How to be a Successful Poet on Social Media

  • When was the last time you shared someone else’s status update/tweet/blog link on social media?
  • When was the last time you shared a link to your blog?
  • When did you last review or mention another writer’s book?
  • When was yours reviewed and who by? Have you ever reviewed a book by your reviewer?
  • When you had a poem published, did you help promote the magazine that published it or did you state you had a poem published without mentioning the magazine or linking to it?
  • When an editor sends you proofs of an accepted poem, do you only correct typos, spelling/grammar errors or do you see it as an opportunity to re-write your poem?
  • At open mic slots, do you keep within your allotted time or regularly overrun?
  • If invited to an event, do you turn up on time or do you have a reputation for always being late or frequently not turning up at all?
  • At a workshop, do you stay silent when other attendees are discussing and giving feedback on poems brought to/written at the workshop or do you join in?
  • When your poem is being discussed, do you expect unconditional praise or listen to the feedback with the aim of taking it away and assessing it later?
  • When you blog about the workshop, do you do a diary-style ‘I went to this workshop’ entry or do you share lessons or techniques learnt at the workshop?
  • When submitting poems to magazines, do you assume a standard submission format will do or do you check the guidelines given by the magazine?
  • Was your last post/status update about you or someone else?

We all slip up sometimes: the odd, unintended simultaneous submission, too tired to double-check guidelines after a long day, public transport failures meant we were running late and we irritably said something out of turn or reacted without thinking through the consequences. But only sometimes.

When you start out as a poet, it may feel as if you don’t have much to give. You want advice from other poets, feel you need all the feedback you can get, want the practice from open mic slots, feel you need to know how to get established.

But you are not a gawping drain of need. Behaving like one may get you immediate attention, but that will soon fade and isn’t a viable long term strategy.

You can give by listening and watching other poets, read work by others, share news and blog posts, help promote the magazines you want to be published in, promote the readings you want to be invited to take part in, even write reviews (two sentences on a bookseller’s site is better than silence).

Poet A getting an acceptance was not the reason for your rejection.
Poet B got the last open mic slot by patiently waiting their turn instead of trying to queue jump.
Poet C gets plenty of shares for her blog post because it wasn’t about her, but shared useful, practical information.
Poet D always gets an audience because she puts everyone at ease and makes them feel welcome.
Poet E got a mountain of incisive workshop comments because she took the time to feedback on everyone else’s poems.
Poet F got her book reviewed because she asked the reviewer before sending the book, instead of sending an unsolicited free copy and demanding a review in return.

Social media is for sharing, what did you share today?

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Social Media and Emails shouldn’t be a time suck for Writers

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.

Don’t blame the medium – Daniel Radcliffe is sending mixed messages about social media

In a recent interview, actor Daniel Radcliffe seemed to suggest that celebrities using social media can’t expect privacy in their personal lives, particularly if they are tweeting fairly regularly. In the same interview he also said that actors should be prepared to attend events such as film premieres to help generate interest.

Daniel Radcliffe was fortunate enough to land a role in a film that had Warner Brothers’ publicity machine behind it, so didn’t need to do much in the way of personal promotion himself. But few artists get such a huge break at the beginning of their careers and so most have to promote their work. Social media is just another medium for doing this. It’s no more or less public than giving an interview, doing a photo shoot or a question and answer session at a book signing.

It’s not the medium that’s the problem, it’s the way it’s used. And it is possible to use social media and guard your privacy, just as it’s possible to give an interview and guard your privacy.

Tips for Guarding Privacy and using Social Media

  • Ensure your social media platform is about your work, not you
  • Blog about the subjects in your books or how you wrote a poem, not what you did last weekend
  • Tweet about promotional events you’re doing, not about what you had for breakfast
  • Create a balance between tweets/status updates about you and giving links to interesting articles, a book review you came across or more information about a topic you’ve written about, don’t just focus on you
  • If you receive questions about your work via social media, answer them. It’s courteous and shows you’re not just using social media to broadcast and promote yourself.
  • If you receive questions about your private life, don’t immediately answer but think about whether you’re happy for the answer to be in the public domain. A question about whether you enjoy the same breakfast as one of your characters is innocuous, but questions about your daily timetable might not be.
  • If you post photos, think carefully first. Photos taken at promotional events or promotional publicity shots were intended to go in the public domain. Selfies might show you’re human. But photos that include others who didn’t plan on the photo being made public might lose you friends. Would you be happy for any photo you’re about to share to be reprinted in a newspaper? If not, probably best not to post.
  • Think about your timing. Rather than posting at random times, consider creating a regular slot (at your convenience) when you update your blog or when you’re on a social media network. You can always post articles or updates in advance and schedule them to conform to your regular social media slot. This way you manage expectations about when you’re available so you won’t feel you have to be online 24/7 and people won’t expect you to be.

The big advantage in social media is that it’s your platform and you are in control of not only what you use it for, but when you use. Make it work for you.

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Related Topics:

Social Media Marketing for Writers

Does a Writer need a Social Media Platform?

Should Writers use Social Media?

Twitter Etiquette

Social Media and Poets

Use of blogging and other social media by writers seems to be under fire at the moment. Sir Peter Stothard, former editor of “The Times” newspaper and one of the judges of the Man Booker Prize has said, “as much as one would like to think that many bloggers’ opinions are as good as others… People will be encouraged to buy and read books that are no good, the good will be overwhelmed, and we’ll be worse off.”

Fiona Sampson, former editor of “Poetry Review”, has written in an article for the “New Statesman”, “The development of open-mike [sic] evenings, increasingly competitive in format, runs alongside the way emergent poets use Facebook and the blogosphere to broadcast poetry ‘achievements’.” I’ll leave aside the apparent confusion of open mic evenings with poetry slams, and the question of why the word achievements is in inverted commas.

What both seem to be complaining about is a perceived lack of quality control: that anyone can set up a blog or promote writing (theirs or someone else’s) via social media without years immersed in the experience of literary criticism or a stamp of approval from a literary editor or gatekeeper. Is this such a bad thing?

I’d argue not. What makes a good book or good literature isn’t an objective measure. You can create a tick box with values like good characterisation, shows knowledge of writing craft, keeps the reader hooked, but not every piece of writing that conforms to that criteria will be an enjoyable read. You can put a spirit level on a book, but not its contents.

Furthermore, setting criteria will favour certain types of writing over others. When did a genre novel win a literary prize? Why do readers need the Hugo Awards, the Edgars and the Man Booker Prize? Name a national newspaper that gives as much space to poetry as novels in its book pages. When VIDA’s statistics show that male writers are more frequently reviewed, are editors and literary critics selecting purely on the standards of writing or is some consideration of who the writer is creeping in?

In poetry most reviewers are also poets. There are many more people who want to write poetry than people who read poetry – poetry magazines struggle to get subscribers but are overwhelmed with submissions of new poems. Most of those readers are looking for outlets for their own poetry alongside reading to enjoy poetry. Consequently the available pool of readers who can also write about and review poetry, tends draw out poets.

This does have an impact on reviews. Poet-reviewers are aware that their reviews are read by editors and publishers so may affect their own chances of getting published in turn. Every poet-reviewer will eventually review a book from a poet they have met or are friends with. Poetry needs more reviews so one individual voice does not dominate the reception of a newly published collection.

Poetry publishers need poets to promote their own books and those of others. Most book stores do not stock poetry and most newspapers give poetry scant attention. It’s not unusual for poetry to be self-published, but few magazines and newspapers review the self-published. Therefore it is critical that poets do take to social media to promote not only their own poetry but that of others.

If I see a status update or tweet from a poet I like mentioning one of their poems has been published in a magazine or included in an anthology, I’ll follow it up. That publication has at least gained one extra reader.

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Should Writers use Social Media?

There’s been a debate recently about how useful social media is for writers. So, should writers use social media?

Yes, Writers Should use Social Media because:

  • Readers and potential readers can find and connect with writers;
  • The writer is part of their work so marketing should include the writer as well as the book;
  • Social media can help search engine optimisation which helps readers find about more about the writer and where to buy the books;
  • Social media humanises the writer, making them more than just a name;
  • Social media enables writers to keep in touch with their audience even when there’s nothing to promote;
  • Social media offers the opportunity for writers to write about topics and issues they care about, becoming more than a name on a book’s spine;
  • If writers are disciplined enough to write a book, they are disciplined enough to ensure that social media does not impinge on writing time.

No, Writers Should Not use Social Media, because:

  • Writers use social media as a vehicle for incessant self-promotion with very tweet or status update or blog article mentioning their latest book with a ‘buy now’ command;
  • Writers want to separate themselves from the book they are promoting and let the work speak for itself;
  • Writers don’t see the point of social media;
  • Writers don’t see why they need to engage with audiences and help publishers promote their work;
  • Writers make a social media faux-pas and think, because they’ve made one mistake, they should stop using social media, even though a book goes through a lot of edits and rewrites before becoming publishable;
  • Writers see social media as a time-consuming distraction, getting in the way of their writing;
  • Writers believe social media myths so attempt to blog daily, be constantly on-line and end up failing to give themselves sufficient time to actually write.

How Should Writers use Social Media?

  • Appreciate social media is a platform, not a destination, and see it as a complementary part of a wider marketing strategy;
  • Research – writers know what publicity they like doing so which social media platforms offer a way of doing what you like? There’s no point creating a blog if you see it as a time-drain that stops you doing your real writing because you’ll discourage readers;
  • Find out where your readers or potential readers are: there’s no point joining Facebook if your readers are on twitter;
  • Commit – set up a blog posting schedule that suits you, set aside time in your writing schedule to catch up with status updates and tweet, but make sure that social media time doesn’t get in the way of writing time. You don’t need to be online when you’re writing;
  • Social media is not a direct sell, but a supplementary sell. By talking about your book, its characters, its topics, linking to interesting articles written by others that touch on themes mentioned in your work or concerns you have, readers and potential readers can connect with you. Some of them may buy your book or commission work from you.

Above all, remember you as the writer are in control. Don’t sheepishly follow myths and guidelines from self-appointed gurus. You don’t have to spend 80% of your writing time on social media, you don’t have to blog every day, but you do have to choose how you use social media to benefit you. A thousand followers may look good, but only a fraction of those followers will buy your book.

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Fictional Friends on Facebook

Steffi McBride, Jack Lancaster and Tracie Martin are, like many of us, on Facebook.  However, Linda Jones sees this as “disconcerting.  The Web 2.0 phenomenon is weaving a fictional web that can carry on where a book finishes – how can you tell who’s real and who’s made up?”

 Why is it disconcerting?  I’ll leave aside the patronising notion that us poor delusional readers can’t tell fact from fiction.  I’ll also assume that Facebook users who are friends of Tracie Martin know she is a character and have become friends because they’re fans of Alison Kervin’s novels featuring Tracie Martin.

 How many times have you read a book or watched a film and wondered what happened to the characters after the final page or the credits rolled?  Or what happened before the book or film started?  Or found yourself exploring what happened in those missing scenes, that tantalising white space indicating a time break or that slip between choosing a course of action and being thrown into the thick of it?

 There’s a whole genre of fiction based around this: fanfic.  Some authors accept fanfic (so long as fanfic writers acknowledge they don’t own copyright and credit the original author).  Some authors are more possessive and don’t welcome fanfic based on their characters.  Here’s an alternative to time-consuming and pricy lawsuits: create a Facebook or myspace profile and allow fans to post questions and start discussions where they can be controlled.

 Linda Jones continues, “But where does that leave the humble reader?  We expect a book to tell the story and not that it will be continued across some latest technical wizardry on the whims of marketing people.  When we hand over our cash to pay for the latest bestseller we are investing in what is in our hands at that very moment, not some nebulous future journey plotted through cyberspace.”

Or do we?  I read books for a variety of reasons but chiefly I’m looking for credible characters I can believe in alongside good writing and a good story.  My own stories start with characters.  And a character I care about will often live beyond the story (whoever wrote it).  Authors generally do build a complete picture of a character and know far more then is relevant to the novel.  Why shouldn’t authors use social media to establish communities around characters?

Would you include fictional characters on your friends’ list?  Which fictional characters would you invite to be friends?