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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? 

53 comments:

  1. I'm still very much a beginner. I have a blog I enjoy writing, and I follow lots of others. I'm not yet on twitter and I'm no longer on Facebook. I'm very happy where I am right now, making friends, learning about my craft and, most importantly, actually writing. When I'm ready I'll don my water-wings and move up, but at the moment I'm happy splashing about in the shallow end :)

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  2. I'm probably behind in your schedule, Jody. But I really like the way you listed the different levels and wish someone would have shared them with me when I first started writing. Of course, for the first year and a half of my writing, I remained blissfully oblivious to anything and everything BUT my writing. And I believe that helped my learn the craft quicker.
    I just got a contract last week with Love Inspired Historical. I'm happy to have my first few novels be part of a line that does most of the marketing for me. I'm hoping to use my writing money and book release to establish a more permanent online presence. Then I can use my online platform if I move to a different publisher in the future.
    I'm probably a level behind where you say I should be. :-)

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  3. Goodmorning, Sarah and Naomi!

    It sounds like you're off to a great start Sarah. The friends you make early on will hopefully be some of your biggest cheerleaders later!

    And HUGE congratulations on your sale, Naomi! That's super exciting! :-) I'm sure LIH will do a great job helping get your book into reader hands. You'll just have to decide how much above and beyond that you want to go with your book's reach. Ultimately, each of us has to decide what works for us!

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  4. I find that I'm where I need to be NOW, but I wasn't always there. I think I definitely jumped, no dove, into the deep end at the beginning and was quickly way over my head.

    I'd say I'm safely treading, maybe even standing with my tippy toes on the bottom in the intermediate - stretching myself just a little bit beyond perfectly comfortable.

    I've been thinking about this subject a lot lately, Jody. Ever since the post I did on Goodreads a few weeks ago. Many of the comments in that post were exasperated with, "Oh, no. Not another social media sight to tackle!!"

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  5. Hi Heather, Sometimes I think we find out where we need to be by trial and error, don't you think? If we're starting to sink, then maybe it's time to move out or back a little bit. And that's interesting about Goodreads! I think it's a pretty easy site that doesn't consume much time. I'm actually trying to figure out how to use the site to interact more with readers! I'd love that!

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  6. It's good to have someone who's been there break it down for us. It gives us a perspective on where we are and where we're going. Thanks.

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  7. Definitely a beginner. I'm trying not to put too much pressure on myself with either writing or social media, just trying to have fun and enjoy the process. :)

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  8. Thanks Jody for answering my question! As always you give such great advice. I write all day so I decided to keep the tabs for twitter and facebook up so I can go back and forth and check for comments and messages. Thanks again!
    Elizabeth Loraine
    http://royalbloodchronicles.com

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  9. I guess I'm a D now and I think I'm where I need to be, quite by accident. *grin* It feels like accident to me but I'm pretty sure God has been helping me and I didn't know it.
    Anyway, I've been thinking about website stuff lately. After revisions are turned in, I'll have to start working on that. Def. not as fun as blogging. LOL

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  10. I think I would have saved myself a lot of time if I had met Kristen Lamb earlier, but nonetheless, I am querying for the second time this year right now, so I guess I'm at level C. But the time between querying is shorter when you write short stories.

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  11. Great advice!

    Can I just say I thought your photo was a mermaid at first. I got all excited. ;)

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  12. Goodmorning, everyone! And, LOL, Karen! The photo does look like a mermaid! :-)

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  13. My approach was to stick my toe in about 15 months before the release of my first book, which is still a year away. Like any goal, it helps to break it down into smaller goals. So began with goals such as "I will comment on three blogs this week" or "I will comment on Twitter posts of three people I don't know this week. Small goals helped build habits of attending to opportunities on social media and being comfortable with the process as I move through the levels you've so wisely identified.

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  14. Jody! Thanks for this post. Social media can be overwhelming. Thankfully I share the responsibility with my twin sister. We are co-authoring a book. I would say we are intermediate level but we don't put to much pressure on ourselves.
    We have fun and stay focused on writing and editing.

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  15. Love, love, love this Jody, because now that I'm contracted, I have been spending more time on social media. Trying to be purposeful about it. Still, it's hard not to let that time creep into writing time! Especially when we're in a bit of a limbo waiting for something. :)

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  16. REALLY good post, Jody -- wish I'd read it 1.5 years or so ago. I feel a little burned out on the social media thing -- maybe I started too much, too fast? And now that I am at Level D (although no book contract yet), I feel like it's time to really ramp it up, just when I am feeling pretty drained by the whole process. Maybe a vacation away from technology will help? I'm headed up to Northern MN soon -- no internet access!

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  17. Love this breakdown, Jody.

    On a similar note, I think it also depends on how experienced we are with technology. Since I have a strong science and computer background, tackling the ins-and-outs of social media sites and website/blog design come quickly to me.

    There is a learning curve for beginners on all of the sites, and if someone is less technology savvy, they might want to start earlier "playing in the shallows" so they're not wasting precious time during the querying or contracted stages.

    I can only speak for myself, but my time becomes more limited as I progress up the ladder. It's nice to feel confident about my online efforts because I have experience with them!

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  18. No book. No book in the making, but I work for a magazine and publish 1-3 articles every month and edit.

    Blogging/social media is my way to connect with the larger world, beyond my city-based writing world. It has given me some of my best friends.

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  19. As always Jody, thanks for breaking it down into levels. "Write novels/build platform" is one hefty elephant to eat -- this is a nice reminder that it can be done, one bite at a time!

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  20. I'm still working on balance with social media, but I'm enjoying myself as I do! Thanks for the pointers!

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  22. I meant to say thanks for the solid advice. I just read about an author, who admits his writing is just mediocre, yet produces 7,000 words a day. He's focused and limits blog posting and tweeting etc. Funnily enough although he has massive sales, his FB page is non existent. I think the social media thing can be an illusion --you just have to Keep on writing and keep getting stronger--fans will come.

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  23. Great advice and some lovely comments, I have just revamped my blog after running a small Flash fiction competition for my landmark birthday, I tweet, have a facebook page and now I intend to blog 3 times a week, stuck at at since last Friday, Monday and today now working on Fridays post and my novel. Have one non fiction book self published.
    Lesley

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  24. I'm INTERMEDIATE! YEAH! It shows I'm progressing :) And I do the social media thing anyway just becuase I'm hyper social :) HA HA.

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  25. Interesting breakdown, Jody. I like the way you approached social media.I'm working on balancing my writing and the need to be connecting. I keep reminding myself it's all based on relationships--not using people.

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  26. Beth, you're right! It's about relationships. I really like Kristen Lamb's concept of TEAMS (Together We Accomplism More). When we make those connections with other writers, we can all mutually support and encourage one another in our publishing journeys!

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  27. I'm not sure which level I'm on. I'm writing a non-fiction book sharing my expertise in conducting classical literature club discussion groups for children of all ages. Last year I spent the majority of my time writing the first draft and learning about websites and blogging. January through April of this year I started shopping around in the blogging neighborhood by starting a free blog and writing a few posts mostly to get over my fear of writing to unknown people. In April I resolved to set up permanent house keeping in the blogging world and I hired a designer to get things up and going as I wanted to spend my time writing. She will probably have it up and running the first part of July at which time I will begin posting from a store of posts I've been preparing so I can post on a regular schedule. In the mean time I've been dipping my toes into the Twitter pond one toe at a time and I've begun reading other blogs. My goal has been to make friendships.

    Currently my weekly schedule looks like this:
    Writing 17 hours/week
    Blog Writing which includes writing, editing, finding a picture and commenting on comments made to my posts - two posts per week - 2.5 hours/week
    Social Media which includes reading other blogs and commenting, Twitter,- 2 hours, 20 minutes

    Where would you place me in the levels you describe?

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  28. Jody,
    Thanks for another great post! I'm already feeling overwhelmed by budgeting my time between writing & social media, so this helped me put things in perspective!
    Blessings!

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  29. Tremendous post, Jody. I like your pool analogy!

    I'm at level D right now, and wishing I had more time to swim in the deep end! I have one major publisher interested in my wip, and plan to pitch it and a 2nd book at a conference in August. My agent is pitching both books at an IRC in July as well.

    I once asked a teacher at a conference what ratio of time should be spent on writing vs. marketing and he said 50/50. My agent agreed. But I do agree with you that you must have something significant to market, so you need to hone your skills first of all.

    Love
    Jen

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  30. The social media pressure is a very real component of writing these days. I'm blessed that I had critique partners to hold my hand and gently tug me into Twitter and blogging. I have learned so many valuable lessons from social media.

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  31. I have bookmarked this article! I think I jumped into the deep end, which would explain that drowning feeling I've had the last few weeks. I've been reading so many writing blogs telling me I needed a writing platform, blog, etc. So, I set up my website, and obsessed over every little detail, and have done absolutely nothing with my WIP. Thanks for the gentle dose of reality. I needed that! :) I think I shall spend the rest of the day doing what I love, writing

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  32. Al Dent asked: Where would you place me in the levels you describe?

    My response: Hi Al! I think non-fiction poses a special challenge. Most agents and editors really like to see a non-fiction author with a pretty BIG platform ahead of publication. So, I think you'd be wise to build up your social media marketing well ahead of querying. If you're considering self-epublishing, the bigger the platform ahead of time, the easeir it will be for you as well.

    Sounds like you could begin vamping up your social media efforts and devoting more time to it. But that's just my opinion.

    Jeannette pointed out, the 50/50 ratio. I would say this ratio is probably about right for a non-fiction writer trying to build up a platform. But I would say for fiction writers, that ratio is slightly on the high end. Maybe 50/50 in the advanced stage, but I personally wouldn't advocate that on a regular basis for fiction writers.

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  33. I think I'm at level A/B. But I know that I spend waaaaay too much time reading other writers' blogs and I'm finding new websites with useful information all the time.

    I find that its hard to keep up with everyone and their blogs because there are so many to read.I need to work out a rule or schedule to limit my internet reading time.

    Great post as always Jody.

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  34. I love this breakdown. At conferences all you hear is do this, do that, tweet, fb, blog, tweet some more. It's nice to see I don't have to jump into the deep end yet!!
    Thanks

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  35. Whenever I start feeling stressed about sales or marketing, I remind myself that writing the next book is more important.

    I actually enjoy Twitter, though. Which makes sense to me now that I've heard the MMO analogy. My policy is "Be yourself."

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  36. Love this breakdown! I'm in Level B, but I'm also part of a group of writers who are self-publishing under a common imprint, so I feel some responsibility to help them market by participating more in social media, even though I'm not selling anything myself yet. I'm finding it very easy to let blog-reading and tweeting eat up too much time -- and that's without maintaining a blog or website of my own. Argh!

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  37. I think by your definitions I'm probably an "advanced beginner." Hopefully I'm getting ready for Level C though. :-) I'm not sure if I jumped in too fast or if it was I tried a type of media (blogging) that wasn't right for me but I've just taken a step backwards myself. I still have a website up, and I'm definitely still on Twitter, but the blog was a larger time commitment and one that didn't work nearly as well for me so I decided to cut it.

    Hey, if you're ever wanting for a blog topic you might tackle how much time writers should devote to reading (craft and fiction). Kinda similar :-)

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  38. I agree with you on, " the time we give to our writing should be greater than the time we spend on marketing."

    I think Social Media is important, but it should never take the place of actual writing.

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  39. I think Sarah Pearson wrote my comment! :) The only difference is that I've never actually had a Facebook page. I just started a blog about Christian service and what that means for everyday life. So far the only comment has been from my husband :) He's so great! My usual feeling when I'm reading about social media is "how do people have time for this?" followed closely by "what in the world am I doing? I'm a complete computer idiot!" Thank you for this post. It helps me to take a breath and realize that it's ok to start slow and learn - and make a few mistakes. Sarah, I'd love to look at your blog. From one newbie to another. Good luck with it.

    Sherri
    esthersdestiny.blogspot.com

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  40. Stories are the most important. I keep telling myself that as I'm working on two deadlines, trying to promote my new release, and stay in touch on the social media. Some days I wonder. Good to know I'm not alone.

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  41. Great post, Jody. I love the different levels. And, I'll admit, I still have days when I get too caught up in the social networking "build your platform" bit, so that my writing gets pushed aside. I'll be thinking about your post next time I start obsessing over whether or not I've done enough tweeting and "liking" for the day :)

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  42. Jodi, you have a knack for tapping into just the topic that's bothering me. Thank you so much for your helpful posts. You just know how to turn the expectations into manageable chunks. Thank you!

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  43. Eeek, I think I've left it too late. My first book is coming out in the fall, but I'm still at Level A/B on the social media scale. Serious catching up needed.

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  44. Great breakdown, Jody. I'm definitely in the Advanced group, but I admit I'm finding it hard to keep all the balls in the air. Research on my WIP is just about done but it took longer than I wanted. And I have serious doubts about how to keep this up while I'm writing the first draft. But I'll set word count goals for myself and we'll see how it goes. If I have to re-evaluate my time distribution, then I will. Now, if there was only two of me, there's be no problem at all! ;)

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  45. Jody, that is the most absolutely brilliant way of putting it. I've seen too many people that dive in head first at the deep end and sink because they don't know what to do. Sure you're developing a following of some but it has nowhere near the potential of what you can do when you know everything you can do with that extra space the deep end affords.

    The greatest error I always see is everyone that thinks if they dive in they'll grow a huge following right away. It's not about the 100 meter dash. It's about swimming the English channel. You need to pace yourself and you'll make it.

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  46. Agree totally. I'm trying to figure out the right "balance" for my social media presence, which right now seems to be just a few activities a week. Getting in the habit, though, will let me ramp it up if I need to, eventually.

    But I also have to focus my efforts where I fail the most - right now that's commenting on other people's blog posts that I found helpful, so, in a bizarre meta-way, this comment is dual-purpose :)

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  47. Cameron, commenting on posts is definitely part of social media! I think that's one of the places I get to know people the best.

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  48. I pressurised myself hugely for the first four/five months and only recently have I relaxed more about things. I kept seeing all these twenty-three year olds with multi-book-deals and film options and I felt like I'd missed the boat.

    Anyway, now I'm happier just moving along, although I still get down when my blog stats tumble for no reason that I can see. I'm definitely still in the 'building a following' stage. To be perfectly honest, I probably spend too much time on social media, but so far it works for me. Once I get properly dug into my next book, I'll spend less time online.

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  49. If I don't count my magazine freelancing, I'm in your Level C with my novels, and I *think* I'm about where I should be when it comes to networking. I find it's way too easy to spend huge amounts of time reading blogs and composing thoughtful comments for all my cyberfriends. On my own blog I've had to consolidate my comments more instead of answering individually, and then alternate the days I visit different blogs to keep my time online within reasonable limits. Otherwise it eats into my writing time terribly! I think this Level C is a good time to be figuring out how to balance the different aspects of our writing lives, figuring out what works best for us, and practicing self-discipline when it comes to our online time.

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  50. I'm level A and a half ;). Because well, I haven't finished anything yet, but I'm soaking up all the writing blog information I need. And I'm pretty much connected everywhere.

    Your stuff is a great, and a reminder of what I should really be spending my time doing. I plan to start pumping words again on monday. Lol.

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  51. Thank you...I really needed this today.

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