursday, October 13, 2011

Social networking for writers

It's already conventional wisdom that social networking is the secret to sales of self-published books, particularly ebooks. As John Locke, the phenomenally successful ebook author, says repeatedly, however, the emphasis needs to be on social. The author needs to establish a real connection to potential readers and not simply beat them over the head with a Buy-My-Book club.

Twitter has been a total revelation to me. I first opened my Twitter account back in 2008 because my niece Amy was really into it, and even came to the Obama inauguration with a group of her Twitter-friends from Wichita. But I didn't get it, or maybe it hadn't evolved to the point it has now. It's not (no longer) about tweeting, hey, I just had a great slurpee (though some people still enjoy that). It is rather a bona fide way to share things with a vast and seemingly endless Twitter-sphere of real people.

That is the greatest thing. To see all these people out there, full of personality, thoughts, views, and open to sharing that in this environment. It seems to be that Twitter is far and away the most open and flexible social networking vehicle. It's fast and furious and sucks you in. It can become a bit intense, but you just have to take a deep breath and go with the flow.

When I first joined, I set up a Tweetdeck so that I could "manage" my 35 followings. That seems kind of silly in retrospect. I saw someone the other day with 125,000 followers. It's not about managing. It's about a river of information, links, hashtags, comments, jokes that you dip your toe into during the day and throw in your bucket of thoughts from time to time.

Does it sell books? Not sure. Locke's experience is that if you show something of yourself, if you provide help or advice or information to people that they need, it's a kind of pull marketing. They become interested in you and your books, and chances are they will buy them and like them.

What's clear, though, is that in the meantime it's a lot of fun. In my case, I'm immersed in a world of writers and readers tweeting about books and writing. I do look at the books of some of these people. Sometimes they are not to my taste -- not a judgment on whether they are well or badly written (Locke says writing doesn't have to be good, just effective) -- because many of these people will find their own audience. But I have also found some very excellent reading and one book that just astonishes me. I would never have seen this book in the NY Times Book Review or on a shelf at Politics & Prose, but I would much rather read it than the 10th installment of Daniel Silva's Gabriel Allon series (don't get me wrong, Silva's a very good writer, but even he must be tired of limping along through 10 books with the same characters, action, etc.).

The other thing about all this twittering and tweeting is that it's the ideal medium for writers. It is writing! It's a very real form of social interaction that writers sitting alone at home in front of their computers can indulge in.

I've also been expanding my connections in LinkedIn, joining some of the groups there. It seems to me it has become more flexible, a bit more vibrant than it has been in the past.

Facebook baffles me. They keep changing their interface and I have no idea how to find new friends or groups to interact with. I just joined Google+ -- the circles are kind of cool -- so we'll see how that develops.

For the moment, though, Twitter is one stop shopping for me. My blogs get tweeted immediately and my tweets go automatically onto my LinkedIn and Facebook pages. It's a brave new world.

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