“I honestly don’t think a day goes by when I’m not thankful that it exists”
Serena Mackesy on Facebook.
Following on from her account of her second coming, author Serena Mackesy (currently enjoying success as Alex Marwood) tells us how Facebook is a source of creativity (Twitter less so!). She offers some observations on how to do Social Media right too; print them out and tape to your monitor.
Serena on social networking
Social networking is an absolute gift to writers. Alex and I both have presences on Facebook and Twitter, and the contribution the two have made, both to my general wellbeing and my career, is almost incalculable. I’m still more comfortable on Facebook – sometimes the newsfeed on Twitter resembles little other than a bunch of monkeys gibbering and hurling their faeces – but both are hugely powerful in differing ways.
The Twitter effect is almost instant, and measurable: when India Knight tweeted positively about The Wicked Girls to her 60,000 followers, it jumped several thousand places on Amazon’s chart. Facebook’s importance is more nebulous, less obvious – but in a lot of ways, because of the nature of the medium, the ability to make one’s newsfeed one’s own in a way that Twitter just doesn’t allow, I think that its value, long-term, is greater. Through Facebook, I’ve turned writers I’ve not met, and people who’ve liked my books, from fans to ‘friends’ into genuine friends. And in a tough old world, friends are invaluable.
Facebook, too, is a wonderful source of creativity. I don’t find the chaos of Twitter as easy to cope with – the way things get scattered through your feed rather than all being grouped together – but I’ve had a couple of spectacular moments when a throwaway remark has become a solution that’s saved me literally weeks of pain. One of the murders in The Wicked Girls came from a Facebook friend recounting a Saturday night fight in his West Country hometown; and only last week, I had an idea for a subplot that would require a raft of small sabotages. I put out an appeal on my timeline, and received 195 hilarious, ingenious replies. 195. I love the outlet for casual inventiveness – and the constant reminders of just what a sick-yet-generous bunch of people I’ve met over the years – that Facebook has proven to be. I honestly don’t think a day goes by when I’m not thankful that it exists.
But. Here’s the thing: social networking is wonderful– but only if you do it right. Doing it wrong is not just a waste of a great opportunity, it’s counterproductive. Here are a few observations about things to bear in mind, particularly as a writer, but I’m sure they’re applicable more broadly, as well:
- Social networking is not advertising. Social networks are entertainment. As they do with television, people accept being sold stuff in exchange; but no-one ever sat down and watched a channel that consisted entirely of adverts. Don’t repetitively post links to your books three times a day. You’ll annoy people and get yourself muted. I’d say that the proportion should be something like 95% entertainment, 5% promotion. Obviously, this can alter when you’ve got a new book out or something exciting is happening, but this is what you should aim for.
- Social networking takes time to do well, and you won’t necessarily reap the rewards immediately. Allot some time every day, and take it out of your marketing budget, as it were. After years of powerlessness, I absolutely relish being able take a bit of control of my own destiny.
- Don’t bother if you’re not actually interested in other people. Social networking only works if you interact. Comment on other people’s feeds; start debate on your own, encourage people to join in by responding to things they say. A lot of my Facebook friends are people I’ve amused/interested or who have done the same to me on mutual friends’ feeds. And quite a few of them have, over time, bought my books and become generous supporters. I love Facebook; I learn a new thing there every day.
- Don’t be a bore. Especially if you’re a writer, don’t be a bore. This is your shop window. Take the time to show off your wares. Be funny, be interesting, be challenging, but don’t be dull and don’t write badly. Who on earth is going to want to read a book by someone who bores them?
- It’s not that hard to be briefly amusing one or twice a day. If necessary, keep a notebook so you can spread things out, and bookmark things for later use. What you want is for people to keep coming back, to be reading your feed because they like you, or at least want to see what you’ve said. Post links to interesting things, share random (preferably original) thoughts, tell brief anecdotes, start debates, share your enthusiasms. I’ve recently developed relationships with half a dozen prominent crimewriters because of our mutual love for The Real Housewives of New York. We’ve barely touched on the other thing we all have in common, but suddenly we all know each other and look forward to talking, and they are now ‘contacts’.
- Avoid too much personal revelation. Try to keep a lid on dissection of your love life, your bowel movements and your quarrels. Unless you can be disarmingly funny about them, in which case, go ahead.
- Avoid making demands of people you don’t know. The words ‘please RT’ on Twitter fill most people’s souls with dread. And just because someone’s accepted your friend request, don’t immediately PM them about reading your manuscript or how to get an agent. You know those people who trap doctors at parties and demand a diagnosis for their ailments? It’s the same, and it’s just bad manners. At least buy me a drink before you ask for a blowjob.
- Conversely, people can be very obliging if they feel invested in your life. When The Wicked Girls came out, I was deeply moved by the number of Facebook friends who were happy to share and tweet about it. But I’ve been gently courting some of them for years. They’re actually friends, now. In the same way, I have a couple of Facebook friends whom I know to have ambitions to write. And because they’re nice and friendly (and their FB statuses rock), I would be totally happy to help if they were to ask. Which, so far, they haven’t. Like I said, social networking is a long-term game.
- Oh, and a banal quotation is no less banal because it’s been superimposed over a picture of a sunset. Please never forget this fact.
Follow Alex Marwood on Twitter
Buy The Wicked Girls on Amazon
Has social networking been useful in your business? I’m looking for your experiences – good and bad – for future features here. Do get in touch…