The Value of Social Media for Writers: Self-Promotion or External-Validation?

When a writer engages in social media to “grow their platform” are they turning into heartless self-promoters, shilling themselves for the desperate attempt to lure others to read their books?

I don’t think so.

For someone who engages in producing creative work – writers, artists, musicians – sharing is much harder than it looks. You are often alone, not backed by a corporate entity. When you are on your own, you don’t have the immediate validation that a regular job provides – fancy business cards, job title, or a stable salary and a benefits that makes you a “card carrying writer.” The writer lives and dies by their own confidence to create something from nothing, to push onward when the world chooses not to pay attention.

Validation is important. To know that your work matters; that you are growing; that it impacts the lives of others; that it is creating a work of meaning over time. The work is often very personal, even if not on the surface. It’s easy to read someone else’s book and call it ‘garbage.’ It’s hard to write a book and not be hurt when someone else calls it ‘garbage.’

It’s exposing to be a writer. I was listening to the commentary track of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (yes, this is what I do in my spare time), and something reminded me of the plight of writers: In one scene, a character is facing a crisis of identity, and he stares at George Seurat’s pointillist painting, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” Since the image is only made up of very tiny dots, the closer he looks at the child in the painting, the less of it he sees. The director explains the meaning of this as:

“He fears that the more you look at him, the less you see; that there isn’t anything really there.”

Here is the painting, and examples beneath it of the pointillist style used to create it:
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte
(image source)

I’ve heard people describe having kids as the act of watching your heart run around outside your body. As a father of a 1.5 year old son, I can say that is true. But I think the same expression holds true for writers. After the sometimes arduous process of creating a work you are proud of, how do you ensure it flourishes and grows?

People always say: Don’t self-promote on social media. Don’t be self indulgent. But I feel that most people, and certainly many writers, simply want some sort of validation. A sense of self. To be able to own the identity of “writer,” even if for a single moment during the day. They want to matter, and they want their work to matter.

There is a perception that author platform and writers engaging in social media as jumping on a bandwagon to drum up publicity and sales. But what I often see is someone making meaningful connections around topics they are passionate about.

I also feel there is incredible value in putting yourself and/or your work out there. That there is a risk in the safety of writing without sharing. You can’t fail if you don’t share. But when you move out of your comfort zone to engage with others, that is how you evolve.

Some writers are brash self-promoters. Others are not. Social media is a medium that levels the playing field between the two extremes, allowing all writers to be a part of a community of like-minds.