Isabella Colton shares the insights she gained from the Business of Being a Writer’s social media panel
The Perth Festival Writers Weekend provided West Australian readers and writers with the opportunity to hear from a diverse range of authors, creators and professionals in the industry. I attended the Fremantle Press event ‘The Business of Being a Writer’ on a lovely Friday afternoon at the Fremantle Arts Centre. With the ever-evolving nature of social media, the panel titled ‘From BookTubers to Bookcasters: Social Media for Writers circa 2022’ was particularly intriguing. Despite featuring prominently in my personal life, I hadn’t really thought about how I can use social media to share my work and promote myself as a writer. The audience had the pleasure of hearing from writer and podcaster Riley Benfell, Fremantle Press Minderoo editor Kirsty Horton and writer and social media champion for Australian YA literature Bianca Breen, with the panel moderated by writer, journalist and ABC producer Molly Schmidt.
Kirsty Horton is an avid fan of BookTube
She described it as a niche part of YouTube frequented by ‘a group of people who only talk about books on their channel, whether that be reviews, discussions or entering discussions with other creators as well’. She said it is a wonderful community that has provided her with the opportunity to make videos and show off her books, while having fun and building connections online. After watching a number of big American and Australian BookTubers, she had a ‘burning desire’ to try it herself.
Bianca Breen predominantly uses Twitter and Instagram
Bianca began social media in late 2017; she was about to move to Melbourne and was looking for a book community to join. She found the YA Room through social media and in 2018 started attending their book launches and meets, later becoming one of their co-hosts. Her role at the YA Room started her online journey by showing her ‘what a book community could do online’. It taught her how to post on social media in a ‘semi-professional sort of way’, from learning how to take pictures of books, where to find content and what would make a good post. ‘I would draft some tweets and then screenshot them to the other co-host and say, “Is this okay?”’. She predominantly uses Twitter and Instagram, stating trial and error is the best way to see what content gets the most engagement.
Riley Benfell is a podcaster
Riley started ‘bookcasting’ at a young age. They ‘love to talk to authors and illustrators to share their stories and help their fans get to know more about them’. They have spoken with a long list of different authors and creators, such as Holden Sheppard, Josh Langley, Meg Caddy and Yuot A Alaak. ‘I have been really lucky to speak with so many amazing authors and illustrators,’ they said. To organise and make these interviews happen, Riley sends a direct message or email and hopes for the best. When asked what approach works best, they replied that it depends on the author, but ‘social media has definitely helped me to get through’.
Tips for finding an audience
Molly asked all three panellists, ‘Who is your audience, who is it that you’re speaking to and how did you come to find them, where are they from?’ ‘My biggest audience is myself,’ Bianca responded. ‘I always wants to make sure that my stuff is entertaining to me, if it’s something that I like then chances are other people out there will like it too.’
Kirsty reiterated the importance of making content that you like, ‘it’s so important to be yourself and enjoy it’. She said that her audience is always dominated by Americans, as the US has a huge online presence. ‘When you engage with an online space, it is going to be an international space’. From experiencing different book communities around the world, she says there ‘is such a supportive community here in Perth’.
Riley prefers to create content for the younger readers and writers, but they attract a wide range of ages. However, they find it’s mostly local audiences as they ‘like to target Australians and Australian literature and authors because the writing community is amazing and so supportive and kind’.
Book reviewing on social media
Book reviewing is something all panellists have engaged in. Kirsty pointed out there is very little money in the reviewing game; it’s more of a ‘love project’. ‘The expectations and reality around it don’t quite match up.’ People often think that they need thousands of followers to be a ‘valid voice’. However, she says ‘with every publisher I’ve spoken to, the emphasis is on the quality of the content and who your audience is.’ She points out the publishers will want to engage with you if your identity or the content that you’re making aligns with some of the key values of that publisher. She provided some advice for aspiring reviewers, ‘when it comes to wanting to be a reviewer, accept there will be a bit of a time commitment for reading and reviewing things on time and making that step to be proactive and email them or go to an online submission and put yourself out there’.
Another piece of advice the panellists offered was to be honest in your reviewing. Riley described it as a ‘compliment sandwich’, giving honest feedback about what they didn’t like in between things they did like. ‘It is important to remember there is a real person behind the book with real feelings and you might have a real impact on the success of their sales,’ Kirsty added.
Making good content and being authentic
So what makes good content, and how do you set up your social media from scratch? All three panellists agreed it is about being authentic and true to yourself. Riley is an advocate for authenticity, sharing their experience with chronic illness and autism on their platform and how that affects their day-to-day life alongside their other content. ‘As long as you stay true to yourself and what you want to see and what you are interested in, your followers will flock to you, they will like what they see and will be interested … jump head in, be authentic and have fun,’ she offered. Other tips included: using hashtags to connect with other people who are interested in similar topics, and engaging with other accounts through likes and comments. Most importantly, start small, set realistic expectations and take the time to find your aesthetic and voice.
The social media pros outweigh the cons
The panellists were unanimous when it came to self-promotion for authors. While they felt it’s not necessary for writers to promote themselves and their work over social media, the ‘pros outweigh the cons and fears’. Bianca highlighted the benefit of social media from a publicity and marketing standpoint: ‘There is so much that social media offers … it helps bring you into the conversation that can be good for when your book or writing is out there and you’re working with traditional media … you can actually be a part of what’s going on’. The women all felt that forming connections is the biggest opportunity brought by social media, not only through networking with other writers, readers, editors and publishers, but through building fans and followers that support you and your work. ‘You can form such personal connections in a weirdly impersonal way through the screen,’ Kirsty said.
As a young person just starting out in the writing community, the thought of sharing my work, opinions and passion for books is daunting. I found all the panellists’ tips, tricks and social media journeys to be helpful and empowering. There is something brave about being vulnerable and sharing yourself and ideas freely on platforms that can reach people from all over the world, and as I’ve heard from these wonderful writers and content creators, jumping on social media, and creating your own journey is definitely worthwhile.
Isabella Colton is a second-year student, completing a Bachelor of Arts at Curtin University. Her love for books and avid interest in current affairs sparked her desire to pursue a double major in Professional Writing and Publishing, and Journalism. She’s eager to build her skills as a writer and get more deeply involved with the Perth writing community.