Social Media for Writers - What You Need to Know

Social media can be a minefield for writers. Seen by publishers as a cheap, convenient and effective way for writers to communicate with their readers, it makes many writers new to the medium very nervous. Which is better - Facebook or Twitter?

How often should I post or tweet?

What exactly should I be posting or tweeting about?

I spoke to Cormac Kinsella, publicity director of Repforce Ireland for his opinion. (And thanks to Cormac for his time and expertise!)

He said:

Enjoy social media for it's own sake.

Don't just tweet and post when you have a book out.

Engage with other people on social media.

Offer something - share information, links and observations.

Post/tweet about things that you are interested in.

(Books, writing, movies, music . . . whatever you are passionate about and would like to share with others.)

Don't use use it for self-promotion.

He recommended following @nadineoregan @eithneshortall @sineadgleeson and @guardianbooks to see how it's done.

And you can follow Cormac himself here - @cormackinsella

I find a lot of children's book writers and picture book makers use Facebook more than Twitter. Teen readers love Facebook and are not so interested in Twitter. Adults who are interested in children's books are generally on both. Some people post hourly, others post daily or even weekly. As long as you don't bore people, it's completely up to you. Do try to avoid the 'Had eggs for breakfast' type of posts/tweets, unless you are eating them in Paris or they are ostrich eggs!

I have two Facebook pages - one for my Ask Amy Green readers - www.facebook.com/askamygreen and one for my adult readers. I also use Twitter - @sarahwebbishere. I dip and out of both daily and find it's a great way to chat to readers, find out book news, and share information and ideas with the wider book community.

Maybe you will enjoy it too. Try it and see. You can always delete your account if it's not for you.

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX

How To Contact A Writer - by Claire Hennessy

Here is a fantastic blog from my talented writer friend, Claire Hennessy. I like it so much that I'm reposting it. Do check out Claire's great website and blog here.

How To Contact a Writer by Claire Hennessy

Recently Sarah Dessen talked about getting an obnoxious email from someone when she didn’t reply to someone to help with a book report. It didn’t surprise me. Sarah Dessen obviously gets bucketloads more fan mail than, well, most of us, but this happens. It does.

Recently I had a conversation with another writer about getting sent manuscripts to read (‘tell me if it’s any good!’) from people out of the blue, and how to deal with that. This happens too. And it’s tricky in all sorts of ways.

I think there’s a lot fuzziness out there in the world about what is okay, and what is not okay, to contact an author about. And the ease of communication – social media as well as email – means it’s so much easier to get in touch, and easier to have a sense that you’re owed a response. (‘She RTed me that time! Why has she not read my manuscript and sent it to her publisher yet?!’)   I have… not necessarily the definitive guide, because every writer is different, but some things for people to consider, based a little on my own experience but also on paying attention to what many others have said about correspondence with readers.  •Some writers respond to fan mail (and by this I mean communications that are just appreciative, rather than asking for something); some don’t. Of those that respond, some will do personal responses and some will do a generic reply. Whatever they do… it’s their choice. There is no ‘rule’ that says authors must reply to all fan mail personally. I have never heard or seen any writer declare that they hated getting fan mail (or that they didn’t read and appreciate it very much) – it is almost always about time. Personal responses take time, and time is something almost everyone is short of. Neil Gaiman once spoke about how he’d become someone who ‘answered emails professionally, and wrote on the side’ – I think most people would prefer authors keep writing books.  •Fan mail tends not to be treated in a time-sensitive manner. If an author gets an email from their editor or agent with a big long list of things that need to be sorted out about their work-in-progress in the next fortnight, and one from Little Suzie wanting to know if they have any tips for her… well. (Snail mail also tends to go via a publisher, which means it can take longer to actually arrive in the author’s hands than you might expect.) Even if you do hope for a response, it is unlikely to be as super-speedy as you’d like.  •If you have a question to ask a writer – whether it’s about their books or their writing career or you’re looking for advice – do your research first. Go to their website, do a Google search, find out as much as you can that way. (There is a reason many authors’ websites have things like Frequently Asked Questions or sections on writing advice – these are things that come up over and over again.) An awful lot of people don’t bother doing this, and it’s one of the reasons why many writers do auto-responses. •Find out what the author’s policy is on communication – some may note that it takes them X amount of time to get back, or say that it’s better to get them on Twitter, or Tumblr, or something like that. Everyone does things slightly differently.  •It is never an author’s job to do your homework for you. If your teacher has said you need to get a response from a writer (whether this is a book report, an assignment on ‘becoming a writer’, etc), he/she is in the wrong. It is never anyone else’s job to do your homework for you. It is not the job of an author you’ve never met to make him or herself available for your often time-sensitive questions. (Laurie Halse Anderson has a policy on her website; Holly Lisle has a slightly snarkier page about it.) I suspect that teachers who assign things like this feel it shows students will go the extra mile if they get a response from an author – but the focus should be on what the student is doing, not how/when/what the author responds.  •Even if you’re, say, Facebook ‘friends’ with an author, it’s better to err on the side of formality/professionalism when sending a message or email – avoid acronyms and internet shorthand and all that jazz. (If there’s ongoing correspondence, take your cue from them – some writers can OMG and !!! with the best of ‘em. Others will genuinely see your ‘by d way i tink ur awesome!!!’ as indicative of a lack of respect or clued-in-ness, because the level of written-word casualness that exists online is a relatively new phenomenon and is still best avoided in most messages that are not to someone you know well.) •Do not send email attachments – some email servers will block these immediately. If you have something that can’t be placed in the body of a text – like fan art – upload it somewhere else and include a link, or ask if you can send it on.  •Do not send writers your manuscript (of a story, of a novel, of your poetry collection, whatever). More on that here. There are of course exceptions to this rule – some authors will run competitions on their blogs and invite submissions, and if you’ve been corresponding with someone for a while the rules can shift because this isn’t an initial-email-to-someone-in-their-professional-capacity situation anymore. •If you’re asking an author for advice on something personal – like maybe it’s something they’ve written about in their books – just be careful, okay? Protect yourself a little bit, just in case they are among the writers who don’t reply or maybe take ages – it doesn’t mean they don’t care or that there isn’t anyone else out there you can talk to. (Some writers love giving advice; others are very wary of it. I can see both sides of this one – it is a really, really tricky area.)  •A lot of this applies across the board. If you’re asking someone you don’t know or barely-know for a favour, there’s a really good chance that they’ll say no. You increase the chances by being kind and respectful and understanding and doing your research, but they still might say no or not reply or not reply quickly. It’s almost certainly because they’re busy doing other things, work things or life things, and not because they’re selfish terrible awful people who must go on your List Of Mortal Enemies.

 (This blog first appeared on Claire's website)

It's Not Enough to Write a Brilliant Book - You Also Need This

What Do Readers Want From Their Writers These Days? The answer is – as well as a brilliant book - connection!

Once upon a time you could write a book, then sit back and relax. You might get a few letters in the post from readers and you’d answer them in your own good time.

But things have changed - it’s not enough to write a brilliant book anymore, readers want more. They have high expectations. They expect at the very least a website, complete with some way of contacting the writer directly through a message board, forum or email address. If you are also active on Facebook and Twitter this is a bonus. They want to connect with writers, talk to them about their books, and ask questions; sometimes they just want to say ‘hi’.

But how do writers cope with all this extra ‘work’ on top of their writing commitment? At the Patrick Hardy Lecture recently bestselling teen and tween author, Cathy Cassidy spoke about this issue. She gets over 150 emails a day from her readers and responds to them all. That’s a huge time and energy commitment.

‘I get more e-mails now than when I was an agony aunt,’ she said. ‘They don’t all need to be answered immediately but it’s a lot and it’s growing all the time.’

‘I appreciate the input from children and their feedback,’ she added. ‘They share their life with you and ask for your feedback and there may not be other processes available for them to do that.’

Like Cathy, I get emails from children every day, in much smaller quantities however (I have no idea how she deals with 150 a day!). And like Cathy I try to answer one of them honestly and thoughtfully. Yes, it takes time, but if someone has made the effort to write to me, they deserve an answer. And as Cathy says, there may not be another outlet for them. And it’s not hard for people to find me.

Each of my Ask Amy Green books (for age 10+) has details of my Amy Green website – www.askamygreen.com, plus my direct email address – sarah@askamygreen.com and Amy Green Facebook page. As I also write for adults (plus younger children) I also have my own website for my other books – the website hosting this blog - and an adult Facebook page and Twitter account @sarahwebbishere. I have two blogs, one on the Ask Amy Green website and this one. I also blog on the Girls Heart Books collective website once a month. If you google Sarah Webb, you’ll find me!

Luckily I like social networking, I’m a chatty, open kind of person and I’m happy to share some of my thoughts on-line. And I genuinely enjoy meeting readers, in real life, or via email or Facebook messages. It makes me feel more connected to the ‘real’ world, whatever that is! After hours sitting at my desk, I like reading what people have been up to via Facebook or Twitter.

Social networking is also great for running competitions and for letting readers know about book events and festivals. It’s revolutionised the reader/writer relationship. Yes, writers have to work hard to answer all the messages, deal with all the requests, but it’s a small price to pay for all the benefits.

I limit the time I spend on Facebook and Twitter to first thing in the morning, and late afternoon, when I have my writing done, which I think is important. Otherwise large chunks of time could be chewed up and writing is my number one priority.

If you’re a writer, how accessible are you to your readers? If they google you, can they find you? Or does the very thought give you the heebie jeebies? If so, you may want to think again!

Here is an older post for writers about Facebook, Twitter, blogs and websites. And there's a useful piece on setting up a blog here by Michelle Maloney-King.

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX

Should Writers be On Facebook?

(A short piece written partly in the form of notes – sorry, busy week! But the info should be of use I hope!) Recently I’ve been asked this question a lot by new or about to be published writers: should I have a Facebook page? What’s the point of Twitter? What should I blog about? Should I have a website?

And the answer is yes – but only if it suits YOU as a person.

Here are the pros and cons of each as I see it. This is mainly for newbies to all this – it’s all pretty standard and I don’t pretend to be an expert or even proficient at any of it (as David Maybury will attest). But I do my best – and if I can do it (and I’m useless with computer stuff), then the good news is – you can too!


Seems to suit children’s authors and popular fiction writers the best. It’s a heady mix of personal bits and bobs, funny stories, jokes, photographs and general information. It tends to be less political (or work related) then Twitter. A lot of children and teenagers are on Facebook and love being a ‘friend’ of their favourite author, or liking an author’s fanpage (which is another type of page – you can have both a personal page and a fan page. I have a Sarah Webb page and also an Ask Amy Green fanpage.)

Pros: easy to use, fun, very sociable. Perfect for posting quotations, jokes, bits about your books, links to songs on You Tube, and giving people an insight into your life. Can be run from an iPhone, although is easier to manage from a PC. Fantastic way of connecting with readers after an event – you can just ask them to Facebook you! You can put up new book covers, competitions, links to review of your books, launch details, even launch invites – it’s great for writers.

Cons: you have to be yourself. Lots of authors pop up on Facebook when they have a book out and then disappear for the rest of the year. This is not what any kind of social networking is about. It’s about making regular connections with other people, treating them as you’d treat a friend. It’s addictive – once sucked in you can easily lose an hour reading other people’s links and looking at your friend’s pics and photos.

If you join Facebook, make Philip Ardagh a friend – he’s the Stephen Fry of Facebook and never fails to make me laugh!

Must for: children’s authors and popular fiction authors. I love it!


I’m only a recent Twitter person – I starting tweeting in January and I find it very different to Facebook. For a start you can only use 140 characters – but this does make you think about what you want to say. It’s more political than Facebook and more grownup. I’ve yet to meet a young reader on Twitter – it’s mainly adults. Teenagers in particular don’t get the ‘point’ of Twitter. (Yes, gross generalisation I know – but the teens I know all feel like this.)

Pros: Good for connecting with other writers and journalists. It’s like a freelance journalist’s water-cooler at times. Good for posting links to your blog or You Tube clips. Judy Blume is on Twitter! There are a lot of agents and publishers on Twitter and it’s most interesting to read their tweets. Gives you an insight into their work (and their clients!!!).

Cons: Tends to be more serious than Facebook. And it doesn’t have Philip Ardagh! Not as visual – you have to click on links to get the pics/photos.

Must for freelance journalists or anyone who likes to get insights into book trade matters – eg publishing.


I’m a huge fan of good, well written, targeted blogging. I don’t want to know what people like about kittens. I want to read something interesting and informative, and sometimes funny or sad or punchy. I have two blogs – on www.sarahwebb.ie and on www.askamygreen.com The sarahwebb.ie one runs on WordPress and I write about writing, books, publishing and children’s books. It’s written for older teenagers and adults. The askamygreen.com blog runs on Blogger. I find it easier to post photos on this one. I write about the Amy Green books and also things that might interest young readers – music, fashion, book reviews. I also answer problem letters that readers have sent in (with their permission, not using their real names obviously and changing some details). I enjoy writing both, but do more sarahwebb.ie blogs as I have a lot to share about writing and it’s a subject I enjoy discussing. I get a lot of traffic to the site because of the blog and I get regular comments from blog readers.

Whenever I blog, I post a link on both Facebook and Twitter – in fact my Twitter account is linked to my Facebook account (you can’t do it the other way around as yet), so when I post a Tweet, it appears on my Facebook page also.

I would suggest picking something you are happy to write about and you think would be of interest to people (and if possible that hasn’t been done to death before) – travel, sailing, climbing, books, writing – and blog about that.

Pros: It’s fun, makes you think about subject and lets you connect with readers on a variety of topics.

Cons: Time consuming.

Must for: writers in general – but only if you have something to say.


You must update your website on a regular basis to make it relevant. You can do this by running a blog, or a link to your blog on the home page. A static website isn’t great. You can also link your Tweets and your Facebook page to your website.

Pros: Great place to gather together all your book bits – interviews, book covers and information, press pics, reviews, contact details. It’s your online calling card. When people google you, it’s what they should find. You can decide what goes up on the pages. You have control of what you want to tell people.

Cons: Can be expensive to set up – shop around. You don’t need fancy graphics, you need a clean, easy to use site with lots of good, up to date content.

Must for: writers in general – but only if you are prepared to update it regularly.

Remember – as with all writing, the more time and energy you put in, the better it will be.

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX