I recently debuted new branding and a redesigned website for my online author platform. Not to brag (okay, totally to brag), but I think it looks great. It captures the genre and spirit of my writing. The “glow-up” has been a long time coming, as I’ve never been completely happy with the elegant but boring author theme I threw together years ago when I queried my first manuscript. It’s also the end result of me stressing over a somewhat misguided perception that—if I’m to get anywhere in this business—I must become a social media maven. It all started with a simple online search.
I wanted to produce an Instagram Reels post (a short 30-second video) to show off my new blue hair color. I’d never used Reels before and paid little attention to that part of Instagram, but I understood the general idea. I found a few walkthrough articles and a great video tutorial on YouTube. If you’ve spent any time on YouTube, you know how the “related videos” algorithm works. The right side of my screen populated with other helpful “how to do Instagram” videos, and I quickly fell down a rabbit hole. I consumed video after video on how to schedule IG posts to achieve perfect grid patterns, how to create dynamic content for Stories, how to pose for selfies, and tips for growing an audience.
A nagging inability to be actively productive compounded the problem. Physical ailments, combined with a touch of seasonal depression, sucked away my motivation to do much of anything. I languished in bed, watching Reel after Reel, making note of all the latest trends and amusing videos popular published authors posted. I so desperately wanted their success that somewhere in my weeks-long funk, I decided that in order to be like them I needed to do like them. So I rolled my sleeves up and got to work.
I wrote out lists of funny author-centric things I’d do with some of those memes. I saved the most popular songs to my IG bookmarks. I spent hours on Canva testing out signature brand colors. I bought a phone tripod and ring light. I scoured WordPress for dynamic website themes. I practiced my selfie stance.
Know what I didn’t do to achieve my authorly goals? I didn’t flesh out the first draft for my new work in progress. I didn’t work on any of the three new short story ideas floating around in my head. I didn’t write much of anything other than a few Instagram posts.
See the problem? I’d abandoned the first order of business of a published writer—to actually write—in favor of flashy self-promotion.
Self-promotion is the modus operandi for an influencer, where image and interaction is vital. After all, they need as many adoring eyes on them as possible in order to influence said eyes and potentially earn more lucrative sponsorships. For someone who needs to produce something tangible, like a book, self-promotion is also important, but it’s not top priority. Afterall, you can write a novel or short story without self-promotion (though selling it is altogether different), but you can’t will a book into existence with Tik-Tok trends. Yes, there are influencers who get book deals from their influencing, but eventually even they have to actually write, or at least assemble, that book.
I believe—for better AND for worse—that we’ve moved into an era where online presence for public figures is important. We’ve grown used to (even expect) politicians and performers being online in some form or fashion so that we can interact with them. A political candidate who masters the physical campaign trail and skillfully jumps in on a meme has the ability to woo voters across generations.
Online platforms also even the playing field for creatives. I’ve come across uber-talented painters, musicians, videographers, and comedians on Instagram who—without the benefit of social media—I might never have known otherwise. Social media removes the traditional gatekeeping devices of industry access and reach and replaces it with viral popularity. Still, one important aspect is needed for their online success: a product.
Guitarists must play songs, pastry chefs must bake, and makeup artists must paint themselves. Each of those things take time but not the time required to write a book, and some of it can even be done live online for an audience. Leveraging social media is a bit different for authors than it is for most other artists. Until you get to the point of having a pretty book cover, a book trailer, or even a riveting excerpt to read to viewers, visual mediums such as Instagram aren’t necessarily useful for book promotion. Even more textual platforms such as Facebook or Twitter can be less than helpful if you don’t have material to actively promote.
Having said that, authors have found inventive ways to use Instagram and Twitter to keep interest in their books thriving. Agents and editors will also recommend that authors have some level of online presence, if not before a book deal is made then certainly after. I don’t regret the time I put into establishing a solid author brand, with its spunky color palette, themed visuals, and set media templates. In fact, it’s boosted my confidence in presenting myself as a serious published author. In turn, that frees up mental bandwidth to create.
I also don’t feel my investment in creating IG Reels and posts is wasted. Not only does it flesh out my online presence with fun, dynamic content, but it gives me a much-needed break from banging my head against the keyboard because I can’t decide how to open a scene in my work in progress. After all, you know what they say about all work and no play, right? In the end, it’s all creativity, which is a good thing. The key is to not let the play distract completely from the work.
I’ve now shifted my focus back to my work in progress, and I feel good about it. This is what will get me to the point of having a traditionally published book with a professionally designed cover. And hopefully one day, I can show off that cover with some cool choreography on Reels or TikTok.