A couple of weeks ago, I asked you to send me your questions about social media. I received quite a few, too many to answer all in one post, so I chose the questions that seemed to have the broadest appeal. As you’ll see, my answers are lengthy as I’ve tried to write around the topic in order to cover as many questions as possible in one go!
I hope these answers are helpful and might spur you into taking the leap into blogging and social media!
1. When did you start blogging and why?
I started blogging in March 2013, nearly five years before my book was eventually published. At the time I started writing, obviously I didn’t know if I was ever going to be published, but I set up a website anyway. There were a few reasons for that:
- I wanted a space where I could practise my writing, a place where I could experiment, write personally, and develop my voice and writing style.
- I knew having a blog would give me a deadline and force me to write more and therefore learn the craft of writing more speedily.
- I enjoyed reading other people’s blogs, and I wanted to be part of that online community.
- There was no ‘gatekeeper’ on a blog, someone who might veto my piece. I only had to pass muster with myself.
- I could share my writing immediately with readers, sometimes within minutes, whereas it was going to take years before someone could read my book!
- It can be lonely writing in an attic, and social media is actually social, albeit via a screen.
- I knew that having a ‘platform’ and a social media presence would be helpful if my book was eventually published. To be honest, though, the reasons above were more important.
- I wrote more about why I blog in this post, too.
Once I started blogging, I found that a blog post wasn’t the end of the conversation—I could expand and refine my idea in the comments or in a later post. It truly was a conversation with readers and with myself, and I had to think hard about what I was trying to say. I wrote a lot of personal posts in the early days, and learnt much about myself. I can’t express how helpful that was in writing my novel. Of course, I also discovered a really supportive blogging community!
2. How did you start blogging?
I went with a self-hosted website and installed WordPress on it, rather than buying a domain name through WordPress. Owning my domain name means I can do whatever I like with my site and I’m not limited to WordPress forever (although I still use it).
I set my site up myself, which wasn’t easy. It took me about two weeks to learn the ropes. WordPress have video tutorials, which were very helpful, and which I followed to the letter. However, I still made mistakes, and there was a lot of teeth-gnashing and hair-tearing involved. I found it difficult to get my head around all the jargon, too. Although there was a steep learning curve and quite a few teething issues, I’m glad I did it myself and learnt how to do it. If someone had done it for me, I wouldn’t understand how a website operates.
I kept that website for about four years as its main focus was blogging. A year ago, when I knew my book was going to be published, I asked Kristy Morton to give my website a makeover, with more focus on my book. It’s also a lot prettier!
3. Which social media channels do you use and why?
I mainly use Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I limit myself to those because I enjoy them and I think that’s important—if you don’t enjoy social media, you’ll dread doing it. Sometimes I feel like I should use LinkedIn and Pinterest more, but it’s impossible to do everything well and still have time for actual writing.
I treat my Facebook author page like a less formal, more chatty blog. It’s where I’m most likely to interact with readers, so I try to post regularly and keep followers updated with what I’m doing. Twitter is where I chat to other writers, authors, and professionals, and where everyone seems to be very casual and chatty. Instagram is becoming more popular in recent years, and I’m gradually getting my head around the fact it’s not just for sharing pretty photos anymore, but for author pics and website posts!
As a published author, I have a Goodreads profile, but I really only use that site as a reader.
4. How did you build a following and how long did it take?
It took years to build a following and I’m glad I started early. Yes, it took me away from writing my novel, and I could have written my novel more quickly if I hadn’t been blogging and Facebooking, but I’m still glad I got online early because it gave me time to build a following before my book came out. By the time my novel was finally published, I had a group of people who’d been following me for a long time, and who probably just wanted to read my goddamn story because they were sick of hearing about it!
Unless you’re lucky, publishers have very little, if any, advertising budget for début novelists, so anything you can do to publicise your own book is helpful. Because I was part of the blogging community, other bloggers reviewed my book and helped spread the word. Also, because I’d featured writers and authors on my blog as part of Writers in the Attic, I was inundated with reciprocal invitations for guest blog posts. Bloggers are very kind-hearted!
As I said earlier, it took years for me to build a following. Here’s a timeline of my Facebook following, so you can see how long building it took:
I started my Facebook Author page in April 2013 and I quickly gathered a huge 39 Followers! Almost a year later, in February 2014, that number had risen to 100, and I celebrated with a giveaway of an anthology that featured two of my stories.
Two-and-a-half years later, at the time of signing my publishing contract in September 2016, I had 255 followers, and just over a year later, in December 2017, I reached 1,000 Followers. At the time of writing this post in April 2018, I have over 1,300 Followers.
One of the reasons I set up my website and social media was for if my novel was ever published. My book is a product like any other retail commodity, and I wanted it to be noticed by as many potential readers as possible. So while social media is for interaction and community, there’s a business side to it, too.
Not long after I signed my publishing contract, I joined a ‘Mastermind’ group run by Amanda Kendle, who is an expert in social media. We meet once a month to discuss our social media and publicity, and how we can improve. I’ve learnt a lot from Amanda—time-saving apps and understanding algorithms, for instance—and seeing what others in the group are doing gives me ideas and helps keep me on track.
Up until the time I got my publishing contract, most of my followers were family, friends and other writers. Still, I tried to post regularly and write interesting content. Now I’m grateful for all those past posts because when new people came to my website, I already had heaps of material for them to read. Most of my messages from blog readers are about those old posts.
5. How do you measure your success on social media?
The simple answer is: I don’t. I know there are people who set goals for building their social media, but I’m not here to go viral or take over the world. I really couldn’t stand analysing statistics—I’d feel constantly under pressure and disappointed if I didn’t reach my goals. Besides, it would take even more time, which I don’t have.
The other thing to remember is, we share our writing and parts of ourselves, but we really have no control over whether someone likes our content or not. Some blogs appeal to a wide audience, while others are for a smaller niche. But we still have to be ourselves.
For me, worrying about numbers would take the spontaneity and fun out of it. I’m on social media because I enjoy it, and I’ll keep going as long as I enjoy it. Because writing can be such a solitary occupation, it’s a way for me to socialise—I know that makes my life sound very sad, but I feel like part of an online community, and I’ve made many friends via my computer screen and keyboard, many of whom I’ve gelled with when we’ve met in real life. I think it’s lovely that we can connect with people from all over Australia and the world. Strangely enough, it feels rather quaint and old-fashioned, because despite the digital technology involved, we’ve returned to keeping in touch through the written word in much the same way people did in the past.
Social media is about communicating with others, so you have to enjoy it. There are times when I need a break from it—like last week, for example. Sometimes, it does feel like a pressure, and I need time away, days when I don’t have to front up to Facebook. So I take a holiday and come back refreshed.
6. How did you overcome the feeling that no-one was interested in what you had to say when you weren’t a proven (published) author?
This is an important question because we all feel like this, and I’ve even written a post about it here. Even since being published, with almost every blog post I still think: No one will be interested in this. This is boring. This has all been said before. What do I know? I’m no expert.
Yet I still press publish. And that would be my advice: To write and publish it anyway. Because people will be interested in what you have to say. The worst that can happen is that no one reads it, and so what if that happens? Some of my posts have only become popular since my book has been released because people now want to read about my journey. I’m glad I wrote and published those posts, because they’re a record of all I went through. In fact, I wish I’d written more, but at the time I thought no one would ever be interested!
On a related topic, I used to worry that some of my posts were too personal and I should keep them private. But the posts I’ve baulked at sharing, the ones in which I made myself most vulnerable, are my most popular. This post about my sister’s death that I wrote in 2013 has had over 5,000 views. This letter to my daughter when she moved out of home has been read nearly 5,000 times, and this post on homeschooling has been viewed nearly 4,500 times. All of these posts are more than four years old but are still regularly visited—the one about my sister’s death still has nine visitors a day on average!
So don’t worry if it’s boring or that no one will be interested, publish it anyway!
Two take home points from this post:
- Start building your writer platform as early as you can, so that by the time your book comes out, you have a following ready and waiting.
- Do it in a way that’s enjoyable for you. The last thing you want it to be is a millstone around your neck.
I hope this post answers most of your questions. By the way, if you have any topics you’d like me to write about, please send them in and I’ll do my best to address them.