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Getting by with a little help from my (Facebook) friends: Writers, readers and social media

Atlanta author Karin Slaughter's Facebook page
Atlanta author Karin Slaughter's Facebook page

Atlanta author Karin Slaughter’s Facebook page.

When Atlanta authors talk about “driving traffic,” they’re not complaining about a closed lane on the Downtown Connector or a backup at Spaghetti Junction. They’re referring to the practice of using social media to connect with readers and promote their work.

With 1 billion users on Facebook, 200 million each on Twitter and LinkedIn, 13 million members on Goodreads and countless blogs through WordPress, Tumblr, Blogger and other websites, writers have access to free, far-reaching platforms without having to leave the comfort of their computer keyboards, and metro Atlanta authors are taking full advantage. They inform fans of book releases and signings in status updates on Facebook. They tweet links to positive reviews, book giveaways and interviews on Twitter. They reveal their writing habits and chapter excerpts in blogs and engage in conversations about their characters on Goodreads. 

Science fiction author Lee Gimenez, who counts over 2,500 fans on Facebook and 20,000 followers on Twitter, involves his readers in the creative process. When he began writing his 10th novel, he surveyed readers online about the name of his main character. Poet and novelist Collin Kelley, who divides his time between his hometown of Atlanta and Britain, features a “visual scrapbook” on his Tumblr blog, which will serve as the basis for a memoir of his travels abroad.

 

Collin Kelley's Tumblr blog.

 

Though self-published author Bobbi Kornblit prefers Facebook and LinkedIn, she has recently created a Texas-inspired board on Pinterest showcasing her novel’s setting with images of fancy cowboy boots and yellow roses.

Memorist Lauretta Hannon has found Facebook particularly useful for “Because I Said So,” her weekly advice column in The Marietta Daily Journal. “Eighty percent of the column submissions have come from Facebook rather than the email address listed at the bottom of each column,” Hannon says.

Writers are also using social media to extend their geographic reach. Gimenez credits social media for his sales in Britain, India and Australia, and best-selling crime writer Karin Slaughter has found new readers in Holland, Germany, France, Australia and New Zealand as well as among American expatriates in South Africa.

Bobbi Kornblit on Pinterest.

 

Such opportunities to reach the reading public are relatively new. Slaughter, who’s been publishing books for more than 10 years, has seen firsthand the evolution of book marketing from print to online. “I remember years ago when I made it my goal in life to reach out to as many book bloggers as possible, and my publisher just looked at me like I was crazy to waste my time,” she says. “Now they all cater to the bloggers.”

Kelley, who is also active on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads, says most of his public relations is now online and in social media. “There will be an occasional interview with a newspaper, magazine or journal, but without social media I’d be dead in the water.”

Even the way readers communicate with authors has changed. “I used to get tens of thousands of emails through my website every year,” says Slaughter, “and now most of that comes through GoodReads or Facebook.”

Furthermore, because in-house publicists have limited time to promote books, social media has helped authors get the word out themselves. “Publicists are usually overworked and trying to get attention for a number of books at the same time,” Hannon says. “But here’s the deal: it’s always up to the author to keep her book alive.… Social media has not made the burden lighter, but it’s made it much more fun.”

 

Lee Giminez counts 20,000 followers on Twitter.

 

Both Gimenez and Kelley do the vast majority of their own publicity. “It’s the new normal, especially when you work with a small press, and even with some of the big presses these days,” says Kelley. “[Besides], I feel like I’m in better control of my message and reader interaction when I’m handling it myself.” 

Slaughter, who prefers managing her own social media, agrees. “I think of [Facebook] as my place to just hang out with my readers and chat about books, so I try to keep it separate from publicity and marketing.”

Although social media can be a great tool, many writers also find that it has its downsides. It’s a time-gobbler, and excessive social media marketing can drive readers away. “It’s a mistake for authors to think of these sites as a promotional vehicle, because you don’t want to come across like a used-car salesman,” Slaughter says.

Kelley agrees that pushing books too hard through social media is “the kiss of death.” The important thing, the writers agree, is to balance posts about their own books with those about more general literary topics, such as other authors they’ve read and enjoyed.

At the end of the day, Atlanta writers believe that selling books is still about building authentic relationships with real people. And despite the convenience of social media, they haven’t forgotten the importance of the pen-to-paper communication of yesteryear.

I’m as old-school as it gets,” confesses Hannon. “I even [sometimes] send handwritten thank you notes.”

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