Thursday, February 11, 2010

Working The Room

Social networking is a complete waste of time and a royal pain in the ass.  Unless you want to sell books.  Or aluminum siding.  Or lemonade.  Or anything else.  Or unless you want a job, a date, or tips to improve your golf swing.

Writers often forget that real people need only two things: food and shelter.  Everything else is a frill.  When we pay a guy ten million dollars a year to play a kid’s game or an actor fifteen million dollars to play dress-up, it’s easy to lose perspective.  The truth is that nobody needs the Super Bowl or Avatar or American Idol.

And they certainly don’t need my books.

Which means I’d better make those books worth their while to read.  That’s easier to do if they know who I am.  It’s even easier if they like me.

Social networking—remember when we used to call it “making friends?”—has become vital for any author who plans to do more than write a journal and stick it in a trunk.  I’ve started blogging—hey, you’re reading this, aren’t you?—but I can’t see myself twittering or tweeting.  How can you take it seriously when the verbs evoke images of canaries on speed?

I am on Facebook and Classmates (I’ve even volunteered to help with my high school reunion this fall), and I will soon have a Web site, but my favorite forms of “social networking” involve face-to-face communication.  It’s part of that Do-Something-For-Others-So-They-Will-Do-Something-For-You compact.

Every word I’ve published—not that you’re going to mistake me for Joyce Carol Oates (I’m taller)—is because someone gave me a hint or a contact.  Now I’m trying to pass that generosity along. As Harlan Coben puts it, “Nobody else has to fail so that I can succeed.”

I love to run a writing workshop and watch people discover the magic in their own words.  I’m starting to arrange library events (we used to call them “readings”) for my own novel because I love talking with real people—“tweeting,” my ass—and hearing their reactions and questions.  I love the visceral contact of shaking hands.  And if people like the way I treat them, maybe they’ll give the book a chance.

I joined the Guppies for critiques and info groups because if I want feedback, I should give it, too.  The best part was actually meeting two dozen members at Crime Bake last fall and putting faces and voices to the e-mail addresses on my monitor.  I volunteer for Crime Bake.  I contribute—far too rarely—to other blogs.  I wrote a study guide for a book Hallie Ephron cited in 1001 Books For Every Mood.  We used to call all this stuff “sharing,” and it was a big deal when I was growing up.

Now I’ve started research for a new novel, interviewing a man and woman last Saturday night.  I met them at a Roller Derby match, and their combined age probably totals 2/3 of mine (Remember why you hated word problems in math?).  I don’t remember the last time I had so much fun. Well, I do, but that’s between me and my parole officer.

My daughter, who also does Roller Derby and is designing that Web site I mentioned above, is giving me the names of a referee and three players from other teams so I can interview them, too.

Social networking?  Nah.  It’s making friends.


  1. Love your opening line, Steve! I definitely agree with you on face to face contact being much more enjoyable. I find social networking more of a distraction, which you'll see tomorrow...oops...spoiler. But I doubt anyone is on the end of their seat about my post tomorrow. ;-)

  2. I'm on the edge of my seat, Wendy. :)

    And I don't get it. You guys actually leave your homes and MEET real people? That's so old school.

  3. Hey, Supriya, considering the state of the American education system, we need to get back to old school. But, seriously, nothing like pressing the flesh. Obama may have had a big online campaign, but he still had to shake hands and kiss babies.

    Truth be told, it's the best way to make sure the face on the website is the actual face of the person.

    I agree with Steve. The old ways and the new ways can co-exist.

  4. Please, you get me in a room with a lot of people and they'll either buy my book to shut me up or buy my book out of sheer morbid curiosity!("Excuse me? Did you say you write detailed sex scenes?")

    All my years in sales have definitely taught me how to work a room. By the end of the night I have total strangers spilling their guts to me (remind me later Greg, to tell you about the time I met Bill Clemente and Al Morgante(sp?) somebody with ESPN, hysterical!). You think I'm "on" online, you ain't seen nothing yet!

    But seriously, sometimes I think I do better online because I can check for typos and PC-ness, rather than jump in with both barrels blazing not worried about what religious group I offend ;-)

  5. I don't think social networking - talking digital here - has much to do with selling books. Blogging, Facebook and Twitter all foster bonds with other writers, but do little to get the word out to the general public.

    Are blogs worthwhile? I've met a terrific community of writers via my blog and have learned a tremendous amount. So yes, absolutely. But unless you're a best selling author, it's unlikely your readers are going to visit your blog. And if you are a best selling author, you probably don't have time to maintain a blog.

    I am on Facebook and have been able to make contact with a few folks from my past. I suppose that could result in the sale of a few books. Um, once I have a book to sell! :)

    If you're looking to make connections with other writers and folks in the publishing field, social networking is invaluable. If you're trying to drum up an audience for your books it's a waste of time - kind of like book trailers are a waste of time, but don't get me started.

  6. I disagree Viva, open a Business Page on facebook and work it. You'll attract readers not writers.

  7. That's fair, C.J., but it begs the question, how do folks who don't know who you are find your business page? I'll grant that Facebook is a way to entice readers who may be familiar with your name or work, but then a webpage will do that too. And even if you manage to attract 5000 followers to your Facebook business page, all of them readers, is there any evidence they're more likely to buy your book?

    While I would love to believe this, and Facebook would love me to believe it, my background is in research methodology not marketing. Someone is going to have to SHOW me hard numbers to convince me.

    Can't help it, I'm an irredeemable skeptic. ;)

  8. Agent Janet Reid has said in so many words that Facebook does NOT help with sales. Twitter may, but it's too early to tell. Amazon only helps if the reader knows your name or the title he's searching for. Therefore, a web page is good.

    Since I posted on Thursday, nine people I tracked down through Facebook have returned messages so I can interview them for research. That may be the best part of the program (and it's certainly social networking!): the potential for actually getting in touch with people. Which, as you know from above...

  9. I'll only be able to answer this when my book is actually for sale - and Janet Reid may be an excellent agent, but she isn't my target market. I'm going after readers, not industry professionals. Viva, my background is in sales and marketing, so when the numbers come through I'll let you know.

    I can tell you I had 80 people buy (for the cost of printing) my unedited manuscript in two days time when I offered it up on my Facebook Business page - and over three dozen have sent it to me to sign and number and paid the shipping themselves, both ways. That's what I call a great beginning. The people I've met on there have been incredibly supportive - and NONE of them knew my name before they checked out that business page.

    Until I get a contract, I can show an agent or publisher that real readers are interested in my work. As far as actual numbers go - I can tell you their ages, their gender, where they live, and their educational background. Knowing the demographics of your reader and then being able to tailor a marketing plan accordingly is invaluable information when trying to sell anything.

    Research will help you with finding the right path and will help you with details, but taking a risk is what will set you apart from the pack. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

    If, and when, you're ever interested in taking the plunge, please contact me. I'd be happy to go over how I did it.