It was an informed choice–part experiment, part hopeful optimism, all frustration with social media. Writers are expected to be a lot of things besides writers these days. They must Promote Themselves, especially if they intend to self-publish, and even when a publisher shoulders much of the marketing weight, they “must” have an online presence. Build your brand, become marketable and likeable to generate interest and, ultimately, make sales. Because on the surface level that’s the goal of any sort of writing that’s posted publicly. The majority of writers do want to foster a sense of community and shared ideas, to meet people with similar interests. But–as I discovered during my two weeks diving into Twitter, a large amount of energy writers spend on the internet is for so-called #shamelessselfpromotion.The first day I became “active” again on Twitter (after two years of actively avoiding it), I discovered Writer’s Lifts. They’re harmless in concept. A moderately well-followed, self-published author creates a post with such tags as #writerslift, #amwriting, #books, and #writingcommunity. They stage it as a helpful “lift” for writers with less traction online. Post your recent books and blogs in the thread, and ideally people will see, purchase, and read your work. A nice idea, if it wasn’t in essence a popularity contest.
From what I observed, the people posting the writer’s lifts were mostly interested in attracting their own new followers. No matter how selfless and generous the post, the meaning was clear: I am doing this to help the community and, in turn, I will gain followers who are desperate for representation and an elevated online presence. These same people often have a “following” count that is as high, or higher, than their “followers” count. This isn’t inherently sinful, but it does reflect a practice that’s controversial across all social media platforms–follow for follow. It can be a great tool to connect with people, but more often (especially when you reach the thousands and cannot feasibly interact with every person with whom you’ve connected), it’s just an effort to make yourself as visible as possible.I’m not really blaming the people on Twitter who do writer’s lifts, or make regular posts thanking people for following them and soliciting “6 more followers until I reach 600!” Writing has always been a competitive, often thankless profession, and these days with the ability to self-publish directly to Amazon or Google Books or numerous other platforms, everyone wants to tell their story. It’s wonderful that aspiring authors have other paths they can follow other than going through the traditional query process, but in forums like Twitter, the actual marketing process seems less sharing valuable, well-crafted content, and more a bidding war for popularity and sales. This is especially notable in “let’s be transparent” posts where people share their actual sales and volume numbers, inevitably leading to less successful writers lamenting over having sold hardly any books. Some of that lack of popularity could very well be due to a lack of skill. But I suspect a larger factor is a lack of understanding for how to properly elevate your platform as a writer.
New writers who venture onto Twitter see writer’s lifts and community posts as the only means they have to promote themselves. A lot of them have a singular promotional snippet they pair with the link to their book or blog, and that’s it. They post it mercilessly on every thread, pin it to their own feeds, and constantly plug whatever sale or promotion they’re running. Essentially, they yell into a void and hope someone in the crowd of voices will hear them.I’m still new to researching the effective methods of self-publishing, but one of the most effective strategies seems to be a more “behind the scenes” approach. Namely, providing major reviewers on Amazon and Goodreads free copies in exchange for reviews, or even submitting to official publications like Kirkus Reviews. Kindle Unlimited also seems a popular way of expanding your reach, or requesting interviews with bloggers, or (the long-game but valid) building your own author’s website. There are even services online that will help format, distribute, and even print your novel for small fees. Beyond Twitter, there are countless ways of getting your writing out there and bringing in interest. If not for sales–a major blow to new writers is the realization that even traditionally published authors usually can’t make a living solely on royalties–then at least for recognition and building a community around your work.
I have heard for years that to become an author of respect in the modern era, you must be on Twitter. And truthfully I have found important, useful information in my short time on the site. It might not be the best place to contact literary agents or publishers, but you can keep up with their interests and requests for submissions. Many startup literary magazines with interesting themes exist on the platform as well, and authors are more than willing to share their journeys in querying and publishing. It’s a good place to learn what works and what doesn’t, as long as you use your discretion when weeding through the shameless self promoters, the clout chasers, and the viciously jaded.I do intend to keep up my Twitter, though in a primarily lurking for information capacity. Trying to come up with witty questions, failing miserably at generating the many dozens of likes and retweets most writer’s lifts seem to attract (I swear there’s a dirty trick to it, otherwise how would totally new accounts bring in 300 hits in less than an hour?), and attempting to make connections with complete strangers takes up precious time and energy I could be using to write posts or edit my book. The internet is a necessary evil and valuable boon for writers, and there are many legitimate strategies people use to establish interest and encourage people to read their work. For some, it’s Twitter. For others, it’s joining the #bookstagram community on Instagram, and for still others, it’s going the more old school route of blogging on platforms like WordPress. What works for one person might not work for another. The thing that gets under my skin is the idea that to be taken seriously as a professional in any industry, you have to be on this social media app or another, talk to these people, avoid these words or phrases or times of day or subject matter. You must use a specific set of tags, learn specific jargon and terminology, and if you don’t–you’re a failure. There is a lot of gatekeeping and a lot of “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” behavior, where follower-seeking is disguised as genuine connections. I’m an experienced writer. I’ve got my style, I have my methods, I know my craft. I’m always learning, of course, and I’m only now beginning to experiment with new mediums like comic scripting. But what I am not skilled at is self-promotion. Walking into the popularity contest that is Twitter or Instagram when you don’t know what you’re doing can be a blow to the ego. And more than that, I felt myself drawn into this inherent fakeness that many of the members adopt out of a sheer need to be heard and seen. Some of them hide it better than others, but so many people I came across were being inauthentic and rejecting their own truth in favor of trying to follow a formula that clearly didn’t work for them. And that’s something I just can’t get behind.
It’s frustrating to think that by choosing to go my own way and ignoring the rampant advice across so many writer’s websites that says I need to be participating in “pitch parties” and talking to literary agents online, I might sacrifice my ability to gain a readership. But if the cost of building a following and sustaining myself solely as a creative writer is to plaster myself on social media feeds and act more friendly, more chipper, and more extroverted than I actually am, I think I’ll settle for a quieter life. I would love for people to read my novel and enjoy it. The best reward in the world will be to know I’ve inspired even one person to read more, or research the mythology behind my narrative, or even take up a pen themselves and start writing. I want to be authentic, true to myself, and–most vitally–focused on my writing rather than promoting. Twitter may work for some people, but it would be great if we could get away from this idea that writing can only be one thing, and that writers must behave in one way. Every person has a unique story to tell, and the methods by which they share that story with the world can and should be equally as unique.Bless Twitter for helping some people, but being less active there doesn’t mean I will stop being a writer. If anything, I’ll get more writing done if I’m not constantly seeking the dopamine rush of likes and retweets. Which, at the end of the day, is the only real requirement for being a writer.