Pre-tirade Disclaimer: I’ve had a vendetta against Guy Gavriel Kay ever since I was forced to read all 3 books in his Fionavar Tapestry series in a fantasy fiction course in the span of two weeks… followed by numerous quizzes and essays…on top of four other courses. That thing is the size of Dickens (only with a slightly bigger font)! I know it’s not all his fault, but I’ll be happy if I never read anything that remotely resembles Arthurian legend again.
I have a big problem with Guy Gavriel Kay’s recent National Post piece about authors promoting themselves online. This is not because his observations about the industry are incorrect, but rather because I don’t feel he truly understands the best uses and practices for Twitter and other online promotional tools. He completely misjudged it without ever properly investigating it. He essentially cites one personal anecdote, where an author is attacked by a rabid fan on Twitter, as his reason for dismissing social media.
Kay is an established writer and, luckily, his fans were online talking about his books before it was even cool. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen for most writers.
Non-fiction writers in particular need to consider using Twitter and blogs because their books are sold on their expertise or personality. Having a useful Twitter stream or blog can really attract a large audience of people interested in your area of specialty (and subsequently your book). And, yes, it can be beneficial for fiction writers to create a professional online persona too.
Separation of the author from their art…is kind of crap
Kay’s main argument that is authors shouldn’t have to “dance” or put in any efforts online to sell their books. He sees Twitter as a way to sell the author’s personality, thereby destroying the author-reader relationship, which is meant to let the art of a fiction novel speak for itself (a division I find slightly…elitist).
Smart readers can and do make that distinction, no matter what you post online. I don’t religiously follow Tad Williams online and I don’t truly care what he posts (although I suppose there are a small number of psycho-fans out there who do). I’m still buying his latest book in hardcover when it comes out because I love his writing. The point is it doesn’t hurt to be online, garnering new audiences and making connections, especially for the overwhelming majority of writers who are not Guy Gavriel Kay (or in any way famous).
Social media is useful when you actually understand how to use it
I feel like Kay has been misinformed about the best ways to use social media to develop an online persona. It’s not about letting people know when you’re not home, what you ate for breakfast or letting fans in on the personal details of your life. Leave that to the celebrities (although technically I guess Snooki and Jwow are now celebrity authors?). In fact, all the things I just listed are what you shouldn’t do if you actually want to be successful online. Why? Nobody cares and you’re offering nothing of value to them.
To anyone who doubts the power of social media just try it! Find things you like and enjoy learning about. Follow interesting people who have something to tell you. You could actually make some pretty great connections, like with other authors, publishers, writers and reviewers. There isn’t a single industry where you can’t benefit by sharing what you know online. It’s a free exchange of information where access is relatively affordable.
Working hard for the money, so hard for it, Honey
I don’t think authors are being forced to “dance” when asked to put in some authentic effort to promote themselves and their writing. For most authors, simply putting their book out there and then retreating back to their cloistered office in a bad idea. Why put in all the effort to use your gifts to financially sustain yourself and then NOT put in any effort to actually sell it?
Saying you don’t want to use Twitter to let people know about your work is like saying you don’t want to tell people face to face your book just came out. It’s information, not personal details that’s important. On the other hand a stream of pure promotion doesn’t work either since spamming others will just piss them off.
The publishing industry has been hit hard recently with bankruptcies and closures. The word recession is on everyone’s lips and people are panicking over the supposed demise of paper books because of e-readers. It’s also difficult to guess how well or how poorly a book by a new author is going to do and companies can’t afford to sink in tons of cash on traditional media. You have to be the biggest champion for your book, not the overworked staff and interns at the publishing house.
To end this rant, I’d like to call on an illuminating example shared with me by a copyeditor who recently visited my book editing class: Alice Munro and Magaret Atwood are both critical and commercial darlings. However, one author outsells the other by a lot. The main reason? Margaret Atwood leaves her house. She is out there attending events, speaking on Q Radio, tweeting and sharing her thoughts. She doesn’t share deep personal stuff, but she’s on our radar. Alice Munro never leaves her farm.
Now I’ve got to go tweet about my hangnail.