Building a Fan Base: The Bane and Blessing of Social Media

I had the privilege of participating in this year’s March Madness Poetry Contest hosted by poet Ed DeCaria on his Think.Kid.Think! blog. I was both honored and overwhelmed at the thought of being chosen as an authlete for the competition. It was especially daunting thinking about writing a poem in 36 hours out of a word I was assigned and being up against such heavy hitters as Jane Yolen and fellow Michigan SCBWI authors Shutta Crum, Buffy Silverman, Elizabeth McBride and others. But when the time came to submit and begin voting, a strange thing happened…the playing field became eerily leveled due to one overwhelming factor- the public vote. And where did the public vote come from for the most part you ask? Social media. I tweeted, Facebooked, Linked In and Google+’d my little fingers off to scare up as many votes as I could for my brave little poem. And even though at the end of the day I didn’t make it past the first round, I had a decent showing. The contest is in its final stages, so if you haven’t gotten a chance to read some of the great poetry showcased and vote, I highly recommend it.

So, not only did this contest help me dust off my love of writing in rhyme (I tend to think in rhyme-weird I know), but it reminded me of how important it is to build a fan base, or following, long before a first book comes out. Building a following is pretty easy these days since the social-media tools are essentially free and just waiting to be used. But if you never get the tools out of the toolbox, they are basically useless. I know what you’re thinking. “But I don’t have time to use social media!” “Exposing myself to the public makes me uncomfortable!” “What if someone steals my idea or my personal information?” “I need to spend my time WRITING, not posting on Facebook!” Believe me, all of these things are true to some extent. But never before in history have we authors had so many vehicles available to get the word out about our books and what we do. To put it plainly, if you’re not taking advantage of social media as an author, in many ways, you’re being left behind. Waiting until you sign that first book deal or agent contract is too late to start thinking about building a social media platform. Many houses and agencies want to see that you’ve already done your homework in this area before ever taking you on.

I know trying new things can be scary, but we’re authors, and that’s what we do. While you’re waiting for that next great book idea, are in the middle of revisions, or are putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard for the first time, take time to develop your online presence. Who knows, it could make the difference between making it to the “final four” and getting left in the dust!

Sensibility– Getting on board with social media does not have to take time away from the creative process. Use the stories of others to inspire and encourage you in your writing journey.

Sense– Balance is necessary in every new adventure. Use social media as a tool, but don’t let it take over your writing life.