how to flunk social media + lose me as a potential True Fan (but you know I love you)

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The other day I finished reading the kind of novel you develop a relationship with: the characters move off the page to take up residence in your head. Their reality runs like a shadowy river alongside your own, waiting for you to step back into it.

When it was over, I leaped online to check out the author. For the most part, at least in my experience, literary writers tend to eye the social media platforms as if they’re instruments of sexual bondage: I’m supposed to do what, exactly? Surely you’re joking. What exactly is that, anyway?

gratuitious sexual bondage photo

Still, I was hoping for a blog. I wanted to prolong the experience of the novel by remaining in contact with the author’s voice. At the same time, I was curious about the author. More than curious: I felt a respect and readerly affection for her.

I had touched her mind.

I had walked through her imagination.

I wanted to show up at her virtual doorstep with the equivalent of a bouquet of flowers to say thank you and let her know how much her novel meant to me. I was ready to evangelize her to the world – or at least my small corner of it.

reading is awesome

The website was static, uninteresting: I didn’t care about any of the promotional stuff, I was looking for a blog, which there wasn’t. The Facebook page and tweetstream were also broadcasting and promotional. I was invited to leave a message – a “polite” message, as if I was in danger of being rude – but the flush of my enthusiasm had faded and I no longer saw the point. So I clicked away.

I think about this now, because it reflects the changing nature of the artist-audience relationship. I bring different expectations to that relationship than I would have, say, five years ago, when of course the author would have remained this remote, mysterious figure in the distance, giving me a well-meaning wave through her book readings and interviews.

Now, here I was, ready to be not just a reader or an admirer but a True Fan, ready to spread the word.

And feeling denied.

What had I been expecting, exactly?

Interactivity. Engagement.

Not with me, since she had no idea who I was, and although I have many flaws I am not, at least to my knowledge, psychotic; but with others, as if she was holding court in the center of a café and I had wandered in to join the crowd. It was like she had spurned the café entirely – I’m supposed to do that? — and so I ordered my mocha latte and took my Android tablet from my bag and started on another book, another author, hoping to fall in love again, knowing that, sooner or later, I would.

As a reader of literary fiction, I’m probably not the norm: although I do indeed love the smell of a physical book, the flick of the pages, the creak of the spine, the heft of the thing in my hands, I do most of my reading on my devices (pick one: my smartphone, my tablet, my Kindle Fire). I’m a social media enthusiast, live on the edge of the tech industry and spend a lot of time online, which might be why I consider this to be a good and exciting time to be a writer. (Since I became a Kindle convert a couple of years ago, I buy and read even more books, not less – and, judging from the data, this is typical.)

But – dare I say – the future of reading looks like me (as William Gibson so succinctly put it, the future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed). And as my reading habits adjusted to the new technology, as I absorbed the values and customs of social media culture (transparency, authenticity, connectedness), I became one of those people formerly known as your audience.

It’s no longer enough to seduce me with a good book.

My world is crowded, noisy, and moves at lightning speed.

In order to keep me as a longterm reader, you need to engage me, or in the time between your last work and your next work some other charismatic wave will have borne me away. It’s the difference between checking out your next book and seeing if it appeals to me – and buying it immediately, no matter what the content, and talking about you to my friends, and on my blog and Facebook and Google+ and whatever else I happen to be using at the time.

Let me be clear: I don’t expect or demand one-on-one communication. I am happy to remain faceless and nameless to you. But the online world is exactly that – a world — full-bodied and dazzling and multi-dimensional — and it’s transformed my relationship to you (or any writer) into a place that I would like to find cool and interesting enough to visit. Often.

In his book SMART WORLD: Breakthrough Creativity and the New Science of Ideas, Richard Ogle talks about “idea-spaces” and “the extended mind”. Basically, in order to navigate a complex and sophisticated world with as a little mental effort as possible, we offload our intelligence into the spaces around us through our myths, customs, technology, business models, codes of behavior. Our knowledge, our sets of ideas, live outside us (and breakthrough creativity happens when you can look across different idea-spaces, recognize emerging patterns and find new ways to fit them together).

What I wanted to find wasn’t standard self-promotion….but the author’s own personal idea-space, where she had offloaded enough of her mind and voice and personality (through blog posts and ongoing conversations) to invite me in relationship with her brand.

And yes, this requires extra, unpaid work on the part of any writer. Then again, writers always had to promote their stuff in one way or another. We also have to remember the definition of ‘marketing’ (taken from marketing genius and online master Marie Forleo):

…an emotional connection with the people whom you’re meant to serve.

(Did handing out bookplates and bookmarks and badgering people to come to your book signings create that ‘emotional’ connection? At least in the old world, there was the illusion that that kind of marketing actually worked.)

You serve people – not all people but your people, your right people, your tribe – through creating value for them. And, increasingly, what that ‘value’ looks like is a sense of community: individuals gathered round that offloaded version of you holding court in the center of your thoughtfully constructed idea-space. You, and your work, become a social object that gives like-minded souls a reason, or an excuse, to come together. You’re no longer simply ‘marketing’; you’re creating a little values culture.

Thing is, when different forces meet up with each other – when the distance drops away between artist and audience – chemistry ensues and transformation happens. Nothing brings us face-to-face with ourselves the way a relationship does, or exposes us to new ideas, or reshapes the ideas we may currently hold. A blog becomes more than a blog: a site of discovery, of creative and intellectual collaboration. It’s a living document, forever evolving, as readers shift in and out, and create value for themselves and for you through comments and sharing.

There’s you, and your audience, and then this thing, this entity, this energetic space, created when you come together. Jerry Garcia attributed the success of his band The Grateful Dead to the magic that happened at live performances when the Deadhead community fed the band with their energy. Since the band never played the same show twice — and believed in experimentation and innovation — they created a new show each time with the audience, responding to the audience even as the audience was responding to them. “Everybody should be in the band,” Garcia enthused. “And when that’s happening, it’s really something special. It’s an amazing thing.”

Writes Barry Barnes:

When you erase the distinction between band and audience, between producer and consumer, wonderful things can happen. Ken Kesey once explained the difference between the Dead and other bands: “The Doors were playing at you. John Fogarty was singing at you,” he said. Garcia, on the other hand, “was not playing [at the audience]. He was playing with them,” and often members of that audience would realize, “He’s not only moving my mind. My mind is moving him!”

I’m not saying that you should let your readers dictate your plot choices, or that you should compromise your vision or pander to your people (they’re too smart for that, and will abandon you in droves). But I’m reminded of a recent post in which successful entrepreneur/author Jonathan Fields discusses his decision to blog less frequently so he can create greater depth and quality, more value, with each post. “I write to make a difference,” he says, and refers to the “sweet spot between your authentic genius zone and the deeper needs of your community.” As an entrepreneur, Fields knows what online marketing is – and isn’t.

It’s not a billboard to let your readers know how great and accomplished you are.

It’s writing to make a difference.

It’s a sweetspot. It’s an idea-space. It’s a relationship with your readers…that can move your mind.

That is, if you’re willing to let it.

Dec 24, 2011
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50 comments · Add Yours

I know what you mean. When I discover a work of art that really moves me, I want to know more about the artist, to know them in a way that cardboard biographies can’t provide, even if it’s enigmatic glimpses. I want to know what inspires them, how they work, what their quirks are, what else they’re working on. It doesn’t have to be intrusive, just a little peek through a window.

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So true. I don’t know if our technology induced expectations are unrealistic or not, but I have experience the same disappointment. As a writer myself, I love receiving readers’ notes…an acknowledgement of a shared story. When a story awes me, leaves me stunned, I make it point to reach out to the author and let them know. A quick e-mail or a tweet. I don’t expect to make a lifelong connection or be bffs…but a gracious thank you would be nice. Sometimes I get it & it brightens my day, other times I’m ignored and I move on like you.

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Relevant and insightful! This is why I fanned and follow you! Keep up the good work.

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This is absolutely spot on. And Justine is the perfect example for me. You write. I value your writing. And I can find here (on your blog), Twitter, Facebook … insights into Justine the person. Not a deity, but a real person … and either I like that “idea space” or I don’t. It’s far more than simply the story-line of a new novel. Those days are gone (for me).

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The mainstream industries are being rocked to their foundations by the Internet and social networks, but it’s now time for artists to feel the effects too. For years artists have either been promoted in the mainstream via agents and the media or ignored. The Internet offers distribution and promotion but it takes a lot of effort and any artist who wants it to fall in to their lap is likely to be waiting an awful long time. I’ve heard loads say they can’t be bothered and it makes me feel like shaking them and telling them to stop being arrogant. They owe it to their potential audience to make the effort to reach out and feel, as you mention in your article, the richness that comes from interacting with those who connect to us.

Thank you for your article, i shall pass it on to others.

Simon

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Oh the arrogance of the “true fan” assuming that everyone should partake in social media at levels determined by the stalkers. I read the books because of the artistry and storytelling ability of the author. Whether said author feels the need for the approbation of the readers and stalkers is surely the domain of the author.

I prefer the author to be working on the next great novel rather than divulging what he or she had for breakfast. Social media can be vastly overrated and a huge waste of time for anyone wanting to actually earn a living.

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@HandyGuy Pretoria Sigh. Was expecting a comment like yours at some point. You’re from Pretoria? Do you know my ex-husband? Luck to you.

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The greatness of a writer’s art has no relationship to whether they spend all their time on social media. Oh wait a minute… they need time to write. Well maybe there is an inverse relationship.

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@art Of course it doesn’t. I’m not talking about the greatness of someone’s art, but the viability of a career that would pay them (preferably handsomely) to do their art…so they don’t have to fix toilets, or whatever, to pay the rent, *instead* of doing their art.

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Justine, on a admitedly somewhat semantic point, can one ‘flunk’ when one chooses not to play the game? The ‘True Fan’ notion is problematic for many reasons, not least of which that when art becomes a servant of fan-aquisition, more often than not, it becomes impoverished or worse.

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Servant of fan-acquisition? You do your thing, as strong and true and bold as you can; some people will like it; those people are your fans. You don’t change your point of view to attract people; you attract people *because* of your point of view, which expresses through your art and also through your platform. You can ‘play the game’ with integrity and honor. Of course you can choose not to play, but I think you’re making what I suspect to be a kneejerk dismissal for unnecessary reasons. I’m not going to go into a little sermon about how social media is not — at least when used properly — “about what you had for breakfast”, but I do think there’s a bias or prejudice against it that makes me roll my eyes. There’s definitely a lot of bad social media out there. There’s also a lot of bad art.

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I am the same way. When I read something wonderful, I want to continue the connection. I like when I find an author blog that resonates.

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Fair point justine. (While we both presumably understand that ‘good’ and ‘bad’ aren’t terribly useful as far as fickle superficial generalisations go :’ ) But still, essentially you are saying you expect access to ‘the author’s own personal idea-space, where she had offloaded enough of her mind and voice and personality (through blog posts and on-going conversations) to invite me in relationship with her, even if a one-to-many kind.’ I am saying if you make this a pre-requisite to what cultural production you engage with – on its own terms – you are going to miss a lot of really good stuff.

Secondly, not everyone is ready/equipped to deal with the degree and depth of exposure that often comes with the kind of engagement you describe. E.g. some successful individuals would like their children to grow up without constantly experiencing ‘oh, you are the kid of that XYZ who does ABC with PQR’ . Some people cherish their privacy.

Yes, your post did come across as verbal eye-rolling to me and you are entitled to. I suspect you might also be missing a point though; sometimes you are your work, sometimes not. Sometimes the audience buys into your work because of you the person, and our western and especially the american society is currently biased towards this paradigm, but it is not the whole and only truth. Sometimes people buy into your work for other reasons, e.g. your reputation, or, god forbid they have personal resonance with something in the actual work or for that matter they were advised to do so in some way. Of course it helps if they like you as a person. But the whole personality cult thing has me rolling my own eyes. I agree with you on the importance of relationships, but given your background, experience and passion I am sure you can offer something profound, insightfull and inspiring, if you want to, than just more social media envangelism.

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@AndreSC Oh for crying out loud. You’re misreading me (deliberately?) about a dozen different ways. Creating a platform — which is what I am talking about, and by the way, which is what any traditional publisher now demands — doesn’t require you to bare your soul, or expose your privates, or reveal anything you don’t want to reveal. To ‘invite in relationship’ doesn’t mean I expect her to have me over for dinner; it refers to the kind of long-term relationship between a business and a client, although those terms don’t seem appropriate here. I’m a writer who experiments with memoir, personal essays; it’s the nature of my work to be confessional (although, believe it or not, I too cherish my privacy and have a healthy sense of boundaries!), so my platform (as well as my personal history on the ‘net) is rather unique and unusual; I certainly don’t hold it up as an example; an effective platform, in any case, is at least partly educational, or tends to be. It’s more effective for you to be an expert at something than a confessor. By ‘idea-space’ I wasn’t referring to the online equivalent of your bedroom, but a culture that you construct through your point of view, your beliefs and values, much like creating a company culture or a family culture or a brand. You are operating out of social media stereotypes that I have neither time nor energy to correct. Also, I never — ever — said that I choose to read or attend work based solely on someone’s platform, or whether they have a platform. What a platform can do is attract my attention if I am not already familiar with the artist — and given that all the bookstores are going under, how you are ‘found’ as a writer is becoming more and more problematic, hence the growing emphasis on platforms. It can also deepen my engagement and thus my loyalty in a totally non-pathological, non-stalker sense, just through providing me with more content more frequently, which keeps the writer fresh in my memory and relevant to me in the long haul between her books — because there is a lot of stuff out there, including a lot of good stuff, great stuff — because there’s so many books and so little time, which makes for astounding competition (not even factoring in movies, friends, all the other ways we can choose to spend our time). Okay? Okay. I’m done here. And clearly irritated. Luck to you.

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Happy saturnalia. Appologies if you’ve taken what I’ve said as being insulting, was not my intent. Perhaps we just can’t get each other’s perspectives in this format. At least I’m reading you.

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No hard feelings. I was up too late wrapping presents and drinking coffee, so I’m overly tired and edgy. Happy saturnalia yourself.

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As much as I want to know a writer’s process and secrets, if they’re not comfortable with expressing themselves via social media then I won’t hold it against them, and they won’t lose me as a True Fan. My respect for them lies in their ability to produce whatever it is that made me fall for them — their music, their books — social media and revealing ones thoughts online is not for everyone.

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Great post as always and one that was bound to provoke strong reactions – because this could potentially be both an incredible opportunity for those who understand the possibilities and also a terrifying burden if you are not inclined towards engaging online.

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This has happened to me. I love a book and can’t find an active author blog by the book’s writer. It’s annoying. The worst part is that I’m not exactly the best at updating my blog or social media accounts either. I guess I can’t complain really.

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@Caroline They wouldn’t lose me either as a True Fan; but having a great platform can *make* me a True Fan when I’m not already there, maybe because it reveals an aspect of the author’s voice or philosophy that the novel didn’t. What I’m sensing here is this idea that a platform has to be super revealing, confessional; it doesn’t. It just needs to be built around something to say, some kind of meaning or message — save the tigers, for example. Something you’re passionate about.

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My point was really for artists who would like an audience but aren’t getting one via the mainstream. I work in my disciplines (painting, song writing, photography, writing and film) at least 10-18 hours a day, I sleep little, but try find time to use social networks when I can (often between blocks of work if a video is rendering, or while a project is saving etc…). For me having an audience is meaningful, it adds to my work, it even keeps me company through lonely moments ~ which if you’re involved in art you’ll know can come often and aren’t always beneficial~. Using social networking is an opportunity that some will like and others may wish to avoid, but for me it’s been a significant addition in my life.

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I only buy one author in hardcover, pre-ordering her books. That’s Joshilyn Jackson. I loved her first book but it was in reading her blog that I became a true fan and just HAD to get her books. Her voice is hysterical and I want to get my hands on all she has to offer as soon as possible, so her blog just makes me more excited for her books. She does it right. I think it’s only in thinking about how she does it that I get what you’re saying.

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@justine LOL. Touche
Though i must say that a few authors I know who are not EVEN on email,
write divinely and I patiently wait for their work to be translated into English
which is yucko – but no choice….because I still want to read them!
BUT communication is definitely fanning out to more modes and using them
is interesting and somewhat compelling. Thanks for the thoughtful piece!

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This post changed my way of thinking Justine. Before, I was adamant that I would not be a ‘brand’ because, to me, that was advertising, and advertising is full of lies and distortions. But blogging to co-create — now that is a different matter altogether! Well done and thank you.

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I’m so with you on this, Justine. I think for me, it’s not so much the “branding” or “platform”—which sounds like what this author was mistakenly trying to do—as the willingness to engage with people. A couple of my “friends” on Goodreads are authors, and they only use the site to promote their own work, rather than share what they read. They’re clearly trying to brand, but as a reader, that’s a lot less interesting to me than authors who DO share book recommendations. One of them has written a series that looks awesome, but I haven’t made time to read it, and I think that’s at least in part because she does nothing online (that I’ve seen) but promote the blog and the books. It’s kind of a turnoff. Authors who are willing to open up a little‚—even if it’s insecure or negative—are a lot more likely to stay on my radar. It’s not so much about the willingness to engage with people one-on-one (although I very much appreciate the authors who do that); it’s more about the willingness to show a little personality. Authors on Twitter, for example, who link to articles they’ve read, who take a stand on some issues, who have opinions and are not afraid to share them—those are the authors to whom I naturally gravitate. Even authors who tweet what they have for breakfast—as long as the breakfast is awesome—are far more likely to attract me than authors who do nothing but aggressively promote their books. I’m still loyal to some authors, such as Stephen King, who don’t use social media at all. But he did plenty of engaging in ON WRITING. Engaging can work wonders—whether it’s online or off. I did two films (shorts) with a guy I “met” on Twitter, and we still keep in contact, even though we’ve yet to meet in real life.

I think this is one of the reasons Neil Gaiman is so popular. I wouldn’t call what he does as branding or a platform at all. His blog is more like this smorgasbord of great links, book recommendations, advice on writing, etc. It started off as advertising for AMERICAN GODS and just grew from there. Yet he gets requests all the time to post pics of his dogs, cats, beekeeping stuff, etc. His fans think those things are just as interesting as everything else. I think one of the reasons he’s so popular now is because he’s willing to engage with his fans—perhaps even eager to do so. I once went to one of his readings here in Chicago, and he was a lot more earnest than what I expected. He really wanted people to enjoy the reading, and he spoke with every single person who wanted to get a pic, or a hug, or whatever. Not a bad “platform” for authors to model themselves after, in my opinion. I guess what I’m saying that the people who are really good at branding make it feel like it’s not branding at all.

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A few years ago I took a class with Christina Katz after reading her book, “Get Known Before the Book Deal.” I wasn’t a very good student, but I got this loud and clear: a book is just one method or tool for getting your message out. Yes, at 57 I DID have the fantasy that I’d descend from my turret one day, mail off my MS and wait for the royalties and fan letters to roll in. Then back up to begin book two. Now I think it’s like this: you identify what you love, what moves you and about which you are passionate. Then you express that, in your blog and comments and books and speechifyin’. Hopefully people pay you for it. I haven’t yet published but guess what? I’ve learned so much about social media that a national org in my target demographic has asked me to develop a webinar for actual bucks. It’s all connected. I’ll no doubt share this post. Thanks.

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I was totally in your camp – had the blog, website, twitter account of over 7,000 – and yet, it wasn’t social media at all that moved any of my books. As a matter of fact, it may have hurt, because I have an offbeat sense of humor and speak my political mind yet I write chicklit. That being said, I’ve had favorite authors that I’ve ran away screaming from because they are just so different from me politically. Now, I write under a pen name and can freely be who I am online without worry. I don’t have a blog or twitter under my pen name, and my books are doing better than ever.
You know how it goes, when you first start out, you mind your P’s and Q’s – but when you become wildly successful, you can walk naked through the mall and post blogs about the positive aspects of Communism and you’ll be thought brilliant.
Who I am is wildly different from the books I write – and I tried for awhile to be “PC” but I hated hiding who I was – being online was a chore.
So, until I grace the cover of People or Time, I’ll continue writing under a pen name, with no internet presence.
I honestly don’t believe you need anything more than an email address suggesting readers drop you a line to introduce themselves – and that’s where you make the connection.
All of my favorite authors have websites and Facebooks and Twitter accounts, but I’m social media-d out. And if I am (a former social media dragonfly) – then I have a feeling it’s on the wane. So much Spam. So many people “offering” advice, their wares, blogs littered with ads – it’s exhausting and soul sucking.
You are one of the few blogs I check into every now and then – because I appreciate your spirit – not your books. And by that, I only mean that you don’t write the kind of book I like to read.
Hope your New Year is fantastic!

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You know me, Justine. For the most part I’m with AndreSC. I know what you’re saying makes perfect sense for the digital age. And I do read the blogs of writers I admire (though mostly because of my own aspirations to write). But the idea a writer won’t have readers return if they don’t have a blog or some other way to stay in touch with their fans doesn’t hold much water with me. If a book is good, and a reader loves it, they’ll be back. It’s worked for years with all the writers I love, and all I had for insight into them was the occasional interview in some obscure print magazine. I’m sure it can help, but constant contact w/ fans can also become tedious and create whiners of the type George R.R. Martin had to deal with when he was late w/ the recent installment of his epic fantasy. The whole idea of “I’m not likely to read you again if you don’t engage with me the way I like” smacks of entitlement, of which there is already enough of in this country. Let writers/entertainers/artists be what they are and do the work they want to do and promote it the way they desire. If it doesn’t meet your needs, it doesn’t mean they’re doing something wrong.

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Hi, Justine.
I was surprised at the number of dissenting comments on this post.
I agree that, for most authors, it takes more than the seduction of a good book to create a true fan. The Big Guys (say, Rowling or Stephen King) might be able to coast along on the coattails of their existing success, but for most others a little more effort is required.

It seems many of the folks leaving disgruntled comments here feel that the artist should be left alone to create and not be “bothered” with things as menial and “low” as social media. While I respect the artist’s need for time and space to create, I don’t think that “stooping” to engage her audience lessens an artist’s or author’s value or ability to create. No one writes in a vacuum. If someone is writing to be published, I have to assume that she aspires to have an audience. Why bother creating an audience if you’re not going to engage it? And why – in this day and age – pass up the opportunity to engage not only with the books she writes, but also “around” the books and stories – drawing her readers further into her world and vision?

I recently finished reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I really enjoyed the book and – like you – immediately wanted to connect with the author. I was thrilled to find a very active blog and even connected with her directly (and had a quick conversation) on Twitter. I am now even more a fan than I was when I had only fallen in love with the story. Now I am also a fan of Erin – I like her personality, her openness, her random expressions of creativity, and the different people and ideas she introduces in her blog. I will absolutely buy her next book without having to even glance at a synopsis or review. No question. THAT’s powerful marketing in action. That’s a connection that wouldn’t be (easily) possible without social media.

Writers who wish to become successful authors need to pay attention to all the different ways they have to reach and engage their audience. It’s not just about the books anymore – it’s about the whole experience of author and story. If you don’t harness the whole thing, you’re missing out. Big time.

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I’m not disgruntled, Jamie, and I don’t think utilizing social media is “stooping”. I just know books/authors won readers over without blogs/social media/the latest big thing for years, and will/can continue to sell without them if writers so choose. I understand the digital revolution has ushered in a lot of change. If someone’s self-publishing, certainly they need to use social media to get themselves and their product (we used to just call them ‘books’) out there. Established authors can, too, if they wish.

As far as the argument that only the big boys/girls can succeed without it due to their previous success, I don’t buy it. No mid-list author when I was reading in the mid-70s to the early 90s had any sort of publicity given to them by their publishers, other than the occasional small ad in a trade magazine. Yet they sold books to me, and thousands of other people, because we liked their BOOKS and we sought them out. It wasn’t necessary to have an online connection to them for their product to sell.

And it isn’t necessary now, either. It is available, and just because you love an author’s book and then can’t find much about him/her online so you can ‘engage’ in some way is a terrible reason for you to seriously consider not reading them again. Everyone wants to learn more about something they like, but if it’s not automatically at your fingertips, then that person/work/thing ‘loses’ you? That’s called entitlement. It’s putting marketing before the book, story, artwork, what have you.

I have nothing against promotion, be it social media or some other avenue, as long as the promotion isn’t the point itself. I have a problem with the idea that just because something is changing and new methods are happening, everyone HAS to do it this way. No, they don’t.

Where you really lost me is “It’s not just about the books anymore.” That’s the saddest comment I’ve heard about the writing and publishing field yet. There’s always been promotion and publicity for books. But when the marketing becomes more important than the books, books will become more and more like movies—who cares if it’s any good or not, just get as many people as you can into the theater!

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And if the question occurs, “Then why are you reading a blog like this?”, the answer is I hopped on board when Justine was still talking about her own writing and her books. And I came, over time, to admire her. Since she’s become something of a social media guru, I still enjoy reading her, even though I don’t always agree..

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Excellent post! Weirdly, I was listening to a programme on BBC Radio 4 today which touched upon exactly this (might have been Woman’s Hour) – talking about Twitter and how celebrities use it (for celebs in this context, read author). Someone had analysed these tweets and discovered that c. 3/4 of them concerned promotion for shows etc, only 1/4 being about the personal stuff. But it didn’t matter because the twitter audience who followed that person felt that they got to be backstage with them, got an insight into their world. I’m the same as you – I read more now I have a kindle and I buy more books. I read more widely too, and I when I find an author I love, I want to connect with them – not in a stalkerish way, but in a glimpsing what inspires them way. I want to extend the enjoyment of the book through blogs and tweets.

My favourite author for that is Joanna Bourne – you get a glimpse of her books as they are formed and she’s a generous tweeter too. Loretta Chase shares all her historical inspirations. It definitely has an impact on my reader loyalty.

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Honored to have such smart, honest comments, people, thanks.

I do think I’ve been a bit — misinterpreted? misquoted? — which is probably my own damn fault, I should have been more clear. I wasn’t saying that a writer would or should ‘lose me’ (or anyone) as a fan if he/she doesn’t tweet me back, or whatever. I was talking about the jump from Fan to True Fan — in this case, the book didn’t quite make me a True Fan, but social media was the author’s opportunity to take me all the way there. Not an obligation. An opportunity. She didn’t take it, possibly because she doesn’t really understand the nature of effective social media engagement (which is interactive, not just broadcasting/promoting). She didn’t *lose* me as a fan — but she didn’t gain me as a True Fan, either. And I do NOT believe, as Andre seems to have intimated, that engaging with your fans somehow compromises you or makes you a lesser artist — I think that is a bullshit artist/creative myth that is both misleading and untrue. Creatives, like anybody else, actually thrive off a diversity of social contact, exposure to different influences, and if anything a genuine, resonant connection with their audience can keep them focused, inspired and relevant instead of drifting off into the ether in their heads.

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@MissChatter Your comment was really interesting, thanks for taking the time to make it. I did the same as you, sounds like — started blogging (in my Livejournal days) with no sense of who I was blogging for. The voice of my blog and the voice of my fiction went off in two different directions and attracted two different audiences with just a small overlap. Blogging became a way for me to discover who I really am as a writer — it helped me discover my voice when I’m not Trying To Have A Voice, if you know what I mean — and who I am really writing for. This blog in particular was/is an attempt to reposition myself a bit, since the kind of fiction I write has, well, changed. More psychological, realistic.

I don’t think — at all — that social media is a trend that is ‘on the way out’. It’s evolving. We’re still figuring out what to do with it. It’s not enough to just leap into the fray and raise a bunch of Twitter followers; you have to be meaningful and relevant in a way that relates to your fiction (and to the audience of that fiction). It’s a great chance to explore themes or ideas in your fiction, for example (which is what, ultimately, I’ll be doing, I’m just compelled to write through these other things first).

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@Jeff P. Don’t get me wrong, Jeff, the books still stand on their own + always will. It’s the whole idea of promotion and marketing that has changed — that doesn’t look like what it used to look like — and I think that’s a good thing, because it used to look and feel pretty crappy (why I never did any, and the sales of my books reflected that, which is partly what drove me to investigate platform in the first place, because I would like to not just write books but have a viable career writing them). I think what the Internet has really done — and I’ll do a post about this at some point — is to create this level of interconnection that no one can escape, and creates a new kind of social conscience/responsibility for businesses and creatives alike. Business can no longer pretend that ‘profit for profit’s sake’ leads to anything other than annihilation; their actions have consequences, and people are watching, and making their buying decisions accordingly. Artists are also caught in this web of interconnection, they have voices that travel, that can influence in ways that go beyond ‘i do cool epic shit, buy it’. I don’t think you should try to ‘promote’ yourself unless you actually have something real to say. You can be a force for resonance and connection. Those are awesomely powerful things. Healing things. But it’s also not ‘marketing’ as we’re conditioned to think of it…. I would dearly like to see writers + artists have real power + influence in this culture. So it’s not just the tech-business guys who shape these spaces…
And finally — the ways those midlist authors got discovered back then don’t really exist anymore. That was before the Big Six ate up the smaller publishers. That was before computers recorded the sales numbers that alone dictate how many copies of a book Barnes + Noble or Borders would order for their stores (which shaped the fate of a book before it even hit the stores). That was when publishers still gave authors the chance to develop an audience over time — through five, eight, twelve books. That was when indie bookstores promoted those authors through enthusiasm and word-of-mouth, making sure to keep certain backlists in stock even when those authors were going through unproductive periods. That was also when newspapers and magazines gave a lot more space to book reviews…You get the idea….It’s kind of like saying, “Well, publishers wouldn’t publish Charles Dickens today.” It’s a moot point. If Dickens was submitting today, he would be submitting a different kind of manuscript than he wrote back in his actual time. Art and context shape each other….And sure, there will be writers who do very well without having anything to do with Twitter. Irony is, their success will likely have a lot to do with the influence of other writers who *are* on Twitter and use that influence to help promote them (the online equivalent of a blurb…) And btw, I’ll be talking about my books + writing again soon. Thanks for sticking around.

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Interesting post, Justine. I liked the last bit about how Grateful Dead engages with the audience and how that helps their fans cross the line into True Fans. I think you have a great point.

It’s not about blogging, or Twitter, or Facebook, or anything. It’s about *engagement*. So non-social-media-active authors should find another way to engage with their readers.

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I love the way you put everything! You’re so right. Now, I expect to be able to interact at least a little with writers. Or, at the very least, being able to interact with the writer makes a huge difference in my experience of their writing. I’ve read novels in genres I don’t usually read because I’ve “met” the writers through social media and come to like him/her.

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Justine I tune in for your ideas and thoughts on ‘content’. You do it well with lots of interesting posts. However, trying to find your actual books is quite a task both on this website and TribalWriter. I couldn’t find a link, a tab or a side bar even to show me the way. (Yes, I know they’re on AMZN)

Whereas there is an understandable imbalance with the olde school author lady whose book you finished and couldn’t find content…the reverse seems to be going on here.

Just sayin’…:-)

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I’m lovin’ the banter here. I tweeted this and took your message to heart, Justine. (On my website, I tweaked my home page and my contact page to make me more approachable.)

As with most things, it’s about perspective. Like you, as a reader, I’m interested in connection to the author, and it doesn’t have to be a handwritten card. But I expect something now, and I don’t think it’s far-fetched. And I think writers like Nicholson Baker and Daniel Woodrell (two of my faves) are missing out on a certain type of author-reader experience. It may not be for everyone, but if I had to pose to a young writer what she or he wanted to accomplish as a writer, I wonder what kind of responses I’d get. Does a twenty-something writer really desire to be reclusive like a Salinger or Woodrell?

I’m currently a niche writer. I understand that and I’m interested in connecting to my readers. I’ve done plenty of slogging around and doing poetry readings, which was always hit and miss. Every writer has their horror stories, and mine was in a coffee shop in Kansas City where no one gave a damn, including the espresso machine. Of course, I made some real connections through readings–but now I’ve made just as many (more, really) interesting and genuine connections via Twitter and FB, and I intend to nurture this because it feels good and actually contributes to my writing mojo. :)

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@RGB Ooohh, snap! Actually, the situation is this: I have an ambivalent relationship with my previous books, which I regard as the work of a much younger writer. I don’t want to be known as a ‘science fiction’ or ‘fantasy’ writer — not because I don’t have massive love and respect for the genres and the people who work in them, only because that’s not what I am. Also — as I think has been touched on somewhere in above comments — people who read this blog aren’t necessarily people who would enjoy those books (but might enjoy my future books). My goal this year is to self-publish something on ‘badass creativity’ as well as some fiction, and *that* stuff will be featured on the blog.

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I have to agree with handyman. I am annoyed with myself for taking the time to even write a comment, but we’re inundated with information to the point of knowing where people buy their groceries. I wish to go back to the classic authors, old Hollywood- real glamour, more talent. The people I admire the most don’t throw themselves in your face with blogs and tweets and Lord knows what else. They have lives. They have talent.

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@scott100 Handyman rather missed the point, but whatever. I could talk until I’m blue in the face about how that’s not the “information” I’m talking about but it really makes no difference to people who are determined to be “above” social media (even when they use social media). I myself am always mildly curious about what drives people to leave bitchy comments. Tip: if you don’t want blog posts and tweets “thrown in your face”, then put your face elsewhere. It’s not difficult. :)

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There is, as Justine always points out, a balance here. I groused in an earlier comment above, but I do read quite a few blogs of writers whose work I admire, and enjoy being able to do so. And I’ve “friended” (loathe that this has been turned into a verb) some of them on Facebook. Social media is far from all bad or all good.

I do agree there’s way too much information on everything these days. But it’s not forced upon us unless we allow it to be. To paraphrase Justine’s comment immediately above, no one’s holding a gun to anyone’s head.

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You wouldn’t want anything to do with my ideaspace. You’re better off. Believe me.

On the other hand you in little danger of reading anything that might lead you into my ideaspace.

BTW, should ideaspace be one or two words or hyphenated? Chicago Manual of Style doesn’t seem to address it.

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As a writer who began before social networking was yet a phrase, let alone a reality (my first book, Velocity, came out when I was a babe myself, and my second book, Some Girls, not much later, in 1994 — when ‘the nineties” sounded like the future), I was in for a rude awakening with my 3rd novel, out in 2010, Hollywood Savage. Although Simon & Schuster published it, they did no publicity whatsoever, and it was only after the fact that I kind of figured out they had left it to me (if only they had hinted at such!) Personally, I love the fact that I can reach out to the writers that move me, and leave me breathless — that I can contact them through facebook, or their websites, and hear more of their voice (Paul Niell — sic? — author of Apathy, and Other Small Victories, being a case in point) — I still feel shy, however, about “putting it all out there” & while I can prattle on (see: here) w/ the best of them, still feel awkward about blogging. Wanted to respond to you, though, because I like your writing so much — a literary blogger! Anyway, thanks for making such a clear cut case. Here’s hoping you check out one of my books (they’re in the library, even!) & like them.

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Kristin — I read VELOCITY years ago and absolutely loved it. Loved it. Lost my copy, couldn’t remember your name, couldn’t track it down. Wondered if I was even remembering the title correctly. Every now and then over the years I would think of the book, the characters, the affair, especially as I became older and more, shall we say, experienced in such matters (including grief). I am going to order it now on Amazon (along with your other books) and I am sooooo going to send you an email. :)

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THE INTERACTION BETWEEN YOU AND AND THE LAST BLOGGER KRISTIN GIVES A MEANING TO THE NATURE OF THIS BLOG. sTAYING ENGAGED AFTER THE LAST PAGE. SHARING ONES VOICE AFTER THE LAST PAGE IS READ. COOL, THAT YOU TWO CONNECTED AFTER ALL THESE BOOKS AND YEARS.

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Thanks for the blog post, Justine. Over the past year or so, I’ve realized that social media has a real effect on my reading. I do enjoy a book/series (and I am more likely to buy more books) more if the author has a social media presence that adds to the reading experience. Personally, I think the key is to “add” to the reading experience through additional content such as historical background or setting. However, some of your commenters prefer the social interaction with the author. That’s interesting.

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Ah beautiful. Love the post. Doing work myself that makes me particularly delighted by your thoughts on Social Media for literary writers. :-) Got referred to you today by a True Fan called Dave Malone. Interviewed him for a podcast. He is right about you. Will subscribe now. Thank you for sharing your idea space with us.

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Wow Justine, talk about a storm in a teacup here! I really enjoyed your post and your perspective, but what I love even more is some of the crazy comments happening here ~ and how you handle them. Props to you gorgeous x

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