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Welcome to Season 2 of The Book Marketing Action Podcast with Becky Robinson, where we give you information that you can immediately implement to increase your influence and market your books more successfully. This month, we are focusing on the topic of social media. In this episode, we are joined by Maggie Smith, author of Good Bones, The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison, Lamp of the Body, and the national bestseller Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change.
About Maggie Smith
Becky: Before we get started today, I have to tell you that I’ve been having a bit of a fangirl moment because I’ve been following Maggie Smith Poet on social media for a while. When her most recent book came out, I’m pretty sure I bought it the first week and so not only do I think that Maggie Smith has a lot to add, in terms of some learning for authors and aspiring authors about how to leverage social media effectively, I just think it is so fun that I get to have a conversation with her.
So Maggie, welcome. Can you tell us a little bit about you and your work?
Maggie: My first three books are collections of poems, the most recent of which was Good Bones, published in 2017. And my most recent book is called Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change, and that came out with One Signal, Simon and Schuster, in October of 2020. And it’s a collection of essays and quotes, so a departure from poetry for me.
Becky: But very poetic!
Maggie: Yeah, you can’t really take the poetry out of the poet. That’s the thing.
Keep Moving began as a set of daily tweets. Would you share that story?
Becky: It’s beautiful. So the latest book, Keep Moving began as a set of daily tweets, would you be willing to share that story with us?
Maggie: Yeah, so I started writing this book, before I knew it was a book, I didn’t intend to write a book. That happened really organically. I was going through a really terrible time. I was getting divorced and I started writing these daily notes, little self pep talks to myself every day, first thing in the morning, usually before I even made my coffee, just to kind of get myself into a brighter mindset for the day. I posted them on social media, in part because I’m not really a diary keeper. So if I write something, it’s to share, and it felt important to me because so much of social media is curated. We’re showing our best selves, and our cleanest houses and our most well-behaved kid days, and not the sink full of dirty dishes and the inbox of 1000 not replied emails and our hair when we wake up in the morning, and so often, I think we think that other people have it all together, because that’s what they’re projecting on social media. And so it felt important to me to sort of align my social media self with the person who was actually living day to day in this house and the way I could do that was by coming clean and being honest about going through a hard time without sharing details, but just coming clean in that way. And so I was doing that every day and people really started responding to them and retweeting them and sharing them and saying, “I’m going through something similar and I really needed this today,” or “I wish I had read this when I was going through my own divorce,” or job loss or diagnosis, or whatever the crisis was. And it built a sense of community, really organically online, and people started asking for a book of these, “I wish I had this as a journal or a page, a day calendar, or a book I could give to a neighbor or keep on my bedside table.” And that’s really where the idea to compile these notes into a form that didn’t just live on screen, that’s where the idea came from.
Becky: It’s amazing, and I’m so glad you wrote it, Maggie. I think that I shared that experience that others have shared with you, of reading one of your posts at just the right moment. So thank you.
Did you have a strong social media following before you started the Keep Moving content?
Becky: I’m curious, Maggie, did you have a strong social media following before you started the Keep Moving content? And how did you develop that?
Maggie: Yeah, I did. I mean, not like it is now. I think I had about 16,000 Twitter followers when I started the posts, and now I have 60,000. So the posts grew my following a lot. But my following was fairly strong for a poet at that point, mostly because of Good Bones going viral in 2016, and then again in 2017. And so social media has been sort of oddly important to my career over the past few years, in a way that I had not anticipated because, obviously, if that poem hadn’t been published online, and then hadn’t happened to come out online, during the same week that the Pulse nightclub shooting happened in Orlando, Florida, it wouldn’t have gone viral, which then, wouldn’t have had this sort of domino effect that it did. So I was already pretty active on Twitter at that point, but the posts, in some ways, reached that poetry audience, but ended up reaching a completely different audience, and expanding my readership in a way also.
Becky: That’s helpful, Maggie. I’m thinking about the importance of timing with all of this. And I know, having watched you on some major media broadcasts, the timing of the Keep Moving book, in the middle of the pandemic, when people needed that nudge to keep moving, was impeccable. And the timing of the poem, it sounds like also was, I’m not sure what word to use here. It also really met the needs that people were feeling at that moment.
Maggie: Yeah, it’s been kind of strange, because I’ve written things. You know, the way publishing works is you write things well ahead of them ever appearing in front of readers, and sometimes it’s months, and sometimes it’s years. And so I wrote Keep Moving a year before the pandemic, and I wrote Good Bones a year before it was published. And so it was sort of prescient, but obviously, I had no idea that any of those things were coming and it didn’t feel fortuitous at first to have a book coming out during 2020. In fact, the publication date was supposed to be May and was bumped to October because of the pandemic. And we were kind of scrambling to see what this would all mean. But I agree, it does feel like it was the right time for this book to come out. Because I wrote it during sort of my worst year, and then it came out during a year that’s been so hard for so many people, it seems like it’s getting to do more of its work in this environment.
Not Making The New York Bestseller’s list
Becky: Well, let’s talk a little bit about that, Maggie, because before we started recording, you and I were talking a little bit. I had thought for sure, based on what I’ve seen about the book, that it had made the New York Times bestseller list. And you mentioned that, for various logistical reasons, it didn’t. But let’s talk about the New York Times bestseller list and your own perspective about that.
Maggie: No, the book didn’t make the list, it came really close and did not for a variety of reasons. I think it’s okay to be bummed out for a few minutes about that, the day that it’s not going to happen. But my feeling was, it was never a goal of mine. It has honestly been so incredible, as a poet, to have written this book that sort of defies genre, in a way, I don’t really know any other book quite like it, and I wasn’t sure how it would be received. And so to have it become even a national bestseller, which it has been incredible. I don’t think of that for me as a miss because it was never something that I felt like was in my grasp, to begin with.
And also, like I was saying to you earlier, I think the best way to sort of kill the joy of the book publishing experience is to put a bunch of expectations for what these milestones should be that you want to hit, whether they’re sales numbers, or reviews, or lists or any of that. The fastest way to make yourself feel stressed out instead of grateful is to have expectations. And so going into something and trying not to have expectations and just hope that the book finds its readers, the people who need that book at that moment, I think is a healthier way to approach it. So I’m always trying to do that instead.
What does your work mean to you?
Becky: I just love that. We spoke, I think, also about what the work means to you. Would you be willing to share that?
Maggie: Well for me, writing this book was literal self-help. I wrote this book for me and I think maybe that kind of authenticity comes across in the writing. I think writing is different when it’s done for an audience, versus when we do it for the sake of the work, or even for ourselves. I never thought of this book as a product. I never thought of it as a commodity. I never even thought of it as something that would, really, pay my bills and do anything. And that way I didn’t think I would have the opportunities that I’ve had because of this book. I wrote it literally to get myself through day one, day two, day three, day four, day five, and before it was even published, it did its work. For me, it did its work. And so somebody asked early on, like what was your biggest goal for this book, and I think the trap is, we could find ourselves saying something like, “I want to be a New York Times bestseller,” or “I want to sell this number of copies,” and my answer, which was, and what I would still say, I want someone who felt like I did, in September of 2018, to get this book and not feel so afraid of what the future might hold for them. And if it does that for one other person, or 10, 20, 30, or 1000, that, to me, is the most important thing.
What impact did your use of social media have when you started to shop your proposal to publishers?
Becky: So for authors who may be listening today, I hope that some of Maggie’s ideas are resonating with you as they are with me, the power of our words, to make a difference in someone else’s life experience is huge. So back to the topic that I think that we came into the call with, or that I came into the call with, of social media. I’m wondering Maggie along your journey, what impact your use of social media has had, as it relates to your ability to access traditional publishing?
Maggie: Well, this book wouldn’t exist without Twitter. I mean, just no bones about it, this book wouldn’t exist without Twitter, because it started there. And because that’s where the feedback came from. So when I didn’t have an agent, when I started posting these daily tweets, and enough people were suggesting that it should be a book. I ended up reaching out and having a conversation with my now agent and working on a book proposal. I don’t think that any of that would have happened without social media. So it was a direct line between writing, posting, and then writing the book proposal and selling the book on proposal.
I see a lot of writers on social media, particularly on Facebook, which I don’t spend a lot of time there. But asking about platforms, like how do I get a platform, I’ve just sold this book, how do I get a platform? And in some ways, I feel like well, if you’ve sold the book, you’re already behind, if you haven’t started on social media, you’re almost kind of behind. If you think of social media, as a room, with people in it, think of it as a party that you’re entering. If you’re already at the party, and you’ve made friends at the party, and then you get a book deal, you can share your book deal with the friends of the party, and everyone’s so excited, and they’re going to be more willing to help you get your book out there, because you didn’t enter the room with the book. Right? You didn’t come into the room, like who wants to hear about my book or buy my book to a bunch of strangers, you already have those connections, and you already had an authentic relationship with them that was not based on you trying to sell or promote anything. And so I think one of my biggest pieces of advice to authors is to, if you’re a writer, whether you’ve published or not, start engaging and be a good literary citizen, and share other people’s work and make connections and make friends in an authentic way so that when your time comes, and you have something that you want to promote or share and you want someone to help you retweet to get preorder sales or whatever the case may be, it’s happening from an authentic space where you already have these people in your life, and you’re not walking into a room like a walking infomercial for yourself, which is a real turnoff, right? I mean, I think people are savvy enough to sense when you come to a space for that reason only.
What do you think is the biggest value for you as an author in using social media to promote your work?
Becky: That is hugely powerful Maggie, and something I have said before as well, so thank you. So Maggie, let’s talk a little bit about the biggest value you yourself have received along this journey of using social media to promote your work.
Maggie: I mean, I think probably the sense of community I built with these posts. It’s hard because, in some ways, Good Bones would be an obvious answer, and Keep Moving in a way as a book does seem kind of like a continuation of that conversation I began with readers with Good Bones, which is really a poem about holding the darkness and the light at the same time. And so people who liked that poem, and who found me because of that poem, and then maybe got to know me personally, and got to know my parenting and my kids via social media because of that poem, it felt like kind of a natural continuation into the posts and into Keep Moving the book.
But as far as having a wider readership and a wider reach, this book is really the biggest sort of gift I think that social media has given me because it, frankly, wouldn’t have happened if followers hadn’t suggested it. It was not something I conceived of as being this kind of project, and that I think speaks to the real community that can be built online, where sometimes we might think of it as a sort of icky self-promotional space, and these are surface-level connections. And that has not been my experience. I think it’s a tool, and like any tool, it can be used for good or evil. We have seen the way that social media can be used for the latter. But I think we’ve also seen the ways that it can be used for the former, and these kinds of real community building. Relationships really are that thing for me.
What would you say to someone who thinks social media takes too much time?
Becky: That’s so powerful. So what about the author who’s listening and says, “Well, Maggie loves social media, it’s obvious. I don’t have that kind of time to spend.” So what would you say to that kind of objection? Well, that sounds like it takes entirely too much time.
Maggie: I don’t think it takes that much time. I’m a full-time single mom working from home with two kids who are doing hybrid school, and 30 different small jobs. So it’s really not that time-consuming. I mean, it really doesn’t take that many minutes out of your day, even if you set 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes in the middle of the day, and 10 minutes in the evening, if you picked 30 minutes out of your day, not even in one stretch, and just spent that time, not just posting yourself, maybe post one thing in that 10 minutes. But look for other people that you can signal boost and engage with those people, find people who are writing and publishing stuff you think is really interesting, and share it and thank the person for writing it and tell them that it touched you. And spending 10 minutes three times a day doing that isn’t much. And also if you take a few days off, it’s not a big deal. Also, I’m fairly shy and I’ve gotten over it, but I think it’s the easy way for those of us who are more introverted to be a little more social, because we get to do it from the safety of our own spaces. And we can choose how much to share and how vulnerable we want to be and how personal we want to be. If we want to include stuff about our family, or if it’s just professional, I mean that whatever that balance is, we get to pick. My personal opinion is people like a little bit of both. If it’s all professional stuff, it’s not that interesting. I want to see your dog. I want to know about the hilarious word problem on your second grader’s math worksheet that you could barely figure out this morning. I want to know what your politics are. I want to know what matters to you. I think if we worry too much about bringing ourselves into it that gets in the way of creating those real connections with other people.
What challenges have you faced?
Becky: Thank you. So Maggie, what if any challenges have you faced in using social media to connect and promote your work?
Maggie: I mean, I don’t know that I’ve had a lot of challenges. I’ve had a much easier time than some of my peers. I have not been bullied too much, I have not had to block too many people, though I do without reserve. It really hasn’t been taxing, I will say the key for me is doing things that feel natural. So if I’m in a marketing meeting or something, and someone says, we’d like you to do this kind of video, or we’d like you to do something like this, or a consultant suggests something, I think it’s perfectly fine to take that into consideration and either say, “that just doesn’t feel like me,” or, “you know what, that makes sense, I can see why that would work, but I think I’d rather tweak it and do something a little bit more along these lines because that feels more comfortable to me.” So that’s not really a challenge but just making sure that you’re curating the space yourself and making sure that it reflects you personally, and that you’re not doing things that you might feel uncomfortable doing for the sake of marketing. I think it’s a fine line, but it feels a lot better to be on a side of that line that you feel comfortable in.
Becky: So taking a stand for who you are, and showing up as who you are.
Maggie: Absolutely, because that’s what I mean, ultimately, your readers want you. They want to know who you are like, who you really are. And so, I do think that’s why they want to see a video clip every once in a while and they want to see a selfie and they want to see your dog, and maybe even your messy house. Because I mean, I know as a reader, I want to know about the people I read. And as a listener of music, I want to know about the singer-songwriters I admire, and I want to know about the actors I admire. And so the more sort of three-dimensional that we can make ourselves, I think that’s important.
The Today Show Pants
Becky: I totally agree. And somehow we’ve gotten through our conversation, but we haven’t talked about The Today Show pants.
Maggie: I’ll tell you about The Today Show pants. So yeah, when I went on The Today Show, it was very early in the morning, and I was doing it live from my office where I am now and I was wearing a sweater. No, I was wearing a blouse that my daughter picked out. And I was wearing my flannel llama print pajama pants, which no one could see. And it wasn’t for any reason other than the fact that I could get away with it. And they were comfortable. I thought I knew I’d be nervous and wanted to be comfortable. But now the great joy of that is that those are my Today Show pants. So when I get them out of my drawer to sleep in them, or you know, lounge around the house in them, they have like a special memory attached and my kids think it’s funny that I call them that.
Becky: I love it. So have your Today Show pants made a cameo on your Instagram yet, Maggie?
Maggie: I have not posted an image of The Today Show pants. I don’t know that anyone really wants to see my ratty llama, pajama pants. But, maybe someday.
Becky: Well, Maggie, thank you so much for this conversation. There have been so many helpful suggestions along the way. And what we want to do now is what we do at the end of every episode of our podcast, which is to identify some action steps that authors might be able to take today, to be able to move forward to reach their readers in a more effective way. So, Maggie, I’m going to ask you from the things you’ve shared, what are one or two things that people could implement today?
- I think first and foremost is to pull a couple 10 minutes spots out of your day and devote those 10 minutes to doing some social media, either posting or retweeting or reaching out to people who are publishing work you admire. I love getting comments from people saying I love this article you wrote or this meant so much to me. I love that, and I try to spend time every day going through my mentions and responding, actually engaging, not just with the heart, but actually saying, “Hey, thanks for reading this and sharing it,” or “I’m in the trenches with you too. I’m parenting and doing the same thing that you are,” and just being a human being on social media.
- I would say that the other thing, and I don’t know that this is an action item, but try to sort of keep your perspective on the making of the thing versus on the selling of the thing. Because I think the selling of the thing and the marketing of the thing will be sort of positively impacted if you haven’t devoted all your time obsessing over that. If you spend 90% of your time making the best book you can make and 10% of your time thinking about where you’d like to be reviewed, and whose hands you would like to get that book into, and what dreams you have for it, I think you have a greater chance of getting those things in that 10% because you’ve put the time and effort and heart into the 90%. So I don’t know if that’s a today action item, but I think it’s a big picture action item.
Becky: Thank you, Maggie. That’s really helpful and helpful for me personally to think about. I always do tell people that if you want to have a successful book launch, you have to start with a good book and I think that’s what you’re saying, to focus on the 90% and come up with the best possible offer to the world that you can.
- Connect with Maggie Smith on Instagram and Twitter.
- Learn more about Maggie and her work on her website.
- Check out her books here.
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I am the founder/CEO of the Weaving Influence team, the author of Reach: Creating the Biggest Possible Audience for Your Message, Book, or Cause, and the host of the Book Marketing Action Podcast. I’m a wife and mom of three kids, and I enjoy running, reading, writing, coffee, and dark chocolate.