Q: Does a virtual presence ACTUALLY help you get a literary agent?

Social MediaElizabeth A. Havey asks “Does a virtual presence on the net help find an agent?”

This is the question on most writers’ minds when they think about the intersection of the book business and social media.

The simple answer is for non fiction authors it’s a MUST and for fiction authors it doesn’t matter at the time of querying.

I’ve covered the topic non fiction platform ad nauseum here, here and here. But the authors commonly asking about platform are debut writers looking to break into the industry.

Debut Fiction Writers: Focus on your Writing

Agents repeat over and over again: it’s the writing that matters. Don’t spend energy on social media that could be spent towards finishing your first draft, brainstorming your next novel, or going through copy edits. Your commodity as a writer is your craft. No editor ever signed up a serious debut fiction author based on their 140 character tweets. Yes, we look at your Twitter feed, if you have one, but it does not make or break you.

The Value of Twitter for Fiction Authors

So what is Twitter good for then if not wasting time? Twitter is a place for authors–who live a very solitary existence–to engage with other writers going through the same experience, follow industry veterans, follow writers they admire, and learn about how the book business works. It can be a black hole that sucks all your time and energy, or it can be a tool that makes writers feel less alone and help them feel like they have control about the outcome of their career based on research (i.e. following agents and editors).

Why You’ll Need Social Media AFTER A Book Deal

Yes, your publicity team will want you to be on Facebook or Twitter to let your network know you have a book out. If you have a mailing list from your blog or newsletter, they’ll want to know you can send out a blast when the book comes out. But if you don’t write a terrific book to begin with then your network won’t be helpful in spreading the news word of mouth. Normally, from book deal to publication is about a year. That’s 12 months to build your platform. Don’t worry if you don’t have enough followers when you submit your novel to agents. Let us know that you are willing to do whatever it takes to make the book a success and that you’ve started.

Decide What You Want To Get Out Of Social Media

Surprise!: not every author is going to blow up on Twitter. If you think your links and witty tweets are going to get you half a million followers or likes I’m sorry to say you are sadly mistaken. So what is social media good for? CONNECTING WITH YOUR AUDIENCE. You are going to slowly gain followers based on your personality and the tone and value of what you tweet. Get your expectations in check and use it as a tool, not a megaphone.

Why Do Agents and Editors Care About Twitter, Anyway?

The reason I like to look at a writer’s Twitter feed before signing them up is to see what their voice is like outside of their novel. If you can write a novel and interesting 140 character tweets then I’m intrigued. If you have an account but never use it, or have a blog and never post on it I get the impression you’re not as serious about writing than other people whose work I’m looking at.

Lastly — The writerly rule of social media: only begin what you think you can continue on a regular basis. If you don’t want to blog at least once a week then it’s not for you. If Facebook feels more natural then don’t feel obligated to join Twitter.

Q: What are your biggest concerns about being a writer on social media?

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20 thoughts on “Q: Does a virtual presence ACTUALLY help you get a literary agent?

  1. I’m a non-fiction writer, and my publisher found me on social media (LinkedIn). I sold my book in Dec. 2012 and my pub date is Jan. 2014. (To reinforce the “12 months to build a platform” comment. Check out my website at http://www.jenniferbrowne.org!! :)

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    1. Not important unless the memoir is about something topical and socially-fuelled like you chronicled your experience with x on your blog and it got 1 million hits and now you want to turn it into a book.

      Memoir is more like fiction in that way. Not as important at the time of pitching.

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  2. I guess sense social media and building an online presences has become the new marketing and promotion tools over the last couple of years, it would be easy to believe that having a virtual presence could ACTUALLY help inspiring authors/writers to land a literary agent. If you are really savvy with social networking and Emarketing, then I would probably say one has a chance at landing an agent. I’m sure it isn’t unheard of, but how effective is it, I don’t know. I’d like to think that the odds are much greater than not given they way we have influenced technology to work for us…

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  3. I once read an article where they were against third-party sites like WordPress or Blogspot for Author Websites. But I think it’s primarily that they wanted you to invest in their website designs which would cost me my firstborn child. For right now, I’m going to stick with WordPress until I have need of something else.

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  4. Very reassuring! I am working on my first novel, and have my first appointment to pitch to an agent at my first ever writers’ conference in Sept. No time to worry about Twitter now–I need to craft a killer pitch, write an effective synopsis–oh yeah, and really polish that novel! If I had to somehow get more blog and Twitter followers at the same time, I think I’d go into a frenzy.

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  5. Thanks for answering my question, Carly. I’m a fiction writer, but I blog faithfully. And of course you are right–it’s about building relationships, connecting with a future audience. Thanks for the confirmation. I am interested in your ideas and will watch for them on Twitter. Oh and my name is HAVEY. I think that might become an issue when I am published!! Elizabeth

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  6. One downside I experienced with social media several years ago came in the form of a stalker. Eventually they went away, thanks to a VRO and my (voluntary) complete removal of my online presence.
    Would I rejoin social media (blogs, Twitter, etc) to promote my book? Absolutely. But I would definitely set some parameters as to what I shared and how I shared it. Having a stalker suss out where I work and come watch me when I’m at the Day Job is a bit disconcerting.

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  7. This is very helpful. I’m a twitter lover but I have never thought of what my 140 character tweets say about me. But then, I tweet (not for followers) but because I love to connect with other feminists, writers, readers, bloggers, see the world through their eyes and learn.
    I’m a single mom, throughout my pregnancy I kept a diary and wrote some poems. I’m working on developing the memories and publishing them as a non-fiction work titled “Diary of a disgruntled African woman”. It will basically tell my story spanning over a decade. I know it will be interesting, I hope my audience thinks so, too!

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  8. Carly, this is an interesting post. I am a debut YA author, and my novel talks about a serious subject matter. I’ve finished the manuscript and so far have gotten encouraging feedback from another well published author. In the last few weeks, I developed a website and blog, and just this week, a twitter account. However, what I’m finding is though my book is YA, my social media writing seems to be attracting an older crowd. I’ve been wrestling with this–the blog is, I think, indicative of who I am, but so is the book. Do you see this as being a potential problem?

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