For many writers, joining social media is like a waiter serving you a whale for dinner and telling you to eat it by closing time. The task is overwhelming.
At conferences, in critique groups, and during meetups, I’ve talked to writers in all stages of their careers who struggle with social media paralysis. “Why can’t I just write?” they ask. “Won’t good books attract readers?”
Although people will buy books without social media exposure, your chances of making sales and reaching a broad audience will be higher if you use it. But, if this digital platform is so beneficial, why does it put writers on edge?
My guess is that you’ve wrestled with at least one (if not all!) of the three worries I’m going to describe, so roll up your sleeves and prepare to tackle each one with confidence.
Fear #1: People Are Fake on Social Media
Truth: You might stumble across phony accounts or, even worse, ones that treat social media like dating apps. However, you can block and/or report those users. Overall, most accounts are legit.
When I started Instagram, I felt like I was in a foreign country. Who was this random person commenting on my post? What did they want from me? Why should I waste precious writing time interacting with strangers? And what if my own captions and responses rang hollow?
Pushing aside my doubts, I set out to find accounts owned by like-minded people, and gradually I came to care about them. I prayed for them and helped promote their books. Soon my follower numbers increased. Better yet, I could support and cheer for my audience, and they could do the same for me. Together we grew beyond superficial exchanges to genuine conversations. Again, yes, you may run into spammers, sometimes even creepers. But, more often than not, you’ll encounter people who are hoping to connect with others through shared interests.
Josie Siler, award-winning author of the upcoming picture book Howie’s Broken Hee-Haw, offers her insights on exploring social media: “Remember that behind every authentic profile is a person. Don’t just follow accounts you like, connect with them on a human level. Encourage them, tell them what you like about their content, and be kind. Treat others the same way you want to be treated. It feels good to be appreciated, so remember to appreciate others. A lot of the fear dissipates when my attitude is to bless, encourage, and help others instead of just growing my own followers. It’s not all about me, and that’s what makes it so much fun!”
Naomi Sowell, author of the Mission of Freedom series, places her faith at the center of her social media activity and makes a point of subscribing to other Christian accounts. “It balances out my feed with inspirational reminders of my why. Plus, if it’s Christian humor, it’ll bring me some joy too.”
Action step: If you haven’t already, sign up for Instagram. Need a tutorial? Watch this video. Next, follow the #embersgram hashtag that Story Embers hosts to search for users who are as passionate as you are about high-quality Christian storytelling. Be yourself as you engage with others, and try to post several times a week.
Fear #2: Social Media Will Consume All of Your Writing Time
Truth: Social media can become a huge distraction, but if you establish boundaries and rely on a scheduler, you can protect your writing time.
Like video games, social media is structured with an addictive “reward” system. When someone likes or comments on one of your posts, the thrill it gives you may lead to an obsession with keeping tabs on your notifications. Writers are already prone to procrastination, after all. But you can’t simply ignore social media either. It’s too integral to landing a publishing contract and showcasing new releases. Yet, if you don’t guard your writing time, it will evaporate, and then you’ll never have a manuscript to publish anyway.
That’s why developing healthy social media habits is so important. I don’t spend more than an hour because, frankly, I don’t have much spare time. I post once or twice per day, and while I’m there, I reply to comments, pump up others, or check my analytics for trends. Some people manage posts with a scheduler like Hootsuite, freeing them from needing a daily routine. With discipline, you can build a platform while you write your novel.
Besides, social media holds advantages outside of beefing up a section of a book proposal. If you focus on blessing others, it’s a tool for ministry. You can also learn from other accounts, hone your skills by participating in challenges, and, of course, form lasting relationships with fellow writers. That considerably boosts the value of your investment.
Paula Peckham, author of Protected, has advice on how to optimize your time online: “Join groups. Interact with the posts you read, don’t just scroll on by. Offer suggestions when fellow writers ask for feedback. Congratulate people who announce good news. Share their tweets/posts/pictures when they’re talking about their books. Support each other. The relationships will start to build. But draw the line on the time you spend there. The goal is to write a book and get published. Yes, social media can help with that, but don’t let it become a stumbling block.”
Action step: Sketch out a plan. Decide how much time you’ll dedicate to social media each day, then set an alarm so you don’t exceed it. Or, if you prefer, you can batch-create content for an entire week (or longer!) in one afternoon. Curious how that works? Check out this video.
Fear #3: You Don’t Know What to Post
Truth: Generating fresh ideas day after day can be daunting. Personal branding keeps you on track.
I’ve had people look at my profile and argue, “You always have an interesting post. I can’t do that.” Because quitting is easier than figuring out what others will enjoy or relate to, they shy away. But, if you post at regular intervals with your brand at the core, you can cultivate a recognizable presence that will turn followers into fans.
Since I write poems, devotions, articles, short stories, and books for children, teens, and adults, achieving cohesion was difficult for me—but not impossible. As I mentioned in another article, a writing mentor recommended that I concentrate on three to six action words associated with who I am and what I do. From there, I brainstormed a slogan: “Love, laugh, learn.” My posts cheer up others (love) through Scripture, inspirational quotes, and poems; provide humor (laugh) through hand-drawn cartoons and goofy reels; and highlight my antics in the classroom (learn).
Josie Siler chose the slogan “Joy for the Journey” since she often addresses faith and chronic illness. Paula Peckham coined “UnaPAULAgetically Texan: Real People with Real Faith Struggles” and Naomi Sowell identifies herself with “Creating Stories with Words and Music.” All of these authors selected phrases that define the type of content users can expect from them. As long as you stay true to your message, you’ll draw in the readers who might purchase your books.
Sometimes simply pressing the publish button for the first, second, and third time can calm your jitters. YouTube can remove some of the guesswork too! It boasts multiple videos about how to navigate each platform’s features, the best hashtags for writers, and effective posting strategies. Once you’re rolling, you can spiff up your posts with templates and photos from free resources like Canva and Unsplash.
“Just go for it,” Naomi Sowell says. “Do a little research to see which platform you think you’ll enjoy most and spend your energy there. Try new features, like Instagram reels. It’s scary, believe me. But it can also be fun, and you’ll surprise yourself. Be you. Leave the rest to God.”
Paula Peckham explains how she reduced the stress she initially experienced with social media: “I quit trying to raise the numbers and started focusing on sharing encouraging things, both for friends and for writer friends. I copy and paste funny stuff, sweet stories, and beautiful pictures. I share stories about myself, my family, and my journey as an author. I decided to be as authentic as possible and stop chasing followers. Otherwise, it all feels kind of pointless.”
Action step: Think about your hobbies, beliefs, personality, etc. and the message your stories will send. Hash out a motto and revolve all of your posts around it. If you’re still feeling like a nervous newbie who’s sure to trip all over the screen, browse YouTube for more training.
In today’s market, you can no longer afford to avoid social media. Don’t let your fear of eating the whole “whale” leave you stuck at the table forever. Take it one bite at a time, and before you know it, you’ll see results. In fact, you might even have a whale of a time!
I challenge you to follow the action steps listed above. You can even connect with me on Instagram @Lori.Z.Scott. I’m happy to encourage you on your journey!
Elementary school teacher Lori Z. Scott usually writes fiction because, like an atom, she makes up everything. Her down time is filled with two quirky habits: chronic doodling and inventing lame jokes. Neither one impresses her principal (or friends/parents/casual strangers), but they do help inspire her writing. Somehow her odd musings led her to accidentally write the 10-book best-selling Meghan Rose series and purposely write more than 150 short stories, articles, essays, poems, and devotions. In addition, Lori contributed to over a dozen books, mostly so she would have an excuse to give people for not folding her laundry. (Hey! Busy writer here!) As a speaker, she’s visited several conferences and elementary schools to share her writing journey. Some of Lori’s favorite things include ice cream, fuzzy socks, Batman, Star Trek, Star Wars, books, and hugs from students. Guess which one is her favorite?