May 26, 2011

Kirstyn McDermott on Authors and Social Media


Welcome to the eighth interview in the Authors and Social Media series; where I interview some of Australia’s most acclaimed speculative fiction authors.  Today we have Kirstyn McDermott answering 5 questions on Authors and Social Media.


1. How important do you view social media to selling your books or interacting with fans?


Social media is playing an increasingly important role in word-of-mouth book sales and general publicity and it’s not something that authors and publishers can afford to overlook. That said, I don’t think it’s vital for each and every author to become a social media ninja, especially if it’s not an arena they feel comfortable playing in. (Bad social media skills can be worse than having no social media presence at all.) The exciting thing about the way social media works is that you don’t have to be on Twitter or Facebook or even blog regularly – you simply have to come to the attention of those who do. And I do think that good work will eventually get the right sort of attention even if the author isn’t out there every day aggressively promoting themselves online. Because quality still counts.

When it comes to interacting with fans, social media is awesome for direct, immediate and easy contact. That comes with its own problems relating to personal space and time management, of course, but for me these are definitely outweighed by the advantages.



2. Do you or would you want to receive any guidance from your publisher/agent on interacting via social media, both in a technical sense or in a 'professional presentation' sense?


I haven’t received any guidance from my publisher – although my agent has despairingly warned me about the timesucking perils of Facebook – and I’m not sure it’s the sort of advice I’d want. I’m careful in the way I use social media, from a personal perspective, but also very casual about it. Official “guidelines” wouldn’t really sit well with me but then I have made my own unofficial ones which I try to follow. I know some authors who have harnessed social media in a big way and have really take advantage of the promotional capabilities of various platforms. I don’t really have the time to do that and I also don’t feel it’s something I want to do just yet. Right now I’m happy just interacting with people on a personal level and allowing the professional stuff to bleed in when necessary. I’m probably a lot more “professional” about my blog/website these days whereas Twitter is still somewhere I get to play around and goof off a lot more.



3. There have been some recent examples of inexperienced authors reacting badly on the Internet in response to blog reviews e.t.c., what are your thoughts on being social media savvy? What advice would you give to new authors?


It’s really important to remember that social media is, quite simply, people. So you have to behave online pretty much the same way you might behave when interacting with people offline. Be nice. Be polite. Be helpful. Don’t run around in circles tearing your hair out and screaming loudly. That will get you noticed, sure, but in all the wrong ways. Face to face, people tend to be fairly good in their dealings with each other. Put an interface between us – be that a car, a letter, a uniform, a computer screen – and it appears to give us license to be awful. Add anonymity into the equation and that license becomes unlimited.

So my advice would be to remember that behind every computer screen sits another human being, and you should treat them as such. In short, don’t be a dick on the internet. And if you think someone else is being a dick, then walk away and take a few deep breaths before you respond. Lastly – and this is really important – keep in mind that the internet is public and forever. So don’t put anything online that you wouldn’t be happy for anyone to see or read. That includes your mother. And your stalker.



4. In my experience Social media breaks down normal communication conventions.  People can be more familiar and 'take liberties'.  Have you experienced problems where this ease of communication has lead to followers/fans 'crossing the line' or has your experience been entirely positive?


I haven’t really experienced any problems of this nature, but then I don’t think I have a high enough profile to attract this sort of attention. Actually, one of the best random online experiences I’ve had happened a few years ago when I sold something on eBay and the person who bought it later enquired if I was the Kirstyn McDermott who had written a particular short story they’d read a couple of years previous. They’d liked it so much that my name had stuck with them – this was well before I had a website or any real social media presence – and I was pretty well chuffed to have them mention it.



5. How vital is social media to the genre in which you write and how do you think social media will effect the way you write and interact in the future?


I work in the speculative fiction genre, and within that in the smaller subgenre of dark fantasy/horror. From the perspective of both professional networking and building a community of readers, critics, writers and other creatives, social media is a powerful and as yet unrivalled tool. One of the downsides, however, is the tribe mentality it can foster. Communities are awesome; tribes not so much. I feel highly uncomfortable whenever an “Us vs Them” dichotomy raises its head, and there’s been a lot of Genre vs Literary and even Genre vs Genre talk going on in recent years. There always has been of course, but social media amplifies it. On the other hand, social media also helps break down literary barriers and bleed genres into one another, creating exposure for a variety of work outside of traditional bookstore shelving systems. Once again, it’s very much a game of swings and roundabouts.

In terms of affecting the way I write, I’m not sure. I see great potential in using the internet and social media for different types of storytelling but it’s not an area I’ve yet had time to explore in any great depth. Social interaction is actually a problem for me. I really need to hone my time management skills and learn to carve out quality time away from the internet. Not just to write, but to think creatively. That’s vitally important to me as a writer and I feel it’s something I’m allowing social media to displace to a certain extent right now.


I’d like to thank Kirstyn for taking the time to answer my questions.  I hope you enjoyed her answers as much as I did. If you’re interested in checking out her work Kirstyn has been very busy this year:

She’s taken home a Ditmar for the short story "She Said" and was nominated for best novel for  Madigan Mine.  Madigan Mine also took out best horror novel at the Aurealis Awards.

You mustn't forget the rather extraordinary podcast she co-hosts with noted critic and writer Ian Mond at The Writer and the Critic.

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