Authors and Social Media: An interview with Kelly Gardiner

Kelly Gardiner is a very busy woman – an author, undertaking her PhD and working part time. It’s hard to believe that she has any spare time at all, but she also blogs, tweets as @kmjgardiner and uses Facebook. And that’s when she’s not in her bush garden or feeding the chooks!

Kelly has authored several books aimed at young readers, a picture book and her latest book for young adults is Act of Faith and I give it a big thumbs up! I read the ebook version and my only complaint is that the sequel isn’t available until 2013!

Kelly and I had a chat about her use of Social Media, why it’s a benefit to her as a writer and how she manages her time.

Digireado: Kelly, you seem to have a lot on the go. Do you actually sleep or do you write all night?

Kelly Gardiner I’m lucky in that I can write anywhere: on the train, in cafes – wherever I am. I wrote my first book in a noodle shop in Auckland in my lunch breaks. But it’s not so easy to do the historical research or to do careful rewrites and edits during a daily commute. I really need, like most people, plenty of head space and time and I try to carve that out of the week as best I can. Again, like many people, I find it a struggle sometimes.

Digireado: You’re very active in social media. What are your reasons for that?

KG: I simply see it as part of the world in which I work. Many writers worry about spending time on social media but the benefits are enormous. For a start, I get fed information from people I trust (even if I don’t know them) anywhere in the world, about publishing trends, grants and competitions, industry issues and – very important for my work – updates from historians and archaeologists about historical material or events. It’s a great way to filter information so you don’t get overwhelmed.

I have noticed that this year I’m getting a lot more immediate feedback from readers and book bloggers – it’s really changed since my first books came out and, for me, changed for the better. We need to be wherever the readers are: bookshops, schools, festivals, libraries and online.

In my day job I manage websites and have done for many years, so it’s all so integrated for me now that I wouldn’t dream of doing anything else.

Digireado: A concern of some authors is they want to concentrate on their writing, and not be involved in other aspects of marketing. Is it really a necessity that authors get involved in social media?

KGThat’s fair enough, but there aren’t many authors who can get away with not being involved in marketing their work, and social media is just part of how that’s done now. I see it as part of the job, just like visiting schools or doing interviews. If you don’t do all those things, fewer people will read your words and that, after all, is the point of the exercise. But if you manage your online presence, you have a measure of control that you don’t have over the media or other marketing activities.

Certainly publishers are keen to know if an author has a profile and that includes a social media presence, because if it’s working it’s great for the publishers too.

The simple truth is, you have an online presence. We all do. It’s up to each of us to make sure that our digital footprint is one we want to leave behind us.

Digireado: Have your Publishers given you training and guidelines to follow or did you do this on your own?

KG: I’ve been blogging for many years and on social media for ages, although the platforms have changed over the years.

So it’s not hard for me to whip up a website or a book trailer, but really it isn’t hard for anyone else either. There are many simple free tools to use if you’re keen, and lots of different ways to present your work. People then have a choice: if you write for young people, maybe they’d love a book trailer; other readers like to interact with one another and with authors on GoodReads or book blogs. you can adapt to the expectations of your readership, and they’ll appreciate it.

Digireado: Do you find social media takes a lot of time and how do you make sure it doesn’t take over your writing time?

KG: Actually managing it takes a bit of setting up, but the posting itself can be streamlined. I use HootSuite so I can manage Twitter and Facebook (and several different profiles) from the one dashboard. The danger for me is not so much in spending time posting, but getting too interested in what everyone else is saying and frittering away hours. So I try to do a quick scan first thing to make sure nobody’s waiting for a response, and then turn off the browser for a few hours work.

I also like to offer a bit of value: it’s not about me. I might retweet an announcement about a funding round or a new book coming out, or post a link to an interesting news article – say, an amazing new archaeological find, or a poem by someone wonderful. That does take a little longer than just spouting whatever thought is in my head, but you wouldn’t want to read most of those anyway!

Digireado: I saw on your website that there is a book trailer. Did you create that yourself?

KG: I made that in Masher, which provides creative commons (or copyright free) video, images and music that you can mash up in their online editing tool to make your own short films. There are many tools like that, and it’s well worth having a play. It means that people can find and access information about your book more easily, and also you can say a great deal more than a blurb with music or dramatic footage and images.

Digireado: For authors who are not yet using social media is there one medium that you would recommend that they start with, and why is that?

KG: It really depends what appeals to you. I have found that my blogging has changed over the past year or so – I use it more for long-form writing when I have an idea or a few days’ worth of thinking, and the short brief bursts go onto Twitter or facebook. But blogs are often one-way or two-way communication: Twitter, for example, is both an information stream and a conversation.

The medium you choose probably depends on your audience. If you write for kids, then Facebook and YouTube are where you want to be, for example. Research authors in your field who are using social media and see what’s working for them.  Some efforts will work, some may not. Don’t expect to get a million followers in a few weeks. In fact you might end up with a couple of dozen but they may well be your most loyal readers and that’s very important.

Two important things: don’t mix up your personal profile on something like Facebook with your professional self. Set up a separate profile which represents you as an author.

And secondly nobody wants to know what you had for breakfast. Unless you’re in Venice being fed grapes by Johnny Depp or Angelina Jolie – in which case you’d best keep that to yourself anyway.

Digireado: What do you consider the worst ‘social media sin’? Is there something that you think authors need to be careful about once they venture into social media?

KG: People will forgive a great deal, but perhaps not incessant conversations with other people in full view (use email or direct messages for debriefing after that dinner party), rudeness to readers, and being dreadfully boring. I have followed people on Twitter I thought were going to be wonderful and they turned out to be like that ranting drunk who traps people in the kitchen at parties. That’s what the “Unfollow” button is for. Use it. And know that people will use it to unfollow or unlike you. Don’t be that arrogant boring person.

Social media is not about advertising and if you do nothing but that, people will get bored. It’s about engagement, about conversation. By all means tell people if you get a great review, or have a new book out, but you need to do more than that. If they are engaged with you, they’ll be delighted at good news. If you only say “buy my book” over and over, they’ll turn off. Let them know when you’re appearing at events, but make it sound like an invitation or a celebration rather than an ad.

Digireado: In Act of Faith this quote leapt out at me:

‘Look at what we are creating with our new technology. It is a revolution. The world cannot help but change. You must see that.’

In this case the character is talking about the technology to create books, yet it seems quite apt in this discussion. Are you making a point about the current technological revolution in book creation and consumption?

KG: Absolutely. Act of Faith came about in part because I was thinking about the parallels between times in history when there seemed to be a huge explosion in the availability of information and ideas; and specifically how authorities often try to shut that down. It was like that in the centuries after the development of the printing press in Europe, with more and more people learning to read, and being able to get books in their own languages, rather than Latin, as well as pamphlets and posters filled with the new ideas and philosophies that were having an impact at that time. Some people were fearful, some wary, some filled with possibility. Sound familiar?

I love, too, that we now have access to so many old texts and materials out of print or held only in collections for centuries – now digitised and available free to all of us. It’s incredible.

Digireado: You’ve given us a tantalising hint about what the sequel to Act of Faith may cover. Will you use social media to continue to reveal more about The Sultan’s Eyes in this series to be published in 2013?

KG: I will reveal hints about both the plot and characters, but also my own research process for the sequel, and my other work in progress, which is an adult novel based on the life of Mademoiselle de Maupin. I love the historical research, and I’ll be using all my online resources to both do the work and report on it as I go.

I’m in France next month, for example, researching La Maupin, and I’ll blog on my findings and use online services like Evernote and Flickr to document and share the work.

That’s the thing: being online isn’t a chore. It’s a joy.

Digireado: Thank you Kelly! I’ll be living vicariously through your blog posts while you’re in Paris!

Kelly Gardiner is an Australian writer of novels, short fiction and poems for adults, young adults and young readers. You can find out more about her writing and access some great resources for writers at www.kellygardiner.com.

Act of Faith is published by Harper Collins Australia and available at all good bookstores and ebook retailers.

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