Friday 20 April 2012

Blog/tweet = success: chicken or egg?

An email the other day raised an interesting question. With the sender's permission, I will answer it here.
Hello Nicola
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". )
Behind this question I detect some sub-questions:
  1. Are blogging and tweeting necessary to becoming "successful"? In other words, can we avoid them if we don't want to do them?
  2. 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.
  3. What can an unpublished writer usefully do in terms of this type of activity?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.
Let me answer the original question first: wondering if you began blogging and tweeting only once you had became a successful author?  (Hoping that your answer might be "yes". )

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!)
However, if you don't want to do any of this, or you really want to wait till later, remember one thing: there is no law that you have to do it. I strongly recommend that you give it a shot but you Do Not Have To. And if you decide not to, don't fret: writing your book is more important than blogging and tweeting.

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.


Stroppy Author said...

All good sensible stuff, as usual - but I would add DON'T say stupid things! Don't grumble about publishers or agents who reject you, don't alienate future readers, don't come across as a grouch. You can do more damage by doing it wrong than by not doing it at all.

Nicola Morgan said...

Stroppy - excellent point! I had meant to include that and it's so important that I'm going back to add it, crediting you. Thank you!

MrsT said...

Great answer! Reassuring, as ever.
I think of myself as a (very slowly) emerging writer and I was reticent about engaging with Twitter and even more so about blogging but I do both now.
Twitter is far more fun than I ever imagined it might be - people are so kind and so generous with their ideas and support. My blog is a way for me to start BEING a writer, maybe!
Most importantly it is helping me develop as a writer.
I think the key thing is what you say about the chance to learn all this in the luxury of relative anonymity - by the time I'm a famous writer I think I'll be a social media expert!
Thanks to you and good luck to your necklace admirer!

catdownunder said...

I look on it partly as actually hatching an egg I think...and that is a process which requires a good deal of persistence and hard work.
I would never have met you if it had not been for the Edinburgh Bookshop blog (and why I was there is, as you know, a rather good story in itself)and I have moved from there to here and having my own blog and finding other blogs and Twitter. And, because I live in a rather isolated part of the world (from a writing point of view) it has given me a lot of support and encouragement - and a brisk licking from you to keep me going when I want to give up. Has it been worth it? Absolutely!

Sally Zigmond said...

Excellent advice, as ever, Nicola. Can I just re-iterate that it takes time to get the hang of Twitter especially. It's like walking into the local pub. Sometimes no-one is there you know and you scuttle out again but sometimes there's a lively crowd of people you love, like and admire and, joy of joys they're chatting about something you can join in, learn useful things, meet new people and end up having a ball.

Never, ever use it as a soap-box or (horror or horrors) a place to pitch your book to the agent in the corner you've never spoken to before. Agents are lovely but ferocious when cornered! Don't even think of it.

Nicola Morgan said...

Cat and Sally - excellent, excellent extra points. Thank you! (Sally, on the other hand, it's quite entertaining watching the fallout when someone foolishly pitches to an agent on Twitter... Actually, no, it's not - it's excruciating.)

Cat - you are a very good case study!

Laura Mary said...

I tentatively started my blog not really knowing what to talk about, and not expecting anyone to really read it! My thinking was, that in 2, 3 (5… ? Upwards???) years time when I have a finished book ready to shout about, there would by then be a wealth of posts for people to read!

I did struggle at lot as first, mostly to find time, then also to find things anyone else would be remotely interested in. But I’ve got in the habit of blogging weekly now, and have found it to be a lot of fun, even if I do have daft weeks posting pictures of my cat!
The idea was that over the years it would show a progression from clueless hopeful to published writer.

It is very much a work in progress!

DT said...

A lively and interesting post, Nicola. It's good to remind ourselves that there is no magic formula, and that doing what feels comfortable - initially at least - is probably the best way forward. Have a great weekend!

Tasha Harrison said...

Brilliant advice Nicola, thank you. I've been tweeting and blogging for 3 months now after a few years of resistance. I'm really enjoying it and I've also found a wealth of good advice and support from the online writing community.
I wrote two novels a few years back, so uploaded them to Amazon and got into social media all in the same weekend - not well planned at all! I'm half-way through writing another novel, so I shall plan the launch of that more carefully.
You're also right about staying positive online. I found that writing a humorous blog post about losing an agent to be a cathartic experience and was surprised by how many people related to it. It felt good to know I was not alone in my experiences! Thanks for a great post.

Inkpen said...

You do have a worrying tendency to see into our minds, don't you? So I'm not the only one with eyes-half-closed thinking, 'Oh, I'll get to grips with All That Stuff later, when I've written a bit more ...'
Thanks for the Anthony Horowitz link too!

Louise said...

Thanks for this, I started blogging a couple of years ago and recently got into Twitter, now I have 81 followers, which is a small number, but I had none two months ago ... so it takes time but I really enjoy Twitter, great source of info and you get to follow loads of interesting people. I rarely talk about my own writing because I am unpublished and I think it would bore people to hear about yet another wannabe :)

Sarah Allen said...

I have loved blogging and tweeting and had a ton of fun doing it for the few years I have been. My biggest problem is that I've felt a little...well, presumptuous about starting so early on in my writing career. I started my blog before I'd even started working on my book. I know its probably ridiculous to feel that way, and the point is to just learn things and meet new friends, right? Hopefully it will all pay off soon.

Sarah Allen
(my creative writing blog)

Nicola Morgan said...

Mrs T - so sorry: I missed your comment. I agree!

Sarah Allen - nothing presumptuous at all. After all, millions of people blog who aren't writers at all, so why shouldn't you, who ARE a writer?

Louise - fab!

Inkpen - *bows* And yes, that Horowitz piece is a classic, isn't it?!

Tasha and Derek - thanks. And good luck.

Laura Mary - and you are enjoying it, which is the main thing!

Isabel Costello said...

Great post once again. I shared most people's reservations about blogging as an aspiring writer, but two things made me decide to have a go: joining Twitter last summer and seeing a lot of people in a similar position did have a blog, and hearing several agents say it makes a big difference to your chances if you have an 'online platform' in place (and a good book to follow, obviously). I wasn't sure what I would blog about except that it wouldn't be me banging on about writing (agree with you how dull that is). All I can say is it has been a really positive experience - I love doing it, a lot of people read it, I've made some wonderful contacts and many new friends. Best of all, there've been some really interesting debates about books. Nobody should feel obliged to blog, but if in doubt, I'd say, have a go, you may really enjoy it!

Nicola Morgan said...

Isabel - a perfect example, really. I hope my emailer is reading!

@cathyreadsbooks said...

All very sensible advice. I agree that it is trickier for writers to pitch up on twitter just before publication - especially if they complain that their publishers have made them do it!
I think Twitter is the same as IRL publicity, better to not do it at all than to do it badly.
I also think that whilst twitter may not sell a lot of books, it is a very powerful trade marketing tool. I get sent lots of books, too many to read them all, and if I know and like someone on twitter it really moves their book up my pile.

crimeficreader said...

I stumbled across this yesterday, Nicola. Angry Robot submissions require ‘a summary of the author’s existing online presence’.

Sarah said...

Have wanted to write for a while and have half a novel tucked away somewhere - probably best place for it - but I started blogging when my husband died as that gave me a focus of what to write about. It is my first blog "unravelling-edges", my first year of being a widow that I hope to turn into a book.
After a year had passed I started a second blog "re-ravelling" about putting the pieces of my life back together. "re-ravelling" is a place to write my thoughts and I write about anything that takes my fancy, "re-ravelling" has its own Facebook page and I now tweet. Twitter has been a great way of meeting like minded people and I have found some fantastic blogs along the way.
I'd like to think my writing has improved too just by writing more frequently and knowing there are people reading what I've written.
Thanks Nicola for another excellent post.

Nicola Morgan said...

Crimeficreader - interesting, and I've seen several new publishers say they won't look at the submission of someone who either doesn't already have an online presence or is willing to develop one. I don't blame them: it's hard enough to sell books anyway and anything we can do to help our publishers, we should be. (Within reason.)

Sarah - I've commended you for your blogging before and I do it again now. Congratulations again. x

Suzy Norman said...

I jumped on Twitter as soon as and I remember when it was all fields etc. I've also been blogging since 2007, so I was already part of the furniture before securing an agent but I don't think either mediums are necessary at all. BUT the great thing about blogging and Twitter is keeping up to speed with news and blog posts which are an incredible wealth of free knowledge (like this one). If you're in the system you see useful new blog posts as they happen and if you're interested in publishing to begin with, that interest will intensify via twitter and blogging. Not to be sniffed at.

BeeCycling said...

I'd say it's a good idea to start early, if for no other reason than to get the hang of it while not many people are watching. Once you're published and people actually come looking for you, you want to look as if you already know what you're doing. You don't want to look as if you just registered on Twitter that morning and haven't figured out what a retweet is yet. :D

Evelyn said...
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Evelyn said...

Necklace admirer here.
My first time commenting on a blog. (Except that my first actual attempt ten minutes ago disappeared off with the email stork to destinations unknown, because of my failure to register to blog.)
Nicola you have pegged me right as a timid, reluctant social media participant. Sorry I didn't notice the shoes. What were they like? I have read your advice, for which many thanks. I have read all the reactions, suggestions, tips and experiences from everyone commenting and feel very grateful for their kindly support.
I see that I am wallowing in a puddle of dither instead of joining in the party. I even have teenage kids who will romp me through the process without smudging their mascarra.
Why am I waiting?

Evelyn said...

Um. Sorry about the three removed comments. All mine. Don't know how I managed to post the same thing three times. Teenager assistance to delete two of them, but they all went away.
Finally though I have achieved a SUCCESSFUL blog comment. And this one makes two.
Exhausted. Going to bed.

Rosemary said...

I only recently dipped my middle aged toes into Twitter - and I am totally hooked. I had imagined it to be another version of Facebook, which I'm not keen on, but it's quite different. I find the need to keep comments so short is very good discipline - I am only too skilled at exceeding word counts, and this makes me think about what I am saying and how I can say more with less.

I am thrilled to find so many famous, new and (like me) aspiring writers on Twitter - I feel as though my 'writing world' has burst into life over the past few weeks - it's so stimulating, and Twitter has also led me to many writers' blogs - people I'd never otherwise have heard of, who write interesting and informative posts. Most of all, I feel that I am not alone.

I am thinking about starting a blog. Mrs T - I agree, writing a blog must be a start; at least it means you write regularly.

The only drawback to all this networking is that it can easily become the latest procrastination tool; I can happily spend all day composing tweets and reading others. Some discipline is needed - at least by me.

Very interesting article Nicola; thank you!

Anonymous said...

I've been reading your comments about blogs for ages, Nicola, and finally decided I'd better have a go. I've managed to get to grips with Facebook but it was a toss-up between blog or Twitter and the blog is more me. I'm sure Twitter will follow.

As to how to blog and what to blog about, I did some hard thinking and decided I didn't want to blog about what I'd had for lunch; nor did I feel able to give enough time to book-reviewing. In the end I've come up with a blog about Histories, Mysteries and Winchester - all of which feature in my books, so there'll be bits about all of those things.

Am I allowed to mention the name of my blog? It's Nicola Slade's Winchester Mysteries (

Jackie Buxton said...

Brilliant advice, as ever, Nicola and I love Sally's analogy of Twitter and the pub. Yep!
Like many here, I went to tweeting and blogging kicking and screaming - my main reservations being that they were ANOTHER 'non-novel-writing' time sap plus I wasn't sure who on earth would want to read the musings of a non-published author, apart from my Mum. However, I've found that I absolutely love writing my blog and that it has actually helped my writing. I think I'm more confident about what my 'style', if I have one, actually is and I've got faster which has spilled over into my fiction writing. I give myself a time frame for each post and I'm damned if I'm going to exceed it (although, ahem, there has been the odd occasion...). Then there's Twitter. I never imagined it to be useful in the practical sense but I'm always picking up writing tips and competition links as well as wonderful blog links. And it's good fun and supportive and, well, all the things you've said. Plus it gives me the chance to support published authors who've helped me by re-tweeting their book links etc.
So yes, don't decide until you've given it a go would be my advice, too.

Nicola Morgan said...

Evelyn - sorry about my delay in replying. I smiled at the thought of you "wallowing in a puddle of dither"! And I'm very glad that everyone's comments and experiences have helped push you out of the puddle, or at least WANT to!

Everyone - thanks so much for all your comments and stories. It really does seem that most of you really enjoy and benefit from blogging, for all sorts of reasons and in varying ways. It really is a matter of finding what works for you. But if you find you don't like it, just walk away - you tried it and it wasn't for you. There are many way to skin a rabbit. Or something.