Whether we like it or not, social media is now an integral
part of everyday life – especially for young people. As children’s writers, we ignore this at our peril. And if, like me, your first thought is phew, just as well I use Facebook and Twitter that’s not the whole social media story if you are serious about connecting with your target audience.
|SCBWI - SE Scotland|
On 12 March SCBWI Southeast Scotland members took part in a teach-in about Social Media. Led by member Sarah Broadley, we discussed what applications exist, which are the most beneficial to writers and illustrators and their potential pitfalls.
In preparation for the event, Sarah interviewed a group of sixty 10-12 year olds about social media; 93% use Instagram, fewer than 2% use Twitter, and NONE of them use Facebook. The counter argument that they are too young to officially use Facebook collapses when you realise that they are also too young to officially have an Instagram account, although we would like to think parental controls come into play. Parents/guardians/grandparents ARE on Facebook and as they are considered gatekeepers, too, so it's still a good place to have a presence.
|Sarah Broadley's handout for the event.|
Further information on the social media habits of children can be found in OFcom’s annual “Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes” report - (http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/market-data-research)
Choose your app depending on what you want to achieve
So, what apps are out there, and which should we invest time familiarising ourselves with? The answer depends on you want to achieve. The best apps for keeping in touch with industry contacts and news are often different from the ones to connect with your ideal audience. And of course, there are dozens of them.
We looked at the most common ones:
Facebook (www.facebook.com) is a really good way of keeping in touch with what is happening in the industry and the Facebook Groups for SCBWI British Isles (invite-only) and SCBWI Southeast Scotland (local members only) are an invaluable resource for staying up to date with what’s going on in the literary world. A quick show of hands in the room established that roughly 80% of those present had found out about writing events and competitions via these SCBWI Facebook groups – opportunities that they would otherwise not have known about. It’s a good idea to check with your local network organiser to see whether it has its own local members-only group.
Traditionally, Facebook has operated by enabling users to connect to other people by sending a “friends” request, but it is now also possible to “follow” people on Facebook without befriending them.
Twitter (www.twitter.com) is another good way to keep up to date with the industry. Occasional pitching competitions are run via Twitter where authors can pitch ideas to publishers/agents. A number of SCBWI SES members recently had requests to submit their full manuscripts from a Twitter pitch competition aimed at Scottish writers.
As Twitter restricts messages to a maximum of 140 characters, you need to keep things brief, but as almost any Twitter user will testify, it’s virtually impossible to keep track of the constant stream of incoming information. Setting up 'Lists', which enable you to tailor your information stream by topic, is a popular way to manage incoming tweets.
Instagram (www.instagram.com) is primarily a visual app. It enables you to share photos which you can edit first. It is possible to add short text and hashtags, but this is not compulsory and is very much secondary to the photo. It’s one of the most popular apps for young people at the moment so definitely worth investigating as a means to connecting with your audience.
Snapchat (www.snapchat.com) is similar to Instagram in many ways, except that the content is only active for 24 hours, after which time it is automatically deleted (unless someone has taken a screenshot of your Snapchat image, in which case they will have a permanent copy). Because the data is only live for 24 hours users have no 'history' and cannot create a timeline. As an author/illustrator, the debate about Snapchat becomes a choice between spending time posting material which will vanish or being active on one of the most popular apps available today. The author Jodi Meadows has been prolific in using Snapchat to promote her books.
Periscope (www.periscope.tv) enables live broadcast of short videos and is connected to Twitter. Some authors use this to read extract of their books as trailers and there are also sessions on how to write. The author Ally Bishop [https://twitter.com/upgradestory] broadcasts daily and has used this to help build her following.
Reddit (www.reddit.com) is an online message board for sharing news and articles and is also the home of the famous Ask Me Anything (AMA), enabling famous people (such as Barack Obama) to interact with the public. Anyone can do an AMA – and that includes budding authors and illustrators.
Other social media options
The list of potential websites and applications seems endless, and we didn’t have the time to discuss each in detail. However, other apps to investigate include the following:
- Pinterest (www.pinterest.com) - enables the creation of mood boards and can be a good source of inspiration and a good way of bringing your characters to life.
- Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/) - enables you to store, access and distribute photographs.
- YouTube (www.youtube.com) - for sharing videos – essential for when your polished book trailer is ready to go!
- Tumblr (www.tumblr.com) - to post blogs, photos, gifs, links etc.
- Thunderclap (www.thunderclap.it) - enables you to build a crowd to promote an event such as a book launch, Barry Hutchison is trying it out for the first time to launch his new book series 'The Bug'. https://www.thunderclap.it/en/projects/38858-spread-the-bug-to-your-friends
Keep your social media identities consistent and easily identifiable
Regardless of the app you’re using, it’s helpful to ensure you have a user name that identifies you and that you have a clear photograph. People can easily identify it's you they are connecting with (and not someone else with the same name). Even if you are already established on an app, it is possible to change your name. For example, you can change your Twitter name (known as your Twitter “handle”) without losing any of your settings or followers.
More tech worth talking about
Websites are another useful way for authors to publicise their books/illustrations, and author-thinker Jane Friedman recently said that an author website should be the number one priority of the debut author – even to the exclusion of the much-discussed book trailer. There are templates available for setting up new websites which may be a cost effective way to begin. Once established, it may be worth considering paying for a professionally designed website. But even if you are just starting out, consider buying your domain name early in order to secure it for the future (or as close to it as you can get!).
Blogs are good way to publicise your work too. Again, there are many templates. Wordpress (www.wordpress.com) is the most widely used, but there are others worth considering Blogger (www.blogger.com) and Weebly (www.weebly.com/uk), for example.
What illustrators want
Of course, the needs of illustrators can be very different from those of writers and after our coffee break, Catherine Lindow spoke about social media from an illustrator point of view. Most of the website temples available were not suitable for promoting her work as Catherine had a lot of vignette drawings and hand lettering she wanted to post. Her advice is to try a few and see which works best for your work.
Wordpress (www.wordpress.com) has lots of Portfolio orientated themes which are good for showcasing work, and although there is a charge for the more advanced ones, there are also free options available.
Deviant Art (www.deviantart.com) is a popular forum-based site to share artwork. It is used well within the industry and by young artists alike. It is worth maintaining a presence on it and linking back to your site. Behance (www.behance.net) is another creative platform to showcase work. Jacksons Art Supplies (https://www.jacksonsart.com/blog/) is a must-see, it is a mine of information for researching resources and materials.
Photoshop is of course an excellent way to edit photographs and not surprisingly, the debate about original versus edited photos arose. It was agreed that most editors now assume that all submissions have been Photoshopped.
How to survive social media? Stay in the driver’s seat
With our brains fully scrambled by the plethora of information on web sites and applications, there was one last thing to discuss before spilling out into the late afternoon sunshine.
How do you stop social media leeching away all your writing time? Everyone threw in their top tips:
- Turn the router off
- Go out of the house to write/draw
- Do not use your work PC as your main internet device so you’re not tempted away by a suddenly very interesting notification.
- Install an app which limits the time you can spend on social media (see SCBWI SES member Caroline Deacon mentions this distraction-blocker as one resource https://freedom.to/ )
- Develop “clean working habits” so that you’re disciplined about what you do with your time.
- Be selfish! Give yourself time that is dedicated purely to writing/illustrating.
And on that note...
Anita Gallo writes for both stage and screen and is currently working on her first book. Her screen credits include Nina and the Neurons for CBeebies, OOglies for CBBC, and Olive the Ostrich for Nick. Jr. She has also written extensively for the Engross Theatre Group, who produce plays for children with special needs, and worked with Children 1st, helping Young Carers produce a radio drama about the issues they face.