I have been on “Insta” for 25 days now. Apparently the LA cool kids call it “Insta,” though I texted with my ex’s son who’s a freshmen at Wesleyan and he said he and his friends call it “the Gram,” and my friend Eleanor (who is my local go-to millennial) says that she refers to it as “IG” when she’s texting but in person she calls it “Instagram.” What does my husband call it? “Annoying AF!” He’s not loving that his once anti-social media wife is now staring at her iPhone all the time with a furrowed brow. My furrows run deep, too, because I tried Botox once and hated it and ended up getting bangs to cover it up (but that’s a whole other story). Anyway, I have found Insta to be extremely time consuming, not that easy to learn, intermittently amusing and infuriating, and I only have 227 followers.
The Internet and I have long had an uncomfortable relationship, to say the least. Like most writers, I’m a procrastinator. After a particularly frustrating day of trying to write eight years ago, where instead I just read the same celebrity headlines across seven different websites, I made a rule that I could not surf the Internet on my writing laptop anymore (I mean, unless it was research for what I was writing). So if I needed to know what was new in Sandy Bullock’s love life, or what everyone wore to the Met Gala, then I would have to use my iPhone.
As for social media, I found it odd to look into people’s lives, mainly because I didn’t really believe what I saw. Everyone was always well-lit, beautiful, smiling, and having fun… and I am now old enough to know that is not the way life goes. Plus, I had read plenty of articles about how Instagram causes #FOMO (fear of missing out) and depression. But the main reason? I didn’t see my friends enough IRL (in real life), why would I use what little free time I had to “see them online”?
Of course I was tempted, but I knew myself (which is why I’m so happy I’m in my 40s because I now really know myself, meaning I know what’s good for me, and I definitely know what’s bad for me.) I dabbled a bit in 2014, when my first middle-grade novel Elvis and the Underdogs came out. At that time I was a writer on the Disney Channel’s very popular sitcom Shake It Up! (starring Zendaya and Bella Thorne), and Twitter was all the rage among teenage girls. To capitalize on that connection, I started a Twitter account under the persona of Elvis, the talking dog character in my book. I stopped Tweeting after six months, and truth be told, I didn’t miss it one bit.
Although at the time I was probably the only person I knew who was not on Facebook, in 2017 I landed a job as a writer/ Co-Executive Producer on a “TV show” that was bought by Facebook. Ironic right? Since our show would only appear on Facebook, I had to join. After all, Facebook was signing my checks. So join I did, consoling myself that I had no choice because this was business and not personal. After a year on Facebook, I only had 60 or so friends. I never reached out to friend anyone. I only accepted friend requests of people I knew. I posted a few pictures of my dog and my husband, but not much else. Friends warned me that I would fall into a Facebook hole of looking up everyone from my past, but I never did. (Okay, maybe one night when I couldn’t sleep I looked up old boyfriends, but I didn’t find much.)
Then, a few weeks ago, I sold my first young adult (YA) novel to Flatiron Books titled Anna K.: A Teen Tragedy. It’s a modern reimagining of Anna Karenina taking place in Manhattan (as Moscow) and Greenwich, CT (as St. Petersburg), with a cast of multicultural society teens and an Anna who happens to be half-Korean. I was lucky enough to have editors interested at all the big publishing houses, and as I made the rounds, more than a few asked, “How’s your social media game?”
As I was told, over and over again, the YA audience (which is very active on social media) loves to interact with their authors online: would I be willing to join the fray and start a social media account? My book was hanging in the balance, so yes. I would. When I sold Anna K. to Flatiron Books 26 days ago, I made good on my promise and immediately started an Instagram account @jennyleewrites. The book is slated to be published in January 2020, so I have one year to build my followers…
My hope is to show a “real” depiction of a TV writer and book author’s life. It’s not some glamorous cool existence. I can only speak for myself…but my writer’s life involves a lot of poor eating, many days of sweat pants, lots of reading, researching, procrastinating, and yes… plenty of writing. I have wanted to be a writer my entire life and worked extremely hard to get where I am. Anna K is my 7th book, and right now I am working on my 9th TV show. The path has been difficult. So I wanted my Instagram to encourage aspiring and working writers, and most importantly show the #truth about #writerslife.
SO PLEASE FOLLOW ME @jennyleewrites! (Ok, according to the first rule posted on Instagram Etiquette sites, you’re not supposed to ask people to follow you. Apparently, it’s #desperate. But you know what? We writers have very little shame.)
Five Insta-Tips I learned in 25 Days!
- FIND A MILLENIAL TO HELP YOU.
Insta is a huge time-suck. According to the “activity” section on the app, I averaged almost two hours a day during my first two weeks. But I would say half of that time was spent trying to figure out how to do things, and feeling old and stupid. So now I text Eleanor and ask her questions like, “How can I post a still picture on my Instastory?” (I Venmo her $ for her help, and it’s so worth it! I’m a little faster now.)
- PREPARE FOR CRAZY.
In the beginning, you will get a little weird. You will want more followers, more likes, and might get obsessive trying to figure out how to accomplish this. You will then feel lame for caring, and then you’ll worry about today’s teenagers because if a grown-ass woman gets a head trip about this, just think how terrible it must be for a teenage girl. This feeling passes! As you figure out your own style and Insta-presence, you’ll relax.
- SET BOUNDARIES.
Don’t let Insta rule your life. I made a deal with my husband (who understands this is part of my “job” now) that if he’ll just be patient and not make snarky comments or call me an iPhone zombie for the first 3 months then he can absolutely take away my account if it seems like I’m turning into someone he doesn’t want to have sex with anymore.
- ENGAGEMENT IS KEY.
Do not buy “followers.” Accounts will follow you in the beginning and try to get you to pay for followers. These are scams! Anyway, it’s not the number of followers you have, it’s the “engagement” you have with those who follow you. (*engagement is when followers comment or like your posts and you reply and like their posts back.)
- SIZE DOESN’T MATTER.
When I had 140 followers in week two, I posted a picture of the A Star is Born screenplay I was reading (because I loved the movie!) with the hashtag #astarisborn. Somehow the Instagram algorithm picked it up, and my picture got posted in an area of “top posts.” Suddenly I had 350 likes and 60 new followers! It was exciting, and then it was over. And half of those new followers later unfollowed me…But remember, it’s not a competition…it’s supposed to be fun! And if it stops being fun, I’m going to quit. You know why? Because I’m a grown-ass woman who knows what I like, and what I don’t.
Jenny Lee is a Woolfer who is currently a writer/Co-EP on Lena Waithe’s up and coming BET show Boomerang (which will premier in early 2019). She has been a working TV writer in Hollywood for 10 years and recently sold her first kids’ TV show to Netflix (which she hasn’t written yet, so who knows what will happen because this business is crazy!). She is the author of two middle grade books that she loves, Elvis and the Underdogs (and its sequel!), for which she still gets fan letters — probably her most favorite part of being a writer. And yes, she just sold her first YA novel (Anna K) to Flatiron Books, which will be in stores in January 2020. Her current #squadgoal is to adapt her book for television, and film it in NYC so she can get back to the city and spend time with her friends. She lives in Los Angeles with her amazingly supportive husband and her 135 pound black Newfoundland dog named Gemma.