Wasting time online – is it worth the effort?

At this year’s Winchester Writer’s Festival, best-selling children’s author M G Leonard gave a valuable talk on how authors can reach out and find new readers on social media. She has kindly agreed to provide this summary of her presentation.


Online is a crowded marketplace, and there all kinds of digital platforms and products for writers to use. Blogs, videos and social media provide a shop window, a creative playground and a community hub. However, it takes work, which is both time consuming and unpaid.

Why be online? 

There are plenty of reasons:  to control your professional identity, develop professional relationships, sell a product, promote your work, do research or develop a creative project.  So, the work that you put in can pay off if you have the right strategy and persist.

First, you need to ask yourself some questions:

  1. What online presence should I have?
  2. Who, why and how will people engage with my online content?
  3. What do I want from them?

It’s important to know what’s available and how it might work for you.

You need a website

Your website should represent you and your work. It must be the central hub for news, social media links, links to buy your books, press cuttings etc. Maya recommends using squarespace.com as it offers a free trial for a month (see http://www.mgleonard.com). Top tip: choose your domain name carefully.


  • Used mainly by an English speaking adult audience
  • Used by the publishing industry
  • Good for making connections, finding communities, reaching your (adult) readers

On Twitter you can be an advocate for fiction. You can be personal, but be careful in the way you express yourself as anyone can view your tweets. Top tip: choose your name, ‘handle’ and blurb carefully, and get to know which hashtags connect you to likeminded ideas, groups and communities: eg #askagent, #amwriting or #ukyachat.


Facebook is international and used by adult audiences only. You must have a personal Facebook account to set up an Author Page, which is a great way for readers to contact you.  Facebook will sell you advertising, called ‘Boost’ and will also want you to use their video share, rather than YouTube.


Authors ignore video at their peril! Anyone can make a video with a smartphone, and YouTube videos can be embedded on every platform except Facebook.  Top tip: make sure you script your video. Keep it short and interesting.


Instagram is the most powerful advertising platform right now. It is owned by Facebook. It has strong privacy settings and is therefore used by children as well as adults. You can post video, stories, photo posts and use it for messaging, and your Instagram posts can be shared instantly on Facebook, tumblr and Twitter. Top tip: get good at tagging #authorlife #books #authorsofinstagram and #selfie.

Soundcloud and podcasts

You can make a podcast with a smartphone.  There is a free simple audio editing software called AUDACITY. Top tip: listen to other podcasts before you make your own.


An email list of readers is your most powerful tool. M G Leonard sends a bi-monthly newsetter, along with the occasional special announcement.  Use Mailchimp.com as it is free, simple, and comes with video tutorials. It will give you a code to copy and paste into your website to allow people to subscribe to your newsletter.

To conclude

All of these options are worth investigating, but you don’t need to use them all! Work out what presence you need to generate work. Figure out your strengths and how often you can commit to updates.  Consider your criteria for success, track analytics where you can and review your online presence regularly.  Is the time spent worth the return?

M G Leonard is the author of the best-selling and award-winning Beetle Boy, its sequel Beetle Queen and the forthcoming Battle of the Beetles. She spent her early career in the music industry before training as an actor, then working as a digital media producer at the National Theatre, the Royal Opera House and Shakespeare’s Globe.

If you’d like to see how M G Leonard uses different platforms, take a look here:
Instagram:  mglnrd
Twitter:  @MGLnrd
Facebook:  MGLnrd
Tumblr:  MGLnrd
Soundcloud:  MGLnrd
YouTube:  Maya G. Leonard
Pinterest:  MGLnrd