Social media is a vast space that, like the universe, keeps expanding. It’s a realm where a writer can quickly become overwhelmed: websites, blogs, Listservs, apps, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Goodreads, YouTube, Google+, Ning, Shelfari, Red Room, StumbleUpon and so on. Social media outlets trend: They come on the scene (Vine), they go (Myspace), and some of them are even designed to self-destruct (Snapchat). And when you’re trying to build an author platform based on outreach to kid and teen readers—who tend to be even more trend-aware than adults—steering through this starry space can be especially tricky.

Here are three guiding stars to navigate the ever-changing Web.

  1. Know who your audience is—and whereto find them.

First, if this isn’t immediately obvious: You need an online home. It’s not enough to find out what social media networks teens are frequenting and set up profiles there. You’ll also need a landing page (a website, a blog, etc.) where readers can, at minimum, find out basic information about you and your work, and link to your various social media profiles, all in one place. Consider two goals: How can you make it easy for someone who’s heard about you (or one of your books) to find you? And, how can you make it easy for someone who is interested in the kind of things you write to find you?

If you’re writing for middle-grade or young adult audiences, you can focus your online efforts primarily on those readers. To reach audiences younger than that, your efforts are better spent appealing to the gatekeepers who influence or oversee their reading: parents, librarians, educators and booksellers.

[Here’s how to make money writing for the Web.]

Many of the best author websites, though, cater to both audiences, sending young readers to one area of the site, gatekeepers to another, and even (for those active in the writing community) fellow writers to a third. Cynthia Leitich Smith, online powerhouse and bestselling author of the Tantalize series, is one example. She divides her website into the following subpages: About Cyn, Cyn’s Events, Books for Kids, Books for YAs, FAQs for All, Goodies for Writers, and Children’s and YA Lit Resources.

A huge part of reaching your audience is knowing where they’re spending their time online and how they prefer to use those different social media spaces. Kiera Cass, bestselling YA author of the Selection trilogy, says she’s found that Q&As seem to be best received on Twitter, and fan art contests draw the biggest followings on Tumblr. She cautions, however, that what’s true of one author’s specific audience might not be true of another’s. “I’d bet it works in different places for different fandoms,” she says. She recommends doing some careful trial and error to better focus your efforts where the fans respond. After all, she says, “If they’re not excited, what’s the point?”

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