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TYOH Q&A: Ami McKay

Author Ami Mckay talks about Twitter as "an online street party," how she met Jann Arden, and why you should always pay attention to the rules of social networking sites.

Tell us about yourself. What do you write and which social networking tools do you regularly use?
I've written radio documentaries, a stage play, and two novels—The Birth House and The Virgin Cure. Primarily I use Facebook and Twitter, but I also have Pinterest and Instagram accounts.

How much work do you do to promote your writing? 
Overall, quite a lot. That said, the amount of time I devote to promotion per day depends on where I'm at in the publishing cycle. If I've got a book that's fresh out of the gate, then I'll spend most of my time juggling public appearances, readings, and interviews. During that time, I do my best to stay connected to readers via my blog and social media. I'll post behind the scenes images and stories about the book and book tour, as well as reminders about events. 

On the other side of things, when I'm in the middle of a work in progress, I limit my use of social media and time spent online to a small window of time each day. 

Do you enjoy it?
I do. Connecting with readers has always been one of the loveliest parts of my writing life. It's a pleasant contrast to the solitude required to write novels.

Does it ever make you uncomfortable?
If I let it. I used to feel that I had to jump at every opportunity to promote my work and that I'd be sunk if I didn't. I've since learned that it's better to engage in promotional activities in ways that best suit my interests and personality, rather than spreading myself thin chasing after all the bells and whistles. 

Is there a line when it comes to self-promotion? 
Absolutely. I definitely have limits, especially when it comes to my home life. Family first, creative practice, then promotion. I'm so fortunate to work with a fabulous editor, publicist and marketing team who understand my priorities. Also, my husband is my web designer, so we work together as a team to create an online strategy that works for me personally as well as within my career. 

How do you make sure you aren’t coming on too strong?
I'm always evaluating my online presence as a whole. I'll often look at my last few blog posts, Facebook posts and links, and my Twitter feed to assess the overall impression they give. I couldn't give you exact percentages, but I strive for a reader friendly balance: heavier on personal insight/thoughts and sharing ideas that interest and inspire me; lighter on posts that inform readers about my work (event details, interviews, etc.) Social media is first and foremost about engaging with others in a unique form of conversation and connection. If you only post notices to promote your work, then you're alienating readers and missing the point. 

Do you have a personal story of a social media interaction that has gone horribly wrong?
When my second novel was published, I thought it would be fun to run a "giveaway" for readers on Facebook. I didn't realize that the way I'd set it up violated the site's terms of service. If I'd gone through with it, I could have had my profile yanked and been banned from the site. Lesson learned. Always follow the rules of the social networking sites you use. Contact an administrator ahead of time if needed.

Conversely, do you have a personal story of a social media interaction that made your day?
One of the beautiful things about Twitter is that it's a bit of an online street party. At any given moment, you may run across someone new and have an incredible conversation. I'll never forget the day Jann Arden tweeted that's she'd read my book and loved it. I've been a Jann "fan for ages, so it was a thrill. We've kept in touch online ever since. We keep each other company via Twitter when we're on the road. 

How do you feel about being so accessible to your readers?
Participating in social media platforms doesn't mean you're required to "over share" with those who follow your feeds. I tend to post a mix of thoughts—some tied to my work, some more personal in nature. I truly value the thoughtfulness my readers extend to me and to my work, so I consider everything I put online quite carefully. I've also found it helps to take online sabbaticals occasionally, so I don't get social media fatigue.

How essential do you think using social media is to the professional life of a writer?
That's a tough question. It's not a one-size-fits-all situation. While I feel that most, if not all writers need a solid, up-to-date web site, I don't feel all writers are well suited to social media. It really depends on the writer's comfort level with the various social media platforms. Facebook can be incredibly time consuming for someone who feels the need to respond to every like, picture, comment and link. Twitter is good for spontaneity and for giving quick snapshots of the creative process and schedule updates. In both of those platforms, you really need to interact with your followers to make the most of your online time. Platforms like Pinterest, Instagram, and Tumblr are great options for those who prefer images and visual impact over interaction. In all instances, social media platforms are about connection rather than advertising. They aren't magic bullets for marketing. 

What advice would you give a first-time novelist trying to build a following?
Sincerity is your best friend. Try out social media platforms quietly, privately, on your own time to see which one(s) might be the best fit for you. Follow other authors and public figures and see what they do. Some online styles you'll like, some, not so much. Be thoughtful about your approach and always keep your readers (be they 10 or 10,000) in mind. 

What is your favourite social media tool for promotion and why?
If you'd asked me that a year ago, I would have said Facebook, hands down. Now, with recent changes they've made to the way information is rolled out in news feeds and on walls, I find it's far less reliable than it used to be. 

Twitter is fast becoming my social media platform of choice. (No doubt because I've started writing my next novel and I'm trying to limit my time online.) I can set a time limit for myself there, and not feel I'm missing out on anything when I sign off. As well as following readers and people in the publishing industry, I tend to follow people who are engaged in fields of study in which I'm researching for current projects. You'd be amazed at what you can learn in the space of 30 minutes on Twitter!

Check out Ami McKay on Facebook and on Twitter: @SideshowAmi.

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