SHY EXPLORER SERIES: Asking the Experts By Judy Clement Wall
I just finished revisions to my literary novel, the culmination of four years of work (minus a couple of life events that took me away for months at a time). It took four drafts to nail my story, 89,000 words, 419 manuscript pages. Finishing it felt like giving birth, and yet, as I handed it to my readers, I thought, “Okay. Now the hard part.”
Because as hard as writing a novel is, it’s still writing, and I’ve been doing that my whole life. But this part, the world of publication with its pitching and branding and marketing and networking… this is foreign. This is scary.
That’s what I was thinking on the day I logged into Twitter and saw these two tweets from Bethanne Patrick (aka, @thebookmaven).
- Tweeps, pitching a critic your own book to read on Twitter is like querying an agent on Twitter.
- You EMAIL an agent you’ve “met” on Twitter. Same thing for a critic. I can be reached for your own books: thebookmaven at gmail dot com.
Her tweets made me wonder if writers, wisely trying to use social networks to garner attention, may in fact be alienating the very people they are trying to attract. It made me want to ask her some questions.
So I did.
My interview is below, the first in a series. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be asking the experts – people already in the industry – for publishing advice to writers.
Bethanne Patrick is an online presence, a freelance critic and author who has reviewed books for The Washington Post Book World, PEOPLE magazine, and Bookreporter.com, among others. She is the managing editor and host at TheBookStudio.com, and the creator of Twitter’s enormously popular #fridayreads. When I asked, she generously agreed to answer my questions about the role of social media in publishing…
j: What prompted your tweets, was it writer bad behavior?
Bethanne: In my experience, real writers – the kind who sit down to a blank page or screen every day – they are professional and courteous. They understand that you don’t just walk in, you have to knock. The others, the ones who send links to their entire manuscripts requesting a read, I don’t think of them as real writers.
j: Your tweets say “email me.” Is it a good idea for someone emailing you to mention that they follow you on Twitter or have friended you on Facebook? Does that carry any weight?
Bethanne: Not if it’s done with attitude, like because I follow you, you should review my work. But if handled in a nice, conversational way, a comment like “I’ve been enjoying your tweets” would lead me to read the rest of the query.
j: What is the role of social media for writers trying to market themselves? And when should that start? Before the book deal? After publication?
Bethanne: Absolutely before the book deal. Make sure your website and/or blog are in tip-top shape, and then go ahead and put yourself out there. You never know who might stop by. Publishers are doing less to promote writers these days, so it’s good to start promoting yourself early. But… don’t get distracted. You’re a writer. Most of your energy and effort should be spent writing.
j: How do you suggest writers use Twitter?
Bethanne: Embrace it. I’ve been on Twitter almost two years. It has evolved. More people are on now. It’s gaining credibility. People are learning that it’s not all navel gazing and what I ate for breakfast (though we do talk about that sometimes). It’s really a community. People learn about each other, share themselves.
Pick a subject you care about, one in line with your writing, and talk about it. Be present. Be consistent. You can’t tweet once a month and expect to build any kind of a following. You don’t have to get lost in it, but even just a half hour a day is good; visit regularly.
j: Your twitter name is @thebookmaven, rather than your name. Should writers use their names?
Bethanne: I very intentionally used @thebookmaven. I had already been establishing the brand. For writers, your name is your brand, and you do need to think about branding.
j: Can you give me some examples of writers using Twitter well?
Bethanne: Julie Klam is a great example of someone who uses social media, especially Twitter, well. She engages, charmingly self-promotes, and is crazy-generous. When Diamond Ruby, by Joe Wallace, came out, she promoted it tirelessly. She talks about her dogs and her work, but above all, she is authentic and engaged, and people love her.
I advise writers to spend only about 10-20 percent of their Twitter time on self-promotion. Another 40 percent on engagement and 40 percent on promoting others. When you are generous, people are generous in return.
j: Final words of advice?
Bethanne: Don’t give up too soon. Be open to how things unfold. #Fridayreads has grown enormously, in part, because it has a crowd swell of support. Social media can provide a true sense of community. Ask questions. People will answer.
The most important thing, I think, is to be consistent, be authentic, be playful.
j: Last question. What do you like to read and what are you reading now?
Bethanne: My reading tastes are quite broad, but I’m always happy with a Ruth Rendell or an Iris Murdoch novel. At the moment I’m reading THE ASK by Sam Lipsyte (should have gotten to it much earlier this year!) and dipping into an ARC, THE SOJOURN by Andrew Krivak.
Judy Clement Wall is putting the final touches on her novel, Beautiful Lives. She blogs about the perils of life, love, writing and cheesecake at Zebra Sounds.
Follow her on Twitter.