How Much Time Should Writers Devote to Social Media?

Most writers struggle to know how much time to give to marketing (including social media). We all know that marketing is part of the writer’s job description. But sometimes it starts to seem like a hungry monster with an insatiable appetite.

Elizabeth Loraine asked this in a recent comment: “When I started writing I had no idea the marketing would be so much work and take so much time. I have to really budget my time to get it in and I still feel I'm not doing enough. Can you tell me how much time is spent doing what?”

Yes, we do need to budget marketing time in to our work days. But “how much” time we spend on the various aspects of marketing are going to depend largely upon where we’re at in our writing careers.

I see writers falling into approximately 5 different levels:

Level A—Beginners: (Working on our first novel or two.) This is the time to dip our toes into social media waters, perhaps set up a Facebook or Twitter account. We can enjoy making friends, but we shouldn’t worry yet about what everyone in the deep-end of the pool is doing. We should spend the majority of our time writing.

Level B—Advanced Beginners: (Completed two novels and studying fiction-writing techniques.) At this point, we should start reading blogs that will help us grow. We’ll begin to interact more online. This is a good time to get comfortable with our own blogs, purposefully visit others, and gain new followers.

Level C—Intermediate: (Consistent feedback indicates we’re ready for querying/publication.) When we actively begin querying, we should have a professional-looking online office—a blog or website. Our contact information should be very clear for agents or editors who might want to track us down. We’ll want to begin more earnestly to establish an online presence and mingle with industry professionals and other writers.

Level D—Advanced: (Agented, contracted, or seriously considering self-Epublishing.) If we’ve been slowly building up our connections all along, then we’ll hopefully already have a good base of friends and followers. At this stage, we’ll need to vamp up our efforts and be more strategic about reaching out. This is the stage where I spent the majority of my marketing efforts. In fact, I put in a LOT of long hours (but never at the expense of my writing).

Level E—Published: (One or more published books.) By this point, we’re learning what works best and how to maximize our time. If we’ve done THE most important marketing factor (which is writing a book that resonates), then our readers/followers will begin to play a larger role in our promotional efforts, and all the earlier efforts will begin to pay off. Authors at this stage need to continue to maintain relationships between books rather than putting in effort at the release of a book and then disappearing until the next one.

In some ways, the above levels are similar to the levels my kids have gone through for swimming lessons. In the early stages, they stayed in the shallow end and did more playing and getting used to the water than actual learning. But as they graduated from one level to the next, they continually added more techniques and slowly moved into deeper water, until finally they were diving head first in the 12 foot end of the pool.

Too many beginning writers jump into the deep end before they’re ready. Instead of relaxing and focusing primarily on enjoying their writing in the shallow end, they’re drowning under the weight of too much social media pressure.

On the other hand, some authors wait until too late. They dive into social media right before publication and wonder why it isn’t working well for them. They haven’t taken the time to work their way through the levels, gradually building connections and broadening their web presence.

I can’t put a percentage of time that I think writers should spend on marketing at the different levels, just like I can’t tell others how much time they should write every day. It will vary from person to person and situation to situation.

However, I can say this: the time we give to our writing should be greater than the time we spend on marketing. When I’m in first draft mode or in the editing phase, I always devote the larger portion of my day to my actual writing. When I’m between projects, I can give social media a little additional effort, strategize more, and plan ahead.

But I continually remind myself that my STORIES matter the most. Without a well-told story that readers can enjoy, all the marketing efforts in the world won’t amount to much.

What about you? What level are you in? Are you putting too much pressure on yourself too early? Or are you waiting too long before starting your marketing efforts? Or do you think you're right where you need to be? 

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