Zena Shapter is a dynamic writer, teacher and one-woman publicity machine who lives on Sydney's Northern Beaches. I have bumped into her at several launches and literary events, and I was excited to discover that in May she will be leading a seminar on social media for authors at the New South Wales Writers' Centre.
Zena Shapter in teaching mode
I thought I would take advantage of her skill and expertise in this area and ask her a few pointed questions about how to connect with my target readership. I am a great fan of free advice, and Zena has been incredibly generous in sharing hers.
If you'd like to know more, why not sign up for her workshop here.
More about Zena at the end of this Q&A, but let's hear from the woman herself:
1. What do you think is the most effective social media channel for authors, and why?
Oh what a great question! The answer, of course, varies according to what the author wants to achieve. If they just want to get their name ‘out there’ and socialise with other writers, then Twitter is the best way to start. It’s a very welcoming community for writers and it’s easy to engage with Tweeps (so long as you keep your manners). Blogging, on the other hand, is a great way to give readers a taste of your interests and personality. If you’re already published and have fans, blogging is the perfect way to get them excited about upcoming releases. If you’re looking to increase your fan base, but don’t want to spend too much time writing blog posts, a Facebook fan page is a great idea.
As with all social media, though, your heart has to be in it – otherwise it won’t be effective. Readers and writers who use social media regularly can spot the fakes. They can smell a lack of enthusiasm and laziness from far far away. You really only get out of social media what you put in. The key is to find the one channel that suits you and your lifestyle best, then to embrace it entirely.
2. How did you become so interested in social media?
I was a full-time Mum of two babies under two, deep in a world of drudgery, isolation and exhaustion. I didn’t have any family nearby (I’m originally from England), money was tight, and all my Aussie friends were working full-time jobs. When the kids took their day-naps, I was writing, writing, writing. The rest of the time I was simply lonely. I craved contact with writing others – any contact! When I started seeing blog and Twitter links appearing in friends’ email signatures, I got curious and looked into it. I read some blogs, lurked in Twitter, and realised both offered great ways to connect with other writers.
So I signed up to Twitter, started my blog, and fell in love with the currency of it all. Being online enabled me to find out about competitions and events promptly. As a Mum, any extra notification was invaluable. It meant I could get involved more and learn more. I had time to prepare for opportunities. Knowing people on Twitter made attending book launches or writing talks fun – we recognised each other! Writing is a very solitary activity. But with social media only a click or two away, I’m never lonely now.
3. How can I get more followers on my Facebook author page, which is a disaster?
Do people know it’s there? My first piece of advice would be to make sure that friends and followers know your page is active. Email them the address and put it on your business cards. Comment on posts on other authors’ pages too, as supporting their conversations will prompt them to support you back.
My second piece of advice would be to ensure there’s fresh and interesting content on your page. As I’m sure you know, updates about the progress of your latest writing project aren’t enough. Talking about your interests is good for fans too. What television shows influence your writing? What books are your favourite? Do your fans like those books and television shows as well? Ask them! Engaging followers in conversation is a way to keep them coming back. It takes time, but then doesn’t anything that’s worthwhile?
4. What should authors be blogging about?
There’s some debate about this. Some say writers shouldn’t blog about writing, because such blogs will only attract other writers, not readers. The viewpoint is a valid one, because not all readers are writers. However… absolutely all writers read! Also, if you’re interested in social media because you want to connect with other writers, then why not talk about writing?
The key is to identify whom you wish to connect with and tailor your blog accordingly. Your market is going to be different if you’re a published novelist as opposed to an emerging writer. Published novelists can talk about all kinds of personal things because they have a fan-base who just like to be let inside their favourite author’s head. Emerging writers, on the other hand, might lose followers if they blog too much about their everyday lives.
I’ve seen lots of bloggers switch their blogging focus as they become more successful authors, from blogging about their writing journey to being more personal. I can see it happening in my own blogging too and it’s good to adapt to the needs of your followers – it shows you’re aware of your fans growing interests and can respond appropriately. These days, publishers need all the help they can get marketing you and your writing. So pay attention to which of your posts sparks the most interest, then write more of those!
5. Imagine I am a new author, unpublished but wildly enthusiastic – what three things can I do on social media right now to advance my career?
1. Follow me. Only kidding! They should make sure they’re following all the publishers and writing centres who interest them. This will help them stay up-to-date with what’s happening in the world of publishing and with writing opportunities relevant to them.
2. Support others. People remember those who help them. Comment on their blogs, tweets and posts. Forward on and share their links. Promote them where you can.
3. Interact. Converse with readers and writers online – it’s friendly, you might learn something, and will help you in the long run, sometimes in the most surprising way.
6. Any books on social media or marketing more generally that you’d like to recommend? What about self-development?
I’m a big believer in learning on the job. For anyone interested in social media, who isn’t sure where to start – why not come to one of my social media courses? Then, have a think about what you like and what you don’t like about social media; what you’re happy to do and what you don’t want to have to do. Once you have that focus, it’ll be easy to start. Then all you have to do is be yourself. There are some general rules you should follow. Number one is to keep your manners. Number two is to keep spamming to an absolute minimum. Number three is to be true to yourself. So learn what interests you first, then blog/tweet/post away, comment on others blogs/tweets/posts too. You’ll win some and lose some. But that’s the learning curve we all have to weather.
As far as marketing more generally goes, just be yourself. There’s only one of you and that’s what makes you unique. Go with it!
7. Where do you see yourself in five years?
The publishing world is a cautious beast. You have to stroke it, coo pretty names at it and let it sniff the air around you before it decides whether or not it likes you. In five years’ time, I’d like to be on the other side of being liked, with that happy beast called publication curled in my lap nuzzling contently. Isn’t that what every author wants?
Northern Beaches Writers' Group, one of the most dynamic and active writing groups in Sydney.
|Meeting of the Northern Beaches Writers' Group|
She is currently at work on a series of novels.
Zena's seminar on social media for writers will be held at the NSW Writers' Centre on the 1st of May. You can book for that event here.
On the 4th of June she'll be teaching an Introduction to Social Media workshop for the Mosman Evening College, and you can book for that here.