Etsy

An Indie Author’s Social Media Primer | Etsy

If you’re a bibliophile, chances are you’ve heard of Etsy.  Chances are you’ve shopped on Etsy––or at the very least, window-shopped.  There’s something so winsome about this platform that just … sucks you in and then later spins you out, dazed and simultaneously envious of other peoples’ talents at handcrafts and carefully counting your change to see if you can afford to buy something beautiful today.  I’m not speaking from experience, of course.

Okay, so I am.  And what’s wrong with ogling a beautiful watercolor print of one of my favorite quotes, or eyeing a delicate little charm to add to my collection, or drooling (just a little) over the “reading fox” bookends––which happen to come in at #11 on this Buzzfeed contributor’s list of perfect gifts for the bibliophile in your life who already has all of the books that he or she might ever need.  There are at least a dozen other Buzzfeed articles that cover the exact same ground, and this isn’t just because Etsy is a great place to shop.  It’s because Etsy is a great place to both promote and sell, including for the self-published author!

Etsy

When it comes to the big social media platforms out there, nobody quite knows what to do with Etsy.  Is it social media?  Or is it just some form of social shopping, translated from the physical mall into the digital sphere?  The fact of the matter is, most people don’t think of Etsy as a digital gathering space for people so much as for objects, and that’s a crying shame.  Etsy goes out of its way to provide a friendly platform for indie and self-published authors to sell their books––and nobody seems to be talking about this very important fact!  And in large part, this mass silence can be attributed to one overarching misconception about Etsy:

Debunking the Great Etsy Myth: “It’s just a glorified Craigslist for selling vintage castoffs and overpriced coasters.”

Oh man, don’t get me started.  (Well, we’re already started.  This rant’s on me.)  Unlike last week’s post, which delved into the book-lover’s best friend Goodreads, not a lot has been written about Etsy as a community and a platform for authors––so this is all relatively new territory in respect to writing out the theory, even though Etsy has long been supportive of its self-publishing shops.  Etsy has gotten lots and lots and lots of attention, however, for carving out a vital place as a launching point for entrepreneurs of all kinds.

It’s easy to throw buzzwords like “entrepreneurial” around, but Etsy has a history of being absolutely serious about improving the lives of its users, particularly its marginalized, impoverished, or otherwise struggling users.  And self-published authors know all about struggle, right?  Sure, you can buy stuff on Etsy––but that’s not the only thing it’s good for, and if you spend even five minutes browsing the site’s many links and means of connection, you’ll get a good taste for why I’m including it in my list of Very Important Social Media Sites You Should Join Immediately!  Here are just a few thoughts to get you started.

Top 5 Best Practices:

1. Join a team … or a few.  Even before you list items in your Etsy shop to sell, you should take a gander through Etsy’s “Community” tab, and hone in on its ever-expanding list of “Teams.”  I know of at least two that are dedicated specifically to authors––this one, and this one––and there’s at least one more that’s given over exclusively to Etsy users who take part in the November NaNoWriMo challenge.  Quite apart from the wide-open general forums, these teams will help you find “your people” in Etsy.  The author groups are, for the most part, small enough to feel comfortable and large enough to provide a diverse representation of all sorts of best practices as lived out in various authors’ stores.  You don’t have to be an active seller on Etsy in order to take part in the teams and forums, which is a handy thing indeed for when you’re looking to launch your store but are still searching for ways to do so successfully!

2. Work the metadata!  Yes, yes, I know that my continual harping on boosting your “findability” is probably starting to sound like a broken record … but it’s as accurate in application to Etsy as it is on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook, Goodreads, and everywhere else you can imagine.  So: fill out your seller profile page fully, and mention all of the appropriate buzzwords––”self-publishing,” “children’s book author,” “author,” and et cetera.  You can even use your profile picture to feature the cover art for your latest book.  Etsy’s seller profiles, along with each item’s individual listing, feed directly into indexing search engines like Google, so give those algorithms some meat to chew on!

3. If you printed and made your own book, list it.  There are constraints to what you can sell on Etsy, it’s true, and this is how the website has managed to differentiate itself from big box stores and that behemoth, Amazon.  Its forté is in providing specially crafted goods of limited availability, either vintage or handmade.  What qualifies as “handmade” turns out to be a rather amorphous mass of flexible options, so don’t despair!  The easiest book to sell is going to be one you printed and packaged yourself, and if you’ve chosen a Print on Demand (POD) option like this author (who uses a local printing company in the UK) or this author (who used a digital printing company for comics artists, Ka-Blam) then you’re most likely still in the clear.  If you’re unsure about where your POD company falls in respect to Etsy policy, it’s easy to drop an email to Etsy staff to confirm or to apply to work with an “outside manufacturer.”  It’s helpful to approach these occasions not as obstacles, but as safeguards––Etsy simply wants to elevate demand by ensuring an item is of high quality and limited availability.  Self-published books almost always fit these criteria!

4. If your book doesn’t quite fit the category of “handmade,” think “BUNDLE” instead!  You can still take advantage of Etsy by offering your book for sale with a related craft item, perhaps a themed bookmark or other object or piece of limited-run merchandise that somehow ties back to your work.  For example, you might include some handwritten recipe cards if you’ve self-published a cookbook, or include an original (and signed!) piece of art if you’ve self-published a picture book.  Whatever you choose, you can either make it yourself or have someone else make it for you.  Just make sure the bundle carries with it a significant personal touch!  Think in terms of bundles, and think in terms of gifts.  What would you buy to go with that new mystery you picked up for your husband?  What item would just perfectly complete your Christmas package for your bibliophile of a best friend?  These are the sorts of items that will round out your bundle!

5. Go digital.  Etsy’s policies allow for automatic downloads when buyers purchase digital files.  This absolutely includes ebooks!  Most of the ebooks for sale on Etsy are, at present, craft-related or instructional guides (as this author/seller demonstrates), but there’s a growing cadre of authors in all genres finding representation there (if you don’t believe me, check out this author, and this one, and this one).  The only limitations are size (20 MB or fewer) and format (.PDF files only), but these are relatively easy constraints to work around.  And as always, Etsy demonstrates its eagerness to set its users up for success by posting a thorough “how-to” page for listing and selling digital items.

Most Overlooked Feature:

As you might have inferred from what I’ve already written, I think the most fearfully neglected asset Etsy has in its favor is its tight-knit community of staff and fellow author-sellers.  If someone hasn’t already asked the question in their forums, and if they haven’t already addressed a concern in their “Online Labs” (found in the “Community” section) or in their “Help” pages, and if it hasn’t been thoroughly analyzed in the “Teams” discussions, then Etsy staff will go out of their way to help you out via email.  Etsy’s founders want you to succeed.  Your fellow authors and sellers want you to succeed.  You want to succeed.  It’s literally the perfect environment for a newcomer to dive into self-publishing, complete with a resilient safety net and a genuinely interested set of supportive people to serve as your cheer squad.

I hope you’ll join me in building this Social Media Primer!  If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or contributions, please use the comment field below or drop us a line at selfpublishingadvice@gmail.com.  And remember to check back each Wednesday for your weekly dose of social media know-how. ♠

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.
Goodreads

An Indie Author’s Social Media Primer | Goodreads

In contrast to last week’s post, which looked at a social media platform that is less-used (might I even say underused?) by indie and self-published authors, this week we’ll be examining the other end of the spectrum–at a platform that has been mined so often and so thoroughly for its marketing potential that setting up a profile has almost become a requirement.  I’m talking about Goodreads, if you haven’t already guessed, a website we’ve looked at before on Self Publishing Advisor.  Fortunately for us and for you, however, it’s a website that keeps evolving, and keeps generating new possibilities.  I can definitively say that most authors know some of the buzz about Goodreads, but very few know all of the ways in which this platform can be of use.

Goodreads

For those of you who are new to Goodreads (and don’t be ashamed if you are, despite what I just said about authors definitively knowing things–there’s always going to be some new corner of the Internet to explore!), what is this website?  In short, it’s a cross between Facebook and Amazon for readers and writers and those involved in the dissemination of books.  All users can create profiles, log the books they’ve read or are reading or want to read, rating them out of five stars and posting book reviews as they go.  You can find your friends by interlinking your Goodreads account with Facebook or Twitter or Amazon, or by using their email addresses.  (Goodreads was purchased after its stratospheric rise by Amazon, so a lot of its features (like reviews and “buy from these retailers” links) are already well-integrated into that other behemoth of the book industry.)

Authors get even a little more love, in that they can create specialized “Author Pages” that list their books (including pictures of their book covers), link to blog posts, and allow authors to create and manage book giveaways.  Goodreads is so passionate about making promotion easy for authors that it has even put together a comprehensive web page describing how to best use their features–you can find that here–and have left me almost nothing to add except a little style and flourish.

No, that’s a lie.  I still have a lot to say about Goodreads!

Debunking the Great Goodreads Myth: “If I have Facebook and Amazon, I don’t really need another spot to store all my book recommendations, do I?”

Oh, but there’s something so incredibly satisfying about falling into a community that shares your passion for literature, isn’t there?  Amazon was created to sell things, and its “social” structures were integrated into that website after they were proven to be marketable.  Facebook was created to be social, and its “profitable” structures were integrated into that website after they were proven to have social elements.  Goodreads, on the other hand, was designed around the reading experience, to aid and abet readers and writers in sharing their love of literature.  Both social and marketable elements shaped the platform’s earliest concepts, and so the fusion of these two aspects is 100% seamless.  To be sure, it won’t replace your Facebook or your Amazon account, but it occupies a third space–and an equally compelling one, in my opinion.  It fills a niche and fills it perfectly.

Top 5 Best Practices:

1. Set up an author page.  Do it.  There’s no excuse not to, not when the resources are literally right there at your fingertips, delivered on a platinum platter by Goodreads’ own staff.  And if you’ve already published books, don’t worry–you can “capture” existing books in the system and take ownership of them, even if one of your readers has beaten you to entering the vital statistics into the system.  And if you run into trouble, the Goodreads staff are always quick to respond to both emails and posts in their help forums.  There’s a seemingly endless list of possible situations that the staff will troubleshoot for you.  Remember all of my past references to “findability”?  Setting up a Goodreads author page and filling in as many of the empty fields as possible will, without fail, make you more findable.  Have you googled a book recently?  More than half of the top search results for the average book link back to Goodreads–reviews, book pages, author pages, and forum posts.

2. Be a reader–an active reader.  Quite apart to the other benefits of being an avid reader (which I’m sure you are, already!), being an active reader on Goodreads has some serious benefits for your self-promotion methods.  The more books you review–actually review, not just leave a three- or five-star rating–the more people will see your name and follow the name back to your author page, and land on your books.  Even established authors with big followings will benefit from reading and from using Goodreads as the tool it was designed to be–a platform for sharing one’s passion for the printed (or digitized) word.  Other readers pick up on passion, enthusiasm, and authenticity.  I have been followed by a whole host of strangers on Goodreads who see my reviews, and you can bet they form a perfect nucleus of potential new readers.

3. Encourage your readers and followers to write reviews.  Elsewhere, even offline or apart from Goodreads, reviews are a wonderful–or even necessary–component of a sound marketing strategy.  Whenever you click on a book page in Goodreads, you’re delivered a whole sheaf of reviews, and the ones with the most “likes” are prioritized by the website to be displayed at the top of the sheaf.  Other readers and respond to reviews by liking, or by replying with their own comments.  However you incentivize the posting of reviews on your own books (see my next point), make sure that you do incentivize it!  At the very least, encourage your readers to check out your Goodreads author page.  The more people who interact there, the more links and metadata that is generated, and the more “findable” you are through indexing search engines like Google and Bing!

4. Host a giveaway!  I’ll admit it, I’m a giveaway addict.  (And I know I’m not alone–FREE BOOKS?!?!  Who wouldn’t be?!)  Goodreads makes hosting a giveaway so incredibly easy.  I will sit there for hours perusing the list of upcoming giveaways, signing myself up and crossing my fingers that I win this or that one.  New readers will find you simply by virtue of the fact you’re holding a giveaway … and this is before you even let your existing fans and social media followers know that they can enter!  (And again, don’t be afraid of the Goodreads forums.  There’s a lot of excellent information to mine there.)  You can only host a giveaway if you’re a book’s author or a bookseller, and there’s a heavy emphasis on giving away new books, upcoming releases, and new editions of previously published books.  By limiting giveaways in this way, Goodreads has cultivated a certain level of respectability and credibility that you won’t find in a lot of other places.

5. Join a group.  Goodreads is built around networking, so make sure to take full advantage of all of the networking options on the website–whether that’s creating a book list through Listopia, or posting reviews of books you’re reading, or posting blogs to your author page, or joining a group.  The groups are where a lot of the fun happens, and you can find a group to fit even the most specific interest.  There are book groups based on genres, on careers (librarians and booksellers are well-represented, as you might expect), on where you live or used to live (the LA Transplants book club group looks quite interesting), what you do in your leisure time, and, of course, a whole bunch of groups that cater specifically to you, the indie or self-published author (including this one!).  If you haven’t already found “your people,” you might just find them in a Goodreads Group.  You’ll find encouragement, information, instruction, and feedback.  The key to a good group experience is, as with all things social media, living as authentically online as you do offline.

Most Overlooked Feature:

In my mind, this one comes down to two possibilities: Goodreads Events, and Listopia.  In some ways, I feel as though Listopia is on its way out while Events is still quietly going strong and perhaps growing in its possible offerings.  In essence, you can use Events to organize real-life or digital meetups, including book readings and sales or online promotions.  You get to invite both current Goodreads users as well as non-users (by sharing the link), and you can manage each event to meet your personal preferences for a “public” versus “private” or “restricted” guest list.  Yes, Facebook also provides options for event invitations and meetups, but they’re less specific to the book industry–and, simultaneously, less likely to be stumbled-upon by new readers.  In any case, you can’t hurt your chances by trying it out!

I hope you’ll join me in building this Social Media Primer!  If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or contributions, please use the comment field below or drop us a line at selfpublishingadvice@gmail.com.  And remember to check back each Wednesday for your weekly dose of social media know-how. ♠

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.
Snapchat

An Indie Author’s Social Media Primer | Snapchat

We’re five weeks into my unofficial primer for indie and self-published authors looking to master social media, and this week I’ll be examining what is often perceived as the most “faddish” social media platform of all, Snapchat!  In past weeks, we’ve taken a gander at some bedrock philosophy for social media marketing as well as peered rather more closely at Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram.  But when push comes to shove, these three social media platforms–and Facebook, which I’ll get to in due course–are far more widely used by authors to reach their followers than Snapchat.  Why?  Because on Snapchat, everything is temporary.

Snapchat

Let me hit the “rewind” button for a moment.  What exactly is Snapchat, for those of us who aren’t already familiar?  It’s an app.  Specifically, it’s an app(lication) that can only be used and viewed from tablets and smartphones running Android or Apple’s iOS platforms.  Users take pictures or videos (“snaps”) and distribute them to a controlled list of recipients; these recipients (termed “friends” within the app) can view the snaps for only a few seconds (the length of time is determined by the snap-taker) before they are irrevocably lost to the ether (with a few exceptions).  Snappers can customize their pictures and videos with a few filters and the addition of some (limited) text before sending them, but the app is about as streamlined as they come.

If you’re wondering why you haven’t heard of aggressive marketing through Snapchat yet, it’s probably because the app interface prioritizes privacy.  Unlike Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and to an extent Facebook, Snapchat was designed primarily for use between people who know each other in real life, and for use on the fly.  Even Instagram can be viewed on a regular laptop or desktop computer by using an internet browser–but then, Instagram is a forum for the artistic and beautiful, and Snapchat is a forum for the wacky and weird and private and time-sensitive things.

Debunking the Great Instagram Myth: “It’s all about the nudes.”

We’ve all heard the stories: Snappers who find themselves in compromising situations when someone takes a screenshot of their latest snap, in which they are sans clothing, and distributes this screenshot without approval––and, apparently, a conscience.  The fact that snaps don’t stick around has led some to––and I’m putting this indelicately––regret their choice of friends, but those who use Snapchat for this kind of exchange are in the minority (as they are with every other social media platform out there).  Snapchat is not just about nudes, or even about the oft-reviled “selfie.” 

If those who you follow with the app are the sort of people who spend their lives mountain climbing or heli-skiing, then you will end up watching a lot of GoPro camera footage.  If you follow a librarian, bookseller, or author, you’re going to be seeing a lot of books and, very likely, clips of their favorite shows (with bonus giggles and voiceover reactions!).  The sum of your Snapchat experience is determined by the people that you already like and trust.  Snapchat does not promote narcissism or self-absorption––it helps friends share the texture and material of their lives with those who are physically absent.  It also, importantly, promotes storytelling!

John Green on SnapchatJohn Green on Snapchat

Top 5 Best Practices:

1. Let people know you’re on Snapchat.  Because this particular app doesn’t operate on hashtags and a search engine (unlike Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and pretty much every other platform out there), you can’t quite make yourself “findable” on Snapchat the way you can elsewhere.  You have the option of adding people by Username, from your Address Book, by Snapcode, or proximity (even if another snapper is “Nearby,” you still have to opt-in to this feature––so again, your privacy is protected).  The easiest way to get others to add you is to make an announcement outside of Snapchat––on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and so on.  You’ll receive notification that someone else has added you, and you can decide if you want to become “mutuals” by adding that person back.

2. Think of incentives that make use of Snapchat’s time-sensitive nature.  A snap can only be viewed for 24 hours after you post it, and once someone taps their screen to view your snap, they only have 1 to 10 seconds to view it before it disappears (you determine how many seconds they have when you post the snap).  Snappers can choose one snap a day to “replay,” but once they choose to replay a snap once they can’t replay it again, or replay any other snaps that day.  This feature means that your followers usually only have one shot at getting your joke or viewing your behind-the-scenes footage.  And while this may seem prohibitive to self-promotion, it isn’t!

Retailers can tell you that a timed incentive––like a 24-hour promotional discount, or a 24-hour giveaway competition, or a 24-hour scavenger hunt––is a great way to hook in new readers.  Joe Warnimont writes that one streetwear company (Karmaloop) routinely grabs people, dresses them up with items from their clothing line, and then takes a snap of those people holding a picture of their latest promotional code.  It might seem convoluted, but this kind of time-sensitive and exclusive material (only available to followers on Snapchat!) can generate a lot of buzz for a writer.  You might take a leaf out of Karmaloop’s book and take snaps of strangers holding pictures of quotes from your book around town, or you might branch out and offer a one-day-only discount for your book on Amazon.

3. Take advantage of Snapchat’s “Stories” feature.  One of Snapchat’s more interesting features is the way it allows users to build “stories” out of multiple snaps.  Every snap you choose to post to “My Story” (an option visible in the “Send To…” tab) is compiled together.  If you post five short videos (or three short videos and two still pictures) to your story, your followers will view them all in sequence when they tap your name on their “Recent Updates” feed.  Some snappers go all-out with their stories, using the ten-second time limit as a jump cut to a new scene or clip, while others use their stories to quite literally tell stories(with illustrations, of course)!  As an indie author, you’re used to telling stories in at least one medium.  Why not try another?  Statistics show that the majority of Snapchat’s users do, in fact, enjoy viewing their friends’ stories in addition to their individual snaps.

[ SIDE NOTE: if you have a particularly awesome day, you can save your stories to your phone.  Just tap the ellipsis (“…”) to the right of your story and select the correct option to store it in your photo app. ]

4. Frame your content for Millennials.  The average Snapchat user is young––in their teens or twenties––and female.  This is painting with a broad brush, certainly, as there are plenty of snappers who do not identify as Millennials or female––but the statistics do create a big picture of who’s likely to find you Snapchat (as opposed to, say, Twitter).  On the whole, snappers are more likely to be deeply engaged with the content they view than the average Facebook user, so it’s worth considering what sort of material a young woman is going to respond to.

5. Don’t panic.  Snapchat feels different, so very different from the Big Five (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and Pinterest).  Its basic architecture and interface is alien to folks who sit in front of computer screens larger than three by five inches.  It takes a while to get used to, and to figure out how to use, and to enjoy working with.  It can also be highly addictive––which is one reason why it’s a good idea to give it a try.  New readers might just become addicted to your book!  Still, it’s not for everyone.  (It turned out not to be for the King of Young Adult literature, John Green, who gave up on it within minutes of his first snap.  (Although it’s worth noting that he was already so incredibly popular that he didn’t exactly need to try any new avenues for self-promotion.)  Snapchat isn’t for everyone, but it is for the young and up-and-coming Millennial generation, which also happens to be one of the greatest per-capita consumer demographics when it comes to books––physical books and ebooks!  Which is to say … give it time.

Most Overlooked Feature:

Live video.  You heard me.  Live video.  If you’re in the midst of a Snapchat conversation with a friend or reader and your camera button flickers blue (it’s normally yellow) and you hear a strange noise, that means that both parties are actively viewing the conversation and you can start a live video chat.  Essentially, you can do the Snapchat equivalent of Skype or Google Hangouts or FaceTime with your fans.  All you have to do is tap and keep your finger down on the camera button.  A circular image pops up––live feed from your smartphone’s camera––and you drag that circle to the bottom before releasing to keep the video going.  Each party has to do this step separately in order for both people to see each other: which is nice, because you’ll never be forced to show your face, if you’re not in the mood or not free or not sure what’s happening.  It is entirely possible to have a one-sided conversation as a result, which is slightly less fun than it sounds.  Still!  Imagine all of the possibilities for you to surprise your fans with quick hellos and insider information!

I hope you’ll join me in building this Social Media Primer!  If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or contributions, please use the comment field below or drop us a line at selfpublishingadvice@gmail.com.  And remember to check back each Wednesday for your weekly dose of social media know-how. ♠

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.
photo (c) KMM, 2015

An Indie Author’s Social Media Primer | Instagram

Another week, another new social media platform.  You might think we would have run out of new ideas and methods for digital connection by now, but the list of possibilities only seems to keep expanding––and in some cases, though not all, the platforms are enduring.  Instagram is one of those platforms, and it may just turn out to be one of the most useful ones there is for the self-published author looking to dive into the whole marketing-by-networking process.

photo (c) KMM, 2015

It’s not that Instagram doesn’t have its fair share of detractors (believe me, it does)––but then, which social media platform manages to keep all of its users happy, all of the time?  There are journalists out there who firmly believe that marketing your books through social media is an endeavor bound and doomed to fail; they are, however, in the minority.  And a lot of authors, like indie poet Mirtha Michelle, have found promotional success after creating authentic and dynamic relationships with their fans.  “I don’t try to be anything I’m not,” she writes.  “I’ll post pieces of who I am.”  All social media platforms present opportunities to connect in this way, but Instagram in particular has found a dedicated and loyal user base––industry professionals are beginning to recognize that Instragram’s model of encouraging its users to post images of day-to-day activities is something we can rely on to stick around, unlike some other quote-on-quote “faddish” platforms.

So, what is Instagram?  To tell you what it is, we first have to clear up the biggest myth of all––that is, what it isn’t:

Debunking the Great Instagram Myth: “It’s all cats, lattes, and what you had for breakfast.”

Instagram is one of the most streamlined social media platforms out there, in part because it has been engineered almost exclusively for “mobile” use––that is, as an app for smartphones.  Users snap a picture on their smartphone’s built-in camera of what’s going on around them, edit it to look artsy or gritty or incandescently pretty using one of the app’s “filters,” and then post the picture for their friends, family, and other followers to “like” and comment on.  Users have only to scroll through their feeds with the swipe of a thumb to view all of the pictures taken by all of the people they follow.  Ease of use and the built-in appeal of a visually-driven interface makes Instagram an engaging digital space, and it has evolved to allow users to post short videos in addition to their pictures.

Instagram is generally, in my experience, an upbeat place––rife with photos of waterfalls and meadows overlaid with inspirational quotes, self-aware embarrassing selfies, and the ever-evolving memes.  Everyone has figured out how to tweak it to best represent their lives and interests: hikers, climbers, birdwatchers, and other lovers of the outdoors post their daring feats and snaps of dawn over this or that lake; artists post videos of their works-in-progress as they go; cooks and bakers post snapshots of their (artfully) dirty countertops; and authors post quotes, snapshots of their bundled manuscripts, and tantalizing glimpses of their laptop screens.  There are plenty of cats, and lattes, and half-eaten breakfasts to be found if you follow folks who are prone to disorganization, but most Instagram users are part-way through the process of developing a personal “brand”––and many are more interested in showing you who they are than in showing you what they eat.  Follow these people––these authors.

Top 5 Best Practices:

1. Go for the gut.  Instagram is about intimacy.  Remember that, if you remember nothing else about this post.  Your followers on Instagram aren’t interested in posts that keep them at arms-length; the whole reason they follow you is that they want an “inside look,” to “go behind the scenes” of your life, even if you’re just a moderately successful accountant from Atlanta.  Posts that show a glimpse of your heart and your goals as a writer, or a slice of a rough day, are more likely to engage your fans.  If you don’t care about the content of a photo, that’s a good sign that they won’t either.

2. Think regular, but not too regular.  You don’t have to sit down and block out a schedule for the next six months, but it is a good idea to plan a regular post––perhaps once a week––that your followers (your readers!) can count on seeing pop up in their feeds.  It’s also a good idea to allow plenty of room for spontaneous posts that reflect your mood at a given moment, and those all-important surprises that transform a day into an important day.  Just don’t clutter up your followers’ feeds with repetitive or blasé posts that tempt them to keep scrolling and scrolling past all of your hard-won new content!

3. You’re in the inspiration business, so share yours.  ‘Nuff said, really.  One of the fastest ways to a reader’s heart is to talk with them about the backstories to the works they love best.  Reading is about imagination, and inspiration, and participation––every bit as much as writing––so time spent sharing how and why you create what you create … is time well spent.  Show your readers the emotional or physical worlds that they encounter in your books––snapshots of the real café you frequent that inspired the one in your latest novel, or the skyline of the city in which your novel is set, or a landscape overlaid with a quote that you turned to when facing your greatest discouragements––or that your characters turned to when facing theirs.

4. Use the hashtags and @username functions.  I think I’ve about over-talked the importance of hashtags elsewhere (especially in my Twitter primer two weeks ago), but I cannot overstate the fundamental utility of these built-in functions.  Findability remains key on any platform, including Instagram, and despite its visual nature it’s just as entrenched in metadata as Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.  People will still find you (and you, them) using keyword searches and hashtags, and they’ll respond to your material if they receive notification that you called them out by name.  Host giveaways!  Post a weekly “top fan” award!  Use the system, above all, to interact with those all-important followers!

5. Don’t posture.  All social media platforms are saturated with posts that the average user will find narcissistic and annoying, and although we can most definitely argue the merits of positive self-image and self-affirmation, it’s best not to turn your Instagram feed into a continual parade of any one type of content, especially the kind that forgets that connection requires conversation.  Keep your pictures diverse, in nature and editing and subject, and your Instagram followers will feed on your creativity, your (carefully curated) spontaneity, and your interest in them.

Most Overlooked Feature:

The “Direct Message” function of Instagram, hands-down!  You can send a private or semi-private message to up to fifteen followers at once, and although this feature won’t exactly broadcast your news and message to the general public, it will most definitely help build that sense of intimacy that I mentioned in point #1, above.  You can use a DM to announce giveaway winners, or to surprise and delight a few select followers with bonus material!  A DM feels much more intimate, and meaningful, than a picture any one of a hundred thousand people can see––and on Instagram, intimacy directly translates to lasting engagement with your fan base.  Together, you and your followers can finish this sentence: “A picture is worth a ______________!”

I hope you’ll join me in building this Social Media Primer!  If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or contributions, please use the comment field below or drop us a line at selfpublishingadvice@gmail.com.  And remember to check back each Wednesday for your weekly dose of social media know-how. ♠

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.
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An Indie Author’s Social Media Primer | Tumblr

It’s kind of a big deal.  Such a big deal, in fact, that even the White House has one, and the President of the United States has done a Q&A on one.  What am I talking about?  I’m talking about Tumblr, the microblogging platform that quite literally causes and feeds a frenzy of conversations––many of them controversial.  And with over 81 million new posts going up every day, spread across more than 243 million individual blogs, the potential heft of any given piece of content is massive––particularly since Tumblr’s graphic-driven interface makes “reblogging” the posts of others so incredibly easy.

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So how does Tumblr work?  As with its distant cousins, Facebook and Twitter, Tumblr is a hybrid blogging and social networking platform.  Its structure is fourfold in that it allows users to:

  1. Post new content, which will then appear on both their blog and in the “feed” of any other user who “follows” that blog;
  2. View the blogs and “reblogs” of others, in a single streamlined and constantly updated feed;
  3. Share or “reblog” the posts of others, all of which will appear––with attribution––in their feeds; and
  4. Discover new content by searching Tumblr’s general database, using hashtags, keyword searches, and a variety of other built-in exploratory features.

In many ways, Tumblr’s user interface feels a great deal like Twitter’s––which we discussed in detail last week––in large part because in both cases the interface places great structural emphasis on the content of each tweet or post.  Facebook, which we’ll discuss more in weeks to come, is structured to emphasize the relationships between users themselves; this isn’t to say that Tumblr and Twitter don’t allow for personal connection, or that Facebook doesn’t allow for the production of content, but there is a subtle shift in the warp and weft of each platform which determines what gets seen and what slips under the radar.

On Tumblr, who you are is less important than what you post, and the “best” posts hit a sweet spot in respect to visual appeal, cultural relevance, timeliness, tone, and length.  (Don’t worry, I’ll expand on these five points in a moment.)  You can easily see which posts are successful; they’re the ones with the most “likes” or “reblogs,” both of which are tabulated as “notes.”  For self-published and indie authors looking for a bit of exposure, there’s nothing so handy as a website that is, quite literally, designed to take content viral.

Debunking the Great Tumblr Myth: “Notes are the most important thing.”

I’m not going to lie––notes are important.  But they’re not the only important indicator of success on Tumblr, and they’re not even an accurate indicator of a piece of content’s popularity.  Because likes and reblogs are conflated together into the note count, it’s impossible to winnow out how many people flat out “liked” a given post, and how many are commenting on it.  As you may know from other websites, comments on any given social media platform where anonymity is guaranteed (Tumblr users do not have to divulge their names or personal information to set up accounts) can range from fans going wild over their favorite things to people being downright mean.  Most of Tumblr’s many millions of users prefer to reblog content they like rather than content they dislike, but some use the “reblog” feature to elaborate upon, rebut, or otherwise respond to the posts of others.  This type of feedback can provide other benefits to you as an author, but it cannot be equated directly to “Yes!  My stab at self-promotion is a raging success!”  No, notes are not the most important thing.  Engagement is.

So how do you get the average Tumblr user to stop scrolling through the hundreds or thousands of blog posts and reblogs in their feed to look at your excerpt, or your book cover, or your “behind-the-scenes” video?

Top 5 Best Practices:

1. Make sure it looks good.  Visual appeal cannot be over-trumped as the leading reason why a pair of eyes will fasten onto your post.  Many of Tumblr’s most canny users won’t even bother posting any text at all if it isn’t accompanied by a pleasing graphic or photograph of some kind.  In fact, most Tumblr users will lead with the picture, rather than slipping it in as an afterthought.  Since Tumblr is a medium of fast consumption leading to speedy sharing, the image should be something that is easily comprehended after just a quick glance, so as to keep the reader’s eye moving, roving further into the text that follows.  It’s also a good thought to break up dense text posts with a .GIF file or two––the “reaction .GIF” is a Tumblr specialty, and not one to be underestimated. (There’s nothing like a perfectly on-point .GIF to inject a text post with a dose of humor and personality!)

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2. Keep it relevant.  This should go without saying, but a wise friend once pointed out to me that my own (private) blog was a confusing mish-mash of my interests (which are many) and my own material (which is quite specific in focus).  As an indie author looking to create a cohesive, effective methodology in dealing with social media, it’s a good idea to specialize.  That is to say, you should keep your posts––both of original content and any reblogged material that might catch your eye––focused on you, your book, and the authorial process.  If you become enamored of all of the different features that Tumblr has to offer, and if you enjoy reading an eclectic mix of posts by others, that’s wonderful!  … Just make sure that you create a separate blog for your author-related activities so that you don’t accidentally inundate your followers with Shia LaBeouf memes.

3. Timeliness is key.  Tumblr is the home of revolutions.  More than half of Tumblr’s active users report being under 25 years of age, and the platform’s format encourages the Millennials’ activist leanings.  The Occupy Wall Street crowd?  It may have found a second home on Twitter, but its native land is Tumblr.  Ever heard of the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag?  Or #WeNeedDiverseBooks?  One of teenage designer and activist Kyemah McEntyre’s handmade creations walked the red carpet at the BET Awards because of Tumblr.  Petitions have been signed, flags taken down, flags proudly shaken, politicians heckled, and, quite possibly, laws passed on the momentum generated by Tumblr’s dedicated, active, and socially-engaged user base.  They’re politically and economically diverse, and as feverishly clannish as any other group of Millennials, and if you can make them care about your work, you’ll never want for support.  All of this to say, it’s best to keep an ear to the ground.  If you’re willing to use Tumblr as a tool, you should “follow” as many other users as you need to in order to stay in touch with current trends, topics, and ongoing conversations.  If you know what’s spurring interest, you can reframe your own posts to touch on these hot-button issues, and generate more interest in your work.

4. Watch your tone.  I’m kind of holding forth here in this post, which I’d stress can be either the most effective approach, ever to Tumblr, or the most annoying thing, ever.  There are four main speeds when it comes to tone on Tumblr: ranting, reflecting, ridiculous self-posturing, and photo essaying.  Rants are passionate (and sometimes, though rarely, lengthy) attacks on the various injustices of life, whether humorous or serious in nature.  Reflective posts usually consist of brief narrative bursts, retelling past events or unwinding the implications of some thought experiment (Harry Potter and other fictional worlds inspire many of these, I find).  A Tumblr user might dip a toe into ridiculous self-posturing when looking to inspire a good laugh or let off some steam, and often these posts are spoken in the coded language of memes.  Some users eschew text altogether and simply post photo essays of their adventures; many hikers, climbers, boulderers, runners, and artists of all disciplines use Tumblr as a sort of interactive portfolio or photo album.  One of the many quirky realities of Tumblr is that a post which uses only one of these tones is more likely to go viral than another post that tries to use more than one tone.  Tumblr users are looking for easily digestible, bite-sized pieces of life.

5. Keep it readable by keeping it brief.  As with my last point, length is best viewed through a lens of digestibility.  The world of Tumblr moves fast, and sometimes sideways, and content has to be focused, brief, and either hilarious or achingly accurate in order to collect notes.  The most successful Tumblr bloggers post nuggets that are quick to read or view, and they post regularly.  I find that instead of encouraging simplicity and generalization, Tumblr users’ love of brevity actually encourages complexity and specialization.  The more direct the statement, the more likely someone else is to respond––and for a single sentence to provoke a snowball effect of comments and reblogs.

Most Overlooked Feature:

Most Tumblr users either upload text or photographs, but Tumblr actually allows for several other types of posts: videos, quotes, links, and chats.  As an author, you should most definitely take advantage of the “quotes” feature to introduce your followers to your voice, characters, and above all––your book!

I hope you’ll join me in building this Social Media Primer!  If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or contributions, please use the comment field below or drop us a line at selfpublishingadvice@gmail.com.  And remember to check back each Wednesday for your weekly dose of social media know-how. ♠

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.