A Space of One's Own
20 Aug 2008
Victoria Sorzano lists various social networking websites which authors can use to promote themselves.
Social Networking for writers
Last summer, my step-son Louis won a battle of a bands competition on our local BBC radio sation. “What’s your MySpace mate?” the DJ asked him during the phone-in interview. Louis instantly rattled off the URL for his band The Dufflefolks’ MySpace page, where listeners could find out more about the band, and, most crucially, listen to their songs.
It’s no secret that MySpace, the social networking giant formed in 2003, has done wonders for promoting new bands. Mercury prize winners the Arctic Monkeys supposedly created a momentum on MySpace that catapulted their second single straight to No1. And pop singer Lily Allen not only built her fan base through MySpace, she even landed her own BBC3 show. So, Louis’ conversation got me wondering: if new bands are all using MySpace, is there a social network that does the same thing for writers?
Meet the Author
I first asked this question of Meet the Author, a well-known showcase for writers. Meet The Author lets you "meet" an author as he or she describes their book on a short video. In addition to a clip, there’s a mini-blurb about the author and their book, and a link allowing you to purchase the book via Waterstones.com. And that’s it.
It costs £450 to post a clip on the site. For that price, Meet The Author films the clip (adding expenses if you're outside Greater London), edits it and streams it to the site. And they’ll upload the clip to YouTube and MySpace, as well as a host of book-selling websites, including Amazon, Waterstones, Tesco and the bookshop section of Guardian Unlimited. The author is granted a licence to use the clip on their own site and their publisher's site.
So, is it worth it? Publishers obviously think so as they fund the majority of clips on Meet the Author, making it essentially a marketing site rather than a true social network. But note that the site gets 1m hits a week, and your clip will rub shoulders with those of celebrities like Piers Morgan and Joanna Trollope. But if the £450 fee is just too steep, you can film your own two-minute video pitch and upload it yourself on the Marketplace section of the site for free.
They are a number of social networking sites created especially for writers. Some of the best known are Great Writing, Writing.com and Writer's Cafe. All of these are free and let you create a profile, upload examples of your work and critque other people's writing. You can make friends with other writers, join groups, keep up to date with competitions and news, and use the messageboards. And there’s the rub. These communities are made up mainly of other writers, not a loose community of fans and would-be buyers. They also have relatively small user bases compared to MySpace’s 120 million accounts and Facebook’s 70 million users worldwide.
Bebo, Facebook and MySpace
But what about the three biggest social networking sites? What do Bebo, Facebook and MySpace offer writers? Bebo has a huge following among teens and young adults, but is of limited benefit for writers out of their twenties unless they’re writing for this market. Facebook is the most popular social network for older professionals. It's a snap to set up a profile and get started, and, if you’re over 25, you’ll probably already have friends there. Facebook profiles are all uniform, so you can’t express any individuality, but it’s great for communicating. You can promote your writing or books easily using Facebook Groups or by posting to your wall or friends' walls. Inviting people to book readings or launches can be done in a few mouse clicks with Facebook Events.
But it is MySpace that is probably the most useful network for raising an author’s profile and setting out their stall on the web. MySpace profiles are searchable on Google and anyone can view them. You can adapt the look of your personal space and style it to look like your own site (which is what makes MySpace trickier to use initially than Facebook). Having a presence on MySpace means there's the chance that friends of your MySpace friends will browse your profile and like the look of you and your work. And possibly tell their friends...
Still not convinced by social networks? Consider this: chick-lit doyennes Jane Green and Sophie Kinsella both have their own polished sites - but Jane also has a MySpace page with more than 3,000 friends while Sophie’s Facebook page has over 14,000 fans signed up to it.
If there's one site that gets your work out directly to the public, the way MySpace does for musicians, it is probably Blogger . There are many ways to set up your own blog, but Blogger is still the fastest, cheapest and easiest way to do it. Once you've set up a free account with Google, you can get your blog up and running in under five minutes. Popular alternatives to Blogger are WordPress and TypePad (which charges a subscription).
Blogs don’t have to be personal – you can blog about anything that interests you or that you specialise in. You can advertise on your blog via Google AdSense (although don’t count on this netting you a fortune at once). If your blog is related to books, you can join the Amazon Affiliates programme, which gives you a small percentage every time anyone buys a book on Amazon via your site. You can link your blog to your website if you've got one, which will stop your site from being static and open it up to interaction.
Let’s not forget that some blogs have realised serious rewards for their owners: Catherine Sanderson, better known as Petite Anglaise, landed a £450,000 book deal based on her blog about life in Paris. Journalist Judith O'Reilly started her blog, Wife in the North, after uprooting the family from London to Northumberland. A publisher snapped up the book rights for £70,000 six weeks later.
So, is there a writers’ alternative to MySpace out there? Sadly, I’d have to conclude there isn’t. But if you pick and choose, and go with sites that you feel most comfortable on, you can self-publish and self-promote on the web as effectively as any musician. And if social networking and blogging aren’t for you, remember - all the best bands supposedly “made” by MySpace insist that because their material was good, they would have been discovered anyway.
- If you'd prefer to meet readers rather than other writers, give Library Thing a try. You upload the names of your favourite books, and this can throw up 'eerily similar matches'. It’s free to enter your first 200 book titles, after which there is a small subscription charge. There is also an authors’ section of Library Thing.
- Active discussion boards can be as useful to writers as a social network. Try the website for National Novel Writing Month, which has lively forums all year round.
- Social networking isn't to be confused with social bookmarking. Sites like del.icio.us, reddit, Digg and StumbleUpon let you bookmark sites. This means you can carry your favourites around with you, and see what links other people are saving.
- Twitter is a popular new social network and “micro-blogging” site. Free to join, it lets you sent short updates of 140 words or less (“tweets”) to your friends or to your website. Useful for quick updates to your blog or website, which can also be done remotely using your mobile phone.
- Two BBC sites worth knowing about are Writers’ Room, for script writers, and h2g2, an online user-generated encyclopedia much like Wikipedia, which can offer a home on the web for old or unpublished articles.
Victoria Sorzano is a freelance writer who works on websites for the BBC and Sky Television. She has her own blog, BohoBoxmoor.com, a what's-on guide for families in her local area.