How to Promote Yourself as a Writer Online

Disclaimer, this is just my two-cents.

In my graduate class, “Writing for New Media,” there has been some discussion about using social media to market yourself as a writer. I won’t claim to have all the answers or even to have done any market research. The remarks that follow are based on what I’ve read about this and what I’ve observed. Mostly, I’m thinking about how I respond to other writers on social media and how I think my audience is likely to respond to me.

Rule #1: Don’t over-promote!

Have you ever been to a party with someone who won’t talk about anyone but themselves? Some writers on social media act this way. The only things they post have something to do with their books or publications. They brag about their successes, and they use everything, even the weather, to remind people to buy and read their book. I have an itchy filter finger; I will ignore them or even block them very quickly. As I would with the guy at the party, I will pretend to listen, all the while looking around desperately for someone to get me out of this situation.

Rule #2: Don’t under-promote!

Okay. You get it. You can’t just talk about yourself, but it’s okay to talk about yourself sometimes, right? Yes! When you have good news, share it. Don’t be shy. But even then, don’t make it all about you. When your book comes out, thank your publisher. When a magazine accepts your work, link to the magazine. Promote others as you promote yourself, and your posts will be relevant to those who want to learn about you and to those who want to know who the cool publishers or bookstores or other resources are. And make sure your blog or profile has information for anyone who’s curious to learn more about your writing.

Rule #3: Be a good literary citizen!

I was hinting at this in my last rule. You want to engage with readers, right? It seems to me that a good way to do that is to provide them information that they can use. So when you’re not promoting yourself, if you promote other writers or magazines or publishers or reading series or… well, you get the picture. The more active and engaged you are the more you can help others. And the better literary citizen you are, the more good will you will engender. You can do this by writing reviews of other people’s books or by sharing their good publishing news, submissions deadlines, etc. If you promote ten people’s books, they will be more likely to share your good news when it comes. And then their followers will know your good news, too. If you help twenty readers find books they like, then when yours is published, they’ll be more likely to check it out, and they’ll be more likely to tell their friends. As I said, I have no scientific evidence that life works this way, but it stands to reason.

Rule #4: Don’t post too much…

This is a little like over-promotion, but it doesn’t have to be about promotion. I know some writers who tweet at least twenty times a day (no lie). Or they update their Facebook status constantly with every game or every cause or every birthday. This may be okay, but I have a fairly low tolerance for frequent posters and I’m likely to tune them out. I don’t think you have to post all the time — not even every day, though that can be a good goal if it helps your writing to do it — so don’t feel like a failure if you’re not keeping up with the frequent posters. Your posts will seem more important if you follow…

Rule #5: Make every post relevant!

Okay, maybe not every post, but try to make your posts valuable to the readership you’re trying to reach. Some people have a separate account for their cat photos and one for their persona as a writer. This is a rule I violate all the time on this blog, and I’m not sure whether it matters. I get a lot of hits on my technology posts, and that probably doesn’t lead to too many people who want to read about cooking or poetry. (Does it help me get noticed by search engines? Do I get noticed for the wrong things? Maybe I should have a poetry blog and a technology blog…) For this blog, I don’t mind writing about multiple subjects because that’s how I set it up. I also like people to know I’m a real person and not just a poet. But for Facebook, I have a personal account and a poet account. On Twitter, I have three accounts: one for me, one for the Welty Writers’ Symposium, and one for the MFA program I direct (plus one for the Suzuki Strings program in our town that I manage in my spare time). If more of my friends or family were on Twitter, I might want a personal Twitter account. Now I have an Instagram that so far is mostly personal. Each of these identities is a little different, and yet I want each of them to make sense with the others for those who have found me in all of those places and want to get a broader perspective on who I am. I wouldn’t want my poetry readers to be shocked by my tweets or Instagram photos, in other words, but I might start a new account if I wanted to start writing Instagram poetry or twaiku on a regular basis.

Rule #6: Don’t use numbered lists!

Okay, I broke that rule, too… this time. But I’m not a big fan of the numbered list because I always doubt that there are Five Rules for Self-Promotion. I always suspect there must be a rule number 6 or 8 or 25, and I’ll probably think of two or three as soon as I hit “publish.” Or maybe there’s only one rule: Be a mensch: do promote yourself, but do it in moderation and with an ounce of humility.

What are your rules?

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