Publishers require writers to have a social media platform and self-publishers need social media as part of their promotional toolkit. I’ve discussed elsewhere that social media isn’t an end in itself and writers should use the right social media tools rather than spreading themselves thinly across several platforms or wasting time on one social media site when your readers are on another. Like off-line promotional tools, it’s best to find which social media sites work best for you and focus on those.
Like all promotional campaigns, time on social media has to be scheduled. You wouldn’t show up at your local radio station’s studio on the off chance they’d have a spare slot to do a radio interview with you, particularly if you didn’t have a book or reading to promote. You wouldn’t fire off a press release to a newspaper or magazine without having any actual news. So why would you hang around on social media on the off-chance a reader might post a comment for you to respond to?
If you have a blog, post articles to a regular schedule so readers know when the next one is due. Ignore anyone who suggests you should be posting daily or even more frequently, especially if they refer to themselves as a ‘social media guru’: they are not trying to write poems around a day-job and other commitments. If you use a status-driven social media site like Facebook or twitter, get into the habit of logging on at predictable times so people know when you’re available. There are apps that can discourage you from using social media when you really should be writing. Or you can opt to work off-line so you’re less tempted by distractions. If you’re already fitting writing around a day-job, you need to prioritise actual writing over social media availability. Much as readers are interested in your social media posts, they’re much more interested in you writing your next poem or getting a new book out.
With a bit of discipline, emails can also be dealt with systematically. Most email packages allow you to create rules so that emails from editors or publishers can be automatically placed into a priority folder or flagged as priority with email queries from curious readers left in a general inbox. Alternatively you could use a separate email account for general enquiries so you know all email sent to Account A, which you use for submissions and queries to editors and to send out press releases and publicity, needs actioning but emails sent to Account B, which is the email visible on your contact sheet or on social media, can wait until you’ve time to respond. You can always set up an auto-response on Account B to say that you’ve received the email and have a scheduled time to respond to emails on a first-come-first-served basis.
Of course, it’s courteous to respond to queries, but a writer is not under any obligation. If you find the same questions keep coming up, consider creating an FAQ page and directing enquirers there rather than repeatedly typing out the same response. Be wary of students who tell you their grade depends on your response: it doesn’t. No teacher should set grades based on anything other than the student’s own work. Your response should be governed by how much time you have and whether you are willing to give an in-depth or concise response, not on an enquirer’s pester-power or attempts to blackmail a “better” reply. Your primary job is to write new work and your time should be prioritised accordingly.
Although it can feel as if social media is available 24/7 and anyone can send an email at any time during the day or night, it doesn’t mean that writers have to be available 24/7. Writing is a business and those businesses that are open 24/7 operate in shifts. One individual writer cannot split themselves into shifts, so, like those businesses that don’t operate shifts, choose your opening hours.
There may need to be some flexibility here, with there being more open hours immediately after a publication (whether a book or individual poem in a magazine) and fewer open hours when you need to focus on writing without distractions. Put yourself in control.