The following is an essay that I wrote for Advanced Comp II. Many thanks to Collin Kelley, whom I interviewed as a source, and to my friends at 32 Poems and One Stop Poetry, who are also featured in the paper.
I Tweet, Therefore I Am: A Writer’s Guide to Social Media
During the 1930s and 1940s, The Inklings—a group of writers including C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams—met twice a week at their local pub. They discussed their writing over pints of beer and produced several of the 20th century’s most influential works (Trexler). Unfortunately, the demands of our busy modern world don’t always allow us to make it to happy hour with our literary cohorts. Exchanging drafts and discussion have always been an integral part of the writing process, but how can we meet those needs without meeting in person? Many writers are turning to social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter to fill this gap and also to interact with readers. Social media won’t entirely replace in-person social interaction, but this guide will show how writers can use social media to connect to fellow writers and to readers.
A blog is the writer’s social media cornerstone. Because they are template-based, blogs are easy to setup and update. Updates are called posts and may or may not be related to writing. On my blog, I post selected poems, writing advice, and non-writing related content that helps readers get to know me better. Writers and readers can post comments on blog posts, which provides an interactive element. I respond to my readers’ comments, and I like to comment on other writer’s blogs as a way to build relationship with them and give their readers a chance to see the link to my blog. One of my favorite blogs is One Stop Poetry, host to a feature called One Shot Wednesday. Each week more than 200 poets post poems on their own blogs, then add a link to the One Stop Poetry blog (Dustus). We visit each other’s blogs, read, and comment, building relationships along the way. In addition to posting on their own blogs, writers are embracing two newer blogging practices, guest-blogging and blog book tours. Guest-blogging is as straightforward as it sounds—adding a post on someone else’s blog. Several literary magazines also participate in this practice, allowing writers to build relationships with publishers while sharing their ideas or works. Blog book tours are similar to radio station tours to promote new work. Instead of a radio personality, the blogger acts as interviewer and adds the transcript as a post (Kelley). This serves as a great method to reach people who read blogs but may not tune into talk radio.
Many blog posts feature written material, but they can also contain embedded videos from YouTube. YouTube, perhaps best known as a time zap filled with amateur stunt videos and pop song covers, can be a writer’s asset, too. Many writers, poets especially, upload videos from their public readings. These videos can both engage people who can’t attend your readings and build interest for your work and future readings. Someone may stumble upon a reading video, even for a single poem, and become interested in attending one of your full length readings or open mic appearances. Readings aren’t the only use for YouTube; there is a growing YouTube trend for book marketing called book trailers. Not unlike movie trailers, book trailers are released (or uploaded to YouTube) prior to a book’s release and seek to generate buzz. Book trailers may feature the author reading excerpts or discussing the book, interview clips, or acted book scenes. Is YouTube for every writer? Lauren Cerand says it well, “If you like making videos.” She also cautions writers not to waste money on book trailers, if they aren’t confident the video will be popular (Cerand).
One place to share links to your blog and YouTube videos, build community, and promote your work is Facebook. Facebook is the largest social network and easy to maintain, which is why author Collin Kelley suggests it to writers who are new to social media or who only want one site to update (Kelley). Facebook allows users to set up both personal pages and fan pages. Both page types allow public status updates, link sharing, photo and video sharing, and private messages. Pamela Redmond Satran says she uses her personal page to connect with people in the publishing industry. It’s informal, “kind of like going to a gathering that’s part business and part pleasure” (Abbe). Personal pages also allow connections with readers or other writers in a way that lets the writer determine the level of intimacy. You can let your readers become your Facebook friend and open yourself up to frequent interaction or deny their friend requests and keep a respectable distance. Fan pages can be author-focused or work-focused. Kelley has a fan page for his first novel, Conquering Venus, on which he shares content related specifically to that book (Kelley). Personal pages are more about creating community; fan pages are more about promotion. But Facebook isn’t just about readers and writers out there in the virtual world. It can be a great way to connect locally as well, especially by setting up event pages. Kelley sets up event pages to let people know what’s happening with Poetry Atlanta and the Atlanta Queer Literary Festival, organizations that don’t have much money for print advertising (Kelley). In Tulsa, I set up event pages for my own poetry readings and for Third Thursday Poetry Nights, a monthly poetry reading event I organize.
Twitter works like a slimmed down Facebook status update service, but it flows differently. On Facebook, a user updates his or her status, then friends comment on the status. Twitter is an ongoing conversation that users freely enter and leave. Another difference is that Twitter has followers instead of friends. Followers see your tweets in their “timeline” and can just read them, retweet them, or respond directly to you. A retweet takes a tweet from the timeline you follow and places it in the timeline you produce. When I add a new blog entry, I tweet a link to it. Frequently several followers will read my blog, and if they like what I say, retweet the link, allowing people who follow them but not me to see it. Another interesting feature is hashtags, which are topic indicators. Hashtags are denoted by placing a pound sign in front of a word or phrase, such as #poetry, #writing, or #literature. Hashtags can be used any time to share something regarding a topic, or they can be used at specific times for chats. Kelley and I met because we both frequent the hour long Sunday evening #poetparty chat. #poetparty usually discusses a particular poetry related topic or has a guest poet who answers questions from all chatters. Unpublished and published writers alike are welcome to follow the hashtag and add their thoughts on topics like submissions, literary festivals, and writing theory (Ager).
These are only a few social media services, and the field is growing quickly, but these are probably the best, and these concepts should translate to new services as they emerge. Social media is easy to use, incredibly popular, and meets writers’ needs for literary community and self-promotion. For some writers, social media has played a huge role in their success. When Collin Kelley joined Twitter, he followed one of his favorite authors, Kate Evans. She followed him back, and they began commenting on each other’s tweets. It wasn’t long before their virtual interactions led to genuine friendship and him sending her the draft of his first novel. She enjoyed it and forwarded the draft to her publisher, who accepted it. His second novel is due out early next year (Kelley).
Abbe, Elfrieda. “The buzz on social media.” Writer 124.3 (2011): 34-55. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 3 May 2011.
Ager, Deborah. “Want to Join the Poet Party?” http://www.32poems.com/blog/1850/want-to- join-the-poet-party. 32 Poems. 21 November 2010. Web. 3 May 2011
Cerand, Lauren. “Social Media for Authors: Forever in Search of Buzz.” Poets & Writers. Poets & Writers. 1 May 2011. Web. 3 May 2011.
Kelley, Collin. Personal Interview. 25 April 2011.
Dustus, Adam; Marshall, Pete; Miller, Brian; Moon, Leslie. One Stop Poetry—For Poets, Writers, Artists. http://www.onestoppoetry.com. One Stop Poetry. n.d. Web. 3 May 2011
Trexler, Robert, and Jennifer Trafton. “Did You Know?.” Christian History & Biography 88 (2005): 2-4. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 3 May 2011.