Why You Should Be Writing on Social Media

A seated woman wearing earbuds has a pen in one hand and a notebook in the other while she stares intently at an open laptop computer perched on her legs.
Photo by Karolina Grabowska

Today’s guest post is by Allison K Williams (@guerillamemoir).

Social media doesn’t sell books in any provable way. No one strolls into their local independent bookstore to ask for “This book I saw in a tweet!” We don’t check a box marked “Found it on Instagram” on our Bookshop order. Authors can’t get social media impact statements with their royalties, because publishers can’t get that information either.

Even platform isn’t the point. If you’re a memoirist, you may never build one big enough, and novelists don’t need it.

You should still be writing on social media.

This isn’t about using Facebook, Twitter, or even LinkedIn as a commercial (nothing makes me mute faster than three “buy my book” tweets in a row!). Or trying to kill it on BookTok.

Rather, it’s about using social media in the way we all did ten years ago: as a means to genuinely communicate our ideas, our topics, and our point of view to people who become our audience.

It still works for that.

You don’t have to buy an ad.

You don’t have to dance.

You don’t even have to put on pants.

For authors, social media has four main purposes—but each of these can be done off social media, too.

1. Write better

Posting to social media is a low-stakes submission to the world. No gatekeeper stands between you and your audience, and the fleeting nature of social platforms means if a joke or a flash story bombs, no one will see it again. (If it’s great, it’ll be retweeted and reposted for a good long while.)

I’m a nonfiction writer focusing on writing craft. On social media, I reach—and expand—my audience with information, support, and sharing (parts of) my real self. On Instagram, I’ve written mini-essays: “get to know me,” “hey I write things that make you think,” and “here’s a writing tip.

I’ve also developed my voice as an essayist with Instagram posts, one of which went on to be published in a “real” literary magazine. The discipline of the character limit helped me consider exactly what words told my story. Like a free-verse poet practicing sonnets, the constraints of each platform focus our work. A 600-word newsletter has a different rhythm than a 280-character tweet. The same principles apply to building a book from an essay or a short story.

Whatever you do, make it yours.

If your life today is, “I got rejected by the same magazine again,” write that. Write about how you made 100 copies of the rejection, folded paper airplanes, wrote “Never give up!” on the wings, and flew them into the playground from the elementary school roof. Or how you dreamed about doing that. Or how you added another hatch mark on the bare plaster of your crumbling bathroom wall, how every day you sit on the toilet and count rejections like a prisoner counting days. No matter which of those is closest to your own experience, someone reading will gasp in shock and recognition, “Me too!” And then they will read you again next week.

2. Generate book material

About half of my own book, Seven Drafts, started as posts on the Brevity blog. Reader comments let me know what I left out, or what to write next. When I sat down to write an 85,ooo-word book in four weeks (not kidding!), I started by collecting every blog I’d written about editing and publishing. The material got reorganized, reframed and rewritten, but it was like the Magic Writer Elves had come in the night and left a first draft for me to find in the morning. Your long Facebook comment can be a rant—or a careful examination of why you believe what you do and why that matters.

3. Build literary community

As I wrote on the Brevity blog a while back, “These ARE my real friends.” Social media recreates the experience we had in high school and college, of frequent, casual meetings and finding out both the big changes and the little details of our acquaintances’ lives until they blossom into friendship. The last writing conference I attended was filled with cries of “I know you from Instagram!” Writers meeting in person for the first time knew what book each other was working on, how the kids were doing and the dog’s name. Those writers had already made connections strong enough to like each other—meeting in real life cemented the bond. Now, two years later, they’re ready to support each other’s books on the way to publication.

4. Be seen alongside comparable authors

Beyond the comparable titles or authors you might list in a query or proposal to show your novel’s tone and genre, social media is a place to position your work next to the authors you love. Engage with their followers, and some will (gradually) become your followers too. Amber Sparks talks about her day and the discoveries in her writing life—you can respond by talking about yours, and one more person sees your name in conjunction with hers, as if you’re already shelved together. I was able to ask more than one author to blurb my book after positive interactions on Twitter and Facebook.

Where you’ll find the payoff for your career

You do not have to use social media, although you may have noticed that, without it, all four of these purposes take longer, cost money, and/or require privilege to access.

“Building platform” isn’t counting clicks. Platform means becoming a part of the discussion in the community you want to reach. Instead of hating social media on principle, find the platform you like. If you already like social media, write more deliberately. Polish your sentences and your comedy on Twitter. Look for the comp titles you need (and your next read) on TikTok. Learn about publishing and share your own knowledge on LinkedIn and Facebook. Maybe even take a photo and write a mini-essay on Instagram—it’s technically still there!

For both fiction and nonfiction, “building platform” boils down to making your audience aware that you exist, and you’re writing something they care about. By the time your book baby reaches the shelf and your audience is wondering, “Where do I know that author from? Better check this out!” you’ll have polished, published and shared your words so often and so well, they’ll be glad they picked up your book.

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