We live, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, in a modern age. The fact that you’re reading this on a shiny, luminous screen, on a desk, in your lap, or in the palm of your hand, should tell you that much.
I have old friends of the family – they’re pretty much the last vestige of my childhood because they haven’t changed a bit in nearly forty years – who refuse to go online. They won’t learn it because it’s not of their era. Please note: this is not an ageist thing. One of the finest people I have ever known didn’t go online until he was a good way into his eighties, and he mastered the internet, email and Facebook while I was still on dial-up, watching my mother look up ‘maps’ on Google, thinking that was the best way to find a world map to Blu-Tack to her bedroom wall.
No, this is not about age.
This is about stubbornness.
The fact is, those family friends of mine have had a great number of moments, especially in the last few years, when they’ve really needed to go online:
* When their phone line packed up and they had no other means of communication with the outside world.
* When the weather made the roads impassable and they needed a food shop because they were down to their last tin of beans and they didn’t fancy taking a crack at cannibalism.
* When they were looking for an especially obscure book that might only exist at two, perhaps three, libraries/bookshops in the country.
* When (coughs) I’ve had books out and they’ve wanted to order them but couldn’t because they can’t find Amazon.
Writers, real writers, back in history, would have only been published by large publishing houses. Large publishing houses have money. Perhaps they come from money, like your lower class type of billionaire (not naming names), but they have the funds to promote all kinds of stuff if it takes their fancy.
Nowadays, anyone can self-publish. Actually anyone. Look around on the bus, in the supermarket, in the pub – any and all of those people could have a book out. They might have a series. They might even be big in Japan. How would you know?
They have to have a social media presence. Every modern writer does. All those wonderfully historic authors, those who are taught in schools and colleges across the globe, they never had to deal with the immediacy of the modern age, but they also lacked the contact with their readers. And that is what makes being an author now, right now, so exciting.
Yes, there are hundreds of thousands of us, if not millions: self-published and struggling to find a way. Yes, when the conversation is instant, that’s pretty intimidating and there’s a lot of opportunity for panic and regret. But who, I ask you, in the history of literature, has had such a chance to hear, in real time, from the very readers who continue to push them to greatness? When a reader can just search Twitter, find you, and make contact, it is imperative the author listens.
Very early on, with my first book, in fact, I got a message from a reader who’d found a typo in my blurb. Can you imagine? I almost choked on my Guinness.
But, if I didn’t get on the old social media thing – I can’t think I’d have seen that error for months, possibly longer. I wouldn’t have had epistolary relationships with some of my favourite authors, who I now consider friends. I wouldn’t have heard of, much less been able to do anything, about some pretty terrific writing opportunities.
And that’s the other thing.
Some time in the late 1990s, the same family friends who won’t deal with the internet told me they’d heard of a competition to write song lyrics for a famous singer. When I asked them for details, it transpired they’d heard about it on a radio programme and immediately thought of me. Quite the compliment. When I asked them how to enter the competition, they said they’d heard an email address that they couldn’t begin to remember, but they’d written to the radio show to ask for a postal address – for me.
They still haven’t had a reply. Because of course they haven’t.
The fact is, a modern author needs to have an online presence. I posted about setting up a blog right at the beginning of the Writing Tips section – check it out if you want a refresher.
It doesn’t stop at the blog, of course. An author might be well-advised to have a presence on: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, any site you can name.
From my own experience:
WordPress – WordPress is very good at filtering out the Spam-like comments. Having been flagged up, I can double-check them. If they’re not Spam, I can accept them. If they are, I can delete them. I’m usually offered free advertising which is never free, and conspiracy theories that make my head spin.
Facebook – no problems with the page itself, however my inbox fills pretty rapidly with messages from men who want to be my boyfriend and, when I refuse, ask me if I make sex videos. Not even joking.
Twitter – no problems with the page. Made a lot of good writing buddies. Inbox often features messages from writers/bands/poets looking for representation, views, sales. As my favourite, I know most about Twitter. It’s a great place to make contact with other authors but, for the love of all that’s holy, don’t use your first message as a sales pitch. It’s not classy and it’ll put your followers right off. And, let’s face it, they’ve got a lot of writers to choose from.
Book Review – How To Gain 100,000 Twitter Followers: Twitter Secrets Revealed by An Expert by M. LeMont
First published, 2015
There is a formula for finding and retaining the right sort of followers, according to this guide and, not to be a hypocrite, I intend to give it a go. However, much of this book is filler – testimonials about how brilliant the inventor of the system is, and some terribly depressing stuff about how none of your friends wants you to succeed because you’ll leave them behind.
All the way through, I had a feeling that the author was just counting my money. This feeling did not go away when, towards the end, there were a couple of deals for his consultancy programme ($1000) and his mentoring scheme ($3000).
The book could have been significantly shorter and if you’re going to depress me, don’t charge me so much. I suspect, when I bought this, what I really wanted was a guide to creating compelling enough content to attract a mad number of followers.
I’m sure there are people who regard success on social media as following the same sort of numbers as are following you. Sadly, that’s not me. I think success on social media does not mean following thousands and thousands of people.