Friday, May 1, 2020


by Cat Michaels

The thought of starting an online presence kept me up at night when I began my indie writing career in 2013.  I knew social media was a brilliant platform for connecting people and discovering books.  But where to start?  And what if I embarrassed myself by saying something stupid in cyberspace?  Plus, who’d want to hear from newbie me anyway? 

I see you scratching your head just as I did.  You’re wondering how creatives can build professional relationships in cyberspace with someone you’d never bump into at the corner Starbuck’s.

You can do it!  (Yes, even you introverts looking skeptical and scared.) 

You start by being RARE as you demonstrate–
R         respect
A         authenticity
R         reciprocity
E          expertise

If you’re an indie author or trade-published, these 9 tips will help you build your RARE social media presence.


·         Be clear about your social media goals. 
Everybody wants to find followers and be discovered.  Do you also want support from other writers?  Advice on book launching?  Connections to niche groups, like marketing a book on iguanas to senior citizens?

·         Explore and research.
Start with keyword searches to identify groups in your writing niche, such as most successful romance writersbest websitefor writers, or most popular children's books. Most will have social media links you can dig into. 

Look for stats and demographics for different social media platforms to discover where your readers spend their time.  For instance:

Pinterest: half of all US millennials use Pinterest at least once monthly, and the site’s most popular category in the US is art/art supplies/hobbies, followed by food and decorating (Sprout Social).  If you write non-fiction about a crafting hobby or a cozy novel featuring a 30-something female chef, Pinterest should be on your radar.

Goodreads: a brilliant site for book discoverability that hosts 80 million avid readers. You’ll want to set up an author account and join the conversation about books.

Twitter: touted as a micro-blog with breezy messages of 280 characters or less, Tweets are sent at a rate of about 350,000 per minute.  You’ll meet tweeps who blog about books, are wild about book giveaways, and more.  I find Twitter can be troll-heavy and divisive, but it’s the favorite platform of many writerly colleagues.

Instagram: another millennial hangout, visual content uploaded on mobile devices with multiple hashtags reigns on IG.  Searching for popular hashtags by niche, like #bookworm for readers or #writersofinstagram writing groups, helps you find communities to follow.

Facebook:  my author page here is my go-to platform because it’s where purchasers of my children’s books spend time.  Facebook has hundreds of genre and sub-genre interest communities. Some are open groups, and others are closed, so commenting stays safe within the group.  You must ask to join closed groups, but it shouldn’t be an issue if your interests match theirs.

·         Is your head exploding? Mine was when I started!  To keep from being overwhelmed, begin with a single – one – uno – ein-  platform where your readers hang out.

2.  Go Pro
Delineate your personal and professional life.
·         Yep.  Once you decide on that single platform your readers love, it’s time to set up a separate account to share information about your business (yes, writing IS a business!) to differentiate from family life.  Aunt Sue will appreciate her vacation pictures staying private, and you can still boast about your silly pet tricks to Cousin Ed without confusing your authorly personae.

·         Once you identify groups to observe, look for guidelines in the 'about' section that summarize the group’s purpose and rules.  Some sites are devoted to sharing interests and don’t take kindly to authors promoting books.  Other communities encourage marketing discussions.
·         Spend time on places that resonate with you and observe how people interact.  Is it a good fit for you?
·         Begin to follow people and pages that offer dynamic interaction and frequently post fresh content in your interest/book niche with a positive spirit. 

4. "ENGAGE!"– Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek
Clapping for you here!  You researched and zeroed in on people and places. Time to engage.
·         With your newly opened professional account, test the waters by liking, sharing or favoring posts.
·         Ask a thoughtful question or comment on a topic you’re comfortable with.  I was so nervous writing my first posts!  Spent 10 minutes just drafting them.  Promise: it gets easier.  Now I whip ‘em out, and even use native and free tools (like Buffer and Hootsuite) to schedule posts in advance.
·         You're building brand YOU, so your actions should reflect a genuine interest that shows who you are as a person and a professional.  I confine engagements as a children’s book author to family-friendly content.  

Rule of Thirds
Carla King, Author of Self-Publishing Books: A Guide for Authors, proposes a social media Rule of Thirds that’s good for indie or trade-published authors.  (Yep.  Publishers expect their creatives to have a social media presence.  No escape.)  King suggests dividing posts equally among promoting/selling, supporting like-minded authors or businesses, and revealing yourself as a person and author:
·         33% PROMOTE:
Okay, I promote more when I launch books or run special offers.  But otherwise, I keep marketing contained.
·         33% SUPPORT:
Actively seek and support others.  It’s pure delight to see their reaction!  (More about supporting others coming up on #6 ) 
·         33% INSIGHTS:
Who are you as an author/illustrator and citizen of this planet?  Readers want to know! 

I love sharing my interests but make them relatable to my readers and my writerly life as plain ole me.  When Stephen King (who has more than 4M Facebook followers!) posts a cute photo of his pooch
Molly, aka the Thing of Evil, and posits she can unleash a battalion of zombie Irish Wolfhounds on Vermont, he gets 54K likes.  So, he shares an amusing tidbit about his personal life and ties it to his genre.  Pure genius!

Don’t shake your head wondering, What can I offer?  Yes, there are a gazillion people in cyberspace, but no one is YOU. 
·         What’s your unique expertise and interest?  Whether it’s grammar, baking, photography or sports, use those talents to demonstrate how you'll add to the conversation.
·         Share ideas from wise people in your field and be sure to attribute their ideas.  That’s easy to do on Facebook and Twitter: adding @ in front of someone’s name automatically tags them.  I discovered early on that the more I share, the more others engage, and friendships start.  How cool is that!
·         When people interact with you in positive ways, they’re reaching out, trying to make a connection.  Show interest by responding as soon as possible. Personalize your reply by using the individual's name. 
·         As you gain followers (and you will!) routinely thank them.  People are always happy to hear they are appreciated!

Studies show that posts with visual images receive the most engagement. 
·         Create original content that supports your brand and interests readers by uploading free public domain photos through sources like Pixabay or Unsplash.
·         Take advantage of free online editing and design tools, like Canva and PicMonkey. They turn plain posts into dazzling visuals with text overlays with the click of a mouse.
·         Videos also boost engagement.  Many of my author friends have great on-camera presence and do live feeds.  I’m not there yet. However, a no-frills 30-second video of ice pelting my garden or ducks on my nature walk that’s captured with my Iphone get 2-3 times my usual organic reach. 

·         Repeat after me:
“I will never DM or reply to new followers with a buy-my-book or follow-me-on-Insert-Social-Media url.”
This is the cyber-equivalent of being badgered by a plaid-suited used-car salesperson. When I get one of those messages, I delete and unfollow in a heartbeat. 

·         Building your online presence is like building a wall.  The foundation must be firm, and the rest assembled from there with care and precision. Cutting corners could bring the whole structure crashing down. 
·         When I started, it felt like eons passed before I got traction, no matter how hard I tried. True confession: some days, I still want to tear my hair out because building and maintaining online connections takes effort.  

Now you’re ready to jump on social media.  People will follow you as they experience the RARE online voice that is Y*O*U because you demonstrate….
R         respect
A         authenticity
R         reciprocity
E          expertise

Good luck on your journey.  Let me know how you’re doing and what’s working for you.  Hey, if we’re not connected in cyberspace, let’s make it happen and be RARE together. 

Cat Michaels started writing stories in fourth grade and hasn’t stopped since. She has an M.S. degree in special education, two decades of teaching experience, and has managed communication and training programs. Cat and her family live in North Carolina where she designs pocket gardens, dabbles in photography and graphic design, works out nearly every day, and writes.



Cat’s award-winning book







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