by Allison Brennan

I’m not a social media expert. I’m just an author who writes books full-time and has come up with a method to manage my social media accounts with minimal time and headache. Why? Because to me, writing must come first. That’s what I do.

I’m not an advertising exec, I don’t generally understand marketing, and I don’t want to run my own business. I want to write not just because writing pays my bills, but because I love it.

But sometimes, even in a career we love, there are things we need to do that we might love a little less. Fortunately for me, I was an extrovert in a previous life and when I quit my day job, social media helped foster the connections with people that I used to have when I worked full-time in the California State Legislature.

My social media rule

There is a primary rule about social media: don’t do it if you don’t like it. People will see through you, and it’s really hard to keep up a fake dialogue for years. You might be able to pull it off in the short term, but social media is about the long term. So find the platform that is best for you and that’s the one you should focus on.

I have a Twitter handle (about 8,500 followers) and an Instagram account (about 1,300 followers) and Pinterest (about 1,000 followers) but none of those are my primary social media tool. Why? Because most of my readers don’t use them as their primary tool to reach out to authors. Facebook, for me, with nearly 25,000 likes, is my primary platform to communicate with my readers. In fact, more readers now contact me through Facebook’s messaging than through my website. So that is where I spend most of my time. When I say “most of my time” I mean most of my social media time.

Any writer who is spending more than 30 minutes on social media a day is spending too much time not writing.

To each site a purpose

While I like the other platforms I’m on, my Pinterest is less about writing and more about things I like; on Twitter, I often post or retweet, but use it primarily to follow news and my favorite television shows—and respond to my fans who like that medium. Early on, however, I learned that of those people who followed me on Twitter, 9 of 10 were other writers (published or aspiring) or someone in the “business” of publishing (marketing, editors, agents, bloggers, etc.)

On Facebook, 9 of 10 people who liked my author page were NOT in the business. They were “real” people who liked my books or liked something I posted and maybe they, too, would like my books in the future. It’s a no-brainer to me to spend my “free” time with my readers—and they’re on Facebook, at least for now.

9 tips for sanity

I have some general advice on how to get the most out of FB without losing your sanity.

1. A custom link

Create a custom link for your author page. For example, mine is—if your name is taken, you can do something like HerNameBooks or HisNameWrites. I should caveat this and say you need a fan page more than you need a personal page. I have a personal page, and I keep it mostly personal (it used to be private until Facebook changed). I will accept friend requests on my personal page, but don’t spend as much time there. A fan page has tracking, the ability to buy ads, and is unlimited—meaning you can have 1,000 “likes” or 100,000 “likes.” A personal page has too many restrictions if you want to expand your readership.

2. Asking for likes

Post the link to your author page on your personal page and ask friends and family to like it. That will increase likes in a short period of time. (FB used to let you merge the pages—I did it in 2012, then recreated a new personal page that was private and unsearchable until FB got rid of that protection. However, I don’t know if they allow merging anymore or how to do it.)

3. A High-quality header

Create a header that is either personal (like sitting at your desk writing) or promotional (book cover) and make sure that it’s high quality—some headers look fuzzy to me, or amateur. Sometimes publishers will create something for their ad campaign that you can use. I used something my publisher created and try to keep the book/promo header up 45–60 days on either side of a release date. Other times, I usually put up a photo of me doing something. My favorite is me at the gun range because it was a research trip and I write police/crime thrillers. I once used a photo of me at a book signing.

4. Regular engagement

Engage with your fan page on a regular basis. I go there in the mornings and evenings. This does not take a lot of time.

It’s the engagement that creates more likes, which in turn lets more people see the posts.

Remember that FB shows your posts to only 15–30% of your fan base unless you pay to boost the post, but it’s not always the same 15–30%. People who engage with your page regularly will see nearly everything, so you want to increase engagement, which will increase the number of people your page will be shown to. You can boost the occasional post or create a Facebook Ad. This is most useful when you have something to share, like a new release or purchase links or just want to share an achievement or new cover. It’s a waste of money to boost everything.

5. Upticks over time

Recognize that building a following takes time and effort—but not too much of either. Time is more important, plus daily posts. You’re not going to see a change overnight (unless you run a good ad, or your publisher does) but you will see change over time (months, quarters, years). Become familiar with the back-end of your FB page so that you can track your posts: weekly likes, engagement, and which posts seem to be shown to more people or create the strongest engagement. Don’t become obsessed with this. Looking at your stats monthly is fine, or weekly, but unless you’re running an ad, avoid daily. It’s a time suck.

6. Minimal promotion

Facebook is SOCIAL media, which means your page should not be all about “buy my book.” Those promotional posts should be less than 10% of all posts. I reserve mine for when I have a new cover, when the book is on sale, and when/if the book hits a bestseller list. I indirectly promote my book by talking about research (such as if I found a new tidbit I’m using a book, or something I learned that’s cool even if I don’t use it) or a link to my monthly newsletter, or writing about the status of my current WIP, or if I go on a research trip (like when I visited the morgue). PHOTOS tend to be shown to more readers than text posts. Quality videos of 2 minutes or less tend to do well—but they need to be quality (not fuzzy or jerky).

7. Daily posting

Post DAILY. Twice a day is OK, but not much more. Some authors post 3–5 times a day—and that might be okay for some people, but the authors I know who are successful posting more than twice a day have a full-time assistant and also pay to sponsor their posts. I don’t have the time or money to do that. However, some authors (like Catherine Coulter) post only once a day and she has huge engagement. Why? Because she posts around the same time every day. When she posts, she engages with her readers who responded the day before. That bumps yesterday’s post, and when people see she responded, they tend to go to today’s post. She does this every day and it’s very effective. She doesn’t go on FB any other time of the day, and she engages with her readers herself (you can tell—she has a distinctive voice—but I also asked her personally).

8. What readers want

Consider what about you might be interesting to readers, because that’s how you build a community. If you’re fake, they’ll know. But readers who engage on social media want to know that you’re like them—or that you have some of the same interests. Catherine Coulter, for example, is obsessed with football and posts during football season her “picks” and sometimes gossip or what she thought of a particular game. I often post about baseball because I’m a major fan. All my fans know I’m a SF Giants fan. But I never criticize other teams (even the Dodgers!!!) because I know there are other fans of other teams as loyal as I am.

It’s all about finding different ways to connect that show readers that you’re human.

Consider posting about:

PETS – Nearly everyone loves animals, and if you have pets, post about them. Not every day, but once or twice a week is good. I have 2 cats, a dog and chickens. I post about at least one of them once a week.

FAMILY Some people don’t ever post about their family, and that’s fine. I post on occasion, particularly if it’s a special event or something funny.

FUNNY STORIES Some of my highest engagement posts are short quips about my kids or a funny experience. i.e., on one of my birthdays a few years back:

SON: Happy Birthday!

ME: Thanks.

SON: You’re 45?

ME: (rolls eyes) Yeah.

SON: You don’t look a day over 44.

HOBBIES I like baseball, it’s a hobby in some ways. I also post about my kids’ hobbies. (Kelly is an artist and is amazing. Katie is a CrossFit instructor and competes in games. Mary plays softball competitively.) I post about my favorite television shows, or a new show I’ve started watching. If I go to a movie I’ll post if I liked it or not and why. I will post about a book I read that I particularly liked. (I don’t criticize other authors publicly.) If you cook, sew, garden, compete at the gun range, hunt, take archery lessons, raise cattle on the side—all this is good fodder for your fan page. If you don’t feel comfortable talking about anything personal, find something you care about and post, even if you don’t personalize it.

SHARING You can share funny memes or videos to your page. I do this a couple times a week because I want to post daily, and sometimes I just don’t have something to say—or I’m swamped with writing. Posts that go viral for others are okay to post on your page, and often these get higher engagement because of their overall FB popularity. My husband is a talented amateur photographer and I’ll often share his pictures—usually the sunrise, or wild animals he encounters on his walks or bike rides. When he went to view the eclipse, I shared those pictures.

9. But not these

Do not post about politics or religion unless that is what your books are about and you want a specific political or religious audience. There are SOME exceptions, but they are few and far between. Because I write crime fiction, I have (rarely) posted something about criminal justice that I am happy about or upset with. But most of my readers are interested in the subject so I’m not generally going to offend anyone. For example, once I posted about Charles Manson being married to a much, much younger woman while in prison and her parents were all for it. I had one person take exception, but I didn’t care because I thought it was sick and most of my readers did as well. I’m Catholic, and I will post a Christmas and Easter message, something uplifting, positive and ecumenical. I have on rare occasions talked about going to church—but it’s usually to relay something humorous or I mention in passing. But I don’t talk doctrine or theology or argue with people about faith. It’s a slippery slope—like politics—that I don’t care to engage in.

A long game

You won’t see results overnight. Facebook, like any social media, is a long game. You need to be engaged consistently over time to build a community. It shouldn’t take you more than 15 minutes a day to post, answer questions, thank people etc. People don’t expect instantaneous responses like on Twitter—they don’t mind seeing your answer the next day.

The most important thing to remember, however, is that social media is not writing.

Meaning, social media should never take time away from writing your books. Because with no books, you’ll have nothing to discuss on social media except your cat.

What did I miss in the facebook conversation? Let’s discuss this one on the Career Authors Facebook page.