News from the Weeds: The Social Media Thing

(Yes, I still have a deadline, so of course I’m writing another blog post.)

Social media is weird. This is not a particularly original observation, but I’m still struck by it from time to time.

There’s Facebook, which is a coordinated, (mostly) self-curated version of every generic holiday letter you ever sent or received. (I should mention I’ve received some really awesome holiday letters, which may explain why Facebook is doing so well.) In addition, you can subscribe to various celebrities, news outlets, and professional entities, who will provide their own holiday letter entries. Advertising and data-scraping notwithstanding, it’s not a terrible system. I can get news updates, keep up with people I haven’t seen since high school, and watch people I will never meet crack jokes and have political arguments.

Then there’s Twitter, which is the electronic version of a highway billboard. Once again, you can curate whose billboards you see, and float your own little billboards out into the world. Unlike Facebook, though, you don’t know who’s going to see what you post. You know you’ve put it up aside a highway, but you don’t know who’s going to be driving by. Your followers will see it (unless they’ve muted you); but others can see it as well. You don’t know whose attention you’re going to attract. On Facebook, you can assume, up to a point, that only your friends will see what you post. On Twitter? You’re yelling to the whole world, and at any point, anyone anywhere could tune in and listen.

There’s also Instagram (where I have an account and follow a pack of people) and Snapchat (where I do not have an account, because I suspect I’m too old) and more flashing in and out of existence every day.

I’m not entirely terrible at this internet stuff. I’m pretty comfortable with the sort of back-and-forth one gets into when it’s all in writing, when you can think about what you say but have to deal with the complete lack of body language.

But as an author…I have no idea what I’m supposed to do.

I’ve got a Facebook page. It’s fun: I can squee over my book covers and post links to podcasts and toss up random NASA and science-y stuff. But I’m never sure how much to be myself. On my personal Facebook page, I’ve been known to have political arguments. (I’ve also been known to block people over political arguments.) I actually kind of hate political arguments, and I don’t want to have them on my professional page. But how much of myself do I actually put there? I mean, people Like the page because they want book news, right? And there’s not a lot of book news, really, except “Here’s the first book!” and “Here comes the second book!” and “There’s going to be a third book!” Three posts, and all the actual pertinent information has been disbursed.

Twitter is both easier and stranger. It’s easier, because I have one account, personal and professional. @liz_monster is me in all my varieties, and because Twitter is public, I’ve always been careful there. But I’ve been annoyed, and silly, and off-topic, and ham-fisted, and political (although I generally retweet other’s stuff, because other people so often say what I’m thinking much better than I could), and as a result my tweet history gives a much more complete picture of my personality than Facebook does. But when I talk on Twitter, I have no idea who I’m talking to, and that changes the message.

Blogging is much more my natural habitat. I’m still careful here (YOU HAVE NO IDEA), but it’s much easier to construct nuanced arguments in a blog. (I adore Twitter, but really, it’s no place to have a complex discussion about anything.) It would have been nice, in some ways, to have published ten years ago, when Facebook and Twitter were babies.

And here’s the thing: I don’t know if it helps.

I suppose I should define what it helps would look like, but I can’t. I don’t actually know. I see authors on Twitter talk about how much their social media presence has helped. I’ve had people tell me “Yeah, do what you like, but it doesn’t make much difference.” I don’t know who to listen to. I suspect both are correct: for some authors, Twitter and Facebook have really boosted sales, and for others it just doesn’t matter.

I’m beginning to think, though, that the “it doesn’t make much difference” crowd are all authors that were established before Facebook and Twitter came to be, before the internet was a place we were all expected to have some kind of presence.

So I don’t really know what to do, and I push forward and try to be myself, and I feel like I’m yelling into the great and terrible void.

Earlier I was reading a discussion thread about self-publishing, and someone brought up (as someone always brings up) how trade published authors are still often asked to do their own marketing. In the spirit of honest ignorance, I’ll say I don’t know if that’s true or not. I can say I haven’t been asked to do my own marketing. I asked if I could help, and the marketing people asked what I was comfortable doing and found places for me to do those things. Is this me doing my own marketing? I can see how someone might say that it is, but I’d have to disagree. It’s entirely different than the kind of marketing I’d have to do if I were self-published. I’d be absolutely crippled marketing-wise if I were self-published, because I get paralyzed when I don’t know what to do. I’d end up victimized by one of those “send us $10,000 and we’ll get you a few hundred sales!” outfits, and I’d be grateful to them.

I don’t really see social media as marketing. Maybe this is foolish of me. I sometimes use it that way – I like tweets and post review links on Facebook and talk about covers and release dates and I’m Oh So Positive All The Time!!! – but I don’t expect anything I say to have much reach. (This is possibly because I can see how widely things are read, and I know they don’t have much reach.) I participate in social media for the same reason everybody else does: it’s fun, and sometimes you end up interacting with really interesting people. It’s a quick-and-dirty way of keeping in touch (I often know family has made it home safely from a get-together when I see them Like something on Facebook), a fine spider web of human contact.

The biggest complication for me is that I don’t know, really, how much I should be responding to readers. Not that I see much from readers, but I do, now and then. I want to say THANK YOU for every good review I see, for everyone who says they’re reading, for everyone who says “Oh, I’ve been meaning to pick that one up.” Not because of marketing, but because it really is neat when a total stranger picks up the book.

But I don’t know what to say about it. For the most part, I’ve taken a “stay out of it” stance. Reviews are supposed to help other readers. Still, people say things sometimes that I want to respond to, and I don’t, even if maybe I should. I’ve seen reviews that mix up the names of characters, and I’ve seen people attribute things to me that I haven’t said. Nearly all of it’s benign, so I say nothing, because what purpose would it serve? And then there are the good questions, like the people who wonder if I’m using my real name. After a lifetime of being teased for Bonesteel, it’s quite nice when people think it’s a cool name. But saying “thank you” just seems weird in that case. Or probably any other case.

Social media is a huge time suck. (Blogging is a huge time suck. I’ve left a character mid-rant, and I need to get back to the book.) I strongly suspect I’m not making the most of it, author-wise. I also strongly suspect that I don’t have the right personality to do that. I might get there, over time, if I’m fortunate enough to have the opportunity; but for now? I struggle. I want to be myself, but I also want to be a professional. It’s a blurred line, and it’s still uncomfortable.

2 thoughts on “News from the Weeds: The Social Media Thing

  1. I can see how you might question how much value there is in social media in the grand scheme of things. All I can say is that I probably would not have found you but for twitter. I had started reading more SF/F books and got back on twitter (I had set up an account some years ago just to see what was out there) to keep up with several of my favorite authors. Pierce Brown led me to Brian Staveley, then to Hannah Bowman (I figured whoever she repped I would probably like) and then to you. It doesn’t translate to loads of readers, but I for one am glad to be able to get a sense of who the people are behind some of the books I enjoy. And also to get a heads up on signing events and such!

    1. I’m glad you told me. 🙂 I do think one of the huge values of social media is networking, and Twitter, I think, is much more effective that way.

      Hannah picks amazing people, that’s true. My own reading list is more stuffed than it used to be, because I figured I ought to check out my fellow representees, and everyone I’ve read has been wonderful. I’ve also met some of them, and they’re without exception interesting and sharp people (no surprise!).

      “Loads of readers” is just single readers in large groups. 🙂 I love knowing there’s ANYONE out there.

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