You are What you Tweet | Writing your way into the Social Media Revolution
Today more than ever, it’s difficult for creative writers to “make it” in the publishing industry. Big name publishing houses sign fewer contracts, hand out less funding, and allocate smaller advances to writers than ever before. But perhaps print publishing is an outdated model of finding your audience. With the internet boom and the growing popularity of social media, the option of self-publishing is more attractive for writers everywhere.
With spaces like Facebook, WordPress, Blogger, Twitter, and more, authors can carve out their own online spaces and attract audiences from across the world. While some may still be attached to the printed page, that doesn’t mean creatives can’t use digital tools to promote their work. But how is the literary community leveraging social media? On Thursday night, I attended an author’s panel at the Toronto Women’s Bookstore to find out.
Put on as a collaborative effort between the Toronto Women’s Bookstore and Facing Out, a discussion community for artists, “Changing the Face of Publishing” raised how changes in the publishing industry are impacting authors and audiences. The night included reading by three guest speakers: Zetta Elliot, Neesha Meminger, and Vivek Shraya. I was there for The Social Times to ask the authors how social media has influenced their work and publishing processes.
Zetta Elliot is an award-winning novelist, poet, and playwright. Her poetry has been published in several academic publications, including the Cave Canem Anthology, The Ringing Ear, and Check the Rhyme. She’s also the author of a novella, a picture book, and four plays, one of which was a finalist for the Chicago Dramatists’ Many Voices Project in 2006. Her fourth play, Connor’s Boy was staged in January 2008 in Cleveland and New York. Elliott says that social media is the reason a lot of writers are able to self-publish. “Self-publishing empowers you to validate yourself,” she tells me. After years of asking herself why her writing was never signed to a big publishing house, Elliott says she started thinking that her struggles her perhaps not personal but political, a part of a systemic hierarchy in the publishing industry. She says that self-publishing on blog has made the industry more transparent.
“The blog is incredibly important” she says. “It allows you to demonstrate that you’re invested in something more than just the sale of your book.” Elliott treats her blog like a kind of archive where she stores her writing and traces her accomplishments. Despite her love for blogging, she doesn’t tweet. In contrast, author Neesha Meminger says she can’t keep herself off Twitter. “I love it almost to the point that it impedes on my serious writing.” Meminger holds a bachelor of arts in film and media from Ryerson University and a master’s of fine arts in Creative Writing from the New School for Social Research in New York. Tonight she read from her first novel, Shine on Coconut Moon. Meminger says that social media has made direct-to-reader communication possible. “Social media is changing everything” she says. “Facebook allows you to express the issues you’re invested in, and Twitter allows you to find like-minded people.” In addition to connected her to those with similar interests, Meminger says social media is also a great way of disseminating her work. She sends much love to bloggers, who have aided in the promotion of her fiction.
“The blog is a space where people can fall in love with you as a writer” says Vivek Shraya. Shraya, who is also a musician and avid self-publisher, tells me that social media not only plays a role in promoting his work, it also connects him to Toronto’s artistic community. Shraya uses Facebook and Twitter to organize public events like readings and book-signings, but he admits the messaging can’t always be an aggressive sell. “You have to come up with something creative to get people’s attention” he says. As an example, he cites the time he created a video teaser to promote his book.
“We live in a digital age, so I thought about how I can get people to think about purchasing a book if they can’t hold it.” Shraya says the video (which has been retweeted more than a thousand times and viewed more than five thousand) has translated into measurable dollars for him: “I’ve had orders from places like Finland and Australia and all over the U.S.A because of Twitter.” Shraya also says social media helps promote his website, where viewers can learn more about him and purchase his work. Since orders can be processed directly through his website, he’s effectively cut out the publishing middle-man. “In essence, I get to keep all the profits from my books sales and have been able to earn back my initial investment that I paid upfront to cover the cost of printing.”
While many writers today will lament the downfall of the periodical industry and the lack of publishing opportunities, it’s clear there are others thinking about the new and innovative ways writers can thrive.
If, as Hemingway suggested, the writer must write what he has to say and not speak it, perhaps it’s time to tweet it.