The challenge for fiction writers is to get noticed in a cluttered digital world. Advice is everywhere. Most of it is given by people who do social media full time. It’s not much of a reality for a writer juggling a day job and a side hustle.

But if it steals time from your writing, it’s a big problem. You’re not writing if you don’t produce new fiction.

It’s common to hear writers say they do ninety percent marketing and ten percent writing. But a new book is marketing. If the reader likes the first one, they’re out of luck buying another book if there isn’t one!

But most social media advice for fiction writers is terrible.

Fiction is hard to sell with social media. Most of the recommendations are for entrepreneurs who have a business. For example, if I had a time management business, I could post on various social media platforms tips and advice. It would be useful for the people reading it. If I hit the right spots, they might contact me for a consultation.

For a fiction writer? The earliest advice was to present yourself as an expert on your book’s topic (from entrepreneurs, of course!). This is problematic for a variety of reasons.

The most obvious is that the “expertise” might only apply to one book. I’m working on Broken Notes, which is set in a Queen Anne historical house. Okay, I could blog loosely as an expert on that. Maybe. But my next book is going to be a fantasy. Now what? Blog as an expert on unicorns?

You can see how silly that advice is.

Less obvious is the time suck it can become. When I co-wrote, my partner posted on Civil War firearms. It was part of the setting, and he knew a lot about the topic. We both told ourselves we would build readers that way.

There was a lot of interest in the posts. We regularly received emails about them. And most of the emails were “What’s my grandpappy’s muzzle loader worth?” None of the people visiting were interested in the books.

As a result, writers gravitate to writing tips. Usually, they’re beginners, and often don’t realize they’re providing bad advice. These types of pages attract other beginning writers, but not readers. In 2017, a writing duo was indie publishing fiction and had a popular sideline for fiction writers. They discovered the writing sideline was messing up their algorithms on one of the booksellers, causing their sales to decline. A writer might buy one of their novels, but not be a reader of that genre. So they discontinued the writing classes.

The problem is that this area sells more quickly than fiction. It’s common now to see writers blogging as experts of fiction, have books out on the topic, and even give classes. Yet, they have almost no fiction published.

There’s the additional problem of agents “requiring” writers to have thousands of followers before they submit a manuscript. It makes writers scramble to build any followers, even if they’re not buyers.

But it’s a backdoor rejection. The agent knows it’s challenging to have that many followers without a published novel. Exactly how would you build a following when you haven’t established any trust with future readers?

An agent who requires that isn’t interested in finding new writers. They’re only looking for established ones. So they give the writer a task that’s probably impossible to complete, and the writer never submits the manuscript.

So what the heck do you do then?

Promotion that is writing

This is easy because it makes use of what you’re already doing. Spend some time learning what genre. If you just dismissed that, saying, “I know what it is,” you need to know more. I did the same thing, and it turned out I was overbalancing on personal preferences.

Genre is a marketing label so readers know what to expect. If you write a romance, they expect a happily ever after. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like happy endings. The genre requires it.

 If you write science fiction, you need strong world-building. I read a book billed as a “Sci-Fi Mystery like J.D. Robb.” No to all three. The author had too much science fiction for a mystery, not enough mystery for a mystery, and not enough science fiction for science fiction. Then there was the romance that took over the story halfway through. Genre conventions are important for the reader.

Another area to work on is short stories. If you get into a professional rate magazine, it’s worth a fortune in promotion. If you run out of markets, then you indie publish individually and in a collection.

Finally, publish twenty books. Readers won’t start trusting a writer until they hit that mark. The books can be novellas, novels, non-fiction, or collections—but should be long fiction (doesn’t work with individual short stories). I’m just starting to hit that now, and I’m seeing sales bounce up.

Set boundaries on time

Social media is designed to be addictive. The companies want to pull you in and keep you scrolling to the next post, tweet, or picture. So you have to be ruthless about your time. It’s alarmingly easy to spend a lot of time on it without realizing it.

Start by not doing any social media close to the time you write. It’ll bleed into your writing time too easily.

Then set a boundary on how much time you can spend. You can use an external boundary to help keep it in check. For example, if you’re waiting on your food to cook, that might be a good time to grab some quick time on social media.

Select only two social media platforms

These words of wisdom came from Craig Martelle at Superstars. He runs the 50K to 20 Books Conference in Las Vegas.

It’s making sure you don’t spend all your time trying to keep up with multiple social media platforms. It takes a lot of time just posting to two, and one of mine is my blog!

You might see other writers posting to all the platforms. Those writers either aren’t producing much new or they have a lot of help. James Patterson has forty-one people doing that for him.

You might have to spend money

When I say that, I’m not talking about buying ads. Writers always default to that first and it should be way, way down the line, after you’ve tried all the free ane inexpensive options. Ads should be leveraged when you have a lot of books so you can get lots of sales.

But you might need tools to help you save time. For example, you might use Buffer to post tweets during the day. When I signed up for Book Funnel to build my newsletter, I used Buffer to set up the book giveaway tweets. It’s still hard because I have to create enough Tweets for a week. You’d think four a day isn’t that much, but it is! I’ve wrestled with finding the time for it. Do I write a month’s worth? Or do I do a week’s worth? Do I post on the day? And I still have to be a human being more than someone auto-tweeting.

Last word…

A trend emerging for the “influencers” is burnout. These are people who are producing a video for YouTube every week, then popping in for an interview on another influencer’s video feed. They’re “on” all the time, trying to “have it all.”

But it takes its toll. A food blogger I followed bowed out earlier this year. She just couldn’t keep up anymore. Others have invited other bloggers to post or have changed what they do.

With our day jobs and limited time, sometimes it’s just as important to let it go for today.