Many publishing “experts” admonish writers and authors to establish a platform, maintain a Facebook page, gaggle on Google+, chirp on Twitter, connect on LinkedIn and blog until your eyes bleed.
Some even advocate ingratiating on Goodreads, lollygagging at LibraryThing or swimming down the deep, dark Amazon Forums.
But once you have one or two books under your belt, with others under contract, do you really need to “do” social media? What about if you pen a column, sell a steady stream of articles or publish stories on a regular basis?
In all honesty, it depends.
It depends on four things, as I see it:
1. Your goals as an author
2. The health of your writing life
3. The state of your personal life
4. The condition of your emotional life
If your authorial goals involve networking with other writers, hobnobbing with industry pros (if they’ll even talk to you), securing an agent and (trying) to stay current with publishing trends, remaining active in social media may very well be beneficial to you.
However, you can get a similar experience (arguably, a better one) by choosing to opt out of real-time socializing and, instead, subscribing to informative blogs and industry mags, as well as joining supportive, professional groups organized by genre, topic or skill. In addition, some authors swear by writing conferences.
And if you’re trying to reach more readers, allow me to let you in on a secret: you attract more (and better quality) readers by continuing to publish great work. Another way to attract more readers? Getting interviewed on radio shows or podcasts. Go to BlogTalkRadio.com, for example, and search topics relevant to your writing, books and expertise.
On Twitter, for example, what you mostly find are other authors clamoring for readers, many who sound like carnival barkers. Good luck being “heard” above the herd.
If your authorial goals tend towards writing more books and publishing more articles or stories, then beware of the social media time suck. Do you really want to be spending your time chatting about what you had for dinner, the latest internet meme, your mile-high TBR list or some smoke-and-mirrors scandal?
If you’re spending more time on social media than you are actual butt-in-chair writing (that is, writing towards publication), the health of your writing life may be flat lining. Some signs that your writing life needs attention STAT include:
- Lack of focus
- Unclear writing goals
- Absence of regular writing practice
- Unsubmitted queries or proposals
- Lack of enthusiasm
- Dry creative well
The very act of unplugging your computer and avoiding internet access for at least a week (yes, it’s doable) can be enough to refocus your attention, recharge your batteries and resuscitate your writing life. The question is, do you have the courage to do so? Is your writing life worth it? Or would you be hunky dory with keeping things exactly as they are?
While our writing life is important, our personal life is just as important (arguably, for many, it’s more important). Some of us are wives, husbands, mothers and fathers. Others are taking care of aging parents or disabled siblings. Some have enjoyable “day jobs” with no intention of quitting despite publication success. Then there’s volunteering, spiritual/religious involvement, homeschooling/school-related events, domestic duties, close relationships, hobbies and so on.
For many writers, these enriching “personal” aspects of our life trump writing success every time. But it doesn’t have to be an either/or choice, unless something interferes with our happiness.
If you feel “torn” between a satisfying personal life and a rewarding writing life (especially if, for some reason, you’re finding it difficult to have both), then it’s time to do a values clarification inventory. You must ask yourself these hard questions:
- What is important to me?
- What part of my personal life needs attention?
- What can I afford to “let go”?
- What is non-negotiable?
- What am I not willing to sacrifice?
- What would I regret neglecting?
- What am I after?
- How do I define success?
- How do I want my life to look 10 years from now? 20? 30?
Nothing sharpens our focus faster than clarifying values. (If you don’t even know what your values are, how do you expect to maintain them? Or live a satisfying life? In this case, take the time to discover and determine your values, then take steps to live in alignment with them. One of the biggest causes of personal dissatisfaction is living out of alignment with deeply held values.)
For example, if you say your kids are a priority, but you spend 5 hours a day on social media—and lay your head down every night wracked with guilt for neglecting to spend time with them—then your personal life is suffering. In this case, you do not value your kids as you say (we spend both time and money on what we truly value), or you value social media more than you value your kids or you’re caught up with internet addiction and can use some professional help.
Lastly, there’s the issue of our emotional life. If you think about it, every goal and ambition we have is—at core—the desire to feel something. As Tony Robbins points out, men don’t really want a shiny new red Ferrari. What they want is to feel virile and youthful. The Ferrari is merely a symbol or catalyst for that feelings state.
Authors want book deals, syndication and sold articles in order to feel successful, accomplished, smart, worthy, productive [fill in the blank]. Writers write for various reasons, and seek publication for a host of (sometimes) different ones.
If your desired emotional “bottom line” involves feeling the following on a regular basis—and social media cuts into or thwarts that—then it may be time to walk away:
Thus, if hanging around on social media distracts, irritates, upsets, discourages, bores or angers you, then you need to ask yourself if spending time tweeting or +ing is worth the time and aggravation.
After all, no one is guaranteed another minute of life, let alone another day or year.
Do you really want to spend your valuable time on social media, especially if the negatives outweigh the positives? If it’s contributing to living out of alignment with your core values? If it’s taking time from creating, writing and publishing? If it’s making you miserable?
Only you can answer these questions—not an industry expert, a social media guru, an internet marketer or a well-meaning fellow author. After all, they’re not living your life…you are.
And, let’s face it, 99% of the virtual people in your life right now sure as hell aren’t going to be with you on your deathbed where you’ll either be proud of who you are, how you lived and what you accomplished…or end up regretting all the mindless time sucks, stupid flamewars, jockeying for position and flailing for attention you’ve participated in online.