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!

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Because publicity IS your job: social media for authors

This lady knows her stuff.

That was obvious to me the first time  I “met” Marian Schembari on Twitter (she’s @marianschembari). She knows what she’s talking about. Whenever I have an idea about social media, I bounce it off Marian.

Marian Schembari, who helps authors sell boatloads of books.

And the cool things for readers of this blog? Marian specializes in social media for authors. That’s right, she focuses on helping writers sell books. And she’s here today to tell us how she does it.

Thanks for joining us, Marian! How’d you get into social media consulting? What makes you qualified to work with authors?

My background is in book publicity, and the way I landed that job is where the social media part comes in. I left college wanting to get into publishing, but getting my foot in the door was way more difficult than I had thought. After three months of sending out resumes and cover letters and hearing nothing back, I decided to take a “guerrilla marketing” approach. I used Facebook ads, Twitter, LinkedIn and a blog to get my name out there, and two weeks later I had a job as a book publicist. It was that easy. And that hard because no one taught me how powerful social media could be!

After three months of book PR, I realized a) I really enjoyed working for myself and b) most publicists still don’t really have a handle on social media, and traditional publicity is fading fast. Print and TV opportunities are limited, and having a review in The New York Times just doesn’t have the effect it used to. Readers want a personal connection, not some unrelatable opinion from a faceless reviewer. Readers want recommendations tailored to their interests, friendly neighborhood book bloggers and fan pages where the author actually participates in discussions.

Today, what can help sell books are relationships. Make it easy for readers to engage. Connect directly with book clubs on Twitter. Update fans on your writing/tours/signings/readings. Fiction or nonfiction, it doesn’t matter. There are incredible communities online – covering everything from knitting to politics to cooking to rock climbing.

You teach authors to use social networking rather than doing it for them. Why does that work better?

For a million reasons, the most important one being that no one knows a book better than the author. The second being that it’s more authentic. Like I said, readers want a personal connection with an author and if that author is going to make the effort to be online, it’s silly to have someone else do it for them.

Social media is not one of those things you can outsource. I show authors how to create a real presence online based on their interests and goals. I do a little tutorial work for those who are brand-spanking new, but when it comes to the actual tweeting, blogging, etc… well, that’s where they have to put the work in. There are ways to approach social media so it doesn’t consume your life, and I give my authors a daily, weekly and monthly schedule so they actually have time for writing and aren’t just sitting at their computers tweeting all day. This makes all the difference.

What are two of the top mistakes you see authors make when it comes to social media?

Only two? Sigh. Well, the first is attitude and this definitely comes across through their profiles. So many authors think it’s “not their job” to take care of the marketing and publicity of their book. But as much as I love publishing houses and their employees, here’s a little word to all you authors out there: your publisher’s not going to do sh*t for you.

While unfortunate, it’s the truth. And this isn’t the publisher’s fault! With the economy in bad shape and the interwebs making it harder and harder to sell books, their staff is spread incredibly thin. So if you want to make sure you actually sell your book, take some of the easy marketing into your own hands. Get on Twitter. I’ll help you find that community of readers who’s going to fall in love with your book. Create a Facebook fan page and spread the word. But don’t sit at your desk whining that it’s not your responsibility. The incredible power of social media is that you don’t need to be a marketing expert, you just need to have a passion for your book, be willing to learn the basics and have fun with it! [Note from Alexis: Love this tough love approach. Marian’s so right.]

The second mistake? Blatant self-promotion. While people will start following you on Twitter or become your fan on Facebook because they want to hear more about you, they don’t want to hear you shouting “Me! Me! Me!” from the social media rooftops. They want to hear where your next reading will be or get a link to your latest review, but they also want to hear about your favorite authors. Writing tips you can provide. Extra tidbits about your book. And, of course, you need to give love to get love. So retweet (that’s Twitter lingo) and engage others in conversation to get the most out of your online presence.

You offer solid tips on your site about how job seekers should use LinkedIn. Do you think LinkedIn is also valuable for authors?

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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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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!

Writers’ Roundup

That’s right, the Writers’ Roundup is back! She was on hiatus while I was at my artist’s residency, since I didn’t have much Internet access (and, quite frankly, I was trying to get away from blog responsibilities so I could focus on my book). Since I enjoy pulling together my favorite links from the week, this feature will now return to its Friday rotation.

  • The Intern has some good ideas about Author Websites, including what not to blog.
  • Penelope Trunk writes about How to deal with doubt: Take a leap. If you read my blog regularly, you know Penelope is my favorite blogger, and she hits this one right on the head, telling a good story at the same time. Coincidentally, this post also overlaps with a theme of my travel memoir: taking a risk in life.

That’s it for this week — Short ‘n sweet. Have a great weekend!