Having talked a bit in general terms yesterday about writers and social media, today I want to talk a bit about my own engagement with social media.
I had a blog before I knew the word “blog.” In the late 90s and early 2000s, I had a personal webpage and was involved in a number of internet discussion boards. I found the possibilities for online communication with people I’d never have met in real life absolutely fascinating. At that time I was a stay-at-home mom, part time grad student and a fairly busy writer. I distinctly remember thinking one day, “Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a way I could occasionally post an essay on my website to explore ideas I want to talk about?” So I began posting a monthly update that included a longish (as if I could write any other kind!) essay on some issue of interest to me, a shorter update about what our family was doing, some “cute kid moments” (funny things Chris and Emma said and did) and a brief overview of the books I’d read that month.
That was in 2003 — ten years ago this August (you can still read those old piece under the link “Ancient Archives” in the sidebar). By 2006, a lot of people had blogs and instead of posting a monthly update on my own website, I got a blogger account and began blogging in June 2006. I started a main blog, Hypergraffiti, to blog about my life and opinions, and a second blog, Compulsive Overreader, to review books I was reading. Other than switching from Blogger to WordPress in 2007, I’ve pretty much kept doing the same thing ever since.
For the first year blogging was extremely easy. I just wrote about whatever was going on in my life at the time. After the first year I started to notice some repetition — so many things in life turned out to be cyclical, so that I was often blogging about activities, events and milestones I’d already blogged about the year before. I had to be creative to come up with new content. Over time, I also started blogging less about parenting as my kids got older and were less comfortable being the subject of my blogs. Even though teaching is a big part of my life, I blog very little about it, mostly because most of the interesting stuff in my work life involves confidentiality issues.
My sidebar says that I blog about parenting, writing, teaching, spirituality, and shiny things that catch my eye. If you check my tags, you’ll find 140 posts that are tagged as being about “writing,” 119 about “parenting,” 105 about “spirituality” and 206 labelled “ooh, shiny!” which is basically anything I think is interesting or cool. Of course, there’s some overlap in the categories.
When I started blogging I never consciously thought of it as a way to increase my profile as a writer, though over the years I have certainly tried to explore my blog’s potential in that way. When I started out I thought of myself more as a “mom-blogger” than a “writer-blogger” and most of the connections I made were with other moms who blogged about parenting and family life. I think this has grown to be more of a writing blog over time, but it’s never really had a single identity and I know that has hurt any dreams I might have had of developing a huge readership. All the smart advice about blogs says that you should narrow your focus and have a clear emphasis on what your blog is about. Mine has never had that, so people who come here because they read a post about writing (like this one) may be disappointed if next week I’m blogging about my family vacation and the week after that I’m talking about issues around faith and spirituality. I hop lightly around from topic to topic because my blog has never been about getting a huge readership or even directing a lot of new readers to my books: it’s a platform for me to write about things that interest me. People who do read it regularly have a pretty well-rounded picture of me and what I’m about … which leads to a second piece of advice I always break.
I’ve read that writers who keep a blog should steer away from stating their views on controversial issues, because people who read and like their books may be put off by the fact that a favourite author holds views they don’t like. I’ve never been able to do that. Part of my original impetus for blogging came from my desire to be as authentic and honest in the public sphere as I could possibly be, and as a result I pretty much say what I think. I don’t know if this has ever lost me friends or readers, but anyone who likes my books and comes to my blog will pretty soon know most of my views. Right-wingers who read my books may disapprove of my socialist leanings; atheist readers may be sorry to learn that I’m a committed Christian; conservative Christian readers may not like the fact that I support gay marriage (and gay people, for that matter). Of all the things I do in the social media world, my blog is closest to the “real me” (as close as any constructed online identity can be to “real”). Take me as I am, or don’t read my blog, is my attitude. The book review blog is obviously more focused on a single topic, but from the types of books I review and the things I say about them you’d still get a pretty clear view of my stand on various issues.
I’m active on Facebook because I enjoy it as a space to connect with people, but I don’t have a Facebook author page. Most of the people on my Facebook are real-life friends, but some are there because they’ve read my books or otherwise know me as an author. I occasionally post book-related news there, but anyone who adds me on Facebook for writing-related reasons is going to have to put up with all my personal stuff too, because I don’t have the time or interest to maintain a separate Facebook author page, even though I know in theory it’s a good idea.
Twitter took me awhile to get used to, but now I love it. I think I’m a little more my “professional self” on Twitter — I use it to promote my blog and vlog, and to connect with writers and other people, especially people in the local arts community. I didn’t “get it” at first but once I did, I really enjoyed it.
There are a lot of things on the internet that I don’t do. I don’t understand what Reddit is. I know what Tumblr is but I don’t “get” it. I signed up for Pinterest and I have a few boards there but I’ve never really gotten into it; I’m not really a visual person so seeing pictures of things doesn’t inspire me the way it does some people. Essentially, I follow the advice I gave yesterday: I do what I enjoy doing. Writing blogs and book reviews has always been a creative pursuit for me. It’s enabled me to connect with some other writers and with some of the people who’ve read my books. A few people may have learned about my books through meeting me online who wouldn’t have heard of them otherwise, but it’s never been a major marketing tool for me, though I do have websites set up for most of my books and try to keep up-to-date book information on my blog.
My latest social media endeavour, of course, is vlogging on YouTube. This is not something I would ever have expected to get into, but when I began to enjoy watching vloggers, I became fascinated with YouTube’s possibilities as a medium and decided I wanted to try it for myself. It’s not something I would recommend to other writers unless you like being on camera and enjoy fooling around with video editing, but for me, as with blogging, it’s a creative outlet in and of itself quite apart from any traffic it might drive in the direction of my books (which is not likely to be a great deal).
I can’t honestly say that my presence on social media has had a huge impact on my book sales, but in general, especially for fiction writers, I don’t think it makes that much of an impact for anyone. I think the biggest impact of a writer’s presence on social media is likely to be in creating a sense of community with other writers and with existing readers of your work. And in keeping with the advice I gave yesterday, I only do what I enjoy doing online. If the day comes when I no longer enjoy vlogging, I’ll stop doing it.
For now, I’m going to introduce a bit more schedule and structure to my blog, which goes along with the vlogging. My vlogs, unlike my blog, are fairly focused on specific topics. The Writing Wednesday vlog is always about writing, and I’ll continue to post it here on Wednesday along with an accompanying blog post for those who don’t enjoy clicking on YouTube videos. Likewise, I’ll post the Searching Sabbath vlogs about faith and spirituality here on Saturdays, also with a blog post to read. So you can count on writing on Wednesday and faith on Saturday, and in between, I’ll continue to do one or two other posts a week as time permits, which will be about whatever’s on my mind.
I encourage other writers to do the things you enjoy doing that enrich your personal and creative life, even if they don’t fit with some piece of advice you read about “building your online presence.” Do what you love, and your love will shine through.