Is Social Media Mandatory for Writers?

While reading a recent blog post by Penelope Trunk, I found my way to this article from Forbes: 3 Reasons You Should Quit Social Media in 2013. It was a relief.

Here’s my dirty secret: I’ve wanted to quit social media for months.

I’ve been thinking lately about the value of social media for writers. Is the return really worth the time you take away from your writing? For new, non-agented writers (like myself), is it worth focusing on social media to build a platform, or should you just be focusing all of your energy on becoming a better writer?

It seems Twitter, Facebook and blogs have become mandatory in the ‘getting published’ process. When I talk to new writers, they are usually trying to learn to write, learn to tweet, learn to set up a Facebook fan page and produce amazing blog posts that get hundreds of views. Oh, and get published.

Of course we all know that social media can pay off. We’ve all seen those previously unknown writers rise above the army of blogging and tweeting writers and start successful careers. We’ve benefited from reading fantastic blogs written by writers. We’ve interacted with authors on Twitter and become huge fan girls and boys (maybe that’s just me :).

I think the most under-communicated part of social media is that it takes time. Lots of time. To grow an engaged following on any platform, you’re going to need to spend time crafting messages, sharing quality content, talking to people. Time spent on social media is time spent not writing.

I’ve been struggling with this as I create my goals for 2013. It feels like sacrilege to speak against any form of social media (it’s part of my day job and pays the bills!), but I’m starting to wonder if social media’s returns are worth the time for an aspiring writer. Wouldn’t my time be better spent, well, writing?

In light of this social media mid-mid-life crisis, I’ve created a short Social Media Manifesto. I created this for myself, but thought that others might be interested, so I’ve re-written it and shared it below.

Social Media Manifesto:

1) Only use the platforms you enjoy. If you like tweeting (like I do) then tweet. If Facebook is your thing, then work Facebook. If you look forward to writing blog posts each week, then by all means, blog. If you aren’t into Pintrest, or Goodreads or Instagram or any other social network, don’t worry about using it. It will feel like work and you probably won’t use it enough to make a difference anyway.

2) Don’t spread yourself too thin. There are only so many hours in a day. If you work full time and are writing and trying to have a life, you might not have time to be active on more than one or two social networks. You might not even have time for one. It’s better to be really active on one social network than sort of engaged on several. There are some networks that you can get away with not being active regularly (like Goodreads), but there are others (like Twitter) where your absence will be glaring.

3) Decide what you want to be. Is your long term goal to become a well-known blogger, or do you want to publish books? Are you a social media maven who writes, or a writer who likes social media? This should help you decide where to focus your time.

Is social media mandatory for writers?

I don’t think it is. I think good writing is mandatory for writers, and having a social platform is a bonus.

I’m sure there are many people out there who would argue against this (please do leave a comment below!). I’ve met some wonderful people through social media, and I am sure I will meet more. But, what I do know is:

Writers write.

You can be a writer and not update your Facebook page or tweet or blog. But you can’t be a writer and not write.

If you want to be a writer and it comes down to a choice between spending ten minutes on social media or ten minutes scribbling down a brilliant idea for a new story, you should probably opt for the story idea.

Even after this rant, I’m not going to quit social media cold turkey. I might quit Facebook (for the 1 millionth time). I’ll likely keep tweeting because I like it. I’ll blog on occasion because I like that too. But, having thought this out, I feel less pressure to have a presence on every major social platform. Of course, I could be making a huge mistake and in a few years a publisher will be upset that I don’t have an established Facebook fan page (should I be so lucky to entice a publisher’s interest) and many people will get to tell me ‘I told you so.’ We shall see.

For now I’m going to focus on writing.

What do you think? Is social media mandatory for writers?

Author: Carrie Mumford

Carrie Mumford is a writer and content manager living in Calgary, Alberta. She write short stories and non-fiction articles, and blogs about technology, editing, writing and (of course) books.

  • This is fantastic. As someone who is constantly struggling with that ‘there are only so many hours in the day’ thing who also knows that to become a great writer and to be published one must actually write, I dip in and out of social media. The time commitment is incredible and it takes away from my purpose–finishing my novel and getting it published. However, like you, social media is part of my day job and I have to accept that. But getting published is always #1, not being the most popular on Twitter, etc. I’m wondering though how much literary agents want you to be ‘popular’ in social media (for marketing purposes) before considering you, or if that’s even a factor.

    • From what I’ve read, it is a factor, but maybe not a deal breaker? I’m sure if either of us had 50,000 followers on Twitter and a stellar Klout score, it would interest publishers because they’ve got a built-in platform to market to. But I can’t say for sure just how important that is. I’ll have to invite a publisher to do a guest post! ;)

  • I’ve been thinking like this for a while. Facebook, twitter, blogging. What’s my niche for these things, especially before I have anything to really share? Why wants my opinion as a writer before I’ve finished the hard work of publication? And will the people who I connect with about writing really buy my books? How about the people who aren’t writers? Will they buy my books?

    To be honest, this post is great validation for something that I’ve already decided, which is to cool off my social media use until I have something worth sharing.

  • Finally, I find someone who has arrived at the same conclusion as I did a few months ago. It took me a year to realize that spending hours in the social media world did not equate to sales – not even close. During that year of slugging it out with twitter, facebook, blog and all the rest, my passions took a back seat. I felt obligated to my publisher to push, push, push.

    When we’re not true to our passions, things start to fall apart. Creativity, joy, patience, compassion, etc. get subdued. My family life suffered. My dog didn’t get all the walks and attention he desired. I even harnessed that intense desire to finish writing my second novel. I put on hold all the things I love to do.

    After a crisis, I woke up. I needed to get back to being authentically me. Unless you are true to yourself, your inner spirit and your health will suffer. So, like you, I’ve shifted my priorities. Priority number one is my health. Number two are the people and animals I care about. Number three is writing the best damn novel that ever was written. The social media? It is still a valuable option but it’s way down on the llist now. Thank you

  • It’s been just over a year since I started, but I do stay involved with social media while I write. For one thing, I have readers who only use one or the other to receive my posts. So, it’s a courtesy to them. But more than that, I am socializing with people because my goal is to not only get a book published, but to also have people eager to read what I’ve written when it’s finally available. Social media, blogging, forums, all are tools for me to share my work, myself, and my life with others. I wouldn’t use the word “mandatory”; they are just part of my writing life. Here is a recent article from Writer Unboxed that I just read tonight with a topic similar to yours: “Should Writers JUST Write?” It includes some of what I’ve tried to convey here, and much more. Thanks for getting us to think about this, Carrie!

    • Hello Darla! Thanks so much for your comment!

      I completely agree about the benefits of social media; I have experienced them myself over the past few years that I’ve been blogging and tweeting. Social media is a powerful tool for writers. My decision this year is focused more around the times when I am faced with a choice between writing and social media. If I have a spare 30 minutes (a rarity these days), then am I going to program tweets, or write? I decided this year that I’ll write, because tweeting isn’t going to get my novel written :) I think it’s more of a brain shift for me, putting writing above social media. Thank you for the link to the article!

  • Hi Carrie;
    While sitting here, thinking up a new Blog for this week, I saw your comment. You could not be more on point, than what you wrote. I have only written 1,000 words all of last week, and nothing this week.

    I realize I do need to strike a balance between the tweeting, and blogging. I enjoy some of it, as the blogging can be fun, when I’m having fun with it, and not trying to just sell my book. The tweeting can also be a blast when it expresses what you see in the world that is funny or strange – and usually on a daily basis it is.

    But you are right about the essence, as writers, we need to get down to writing. The Blogging and Tweeting is fine, but they have to be kept to a minimum, so the real dynamic of writing can take place.

    Thank you for reminding me of that.

    • Hi Lyle! I love your point about balance – that’s really what I was getting at. If the balance has to tip to one side or the other perhaps some writers should tip to the side of writing (although not always! a new book coming out is a great reason to focus on social media :)

  • I totally agree with you on ” writers write ” point. However , we must bear in mind that the rules of engagement have been changed in every profession. Every professional , regardless of their trade , is trying to take advantage of social media . Should the writers be excluded from the rest of the professionals just because they write ?

    No, I don’t think so ! I think they have to find the thin line between over publicity and non publicity as professionals. Besides , writers write to be read by others and not for the joy of writing for themselves. Therefore they must be social within the boundaries of business ethics.

    Personally , I used to hunt writers when I was young. I used to go long distances to attend a lecture by a famous writer , I would arrive early to get a front seat to see or hear better. As I felt reading only the bare book was not enough , I used to gather newspaper clips in special folders. I had to form my own opinion on the credibility of the work and discard the useless. Isn’t it easier now ? Probably ! I can have access to my favorite writers as they write, create my own opinion on the spot and I don’t have to wait for a post mortem biography to read.

    • Hello Chrstff!

      I totally agree with you! The rules have indeed changed, and the value of social media cannot be denied. The point I was trying to get across (which I think I should have made clearer) is that when it comes down to a choice between prioritizing social media time or writing time, writing needs to come first in many cases.

      As I mentioned to Lyle (another commenter), sometimes in the writing cycle social media will come first — for example after you publish a book. But, if you’re tweeting but not writing and you want to be a writer, it kinda defeats the purpose of tweeting about being a writer:)

      On a side note, I also hunted down authors when I was a kid! I love that we have so much more access to authors on social media now too.

      Thanks for your comment!

  • I’ve gone through waves of social media doubt, when I’m scrambling for time to write. Ultimately, I’ve landed about where you are. I stick with the forms that interest me, and I limit my time there too. What I love most about this post is the third point of your manifesto. It’s very clarifying to remember that I am a writer who is interested in social media, not a social media guru who writes on the side. Thank you.

    • Thanks, Lisa! Glad you found it useful. I have found over the past few weeks that sticking to the forms that interest me and letting go of the ones that don’t (as you mention above) really helps! It makes it seem like less of a chore.

  • Great post! I agree that writers need to write, in order to produce material. But if you haven’t invested the time to build an online platform using social media, which agent will take you on? And which publisher will take a risk on you? And who will buy your books?

    No matter how amazing your book is, and no matter how good the quality of your finished product, if no one has heard of you, that book won’t sell. It takes time to build a following on social media, and you can’t expect to start once your manuscript is finished, edited, and ready to be formatted as an ebook.

    Life is all about priorities, and sometimes you’ve got to focus on two important things at once. If you set aside a short period of time each day to building your online platform, you can have a solid network by the time your book is ready. Try setting an alarm for a specific amount of time, and quitting when you’re finished.

    Social media can also provide a great break from writing, to clear your mind and rest a bit.

    • Hi Holly,

      So nice to meet you, and thank you for your comment!

      I completely agree with you: having a platform and approaching a publishers or agent is a much better situation that not having one. I actually just read a great post about this on Cathryn Ryan Howard’s blog: Cathryn is more of the mind that social media is mandatory (for self-published authors, at least).

      As I mentioned in my post, I’ve actually just re-prioritized and narrowed my social media activity to one network, rather than trying to keep up with them all and I’m having much more luck finding time to balance many different tasks.

      Thanks again for such a detailed comment!

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