Swoon Author Devon Taylor: Marketing Yourself as a Writer Without Feeling Icky
Let’s talk about the not-so-subtle art of trying to promote yourself on the internet, specifically as a writer. That’s why you’re here, right? If you’re reading this post because you’re interested in marketing yourself as an online terrarium salesperson, you might be in the wrong place.
When I originally uploaded the manuscript for what would eventually become The Soul Keepers to the Swoon Reads website, I was nervous about a lot of things—mostly, the fact that there was a book that I wrote on the internet where anyone could go and read it. But I was also nervous about the stuff that came after uploading the manuscript, the stuff that would help me direct attention to the book and hopefully get it noticed by readers and writers and editors in the Swoon community. I was going to have to promote the book online, which meant talking about my writing—and myself—in a way that I never had before. In fact, a lot of people that only kinda-sorta knew me at the time didn’t even know that I was a writer, or that I was pursuing a career as one.
Posting that first announcement for my manuscript was like walking into Times Square with a sandwich board hanging on my shoulders that said, “HEY! LOOK AT ME! I DID A THING AND I WANT YOU TO SEE IT!” I had never felt more exposed. There were friends and family and strangers all following my cue and navigating to my manuscript, reading the first thing I’d written that I was confident enough to share. It was exciting and terrifying, and any of you writers within this community who have manuscripts on the site right now know exactly what it feels like. But the funny thing is, even now that The Soul Keepers is an officially published book, out in the world like a kid I just sent off to college, that feeling still hasn’t gone away.
Most writers, by nature, are introverts. I know I am. And I haven’t met a single other writer who’s more comfortable interacting in a crowded social setting than they are sitting at home with their keyboard or pen. I’m sure that those writers exist, but they are a rare and magnificent species. Because let’s face it—talking to people is hard. Wading through the murky, swampy quagmire of social media is hard. It’s difficult enough to have a conversation with someone about something mundane and generally unimportant, like, say, the batting average of your local Triple-A baseball team. But to log on to the internet, essentially putting yourself in front of thousands of other people, and talk about yourself as a writer is (say it with me) f***ing hard!
And often times, it can be overwhelming. Debilitatingly so, for those individuals living with anxiety or depression. Especially when every day there are people on social media sites who are finding new and inventive ways to turn single-sentence posts into hate mobs. Writers are constantly criticized for self-promotion, and it’s a difficult thing to wrap my head around because people don’t shame car salesmen for plastering themselves on billboards beside the highway. So why should a writer be made to feel bad for doing the thing that a) takes an immense amount of courage to do, and b) is part of their job? That’s right—writing is a job. And while approximately 35 percent of it is sitting at a desk and writing, the other 65 percent is self-promotion, talking to people, putting yourself out there in ways that can be increasingly uncomfortable. One individual writer is their own business, and they shouldn’t be chastised for operating that business.
Now, don’t get me wrong—there is a time and a place. I often see writers who have most of their social media posts scheduled through apps that allow you to maintain all of your accounts in one place. To me, that can be dangerous. Because even though those scheduled posts might be convenient, it also means that you don’t have to be online as much, which means that you might not see it right away when a national tragedy occurs or a beloved celebrity passes away or a political travesty is taking place. And then a couple hours later, you suddenly have a tweet that says, “Hey, go read my book!” Sure, it’s not intentional, but it’s still really hard to roll back. The flipside of that coin, though, is how the hell do you keep track of all these social media accounts and posts and announcements? How do you devote yourself to the internet in a way that benefits you without completely giving up your life outside of the phone screen?
I’ll say it one more time for those in the back who may not have heard me: It. Is. Hard.
That’s okay, though. It’s supposed to be hard. Anything that’s easy ain’t worth doing, and all that jazz. But it also doesn’t have to completely consume you. The best thing you can do when marketing yourself as a writer is to understand your own limitations. If you’re on seven different websites trying to update posts on every single one for six hours a day, maybe dial it back to just three. Find the social media accounts that you’re good at and use those most often. Personally, I’m a fan of Instagram because I can snap a picture that says way more about something than I ever could in words, and it allows me to cross-post to Twitter and Facebook. I can write one post, hit send, and I’m done. I’m a much more visual person, though, and I know my way around a computer enough to create promotional graphics on my own that are better suited for a platform like Instagram. You might not feel as comfortable there. Find the social media space where you are comfortable.
All that being said, the internet can still be massively time-consuming. So my advice? Try to give yourself an hour or so at the beginning and end of every day to sit and work through it. Schedule that time the way you would schedule a doctor appointment. And don’t ever feel like you have to be there. There is plenty of stuff online that can be legitimately panic-inducing. It’s okay to step away for a minute or an hour or a day or a week. If you’re a writer trying to market yourself on the internet, you’re not just on social media to be entertained and to interact: You’re there because the industry that surrounds your chosen career path necessitates it.
As a writer who has been promoting himself online for almost two years, the best advice I can give is this: Don’t be afraid to log off every now and then. As long as Skynet doesn’t bring Judgement Day upon us, the internet will still be waiting for you when you come back. The likes and the retweets aren’t as important as your mental health, and neither are book sales.
Good luck out there, folks! And thanks for reading!