This question arose today from a conversation with Isaac Marion. We were chatting about incessant prodding done by agents, marketers, social media experts, hungry raccoons pretending to be social media experts, and a slew of other people who think they know what kind of an online behavior leads to better book sales. As you have guessed, this prodding is aimed at writers. Its message is simple. "Sprinkle your marvelous thoughts online in a liberal layer, daily. Smear it on so thick that others will sink into oblivion." Now, to decode this "simple" message, here is what they mean. Blog regularly, tweet regularly, Facebook regularly, fart regularly (and, preferably, artistically). And here is why this makes me angry.
I used to do social media. I did it for companies. Sadly, I have advised people to do the same. "Show up, show up, show up," I said, and I did it myself. I showed up to the point of death, spreading myself so thin, there was nothing left of me to write with, which is my main job. I have learned the hard way that the old advertising mentality no longer works. More doesn't mean better. Screaming on every corner about your book doesn't mean people will buy it. Shoving your brilliant thoughts in people's faces won't bring you instant fame. Vomiting every single idea that comes to your head won't guarantee scores and scores of followers.
I have since changed my online presence drastically, cutting down my tweeting time, ignoring my blogging schedule (I imposed on myself the need to blog twice a week), writing first thing in the morning before engaging with anyone, and posting things on the Internet only when I feel like I'm burning to share them. I still stumble and fall into my old habits. But, enough of me, let's talk about you and this advice you hear from social media experts.
Here is what social media experts need to understand.
ADVERTISING IS DEAD.
It had played out its role when it had virtually no competition. Now we are swimming up to our eyeballs in noise. We have gotten very good at filtering it out and no longer see things. We trust friends. This is how it worked from prehistoric times. I bet you got advice from friends where the fattest mammoths grazed on the greenest grass, making it easy to shoot them in the ass unawares.
HERE ARE THE NEW PROMOTIONAL RULES.
STAY AWAY FROM SOCIAL MEDIA EXPERTS.
I am, thankfully, no longer bearing this title. Social media experts don't care about your book or you, unless they are your close friends. In that case they will sing a very different tune. It's the truth of life that there are very few people whom you can trust and who genuinely care about you and your art. The rest can go stuff their shouting mouths with hay. Perhaps they'll turn into horses and shout less.
YOUR ONLINE PRESENCE IS ABOUT QUALITY OF CONNECTIONS, NOT QUANTITY.
I have been a slave to the latter. I was after numbers until I saw that they mean nothing. If you are following me on Twitter, you have probably noticed that my numbers are steadily falling. It's because the dead accounts are being killed by Twitter and I'm losing people who don't care. Good riddance. I have more meaningful conversations now with those who stayed. They will tell their friends about my books. 10 people who will try reading my books because of their friends' recommendation beat 1000s of fickle followers who come one day and leave the next. My true fans and readers are people who I care about, and they care about me. We take time to get to know each other. It's a two-way street. Those who left me will find other writers whom they care about, and that is great. Why should they waste their lives on my writing if they don't enjoy it? Life is too short.
PEOPLE FOLLOW PEOPLE FOR WHO THEY ARE, NOT FOR HOW OFTEN THEY POST.
The most asinine idea I have heard from those who claim to understand social media is that if your blog posts' timestamps are old, it looks "unappealing." Fuck that. It tells people you're busy writing books. You can remove time stamps from your posts altogether and make them timeless. Have people guess, just for giggles. This is what Maria Popova does with her Brain Pickings. Take a look. There is not a single timestamp. Don't allow others to pressure you into sharing. Think of it this way. There is no Internet. No computers. Nothing. You just scribbled a story on a piece of paper. You're dying to show it to someone. Who will it be? Your friends. You'll run up to them, all excited. Where are they? (See what I mean?) Where are those people who care about your art? That is where you share. If they visit your Facebook wall, do it there. If they read your blog, do it there. People will tell you where they want to see your writing. Again, Maria Popova's example. Her blog is visited by millions now, but it started as an email to 7 friends. She simply shared her insights on a few great books she has read. There is no formula. Her success grew out of her love for what she was doing.
MOST PEOPLE WHO ADVISE YOU ON THINGS CARE ABOUT THEIR ASSES FIRST.
I am not traditionally published, so I only hear this from friends who are. Often what marketing departments suggest to writers hinges on the need of their publishing company to meet its ends financially. Hey, more exposure will surely help our writers make more money, let's tell them that. Let's make it a requirement. Let's advise them on spending more time online. Publishing is a business, first and foremost. Unfortunately, you are a cog in the machine. If you won't bring a certain amount of money, you will be cut. I self-publish because I want to be directly connected to my readers. They support me with their money without the middleman. It's not enough to live on yet, but it will be. I will work my ass off to write fantastic books and I know my readership will grow. At this point I have managed to do side jobs to supplement my income, because all I want is to write full time. Not for someone, for myself. If it makes me happy, it's bound to make someone else happy, and that is my contribution to the world. How can I make people happy if I yell in their ears about my books not because I'm excited about them, but because I'm required to? I won't, and they will eventually turn me off.
SHARE YOURSELF BECAUSE YOU WANT TO SHARE YOURSELF.
If you don't enjoy opening up and talking about yourself, don't do it. It will damage you as an artist. The Internet is just a screen with people peering into it, pretending like they are building real relationships. Internet is deteriorating our ability to communicate. We see no facial expressions, no body language. There is no touch. We try to extract hidden meanings from typed words, and often it's false. True connections are formed face to face. Yes, Internet has done wonders in allowing people to connect across space and time, but it also brought the culture of trolling, online abuse, cyberstalking and more unsightly things that hurt people in real life. It's out of our bewilderment that this online drama stems—we try to understand it, to decode it, to get what it means, because we're lacking visual cues. View internet as a window into real life, not real life itself. Connect with real people, take time to talk to them, do readings at people's houses, go to bookstores, to fairs, to conventions. Ask people where they want to see more of you, and, if you're comfortable doing it and it brings you joy, do it. If not, don't.
DON'T LISTEN TO ME, LISTEN TO YOUR GUT.
Everything I have said above is based on my personal experience. I have no scope to be able to measure and understand what works for different writers, nor will I ever have it. You are the only one who can decide what is true for you and what isn't. Trust your gut and do what your gut tells you. We're all going to be dead, it's the reality of life. The time you spend online is your life trickling through your fingers, minute after minute. If you don't enjoy blogging or doing social media, is it worth your time? Think about it. My blog, everything you read here, is it worth your time? If it is, great! I will strive to share more of my findings with you. If it's not, ditch it. Do something you love and don't listen to anyone who calls themselves an expert. In general, don't trust people who claim they know absolutely everything. Most likely they don't know shit.
CONNECT TO YOURSELF.
Get out of the house. Touch rain. Hug trees. Listen to flowers. Talk to a bear. Take a walk and forget about Internet. Internet is an obsession of our generation. There will be a time when it will be replaced by something else. But people and trees and clouds will stay (unless we blow them up, but that's a whole another story).