If we continue our analogy of building a house, there comes a time when we get in our car, back out of the garage, and venture out into the world to talk to people. Whether it’s at church, a school activity, work, or a coffee shop, there are places we go to hang out with the people we have things in common with.

The same can be said of the virtual world. There are millions of people out there and your job is to find the ones that your message will resonate with. The people most likely to buy your book. And the places we meet them become our social media outposts.

For unpublished writers, building an online presence now is critical even if it’s only to avoid the sometimes-steep learning curve later when you’re launching a book while also trying to juggle edits, galleys, find reviewers, set up blog tours, design promo memes/graphics, and oh, maybe write the next book. And if you can get a tribe of friends/followers interested in you and excited about your book before it finally comes out, then you’re way ahead of the game.

Tool #1: Start small and master one piece of the puzzle at a time. First the website, then the email list because you own and control both of those. Then, pick one of the popular social media platforms and dive in. Of course, it will take time to set up an account but also to master the nuances for interaction on that platform.

Starting small might mean spending several days as an observer before you make your first post. Find out what people talk about. Do they use hashtags and if so how many? How do you navigate around and discover new people? Are there commonalities to posts that seem to get the most interaction? What captures your attention? Are there things that annoy you? Every tidbit you glean is part of the learning curve, not only about the logistics of how to post, comment, and share information, but more importantly, how can you best use this as a way to find future readers and build a bridge of common interests with them?

When you’re ready, start posting the types of things you think your future audience will like and then pay attention to how others respond so you can adjust your message. (Of course, as you begin to interact online, please keep in mind the next few tools on this topic as well.)
It’s also common for a new person on a particular platform to start off with a ton of energy and multiple posts and then fizzle out like a burned-out firecracker. So, no matter how excited you are to dive into the deep end, make sure you can stay afloat later. The better approach is to be strategic about the types of things you would like to share and start at a slower pace since it will be easier to maintain in the long term. Not to mention, with the scheduling tools I’ll share in the next section, you can implement that basic plan without as much effort or time.

Once you have one social media channel mastered and absorbed into a rhythm in your writing life, then and only then should you consider adding a new outlet. If you try to take on too much too soon, you’ll only end up overwhelmed or confused and then quit. It’s better to do only one outlet well than several poorly.

And speaking of multiple outlets, it’s virtually impossible to handle more than three well without other areas suffering, especially the quality and quantity of your writing. Many gurus suggest picking two or three places that hit the sweet spot with your personality and create buzz with potential readers…then focus all of your attention on those mighty few. That could be your blog/website, Facebook, and Twitter or a blog, Instagram, and Pinterest or any other combination that resonates with your message. Once you’ve picked your focus places, simply set up a basic profile on other accounts so that people searching for you there can at least find the website address from your profile biography and follow it back to one of your main locations. (More on profiles later as well as easy ways to schedule a little bit of content to those more unused outlets so they don’t look abandoned.)

Tool #2: Be social. It’s all about the relationships. Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Linked In, Google Plus, SnapChat, YouTube, or the new latest and greatest program everyone is raving about (and yes, we’ll spend some time talking specifically about each in a little bit), the key is to find where your ideal readers already hang out, then go join the conversation there.

And conversation is the key. It’s important to build a relationship and contribute value to their situation. Bring a smile to their face or encouragement to their soul. Share helpful information you gleaned from somewhere else. Ask a question to get a conversation started. Get to know people as people long before you ever try to sell them something. You will go much further if you focus on relationships rather than shotgun-splattering your message hoping something will stick. While it’s okay to occasionally mention in passing that you’re a writer, keep the focus on them.

Why? We never want potential readers to feel like we only sought them out in order to sell them something. Because we’ve all had that awkward conversation with a new “friend” who wants to meet for coffee to discuss their new multi-level marketing breakthrough or offers us a great discount on a bunch of overpriced junk if we open our house to a party of some sort and inflict the sales pitch on our other friends.

Don’t be that person. Please. Just don’t. Nobody likes a “Buy my book” beggar.
Keep the focus on others more than yourself. And when you someday are ready to start talking about your book, a good rule of thumb is to share at least two other things pointing to others for every one sales pitch, blog link, or post about your writing. Promote others more than yourself.

Tool #3: Send a consistent message. What do you want to be known for? Are you the political activist who likes to rant about the latest injustice being broadcast by the mainstream media? Are you a gluten-free health nut who loves to share your favorite recipes along with pictures of what you had for dinner? Are you the hypochondriac who is always complaining about the latest personal crisis and sharing too much information? Spend a few days stalking a social media outlet and you’ll soon see that certain people you know tend to monopolize the conversation with their favorite topic (and unfortunately, for some that topic is their book and the audience they hoped to attract is soon irritated or worse.)

While it’s certainly the point to give glimpses into your personal interests and family life so readers feel like they’ve gotten to know the real you, you are also creating an online persona and want to deliberately attract like-minded people. Decide what you want to be known for and then be intentional about what you share. For example, historical writers will likely mention the occasional tidbit from the era or geographical location they write about. Non-fiction writers of financial self-help books will share other articles of interest in order to build credibility as a helpful resource or expert on this topic.

Of course, every social media outlet lends itself to a different type of post because they appeal to different audiences. So while your specific posts may vary, the overall message should be consistent. And it’s not just in what you post, but in how to respond to comments (and even the fact that you respond to them at all). Do you thank people for adding their input to the conversation?

On Facebook and Twitter, you can also “pin” a post or tweet to always appear at the top so find one with clearly communicates what you are all about so new visitors to your profile know right away. Leading up to and during a book launch, you can spotlight your latest release, but during other times of year and even before you have a book to be published, you can still offer value to your followers with an inspirational quote, a seasonal tip, a book recommendation, or a glimpse behind the scenes into your writing life.

One easy way to send a consistent message starts on your profile page. Use the same picture and biographical statement on each individual profile and make them similar in tone to those on your website. Speaking of websites, make sure to include your website address within each profile description. If social media followers become fans, they will often follow that link back to your website in order to find out more about you, and while there, hopefully you can also collect their email address to let them know about upcoming releases. (Then, on your website, include links out to your various other outposts so readers can find you and interact in other places too.)

Consistency also means a steady trickle of content so that people don’t forget who you are since you disappeared off the internet. Nowhere does “out of sight, out of mind” seem more true than on social media news feeds. Even better is if that consistent supply is also helpful or of other interest to your followers. (The upcoming scheduling tools will really help with this part.)

Tool #4: Think twice before you post anything in order to avoid making the wrong impression. Just like you should wait before hitting send on an angry email, things posted online cannot truly be completely removed or the damage undone. Make sure that the message you send is really the one you want people to remember about you.
The reputation you build online lives on and on. How many people have lost job opportunities because of something inappropriate that they shared on Facebook or a hate-filled rant about their last (or current-but-soon-to-be-last) employer? While some obsessions—like coffee or lighthouses or cats—shed light on our individual humanity, make sure there is enough other information to shine a light on your professionalism. And don’t be known as the Eeyore-ish whiner who publicly bashes the latest agent who neglected to see the brilliance of your writing masterpiece.

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