We're a little over twenty years into the web era, and about ten into the social-media age. Both have changed our lives, but most of us remain stubbornly set at about 1993: We really don't like to click on links unless we know what we'll find on the other side.
For many web users, this may be no great loss. Plenty of people are happy to surf to familiar sites and to get their email, and they're not interested in learning what else the web offers. I confess to a sneaking sympathy for such folks. They may be incurious, but they seem to understand that the more they learn, the more of their time it will consume. And they wisely stay put.
Those of us who write, however, really don't have that option. We can't just pound on an old typewriter until we've completed a manuscript, and then mail it off to an army of specialists who will edit it, design it as a book, print it, write ads about it, and then arrange for us to tour the country to sell it. (And I should also mention the clerks and accountants who will keep track of its sales and send us a semi-annual cheque.)
Instead, we have to do more and more of the publisher's job: produce the manuscript as an editable electronic file, and promote the book both online and face to face. We may very likely have to become publishers ourselves.
Whether we like this prospect or not, we're stuck with it. For regular print publishers to stay in business, they have to keep costs brutally low. So a good story, badly written, will be rejected because it's too expensive to pay an editor to clean it up. A reasonable midlist title, which might take two or three years to find its audience, won't get any time at all; warehouse space is expensive. And forget about the ego-inflating author's tour, complete with airfare, hotels, and solicitous PR experts ferrying us to our interviews.
Many writers are uncomfortable with the business aspects of publishing themselves (we're writers, after all, not publishers). But if we're willing to click through some links, we can at least become active and effective self-marketers.
And that's the thesis of a useful new book by Frances Caballo: Social Media Just for Writers. I'll say this much for it: It got me to click through some links I'd long avoided. For a guy who's not crazy in love with most social media, that's an achievement.
Blogging, yes. I've loved blogging for almost a decade...after consciously refusing to have much to do with it from the late 1990s until 2003. Once I clicked through to a few blogs, I saw what I was missing. With each new book project since then, creating a blog was practically step one: Writing for the Web, Writing Fiction, Pioneers, Sell Your Nonfiction Book. But I have to admit that most of my book blogs haven't drawn much traffic, or sales.
At the same time, I've hesitated to get into social media. My students dragged me kicking and screaming onto Facebook; since retiring from teaching, I rarely show up there. I joined LinkedIn but again did little with it. Only with Twitter have I really plunged in—and that's been more as a journalism tool than a book-marketing tool.
Frances Caballo has shown me the error of my ways. I learned more about LinkedIn in a few minutes with her book than I have from years of incurious membership. I caught up with what Facebook can do, and how to use Twitter for a lot more than just publicizing blog posts to my followers. (The sheer number of Twitter-related applications was a revelation.)
Some social media are still no-go zones for me: I just can't stir up any interest in Pinterest, Google+, or Picasso. But if I ever change my mind, I'll re-read Caballo's chapters on those media before I start clicking through.
I found Caballo's chapter on blogging to be pretty sound. She's absolutely right about keyword-rich blog post titles. Back in December 2004, I posted an item here titled How Many Pages Make a Novel? Google tells me it's still #1 out of 2.4 million hits for "how many pages in a novel," and I see that 5 out of 8 visitors currently on my site (4:00 pm January 14, 2013), arrived via that link.
Choosing an evocative title for your blog itself can also help: Google H5N1 and you'll find my public-health blog, launched in March 2005, at #2 out of 9.7 million hits. Google Social Media Just for Writers and you'll see Caballo's Facebook site is #1 out of 284 million hits.
If you've decided to go into serious self-publishing, whether in print or ebook, you'll really need Caballo's chapter on offline promotion, which covers everything from business cards to news releases. It's good, practical advice. She also argues persuasively for submitting your book to bloggers for review, and for "virtual book tours"—which is how this book, and Frances Caballo, have turned up here.
One final point: While the ostensible audience for this book is people writing books, it's at least as useful for writers who want to write directly for social media—the people who just want to run a solid, attractive blog, or advocate for some cause via Facebook and Twitter. Frances Caballo has a lot to teach those writers too.