Thursday, September 10, 2009

Facebook and The New Author

I was thinking today, as I wished someone Happy Birthday on Facebook and then "poked" an old college friend, that it would be neat to have some of my favorite authors as Facebook friends.

Who would I choose, if I could choose anyone? Well, some of them are dead and the rest are really old. Mary Stewart, my all-time favorite, is alive and 92 years old. Ross MacDonald and Raymond Chandler died long ago, as did Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers. But they're people I would want to friend and occasionally chat with online (assuming that was the only way I could meet them), because they are great mystery writers. I would become their fans, assuming that they were online as writers who were looking for fans (as most writers do nowadays).

There's just one problem. From what I've read of these people, none of them would have any interest in joining Facebook. Mary Stewart would ask why people weren't out walking in the fresh air instead of sending flair or playing Lexulous. Ross MacDonald and Raymond Chandler would scoff at the idea of plying one's books online when one could be using the time to perfect one's craft. Write more, play less would be their mottos.

Agatha and Dorothy might be slightly more playful, but still, I think, reluctant to join Facebook. Christie wouldn't need the fans and would prefer watching some archeological dig; Sayers would prefer writing old-fashioned letters to a carefully selected group of friends over "friending" strangers.

Facebook and its ilk are a phenomenon of the new publishing world--one with which they would not be familiar. There are swarms of writers on Facebook, and only some of them are polite about PR. Many of them write to ME and ask me to become their fans. Huh. Seems like once it was the other way around.

But writers know that they're expected to promote that book and somehow raise those sales numbers. Writers are made to believe (either explicity or implicitly) that if they don't sell, they are somehow not worthwhile. And that makes for a whole bunch of desperate people using any online resource they can to keep their books in the public eye.

Facebook is one of many places that the new writer must try to sell. But a part of me yearns for the image I once had of writing: the mystique of the writer who had no website, but only a glamorous picture on the jacket of the book. If one wanted to contact this writer, he or she had to write to the publisher and ask that they pass along the message (and the message was generally "I love your books!"). The writer, in the meantime, could remain relatively anonymous.

I think Mary Stewart was able to do her writing without it really affecting her everyday university life. I doubt she had to do much touring, and I think she would bridle at the idea of putting any personal information on a website.

This is a new world, and Facebook is an example of the very visual requirements of the public.

But sometimes, when I'm reading the newsfeed or sending mythological virtual snowglobes to "friends" all over the world, I seem to channel Mary and wonder if I'd be better off walking the moors.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

It's definitely a different world out there. On the upside, I've gotten fun feedback from my readers.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Julia Buckley said...

It's true, it's a whole new way to reach out and touch someone.

Lisa Bork said...

I still haven't signed up for Facebook, much to the dismay of my friends and relatives who enjoy it.

Julia Buckley said...

And it is enjoyable--but sometimes I feel very guilty when I'm on it. It's a time quagmire.

Alan Orloff said...

"time quagmire"

Perfect description!

Someone should invent a time-out device. You get ten minutes on Facebook, and then it locks you out until the next day.

Julia Buckley said...

That might be the solution, Alan. Although the Facebook people wouldn't like that.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

It would be interesting to see, Julia, how the literary icons you mentioned would do if they were just starting out in today's brutal publishing world, stacked against a flooded marketplace, worried about sales numbers and being axed by publishers. Would they make the cut? Would their talent be enough to carry them forward without modern marketing tools and strategies? I think not. It's a constantly changing world and they would have to get with the program just like the rest of us.

That said, I agree, "time quagmire" is a perfect description of Facebook. But I've made it work for me and spend no more than 15-20 min a day on it, and that time is spread out throughout the day. I love being in touch with my readers, friends and family in a quick, condensed way, and I've definitely picked up new readers by being on it. And often people show up at my book events because they saw a reminder about it on Facebook.

I avoid the games, the flairs, and the "tests," (which BTW, according to our IT person at work are only there to collect personal information on people). And I delete any messages containing invitations to do these things. I stick to my guns.

And someone should REALLY teach a class to new writers on Facebook (or online) etiquette. I've actually blocked people because they became so annoying with message bombardment about their books.

G.M. Malliet said...

Seconding what Sue Ann said: The gifts and all those little applications I just ignore, intriguing as they are. They can be like little bombs set to go off in your computer. And I speak as one who has 2 household computers out of commission at the moment...I don't dare take any unnecessary risks.

Julia Buckley said...

Sue Ann, you're right in the sense that we can't go back. I tend to be nostalgic. But I would argue that their talents WOULD in fact set them apart, even now.

But yes, at least some of them would have to conform to the new wave.

And yes, GM, I do fear the security issues more and more.

Keith Raffel said...

Julia, it would be great to have you "be" say Dorothy Sayers on Facebook. Kinda like the Wizard behind the curtain. I'd be a fan.

Julia Buckley said...

That's a cool thought. :) I'm not sure which author I'd best be able to channel, if any.

Steve Jones Snr said...

I feel more than a little guilty in trying to sell books on FB. The internet, yes, it's a great marketing tool if you know how to use it (which I don't btw)
I tend to think that FB should be what it was intended to be, social networking, talking to groups of friends. However, all media is eventually overrun with advertising and marketing and all the advice I can find tells me to use every media outlet available to advertise the existence of both myself and my work. A shame, but seems somehow inevitable....