8 Tactics to Promote Your Writing (Without Social Media)
If social media disappeared tomorrow, here’s how you could still find new readers.
“Think of yourself as an explorer. You cannot find anything new if you are unwilling to leave the shore.” Robert Greene, Mastery
Let’s pretend for a minute that Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn suddenly disappeared. These social media sites dissolved in a flash and you were left blinking at the wall behind your computer, jaw agape.
You scramble to Google for answers. It’s confirmed. They’re all gone. Forever.
As reality sets in, you panic thinking about all the photos and distant high school crushes you’ll never see again. Then you call your mother — who it turns out was somehow behind this large-scale social media deletion the whole time.
But never mind that. You can’t be mad at her, so you take a deep breath and try to think practically. You ask yourself: How do I connect with new readers now that social media is gone?
One day you stumble upon this list in the miscellaneous items drawer in your kitchen, next to a once-white sock and your sister’s old CD player:
1. Pitch your work to traditional media
There’s very little instant gratification in traditional media. Every mainstream publication — even the digital ones — has strict gatekeepers. Editors and agents exist to separate the most profound ideas and lucid writing from everything else.
The road to this tier of publication is paved with rejection. Getting published will require your best writing and most meticulous research yet. And your best work will still get turned down a lot more than it’ll be accepted.
But the high standards of traditional media is a reward unto itself. When your name finally appears in the byline of Harvard Business Review, The New Yorker, or on the cover of a HarperCollins book, others know it’s a big deal. The reputation of these outlets precedes them. Your work has been vetted (and approved!) by a system that is notoriously hard to impress.
And you can use that acceptance as writerly leverage the rest of your life to appear in similar top-tier media.
Not to mention, when you’re published, your work is often marketed across their distribution engine — which in many cases is massive. You may be able to drive new readers directly from your book or magazine article to your website. Throughout Atomic Habits, James Clear regularly inserted mentions of his website with conspicuous incentives for readers to subscribe to his newsletter. He used the distribution power of traditional book publishing to grow his email list.
Author Cal Newport — who famously has never used social media at all — occasionally writes for major media outlets like The New York Times, GQ, The New Yorker, and USA Today. Every byline attracts new readers to his work.
“When you’re competing against hundreds and hundreds of other stories, you have a choice: stand out from the crowd — or stay buried in it.” — Douglas Smith, Playing the Short Game
2. Partner with topical newsletters
Newsletters are one of the most common ways for community groups, businesses, and authors to stay connected with their supporters. This is your opportunity to get your writing in front of their readers.
Many newsletters contain sections dedicated to highlighting members of their community by discussing accomplishments, events, and even recent publications from their readership.
What does it take to have your latest article featured in their newsletter and distributed to thousands of supporters? Permission.
The key is to think local. Don’t go for the massive newsletters with hundreds of thousands of subscribers — and lots of competition. Go for the local newsletter with a couple thousand subscribers.
Every time you publish an article that is relevant to the target reader base on that email list, contact the editor with your article: “Would this piece be a good fit for the upcoming newsletter?”
My contributions have been accepted more times than I’ve been turned down. And the best part is, all you have to do is ask.
3. Write SEO-friendly articles
This doesn’t need a long explanation. Google has one primary goal for its search engine: Provide users the best-available answer on the internet for their search request. Put another way: Google wants to give users what they’re searching for.
If your blog post is among the highest-quality answers to a relevant search query, Google will literally promote your article for you by positioning it above every other article. The next time someone searches for the key phrase used in your article, Google might present your website to them front and center.
Blogger Ryan Robinson has used search engine optimization to attract over half a million monthly visitors to his website. And writers like me have been paid tens of thousands of dollars to produce articles that exist for no other reason than to drive organic traffic to our client’s website.
As you might imagine, ranking high on Google can be pretty competitive. But writers have an unfair advantage over everyone else trying to get noticed by Google’s algorithm. Who is more qualified to write the best articles on the web than, well, the best writers?
4. Guest post on other websites
You don’t have to write for The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal to benefit from writing for other platforms. In fact, many bloggers and smaller digital publications make it fairly easy to submit content for consideration.
This is the middle ground between self-publishing on a blog and getting a massive traditional media hit. You still have a gatekeeper who expects quality writing and clear thinking, but expectations around editorial rigor are typically much lower. Competition is lower too.
I’ve had luck guest writing for publications like Foundr and Home Business Magazine. I would also add writing for Medium publications in this same category. Some Medium publishers boast hundreds of thousands of subscribers, a far greater audience than most writers can access on their own.
5. Use content distribution engines
You might consider submitting your published articles to content curation websites.
These are often newsletters, membership sites, and syndication blogs that serve as distribution engines for certain online topics. Zest.is, for example, distributes articles to help readers learn the latest startup news and digital marketing tactics. Many people use Hacker News for a similar purpose. Once you’ve published an article online, you can submit it to these networks for consideration or community upvoting.
If you’re a longform journalist, you might submit content for consideration on longform.org, a publication that regularly syndicates articles from top-notch writers.
The key to this distribution method is to understand the criteria and taste of the gatekeepers. Outlets like Longform gain popularity for their reputation for quality and taste. Before you submit, read the guidelines and check out other content on the platform to see if your article might be a good fit.
Side note: The middle ground between these distribution engines and social media is filled with various forums (like Quora) and upvote websites (like Indie Hackers or Reddit). But I’m not giving these their own section, since they’re arguably just social media sites that probably disappeared along with LinkedIn and Facebook during the Great Social Media Deletion of 2020.
6. Speak… and give away something for free
Another way to promote your writing is to appear in non-text related media. You can appear as a guest on podcasts and radio shows, speak at industry events and conferences, and be interviewed on webinars or YouTube channels.
The benefit of this tactic is that you can position yourself as a subject-matter expert. But the downside is that audiences can simply slip through the cracks and never hear from you again. Making the transition from listener to reader is a big leap.
You must create a powerful incentive to help listeners make that transition. Here’s what I recommend:
Give away something free on your website that has an opt-in to subscribe to your newsletter. In marketing, we call this free item a lead magnet. It’s essentially a gift you provide new subscribers in exchange for trusting you with their email address. Next time you’re going to appear on a podcast, first create a downloadable guide, template, free course, or checklist that you plan to give away during the show.
When the host asks where listeners can learn more about you, say something like, “Actually, I created something for your listeners. Just visit [URL] to get my free guide for [fill-in-the-blank].”
Interested listeners now have an easy action step that gets them on your email list. Plus they won’t have to do any guesswork to figure out how to follow you and your work.
7. Run content giveaways
Websites like Product Hunt and NoiseTrade Books allow authors to give away written content — like short ebooks — in exchange for email addresses.
You can even use the same lead magnet you created for capturing radio listeners. Simply upload the content, promote it to your followers (to help the algorithm), and start collecting new newsletter subscribers.
By promoting the giveaway to your existing followers, you generate momentum on the platform. It often takes some momentum to get your submission featured in front of other potential subscribers. Think of it as a snowball waiting to be rolled down a hill.
8. Cross-promote with other writers
Join a local writing group. Befriend a few writers and form agreements around helping one another with promotion. Even something as simple as getting a name-drop in their newsletter or a link from their website can drive new readers to your work.
The magic of this step is its focus. You’re marketing to the type of people who subscribe to author newsletters — and likely invest regularly in books. You’re marketing to an audience of readers.
Forming a writing community opens other opportunities as well. You’re forming relationships with authors who may one day blurb or review your books, introduce you to agents, critique your work, or simply invite you to a good writing workshop one weekend.
Of course, when it’s their turn to publish, you will be the one who reciprocates the promotion, so they can enjoy these benefits too.
Writing success isn’t measured in followers
There’s no denying the many benefits available to authors who maintain an active social media presence. But sometimes these platforms deserve a lot more skepticism than we give them. If for nothing else, to remind ourselves that there is a thriving writing world outside our feeds.
There are elements of social media that may cause creatives more harm than good. The instant gratification of publishing on these platforms disincentives the patience necessary to produce our best work. The distraction of social media steals precious time we could otherwise spend writing. And the once-alluring promise of organic social media reach proves emptier every year. We need other promotional tactics at our disposal.
Still, I maintain social media accounts like most writers, with careful boundaries. Yet there’s a part of me that not-so-secretly wishes it would all dissolve in a sort of digital apocalypse.
Then, maybe, I could finally get some damn writing done.
Before you go: If you want to learn more about finding new readers, freelancing, or the craft of writing, subscribe to my newsletter. I’ll even send you 30+ free blog distribution ideas.