Social media has always been a source of stress for me. I’ve had a like-it/hate-it relationship with it for a long time. I like when I make a new friend via Twitter or Instagram. It’s wonderful to exchange shared interests and thoughtful ideas with someone new in your life, especially someone I usually don’t or can’t see in person. But I hate it when I land on a post that makes me feel bad. I can feel anxious, inadequate, angry, sad, or even helplessly confused.
This bad tangled feeling culminated last summer. I thought long and hard about whether to leave social media all together. Finally, after agonizing over pros and cons, I came up with one way I can resolve those dark feelings while connecting with the positive people in my life.
The Artificial Aspect of Social Media
For me, the worst part of social media has always been the artificiality of it. There’s a never-ending stream of perfectly adjusted photos showing people, places, pets, children, food, and all else at their best possible moments. A woman walks on the beach with a slim body in a bikini on a beach. A sunset glows with various gorgeous colors on a lake. A child smiles with a mouth adorably covered in chocolate. And worst of all, glamorously dressed friends smile arm and arm, reminding the viewer what a great time they had without them.
And I have to confess, I’ve done it too. I love an alluring shot of a flower in my garden or how a rain drop pools on a leaf. I think my pets are the most adorable animals in the world and my travel outings are just as fun and interesting as anyone else’s. When The Forgetting Flower was released, I didn’t hesitate to post photos of the book reading and its release party. I’m culpable too.
But when posting these moments, I feel a strange mixture of pride and guilt at how lovely my life moment is while how unhappy someone else might feel at seeing it. I can’t resolve that while showing off, another viewer is secretly feeling envy or shame or plain sadness. I don’t like that dichotomy.
The bottom line is we’re all showing off something. One person shows off their awesome garden while another shows off a cute pet and another shows off an awesome vacation and another a fit body and another a best friend, and so on. And while that’s happening, someone else is feeling a negative emotion about it.
The Dichotomy Is Toxic
And it’s not just my sense of the experience. Everyone from computer science professor Cal Newport to public health researchers have talked about the negative effects of social media on people’s self-esteem. How it fosters depression and loneliness, especially in young adults. How it creates too much distraction and prevents the deep work of great art or scientific discovery or advancement in business. The effects are real and not healthy.
So I asked myself why was I still on it? Well, as I mentioned, I liked the camaraderie, especially on Twitter, of like-minded people. I’ve met gardeners and writers on that platform that have transferred into real-life friendships or at least acquaintances. I found publishing and promotional opportunities on Facebook groups. I’ve stayed up to date on my close friends’ latest career and family milestones on Instagram. And on Pinterest, I’ve found outstanding gardening, decorating and food ideas.
But I had to take a long hard look at how I could connect with those moments while preventing the sadder aspects. How could I post without seeming braggy or artificial? Finally, I realized the answer.
It’s Not About Me Anymore
I realized that if we’re all just showing off, then why not think of social media in those terms? So in my head, I renamed “social media” as “show off media.” This gave me a new perspective. Hence, I also gleaned a new approach. I became instantly self-conscious of what it was all about. And how I was contributing to the darkness.
In response, I vowed not to post anything that I didn’t think might help someone. If I posted a beautiful rose from my garden, then I better name the rose and give brief information on why and how others could grow it. When I shared vacation photos, I better include why people might want to go there, or ask where they had been recently. If I promoted my books, I’d need to include how they could entertain people and how buyers could get a discount or freebie.
In other words, I made it all about them.
Feeling More at Peace on Social Media
In doing so, I’ve felt cleaner and more whole. More positive. Now when I post, I feel like I’m serving the world a tiny bit. If I need to let folks know about book news in particular, I’ve found this website is the best place to do that. If readers come to my site, that probably means they already want information. So now, overall I feel like I’m helping. If I don’t feel like I can help someone on a certain day, I don’t post. It’s that simple.
There’s been another upshot to this approach. Under these parameters, I’ve avoided social media altogether for longer stretches at a time. I still check in for those good moments, but more readily hop off when I don’t find positive energy or posts that make me feel better.
For the last few weeks, my head and heart have felt fulfilled while also generous. And because I feel fulfilled and generous, I can spread those positive vibes around. As I go forward, I hope to reduce other people’s stress while enhancing my own online life.
So let me know how you’ve been feeling about social media lately. Have you been using it a lot? Gone off completely? Or still trying to find a happy balance? One thing’s for sure, it’s a tricky little devil.
As a professional with an artistic product, I need to spread the word about the novels I write. But I’ve always felt self-conscious about promotional messages, either on social media or this website. I don’t want to annoy you, my reader, and I don’t want to create more commercialism noise. I get enough of that myself. So what can I do to connect with folks who may actually want to read my book? Some marketing experts claim authors should show the privates side of their life. I’ve always doubted that. Then recently I discovered something that shifted my perspective.
Should Authors Offer More of Their Private Side?
Not long ago, I was visiting the website of one of my favorite authors. Every now and then I google her to hear an interview or read an article about her latest books and such. But I have to confess, I was disappointed by her website. It includes a short biography of her with a list of books for buying but lacks anything personal. I clicked around, searching for bits of news and info. I wanted to know what she’s writing now, what she’s reading, what her workspace looks like, whether she has pets or is married, who her latest interviews were with, etc. I wanted some insight into her life and process.
Afterward, I wondered if my readers actually wanted that of me.
Do People Even Care About the Private Side?
Probably not, I thought. No one cared about an obscure writer like me. I’m not famous. Still, I looked over my website’s analytics just to make sure. To my surprise, people do care about my private side. The data confirmed this. My most popular posts are the ones that talk about behind-the-scenes aspects of my books. The second most popular are ones where I talk about my life and family. I sat back, a little shocked.
Why had I been avoiding those kinds of posts? Why not put myself out there? Well, I guess I thought the act of writing was rather boring. What I didn’t realize was that ideas aren’t boring. The artistic process as it relates to real life isn’t boring. After all, I did want that from my favorite author.
Still, I feel shy and strange about sharing online. I also feel like I have to formalize every post I publish. But maybe I’m overthinking things.
A New Birthday, a New Beginning
As my birthday approaches, I’ve vowed to make a fresh start. I’ll write fewer listicles and how-to posts, which take a lot of legwork in gathering pictures and such. Instead, I’ll focus on you, my reader. What you want. I’ll talk about the behind-the-scene aspects of my books and writing. My inspiration. What I struggle with and the discoveries I made so that perhaps my words can help you.
Once, I wrote a piece about having the name Karen in these modern times. The essay was intensely personal and a risk since Karen is now a villainized name. Well, I heard from hundreds of women named Karen. They said they felt heard through my words. They could relate, I spoke for them. And so, I’ll try my best to do that again.
Also, I’m hoping this more casual approach will allow me to show up more frequently. Use my website as a way to connect with readers more intimately, kind of like my newsletter. I may even start an audio journal. It’s all scary but exciting.
Photo by Carolyn V
Showing up is so important. Do you know that quote by a famous film director (whose name I won’t mention) about how 80% of success in life is just showing up? It’s so true. I’ve seen it over and over again. Someone got an opportunity not because they were the best but because they were there. Someone proved their worth by enduring an event they really didn’t want to be at. And the examples go on.
My husband I have taught that lesson to our kids their entire lives. When you show up, even if you don’t want to take that test or go to camp with that annoying kid or babysit your sister, you send a message that you care, that you’re willing to try, that you’re able to suffer through the painful parts of life.
In some ways, I can’t think of a more important lesson in life. Kindness, persistence, honesty. Those are all important too. But showing up bonds you to others in good times and bad. It shows serious character.
Showing up as an Introvert Artist
So as artists, how do we show up? The first way of course is to show up to our desk, our easel, our counter, whatever, and create art. But afterward, when we’ve made the art, what do we do?
Well, we can show up to performances or gatherings or meetings. And showing up socially often goes against our introverted instincts. Artists tend to be shy. Not always, but often. A lot of artists are artists because we enjoy solitude, right? Because interacting with people makes us nervous or self-conscious or plain exhausted. We like to live inside the imagination, not necessarily in harsh or dull reality.
But in today’s internet-connected world, we have an advantage. We can show up online. Join groups, discuss ideas via social media or post about what excites us via a blog or website. We don’t have to shower and dress well and put on our more patient, happy public face. We can share ideas and inspiration from the comfort of a couch. Not a bad compromise.
What Venue Is Right For You?
In terms of social media, I’ve always been partial to Twitter. I like it for two reasons: a) I learn stuff and b) I laugh. There’s information on there that educates me and witty or sarcastic commentary. Also, I have attracted real-life friends on Twitter. Those friendships have blossomed based on shared interests, not some sense of us being friends because we once worked or went to school together (though that has a worthy bond too), but because we share a passion or interest.
This is why Facebook and Instagram don’t charge my battery like Twitter. Those platforms are more about social causes, random memes, and personal photos. My husband calls it a glorified address book — which is fine, that can be useful too. Instagram, of course, is the glam version of Facebook, with an expected polished presentation of users’ kids, vacations, sunsets, and milestones. Shrug. I don’t have the energy to constantly present my most glossy perfect self.
Also, the company that owns those two platforms has refused to curb false political propaganda. Twitter is at least making an attempt. So while I still use those last two platforms, they don’t spark joy for me at all.
What If You’re Not Into Social Media?
What if, like many authors I know, you aren’t interested in posting about your life or sharing content? Well, this brings me to what I think is the most important way to show up as an artist: on your website.
When you create an online home base, you’re opening yourself professionally to the world. People know where to find you. You’re offering up your art and perhaps the inspiration behind that art. If visitors like it, great, if not, they can click away. But I think a website, and more potently, blogging, brings about connection. It brings the artist and those who like the art closer. It’s virtually showing up for whoever would like to engage.
The Seth Godin Philosophy
Marketing guru Seth Godin talk a lot about this. He thinks the most important thing an artist can do to promote their work is to “show up with generosity and intent.” In other words, he says, if you’re an artist, don’t just show up online shouting about your book or movie, show up as a real person and give us a glimpse of who you are.
Even more importantly, be prepared to be generous, intentional. How can you help others? Why are you there? Know what your mission online is about. If you do, I believe you’ll find at least some like-minds who will be interested in your work.
If You Have Ideas About This Blog, Let Me Know!
And so, for me, I’ll be blogging more often. I’ll be showing up. If you don’t want to show up, you can always unsubscribe from my blog, I won’t be hurt. But for those who are interested, or even want to have a conversation, I’ll be showing up at this website almost every day, on my couch, ready to help those in whatever way I can.
With that in mind, if you have ideas about what I should write about, please let me know in the comments!! My areas of expertise and passion are writing, books, gardening, plants, inspiration, France and Europe, music, motherhood, and the environment. I’ll be writing about those unless I hear otherwise from you! Cheers.
Photo by Arnal Hasanovic.
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I’ve been thinking a lot about creating author brands lately and how lost I felt a couple of years ago when I didn’t have one. I believe an author brand is important for writers to communicate to readers who you are, what you value, and what your books or writings are about.
It’s an unfortunate word because it implies we authors are commercial businesses rather than people, but then again, we do want to sell books, don’t we? So yes, we are people rather than businesses but in order to share our books with the world, we need to show potential readers quickly what they’ll get if they journey with us via buying and reading our books. And because we can’t meet each reader and have a two-hour long chat, we need to show them quickly through a few brief sentences, colors, symbols, images, etc., in short, all the things that make up a brand.
Where to Start
But what is your brand? Do you have any idea? I didn’t. I knew I’d always done two things over the course of my life again and again: wrote and gardened. But that didn’t translate into a look, a feel, revealing info about me or my life. They were simply two interests.
I’ve talked on this blog before about an incredibly useful book I found called Brand Yourself Royally in 8 Simple Steps by Nancy Blanton. I truly discovered my brand with this book. It has excellent questions and exercises for authors struggling to figure out why they write and why they write the kinds of books they do. It’s simple and short. I recommend it highly.
Pinterest Magically Knows
Another tool I used after reading Blanton’s book was Pinterest. Why? Because I needed to nail down in even more detail what I was about. The visual representations in particular. The great thing about Pinterest is as you use it, you don’t even realize you’re figuring out yourself. Their algorithms for one’s personal taste are crazy, even diabolically, sophisticated.
So I set up an account and started surfing. Because I’ve always written and always gardened, I started by creating a Gardening board. This led to a feed of pretty gardens and as you can guess, I clicked on the ones that drew me in. That led to ancillary photos of gates, birdbaths, etc. As I clicked through those, I learned I was interested only in antique iron gates that had ornate patterns, birdbaths that were traditional, and gardens with flowers of purple, blue, magenta, and orange. Colors that mostly blended harmoniously together. I was a more romantic gardener. Though I always knew that, I now saw what exact images reflected that taste and discovered words that I could attach to me: antique, traditional, romantic, harmonious.
Brand Colors and Fonts Discovery
Because I clicked on flowers, Pinterest fed me bouquets. I was drawn to bouquets that looked like old paintings of still lifes. Because I saved those, Pinterest slotted more into my feed and I discovered I loved how the flowers’ bright colors and green stems popped against dark, even black, backgrounds. And so, on my website, you can see I chose the brand colors of black, green, and assorted purples and magentas. (What’s so cool too is Dionne, our Magnolia Press designer, included all of those in my book cover.)
In addition to gardening and flowers, photos of home interiors featuring flowers started appearing. I clicked on rooms that featured old furniture, bookcases, cut flowers, and antiques — similar to the things in my real life home. But as I clicked on more of those photos, I realized I loved the old and romantic but also the clean and tidy. I liked the modern feel of a sparse room but the warmth of an antique lamp or velvety sofa. So two new words entered into my brand vocabulary: clean, modern. And believe it or not, through this work I found the fonts for my website: Cinzel, Lustria and Montserrat, a combo of traditional and modern lettering.
Not a Web Designer, Just an Author
Now, a trained, educated marketing person will think this is pretty basic stuff. In fact, it may seem amateurish, but it’s what I found that works for me. I don’t have time or money to get a thorough marketing education, but I have read some good marketing books. And I learned that if an author doesn’t know where to start in building a website, Pinterest can easily help you discover the distinct tastes that make you you. Plus, you’ll have a fun time doing it!
To see more of my Pinterest boards, including Paris, my Seattle garden, favorite book covers, dark forests, and other things I dream about, click here.
A month before The Forgetting Flower came out, I took on a 30-Day blogging challenge: publish posts on my blog for 30 days straight. It was a difficult exercise. I had to come up with decent content every day and even though I planned out my topics ahead of time, I had to squeeze in a post at the last minute several times. But overall, it was a fruitful experience. I learned a lot! Here’s what I can share about it.
Blogging Daily Attracts New Readers
As I blogged regularly every day, I noticed the number of return visitors increased. This means readers were excited to see what I wrote from day to day. What was up in my life, what my thoughts were. What I could share with them. Like a newspaper, I had timely content, even if it was about my own life and interests, and people who landed on my site to read about one topic ended up reading multiple posts and either became regular readers or subscribers to my newsletter.
Blogging on a Limited Amount of Topics Makes for Longer Visits
Because I decided to write again and again about five or six topics (books, my garden, my pets, writing and The Forgetting Flower, plants, and inspiration), my site became more of its own internal web of links. This encouraged visitors to stay on the site a bit longer. Hence, my bounce rate went way down and length of visits went up.
General Traffic Increased Substantially
I was shocked to see that with each passing week, the traffic to the website increased. If I remember right, the first week was 15%, then 23%, then 31%, then 52%. It was amazing. People were discovering my content and sticking around to read not only it but also about me. My About page traffic shot up as well.
The Most Popular Articles Were About The Forgetting Flower, Books, Writing, and France
This one was key for me. I’ve read that website visitors are curious about an author’s life (so write about it!) and I’ve read that no one cares about an author’s life (so don’t bother writing about it!). I was torn, had no idea which way to go. I didn’t want to bore people with stories about my creative process if they didn’t want to read about it and yet I wanted to please my readers. So I took a chance and wrote about the mix of topics I mentioned above.
Wow! I learned people are interested in how The Forgetting Flower came to be. They are interested in my creative process and where I get my ideas. They are even interested in writing advice I have in general. The posts related to The Forgetting Flower and my writing life were the most popular.
These were followed by my reviews of books I love, author interviews, and Europe (most often, France) posts. What wasn’t popular were the articles about my garden, plants, or my pets. There were a few rare posts that had some traffic but mostly people were interested in books, writing, and my thoughts and experiences with France.
Blogging Daily Helps You Get to Know What Your Readers Want
Now I know to focus on these topics. And I feel better about shelving the gardening blog I used to write but haven’t in about a year. An author coach once told me that the folks who visited my gardening website were probably not my readers. I think she was right. They are a wonderful lot but perhaps not as book focused as I once thought. And that’s okay too. I know they’re behind my work as an author inspired by plants and that’s good enough. It’s a tribe I’ll still participate in. But in the future, I’ll be focusing on my creative process, books, other authors, and my favorite city in the world, Paris.
Blogging Daily Sucks the Life out of You
Lastly, I learned that writing decent, usable content every day drains you. I could have written a kind of daily journal with random musings but I wanted to make my content lasting and something readers could get something out of. That part worked. But figuring out what that content would be was difficult. I not only had to write at least 500 words every day but I had to find a decent photo to accompany it, then process the photo with its own edits, SEO, quality control, etc. And, my posts all needed their own SEO processing. It took at least a couple hours every day.
My fastest post came on Father’s Day. I had of course focused on spending time with my husband and family all day and found myself at ten o’clock at night without a post. So I dug out a quote about being resilient, which dialed into the angst I’d been feeling, and quickly posted it. I did all of what I mentioned above in about a half-hour.
So do I recommend blogging every day? If blogging for a limited time, I do. I know Austin Kleon blogged every day for a year and I still bow down to him for this. It’s amazing. And it may explain why he now has 60,000 subscribers to his newsletter, which he also does often (on a weekly basis). But I also think he has all of those subscribers because people want and need what he has, which is advice and inspiration. I don’t think people want that same advice or style from a fiction author. But that’s okay, because now I’ve learned more about what my readers want. And in the future, I can tailor my website so it is completely and regularly for them.
Photo by Paul Hanaoka