16 February 2012

Social media for authors: Play now, get to work later

Last night I went to a panel called "Getting Published and Beyond in the 21st Century," about the interaction between publishing and social media. This was one of those instances where work life overlaps with blog life -- the panel was offered as part of Social Media Week in New York, and just that morning I had been sitting in on a presentation from one of my day job clients -- and which I find strangely satisfying.

A mix of authors, publicists and literary leading lights populated the panel; the initial draw for me was Emma Straub, author and bookseller, who credited social media with the jump she just made from a small press to Riverhead with her book OTHER PEOPLE WE MARRIED, but that was before they announced that the Goodreads executive on panel would be founder/CEO Otis Chandler. I think everyone on panel gave sound advice though for writers (but not only them) just getting involved in social media. They all seem like common sense, but if you've spent any time on the Internet lately you'll notice there isn't a lot of that to spare out there: 

Find the social media you're "easy and comfortable with using," because those are the ones that will stick. That's from Amanda Pritzker, a publicist at Penguin, but others echoed that the kind of interactions that correlate to one outlet may not make the same impact on another (or, why nobody on Facebook cares about my tweets). Ron Hogan, who used to be the blog mastermind behind Galleycat and is now an independent consultant, stressed connecting all of your outlets to one central page (either a website or a blog) where you can put as much information as you want without putting it in a Facebook-sized box. Straub brought up the case of "Sugar," the anonymous-no-longer advice columnist for The Rumpus who revealed her identity last night and, coincidentally, has a memoir coming out in a month. Maybe an anonymous platform wouldn't work for most people but it sure seems to be going well for her. (It's Cheryl Strayed, by the way, and I hear her memoir is fantastic.)

Build up your social-media network before you need it for promotions. Pritzker again: "If authors don't have a platform they can market to, I can't do that for them." Hogan: "It's okay to sell Tupperware at a Tupperware party, but if it's not a Tupperware party -- don't bring your Tupperware." One of the best audience questions involved an actual hopeful author, with an agent, who wanted suggestions on how to build up his network around the subject of his book (baseball, nonfiction/history) before even getting a deal. Blogger Kristin Gdula even said "There is someone out there on the Internet who will listen to what you have to say," which is brave though possibly exaggerated.

Be genuine and don't freak out too much about saying the right thing. Because it's unavoidable this week, there was a little discussion of how convicted felon (and singer) Chris Brown responded to people on Twitter who were criticizing his role in the Grammys, then tried to delete the evidence -- and how most of us don't need "handlers" to tell us how to behave, on social media or elsewhere. The goal if you're marketing yourself is to give people something to do (Like my Facebook page! Comment here to win a giveaway of my book!) but also to establish a tone that goes with your book and your expertise that you're establishing. Straub: "The message the publisher wants you to be on is your message."

The panel was hosted by Pubslush, a startup where people can post 10 pages of their manuscripts for people to preorder them in print, with all manuscripts getting 1000 preorders automatically going into print. (So, self-publishing and Kickstarter walk into a bar...) Finally, here is a funny and somewhat germane illustration from Pantheon Books on Tumblr:

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