Teaching an Old Dog New Social Media Tricks

“What do you mean, I need to use social media? I’m publishing a book, and I don’t care what Ashton Kutcher had for breakfast!”
Well, the conversation with my publisher didn’t exactly go like that, but it was pretty close.

I am a dinosaur. I admit it. A year ago, what I knew about social media wouldn’t have left the inside of a thimble dusty. In the days before Al Gore invented the Internet, people like me used libraries, reference books and honest to God printed words – on paper. So, when my publisher told me I needed a social media presence, I whined like a kindergartener who missed his nappy. “WHY?”

And, like that overtired little tike, I whined about the wrong thing. It wasn’t why, but, what the hell do I do now? I’m an old dog, happy and content in my little yard. So, now I have to go do the Twitter. That’s the place kids hang out and share fashion tips and cat pictures. I’ve seen them in Starbucks with their bejeweled smartphones. I have underwear older than these kids. Heck, my kids are on Twitter. My publisher walked me down from the window ledge and gave me a tutorial on follows, favorites, retweets and hashtags.

My biggest concern was that diving into the social media pool would be a big time suck and strip away valuable minutes that I could spend writing, actually putting words on the page. The publisher’s advice boiled down to, “Use that discipline writers are supposed to have and carve out a few hours a week.” Hours? Hours don’t grow on trees. I need those hours to write. (If I really used my time effectively and stopped procrastinating about writing in the first place, then I’d have a complaint. That’s a subject for an upcoming post)

Ready to feel the time sucked away from my writing life, I set out into the Twitterverse and started stalking (ahem, I mean following) familiar authors, a few unknown writers and book folks. The first Twitter “Ah-Ha” moment came in the form of an in your face, repetitive sales pitch begging me to buy an author’s book. This is social media? Spam? The author kept tweeting the same thing over and over. It felt like a pipe wrench to the temple. After a week of that nauseating message, I promised myself I wouldn’t touch that book, even if it garnered every literary award known to mankind. Twitter had veritable oceans of spam, but nestled in among this refuse were honest to God authors who weren’t pawning their wares like a crack addict at flea market.

There seemed to be two very different groups of authors on Twitter, those who beat you to death with their “buy my book message,” and the authors who supported other writers, connected with readers and were accessible. I discovered (through my exhaustive stalking) the latter group had far more to offer including an occasional link to their work and insight into what made them tick, as a writer. These were the people I wanted to follow and learn more about, and I have picked up a book or two after learning more about that author. Huh, this is what my publisher meant by connecting, not selling.

The Facebook author page started later and while I’m grappling with the whole “like” thing, I now see that it is about letting people know who you are and where to go if they have the urge to learn more. There are a whole host of people who kindly let you know when you’re not posting right, or sending a tweet with the right addresses, without making you feel like a total jackass.

For all my splashing about in the shallow end of the social media pool, I’ve connected with some really fun, interesting and very talented writers. The conversations on Twitter, Facebook, and within a number of blogs, reinforced several things for me. All writers carry self-doubt about their own work, all of us have different methods for dealing with outlining, plotting and writing a difficult scene. Social media allows for an open exchange of ideas and reminds the author that while writing is a solitary activity, others are facing or have overcome the same obstacles. You can promote your work, but the real value comes in the connection with others and celebrating their success. I don’t claim to be anything more than what and who I am, a writer. If my unique blend of experience can help someone else move closer to their publishing goal, then great.

There is something of a time suck factor with social media but, as with most things in life, you get out, what you put in. I’ve grown to enjoy the interaction and social media has added to my book sales numbers, with referrals from Twitter and Facebook. Hopeful those numbers will continue to grow as I get more comfortable as an old dog using new tricks.


  1. As someone knew to social media (who has also had a few tantrums along the way), I enjoyed reading your post, James. Like yourself, I’ve been weeding out those whose tweeting pattern “felt like a pipe wrench to the temple” (your line is worth repeating!). The rule I made with myself was that before I followed anyone, I would look at their profile, their tweets and links to their website. My following/follower numbers aren’t high, but I want quality not quantity. I’m still not sure if I get the “interaction” of Twitter…but maybe in time? Even if it never gets past feeling a bit one-dimenstional, Twitter has been a great way to find people who have great information to share. As a new writer, I’m learning some invaluable tips. Thanks again for the great post, James.

    1. Thanks Diane. You’re right about the limited interaction with followers on Twitter. When I see an interesting conversation scroll by on the timeline and I want to jump in, then I notice that it happened three hours earlier. Or, if a few folks have been going on for a while, I’m reluctant to butt in at the last minute. However, there are good folks out their, like you, who make it all worthwhile. Thanks again. J

  2. James, I love this very honest post. I actually found you through a Twitter follower @jay_squires. Oh, the irony! You might enjoy reading about my entree to Twitter two years ago: http://lauraoutoftheblue.wordpress.com/2012/01/01/how-twitter-changed-my-life/
    I began tweeting because that’s what writers are expected to do these days. It’s been an exciting ride and I’ve connected with a lot of wonderful writers along the way. Through fellow authors I’ve met on Twitter, I have received advance copies of books to review and have been asked to write guest posts on others’ blogs. It is tedious in the beginning (to say the least) but well worth the effort if you persevere. Happy to meet you. And happy writing! p.s. Hope you’ll follow me @ncbeachgirl75 and @defyingsmall.

    1. Thanks very much for the comments. I looked back at your January 2012 Blog Post on your first foray into the Twitterverse and really picked up on some of the striking similarities with my own experiences. Twitter introduced me to new writers and encouraged me to read their work, even though it was something way outside of my usual genre. I’ll will, most definitely follow you on Twitter and I’ll connect with your blog as well. Nice to meet you. Take care.

  3. […] me for what I was, a fledgling little Twitterer. I mentioned this journey on an earlier post, Teaching An Old Dog Social Media Tricks. Every so often, I’d get a message, to kindly remind me, “Hey numb nuts, don’t […]

  4. […] I joined social media, unwillingly, but finally got into the swing of things, but the fine line of getting information about a book release, or promotion out there is difficult to find. Too much ME, ME, ME and you’re a spammer, the lowest of the low on the Internet evolutionary chain. You tweet it out once, maybe twice and your message swept up like a cow in a tornado, never to be seen again. […]

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