Earlier this spring, I facilitated a panel conversation about mastering social media skills for indie authors at the BookLife Indie Author Forum. The panel prompted a lovely conversation among participants and with attendees in the chat. As authors, we’re always looking for ways to connect with other writers and with our readers, and for many of us social media is the best way to do that.

Regardless of whether you are traditionally published, self-published, or not yet published, you need to be on social media. At this point, online engagement of some sort really isn’t optional for authors—especially self-published authors. Social media is an invaluable resource for connecting with booksellers and librarians who can get our books on shelves.

Social media can also allow us to make and maintain relationships with readers and other authors and to build our brands, which can translate to book sales. Social media can be free advertising and a way to connect with people who are not yet fans of your work. It also allows readers to learn more about you as a person and a writer, and therefore to become more invested in your books.

Having a strong social media presence is particularly helpful to let readers know about new books, upcoming or in-development projects, and when you’ll be doing readings, signings, or tours. It is particularly essential for indie authors who aren’t backed by a publisher’s promotional team.

Pick your platforms

The big question is which platform offers the broadest reach. Unfortunately, there isn’t one answer. Social media platforms are constantly growing, changing, and evolving. Finding your footing on a platform and figuring out how to build followers and connect with your readers can take some trial and error.

At this point, the primary platforms to engage with readers on are Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, and Facebook. Each platform has its own culture and norms for engagement. You don’t have to be on every platform, but the more platforms you can be on, and the more you can create unique content for them, the stronger the relationship you’ll be able to have with your readers.

Try to spend some time with each platform you are interested in, start following other authors, and watch what they are posting and how they are engaging with followers. You obviously don’t want to copy what anyone else is doing, but following other authors can help you develop your own social media strategy. You can also look at which writing-related hashtags those authors are using (especially on Instagram and Twitter) and start following those hashtags to connect with other writers.

Be authentic

Despite the advantages of social media, authors sometimes try too hard when it comes to self-promotion. As an indie author, everything is your responsibility—from writing the book to editing the book, laying the book out, and, most of all, promoting that book to reviewers, bookstores, and readers. As such, it can be tempting to want to talk about your book all day every day. Though this may seem like harmless self-promotion, it can be extremely off-putting to readers who might be following you on social media. Constant promotion of your work is a good way to make followers tune out your postings.

It’s important to remember that readers may follow you because they like your work, but mostly because they are curious about the person behind the page. Readers want to build relationships with authors. They want to know about what is going on in your daily life, just as much as they are curious about your writing life. Sharing these kinds of intimate details might seem counterintuitive and like a distraction from your books, but it’s a way to build readers’ investment in you and your work. The more content you post that isn’t explicitly promoting your work, the more frequently you can (and should!) post about your books.

Try to have fun with your social media posts. It’s a turnoff to followers if you are only posting because you feel like you need to or are just telling people to buy your book. Focus on authentic engagement that will help you build and maintain a social media presence. Try not to fixate on how many followers you get. Social media isn’t all about having the most followers—the goal is slow organic growth of your accounts and followers who are truly invested in you and your stories.

Build connections

One of the primary benefits of being on social media for self-published authors is building connections with other writers. Connecting with other authors is a great way to share resources on writing, editing, and all other aspects of craft.

Social media is also a way to stay updated on the business side of the industry and to share referrals to copyeditors and other professionals you may want to hire while self-publishing. Connecting with indie authors on social media is also a way to learn about book awards, calls for submission, and other opportunities to get your work read. An easy way to start building up authentic connections with other writers is to look authors up on social media after you finish reading their books and follow them.

Promote smart

When you do put up promotional content, try to get creative and diversify the kinds of posts you make about your book.

Instead of just posting your book cover repeatedly and asking followers to buy your book, post interesting content about your book. Post “sightings” of your book at bookstores, libraries, or book festivals. You can even encourage your followers to take pictures and tag you when they are reading your book or when they find your book “in the wild.” If you’re a fiction writer, it can be fun to try to build a fandom-style following for your characters by sharing content they would be interested in, fan art that readers send you, and anything else that’s about your books without being an explicit request for followers to buy them.

Sassafras Lowrey writes fiction and nonfiction and was the recipient of the 2013 Lambda Literary Award for emerging LGBTQ writers.