Wednesday, May 19, 2010

More Than You Want to Know

by Sophie

"Do you like doing all the marketing, social networking, etc.?

In October of 2007, I started a blog. I had just bought my first Mac in years, and I set it up in about thirty seconds and stared at its beautiful shiny surface and wondered what I should do to mark its arrival. Getting the words and paragraphs and pages done wasn't a problem; I had made the decision months earlier to treat writing as my full-time job despite having no agent and no contract, and I'd been fulfilling my obligation to myself.

But I kept hearing people in my RWA chapter talking about the importance of developing a "presence" (shortly after that people started calling it a "platform," a term that hung in there most of last year and now seems to be ceding to a general discussion of participation in social media) - - and as usually happens with me and cultural trends, I felt left behind.

As I've written on this blog in the past, I am emphatically not an early adopter. I'm about as hip as an 8-track tape and have no desire to be first with any new toy. However, I cherish and respect my career enough that when I realized this was part of the job, I jumped in.

Here's a funny thing - I think my early blog posts, those I wrote at the end of '07 and into the early months of '08, were the best I'll ever do. I had time on my hands, for one thing - my only authorial tasks were to write and query. (Those days are LONG gone.) I was new to the exercise, so I strove mightily to get it right and put the time in polishing and drafting, a luxury I rarely can afford now. Also, and possibly most important and hardest to explain, I was writing for an audience of...zero. No one read my posts. I didn't tweet or have a facebook page so I had no way to direct traffic there; my family loves *me* but is indifferent to my presence/platform/whatever; and I had no real content to offer. In fact, I still hadn't placed my first short story in a 'zine.

None of that particularly bothered me. I've always been aware that the act of writing is, at base, a conversation with myself, an extended and awkward therapy session I conduct in my head. This was just one more canvas to paint on.

Which may be one of the reasons that, once people *did* start reading my posts (and trust me, pals, it's still no kind of big number) I took all those posts down. They felt oddly...raw. Not exactly too personal, because I've shared lots of personal stuff here and elsewhere and I kind of firmly and out-of-the-mainstream-ly believe that revelation - in the form of tangential asides, which is what blogging feels like to me - can be ameliorative to the main process. But perhaps...too fresh. Revelations which I hadn't simmered or cogitated sufficiently. First reactions, almost like a Rorschach test response - and since then, I've learned that a blog post (the current one excepted, oddly, because I'm very stream-of-consciousness at the moment) is more successful when one drafts and then refines it, considering an audience and maybe even letting the ego/super-ego in to refine what the id started.

Now see, that last paragraph is an example of one that on subsequent read begs refinement. But I'll let it stand as an illustration. Maybe even a cautionary example. :)

Anyway, blah blah blah, time went on and I ended up on several group blogs, and then there were several late nights in 2009 when certain thriller writers bullied me into Twitter and Facebook, and I had to sheepishly admit that they had been right all along and all my carmudgeonly refusal to play had been pointless. Yes, I like it. I like it, okay??!! Writing is tough, it's crazy-making and occasionally lonely, and I love dragging my fingertips through the torrid currents of the twitterverse when I'm especially stuck. Someone's always around to waste time with, and I'm positively addicted.

But for God's sake, ...."tweet"?? Makes me want to carve off strips of flesh. Horses and barn doors I suppose, but I do hope that when the next innovation is sprung upon us, someone will give a nod to dignity...

21 comments:

Bill Cameron said...

In reading these entries this week, I've found myself thinking, "Yeah, what she said." Hopefully I can add something new tomorrow when it's my turn!

I admit, I am okay with the word "tweet" for what we do on Twitter. Seems both accurate and reflective of the dignity of the activity. :)

Sophie Littlefield said...

but bill, you're such a dignified guy to start with...you have that je ne sais quoi.

Chris said...

I was dragged grudgingly into a lot of this stuff myself. I've come to enjoy it. Working at home for my day job (or traveling for it), I don't have any co-workers to interact with, and I spent a lot of time alone. So these outlets allow me to interact people in a way that, while some may say is unhealthy, still gets me through the friggin' day.

Blogging is something I enjoy. I'm like you in your early days, though -- mostly just blathering into a void, but it's still kind of fun. Sometimes. About every other week though I ask myself why I bother, heh.

Jen Forbus said...

I like reading these responses this week. So I'll throw in some tidbits from the receiving end of the social media phenomena. As a reader, I love having opportunities to connect with the authors that I read, but only if I feel they are genuine. Sophie, you are one of the BEST on the social networks because we can tell you enjoy it. You are natural and fun and you interact. Bill, same with you! But folks who are there because their publishers or agents told them they needed to be, it's obvious and that can ultimately hurt instead of help. Social media shouldn't be a given for everyone.

I recently put together my list of my top 30 crime fiction "people" to follow on Twitter - they aren't all authors. One of the comments I made was that it's off-putting when a writer only tweets when a new book comes out and only tweets about the reviews he/she got and the appearances they are making. I can read that on their websites. Twitter shouldn't be treated as a billboard. And if that's the author's soul purpose, don't use Twitter at all.

And there's nothing wrong with making that choice! It isn't for everyone. But for a reader like me, I will say that finding SOME way to make those personal connections is invaluable. It doesn't have to be through social media. Michael Connelly and Robert Crais don't personally use social media but both managed to make those personal connections with me through their in-person events and conventions. James Lee Burke rarely ever does an in-person event and he doesn't use social media, but he's responded to me via email. Then there are some other well-known and popular writers who "appear" to have taken an "I don't really care what you think" approach. And they DO use social media. I opt not to read what they've written. It isn't that it's bad and I would never say that it's bad. But there's tons of great stuff out there and I have limited time. I've opted to read the writers who in some way, shape or form have let me know that they care that I read what they write.

O.k., so now I've done the stream of consciousness ramble here to come down to the point that it doesn't matter what your publisher, publicist, or agent does for you or doesn't do for you. And it doesn't matter what platform you use to do it, but if you make the effort to let your readers know you care that they are buying and reading your books - THAT is what will make the difference. At least, that's what makes the difference for me. :-)

Sophie Littlefield said...

hey Chris, your blog is terrific. I'll tell you what, I'm glad I got into the habit before I had a book out. I think it would be a little overwhelming to try to get started then when you have so much else on your mind. So on days when you wonder why you're bothering, maybe hang in there...

Sophie Littlefield said...

Jen, *great* response (and not just because I made your greatest hits list :)

I think you hit the nail on the head. When I see people who only come to play when there's something in it for them, it's a real turn-off. For me as a buyer of books, it's their loss. I way prefer getting to know a little about the person under the words. I get that some people cherish their privacy and that's cool, too. But i have to say that, for better or worse, people who engage a little seem to broaden their audience.

Hard Boiled Mysti said...

It's a hard trick for some folks, to have a conversation WITH instead of talking AT someone. We're learning even in software that this is what people expect.

Sophie Littlefield said...

yeah mysti...and then there are those folks who, one fears, will never get it...no matter what the media ;-|

Graham Brown said...

Sophie - my favorite part of your blogging is that I can hear you when I read it. it's like we're at a bar somewhere having drinks and talking and I think that's what's great about blogging - if you blog like that you do make a real person to person connection.

Twitter - I'm still trying to figure that one out, it seems like a million people in a room all talking and no one is actually listening.

Great post. Hope my comment has been "ameliorative to the main process." :)

Chris said...

Jen -- great response. Hopefully some day I'll make one of your lists, even if it's the "30 crime writers to bet on in an arm wrestling match."

Sophie -- Thanks for the comments re: the blog.

Graham -- I agree with you 100% on the voice thing. For example, both Jen and Sophie are people I've only communicated with via email and twitter, but there is a certain rhythm and personality that comes through that I think will make conversation with them in R/L instantly recognizable. I dig that.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Thanks for another great post, Sophie! I do agree with Graham: I can actually hear your voice in my head when I read your blogs (uh-oh).

I don't get Twitter either. Facebook I get.

I just set my tea down at the beginning of this post and it is now full of ants. Critique of my typing speed, perhaps?

Sophie Littlefield said...

awww, graham....what i want to know is, why aren't we sitting in a bar right now talking about books?

btw, LOVE all those great reader reviews BLACK RAIN is racking up!! congrats

Sophie Littlefield said...

hey RC i saw that you were ant-infested. and....i immediately started thinking up another post-apocalyptic YA plot. collaboration, perhaps?

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Sure, Sophie. You, me, the ants, and a bar in New York. We can't go wrong. Plus I have these busted giant windmills in my head (they exist near South Point in Hawaii) that would be perfect in the post-apocalyptic movie version...

Bill Cameron said...

Sitting in a bar talking about books and stuff, the best social networking evah.

Terry Stonecrop said...

I love that you jumped right in blogging! You're a braver woman than I. Reluctantly, I started a blog. Turns out I enjoy it.

Twitter is another matter. Look at the privacy problems. I don't trust them.

Jen had a good point, if your heart isn't in it, it shows.

Kelli Stanley said...

Beautiful post, Soph ... all I can say is I'm grateful to read you wherever I find you, and always happy to have a drink in a bar, talking about, well, everything. :)

xoxo

Kelli

P.S. Dignity?? We get dignity with this gig?? ;)

Shane Gericke said...

Dignity is one of those D words like, "Don't have money to pay you an advance." But it's a fun biz anyway plus we get to read Sophie's blog commentary, so all is well in our world ...

I do a fair amount of social nets, but haven't gone a-Twitter yet. Can't imagine what I'd say that people would find interesting.

Sophie Littlefield said...

Terry, you're great on the internet! and bill and kelli, we hav esome serious catching up to do!!!

Gabi said...

I think the extended and awkward therapy session you are running in your head has lead to some really great writing. Let those imaginary friends natter on!

Terry Stonecrop said...

Thanks for the kind compliment, Sophie.