People often complain about the narcissism of our moment, how everyone is posting and writing and talking about themselves. I worry about that…. such constant self-regard must surely mangle the soul… sometimes, I feel as if we’ve tipped the scales too far. Way too much skin on display. People are too readily encouraged to hurl their secrets into the void. I worry about anyone who is lighting themselves on fire for our enjoyment. I worry about the bloggers and viral stars who have burned up so much of themselves for the prize of a few thousand followers. Our attention span is so short these days. One minute you’re a meteorite lighting up Google Trends, the next minute you fall back to earth, another piece of ugly, busted-up coal.
– Sarah Hepola in an essay in The New York Times Magazine Aug 11th, 2012.
Social media buzz can lead to huge successes when people spread the word about something they love and want to share. But authors creating their own buzz? Making their own noise? It’s hard to make a lot of noise on our own about our own work. Except, sadly, negative noise.
But oh the pressure!
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking our careers will come to a standstill, or worse, crash and burn if we aren’t social media butterflies.
Except if you start looking you’ll find a lot of very, very successful authors who have a website and a Facebook fan page they barely bother with and that’s it.
For every E.L. James who climbed her way to stardom on fan fiction message boards there are dozens of authors who exhaust social media outlets (and themselves) and get almost nothing out of it.
And then there are other authors who make fools of themselves online with posts and tweets that accomplish the opposite of their goal. It’s so easy to look foolish on line. Phoniness is spotted a mile away. It can be better to have no followers that a thousand following you, not because you are beloved, but because people love watching a train wreck.
Recently Stephen Leather made a lot of noise when he went public about creating sock puppet accounts to hype his own work and belittle others online. He did it, many said, to get attention. And he did get attention. A ton. But it was all negative attention and reports are it didn’t boost his book sales at all. Quite the opposite, in fact.
They used to say even bad press is better than no press. But if you read between the posts and the tweets these days you find a lot of readers turning away from authors because of their relentless self promotion, or manners or opinions or neediness or their ego.
Twitter is worth it if you like tweeting. Same is true of Facebook. Or Pinterest. Nothing wrong with having a social presence. But it’s not a salve or a solution or magic bullet.
So why do so many of us think it is? Because we don’t know what else to do? Because we feel peer pressure? Mostly I think it’s because even though social media is a flawed solution to real marketing and real word of mouth, it’s what everyone else is doing. It’s free and there’s no barrier to entry.
And because our publishers and agents are encouraging us to do it. (Hell, a lot of them are doing it too.)
All this without there being real evidence that this is the best use of our time or talents. All this because of one writer here and one there who have used social media with amazing results. But it’s always a mistake to use anecdotal evidence and exceptions as proof of a theory.
Another problem with social media is even if we’re good at it, we don’t ever feel we’re good enough at it. It’s hard to be noisy enough. Or bold enough. Or exciting and clever enough all the time. There are always more friends to find. More followers to attract.
In a recent article at Salon, Laura Miller said that 1.1 million new authors had been added to the Kindle store in the last 24 months and that it’s harder than ever to find a new title in the giant sea of new titles unless you know what you are looking for.
So take a deep breath before you berate yourself for not getting further faster. Give yourself permission to stop before you push yourself past your comfort zone.
While a presence on social media outlets can be valuable it can’t– except in unusual cases–take the place of strong publisher support. And even more important, it can very seriously interfere with nourishing our creative souls.
I’m not suggesting we all desert social media. But it’s important to stop every once in awhile and take stock of the time we have and judge how we want to spend it. Our writing time, the time we spend reading, going to movies, museums, eating, cooking, seeing family & friends – all our recharging time is precious. We need nourish ourselves and our craft. Because if we don’t we won’t have anything to post @Twitter.
Photo courtesy Flickr’s Martin Gommel