My publishing journey: Networking, part 1 — social media and connection

I’m getting geared up for the posts in this series that are probably what people are actually interested in, i.e. the bit where I signed with a literary agent and eventually got a book deal. But first I have to talk about everything that went before!

— Well, maybe not EVERYTHING. But let’s talk about a couple of important things. One is social media.

“Make sure you have a social media platform” is now hoary advice for published writers and writers working towards publication. I enjoy social media and it’s one of the things I make time for, other than writing and, y’know, actually socialising. It can be a horrible distraction as well, but everyone just needs to work out a way to control that for themselves lah.

But with this and my next post, which will be about conventions and networking, I want to talk about what I think is the real point of going to all the effort of being on Twitter and Facebook and having a blog. The point is not advertising or marketing or boosting yourself and your work constantly. The point is not having millions of followers on Instagram, or making lots of connections, useful as those can be. Those are obviously side-effects you might want to achieve, and there are also the practical aspects of it — you do want some form of online presence which makes your work available, so that people who hear about you can find and read your writing easily if they would like to. But even that is not the point.

The point is connection.

All writers need a community. I know there are writers and artists who prefer to keep to themselves, and who get distracted from their work by too much time with other people. So I don’t necessarily mean that everyone needs a huge heaving mass of friends and admirers who greet them with wild delight whenever they show up on Twitter or at a party. (Of course, that is ultimately MY aim, but it need not be anyone else’s.) What I mean is that nobody who is human works in total isolation from their fellow humans.

If you write stories, ultimately, in some way, shape or form, your story is going to be about people. Even Chinese landscape paintings of lakes and mountains are all about the feeling in the brush strokes, and mountains don’t actually have feelings. (Unless they do in your mountain fantasy novel, in which case your mountains are secretly made of people!) So you need people around you, at least mentally, to enable you to write about them. You might just read a lot of books and have a ~community of the mind~ that way. You might have a friend or two with whom you dissect romcoms and geek out about story structure.

Or you might meet and talk to people all around the world about your favourite things via social media. That’s sort of how I grew up — as a writer and a bit as a person. I did actually have the two or so friends to whom I could to talk about books and movies and stories and characters. But I didn’t really like talking about my writing in person — it still makes me a little wriggly to do it, to be honest, though I’m much better at it now. What did come natural was writing about writing (still a guilty pleasure), and the Internet was a natural place to put that.

The community I found here — my imaginary friends who live in the Internet — nourished me, taught me, guided me, and talked to me. It did not talk down to me, either when I was 16 and had foolishly embarked upon a work in progress to which I did not know the ending, or now, when I am 29 and launching upon a journey of which I do not know the outcome. One of the many really valuable things about it is that I made friends with people, especially women older than me, who spoke to me with understanding and respect and who treated my writing as though it was important.

As I got older and the Internet became more of a professional space, the connection I had established with people online did start to have many of the benefits professional connections do. I’ve had job opportunities, requests for interviews and articles, and invitations to anthologies and conventions through people I met on the Internet. But you know, I don’t log into Twitter or Facebook thinking, “What can these people do for me?” (That’s the thing that I — and I think many people — dislike about the idea of networking. Turning connection into commodity!) I’m primarily on social media because I like it and I find people interesting. Hopefully they might return the compliment!

So this is all very airy-fairy, because there is lots of practically-minded guidance out there about social media. In case you want ’em, though, here are a few more practical points you might want to keep in mind.

1) Chup your name.

When I started messing around on the Internet, it was not seen as a real thing that might generate real money. Especially in the circles I hung out in, people did not use their real names on the Internet. By the time I got around to claiming my own name on the Internet, it had already been taken — so I’m not zencho on Twitter or Facebook or even .com. (Maddeningly, it is not even the actual name of the person who took it, who presumably still lives in the part of the Internet where you might as well be foxyangelbaby as Bob Tan.)

Don’t make my mistake. If you’re gunning for publication and think you want to have a social media presence around that, go and book up your writing name on all the sites you can think of.

2) Find out where you need to be.

Not all social media sites are used by the same demographic, obviously, and you want to be where your people are. Twitter is where US/UK SFF fandom/industry congregates to share news and gossip. Facebook is similar, but you might also get authors’ personal photos. The Malaysian arts scene is all over Facebook, including writers. The hijabsters who buy Fixi novels are on Instagram. YA is on Tumblr because that is where the teenagers are. Everyone has abandoned LiveJournal except, curiously, a small circle of SFF authors who still blog there and still apparently have readers. And so on and so forth!

3) Do what works for you.

You should probably book up your name on every social networking site you can think of, just in case you want it in future — and who knows, you might get famous enough that if you leave them out there, ill-natured persons may choose to assume your identity and troll your fans with fake spoilers. But there’s no actual need to use every single social networking site known to man. You are a writer, after all, not a social media machine. Just focus on one or two outlets that come natural and (preferably) that you enjoy using.

4) Don’t post anything negative without thinking about it first.

I have broken this rule a few times (and regretted it every single time), but I mostly follow it and so have had a fairly peaceful time of it on the Internet. (Long may this continue, she said, fingers crossed.) I am not saying you should not criticise or argue or complain — that’s obviously a valid form of engagement, and open, sincere disagreement is good for a society. But in the same way that you probably wouldn’t show up at your workplace and start by picking fights with your coworkers, however annoying they are, if you’re using social media as a professional writer, you might want to think about what you feel is worth picking quarrels about.

If you feel like saying something negative to or about a person, sure — craft your statement, put it away, and wait half an hour. If after that time you still want to post it, do it. But it’s not going to go stale in half an hour, and a lot of Internet rage is not the sort that lasts for more than thirty minutes.

 

Previous Publishing Journey posts

Mission statement: Ten things I believe about writing
Breaking through writer’s block, or, how I started writing and publishing short stories
How I published a short story collection
Writing with a day job, part 1: Why I don’t write full-time
Writing with a day job, part 2: Work/work balance

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