The Traveling Writer community on Twitter

A writing friend just joined Twitter, and I’m trying to come up with suggestions of tweeps for her to follow. That got me to thinking: wouldn’t it be awesome if I could give her a list of all the readers of this blog?

A while back I built a Twitter list that includes members of our Ning group for writers of travel memoir. It’s been a great way to grow our community outside of Ning, helping us communicate on another platform.

I’m a huge fan of Twitter lists; I need to find time to build more of my own. They serve as a filter so you don’t miss important tweets, help you find people to follow and showcase your knowledge of players in your industry. Wow, I’m realizing I should write an entire post about how to create lists and use them effectively. They are one of Twitter’s best features.

For now though, I simply want to create ONE list, and that’s a list that includes all of YOU. It will help me connect with you and help you all connect with each other.

From now on, whenever I’m helping a writer or traveler or blogger get started on Twitter, I’ll have a list of tweeps for them to follow: TravelingWriterCommunity.

So leave your name and your Twitter handle below in the comments, and I’ll add you to our Twitter community!

Quick plug for @travelmemoir

If you’re writing a travel memoir or enjoy reading them, hope you’ll follow @travelmemoir on Twitter. We’ll offer tips, helpful links and book recommendations, as well as notes about what’s going on in the Travel Memoir Writers Ning group.

[tweetmeme source=”alexisgrant”]

Should be a good resource.

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Another reason writers should use Twitter

You all know I think writers should use Twitter. And Facebook. And other social media that helps you create your own community.

Here’s yet another reason you should use Twitter: that’s how I connected with my agent.

Well, not directly. I have long followed Rachelle because her tweets about publishing are helpful and entertaining. But the connection I made on Twitter that led me to Rachelle was not the agent herself.

It was another writer. That’s right, folks! A Twitter friend — who became an e-mail and phone friend — put me in touch with Rachelle.

I connected with this author about a year ago for the same reason many of you connect with certain tweeps: we have stuff in common. We both have a background in journalism, and we’re both working on memoir projects. After chatting occasionally over e-mail for several months, this tweep offered to critique my book proposal. Since she’d written many successful proposals herself, I jumped at the chance.

I didn’t know this then, but this tweep happens to be friends with a literary agent: Rachelle Gardner. During a conversation with Rachelle, she mentioned my book, which, of course, she knew a lot about since she’d read my proposal. And whatdoyaknow, Rachelle was interested. I’m now her client!

[tweetmeme source=”alexisgrant”]

Every connection helps, even — or perhaps especially — connections we make for fun. If you’re not on Twitter, do yourself a favor. Join.

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How to use social media to look for a job

A lot has changed since the last time I was in the market for a job. Fresh out of j-school in 2005, I gave my resume and clips to the editor of a newspaper I wanted to work for. He didn’t have any openings, but he knew someone who did: the Houston Chronicle‘s Washington bureau chief. So the no-openings editor passed my resume to the Chron editor. And guess who hired me?

Now, five years later, as I look for a D.C.-based reporting/writing/multimedia/social media position (if you smell a plug, you’re right on), that passing of the resume is still important. What’s changed is how the resume is passed. Now it’s often done digitally. And most of that digital resume-passing occurs through social media.

Knowing how to use social media effectively has become doubly helpful in the job hunt: not only do employers value social media skills, but using social media strategically can help you land the job you want, even if social media skills aren’t required.

Here’s how I’m using social media in my job hunt:

Facebook. Yes, Facebook is for fun. But my friends might also help me with my career. Since I’m a journalist, a lot of my Facebook friends are journalists or former journalists who work for organizations that might be hiring. And because of Facebook, I’ve stayed in touch with colleagues-turned-friends who I might not have kept in contact with before it was so easy.

My friends know I’m looking for a job in D.C. They know because I’ve said so in my status updates, even asked them to let me know if they hear of any openings. Asking for favors on Facebook is easy, because these people already know and like me. The key is to not inundate your friends with hiring pleas. Let them know you’re looking and then move onto something else (please, not FarmVille).

I’ve mentioned my job hunt in my status update only twice in the last six months. That was enough for a handful of friends — including a few I wouldn’t have thought to approach individually — to write me private messages with suggestions of places that are hiring or people who might be helpful to talk to. Because of Facebook, 748 people might think of me when they hear of a job opening. And since the best positions often aren’t posted on job boards, it’s important to let people know you’re looking.

In addition to pimping myself on my status updates, I use Facebook to send private messages to friends who live in D.C. and ask them to be on the lookout for openings (because not everyone checks their news feed obsessively enough to catch all of my status updates). I’m not close enough with some of these friends to e-mail them on a regular basis, but thanks to Facebook, we’re still in touch.

LinkedIn. If you’re uncomfortable networking for jobs on Facebook (though you shouldn’t be), you should feel just fine doing it on LinkedIn, because that’s why the site was created. It’s good for more than simply building your network. LinkedIn has a great job board, and groups that I’m part of — my alma maters and media groups  — also list jobs on their own LinkedIn pages.

Whenever I apply for a job, I search on LinkedIn for people who work for the company, specifically the person who would be my boss or hire me (I figure that out with Google’s help). And this is genius: LinkedIn tells me whether one of my connections knows that person! It’s like riffling through my Rolodex and being able to see not only my networks, but my friends’ networks, too. Taking that one step further, LinkedIn lets you write a note to the person you want to contact — through your friend, who can endorse you in the process.

Why is this important? Because applying for a job online isn’t enough anymore. To get someone to pull your application out of the virtual pile, you’ve got to talk or e-mail with an actual person. In the old days (what, like five or ten years ago?), you had to know someone at the company or wiggle your way in by networking in person. But with LinkedIn, you can create that connection — and get a personal recommendation to boot.

Remember: if you can find someone on a social-networking site, they probably know how to find you, too. So make your profiles professional and all-around awesome.

Twitter. It’s ironic that LinkedIn is supposed to be the forerunner for career networking, because I’ve found Twitter to be the most useful in this job hunt. A different community of people follow me on Twitter than on Facebook, and tweeting about the type of job I’m looking for reaches a ton — about 1,500 — of people who otherwise wouldn’t know I’m on the market.

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Do Twitter & Facebook help or hinder your writing?

The Los Angeles Times book blog ran a post last week about a writer who went off Facebook and Twitter for the first three months of this year to focus on her project. Edan Lepucki blogged about the detox, concluding that she didn’t miss the sites as much as she thought she would.

Which begs the question: Do social-networking sites help or hinder writers?

I think the answer lies largely in how you use Facebook and Twitter. Sure, they can be fun. But they can also be incredibly useful. And I can’t help but think that people who only see them as a distraction aren’t using them in a useful way.

For me, Facebook is not a time suck. (If it is for you, maybe you should seriously consider a detox.) I use it to keep in touch with people, so much that the messages feature serves as a second e-mail. It helps me keep up with old colleagues and classmates, as well as new friends. And right now it’s helping me network for jobs.

Twitter is a different story. It offers so much information that I could easily spend my entire day refreshing my stream. But while it has the potential to be more distracting than Facebook, it also has the potential to be more useful. My stream serves as a sort of classroom, offering links to stories and blog posts, tutorials, you name it.

Then there are the people I’ve met: writers who’ve helped me with my manuscript, journalists who’ve been instrumental in my job search, and more. Twitter is not just about tweeting at these people online; it’s about bringing those connections off-line. (Credit Penelope Trunk for that insight.)

I could go on and on about how great Twitter can be when it’s used properly. But the truth is, sometimes Twitter is a distraction. Particularly for those of us who write at home all day. It takes a lot of self-discipline to focus on writing.

Unless, of course, you don’t have a connection. I was forced to experiment with this for five weeks this fall, when I was a resident at an artist’s colony in Georgia. My studio was not wired with Internet. It also didn’t have a television, cell phone service or even a phone we could use to call home. (There was a land-line for emergencies — and thank God for that, since I was in the middle of the woods by myself.) Every distraction I might’ve had at home was removed for me in this setting. In the evenings, the artists met for dinner in a common building that was about half a mile from my studio, and there we had access to Internet, so I could check my e-mail, Facebook page and whatever else was begging for my attention.

At the end of my time there, I was asked to fill out an evaluation form. (Hambidge got all high marks from me.) The board that oversaw the place was thinking of installing Internet in the studios. Did I think that was a good idea?

Before arriving at Hambidge, I was terrified of going without Internet and cell-phone service. So what I suggested on that evaluation form was unexpected: I wrote that they should leave the cabins without a connection. Not having those distractions created a silence, both around me and inside my head. It made room to think about things I didn’t have space for before, like, well, my manuscript. Without the Internet muddling my thoughts, my story arc became clearer. And perhaps more importantly, my life became clearer, too.

What I’m saying here is this: social networking has a place in my world. It’s not just fun; it’s essential to my growth personally and professionally. But I see the value in detoxing for a period of time, in stepping away not only from Twitter and Facebook but from other distractions in life that keep me from producing my best work.

What do you think? Would you consider a long-term social-media detox? Or a break from all Internet? Or is that online connection too vital to what you do every day?

Mark your calendar: Twitter chat with author Dani Shapiro

Are you reading Dani Shapiro‘s new memoir, Devotion?

I am! I am! Had to buy it after interviewing Dani earlier this month. Partly because I wished I had a book club to discuss it with, I asked Dani if she’d be interested in visiting a vitual book club, through a Twitter chat. She agreed!

Details:

When: Sunday, February 21

Time: 8 – 9 p.m. EST

Where: Twitter! Use #Devotion to chime in.

How: Never chatted before on Twitter? Check out this post about how to participate in a Twitter chat. I recommend using Tweetchat.

Bring questions for Dani! We’ll introduce her and then open it up to readers. And bring friends, too!

TRANSCRIPT: Miss the chat? Read the transcript!

The Creative Penn on promoting your book

If you’re a writer who uses Twitter, you’re probably familiar with The Creative Penn. She has one of the most useful feeds out there, offering links to everything writing.

I got to know Joanna Penn when she interviewed me for a podcast on her blog. That’s when I realized this tech-savvy English writer had a few tips that would benefit my readers.

Joanna Penn, from The Creative Penn

Penn, who lives in Brisbane, Australia, has self-published three non-fiction books. At her blog, The Creative Penn, she shares her knowledge on writing, publishing options, Internet sales and book promotion.

Thanks for joining us, Joanna!

Like many of us, you have a day job and write on the side. What’s your day job? How do you find time for writing?

I am actually a business IT consultant with a mining company in Australia. I work as a contractor so currently I do four days per week or sometimes three. I found that moving to four days per week enabled me to actually get the time to write my first book and have not gone back to full time since then. That extra day just gives me a big slot of time to write and meant I could manage three books in two years. I seriously recommend it to people. Just ask – you never know what your boss will say.

Finding time is hard for us all! I spend most evenings and weekends working on http://www.TheCreativePenn.com with blog posts and emails, as well as social networking and arranging interviews and speaking opportunities.

Can you tell us about your program Author 2.0? How’d you come up with the idea?

The Author 2.0 Program basically teaches writers/authors how to write, publish, sell and promote their books using Web 2.0 online tools. I decided to write the course when I realised that I was loving the online space for all this platform building, digital publishing, etc. but many other writers did not have the technical skills or enjoy it. Many people didn’t even know where to start, for example, in setting up a blog, or publishing an ebook, or even what print-on-demand is. I am fortunate to be working in the IT field so I am very comfortable playing with this technology, and I wanted to help others.

I also discovered I could publish my own book on Amazon.com for under $100 and wanted to share that information with others because it changed my writing life. Then I wanted to share about blogging, podcasting, ebooks, cross-media writing, making money as an author… and so much more. So I wrote the course with 12 modules, each covering a key area of writing, publishing, sales and promotion online. Each module has an ebook with loads of written information, then there are videos per module where I show you how to do things e.g. how to create and publish an ebook, or how to use Twitter. There is also an audio interview with an expert in each module, for example, in the Author Entrepreneur module, I interview John Kremer, author of 1001 Ways to Market Your Books, as well as experts in all the other fields. The people who take the course find it packed with information and we also have monthly teleseminars for questions.

Here’s a free Blueprint for people who are interested — it contains lots more information.

Can you share a few tips for authors marketing their books?

The first thing is that you need to think of marketing as telling people who are interested in your niche that you exist and offering helpful and valuable information. If people are interested, and they like and trust you, they will buy your book/product. There are so many ways you can get yourself out there these days, and people have to find what fits them and their market. Do you love video? Audio? Twitter? Live speaking? You have to enjoy it or you just won’t do it. I was surprised to find that I actually love marketing now that I know what I am doing!

The most successful things for me personally in terms of marketing for platform building and book sales have been:

  • Having a great blog. The Creative Penn, for example, is regularly updated with interesting, relevant content, and easily clickable “Buy this Book Now” links, and free workbooks/blueprints. This means you get traffic to your site and people see your books. They are far more likely to buy your books if they know your other writing is great. The search engines also come regularly and you can build your expertise in the field. I am so passionate about blogging now – I absolutely love my blog, and my readers.
  • Being active on Twitter (or another specific social network for your niche). This has really exploded my market and my traffic and the time I spend pays dividends.
  • Speaking either live or on teleconferences. I love to talk about my niche of using web 2.0 tools as an author, and I also speak on digital branding. I do many teleseminars for other blogs as well as my own, and I also speak at least once a month at various events near where I live. I have done writers groups, full day seminars, evening networking events and guest spots. I often speak for free but I make product and book sales from these appearances. As I mentioned before, people will buy if they like you and are convinced by your knowledge. How do you get this opportunities? Just start asking people and offering, or put something on your site advertising yourself as a speaker for starters.

For more examples, I have a free marketing plan available for download on my site.

You’re ever-so-popular with the writing community on Twitter. How’d you manage that? Got any social-networking advice?

I used to think Twitter was a waste of time and then I read Grown Up Digital by Don Tapscott. I recommend that book to anyone who doesn’t “get” social networking or the social web.

So I joined Twitter around February 2009 and like everyone else, didn’t have a clue how to use it. I started tweeting useful links to blog posts in my area of interest – writing, publishing, internet sales and book promotion. I found that other people found me and followed me, and also started to retweet my links (pass them on to other users). In this way, my followers started to grow.

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