So last year was my first full year working as a literary agent.
I had a lot of awesome victories that I shouted to the social media winds and posted about here. I signed a number of rockstar authors, from well-established authors to debuts. You can check out my team in this handy Twitter list. They are all wonderful. I went to a bundle of conferences all around the country, so many that I can’t remember all the places. I even sold some books I can’t quite announce just yet.
And the ones I did announce? I’m so proud of them.
And while all of that sounds awesome, there were some big hurdles in the mix, and some major lessons I took away. Because for every author I picked up, there was another I didn’t get to work with. There were conferences that were, sadly, not a good use of my time. And I’m going to try to get better at handling all of these things.
Here are some of the lessons I learned, that I hope you can learn from too. Read more
Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of queries through the ol’ P.S. Literary inbox from authors who have, for one reason or another, built out entire websites and social media presences for their books.
Books that aren’t out yet.
I see the same thing, again and again. Sometimes it’s a fully fleshed out website dedicated to a book, complete with an about section, synopsis, detailed bits about the characters and the like. Other times, the author is using a Twitter handle, named after the book, with a link to the book’s website in the bio. Or maybe even a Facebook fan page, for the book, with periodic updates about that book, and almost always, there are like, a dozen fans.
Please. You must stop this.
Not that this is a bad thing that’ll turn agents and editors away (though they might think the book is out already, be careful!), but because it’s a waste of your valuable time. Time that could be spent building something worthwhile.
Here’s what I think the problem is.
I think there’s something getting lost out there in the advice that gets dished out on writing and publishing websites. Because let’s be real, the platform discussion is one that gets brought up pretty constantly. I mean, all the time. Always. Forever. I hear the same shtick again and again, no matter what conference I go to. Build a homebase. Work on your social media profiles. Build your #brand social-media-buzzword-nonsense-blah-blah-blah.
And while that advice is correct, and you should have an online presence and all that… it should be for you.
Not for your book.
Let me explain. Your online platform, as an author writing fiction or non-fiction, should (and can) do a few things. It should introduce the world to you, the writer. It should be a jumping off point for you, in terms of networking and interacting with the community (ie: writing blog posts!). It should help with buy-in, showcasing you as a person that’s worth looking into. What are you like? What are you reading?
It should not be just for your book.
Here’s the thing, after your book is published… there is a window of time that it gets marketed and pushed. And eventually, after that window between building buzz and post-publication, the push slowly stops. Unless you become a monumental bestseller, reviews are going to slow down. People will stop tweeting about it. And eventually, you’ll move on to your next book.
Your next book.
That’s the thing, you guys.
If you spend all this time building up a platform for an individual book, you are putting all your effort into something that, in the end, won’t get utilized anymore. If you’re constructing an entire Twitter persona off the title of your book… what happens when you’re working on that next book? Do you make a new Twitter handle? Do you change your current handle, and consequently, complicate your links across the Internet because now none of them will work, and point to something outdated? What about that Facebook fan page for your book? What of that? Will your audience navigate over to the new fanpage? How many?
If you use your time creating a platform for an individual title, instead of working on yourself… you run the risk of having something totally useless down the line.
Look. I want you to think about the reason you create a community.
You do it because one doesn’t exist, right? That’s why you bother to build a community online. Because you see a need for it someplace. So… is there an absolute need for the website and social media presence for your individual, singular book?
The communities exist out there for it already.
From bloggers to the mass media, BookTubers to well-established community reading platforms like Goodreads, LibraryThing, etc… these exist to be, in some way, the platforms for your book. People have built them, and they are incredible (especially book bloggers, I love you guys). Down the line, when you’re published, your publisher’s website will have details about your book, full of resources and valuable materials.
You don’t need an individual site for it. The communities exist out there already. There’s no need to create one.
When you’re published, and maybe have a series? Sure. Then talk about building out a website. There are SO many great microsites out there for book series, that dish out stuff for die-hard fans and work as places to gather information for educators, librarians, etc. And those are generally created when there isn’t a place to house that stuff. But, that comes later, you guys. Much later.
You will impress agents and editors far more with a solid online presence that’s about you. In addition to your book, they are interested in YOU. Very much so. Remember, you’re someone they want to build a career with. Sure, they want to sell your book, but that website isn’t going to help.
Your prose will.
So refocus that platform. Create a website that showcases you as an author. If you’re looking for absolutely stellar examples of that, here are a number of authors that have spectacular online platforms, who I bring up in just about every talk I give at conferences.
This semester, I had a great time teaching my first graduate-level publishing class at Rosemont College. It was a real thrill, spending so much time with students eager to get into the industry, and exploring different ways to venture in. Some were aspiring editors, others wanted to get into publicity. The class? A marketing course.
A lot of the course touched on social media, as well as discussing ways to utilize various publishing-industry-specific tools when working on publicity and marketing campaigns.
I loved it so much, I thought maybe I should start blogging about some of the stuff I dished out. Maybe take some lessons from my pals and colleagues Carly and Maria over at P.S. Literary, and start doing advice-type-things on the ol’ blog.
So, this is the first of what I hope will be many.
There are a lot of reasons why I’m on social media. I use it to network with people in the publishing world, keep track of news both locally in Philadelphia, nationally in, you know, the world, and keep an eye on what’s going on in the book industry. I meet new authors, both as a fan and as potential clients. I tweet out links to things I find interesting and hope others will too.
But I don’t think of it as a place to sell books. Because social media seldom does that well.
Now, there are certainly a few exceptions to the “social media doesn’t sell books” claim. When an eBook deal hits for a book that plenty of people love and an author is able to rally their friends around it… well, that can do wonders. But that’s a $1.99 eBook we’re talking about, not your $17.99+ novel.
“Then why am I even on here?!” You scream to the heavens, your finger hovering over the ‘delete account’ button in your Twitter’s settings.
Calm down. This is why.
What social media will do, is make you part of a community. It’ll endear you to readers. It’ll serve as buy-in for someone thinking about covering you and your book. And later on down the line… maybe the result of that will sell a book. Maybe.
But again. That’s not why you’re on there. For sales. You should be on there for other perks. Let’s dig in.
Sometimes you just wanna hug your favorite authors.
1. ENDEARMENT & WHY I’VE BOUGHT THE SAME BOOK EIGHT TIMES: Like every book lover ever, I spend way too much time fussing over my personal library. Moving this book here or there, buying a new box set so I have to shift an entire shelf. Maybe I’m having a rough day, so I just decide to go all High Fidelity on the collection, reorganize it autobiographically or some such silliness.
Whenever I do this, there are a few books that always stay in place. Two dozen or so. Written by authors that I’ve become pals with on the ol’ social media. Some I’ve never even met, some I’ve only seen once or twice at a convention. But these are the books I talk about with people the most. And this is a huge takeaway for authors and social media that people don’t consider enough.
Social media has the power to endear you to your followers and fans.
See, social media has endeared the authors and their books to me. And this, in my opinion, is the number one reason to be on social media as a writer.
Publishing is always trying to figure out how to get consumers to know about their books. “Discoverability” is a fancy buzzword that gets tossed around a lot. And the most powerful method of discoverability isn’t big ol’ ads, book trailers, microsites, marketing campaigns, etc.
It’s word of mouth from passionate fans and book lovers.
Following people that love your work, booksellers you admire, communicating with other authors. They’ll keep those special books on their shelves, and tell their friends about them.
It’s an emotional connection. That’s something no amount of ad money can buy.
2. COMMUNITY & NOT BEING “THAT GUY” AT THE PARTY: When I have a bit of book news, there are a handful of authors I tend to send a big ol’ BCC email to, or bug on gchat, or hit up via DM on Twitter. If we weren’t friends and in the same community, chances are this would result in an irritated email back or a subtweet, and then zero results.
But when you’re part of a community, the result is wonderful.
Signal boosting cover reveals, eBook sales, new deals, etc. Blog posts listing books, including maybe yours. Reviews on Goodreads. Group blogs for debut authors (lookin’ at you, Swanky Seventeens). No matter your genre, there’s a community out there for you, full of writers, booksellers, bloggers, librarians, and readers that will bolster you up.
And now, for a quick lesson.
One question I get a lot regarding joining a community, is figuring out how to actively participate IN said community. How do you build a following? Make friends? It’s easy.
I want you to think back to every house party or college bash you’ve ever been to.
When you walk in, and people start talking to you… do you want to talk to the person who won’t shut up about themselves, or to the person who asks you questions? Who inquires about your projects, wants to know you, wants to talk about you to other people? Who takes the time to introduce you around?
Think about social media and joining the online community like a party. Chances are, you’ll make more friends and more connections by being genuine, by being curious, and by taking a vested interest in others. If you’re just at the party to talk about YOU, no one will want to hangout with you.
Don’t. Be. That. Guy.
There are a lot of reasons why writers write. To tell a story, maybe educate. But one thing you probably don’t think about going into all of it, is the community that you’ll inevitably discover. And finding your people, like minded folks… that’s another reason to put pen to page.
When I announced WELCOME HOME back in February, I didn’t expect to hear from several dozen authors and book lovers that were adopted. My entire life, I maybe knew a handful of adopted kids, who moved in and out of my life. Once that announcement hit, I suddenly knew close to a hundred. I might have cried a bit. Or a lot. It was probably a lot.
Joining a community makes you feel like you’re part of something bigger. You discover a support system you didn’t know you had. Social media is the perfect way to find your bookish people.
Don’t let this happen to you!
3. BUY-IN BUT NOT SALES, DON’T GET EXCITED: When I say ‘buy-in’ I don’t mean purchasing.
When you have a book ready to hit the market, having an online presence is an important way to encourage people to learn more about you not just as a writer, but as a person. The books I love the most and talk about the most aren’t just written by talented writers. They’re written by good people I admire.
If you’ve ever been to a conference ever, you’ve likely been talked to death about platform.
Someone can check out your social media profile, your website that lists your writing, the articles you’ve posted on your site… and know a few things right away. Are you the kind of author who might draw people to their bookstore, if you’re say, plotting an event? Are you someone that might be good on a panel? If you’re unagented, and querying around, are you part of the community? If they are a person in the media, a book blogger or an editor at a magazine, can they learn about you quickly to help with potential pieces?
There are a ton of things that having an established online presence helps with, and this is a big one.
They can be fun!
4. #HASHTAG: THE AUTHOR-CENTRIC ONLINE EVENTS: Still querying? Don’t have a book out just yet? Besides all the other reasons I just listed (which yes, you should still be active on social media in the book community even if you don’t have a book on its way), the author-centric hashtag events are a must reason to be on social media.
Since becoming an agent, I’ve requested manuscripts from SO MANY authors via social media, and signed quite a few as a result of events like #PitMad. I’ve offered to rep authors I’ve found on there, only to find numerous agents clamoring for that particular manuscript, which always fills my heart with joy.
There are also excellent resources like #MSWL, or Manuscript Wishlist, which allows you to read through book ideas agents and editors are excited about potentially finding. It’s an absolutely incredible resource, and it all pools into this great website.