Why Writers shouldn’t Succumb to Peer Pressure from Social Media
“All I want is the truth. Just gimme some truth”
As a writer, I know that no publishing house will have me until I have an established presence online. It’s up to my peers to vet me. Agents just look at the metrics. So I’ve reached out and found some like minded folks. They’re all in the same boat, but have different ideas on how to get to their destination. While some participate in the discussion, others shout into a vacuum. While some share their ideas, others push a product. While some explore the current environment, others make themselves a destination. Some seek friends, others seek fame.
Writers who seek meaningful interactions band together. They guest blog, host challenges, call for beta readers, and write reviews. They collaborate, happy to spread the credit around. They unite under the banner of the same hashtag. They make us noobs, feel like we belong.
Sadly, if there’s one rule on the internet, it’s that the moment you have a thriving community, it becomes a marketplace.
Here come the self promoters, the over sharers, the brand builders, and the platform growers. Here come the life coaches, the inspirational entrepreneurs, the goal setters, and the list makers. Here come the social media gurus, the analytic mystics, the reach readers, and the clout crunchers. Here come the quote bots, the platitude programs, the advice automatons, and the stock phrase generators.
They’ve found the last refuge of genuine sentiment on the Internet. They’ve come to put a dollar sign on it.
Enter the taste makers, the trend setters, the street teams, and the stealth marketers. Enter the link bombers, the click baiters, the Amazon evangelists, and the Buzzfeed broadcasters. Enter the mass followers, the profile parasites, the hashtag hustlers, and retweet requesters. Enter the gossip columnists, the unrequited critics, the flame warriors, and the controversy capitalists.
I feel bad for the NSA agents who have to sift through all this.
Peer pressure warps the community. Writers look at these bad behaviors and wonder, if this is what we’re supposed to do.
Am I supposed to ask people to “like” my Facebook author page the moment they follow me? Am I supposed to schedule links to my latest article every hour on the hour? Am I supposed to cover my posts with more hashtags than the medals on a four-star general’s chest? Do I DM my followers just to drop subtle hints about my self-published book? Do I name drop celebrities until one of them responds? Do I keep throwing Tweets at the wall in the hope that some of them will stick?
My peers have me questioning if I’m a netizen or spammer, if I’m an artist or a content creator, if I’m a blogger or a traffic director. I spend so much time counting clicks when I should be working on the novel. I keep asking myself, who’s gonna read your book if you don’t have an audience?
I shared my stories, because I wanted more readers. To get eyes on the page, I had to get hits on the screen. When they didn’t come over night, I started a promotional blitz, bombarding my followers with links, dogging coworkers and spamming ex-lovers. The cream doesn’t always rise to the top. Sometimes we have to rise to the occasion. Good net-iquette be damned. I’ve got a career to start. There’s already lines around my eyes and streaks of silver in my hair.
I was told to promote myself, not my work. To get my novel recognized, I had to turn myself into a caricature.
The devil of self-promotion whispered, “If you’re too shy, share that. Maybe that’s your angle. Be an extravert about your introversion. Turn your hiding space into your niche. Turn your scars into your blog tags. What you lack in charisma, you make up for in open wounds. Rubberneckers still count as page views. Put your condition up for auction. Sell the monkey on your back, the chip on your shoulder, and the weight off your chest. Everything must go.”
I used to guard my journals. Now I give them away. I’ve confused revealing too much with being honest. I’ve confused being embarrassed with being humble, self-deprecation with modesty. All the things I usually hide on a first date, I put out on display.
As print media dies, writers are forced to become webmasters. Watching my peers, I see what gets hits. It isn’t long form introspection. It isn’t narrative writing.
We offer advice before we’re qualified to give it. We hype the destination without describing the lay of the land. We pose an argument, offer a few bullet points, and taper off when we reach 500 words. We keep our ideas on the surface, rather than bore our audience with the details.
We just need a click-worthy title and a paragraph for those predisposed to agree with us. We’ll top it off with a creative commons photo of an office worker smashing their keyboard on their desk. Then we’ll lie back and watch the hits roll in.
If that doesn’t work, it’s back to the drawing board, back to the brain storm, to the directory dashes, and the idea indexes. Why not publish those? Let’s countdown to the lowest common denominator. If there’s anything our peers have taught us, it’s that lists get hits.
Top 10 ways to conceal the fact that you’re writing about your friends.
Top 10 ways to turn a lawsuit into free publicity.
Top 10 ways to convert your fan fiction into an erotic bestseller.
Top 10 ways to trick your parents into funding your Kickstarter campaign.
Lists are the popcorn of the internet; light and fluffy with a 900% markup in value. They’re easy to make, but feature very little of the chef’s culinary skill. Like popcorn, no one seeks them out. Readers munch on them when they’re available. Writers dip their hands into the bowl of quick pointers, without stopping to thank the host for making them.
10 reasons why
9 most talked about
7 highly effective
5 time saving
4 little known
3 frequently asked
2 tips for writing come down to
1 quick fix
Soon I’ll convince myself that it’s not print, but text, that’s dead and I’ll fit my apartment with a green screen. I’ll be video blogging while my manuscript collects dust in the drawer. It’s not enough for writers to run our own PR departments, we’ve got to host informercials too.
When does self-promotion become self-sabotage? When does spreading your reach spread you too thin? When does trying to go viral make you sick? When does word-of-mouth turn into bad buzz?
If you want to go down any of these avenues to find your audience, I won’t blame you. Some of them look like fun. I like writing lists. I don’t make a meal out of popcorn, but I’ve spent many an afternoon cycling through Cracked.com. A video blog might be worth your time. You never know, it might bring something cool out of you.
I just hope you don’t feel like these promotional tools are obligatory. Some writers can make them work, others let their stories do the talking. Just remember, if you don’t enjoy doing something it won’t resonate with your audience.
George Clooney used to have a “one for them, one for me” philosophy when it came to picking projects. I think writers should adopt a similar ideology when it comes to their blogs. Give us a list of your favorite horror movies, then tell us something personal. Give us some fluff, then give us some truth, and if you can smuggle some truth into your fluff, all the better.
Don’t apologize when you have to get real. Not every thought can end on an inspirational note. Sometimes life just hits you hard and you have to take the blow. Some of the best list makers also happen to be profoundly honest writers. Sometimes their candor comes at the expense of their followers. Still, they say what’s on their minds when they have to.
The truth doesn’t always will out. Sometimes it’s up to us to tell it like it is.