How Essential is an Online Presence to a Writer's Career?

We live in rapidly changing times. What worked for writers ten, five, even one year ago, has changed—and continues to change, especially in the areas of marketing and publicity.

A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to participate in an author Media Training Webinar by Phenix & Phenix Literary Publicists. It was packed full of great information on how to prepare for and polish radio, print, and television interviews, as well as online publicity. I came away from the webinar, asking myself what’s really going to help my marketing the most and where should I focus my limited time and energy?

Then last week I read Erik Qualman’s post, Social Media Revolution May 5, 2010. He likens the Social Media Revolution to the Industrial Revolution in its scope in changing the world. Here are a few of his statistics:

• “Over 50% of the world’s population is under 30-years-old. 96% of them have joined a social network.”

• “If Facebook were a country it would be the world’s 3rd largest ahead of the United States and only behind China and India.”

• “The fastest growing segment on Facebook is 55-65 year-old females.”

• “Ashton Kutcher and Britney Spears (combined) have more Twitter followers than the populations of Sweden, Israel, Switzerland, Ireland, Norway, and Panama.”

• “Years to Reach 50 million Users: Radio (38 Years), TV (13 Years), Internet (4 Years), iPod (3 Years)…”

After reading such statistics (his post lists more), it’s obvious traditional methods of marketing cannot keep up with the online explosion. Qualman summarizes the trend in this statement: “Social Media isn’t a fad, it’s a fundamental shift in the way we communicate.” And he says this, “Because of the speed in which social media enables communication, word of mouth now becomes world of mouth.”

There are times when we writers look at the social media sites negatively—especially when they distract from quality writing time. But we can no longer stick our heads in the sand and hope Facebook, Twitter, and other social media go away.

If we hope to succeed in marketing, then we MUST go to where people are congregating. And that happens to be online—in a really big way. And it’s only getting bigger.

If an online presence is essential, what can writers do to keep up with the changing times? Here are a few of my ideas:

1. Familiarize ourselves with the online writing industry. There are more writing and publishing related blogs than one person can keep up with. I recommend finding a handful of favorites to read on a weekly basis. In doing so, we can keep ourselves up-to-date on industry standards and happenings. Here are a few places to start:

Top Five Agent Blogs for 2010 according to Writer’s Digest Chuck Sambuchino
Best of Twitter according to Writer’s Digest JaneFriedman (even if you’re not on twitter, this list helps narrow down the most helpful writing-related blog posts each week)
Writer’s Digest Online Magazine contains an incredible amount of helpful writing advice with links to all of the editor’s blogs

2. Don’t be afraid to try out new social media sites. I often hear writers who say they can’t join sites (like Facebook or Twitter) because they don’t have time. My question for those of us serious about publication is this: Can we afford NOT to make the time? If online marketing is truly the way of the future, then why wouldn’t we want to do whatever we can to join in and meet people where they’re at?

3. Know when to jump in. I previously outlined how to set priorities at different stages of the writing career including how much effort we should give marketing in each one. To summarize, I believe newer writers need to spend the majority of time focused on writing. However, I don’t think it’s ever too early to join online communities, meet other writers, and learn about the industry.

4. Don't jump in too fast and furiously. I’ve seen so many writers start blogging, twittering, or facebooking at top speed. They’re excited and spend an incredible amount of time at it. And then they fizzle out. I don’t see them much, and then eventually not at all. They try to do too much too soon and get burned out. Start slow and steady, and be consistent.

5. Most importantly, use social media to build relationships. It’s not a popularity contest or a race to see who can get the most followers. It’s also not a place where we pop in only to share our good news, contest wins, book sales, etc. In other words, it's not all about us. Rather, social media sites are largely about socializing—communicating and building relationships with others.

If you have time, Qualman's video is worth watching:

In light of the video and statistics, how important do you think social media is to a writer’s career? What other ideas do you have for how writers can keep up with the changing times?


  1. It is huge, so thanks so much for the links and video. I'm still on the fence about Twitter, though.

  2. I love all the links! Thanks. And you are right...newbies need to focus on writing. I tend to get sucked into the internet when I should be working on my stories. I'm learning least trying to be more disciplined. :)

  3. Great links. I will say, as an unagented writer with no offers to be published anytime soon (ha ha), I try not to spend TOO much time blogging or tweeting.

    Right now, most of my time should be spent WRITING. It's easy to get caught up in accumulating more followers, but that shouldn't be my top priority. Writing a great story should come first.

    I limit my blogging to twice a week and don't tweet nearly as much as some people I see on Twitter but I'm okay with that. Hopefully one day my prioritizing will pay off.

    Great post, Jody!
    Hope you had a fabulous Mother's Day (chocolate and all). ;)

  4. Another great and informative post! I really appreciate all you are willing to research and share with us.

    I think it's about balance (isn't everything?). I realized I was spending too much time with social media and not enough on writing and research. So I've backed off, even designating weekends as "e-free." (Sometimes I'll schedule a couple of tweets for a Saturday or Sunday, but I don't post them on those days.)

    I also pray a lot more than I used to about what God wants/know I should do with regards to navigating all this e-stuff. My e-sabbaths have really helped me hear His voice and wisdom and direction in this area a lot more.

    And of course, reading your blog does, too! :)

    Writing mercies, Jody!

  5. Great post Jody. I agree we need to be were the people are. I am not so engrossed though that life can't happen or that I don't notice it happening. Because however much we might build virtual relationships I think it is the real face to face ones that demand our attention. :)

  6. Terrific post, Jody. I'm one of those writers who loves Twitter and Facebook.

    A few of my family members don't get the purpose of social media and think it's kind of dumb, but when I explain it's for creating a platform, their eyes begin to glaze over. :)

    Thanks for the tips and links. :)

  7. This is such a hot topic for those of us out here trying to get noticed. I love twitter, and find it addicting, but have wondered if I am wasting my time there. But then, I realize how many invaluable resources I have discovered there that I never would have known about otherwise. It is a balancing act. Thanks for this very informative blog! molly

  8. Fantastic post, Jody. I've often wondered, over the past 3 months since I jumped into the social media ring if my time was worth it. I still believe we (me, me, me) must learn to balance it, but I'm glad to know it's viewed as a vital way to market oneself.

    I've tweeted this. It's worthy.

  9. Internet is such a time sucker. We must find balance and priortize according to the goals we think are most important. If finishing a book is what keeps us up at night, then we shouldn't be spending hours on Twitter. But I love Twitter and Facebook for catching up with writers and friends, and keeping up with what's going on in their lives.

    I also don't see how we can ignore Twitter, Facebook or Blogging as the most important outlets out there to reaching and interacting with future readers.

  10. Great advice. To stay on top of technology we have to learn about it. Technology changes so fast that it is a challenget to keep up. I worked in an IT dept of our school district and let me tell you technology waits for no one. :)

  11. It's been beneficial to me in the relationships I've developed. The blogging is great for the creative mind and free writing. I love to promote other authors/books I love. And I wanted a place where agents I'm querying to find me online and get to know me better. So my goals were fulfilled.

    When you have a book out, I think it's great for buzz and marketing. Every little bit has to help.

  12. Great post. Social media...*sigh* sad but true. It's here to stay. I'm sure it's going to change forms hundreds of times in our lifetime, but yes, it's definitely here to stay.


  13. Hey Jody,

    You're right on when you say it's about building relationships. When we forget that, that's when we're wasting our time!

    I'm a big supporter of social media -- not just using it, but using it effectively. Your readers might benefit from this blog post: How to use Facebook to -- shhh -- promote your book.

    Have a great week!

  14. Great advice, Jody. I'm all for slow and steady and focusing on relationship building when it comes to Social Media. I also think it is much more enjoyable that way, more human centered because afterall we are hoping to connect with the real people on the other end of those blogs, facebook and twitter accounts.
    Thanks, Jody!!

  15. We cannot ignore the power of the social media network. It is ours to learn and control to our benefit, or not.

    Building name recognition is important!

    Great post!

  16. Hmmm. Love your posts, girl..

    I'm grappling with this. You NEED to be that superperson to keep up with all the social networking issues, so when can you write and rewrite and really craft a book, which is like producing really good wine or cheese. Time, time, time, yeah.

    If anything has to go, for me it needs to be networking. Otherwise the "great novel" won't be so great...

    Make sense?


  17. I still think I'm finding a balance between what is the right amount of time to spend on social media and when it crosses that line and turns into procrastination!

  18. Those statistics are interesting! The blow my away. And your tips are great, as always.

    How odd and exciting to see that last name! Erik e-mailed me once; we are not related. At least, not in an immediate way. But I think it's totally cool to have two Qualman writers! :)

  19. Excellent post, Jody. Those statistics are staggering. It really is a different world now,and as writers, I think we need to keep up if we want to truly succeed. And you're so right -- we just have to make the time to do it becuase it's so important.

    This year, I've really expanded my presence in social networking sites. The Fresh Blood contest I'm in, which requires me to get out there and solicit votes, has forced me well outside my own comfort areas, which I'm realizing now is a good thing.

    You give some great advice here. Thank you!

  20. Those are really interesting statistics. There's no doubt having an on-line presence can be beneficial to our writing careers. I think the biggest thing, like you pointed out, is keeping it slow and steady. Be consistent and don't do so much that you can't keep up and eventually stop.

    I also think it's still better for writers who aren't contracted yet (with an agent) to work primarily on their writing and improving their craft. To make social networking important and participate but to not let it overtake writing.

  21. Jody,
    Great food for thought here. I appreciate how you clarify who and when the tweeting and FBing should happen. As part of a marketing campaign it only makes sense to go where the people are. One surely must embrace the new ways of doing things or get left behind.

    When/if the time comes to market a book I hope I can overcome my aversion to social media.

    Thanks again for the good thoughts.

  22. Can you imagine trying to be a writer in this day and age and not participating in social networking? I have to say though that I've looked up a lot of established authors and some that were just published last year and they didn't have blogs. I wonder why that is? I would imagine posting at least once in while would be an invaluable tool to touching base with your readership.

  23. I'm glad the video was a help to you, Jody! Lots more links and info coming this week:)


  24. Thanks for an insightful post! I've been grappling lately with trying to balance the social networking with the WRITING, which I never have enough time for anyway. You are spot on about needing to go slow and steady! :)

  25. I think it's helpful to organize how time is used. We can do things more efficiently that way.

    It helps me to limit my time online and then prioritize within it. And I can do things a little less often. Maybe I can't visit all my followers and commenters every day. But I can probably visit everyone once a month. I can visit each commenter once a week. Would I like it to be more often. Yes, very much! But I have to be realistic. And I know that any visit is better than none.

    It's interesting, too, how we can do much with small snippets of focused time. For example, while eating lunch today I can visit your blog! And I love being here with you, BTW.

  26. At my stage, I've found the most important thing about having a web presence is making friends that are writers.

  27. Wow, I knew the Lord was leading me to read your post today, Jody. This is excellent material--thank you, dear one.

    I think new writers should spend 75% of thier time writing and 25% building up a following; for more experienced ones, jump to 50/50.

    Writing seems to require more discipline that social networking. I think that's because we are forcing our brains to work, and social networking is playing mostly.

  28. Funny this is your topic when I wrote about not participating in Facebook and Twitter today. Timing is important and for me, slow, organic growth is important until I've written something that is ready to be shared with the world. I don't want to burn out. I want to be there for the proverbial long haul. So, other than blogging, I'm trying to spend more time improving my writing. FB and Twitter, etc, will come when I am ready.

  29. I don't doubt history will show that communicating via social media surged ahead during this decade and I agree with Qualman's statement that “Social Media isn’t a fad, it’s a fundamental shift in the way we communicate.” But when I read his video comment that “Wikipedia has over 15 million articles. Studies show it’s as accurate as Encyclopedia Britannica" I began questioning his source of statistics.

    (Like absolutely everything online, Wikipedia's information is posted by anyone who wants to post something. It is regulated only by its users. It's a valuable source of information, but my grandmother's warning still holds true: "Don't believe everything you read.")

    Personally, I think our preoccupation with social media has become addictive. As a marketing tool it's extremely important but I think we need to learn how and when to use it most effectively instead of believing that our all-consuming obsession with it is justified. I appreciate your point #3, that we need to know when to jump in.

    Now I think I'll climb off my soapbox and go write a post on this topic for my own blog! ;)

  30. What a wonderful post! No new writer can have enough publicity!!!

  31. Holy great information, Batman!! This post is a gold mine of info, Jody. Thank you, thank you, thank you! :-)

  32. Social media is so, so, so important for a writer's career, but at my stage of the game, I think the writing must come first. That's why I've been taking so many breaks from social networking.

  33. Great post as always, Jody. Because I have my first book coming out next year I'm trying to do a very intricate juggling act. It is not easy as you know, but you're doing a tremenous job.

    I work full-time outside the home and have a bunch of family responsiblilites. I think we all have to look at our situations and respond to them the only way we can as individuals.

    For me, I thought it important to update my website while I work on book 2 of my series. I hired PulsePoint Design. That's probably one of the smartest things that I could have done. It took a tremendous load off of me and now I have the site up at I'm on Facebook but haven't jumped into Twitter yet. One thing at a time.

    I'm going to the Blueridge Christian Writers Conference next week where I plan to pick everyone's brains about all this stuff, but especially Jim Rubart's brain.

  34. Great post, Jody. I think the biggest dilemma folks face is knowing which ones are ideal for them. There are so many options. The biggies--Facebook and Twitter--are obvious for networking purposes, but there are others. Some fade away, like MySpace, and new ones spring up everyday. A writer can put too much time into social networking...and not enough into writing.

  35. This was so interesting to read. I love the numbers - they made me laugh and a little nervous all at the same time. I appreciate your list of links - the size of it (short) as well as the links themselves.

    I think the best way to keep up is to read and to join cautiously and to pay attention to balance.

  36. Wow, Jody, the statistics say it all. Most of the sites are designed to be extremely user friendly, so we have no excuse to not at least set up accounts and pop in once a day.

  37. It is interesting to see how things have changed along these lines even in the last 10-15 years. I think an online presence is necessary, but I think balance is the key. I know authors who have little to no presence, yet are successful, and others who seem to be everywhere, and succeed as well. Like you said, writing must be our first priority.

  38. This is some great advice. Thanks! I think social networking is so much more integral to garnering an audience than we'd care to admit. Times are always changing and it's hard to keep up. But if we're serious about our dreams, then we have to run as fast as we can without abandoning caution as necessary.

  39. Those were some scary statistics there! :O)m

  40. This is great, Jody! It's really making me think. Thanks!

  41. Hi Jody -

    Great post! Blogging and Facebook have helped me build relationships with other writers and industry professionals. It's essential to a writer's career and wonderfully enriching.

    My late husband and I are an online statistic. We met through :)


  42. social media is so important these days. I'm only new to it because everywhere I sent my stories and my articles I'd be asked if I had a blog. lol.

    I do find it difficult to build a large following because I have so many mixed interests. And I scare a lot of other writers off because I write about God and my blog is a devotional one. I don't think I have time to maintain a 2nd blog though.

  43. Excellent post and great links!

  44. I'm a day late.. *sigh*

    I do twitter and facebook, and I blog, one personal and one a group writing blog. Love networking with other authors and old friends. And I agree, I think an online presence is critical to a writer's career.

    Of course, there is a ton of opportunities to overdo it, to spend more time "online" than writing. I have to watch myself with that.

    Love this post, Jody! Thanks for sharing!

  45. I love hearing all those statistics. Thank you so much for sharing. It's a real eye-opener.

  46. Thanks for sharing your experiences & thoughts! This post was really useful :)
    And the video, too. Never thought this much was happenning in social media networks...!

  47. I think there is so much good advice here. Too many people are afraid of jumping into social networks, or look down on them with disdain. It's very dangerous to do that if you want to have any sort of a future in a business that is so driven by public trends.

  48. In today's world, an online presence seems to be a must. It can easily be overwhelming though.

  49. A GREAT blog, Jody!

    I wrote two marketing blogs last week, myself, based in part on the same Phenix & Phenix training, combined with my PR background. Any self-employed person (like an author) cannot afford to leave social media behind.

    We have to become our own publicists, and thankfully, the tools are everywhere.

  50. Saw that video the other day. You raise some great points here. I think it is imperative that writers understand how to use social media. It's very easy to appear self-indulgent and self-promoting in the social media arena, which can hurt you much more than it can help you. I've learned a whole heck of a lot about how to successfully promote a writer via online exposure. Most of it has been common sense and instinct, but reading do's and don'ts by respected social media analysts and trend setters tells me I'm on the right track.

    Maybe I'll write a book about it one day.

  51. I think social networking is important to an extent. It's hard for me to know though, because when I was just a reader, not a writer, there were no social networks. I loved authors based on the quality of their stories.

    I think social networking is great to get the word out, but from then on it's the story that counts. All the networking in the world can't sell a bad story, imo.

    That said, I really need to sign up for twitter. I'm one of those scaredy cats who hates trying new stuff. LOL

    Great post! I don't know how you write these awesome, in-depth posts all the time!

  52. Great post Jody! I have actually been teaching social media to writers for almost three years and have a book coming out soon to help writers use all the major social media platforms to build a writing platform/become a brand...and still have time to write.

    You made some excellent, excellent points that I fully intend on quoting in a future blog.

    Writers MUST have a social media presence. It really is no longer an option. Publishing is undergoing a fundamental shift and either we writers will prepare and ride the wave, or we will be left behind wondering where the heck the wave went.

    But there is now tremendous opportunity for those who are prepared and capitalize on what social media can offer. It is now possible for an unpublished author to already have a network and fanbase in the THOUSANDS before the ink dries on the contract for the first novel. And that is just the tip of the iceberg.

    The power we now have over our own publishing success is just awesome.

    I actually have been blogging a lot about social media now that I am getting close to releasing my book, "We Are Not Alone--Writers and Social Media Marketing." There are a lot of helpful tips for making social media simple, effective and leave time for writing brilliant books!

    I hope you stop by!

    (Last week's blog made Jane Friedman's list...I am still stoked over that, :D)

    Kristen Lamb

  53. I blog about social media marketing at and I write guest posts around the web about how writers can use social media marketing.

    If you'd like to know how to start on Twitter, get my FREE report "Twitter, Facebook and Your Website: A Beginning Blueprint for Harnessing the Power of 3" at

    Phyllis Zimbler Miller

  54. Excellent reminders and lots of new info too, Jody.


  55. Really good, succint explanation of something that's hard to absorb.

    I have an example for you. During a long van ride, I entertained myself by writing a quiz for Facebook called "Which book of the Bible are you?" (You can recognize it because its icon is a sepia-toned painting of a guy with a long beard.)

    The numbers stagger me, but here they are:

    My quiz has been taken by 643,000 people since I wrote it a year ago.

    It has 2,537 fans.

    My comment to my husband is that more people have already taken this quiz than will ever POSSIBLY read one of my novels.

    (But if I'm wrong, my publisher is going to be very happy with me. Ha ha! Can you imagine?)

  56. Very grateful for your recommendation of my blog, as well as Writer's Digest. Many thanks! (And a great post as well - a message all writers need to hear. Thank you for saying it.)

  57. Jody,

    Thanks for the post and links. For years I resisted leaping into the social media forum. But everywhere I turned, there was an agent or writer tweeting or blogging about the importance of being on Twitter and Facebook. I recently got on board with Twitter and am enjoying the process. As for Facebook, I'm not there yet.

  58. Brilliant post, Jody. Without Twitter we would never have met. :)
    I do not Tweet every day, I do go on Facebook to say hi to my children in UK and Canada.

    I think it is a different world out there. Look what happened when the telephone was invented, it led to the Internet. Facebook will have its own machine one day, a Kindle thingy I am sure of it.

    Thanks for the links.

    Enjoy your weekend.

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