How to use social networks to brand yourself as a writer

I know no way to say it politely or modestly, but the most successful writers become brands, a name we once confined to cattle and ketchup.

Does anyone doubt that J.K. Rowling is a brand? Or Carl Hiaasen? Or Arianna Huffington? It was once the dream of Hollywood directors to become so famous that their names would appear above the titles of their films on movie marquees, like "Frank Capra’s 'It’s a Wonderful Life.' "

With the exception of famous columnists and sports writers, journalists have been reluctant to market themselves. Cynicism about marketing, advertising and public relations has led to inhibitions against self-promotion. The work, the story, the news report should speak for itself -- and the author. Anything else is puffery or propaganda. But like everything else in the world of digital media, the old boundary between the writer and the promoter has been erased.

There is no chance that my bosses will pay to put my picture and name on a billboard or the side of a bus. It's up to me. Using the Poynter website and now Twitter and Facebook, I have become a shameless marketer of my own work, especially my books “Writing Tools” and “The Glamour of Grammar” (hence the links to Such behavior can be -- and has been -- denounced as braggadocio, and those who practice it have been described as narcissistic or self-aggrandizing.

Here’s the positive spin. I work hard to promote my work because:

  1. No one else has the time or energy or resources to do it as well as I can.
  2. I want to sell books and increase my royalties and influence.
  3. Most of all, I believe in the work!

Do you believe in what you do? Does your work reflect a noble mission and purpose? Then it is not enough, oh author, to create it. You must do everything in your power to spread the word about your words.

I use my Twitter account mostly for professional reasons, linking to work that I have done, or work that I admire. In a recent post, I responded to criticism on Twitter from none other than film critic Roger Ebert on whether or not a writer can be too old to use emoticons or acronyms such as LOL.

The voice of the self-promoting writer is very important here. It's not "Look what a clever lad I am," but more "I had fun getting a thumbs down from Roger Ebert." Then you can show off.

The purpose, and often the effect, is to use the social network as a magnifying glass, or a megaphone, or a big rock dropped into the middle of a flat pond.

To describe my influence as “viral” contains the unfortunate connotation that my words spread disease, but if we must be burdened by that metaphor, then let my work create a pandemic. Let my ideas, if found worthy, be carried across the nation and around the world.

While my messages on Facebook can be personal, especially my comments on the updates of my “friends,” I have found great value in using my page to post reviews of my book, links to my essays, related audio and video, along with invitations to conferences and book signings. Little, Brown created a special “author’s page” to highlight my work for them. Postings there also appear on Twitter.

Too much of this, and readers will delete you like spam.

My friend Bruce DeSilva gets it right. I’ve admired the way he has used Facebook to promote his first crime novel -- “Rogue Island” -- as well as the work of other authors in the same genre.

With publishing houses suffering from the effects of economic recession, fewer resources are available for publicity, marketing and promotion. Book tours are limited to authors of blockbusters, who are, of course, their own brands. Who publishes the work of popular satirist David Sedaris? Who publishes the work of J.D. Salinger? Most readers don’t know or care.

And Little, Brown -- their publisher and mine -- cares less than you may think. They do care about the popularity and celebrity of their authors because a big public profile will result in more books being sold and greater profits for the company.

One final note: Many of us in the news media world and in other businesses and professions have seen devoted and talented workers laid off for economic reasons, even after long years of faithful service to the company. Loyalty ain’t what it used to be.

It is incumbent upon the individual journalist or writer to take every opportunity to brand himself or herself and to raise a public profile. Writers who work for a company can call it co-branding, especially when both author and publisher gain wealth and fame to their mutual benefit, and, we hope, in the public interest. Social networks are growing as among the most powerful engines for raising the profiles and shining a light on the publications of enterprising authors.

Editor’s note: This is the fifth installment of an occasional series on writing for Twitter and Facebook. Here are parts one, two, three and four.

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    Roy Peter Clark

    Roy Peter Clark has taught writing at Poynter to students of all ages since 1979. He has served the Institute as its first full-time faculty member, dean, vice-president, and senior scholar.


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