Thursday, May 07, 2009

Social networking sites - are they worth the effort?

If you read any of the writing magazines, they all emphasise the importance of networking with other authors and those within the publishing industry in order to make contacts and increase your profile. It used to be the case that in order to do this writers needed to attend seminars, summer schools and the like, but the arrival of the various social networking sites has opened up a whole new arena of possibilities. Is it though worth the time and effort that it entails in order to not only join, but retain an active membership of such sites, and what are the benefits?

I am no stranger to such sites, having been involved with various types of forums for around 8 years now. I started as a member Healthy Pages, one of the largest and best known complimentary health networks, where I worked as a moderator for several years. I made some good friends there, at least one of whom I am still in contact with, but chose to leave for personal reasons, when I set up my own site with a group of friends. The site was besieged with problems due to hackers and personality clashes between the different partners, so I left them to their own devices, and went back to being a member.

I have been a member of many different sites over the years - some on complimentary health, some on various aspects of religion, and some on writing, but the writing ones have been by far the most useful in terms of the contacts I have made, not to mention the support, from like minded individuals, so from my point of view, yes it has been worth the time and the effort involved, but whether it will be for you depends upon your motives.

For the benefit of those who do not know (and have been living on Mars), a social network is an Internet based community where you can communicate with others on various different issues. In order to join, you must open an account and agree to abide by certain rules, which vary from board to board, some for example frown on advertising, so it is best for the would be writer to steer clear of these. Some are okay with advertising, as long as you are an active member and are not joining just for this purpose, posting once and then disappearing.

When you open an account, you need to fill in what is termed as your profile - this is fairly standard stuff about who you are and what you do for a living, and the usual common sense rules regarding the posting of personal information apply. You also have the option to display a picture of yourself, or to choose an avatar in the form of a picture that you want to represent the real you - a cartoon character perhaps, or a picture of your favourite place. It is easy to do with almost anyone with basic skills and takes less than five minutes to do.

The big question is though - will joining these sites translate to valuable sales - it is impossible to say, but I personally have sold at least twenty books through the various sites I am member of, many of which have been outside of the UK.

Larry Barkan says that the best way to think of these forums as a date with prospective readers, by introducing them to your work, and hopefully persuading them to buy, and I must say that I like this analogy. After all, if people can meet their partners online then why not form a partnership with an author in the same way and the author with their readers?

I don't think that these sites will ever take the place of bonafide face to face contact, but they are and will become increasingly important in the modern world, and are the best way I have found to reach out to those outside of your immediate area. If people use the Internet to find information on television sets and holidays, then why not use it to find information on books?

These sites offer many advantages, which the wise author will choose to utilise not least of all the opportunity to meet others of like mind and share experiences. You can use these communities in order to help promote your work, by asking members to write reviews, or post on other sites publicising book signings and talks etc, knowing that such posts also attract the attention of search engines. You can also link to your own site and any blogs that you have.

The downside is that these sites can become addictive and a substitute for real life, if you are not careful you can end up spending hours on them and not writing at all. An hour a day seems a sensible time limit for me - spread between all the various sites that you may or may not choose to join.

I am member of several, visiting some every day and others just occasionally. The ones that I particularly recommend are as follows:

This is an international community of writers from around the world, with boards on both fiction and non-fiction.

This is the forum linked to the British based Writers News magazine, with mostly British members, but some from overseas.

This site as the name suggests, is aimed more at readers than writers, but they are a friendly bunch who welcome writers (especially fiction) from all around the world, so long as they actively take part in the community and are not there just to promote your work.

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