Social Media: To Share Or Not To Share?

July 4, 2017 | By | 14 Replies More

In this golden age of social media, I still find it a bit of a novelty that I can tweet my favourite author.  Even more so on the occasions when they tweet me back!

Having this kind of direct access to an author would have been unimaginable just 20 years ago.  Back in the old days, you didn’t get to know anything about the author, save for whatever the publisher deemed necessary on the back page.  Their allure was their anonymity, save for the words they put on the page. But times have changed and it is now something of an anomaly if an author doesn’t have a Twitter account.  Publishers encourage authors to ‘get out there’ and the constant advice to new authors is to build an author platform (i.e. make yourself widely available across all social media apps.)  The lines between being an author and being your own PR machine have become increasingly blurred, which can be both liberating and problematic.

The recent Joanna Trollope -vs- JK Rowling debate on the issue, highlighted the differing opinions on what an author should and shouldn’t be doing.  Trollope told the Daily Mail that “creating this mass following and tweeting several times a day is like wanting to be Cheryl Cole or Kim Kardashian”.  She was of course referring to Rowling’s 10 million plus followers and suggesting that authors really should concern themselves more with the craft of writing, rather than satisfying their ‘egos’ on Twitter.  In modern culture, there is a trend towards becoming a brand, without necessarily having anything interesting or worthy to contribute.  But that hardly describes JK Rowling’s career!   In my opinion, if you’re not on Twitter, you won’t ‘get’ Twitter.  You won’t understand the powerful vehicle it is for sharing information and expressing your views.  Yet, Trollope does have a point when she says ‘I’m saying everything I need to say in my books’.  It isn’t compulsory for authors to become a social media sensation and I think each author needs to do what is right for them.  However, I do find it unhelpful when they sneer at someone else’s success.  It’s the height of bad form.

But what about the rest of us?  Us mere mortals with a few thousand or even a few hundred followers?  How much are we expected/willing to share?  I follow lots of authors and there are a few I’ve had to unfollow because the sharing had reached extreme levels!  There are those who practically live-tweet their lives to such an extent that I do wonder when they ever have time to write!  But, each to their own.  They are obviously enjoying it and the fans seem to get a lot out of it too.  They can engage on everyday matters with their favourite author and have conversations that wouldn’t have been possible before the dawn of Twitter.

For me, I try to keep a sensible limit to the time I spend online and what I share.  I do enjoy interacting with other writers and readers and Twitter has become my primary source of news and information.  In fact, most of my writing opportunities have come about through Twitter, so for me it goes hand in hand with my professional life, as well as my personal.  But there is another reality to Twitter – it is a massive distraction.  The amount of time you spend tweeting witty retorts and reading those of others is equal to the amount of time you subtract from your writing.  And, at the end of the day, it is free content.  Just like your blog, guest posts and mailing list newsletters, this is time you are giving away for free.  Yes, you tell yourself that it’s all part of building your platform, but being honest, half the time you’re just wasting time.

Then there’s the thorny issue of free speech.  For some reason, the public takes real umbrage when an author/actor/singer has an opinion on anything other than their field of expertise.  There is a collective groan when Leonardo Di Caprio starts talking about the environment and most people in Ireland roll their eyes as soon as Bono opens his mouth (not to sing!)  And so it is for outspoken authors on Twitter like Matt Haig or Joanne Harris.  They really do seem to get a disproportionate amount of flak for simply having an opinion and having the temerity to express it on their own page!  Why do we get so worked up about people in the creative sphere having serious opinions on issues other than their books/films/albums?  And considering this, do we as authors, risk alienating our fanbase by making our private opinions public?  Or should we care?  Self-censorship is not a natural choice for an author, but should there be a separation between the author’s private life and the work?

While I don’t agree with Joanna Trollope, I do sometimes wonder if we’re colouring the experience for the reader, by weighing them down with the baggage of who we really are as people.  They didn’t ask for my life story, they asked to be entertained.  But in order for them to find out about my book, I have to make them interested in me first!  (At least that is the case on social media).  I think most authors would like their work to speak for them, but in this day and age, the prevailing wisdom is to get out there and engage with your readers.

So what do you think?  Should we be sharing photos of what we had for breakfast, or keeping a cool reserve?  Creating a public persona or just be ourselves?  What do you think readers prefer and should that really have any bearing on what we choose to do?

Evie Gaughan is a novelist and lives in the medieval city of Galway, on the West Coast of Ireland.  Her books are an eclectic mix of genres, incorporating her love of history, folklore and finding magic in the everyday.

She graduated from the Université de Paul Sabatier, Toulouse with a marketing diploma in 1996 and spent the next few years working abroad and discovering that she didn’t like marketing one bit.  Evie abandoned the corporate world to follow her dream of becoming a writer and an artist.  Since then she has written two novels,  The Heirloom and The Mysterious Bakery On Rue De Paris. , and contributes articles to The Irish Times and Women Writers.

Her third novel, The Story Collector, will be published by Urbane in Autumn 2018.

Follow her on  Twitter @evgaughan.



Category: Contemporary Women Writers, On Book Marketing, On Writing

Comments (14)

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  1. Rekha says:

    I found your post really interesting. It was exactly this access to an author that got me started with Twitter just a few weeks ago. I had an account that I was doing nothing with, but on a whim tweeted a pic of the book thanking the author, and a massive thrill ran through me when just minutes later she liked my tweet. This actually started me off on a process of creating a blog and tweeting authors (I’m only four books down but the first author was the only one with a major Twitter presence.) In answer to the question you posed I would say that as with many of these things there is a fine line to tread. For an established author, a social media presence may not be a necessity so if they do abstain from it that’s simply their preference, but for those that either need or want to engage in it there could come a point where incessant updates are just too much. It’s great to be able to reach out and tell an author how much you loved their work, but finding out which day of the week they put their bins out just makes them lose their enigma!

    • Evie Gaughan says:

      Oh that’s great Rekha – I agree, it wonderful to be able to connect with people whose work you’ve enjoyed (and authors love getting tweets like that!) You’re right, it’s good to keep a certain enigma when you’re involved in the creative arts, so people can interpret your work without, as you say, knowing what day you put the bins out!! 🙂

  2. I guess I’m one of those who doesn’t use Twitter enough to ‘get it.’ Unlike Facebook, where you can tell when someone has connected with you, I have NO idea if anyone ever reads my tweets or cares.

    • Evie Gaughan says:

      That’s true Linda, Twitter is a very different experience to Facebook and without feedback, it can feel a bit ridiculous sending tweets into cyberspace. It wasn’t until I got the hang of hastags that I really started to connect with people. But having said that, I think you should stick with whatever platform you’re most comfortable with. I have an Instagram account, Pinterest, Google+, Facebook, but I spend most of my time on Twitter and my wordpress blog. I resisted Facebook for the longest time and as a result, I’m still not 100% comfortable using it. But groups (such as Women Writers!) have changed my opinion completely, so, never say never I guess!

  3. Terry Tyler says:

    I use Twitter a great deal, as you know, and, like you, it’s where I’ve found all my writing connections and most of my readers. But I think you can use it avidly without sharing personal detail. I don’t put anything much about my personal life on Facebook, either. I prefer to share stuff about books, writing, films, TV series, humourous bits and pieces, rather than tell people what I’ve had for breakfast or what I did last night. Who cares? My private life is just that. But I love Twitter. It’s where I find out what’s going on in the world, in general, and in the corner of the online world that I inhabit.

    I used social media before I started publishing books (I was a MySpace addict, never liked FB), which is probably why I have less of a ‘thing’ about it than some; it’s been a part of my life for over ten years, now. But I don’t like author interviews that ask my about my personal life; I don’t answer the questions. As far as I am concerned, Twitter is about my writer self. The more personal side of my life stays where is should be – behind my front door!

    • Evie Gaughan says:

      I love that Terry – keeping your personal life behind your front door! And I completely agree with you, there is a way to engage and share, without burdening people with your personal details. Like you, I just can’t imagine that people would care or have any interest in the meal I had last night or where I went to have it! You’re right; you have to draw your own boundaries, before other people decide them for you.

  4. I really appreciate this article. I think about social media a lot–mainly that I so strongly dislike it even though it’s a great way for us authors to connect with readers *and* a way for me as a reader to connect to authors I like! I dislike it because it can be such an addiction. For me, it’s not so much that social media takes away from writing time, but that it takes away from *my* life–because I’m perusing other people’s lives on Insta or FB. It’s a constant battle to try to find the right balance–sharing but not oversharing, participating but not letting it take away from my own life and family. Thanks for the article!

    • Evie Gaughan says:

      Very pertinent point Lauren and I think it is a constant issue for people who, as you say, want to participate but don’t want to become completely consumed by it. Not easy!

  5. The good thing about social media is it gets me a few centimetres closer to actually working. I open my computer, wander around social media sites (not feeling too guilty, since it’s technically working), finally get around to opening my document, then wander the internet a little more, then finally get started. It’s the opposite of the bandaid approach to getting stuff done, but it works for me. Procrastination is a vital part of writing, and it may as well be connecting with other writers and readers rather than just staring at the wall.

    • Evie Gaughan says:

      I love that Felicity – a few centimetres closer to actually working! That’s such a good attitude to have, rather than stressing about it. In fact, I wonder if it has become the norm for writers nowadays, writing and scrolling, scrolling and writing?!

  6. I think you should never lose site of the writing itself. Without more books, readers don’t have anything to buy. I was in a marketing class for writers, and most of them had a really had time with spending time online versus doing actual writing. Social media is addictive, and you can easily spend more time than you need to.

    I also get why people don’t like celebrities going off-topic. I used to follow a fairly famous writer on Facebook. I’ve liked his work for years. I unfollowed him because he got very political on his page. It was “My viewpoint is correct, and everyone else is wrong. If you disagree, I’m going to ban you.” Now when I see his name in a magazine, I think about those tirades, not the good story I’m probably getting. People want the writing, the movies, the music, not to be lectured to.

    • Evie Gaughan says:

      It’s interesting because most authors probably start out by using social media as a form of marketing, but it can so quickly turn into an addiction. Another writer of Facebook gave me a great tip and said that she uses a kitchen timer to limit the time she spends online!! Interesting point about feeling lectured to – I guess it’s a fine line that authors need to navigate.

  7. Claire says:

    Agreed it’s a thorny issue, and tricky. My general take is that if someone was majorly offended by my lefty/feminist views they probably won’t like my writing anyway (it’s not overtly political, but definitely has a lefty/feminist slant).

    But on the other hand, JK Rowling’s Twitter does put me off her a bit – not because of her views (we’re mostly in agreement), but I don’t love the way she calls kids with less than a hundred followers out, it feels a bit David and Goliath. I don’t think it would stop me reading her necessarily (already read the whole Harry Potter series, and the Galbraith books didn’t grab me even before I saw her Twitter)

    So in conclusion… I don’t know! 😂

    • Evie Gaughan says:

      I don’t know either Claire! 🙂 I feel like we should be able to share our viewpoints, and I agree that writers often include these in the themes of their books, so it shouldn’t really alienate your readership. However, I also feel that sharing too much of yourself can, in some cases, overshadow the writing. I suppose we all just have to judge for ourselves where the line is. Thanks for your comment.

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