I was very surprised at the reaction last week’s post, about Jerry Elias’s old school bookstore reading and his (most of the time) rejection of social media. It had not been my intention to make the point either that Jerry (or any author) who decides to persist in ignoring Facebook or Twitter is actually helping his career. Rather, I was describing a particular situation where an author who also has been performing in public for the past thirty years simply wants to continue to do so because it gives him more joy and direct connection to his market than he can get in 140 characters.
The reaction, however, was very stark. Many writers who are frustrated with online self-marketing have kind of taken up the charge, and see Jerry’s attitude as virtually heroic (which is funny, because he himself thanked me for taking, in his words a “design flaw and turning it into a design feature.”) My client and wonderful author Tania Roxborogh said that the column engendered lively conversation in New Zealand, where she lives. “My job is to write,” she said. “Your job is to sell me to a publisher, the publisher’s job is to get the work and word out there.”
Well, hmm. I totally get it. But I also think that while Jerry’s reasoning and Tania’s kind of end in the same place, they get there (at least partially) in two different ways. Tania, representing so many other writers who got into this field because they like, you know, the writing part, and feel that’s what they signed on for, is thinking about the opportunity cost of self-promotion. Any time she’s on Twitter talking about things relating to her book, she’s not working on her craft. It’s not her job—she writes, I sell, the publisher disseminates the finished product out to the world. Simple.
Jerry, on the other hand, is annoyed at the means of self-promotion more than the fact. He is happy to spend enormous amounts of time schlepping around the country with his book, his baton, and his violin in order to see his readers face to face and interact with them directly. His opportunity cost on Twitter is not as much that it prevents him from writing, but that it’s taking the place of personal live appearances.
The problem is, of course, that however you get there, it’s not really a sound strategy to ignore the online components of marketing if you’re a writer, even if you need to do them yourself. They are the fastest, least expensive, and most focused way of reaching the largest number of people most likely to read your book. And ultimately, any decision that a writer makes to go about it any differently—whether by going on tour or waiting for a publisher to do it—is making a conscious decision to do an incomplete job of marketing his or her book. And that may be OK. It is clear that it is worth it for many reasons for Jerry to continue to go out to bookstores because it gives him tremendous pleasure. And writers who think like Tania (MANY others—Tania simply expressed it succinctly and well in the comments, because she is a writer) may make the calculation that they are better served making their novels that much better rather than posting an update on Facebook.
And there is another element as well to this argument. The fact is, if you hate what you’re doing, it shows. If a writer is rolling her eyes while Tweeting about her book, it’ll come off as false or pandering or craven. If an author says “I’ve got this book coming out, if you feel like buying it that would be nice,” it’ll come off as resentful and insincere. And in neither case, if the author did not spend real time beforehand making certain that there are people to read his or her Tweets or Updates, then he's being a solitary lumberjack with nobody to hear the trees falling.
Next week (who knew this would be a three-parter!) I’ll talk about how to work through social media ambivalence and toward a legitimate platform. Hint: I don’t believe it’s a “necessary evil” or “something you need to grin and bear.” The only way it’ll work is if you enjoy it. It’s like the Candy Man—you’ve got to mix it with Love to make the world taste good.