Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of speaking at a one-day publishing event hosted by Blurb in Brooklyn, NY. My topic was the art & business of building a platform, which included about 5-10 minutes of commentary on social media (out of a full hour).
As often happens, most audience questions were about social media, and my one-on-one conversations with authors afterward focused on social media. They confided that they aren’t interested in social media nor do they see the benefit of the extra work presented by it.
While I don’t think social media use is mandatory, you can set up an significant challenge for yourself if you exclude it from your arsenal of tools. Many think they’re excluding it from their arsenal of marketing tools (or just declining to engage in self-promotion). Perhaps. But shift your perspective just a bit, and it turns out you’re excluding it from your arsenal of creative writing and publishing tools.
Social media is a form of content, and can be seen as micro-publishing. Each post is sharing a tiny bit of your story, message or perspective—possibly something informative or inspiring. The posts might end up being part of a larger work. They might be daily creativity experiments. And they might offer you insight into how your audience thinks and engages with your work.
- Nonfiction writers who author blog posts (part of the social media universe, in my view) compile and edit them into a larger publication.
- Artists or illustrators who post quick images on Pinterest or Instagram and later publish a high-quality print book collection that includes some of those images.
- Fiction writers who post about their research and inspiration for a novel, giving readers a sneak peek of what’s to come.
Or, think of it like this: You’re micro-publishing and sharing things you’re happy to give away, and that reach a very wide number of people, because they can spread freely. These things are your “cheese cubes”—but they’re part of a much bigger cheese you have in store. The people who become invested in your work and your message will buy the premium cheese basket: the final, polished, very intentional work with the highest value.
Some author examples to consider:
- Debbie Ohi posts a daily doodle on social media; it’s part of her creative practice.
- Jeanne Bowerman started a Sunday night Twitter #scriptchat to learn about scriptwriting, and ended up becoming an expert herself in the topic she set out to study.
- Robert Brewer issues a poem-a-day challenge to get himself and his community producing poetry.
- I post publishing and media infographics on Pinterest to keep tabs on industry change, and use them as reference points in my talks, and also to benefit others.
Are these things “extra” work? Not really; in the cases above, they’re the very heart of the creative work. They are digitally native forms that usually involve sharing the work before it’s part of something final or cohesive. This is often rocket fuel for your art; see Austin Kleon in his recent release, Show Your Work. Social media doesn’t have to feel like a drag on your time when it’s not separate or devised in isolation from your “real work.”
I’ll leave you with the words of Richard Nash, who I recently interviewed. We talked about writers who say (basically), “I just want to write,” and would rather not be distracted by non-writing activities. He says:
No one wants to just sit and write! Not even Beckett didn’t want to just sit and write—seriously! If Beckett can’t abide just sitting down and writing, then any writer can find emotional and cultural stimulation by engaging with society. The two are not mutually exclusive.
Whatever time limitations you face or whatever artistic goals you have, I believe the really meaningful (platform-building) social media activity draws on the same creativity and imagination that’s part of your “serious” work.
Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has nearly 25 years of experience in the media & publishing industry. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.
In addition to being a professor with The Great Courses (How to Publish Your Book), she is the author of The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), which received a starred review from Library Journal.
Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as Digital Book World and Frankfurt Book Fair, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.