You love writing. You’ve wanted to be a writer ever since you were handheld through Keats’ ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ in school. You’d stay up late past bedtime and scribble words you barely knew the meaning of on a notepad. One day you’ll write a book. One day you’ll be a writer.
Some years later, your appetite for writing has been insatiable. You’ve countless pads, pages, and Word documents filled with poems, short stories, abandoned works, and several first chapters. You’ve read – you’ve read a lot. You’ve even read books about writing. You’re slowly learning your trade and have kept everything you’ve written on stapled pages in a shoe box under your bed. You’ve been writing for years now and the shoes that once came in that very box no longer fit you. You keep writing.
The time will come when you want to be read – you want to get published. You’re told that publishers are only interested in authors with a large social media following, with an audience of people waiting to buy their books. So you set up an author Twitter account, probably an author Facebook page, maybe even a blog. You invest hours each day growing your following and having a ‘presence’. You write when you get the time – but life gets in the way, and you mustn’t neglect your social media profiles – so your writing takes a back seat.
Sound familiar? Maybe not. But it does highlight an interesting debate that’s been vocalized recently – do new authors spend too much time on social media? On the one hand some established authors say this is indicative of new writers today – that they are spending too much time on social media and not enough time writing, learning their trade, and developing their voice. On the other hand, new authors hear that publishers won’t even sniff a book from an author who hasn’t invested time in developing a community that will buy their books. So they focus on social media to give themselves the best chance of a publishing deal (sometimes before they’ve even written a book).
From a publishing perspective, the marketing landscape has changed. Selling books is now a team effort between the author and the publisher, so for a financially fruitful partnership, effort needs to come from both sides – writers need to market themselves as well as the publisher. Yet, if a new author isn’t spending enough time writing and developing their trade there won’t be a publishing deal to begin with (or even a book!). Undeniably there seems to be a case of what comes first, the book or the author, especially when it comes to debut novels for new writers.
What’s a new author to do? Well, like many things in life, a balance is needed. Yes, spend time building a community, it’s important, but don’t get caught up in the mindset that time spent online is the same thing or equally as productive to your writing career as actually sitting down, switching off, and writing.
If you’re spending too much time online and are finding it difficult to claw yourself out of the hole with the tip of your fountain pen, try some of the following:
- Give yourself a word target to reach each day. This is your priority. Only once your word target is hit can you focus on everything else that comes with being a writer these days.
- Take a writing course to sharpen your skills.
- Write with pen and paper so you don’t have the temptation to go online when you’ve set aside time to write. If you prefer to write on a computer, turn off your wifi or unplug your router.
- Read books on writing to give you ideas on how to develop (but don’t let your writing be confined by them – you want to keep your own voice).
- Read books you love to remind you why you write.
- Re-read what you’ve written on your current project. It should give you a spark to continue writing, edit, or do better.
- Do something. Writing comes from experience, so live a little.
- Become better at social media by researching, reading, and observing to work more efficiently and maximise your time online. Building a community is far more valuable than blindly chasing numbers.
Remember, to be a writer you need to write. Talking about being a writer isn’t enough. While developing a following and building a community as a supplement to your writing is important, it’s not nearly as important as the writing itself. Don’t forget, any publishing house worth its salt would choose great writing over Twitter followers any day.