A week after I signed my first contract with Penguin for MY HUSBAND’S WIFE seven years ago, I was invited to a meeting with one of Penguin’s social experts. Little did I know on the train up to London, that my life was to change forever. After that day, I started to think of almost everything in terms of Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
I have to say that I am guided by a very professional team of social media experts at Penguin. Below is a list of tips which I have gathered. I hope they help you too.
Less can be more
Find which kind of social media platform feels most comfortable for you. If you’re not sure what it is (and I wasn’t) think of an orange divided into segments. One might be Twitter. Another might be Facebook. A third might be Instagram. A fourth might be TikTok and so on. Each one ‘tastes’ different. You need to try them out to see which is the better fit.
I was advised to limit my platforms to three but if this feels too much, start out with one and see how you go. It’s also worth asking your team if a particular genre aligns with one of the platforms.
What kind of a person are you?
I trained as a magazine journalist. I like writing in a chatty style. So Twitter suits me down to the ground. You can only write short messages (or posts as they’re called) but it’s amazing how much you can cram into a few words.
I am also visual. So I always post a picture to go with my Tweet – this also helps them perform better on the feed. This is usually the sea because I live within five minutes of the south-west coast.
I also take regular pictures of the sea for Instagram. Not sure what kind of picture you could post? Think about your interests. I have a cyclist friend who takes pics of her daily rides. Another friend posts pictures of her home-made cakes – including the disasters! A third takes pics of her allotment and gives tips on what to grow now. This might not look as if it’s directly linked to your writing, but it doesn’t look good to push your work all the time. They want an insight into the whole person, or your writing process, as well as hearing about your latest book. If someone’s interested in your posts, they’ll then look at your bio on your Twitter or Facebook or Instagram page and see you’re a writer. Through that, they then might buy one of your books.
Talking of pictures….
Another way to illustrate a Tweet or a Facebook post is to use a GIF. I originally thought I’d misheard and thought it was a Gift. Actually, it’s a moving picture (often a cartoon) to illustrate your subject. With Twitter, look for a little square below the ‘What’s happening” bit and click on it. A search bar will then come up at the top that says ‘Search for Gifs’. Type a key word into it such as ‘secret’ which I might do for my new book. A list of pictures will come up such as people putting their fingers to their lips. Click on it to add to your post. If in doubt, Google ‘How do I add a picture to my Twitter/Facebook. Instagram post’ and it will talk you through the steps. This can help with making the post more interesting for people scrolling on their feeds.
If you don’t know how to do it on your phone, ask someone to show you. You can upload a pre-recorded video or press and hold the video button before your subject or ask someone to film you writing at your desk or giving a talk or opening the box of our new proofs. I recently got my husband to video me giving a short talk in Spanish while I was in my study. This was for the Penguin sales team to show potential Spanish publishers. I’m learning Spanish but I’m by no means fluent. My husband had to do countless takes… ..but we got there in the end!
Do you have permission?
Don’t post pictures of anyone unless they have given permission. This applies to strangers too. That picture of the sea? What if a sunbather objects? You can share other people’s posts on your Instagram, but you should get permission to do so and ‘tag’ them in it. They might not want others to know they are there. In fact, that’s given me an idea for a story.…
When you post something on Instagram, a message comes up asking if you want to put it out as a post or a story. Stories are only shown for a limited amount of time but are very effective. So it’s definitely worth trying it out. Have a go at typing a message above the picture to make it more personal. For instance, I put up a picture of the sea and typed ‘This was my walk this morning before I went back to edit next year’s novel’.
Look at other people’s messages
Let’s take Twitter again. On your homepage, you will see tweets from other people. There will be a heart button below, you could click that to say you like it. There will also be a retweet and a quote, you could just retweet and this will go out to the people who follow you on Twitter. If you don’t have any yet, you’ll find you get followers by doing this. It’s a sort of polite way of saying thank you.
I like to think I’m a polite person anyway. But I never say anything unpleasant. And I steer clear of contentious subjects.
I personally think it’s vital to have a separate Author Facebook page from your personal profile. It’s more professional and besides there are probably certain things which you might not want to share with your readers. (Such as the time when I went out to post a medical test and then drop off a bag of clothes at my local Sue Ryder. I only just stopped myself from doing this the wrong way round!)
Speaking of humour, I like to show my lighter side, even when things are pretty bad. When the first lockdown started, I was so shocked that I went up to my study and started writing a daily Cornivirus diary on both my personal and author Facebook. The name came from a great uncle who dismissively used it to describe the pandemic. I tried to inject some hope into a world which was crumbling around us – everyone has their own way of building a presence online, and it helps to choose a way that feels authentic to you..
We all write typos or make the odd mistake. It’s usually possible to delete a post (if in doubt, check out how to do it on Google).
Pick your times
It’s easy to get taken over by the urge to post and hopefully increase sales. But you could easily find that all this social media gets in the way of writing. Treat it like meal times. You wouldn’t eat all day, would you? So I tend to do mine in the evening when I’ve finished writing. Long car journeys are good too. (Obviously if you’re not driving.). It’s also worth bearing in mind that your platforms are more for the soft sell – your Publishers will be looking after the advertising side to drive sales.
Find a social media geek
I used to have arguments with my youngest son when he was a teenager because he was on his computer all the time. Now it’s part of his career so he’s one of my first go-to’s if I need help with a technical aspect of social media. After all, I reckon he owes me…
Not sure what to call your characters? Need some help with research? Ask your readers through Twitter or Facebook! It’s a great way to engage with your community and help with your writing. I’m currently looking for true stories about family secrets. So I have put out a social media plea. If you can help, please email me! email@example.com