We’ve all had to do it at some point in our academic and professional careers: the Dreaded Personal Statement™. Why do you want to join this university? Why do you think this job is right for you? And going beyond personal statements, some of you might have even written an online dating profile. I know I did, and it led me to my wife. Finally, every day we write emails to colleagues, friends, family, and even strangers.
What if I were to tell you that by mastering the art of the personal statement, the art of the online dating profile, and the art of email, you could become a first-rate author? You’ve probably had plenty of practice doing these things anyway, so why not tell yourself that spending time doing this stuff counts towards your daily word goal so that you don’t feel so guilty spending time on Tinder or Gmail?
Here’s how it’s worked for me, and how it could work for you, too.
Writing about yourself is hard, and many authors want to compartmentalize their writing as just one aspect of their multi-faceted lives. But the thing about writing is that it begs to burst from your soul. You write (or at least I do) because you just cannot keep the words inside of you for a moment longer or you’ll explode. Writing is intensely personal, then, and there’s no need to be embarrassed about that. The first short story I had published was about my alcoholism. Anybody can sit at a computer and type on a word document, so what makes your writing stand out is that it is YOU writing it. You are telling a story that only YOU can tell, and you owe your readers the answer as to why that is. Why can only YOU share this tale about two brothers searching for revenge in a desert? Why can only YOU pen this tale about a girl who just wants to go home?
My first book was essentially a 150-page personal statement. In 2016, I wrote an autobiography based on 10 years of working as a professional political campaign manager; being able to tell my personal story in that medium turned out to be a massive help over the next several years of my life. In 2017, I had to write a personal statement to get into an MBA program and, thanks to months spent refining my “less is more” style of weaving a personal narrative in a few words that still manages to captivate, I got a full scholarship to my top choice. It turns out that when you learn how to write about yourself in an interesting way, writing about other things in ways that captivate the soul becomes much easier.
Online Dating Profiles
Growing up in that awkward period — when the internet wasn’t quite yet a thing in grade school but everyone had an AIM screen name by 6th grade — I became well-acquainted with just about every dating app available by the time I hit my 20s. OkCupid, Tinder, Hinge, and – what finally worked for me – Coffee Meets Bagel. Just as in writing a personal statement, when writing a dating profile you’ve got to explain things succinctly.
Unlike personal statements, though, online dating profiles require HUMOR. Just think about that – why do you swipe right on someone’s profile? How much can you really learn about someone given a few words and a couple of pictures? Enough to make you feel safe and happy enough to want to spend an evening with them? Perhaps our inhibitions drop and we’re convinced of a person’s authenticity when we know they can crack a joke: humor is a cheat code.
What I mean is that when you can make someone laugh, they start to think less logically and more emotionally. All your favorite stories – from Harry Potter to Star Wars to the Avengers – have inconsistencies in them. Why don’t Deatheaters weaponize polyjuice potion? How can Leia remember her birth mother in Return of the Jedi? Why doesn’t Thanos just double the universe’s resources? We don’t mind these inconsistencies because, by the time they’re introduced, we’re thinking emotionally. And one surefire way to make sure people react emotionally about your writing is to make them laugh.
There’s Always E-mail
I never knew there was an actual term for what I often do: “ping-ponging.” I frequently will respond to a just-sent email with a few words, and then follow up with a few more words, and then follow up with a few more words. You’ve now received 3 emails from me in the span of five minutes, and it’s all because I couldn’t just chill and read your entire email in one go.
When writing anything, you want to gather all your thoughts in one go and then succinctly do the thing. This way, you can make sure your writing is compelling and to the point. You need to write something that fully addresses all the questions your reader might have, but isn’t needlessly long. As authors, we might have less than 500 words to convince a reader to buy our book instead of just reading the free preview on Amazon.
Improving your email etiquette could make you a better author by ensuring that each word in your novel is justified.
Bharat Krishnan is currently working on his third book in four years, and during that time he decided he wasn’t quite busy enough so he also got married and graduated with honors from LSU’s Flores MBA program. He lives in Columbus, Ohio as a philanthropic consultant, and loves to cook when he’s not writing or working out.
When I ventured into the Twitterverse, I was terrified. Having witnessed how quickly situations could turn toxic on social media, I didn’t want to involve myself in this world. But a huge part about being an author is putting yourself out there and social media plays a big role in that these days.
I resurrected my Twitter account in 2018 (dormant since 2010) and I most fortuitously tripped across the #WritingCommunity.
Tentatively Venturing into Social Media
I spent months fumbling my way around Twitter, feeling insecure and unsure about what to do – or more importantly, what not to do. I didn’t want to step on any Twitter toes. I started posting Twitter Tip threads that garnered a lot of thanks and praise from those still learning themselves. I ended up with so many Twitter Tips threads that I decided to put them together as my first blog, TWITTER TIPS FOR NEWBIES. It has turned out to be a big hit with folks, as have my follow-up blogs in the series.
I’m no expert in social media, in human relations or in the publishing industry – I have a little more knowledge than some folks and a whole lot less knowledge than others. I share my own experiences. Sometimes, all folks need is to know they are not alone on their journey and that others are experiencing similar challenges.
Figuring Out How Social Media Ticks
I research blogs and online marketing sites for advice. Social media is an evolving platform, so I figure that reading the most up-to-date news about its functions from those in-the-know is the way to go.
Interestingly, I found some marketing websites better and easier to understand than Twitter or Facebook’s help sites. The best sites for me are the ones with pictures or videos. Bless all those guys and gals who know how to record this info and upload it!
One thing I like to do on Twitter is to boost those who have fewer than 1,000 followers. I don’t do this to encourage folks to play the numbers game. I do it because Twitter analytics don’t seem to give any traction to the posts of those with fewer than 1,000 followers. This came from my personal experience – I found that once I tipped over the 1,000 mark, I popped up on people’s feeds and they interacted with me more.
Taking Care Not to Be Overwhelmed by Social Media
One huge job for me is screening new followers on Twitter to decide if we’re compatible. I don’t blind follow (I made that rookie mistake in the beginning). As part of my daily Twitter housekeeping, I do a quick screen for bots – they’re easy to spot – and I block them instantly. For everyone else who’s a real person, if they interact with me on my feed and I see that they are following me, I screen them for compatibility and if we’re a good fit, I follow back.
This process keeps me supporting and following new folks while not being overwhelmed by a large number of followers. I realise I’m in a fortunate position and I can only thank the lovely peeps in Twitter’s #WritingCommunity for making this happen.
I’ve taken my time about building my author platform, only extending myself into new areas once I was comfortable with a certain niche. I began with Twitter, then branched out to blogging and my most recent endeavour is my Facebook author page.
Should Writers Have a Large Social Media Following?
Hoo boy! This is a loaded question with so many varying opinions, including from editors, agents and publishers! From my understanding, it is essential to have a decent social media following if you are planning to self-publish or if you are going down the traditional publishing route with non-fiction. The jury is still out in my court whether a large following is essential if you’re planning to be a traditionally published fiction author – some agents say you do, some say you don’t.
I think folks need to do what they are happy and comfortable with. Not everyone is comfortable with having thousands of followers because they don’t feel they can connect with that many people, while others feel it’s important to have that broader base to work with when it comes to their marketing strategies.
However, I will add that I’ve not yet seen a hard-sell marketing campaign on Twitter succeed in any sales; but I have seen dozens and dozens of books bought by folks who have a relationship with authors. The key factor, whether you have 100 followers or 100,000 followers, is positive engagement and interaction, which is integral for building those relationships.
Lift Others Up
Genuinely engaging with folks online (aka, your potential readers) takes time and energy but if you are planning on building a supportive following, you need to put the work in – it’s like anything in life really. If you are only in it for the numbers, most people will spot you from a mile away. I believe you earn your true followers through engagement. Having thousands of empty followers isn’t going to make people buy your books, read your poetry or sign up to your blog.Genuinely engaging with folks online (aka, your potential readers) takes time and energy but if you are planning on building a supportive following, you need to put the work in. Click To Tweet
I’m not on social media to compete with other writers, I’m here to share in their journey and share mine with them. By lifting other writers up in Twitter’s #WritingCommunity, I have been lifted, supported and loved tenfold by so many wonderful folks.
What the Pros Have to Say
That’s my rookie two cents’ worth. Here’s what the publishing pros have to say about building your social media platform as a writer:
- A great Twitter thread from Megan Manzano (@Megan_Manzano), YA Editor & Book Blogger – Agent Apprentice @CorvisieroLit – 1/5 of @WriteCraftQuest and #Pitchwars Mentor: tips and tricks to help build your social media platform
- A one-hour-long vlog from @WriteCraftQuest – A collective of #editors supporting writers on their publishing adventure @Maria_Tureaud @SouffleLumiere @Megan_Manzano @Justine_Manzano: Social Media Dos and Don’ts for Writers
Emma Lombard was born in Pontefract in the UK. She grew up in Africa – calling Zimbabwe and South Africa home for a few years – before settling in Brisbane, Australia nearly 20 years ago. She writes historical fiction and keeps platform-building authors on their toes as the #WritingCommunityMum