I’m presently working on an essay for my Advanced Comp II class on the topic: How may writers use social media to build community with fellow writers and gain readers? It’s not a topic that’s easy to research. Many articles about social media focus on business use, which does have transferable concepts, but I needed a writer’s perspective, a writer other than just myself.
I interviewed poet, novelist, playwright, and journalist Collin Kelley, whom I met through the #poetparty Twitter chat. Chatting with Collin was a pleasure, and I think he offered some great insights. Here’s the transcript:
Randall:Let’s start with a brief introduction. Who are you? What type of writing do you do? What published works? etc.
Collin:I’m Collin Kelley – poet, novelist and journalist. I’ve published three collections of poetry – Better To Travel, Slow To Burn and After the Poison. My novel Conquering Venus is out now and my second, Remain in Light, will be published in early 2012. Poetry published in magazines around the world and I guest lecture on social media at universities – including Oxford in the UK.
Randall:What social media services do you use?
Collin:Twitter, Facebook, Blogger, Linked In, Goodreads, Library Thing, YouTube. I manage my Twitter account through Hootsuite.
Randall:On Facebook, do you have a fan page or group, or just a personal page?
Collin:I have a personal page and I also have a fan page for Conquering Venus
Randall:How long have you been using social media to promote your writing?
Collin:I created a blog back in 2003 when Better To Travel came out. That was my first plunge into social media. I was hooked. I actually liked it so much that I ditched my static website and redirected my URL to the blog.
Collin:I joined Facebook right after it became open to the public and I’ve been on Twitter for two or three years now.
Randall:What do you like better about a blog than a static website?
Collin:Because it’s easy to update, access and share information quickly. When I had both a static site and a blog, I noticed that the number of visits to my static site were disappearing and the number to my blog going up. It was a no-brainer. People want up-to-date, fresh content.
Randall:As far as Facebook and Twitter go, I’ve noticed that some people share the same content (status updates, links, etc) on both networks and some have different content for each. How do you do it?
Collin:I try to put separate content. I hate the whole status updating for FB via Twitter.
Collin:I send out tweets all day long, and I don‘t want my FB wall cluttered up with them or my friends to have to deal with them.
Randall:Would you say that most of your tweets and status updates are writing related or more personal?
Collin:Twitter is where I post up random thoughts, links and commentary. I try to make my FB page more thoughtful. I guess it really is like curating.
Collin:I would say it’s a good mix of personal and writing. I hate the whole — just went to the bathroom, now I’m making dinner kind of tweets. I’m always on the hunt for interesting tweets or links from other writers to share with my followers. That’s what helps build the community on Twitter specifically.
Randall:I like the idea of curating for Facebook. How do you decide what makes the cut?
Collin:I think if it’s something my friends want to know about — such as getting my manuscript back from the editor. I just posted Kate Bush’s new video. I love sharing music, news stories, etc. But I try to be measured about it. I think some people overpost on FB. I hate that.
Collin:And people overtweet as well. I try to put up about a dozen or so tweets a day. I usually update my FB status once or twice and maybe throw up a video or link to a news article.
Randall:Are the news articles necessarily related to writing?
Collin:Not always. I’m also an activist for LGBT rights, so those usually find their way to the page, too. It gives my old high school classmates something else to gossip about. lol
Randall:As though there’s a shortage of gossip topics… lol
Collin:When the 2008 election was happening, my blog was pretty much political for a year.
Collin:I know I alienated a few folks, but I thought it was important.
Randall:You may have gained others.
Collin:And I write political poetry, which many consider a big no-no, but I also feel it’s necessary.
Randall:Are your Facebook friends composed more of people you know in person and Twitter more you know virtually? Or is there some mix?
Collin:I have nearly 2,000 FB friends, so many of them have found me because of my writing, which is gratifying. I do know a lot of people because of the many hats I wear and all the traveling I’ve done, so I maybe I do know more people than the average person.
Randall:How has social media allowed you to connect with fellow writers?
Collin:It’s invaluable. I don’t think I would have had as much success as I’ve had without social media. I’ve become friends — personal, not just virtual – with writers, poets, and musicians I idolized as a kid. I’ve been offered readings, workshops and other gigs because of social media. I’ve been able to spread the word about writers I love because of social media. Sharing what you love is really important to me when it comes to literature and social media.
Collin: I’ve also found out about contests, anthologies, etc. because of social media.
Randall: Do you think that social media has affected the mechanics of your writing (i.e. gained new editing partners)?
Collin: Well, I met the poet Kate Evans who showed my novel to her editor at Vanilla Heart. Without her, I would have never gotten my novel published. Kate and I met virtually and are now good friends. Kate is one of my “early readers” along with a few other I’ve met virtually.
Randall: I think you and I met through Poet Party. Tell me a little about that.
Collin: Poet Party was created by Deborah Ager, the founder of 32 Poems literary magazine. She asked me to co-host it and I came aboard. The #poetparty (gotta use the hashtag) is held every Sunday night at 9 p.m ET. We have a topic of discussion every week (submissions, was the latest) and we also have guest poets answering questions. We have participants from all over the world who join in.
Randall: Are there other chats you participate in or hashtags you follow?
Collin: I have a number of streams set up in my Hootsuite account to follow: #poetry #literature #ebooks
Collin: I’m a big fan and proponent of e-books and e-readers, so I’m always looking to share news on that topic.
Randall: Do you connect with (non-writing) readers online, as well?
Collin: Oh, yes. I get emails, direct messages via Twitter and via my FB page who want to talk about my work or have questions about submitting their work, etc. I try to answer everyone.
Collin: One of the great things generated out of the #poetparty is links…where to submit, how to submit, where to find information.
Collin: Which mags have open reading periods or contests, etc.
Randall: You credit a relationship formed on Twitter for publication of your first novel. Has social media also been important to marketing your work?
Collin: Absolutely. Writers are turning to social media to market their work because publishers are no longer doing it or can afford it. A successful writer has to be engaged with social media to have any chance at success today.
Collin: But you also have to be smart about using social media to market.
Collin: You can’t just continually give people a sales pitch or they will tune you out.
Collin: That’s why building community, becoming a content provider and sharer is so important. Helping other writers publicize their work, being engaged in literary causes — all those things are just as important as a “hard sell” of your work.
Randall: We’ve talked some about relationships you’ve built from afar. How have you used social media with your local writing community?
Collin: Facebook is the way you invite people to literary events these days. They’re mandatory. lol I also keep up the calendar at the Poetry Atlanta blog about readings and events, and we have a Twitter account for that. As part of my work with the Atlanta Queer Literary Festival, we’ve been posting videos on YouTube and Facebook about upcoming and past events.
Randall: We haven’t talked about Linked-In, yet. I use that for business networking for my day job. How do you use it for writing?
Collin: Well, I basically use it for my day job, too. I haven’t really explored it for promoting my own writing — yet.
Collin: My day job is editor of Atlanta Intown magazine, so I suppose that is promoting my writing. lol
Collin: I try to keep my personae separate, so Linked In is my corporate face, I guess.
Randall: What would you say to a writer who is skeptical about social media?
Collin: I cannot tell you how many writers I meet who are skeptical of social media. I tell them to pick one platform and just give it a go — usually Facebook. But I think more and more, writers are figuring out that if you don’t have some kind of social media presence, your writing is going nowhere.
Randall: And what advice do you give writers who are new to social media?
Collin: Don’t be afraid of it. Don’t get overwhelmed or obsessed by it. Take it at your own pace and get comfortable with the medium. I also tell them to make sure to interact with others — seek out like-minded writers who are just starting out and who are social media experts.
Collin: Watch what other writers are doing to successfully build community and share their work and follow in their footsteps.
Randall: Any final thoughts?
Collin: Have fun with social media. So many people get caught up in the mechanics and the number of followers they have, and forget to have fun. It really is about sharing the love of writing with others who feel the same. And, again, don’t be afraid to dive in and try it.
Randall: I thought that was my last question but thought of something else…
Randall: Obviously we want to get paid for our writing, but do you suggest sharing any writing for free on a blog?
Collin: Do you mean on your own personal blog or like as guest blogger somewhere else?
Randall: Both, I guess. I share some poems on my personal blog and participate in #oneshotwednesday, but I try to only use my second-tier poetry for that because lit mags aren’t keen on “previously published” work.
Randall: My best poems keep my inbox teeming with rejection letters. lol :-/
Collin: Well, I occasionally put up rough drafts of poems on my blog, get a little feedback and then remove them. Usually, if a poem has appeared on my blog, bu the time it gets submitted to a lit mag, it’s unrecognizable. As far as writing on other blogs, one of the new phenomenons in publishing is the “Blog Book Tour.” That’s where a writer either guest posts or the blog owner does an interview, posts a video, etc. It’s a great way to build audience.
Randall: Thanks for taking the time for this interview.
Collin: My pleasure.