My Ironic Post: Why You Shouldn’t Be Writing About Writing (At Least Not All the Time)

January 26, 2011

You can’t tell from my blog, but before joining the writing world full-time, I was a marketing/PR/social media person, both for other companies and for my own web-based retail business. I spent exorbitant amounts of time strategizing the best way to reach “end users,” building brand and creating platforms.

And yet, my site doesn’t reflect this.

Like many of you, I’ve been struggling with what exactly belongs on my “writing” blog.

A strong social media strategy should target your end users (readers), and writing about writing only reaches out to other writers. Granted, if those writers love your blog or online personae, they will talk amongst themselves and generate interest within the writing community.

But I’ll be frank, unless you bring something very unique to the table – such as Sarah Fine’s* fascinating blog about the intersection of YA and psychology – you’re most likely regurgitating what other bloggers have already said, and have probably said better. (For a fantastic round-up of weekly writing articles and publishing news, YA Highway is the best).

So how do you reach teens – the actual readers of YA?

I’ve heard some people argue, “I don’t have a published book, so teens won’t be interested in me.” Or, “teens don’t read blogs.” Which I think, in a way, somewhat unintentionally implies writers shouldn’t try.

The problem isn’t that teen readers don’t want to know you. It’s content. Typical readers do not want to read about finding an agent or being on sub. You need to give your target audience what interests them. As for tweeting, yes, your main character may be the most fascinating person ever, but none of us know who the hell you’re talking about. Also, updates on your writing/revision process are fine – occasionally. But followers do not want to hear every stinking detail – especially if we’re not impatiently waiting for your follow-up book.

Right about now, you may be saying, “Okay Miss Smarty Pants, what should I write about?”

My answer: You. And things that interest you. But in a user-friendly way. Because you are your brand – even before you publish anything.

Here are some ideas on how to attract blog readers and twitter followers from outside the YA writing community:
•    Do something different. A great example of a writer who built an enormous fan base prior to publication is Kaleb Nation. He very smartly tapped into the Twilight Craze, put a unique spin on it, and in the process developed a dedicated group of readers who hotly anticipated his debut novel.
•    Personality. Let it shine. It’s okay to be goofy, playful, intellectual and random – if that’s who you are. Two wonderful examples of established writers whose personalities shine online are John Green and Maureen Johnson. Very rarely do you hear either discuss revisions, characters, etc. Now, maybe their contracts prohibit disclosing such information, but they both do an amazing job of engaging readers through either end-user generated content (MJ’s daily four questions is brilliant) or random topics they feel passionate about (Green’s hate of the penny among other things).
•    Contests – get creative. Maybe a Polyvore contest to best dress a character (yes, people don’t like complicated contests, but Polyvore is like playing paper dolls and the teen girls I know, LOVE messing around on it). Maybe arrange for one lucky reader to lead an interview with a well-known writer. Something that gets people actually talking and coming back to see what others are doing – simply retweeting links doesn’t do this.
•    User generated content. Comments are just the start. Brainstorm and come up with ways for your readers to truly interact with your blog. Think of yourself as the curator, not the creator. Allow your followers to guide the blog experience. Give your readers a voice. Let them discuss what they are reading, watching, and are interested in. Become a gathering place.
•    Play matchmaker. Get to know your twitter followers. If two people seem to have similar interests, virtually introduce them. Think of it as taking Follow Friday to a more intimate level. Not only does it show your followers you pay attention to what they have to say, it shows you’re interested in helping expand their connections.
•    Consistency. Set a schedule (again, YA highway does this very well). Stick to it. Write about what you know and are passionate about. If you don’t, you’ll end up neglecting your blog.
•    Patience. Is this a lot of work? Yes. Building a follower-base is slow going.  But wouldn’t you rather invest your time gathering a target audience before your book is published? It’s much easier than revamping an established blog and re-branding yourself.
The irony of this post isn’t lost on me. I know I’m writing about writing. However, this is a rare exception going forward. I promise to bring more random in the near future.

*Full disclosure: Sarah and I share Kathleen Ortiz as our agent.

UPDATE: My friend, Cory Jackson, has a different take on all this. Check out her piece here.

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