25 Things Writers Should Know About Social Media

1. The Devil’s Trident

Social media has three essential prongs of activity: broadcast, rebroadcast, conversation. This is true for everybody, not just writers, but it’s worth noting just the same. I say something or repeat something someone else said (broadcast/rebroadcast), and from that social seed-bed, conversation may arise.

2. Be The Best Version Of Yourself

Writers and other creative-types often seem to believe that they need to become someone different online, that they cannot be themselves lest they not find a publisher, not get work, not sell their book, not collect sexy groupies, etc. To that I say, bullshit! And cock-waffle! And piddling piss-wafers! Be yourself. That’s who we want. We just want the best version of you. Scrape the barnacles off. Sit up straight. Smile once in a while. But you can still be you. Uhh, unless “you” just so happen to be some kind of Nazi-sympathizing donkey-molester. In which case, please back slowly away from the social media.

3. Put “Brand” And “Platform” Out Of Your Fool Head

You are not a brand. Social media is not your platform. The world has enough brands. You are not a logo, a marketing agenda, a mouthpiece, a Spam-Bot. Approach social media not as a writer-specific tool (keyword: tool) catered only toward your penmonkey self and see it instead as a place where you can bring all the crazy and compelling facets of your personality to bear on an unsuspecting populace your audience. People want to follow other people. People don’t want to follow brands.

4. Communicate With Other Human Beings (And The Occasional Spam-Bot)

Put the “social” in “social media.” Social media needn’t be a one-way street. A real connection goes both ways. Talk to people. Chat. Converse. Discuss. Share ideas. Don’t be one of those writers who uses their social media channel as a bulletin board announcing naught but their next signing, book release, or $0.99 bowel movement. Don’t aim only to be heard but to open your ears, as well. (Oh, and I’m totally kidding about the Spam-Bots thing. Don’t talk to Spam-Bots. Eradicate them with extreme prejudice. Perform the “honey-pot” maneuver — draw them to you with keywords like “real estate” or “ipad” and then EXTERMINATE EXTERMINATE EXTERMINATE with the vim and vigor of the Daleks.)

5. Guide Them Toward Your Sticky Embrace

Having a blog, website, or online space where you establish an authorial “base camp” is a great thing. It allows you to own your content, track stats, post long-form material, and be whatever it is you need it to be. I use this site for writing stuff, baby babble, recipes, and pagan Lithuanian pornography. Can’t see the porn? You haven’t unlocked the special content. Enter Konami code. Password is: “TheWhoreOfVilnius.”

6. Determine The Tools In Your Toolbox

Find different uses for different social media. Facebook is pretty light on writer-stuff for me. Google+ is good for longer-form discussions. Twitter is really where it’s at for me — it’s where I get the most conversation and connection. Then the blog is the central tentpole to the whole goddamn circus. Maybe you use Tumblr. Or some as-yet-unknown social network, like Wordhole or iPalaver or Friendhammer. Anything except LinkedIn. I mean, c’mon. LinkedIn is the scabby venereal disease of social media.

7. Breed Positivity And Share What You Love

Writers are content creators, and so it behooves us to share what we love. You’re generally better off showing positivity rather than sowing the seeds of negativity. For the most part, the Internet is a monster that thrives the rage of countless disaffected white people, so I don’t know that it does a writer good to be a part of that noise. Your audience cares more about what you’re into rather than what you’re not. After all, I don’t particularly care for a lot of things. Most things, really. If I spent all my time talking about them, I’d be little more than a septic social fountain spewing my bitter froth into the world.

8. Show The World You’re Not A Raging Bonerhead

The Internet is like hot dogs: it’s made of lips and assholes. A writer does well to set himself aside from all that and use social media to reveal that he is, indeed, not a giant bucket of non-contributing human syphilis

9. Kill Them With Kindness

Connection, not conflict. Communication, not combat. Don’t get into fights online. I mean, it’s one thing if you’re getting into an argument with a Nazi-sympathizing donkey-molester. Because, seriously? What an asshole. But nine times out of ten, getting into a snit-spat-tiff-miff-feud-fuss-or-fracas online doesn’t make you look like a shining prince of social media. It just makes you look cranky. Note the difference between “friendly, chummy disagreement” and “pissy Internet rumpus.” The former? Fine. The latter? Not so much.

10. Variety Is The Spice Melange Of Life

…and is essential to the creation of the sandworms, as well as the diet of the wandering Fremen. Wait, what? This isn’t Frank Herbert’s DUNE? Oh. Oh. Sorry! What I’m saying is, divvy your social media existence up. Don’t talk about any one thing. It may not be critical to chop everything up into neat percentages, but just vary the content of your broadcast. Ensure that you do more than share links. Contribute original thoughts. Add conversation. Say something. Just keep the commercials — i.e. self-promotion — to a necessary minimum.

11. Be An Escort, Not A Whore

Speaking of self-promo… the reality of the modern writer’s existence is that self-promotion is inescapable. Whether you’re published by the Big Six or published or by your buddy Steve out of his mother’s basement, you’re going to have to serve up some self-promo. Social media is your online channel for this. It has to be. And it isn’t a dirty word — if I follow a writer, I want to know that their new book is out because I may have missed that news. I just don’t want to hear it 72 times a day. And there’s the key to self-promotion — like with all things (sodomy, gin, reality TV), everything in moderation.

12. Just Say No To Quid Pro Quo

Controversial notion: do not re-share something purely as a favor to someone else. I know — it’s an easy favor to make. “You shared my link, now I share your link. In this way, we tickle each other’s pink parts.” The thing is, if one is to assume you are a writer to trust, then those who listen to your social media broadcasts want to know that the information you share is, in a way, pure. If they believe that the things you’re saying are motivated only by mutual social media masturbation, then you’ve gone and ruined that. Share things you think your audience wants to hear or things you believe are worth sharing. If all you’re doing is echoing links endlessly, what separates you from just another Spam-Bot?

13. You Don’t Build Audience, You Earn It

Lots of writers look at their follower tallies like they’re experience points in a role-playing game, like with every MilliWheaton earned you hear a “ding” and then gain +4 against 4chan or a new Save Versus PublishAmerica roll. Your audience isn’t just a number. It’s a whole bunch of actual human beings. Humans who don’t just want to be sold stuff or yelled at but who want to interact and be amused and enlightened — and who want to amuse and enlighten in turn. Earn your audience, don’t build it. They’re not dollar signs. They’re not credit you can spend buying vintage porn on eBay.

14. Followers Are Not Fans

It’s easy to believe that, pound for pound, those who follow you and read your broadcasts and interact with you online are automatically the same people who are going to buy your books, pimp your stuff, and become super-fans. Bzzt. Wrongo. A retweet or Facebook “like” or “Re-G” on Google+ (that’s what I’m calling the re-share feature over there) is free. The investment to procure your wordsmithy is a whole different level of commitment. That said, these people are all potential fans. It’s your job to make that happen.

15. As A Storytelling Medium

Use social media to tell stories. Real stories or fictional ones. Hey, if my three-month-old baby has an epic diaper-breach and manages to defy gravity and shit up his own back and into his hair, I’m gonna tell you about it. Talk about your life. Or use Twitter to write micro-fiction. Or empower your blog to experiment with telling old stories in new ways. Experiment! Do what you’re bred to do: write.

16. My God, It’s Full Of Words

Social media is, as noted, full of words. Words that must be written. You’re a writer, so tackle social media — from Tweets to Blog Posts to Friendhammer Epistles — with all the grace and aplomb you would give to any of your writing. In other words, let social media demonstrate your abilities as a writer. Use punctuation. Capitalize. Write well. Learn to engage in brief spaces. This will help you be a better writer.

17. The Self-Correcting Hive-Mind

Social media self-corrects. Many find this uncomfortable, but it’s an excellent memetic Darwinism. If I tweet about, say, my three-month-old’s poosplosion, inevitably I’m going to come across people who don’t want to hear about that. Eventually they may say, “This guy talks a lot about poop,” or “Boy, he sure says ‘fuck’ a lot,” and then they stop following me on Twitter or stop coming here to terribleminds. It’s regrettable, but that’s the nature of life. Social media is a frequency that people can tune into or turn away from. That’s normal. Let that happen. Don’t get mad at it. Embrace that kind of course-correction.

18. Dip Your Ladle Into The Brain Broth Of Social Media

Writers need to know things. So ask those in your social media world. Say, “I need a good book on wombat husbandry for a novel I’m writing,” or, “Can anyone recommend good writing music?” or, “If I were to write a stage play based on the Twitter stream of Kanye West, would anybody beta-read it for me?” Don’t be afraid to ask for things. And don’t be afraid to answer when others ask. Again: communicate.

19. The Water-Cooler For Writers

I believe it was game designer and writer Jeff Tidball who said he sees Twitter as a water-cooler for stay-at-home freelancers, and I think he nailed it. Writers don’t have the ability to hover around a water-cooler and talk to other writers most times, and so social media fills that function. It’s a great way to connect with other penmonkeys and creative-types and engage, interact and amuse. It’s important for writers to know other writers. It’s how we get book blurbs or find out what bottle of Bourbon we should try. Used to be you had to travel to conventions and conferences to do it. Now you can do it at home. Without pants.

20. Gaze Into The Whirring Gears Of Industry Machinery

You can use social media to do more than connect with writers. The entire industry is out there. So go and watch. And then partake. Follow agents. Ping publishers. You can watch trends unfold and see what agents are looking for (or what mistakes people are making in their queries). It’s a great place to interact with the industry as a person-who-is-a-writer, not merely a writer-shopping-a-product. Though, I must pass along a critical warning: gazing too long into the publishing industry is like dropping a fistful of acid and then staring into a backed-up toilet for days. You will starve and go mad.

21. Behold Zen Serendipity

Open yourself to the social media experience. Don’t be one of those walled-garden scrod-boats who follows like, 10 people but has 10,000 followers. Put your ear to the ground like Tonto. Listen to shit. Pay attention. Let the sweet serendipity and weird waves of connection wash over you. People are each their own little rabbit-hole: grab a thread and follow it down into the dark, and just as you might use Pandora to discover new music or Amazon to discover new books, use social media to discover new people. Without people and their thoughts and their stories, writers are just lonely weirdos screaming into an empty closet.

22. Appreciate Your Audience

Your audience follows you and rebroadcasts you and that’s a very nice thing. So appreciate them. Interact with them. Respond to them. I don’t mean to say, act as God from on-high acknowledging the little people — I mean, you’re them and they’re you and social media is a powerful equalizer. Appreciate that they take the time to listen to your nonsense day-in and day-out. That’s pretty cool of them, innit?

23. Crucify Gurus And Stab Them With Your Mighty Spears

Anybody who wants to charge you a bunch of money to “optimize” your “social media skills” is selling fool’s gold. This stuff isn’t hard. It ain’t fucking math. At its core, social media is really, “Talk to people, and try not to be a dick.” That’s true for writers as it is for everybody else.

24. Go Old-School

Every once in a while you need to unplug and embrace some old-school social media: go outside and talk to people. Go to a bar, a book signing, a game store, whatever. Engage with fleshy 3-D meatbags!

25. Remember That You Need To Escape Its Gravity

In the end, social media has uses for the writer. But it also runs the risk of becoming the Sarlacc Pit: a giant evil desert vagina that draws you in with its tentacle porn and slowly digests you over the course of many millennia, not allowing you to make any progress on that screenplay you’ve been writing for the last 16 years. Your priority is to write stories, not to fritter away hours on Facebook or dick around on Adult Slutfinder or pretend like LinkedIn is anything but a giant digital boat anchor. The most important thing a writer should know about social media is that it is not the crux of the penmonkey’s existence. What matters most of all is that you write great stories. So what are you doing hanging around here?

* * *

Want another booze-soaked, profanity-laden shotgun blast of dubious writing advice?

Try: CONFESSIONS OF A FREELANCE PENMONKEY

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And: 250 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT WRITING

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75 comments

  • Hey the Konami code didn’t work. What gives Chuck?
    Also I do love that you linked to Dork Tower.
    But as enlightening as this post has been I am forced to ask two questions. First: Do you really need pants at a convention? And secondly: when can I get Friendhammer? (If only so I can write epistles)

    What am I doing hanging around here? Finishing my daily rounds of the internet of course. I have to keep abreast of things after all, or at least goof off a bit. But now that is done. To the Sky cave of writing!

  • i feel that twitter/facebook/blog WAS made for writers, also sales-copy as well now why because it a great place to test stories and it connects together. the biggest problem as you pointed out getting caught up in social media and nothing else

  • I confess that I don’t follow as many people as follow me, but that’s because I have an aging iPhone and I want to be able to download my main feed without dying of old age first! I put my new followers on a list, so I can check them on a device that’s connected to the interwebz by something more substantial than wet string – if they look interesting, I might follow them eventually.

    What really ticks me off are those people who follow me, and then unfollow a couple of weeks later when they’ve noticed I’m not following them. But then, I guess if they only followed me in order to solicit followers, that’s no loss since they’re clearly not interested in what I have to say, right? Right. Fuck ‘em.

    • @Anne –

      Oh, I’m sorry if I suggested one should be following the same number of people as they are followed (at least on Twitter — Facebook automatically has it this way). I don’t follow that number. I was just noting that the people who have astronomical follower counts but then effectively follow nobody else and, further, don’t *engage* with anybody else are basically big talking billboards.

      Actually, a lot of the time people with totally equal follower/followee counts on Twitter are just as suspect. Because it often suggests they just ignore their follower feeds and throw them the follow because, ultimately, it’s free and meaningless.

      The ultimate point is: distrust those who rob the “social” out of the term “social media.”

      – c.

  • “But nine times out of ten, getting into a snit-spat-tiff-miff-feud-fuss-or-fracas online doesn’t make you look like a shining prince of social media. It just makes you look cranky.”

    But Chuck, I AM cranky.

  • I just had one of those disturbing little waking dreams where you and Kristin Lamb (http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/) were locked in a small enclosed space to debate items 3 and 23.
    It got bloody.
    Fast.
    Occasionally she has good tips for writers, but her endless insistence on “Building he Brand” fair makes me want to puke wet, formerly fuzzy things.
    Okay, ’nuff said. Back to applying face to keyboard.

  • @JC:

    I like Kristin and her blog (she blurbed my e-books!), though just from a personal preference I’m far likelier to read and share her materials on storytelling and writing than I am her materials on social media.

    I think what is a writer’s “brand” is really nothing more than the best or most interesting version of yourself. You get too looped up with “brand” and it prevents you from just… y’know, being a cool dude (or dudette) online. And I think people can smell when you shift over from being a human being to being a product.

    – c.

  • The term Guru is so wacky. I like to think of myself as someone who helps. A helper. Someone to shepard the luddites towards conversational greatness. Y’know, if they ask nice.

    I totally dug this list, but I’d contribute that while the idea of “you” being a brand is phooey, brandING in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. Me, I use subtle pink stripes on all my pages to let people know I’m me. Chuck, your thing is profanity. I dig it. It ties together the baby blogs and the writerly blogs and the cooking tweets nicely.

    BrandING, not Being the Brand. Amen.

    • The thing there, Manda, is that even the profanity is more an emblem of who I actually am rather than a strategy I put forth. Obviously I embrace that gonzo side, but ask my wife: this is actually how I really am. :)

      – c.

  • “Poosplosion” is an OK term. Seen a few of those in my time, so I can sympathise.

    Still prefer the term “Poonami” though. Gives one the impression of landscape destroying waves of baby shit. Hard to beat mental images like that :)

  • Not to be that guy, but I think I’m the one who did the bit about the Twitter watercooler. I was sort of all proud of it and stuff. For sure, I tell people it was me. It could’ve been Jeff, though, too. Hard to tell where that dude ends and I begin, sometimes.

    Still trying to incorporate this “not a brand” thing you’ve said.

    • @Will –

      No, no, be that guy. Jeff may have gotten it from you. I’m referring to his website, where he says:

      “I’m on Twitter because you need a water cooler that much more when you don’t go work in an office every day. I use Twitter to keep up with friends and business partners. My feed is largely personal and informal, and as a grown-up, I sometimes use grown-up language.”

      As for the “not a brand” thing — feel free to talk that up a little.

      – c.

  • 25 useful tidbits for today & stuff I really could have used a few years back. So, get in that time machine. Incidentally, best RT I heard in a while: “What do we want? TIME TRAVEL! When do we want it? THAT’S IRRELEVANT!” I sure rebroadcasted that gem.

    It’s neat to me that we are of similar themes; this week I’ll be talking social media as hemispheres of the brain. I guess I picked up your mental static.

    K

  • The Internet is like hotdogs!! Yes, yes it is.

    This was exactly what I was looking for. How to not be a brand – which in my brain, ends up being a facade – and how to let it all out onto the unsuspecting populace. Many thanks, and may many goat sacrifices appease you now and in the future.

  • Apologising to me??? Man, you’re getting soft in your old age, Chuck. It’s OK, I’ve had my chocolate today ;)

    You’re right, a high following/followers ratio is very suspicious – it usually means a spambot, in my experience. I’m also suspicious of anyone with few or no tweets – some turn out to be online friends whom I’ve convinced to dip their toes in the Twitter waters, but again, they tend to be bots.

    I took Kristin’s brand advice the same way as you did – be yourself, but more so, like putting on your favourite smart get-up to make a good impression at a party. Because that’s what Twitter is. One vast, non-stop cocktail party. No-one likes the bore, or the jerk, and no-one notices the wallflower, so don’t be those people. Simples.

  • “This is how I really am. Ask my wife.”

    Hmmm. Wondering what Bdub’s first baby words are going to be . . .

    And can I just say how happy I am that I don’t have to be a brand?

  • @Chuck—

    I may not be a brand, I guess, but I have a brand, don’t I? Or I want one? I mean, whether I think of myself as “a brand” or not, I have a relationship with people I do not know (and an icon that says who I am), and that’s a brand, isn’t it?

    Just yesterday I was asking people online this question that came up at lunch with a friend of mine: What’s the difference between a brand and a reputation?

    (A brand won’t photoshop Buscemi eyes onto you for Tumblr likes. Or, wait. That’s the joke answer.)

    What I mean is, don’t we sometimes develop brands whether we like it or not?

    • @Will:

      Well, sure, I think writers eventually manifest a certain kind of “branding” — though, in many ways, I’d argue that this is better referred to as a writer’s voice, since most of what we do on social media is itself writing.

      The trick is really not to *act* like a brand, not to give yourself over to those traits that make you a product rather than a human being. Books can be products, but writers, I suspect, shouldn’t be.

      – c.

  • “If I were to write a stage play based on the Twitter stream of Kanye West, would anybody beta-read it for me?”

    YES!!! A thousand times yes!

    Wait? That was hypothetical?

    Dammit.

  • Dammit. My comment disappeared because my book cover showed up as my avi, didn’t it? I didn’t mean to do that, by the way, that’s obnoxious. I think I fixed it. But the enthusiasm for the Kanye screenplay has waned, sadly enough.

  • Voice and brand are certainly all tangled up, especially ’cause we’re in the odd business of promoting and selling our voice, in part. Still: A brand and a product are different things, no?

    I’m not talking about confusing the writer with a product, but as the name that ties different products together and promises some kind of content or quality, the writer is a brand. This doesn’t mean the author should be cold or corporate or douchey or pompous or pretentious. It means that sometimes you buy a book you might not otherwise gamble on because Michael Chabon’s name is on it.

    Even if you want to avoid being a brand, your publishers and your audience make one out of you.

  • “The trick is really not to *act* like a brand, not to give yourself over to those traits that make you a product rather than a human being. Books can be products, but writers, I suspect, shouldn’t be.”

    Branding and reputation seems to be a lot more complicated than I thought, judging by this post and the amount of replies about it. Seems like a good subject for a future post in and of itself really.

    A good follow up question to ask is where does a writer’s book’s (or script or video game dialogue or whatever) brand end, and where does the writer begin? When you have actors, musicians, politicians,celebrities, hell even CEOs known for doing certain things or having certain traits (think Apple’s Steve Jobs and his penchant for black turtle necks), how can you really distinguish between the product and the producer? Aren’t they a brand in and of themselves? Is being a brand really that bad of a thing?

  • Wordity word word!

    BTW, if you don’t mind, I’m going to be doing a presentation next month to a bunch of writer types and am going to quote from this (with proper attribution) and send them here to your blog.

  • As always great advice & I love that you practice what you preach. I feel I am finally getting the hang of social media & it has shown in increased number of views at my blog. For me it was a matter of finding my voice & then not being afraid to interact with others. I’ve been trying to stop by others blogs & leave comments & in return they have been stopping by mine.

  • I’m really happy you mentioned the bullshit of “branding” yourself as a writer. I hate that talk. I hate the expression “brand positioning” too. It’s meant to make a person sound like they have marketing savvy. I just think it sounds stupid when it isn’t a product being discussed. I’m pretty sure Vonnegut would have bust a spleen and given vicious set-downs to anyone suggesting that he is a brand.

  • This is what I put in my tweet now-

    “Just read this about being on social media: you are not a brand, you are a person, be yourself- refreshing! bit.ly/ot6rdm” (The link is to this site)

    You are just blinking great! (no, I didn’t put that in, wasn’t enough room.)

  • You mean I can still be the me on twitter who sometimes says this “<" + this "3" = cock and balls, and not a "heart" and not worry about who might unfollow me as a result? Cool beans. Cuz that's me. Sometimes. I don't always have cock and balls on the mind. It's just spraypainted on bus stops all over this town.

  • Hi, Chuck:

    Love the great advice, and thank you especially for your thoughts on tip #3. As I’m learning about social media, I keep hearing that I need to “brand” myself and I must have an author platform or else all my writerly dreams will go to hell in a handbasket. My feeling has been that my writing should speak for itself and I don’t need some false label of a brand for that to happen. As I’ve used Twitter I’ve found more hits on my website every day, and that’s just from me being me and sharing what interests me.

  • This was a great post to read. It’s true, writers should not be a brand but a voice. Brands just babble on needlessly about their product and try to convince people why their product is better than others. Writers don’t have to convince readers they are better than anyone. Writers simply have to convince readers why their book is worth reading. I personally can’t stand following another writer who simply sends out spam tweets about their book and never actually socializes or coverses with others. It’s annoying, so I don’t do that. If I’m discussing writing with another writer or someone, I’ll mention my book by title and discuss it a little as it relates to the conversation. It’s still getting the name out there without being annoying. :)

  • Chuck were were you when I needed you. I just had the worst experience on Amazon forums you could imagine. Being a normal guy with limited experience in social media I did wrong unknown to me and was set upon by teh self proclamed Amazon police a group of never leave the house bullies and yes I responded with extreme mallace. If I had read this before I went on there I would have handled myself differently but my aussie bravado and inflamed sence of dealing with these types face to face just didn’t translate to social media. They made me look like the bad guy and worse still I fueled their fires. I feel so stupid now. But hey I will regroup and try again I have nought to prove other than I love what I do and I try my best.

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