I’m a lucky guy. Although I never received credit (I didn’t have an agent), I was fortunate enough to have done some “script-doctoring” on a few forgettable network TV series back in the 90s. Of course, as a writer, I also had aspirations of penning the next great American novel, or at least one that would be a best-seller. But then Al Gore had to go invent the Internets and I didn’t do much writing for over a decade.
Fast-forward a few years and social media, tablets, e-readers and e-books are changing everything. Indeed, there’s never been a better time to be an aspiring author. You can build an audience on your own, sell directly to your readers and pocket the cash without splitting a penny with a publisher or an agent. As a result, I’ve not only taken the dive back into writing, I’ve become fascinated with how writers are using social media to build their careers (and to sell more books).
In this post, the first in a series about how authors are using social media, I interviewed Jonathan Maberry, author of such zombie brain-feasts as Patient Zero, Rot & Ruin, Dust & Decay, Dead of Night and Wanted Undead or Alive (for more about How Jonathan uses social media and zombies, read the full, extended interview at Addicted to Social Media.com).
Please tell our readers about yourself. Who is Jonathan Maberry?
I’m a professional writer and part-time writing teacher. I write thrillers, horror novels, post-apocalyptic adventures for teens, movie tie-ins, and short stories. And I freelance for Marvel Comics. I teach a weekly writing class for teens and run a few classes on novel writing for adults.
Before I went full time as an author I had a grab-bag of different jobs. I was a bouncer in a strip club (in my wild youth), a bodyguard in the entertainment industry, a college teacher, the executive director of a writers center, an Expert Witness for the Philadelphia D.A.’s office (for murder trials involving martial arts), and a graphic artist.
I live on Bucks County, Pennsylvania with my wife, Sara Jo.
When, and more importantly, why did you decide to start using social media?
I got involved with message boards early on, but mostly to communicate with like-minded people on subjects that interested me; martial arts, books, film, the paranormal, folklore…things like that.
Then, while teaching a program at the Writers Room in Doylestown, PA, one of my students made a presentation on the subject of a new thing called ‘social media’. At the time the hot topic was MySpace. I wound up exploring MySpace and then becoming heavily invested in the online community.
That student was Don Lafferty, who is now a publisher, writer and a social media consultant of some note. He frequently advises a number of other successful authors on social media.
What platforms are you on?
I’m all over the place, but I’m most heavily invested in Twitter, Facebook (regular page and group page), LinkedIn, and GoodReads. I rely heavily on Yahoo Groups for my classes and special projects –such as an anthology I’d editing, and we use the message board for posting info, submissions, and so on. I also have a website (www.jonathanmaberry.com), and I belong to Shelfari, LibraryThing, and a bunch of message boards –many of which are connected to writers organizations to which I belong (The Mystery Writers of America, Horror Writers Association, International Thriller Writers, Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers.
For authors, what platforms would you recommend?
The big three are Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. That’s where the crowd hangs out, that’s where they talk, and that’s where the most useful connections are made. I also recommend that all writers join GoodReads and LibraryThing, and also build a website that draws a lot of traffic to one central point.
What’s your social media strategy?
I spend most of my time having fun. I read a lot of the posts other people make, and comment as often as I have something interesting (or funny) to say. I also post a lot of humor. These are dark times, so lightening the mood seems to work. I post links to events and publications by other writers and to items that I feel are of general interest. I’m a science and pop culture geek, so there’s a lot of that in what I post.
So, my strategy is to post positive stuff and generally have fun on the Net.
One thing that has greatly increased the traffic to my platforms and dialed up the volume of interactive posts is to include my readers in my projects. I’ll have contests online for people to name characters (including letting them win the chance to have a character named after them); or to pick the title of my next book; or win something nice like a Kindle or Nook. And, yes, giving out prizes is fun for me, too.
Has social media helped sales? If so, how are you measuring that?
Social media definitely bumps up sales. I see it in the analytics that track click-throughs from newsletters or social media posts to purchase sites like online booksellers.
And with social media I’ve been able to build an international fanbase that I might not otherwise have built. Publishing houses can’t afford to send as many writers on tour these days, and even when they do it’s usually a limited tour.
What kinds of interactions do you see people/fans responding to?
It’s pretty clear to anyone who visits my Twitter or Facebook page that I’m having an enormous amount of fun driving my jet-ski at high speed through the social media seas. Fun is infectious; people want to play with the happy kid in the playground. Try it out. Make a negative post and count the ‘likes’ and reposts then post something fun like a link to a cartoon (I post a ton of cartoons), a fascinating bit of science trivia (zombie ants, for example), praise for someone else’s accomplishments and then see how many MORE hits there are. Positive trumps negative every time.
At the same time I believe that people respond to my integrity. I never bash, never descend to base humor, and I don’t use the Net to proselytize any political agendas. I think that also engenders within them a greater sense of trust in the quality of the products I have on the market. Integrity and good will are hard to fake in anything but the short term, so people who hang out with me online know they’re safe and that something weird or silly is going to happen. We all dig that vibe.
Do you see social media becoming part of the story telling process?
It already is. We use social media to engage interest and to share information. The Net encourages us to get to the heart of our message, and as a result we’ve learned (and continue to learn) how to do that. The 140 character limit on Twitter is brilliant, and the fact that you can post a quick message and a hot link allows people to jump right in.
From a different perspective, some folks are using social media as an actual delivery system for storytelling. The Japanese Twitter novels are an example of that, but that’s been going on for years and I don’t see it catching fire here in the States. That said, I think the door is open for some new kind of multi-platform and interactive storytelling that we haven’t seen yet. I’ll bet money that it will happen. And, yeah, once it’s there I’ll probably experiment with it.
I hear you’re in talks to develop one of your books into a TV series. Do you see social media/Twitter playing a role?
That’s one of those Hollywood horror stories. Sony Pictures had optioned Patient Zero for TV. They hired Emmy Award winning writer Javier Grillo-Marxuach to do the pilot script, and he nailed it. They brought it to ABC, and we got all the way down to the wire so that it was pretty much a decision between my show and a remake of Charlie’s Angels. And they went with the Angels.
As of now, the option is open again and my agent has been fielding reach-outs from various producers, so we’ll see. We’re all pretty optimistic, however.
Once something does catch fire, social media will be crucial. I’ve seen how that worked for The Walking Dead, a show based on the comics by my friend Robert Kirkman. The production company was all over the Net with that. It was everywhere, and it paid off, because the show was an instant hit as it deserved to be. But without social media buzz, it might have struggled to gain an audience and might not have done so soon enough to get the nod for a second season. Social media greatly helped that show.
Do you think zombies make good tweeters?
They’re relentless and they never tire, so yeah…they’ll be tweeting 24/7 with only a short break for some fresh brains.
Can you recommend any zombie related Twitter accounts, our readers are dying to know (pun intended)?
For more about How Jonathan uses social media and zombies, read the full, extended interview at Addicted to Social Media.com. And if you’d like to read any of Jonathan’s books, click on the links below.
- Ghost Road Blues
- Dead Man’s Song
- Bad Moon Rising
- Patient Zero
- The Dragon Factory
- The King of Plagues
- Rot & Ruin
- Dust & Decay
- Dead of Night
- “The Wind Through the Fence” (short story)
- Wanted Undead or Alive
- The Wolfman
Neal Wiser is the owner of Neal Wiser Consulting, a Digital Marketing consulting firm. You can follow Neal on Twitter (his handle is @NealWiser). Neal is also the Cofounder and Co-host of the Addicted to Social Media Podcast. You can also read more of Neal’s Twitip posts here or on his blog at NealWiser.com.