Writers turn to social media

Last year I wrote several pieces on the digitisation of the publishing industry, so I was interested to hear Margaret Atwood championing Wattpad in the headlines.

The site allows users to upload story extracts as they write and receive feedback from online readers. Unpublished writers can build a fan base and reach a global audience.

By contrast Atwood, who joined Wattpad in June, is a literary heavyweight and a Booker Prize winner. Although she already has all the publicity she needs, her presence on the website has drawn attention to what she calls a “new generation” of writers.

As a journalist I already know the value of having an online presence and I wanted to find out how important this has become for writers as well. I contacted Susan Richardson, a full-time writer, performer and tutor of creative writing based in Wales, to find out how she uses social media to promote her work.

Interview with Susan:

When did you start using social media in your capacity as a writer and why?

I started using Facebook back in 2008 and began blogging in the same year. My first collection of poetry, Creatures of the Intertidal Zone, had recently been published and I was looking for new ways in which to market the book and also seeking to do more readings/performances. Facebook proved to be very useful in this respect and I also appreciated feeling more connected to a wider community of writers.

Susan Richardson at work

I tend to go through phases. Often I will use Facebook and Twitter several times a day. At other times, I may go for a week without checking in at all. I think it depends on where I am with a particular writing project. When I’m deep into first-draft-writing and things are flowing well, I try to minimise distractions. However, when I’m more in editing mode or if I’m in a sticky place with the writing, I often actively seek distractions of the social media kind.

Has social media become obligatory, is this the way things are moving? Are writers able to opt out of these anymore?

I feel that social media has become obligatory in the sense that it’s a very valuable way of spreading news of publication/readings/performances. I can’t imagine trying to attract an audience to an event by relying only on flyers and other print publicity, or word of mouth, any longer.

You’re also a creative writing tutor. How are online systems being used to encourage new writers?

My first experience of online creative writing tuition came in 2002 when I became one of the tutors for trAce, the online writing school at Nottingham Trent University. It was very exciting to be involved at this time – to tutor students from different parts of the world, and to encourage these students to offer feedback on each other’s work, just as in a face-to-face workshop.

I also had the experience of tutoring several students at trAce who had already taken courses with me at Cardiff University. They really blossomed in the online environment, both offering and receiving feedback with gusto, whereas in non-online workshops, they’d tended to be more reserved. The semi-anonymity of the online environment definitely put them at ease and they found the experience very valuable.

Some writers remain sceptical about sites like Twitter and Facebook. What would you say in response?

As I’ve said, I’ve found Facebook to be very helpful in terms of publicising readings/performances/other events in which I may be involved, and there’s certainly been a knock-on effect, in that I’ve gained more bookings as a result. I’m less convinced of the efficacy of Twitter in this respect, but then I haven’t embraced it to quite the same degree. I mostly tend to use Twitter as a writing news information source – visiting, and disseminating, writing-related links and so on.

How do you use social media as a writer? Any tips? Let me know by posting a comment, I’d love to hear from you.

Susan also has her own blog which you can see by clicking here

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