Mistakes Writers Make
Becoming recognised for something requires more than just doing said thing. A musician does not become noticed without first putting themselves in a position to attract listeners, whether by busking or putting music online or creating videos or playing gigs, and doing so in a way that gives them credibility. In the same way, an author does not become known without first gaining readers, a poet does not become sought-after without putting their poetry out there to be sought.
The obvious problem here is standing out from the crowd, which is approached by doing things differently. That being said, there is also a question of presence. No matter how innovative your ideas, if you look like an amateur then no one will take you seriously.
Many writers, authors and poets do not realise the mistakes they are making that prevent people identifying them as professionals. Whilst those that know them well may see and treat them as reputable and with respect, their audience at large—whether dedicated or casual—and their peers will be immediately put-off by some very basic errors.
Most writers, authors and poets have some sort of representation on social media. Whilst the various platforms can be very useful tools for building and connecting with an audience, there are some fundamental issues with the way writers manage their presence online.
First on the list is Facebook. Many writers do not distinguish between the personal and professional on Facebook, and just have a profile. A profile is for adding friends and connecting with them. It is for keeping in touch, for sharing photos of your dinner, and for having political arguments. It is not for marketing or for promotion. That is what a page is for. If you want to have a public presence on Facebook, set up a page.
When creating or managing a page, you have a few basic settings that need to be dealt with. Of paramount importance is the name. Is your name on the cover of your book (whether already in existence or yet to be completed) John Smith—Writer or is it John Smith? Is the name on the poster for an appearance Jane Doe Poetry or is it Jane Doe? Is your name on the byline of an article you wrote Jo Jones Author Stuff or is it Jo Jones? I would argue that in almost every case it will be just the name you use—whether your real name or a pseudonym—and therefore your page should have that name only. Otherwise, your page only appears to exist as something secondary to your personal profile, making it redundant. It needs to represent you as a writer, not the writer side of you that only your friends and relatives know about. Treat the page as your primary thing, get the name right, then set the category of the page as ‘Writer’, ‘Author’, ‘Poet’ or whatever word (or words) describe what you do best.
If you have a page for yourself as a writer, you do not need to set up another page for your book. By doing so, you are ignoring your current established audience and attempting to build a new one. You are diluting your influence. You are also giving yourself twice the work, as now you need to manage two pages. There is also no point, as people don’t want to follow an inanimate object. They want a person, with feelings and opinions, and that is why they follow you as the writer. Keep your audience to your single page and use the reputation you already have.
Next, we move on to Twitter. The biggest mistake people make here is using it without understanding it. Twitter has its own language, and to use it well means learning that. Spend time on Twitter, follow writers, authors, or poets of note; learn what works from people who wield influence successfully. Much like learning a new language is best achieved when immersing yourself in the culture, so too Twitter is understood by paying attention to it consistently.
Thirdly is Instagram. This is a platform designed for aesthetics, yet the chief error is writers posting poorly-taken photographs and wondering why no one interacts with them. Take a little time with each photograph to frame it well, then edit it before uploading it—much like you would with a piece of writing.
The next consideration is what to post on all these (and many other) platforms. A lot of writers post the same thing over and over again—usually “buy my book”—and it doesn’t work. If anything, repetitive sales pitches are off-putting and will lead to your followers ignoring anything from you. Instead, post different things. Photos, videos, comments on current affairs, updates of events or performances, advice, content of all kinds. Every time a poem or short story or article you wrote is published, share it. Tell people about it. Consider your followers—your audience—as people, not numbers; they are there to hear from you, so communicate with them.
Do you have a website? If not, why not? Buy yourname.com if you can get it, or a suitable alternative if not, like yournamewriter.com or yournamepoet.com and then either set up a website or a blog, or have the domain forward to your preferred social media account.
Buying a domain costs the same as a book, or a few cups of coffee, and you only pay once a year. It’s a small investment in yourself that shows you are taking your work—and writing is work—seriously. By putting your money where your mouth is, you are buying instant credibility. You are not a hobbyist.
No matter what you are planning on doing with your writing, if you want other people to read it you will need a bio. This is the small paragraph that appears underneath your name, either as part of a byline on a published piece, or as an announcement for a performance, or the ‘About’ section of your social media, or on the cover of your book. A bad bio will instantly show you up as an amateur, so take time to get it right.
Write your bio in third-person. Don’t swap to first-person halfway through—this will look terrible: if you cannot be consistent in a short introductory piece, how can your writing be any good? Mention facts, particularly accolades such as publication credits, awards or competition wins, appearances, and so forth. Don’t mention your age or do anything to make it time-bound, as that bio will no longer be relevant after a week/month/year. Don’t go into excessive detail about your personal life or the names of all your children or pets. Don’t write fluff, don’t be dismissive, don’t come across as arrogant. “John Smith is a writer, look me up” is an atrocious bio, as is “Jane Doe lives in a small village where she has lived for 29 years and is working on a novel that she hopes will be published in the next three months.” A better option would be “Jo Jones is a poet who has been published by Thanet Writers and often addresses issues of isolation and place.”
Have three versions of your bio—up to 25 words, up to 100 words, and up to 500 words—so that you have an easily adaptable option whatever the requested criteria, and keep them up to date.
One thing that always undermines writers, no matter the hard work they put in elsewhere, is coming across as self-involved in person. Writers who only talk about themselves, listing their current projects and going on and on about their inspirations and challenges and so forth. No one likes a bore, but worse is a writer who is unable to connect with their audience and peers. Two ears, one mouth, as the old saying goes; listen twice as much as you speak and ask others about what they are doing, about their lives, about everything. Absorb and learn, no matter the level you find yourself at.
Avoiding simple mistakes like these will prevent you being dismissed by others, and will improve your reputation and credibility. You are a professional, you treat writing as a professional, so approach your presence professionally too. That way, the recognition you receive will increase.
© 2019 Seb Reilly
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Seb Reilly is a writer, fiction author and occasional musician. He lives by the sea in Thanet, Kent, with his family and two cats.