Say you’re a writer, and a new acquaintance invites you to a gathering of some of her friends. Your first novel has just been published, or perhaps you’ve placed an article in a respected publication. Now picture yourself walking into the party, staggering under the weight of an armload of books or photocopies of your magazine piece. You buttonhole everyone there, pressing your material into their hands, while pleading, “Please read my book. And make sure you tell all your friends how much you enjoyed it.” After a few awkward encounters, you find yourself shunted into a corner, wondering where you can stash the books and aching for a strong drink. Does this sound like an unlikely scene? If you’ve spent any time on Twitter or Facebook, you will recognize it immediately. You accept a friend request or someone follows you, and before you know it you’re receiving entreaties to “like” his author page. When you check your new companion’s posts you see they consist principally of links to the first chapter of his novel or to a website that’s little more than a promotional tool. Over all this effort lingers the aroma of desperation.
While it’s true social media can serve as a useful, perhaps even essential, platform for promoting your writing, if that’s the sole reason you’re there, you’d probably be better off buying a bullhorn and hanging out on a street corner hawking your book to passersby. No one welcomes the ceaseless self-promoter. Instead, like the most respected and successful participants on Twitter and Facebook, bring something to the conversation (and at its heart that’s what social media is) that others will view as a contribution, not a relentless expression of your desire to be noticed. Tweet a link to an article on a subject that engages you, even if it has nothing to do with your work. Retweet or share interesting links generously, and always give credit through the use of “MT” (“modified tweet”) or “HT” (“hat tip” or “heard through”) when you aren’t simply passing along someone else’s communication. Just as you would do at the imaginary party, don’t be shy about politely inserting yourself into a conversation and then offering a word of insight, appreciation or praise. As much as it’s possible (and the best citizens of these communities display this talent every day), think of yourself, not as an avatar, but as a human being: self-effacing, not bombastic; empathetic, not self-absorbed. Those qualities may not cause an instant bump in your sales numbers or website clicks, but if you are fortunate enough someday to meet a person “IRL” who’d only existed before as a follower or friend and you discover an instant rapport, you’ll know you’ve succeeded. // Harvey Freedenberg