We met on the stairwell before going into your Skills Session on "Looking for a Publisher" at the Glasgow Aye Write book festival. I was wearing a red necklace and admiring your beautiful turquoise and green necklace. [Always a good way to start an email, though I feel my shoes really should have got a mention. They were certainly uncomfortable enough.]
I very much enjoyed your session, my first dip of the toe into the writer's world. [Clearly, my emailer is a woman of immense discernment and will go far.]
I am lazily resisting embracing media skills and was wondering if you began blogging and tweeting only once you had became a successful author? (Hoping that your answer might be "yes". )
- Are blogging and tweeting necessary to becoming "successful"? In other words, can we avoid them if we don't want to do them?
- Or do blogging and tweeting really become most useful and important after we are established and successful? In other words, can I therefore please not do it now? Pleeease.
- What can an unpublished writer usefully do in terms of this type of activity? After all, without something to tweet and blog about, what's the point? In other words, give me permission to wait till I've got something to talk about.
Yes. But the main and simple reason for that is that my "success" (however I think you are defining it) came before blogging and tweeting existed... So I didn't have a choice.
However, there is absolutely no doubt that blogging and tweeting have hugely helped at least some parts of my "success", specifically the "profile" bit. In other words, rather obviously they have made more people know about me. Because that's precisely what blogging and tweeting do. Even if they don't sell as many books as some would love to believe.
They have also led to a number of publishers quite often saying they'd love to publish a book of mine. Which is obviously happifying, but never ever ever does this over-ride the fact that first I have to write the right bloody book. Because, unless you are a boob-enhanced celeb, writing the right bloody book is the only way to get published.
But let's look at the other parts of the question.
1. Are blogging and tweeting necessary to success? Clearly, it's possible to be a well known and successful author without them. Some successful authors don't do any of this stuff. However, if you decide not to do any of it, you set yourself a higher hurdle and give yourself weaker muscles with which to leap it. You will almost certainly find more readers if you do this stuff than if you don't. But I would never recommend doing it for such functional reasons alone: you must enjoy at least parts of it, otherwise your lack of enjoyment will come over and it will look like cynicism. Never a sexy look.
Also, for them to be successful, they must be done well and properly. Otherwise, they are a huge time commitment for no gain.
2. Should you (or can you) wait till you have a book out before doing it? Well, you can, but it takes time to build up friendships (and it's friendships, to one degree or another that we're talking about), and it's definitely easier if you build up contacts and connections and friendships sooner, rather than later. If you leap into Twitter the week your book comes out, it's pretty obvious why you're there; and you are likely not to have enough people listening to you anyway.
I'd add that if you are writing non-fiction, building up your platform beforehand is essential. With fiction, it's just advisable, IF you can and IF you can face it.
Also, tweeting and blogging takes practice. Best do that before people have heard of you? I think so, but, again, it's not compulsory.
I do agree that it's an awful lot easier once you are already somewhat known and have a book to show for things, but many people have a lot of fun and success on blogs and Twitter before a book deal or even an agent deal.
3. So, if it's probably a good idea to do it, how does an unpublished author find something useful to tweet and blog about?
Here are my tips:
- I did a popular post about blogging here. Much of it will apply before you have a publishing deal.
- If you are writing non-fiction, you might create a blog that aims to be a go-to resource for that topic.
- If you are writing fiction, your blog could either be about writing or some other aspect of your life, such as a hobby or passion or ability or disability or anything that you feel strongly about and which says something about who you are. It doesn't need to be relevant to your novel. Or you could make it about writing or your life in general - but please do be aware that there are eleventy million blogs like that and most are very boring. They probably even bore the writers themselves and, I assure you, that is not a happy scene. You've got to do this three times a week (ideally, though not compulsorily) so you need to like it.
- Whatever you do, remember that Twitter and your blog are public: so, be yourself but be your nicest self. If you are not nice, shut up or disguise yourself.
- On Twitter, don't worry about providing interesting content if you can't think of any: just chat. Not everyone has to be a provider of info. You can just be the nice person who says hello and is supportive and sensible. Or even just supportive. It's a very good way of making friends.
- Learn how to use Twitter properly. My ebook, Tweet Right, has everything you need to know, including how to avoid faux pas.
- Be patient. Don't expect anything interesting to happen for ages. (Which is why I suggest you start asap.)
- Don't think of the internet as an electronic medium. Just think of it as a way of meeting lots of people but never having to worry about being shy. The social skills involved - listening and noticing body language, following rules of the group - are not much different from those in real life. Listen as much as transmit.
- People want a combination of things from the people they meet online: Friendship, Information and Entertainment. Don't worry about providing all three - one or two is quite enough.
- [Edited to add, with thanks to Stroppy Author] Some unpublished writers, bruised by rejection, make the terrible mistake of slagging off agents, editors and publishing in general. As Stroppy says, doing this stuff wrong is worse than not doing it at all. Keep your anger hidden at all times. Until you are Anthony Horowitz, you can't afford not to. (That link goes to a jaw-dropping piece, by the way!)
On the other hand, until you try, you won't know how much fun (and useful) it can be. I hurled myself into all this accidentally and certainly without thought. And I love it. Mostly.