Are you tired of Twitter? Allergic to TikTok? Resistant to making Instagram reels?
For the last six months, I was. Having enjoyed learning some new social media skills in 2021—ah, those months when making reels was actually fun!—my interest began to fade in late 2022, especially as the algorithms kept changing. Then Elon Musk bought Twitter. My own writer friends and I started complaining that we felt drained not only by the platforms themselves but also by the pressure to stay on social media or risk losing our frail connections to readers.
I’m not here to tell you that social media doesn’t have pluses for writers. In fact, it often does. There’s little evidence that social media helps sell many books (except unpredictably via TikTok, for a lucky few authors). But book sales aren’t everything. Professional relationships, I’d argue, are just as important.
Through Instagram and Twitter just in the last two years, I have 1) made writer friends with whom I remain in regular email contact; 2) joined two new writing groups; 3) deepened connections with contacts who have been willing to pair with me for bookstore events; 4) found people willing to be interviewed for articles; 5) received free books in exchange for my posting; 6) received invitations to writing conferences and other events, both virtual and IRL; 7) received an invitation to do short-term paid teaching.
So why am I complaining?
Because all those benefits are ephemeral. The algorithm changes, a new tech-bro buys your preferred platform, and suddenly those powerful new connections and opportunities are at risk.
Newsletters and private email lists, by contrast, remain algorithm and Elon Musk-free. Which means that if you’re an author and even if you haven’t personally burned out on social media, you should still build an email list for possible future use.
To this advice I’d add a further suggestion: if individual platform-building efforts are getting you down, consider a collaborative approach.
I already had two newsletters (a Substack newsletter about my experiences as a rookie Ironman triathlete, called Unlikely, and a private author and book coaching newsletter) when I got the idea to try something more cooperative.
For the last three years, I’ve been learning my way around the world of suspense fiction. Next year, my own mother-daughter thriller, set in Guatemala and called The Deepest Lake—will hit bookstores.
Wouldn’t it be cool, I started thinking in late 2022, if there was a collaborative Substack dedicated to writers and readers of suspense?
I looked around and found nothing.
So, I mulled the idea, and then I shared it with another author I hugely admire, Caitlin Wahrer (Edgar-nominated author of The Damage). We Zoomed, emailed, brainstormed, and filled out lots of Google spreadsheets with our ideas for authors to approach and topics we wanted covered. The planning was fun—fun!
Often, authors with newsletters run up against some common problems. What do I post about? And how do I ensure I don’t fizzle out and post so irregularly that my newsletter becomes embarrassing?
With a partner—and a very specific content focus, plus a sassy name, “Present Tense”—it became easier for Caitlin and I to brainstorm content and feel confident we’d go the distance, because we had each other for accountability. (It really helps when someone else expects you to get a fresh post up every other week without fail and when you know she’ll do the same. A second set of proofreading eyes helps, too.)
Our subscriber numbers are slowly ticking upward. But analytics matter less than the fact that we are enjoying ourselves, sharing our obsessions, and networking—all at the same time. We’ve already included posts by several guest authors, which is the most gratifying experience of all.
Why am I telling this story at the 49 Writers blog? Because in the early stages of launching “Present Tense,” I realized that the philosophy around this project felt familiar.
In 2008, I started a blog I called “49 Writers, No Moose.” (Read one of the earliest posts here!)
I planned it as short-term experiment—a way to bring attention to writers I admired across the state. My intention was to interview forty-nine individual writers and then stop blogging.
Soon after, I stumbled across a blog by author Deb Vanasse. We realized our interests overlapped. Even though we’d never met, we made the smart decision to combine our blogs.
Then we went further and started offering writing classes and applying for grants. Within less than a year, an organization was born, with three founding Directors (Deb Vanasse, Jeremy Pataky, and myself). Fourteen years later, the 49 Writers community is bigger, more inclusive, and more vibrant than I could have imagined when I first signed up for a blogspot.com address.
A little blog quickly became collaborative, and it was that feature—the community aspect—that added fuel to a very small flame.
I’m not counting on my suspense newsletter to grow as quickly, but who knows? What matters most is that unlike social media, which can be hateful and unhealthy, this newsletter effort feels creative, joyful, and truly social.
Are you tempted (or do you feel pressured) to start a newsletter, podcast, or event in order to maintain a foothold in the larger literary world?
Do you worry that you’ll run out of content ideas, motivation, or the connections needed to make it a success?
Consider finding a partner—or a group of partners. Merge your ideas and audiences. Find your niche, but consider making it hospitable to others who share your platform-building interests and needs.
Also: listen to your feelings. Avoid anything dutiful or anxiety-provoking. Experiment with projects that seems playful, skill-building, and restorative.
Social media is supposed to be social—but as we all know, in truth it often feels lonely. Collaborative platform-building doesn’t have to be.
Got an idea in search of partners, or do you admire someone else’s collaborative project and want to give it a shout-out here? Leave a comment!
When she isn’t writing newsletters, Andromeda Romano-Lax writes novels—really! She is also a book coach, teacher, and MFA program alumni coordinator who loves bringing people together in support of books and writing.