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Social Media: Fun or Futile? How I Decided to Get Real or Get Out

We authors are under a massive amount of pressure to build “author platforms.” It’s all about social media, they say. Blogging. Tweeting. Facebooking. Pinteresting.

YouTube! Google Plus! Goodreads! Shelfari!

Lions and tigers and bears! Oh my!

On top of all this, naturally, we need to allow time to write the next book, take care of our families, and have some modicum of a personal life.

It can be a bit much.

When Gift of the Phoenix released back in September of 2012, I was neck-deep in the One and Only Year of Homeschooling. We knew it was going to be the One and Only Year going into it, and that’s just about the One and Only Thing that kept me from Losing My Ever-Loving Mind. Bless those people who homeschool year after year; I don’t know how they do it.

I had a lot of fun with my kids that year, don’t get me wrong. I nearly majored in education instead of creative writing (thank goodness I went with my true passion there!) so I like teaching, but trying to juggle homeschooling on top of all my other demands nearly drove me to the brink.

With my very limited time that year, it was either market Gift of the Phoenix OR write the next story. I couldn’t do both. I could hardly do one. I chose writing, and Nashua’s Choice was born.

So, now that my kids are back in school and it is the Holy Year of Having My Life Back, I have time (kind of) to write AND market.

Oh glory be. Just what I’ve always wanted!

I’ve spent the last few months doing my homework and trying to become more social media savvy, all with the intent of trying to build a successful “author platform.” As with so many things in my life, it goes about like this: research and think and ponder, research and think and ponder, lather, rinse, repeat until I feel I understand something thoroughly and know how I’m going to go about it.

THEN I do it. With gusto.

Same goes for this whole marketing thing. I’ve spent countless hours consuming information on the Internet and gleaning advice from knowledgeable friends. It’s been overwhelming, but also informative and helpful.

Trouble is, I’m a terrible salesman. I hate being “sold to” and I hate doing that to others. I’ve never had a sales job and never, ever will. (God willing.)

For that reason, when I started doing book signings, which are technically a form of marketing and definitely a place to sell books, I made an important decision from the very get go.

I AM NOT THERE TO SELL THE BOOK.

I’m really not. I’m there to talk to people. When I made that decision for myself, I saw book signings in a whole new way.

I’m just there to talk to people. That I can do. I actually like meeting people. People are freaking interesting.

Yeah, I start by telling them about the book. But really, the book needs to sell itself. Either it’s the kind of story that’s going to interest them or it isn’t. People who are going to like my book will be drawn in by the cover, and captured by the blurb on the back or the first few pages. I have a little blurb I share that tells a bit more.

That’s it.

If they like the sound of it, I sign a book. If not, I don’t. I don’t fuss and I don’t take it personally. Look, I’m a reader too and I totally get that connecting with a book is personal. I have enough confidence in the book itself to believe that if the blurb sparks some interest, the story will deliver.

I’m not trying to make sales. I’m trying to connect with readers. I’m perfectly happy if someone borrows my book from the library or from a friend. I’d rather GIVE a book away to someone who’s going to read it than make royalties on a book that’s just going to sit on a shelf unread. If they read it and love it, that’s what matters most.

So, here’s the point. I don’t go to book signings with the mentality of a salesman. I go with the mentality of a human being.

I ask what kind of books they like to read. I ask for recommendations or give recommendations to them. At just about every signing I meet an aspiring writer, so I give tips and encouragement. (Young aspiring writers are my absolute FAVORITE!) If some lady is wearing a cute pair of earrings, I say so. If I’m enjoying the stormy weather through the window, I say so.

Even if it’s to someone who’s clearly in the store just for the movies.

I’m just myself. Chatting with people. I have a blast. (As it happens, the book sells well too.)

Now, back to social media.

The obvious advice is: be yourself. It’s a conversation. An interaction with other human beings.

I’ve heard this plenty of times.

The trouble is, this advice is mixed and diluted with advice like: blog about hot topics in your subject matter, incorporate key search terms, build around a niche topic, link to as many social platforms as you can, build followers, DRIVE YOURSELF NUTS, etc, etc, etc.

Tricks and salesmanship. At least, that’s what it feels like to me.

Some people are naturally good at all those things, and so they don’t come across as fake. It’s NOT tricks for them.  They’re playing to their strengths and that completely rocks. For them.

Me? If I never had to tweet again I’d be deliriously happy.

I had an ah-ha moment last night. I realized that just like I’ve played to my strengths and decided to just be myself at book signings, I’m going to do the same thing with my so-called “author platform.”

I no longer care if it’s “right” or “effective” or whatever. I really don’t.

Because let me tell you something, my time is precious. My priorities go like this: God, family, myself, writing, everything else.

So I’m going to do what’s right for me and what’s natural for me, or I’m not going to do it at all.

So, what do I LIKE about all this social media stuff?

The same thing I like about book signings: meeting interesting people and talking about whatever random thing pops into my head.

My best experience on Twitter, so far, was a brief interaction with a man who wrote about his experiences in Jerusalem. He had some interesting pictures to share, including one from the top of one of the city walls.

I didn’t know you could walk right on top of the walls like that. I found that fascinating! And told him so!

I have no idea if he’d be interested in my book and I don’t care. HE enriched MY life by teaching me something new. That’s what people do when we let them in. Our interactions with each other can be so brief sometimes, but sometimes those brief interactions touch me enough that I remember and value them months later.

So, that’s what I’m going to seek out on Twitter and FB. The people and things that interest me.

As for the blog, I’m going to blog about whatever I want whenever I have the time for it.

Years ago, I ran a family blog and had an absolute blast. The implosion of my first marriage followed by life as a single mother pretty much brought the whole thing to a halt. But I loved it at the time and still have fond memories of my blogging experience.

I blogged about the kids and family, yes, but I also blogged about art and Three Cups of Tea and curvy slides inside people’s houses, and I had a whole ongoing obsession concerning pictures of my feet.

I genuinely miss blogging like that. Facebook doesn’t have the same feel to me. Information on FB is so much more transient. Like a breeze passing through. My family blog is like a house I built. I can still go back, cozy up to the fireplace, and relive those moments any time I want.

I like the idea of creating a new family blog (new because my family is a little different now) but I just don’t have the time. Sure I’d like to blog about our latest karaoke party, but I know I can’t keep up with it and I don’t need one more web-based thing to neglect. Oh the guilt!

So here’s what led to my revelations last night.

(Social media experts would say this post is already too long, that people like short posts. I don’t care. I’VE read plenty of long blog posts that interest the crap out of me. I don’t know if anyone will find this long ol’ post interesting, but at least it’s real.)

ANYWAY, last night I was having an obsessive fantasy about writing a travel blog. This is a repeat fantasy that crops up every few weeks. I watch travel shows like Burt Wolf and Rick Steves and think “I want to do that!!!”

I come across blogs like Gringos Abroad and think, “I want to do that!!”

Ah, to combine two absolute joys: travel and writing! What could be better?

Always, the answer is: writing the next novel.

And I know enough to know that I do not have time (at least, not until my offspring spring on out of the house for good) to launch and maintain a travel blog AND write another book.

The book will win EVERY, SINGLE TIME.

So I reluctantly set aside my fantasy to write about traveling until the next time I see a particularly inspiring episode by Rick Steves and go through the whole thing all over again.

Last night, everything came together for me.

I have a blog. Right here. Why can’t I use it the way I want instead of as a glorified billboard? Why can’t I just talk about what interests me instead of worrying about the “theme” of my blog or whatever.

When you get right down to it, I’m the freaking theme.

So, what might you get if I’m the theme? A random picture of flowers taken on a recent tour of my stepdaughter’s college campus. A travel-blog-type post about last summer’s trip to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. A food-blog-type post about a fabulous local restaurant (because I also fantasize about food blogs, in spite of the fact that I’m an inexperienced Foodie Wannabe).

I also love writing, love editing, and love helping people become better writers. So I might talk about how to build great characters or how to properly pace a story or how to get to the end of a story when you’re stuck in the middle.

If I win an award, I’m going to be excited and might decide to tell you about it.

If I finish a short story and tell you how I can’t wait to share it with you, then spend two months getting it out there because 50 billion other things keep jumping ahead of post-production on my to-do list, well, then you’ll have a real idea of what my life is like.

If I have gaps in my posts (I’ll try not to, cuz that’s so boring) well, that will at least show the real me.

Because as much as I would love to be one of those people who blog and tweet like prolific little Steven Kings, I’m not one of those people.

More days than not, all my available time is taken up by these top priorities: God, family, me, writing. (Too often the only things in the “me” category are eating, sleeping, and showering.)

Every now and then I will blow some things off and come chat with you on here. Or maybe on FB or Twitter. Or on Goodreads (which I sporadically graced with my presence long before I became an author).

I may add some more videos to my YouTube account (cuz the bookstore video was way fun).

I may connect with an old friend on Google+ or meet some new ones.

We’ll see how it goes. I make no promises. Except this one: from here on out, whatever I do, it will be real.

Thanks for listening.

 

9 thoughts on “Social Media: Fun or Futile? How I Decided to Get Real or Get Out

  1. Elyse Ross

    This is why I love you. Thank you for this awesome blog post and sharing all of these things. I can’t wait to read more about the things that make you “you” because those are the things that make your writing so wonderful!

    Reply
    1. DonnaCookDonnaCook Post author

      Aw, that’s sweet. Thank you! The idea of blogging is appealing to me again now that it’s just for fun and not for promotion. :)

      Reply
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  4. Alexandra

    Social media, etc., can be such a pain and take up so much time, but I think your approach to it is good. Be yourself. Do what you can. We cannot do everything, unfortunately. Good advice, and stick to it!

    Reply
    1. DonnaCookDonnaCook Post author

      Thanks for the encouragement! I’ve enjoyed social media so much more after giving myself permission to be myself. I’ve noticed the same attitude applies in real life, but that’s not always as easy for me. :) Thanks for the comment!

      Reply
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