Gimme Some Truth

Why Writers shouldn’t Succumb to Peer Pressure from Social Media

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“All I want is the truth. Just gimme some truth”
-John Lennon

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.

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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.

Here are:
10 reasons why
9 most talked about
8 mind-blowing
7 highly effective
6 shocking
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.

36 thoughts on “Gimme Some Truth”

  1. Good points here, Sir. I’m not a fan of this whole promotion thing because I trained as a writer and not a salesman. However, the necessity has been slowly beaten into me over time and though I am slow to change, I recognize that it is an important part of the process. Thanks for sharing your insights. 🙂

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    1. Thanks for reading. I’m in the same boat, trying to adapt, to lure people in, while giving them something I would want to receive myself. I’m still learning and making all of these mistakes myself.

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  2. I always think that I’m not qualified enough to give advice and that it is just saturated with articles on how to do things, but then I couldn’t find people actually walking the talk and putting their writing out there. There are so many ifs, buts and maybes when it comes to writing that it can’t be put down to 10 tips or a guide to writing success.
    it took a lot for me to get over that hurdle of what I should be putting on my blog, and the thing I always came back to was my ability to tell stories. About anything. About everything. I decided I didn’t want to waste my time (and breath) telling someone I don’t know how to do something that they may not even read when I could be telling a story instead. 🙂

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    1. Thank you so much for your comment. I totally agree.That’s why half of the time I discuss an aspect of writing I do it in a narrative format. It gets pretty meta with all these stories about story telling.

      I look at it this way. If I find myself feeling passionate enough about something to force my friends to sit through a rant, then I should probably write it down. Sometimes that takes the form of a blog, sometimes it takes the form of a narrative. They’re different art forms and I’m learning to recognize that.

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      1. My goodness my comment seemed so disjointed… anyway, I like that you intertwine a point you are trying to make with it’s practical application – you’re making it interesting and then showing how it works in real life. That is far more useful to the ‘this is how you should do it because I say so’ approach.

        Plus, as you say, it’s all about being creative and writing something you’re proud of contributing to the world 🙂

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  3. Love this. See what I did there, using my blog name instead of my actual name?? That’s one for ‘the brand’ 😉 Honestly, sometimes I feel like a hamster on a social media wheel – I wear myself out ‘trying to do it all’ at the expense of my writing and creativity and brain cells. Trying to find the ever elusive balance and keep my self respect and actually have a life to write about while being my own boss, staff, marketer, chef and manager – aaaaarrrrrgh! Great post 🙂

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    1. That’s something everyone I talk to is struggling with. Finding the time for sharing short term works, while holding back long term works.

      I felt like I had to admit that I’d succumb to all the brand building peer pressure. It’s something we’ve all got to do but I have to remind myself why. It’s to share my passion.

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting.

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  4. I’m so scared of bombarding people with net drivel and making them dislike me before I even get a book out! Let’s turn the phrase you used earlier: Who’s going to read your book if you don’t have an audience? Well who’s going to be your audience if you don’t have a book!?

    Make writing priority number one because it’s better for the soul, and tweet when you have something great to say. I love your little “You Know You’re A Writer When”s.

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  5. Drew – phenomenal post. This whole social media thing can be such a pain in the butt – yet it’s also an incredible way to connect with people, especially fellow writers. I think it comes to down to cash and art. For a writer, are you in it to sell books, or are you in it to be a writer? Because if you’re in it to sell books, and not to write, then it doesn’t matter how much cash you make. It will never be enough. But if you’re in it to write, for the simple unadulterated pleasure of the written word, then do the social media stuff to share and collaborate with the community. If you get famous and sell a million books, well great. That would probably happen anyway.

    Somedays I pine for the old ways, when I wasn’t spending time trying to master the latest self-publishing techniques, and all I had to worry about was heading down the rabbit hole of my stories. That’s what it’s all about, right?

    Thanks for this, Drew. Because you did what all good writers try to do – ensure the rest of the world that we’re not alone.

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  6. I’m finding it harder every day to actually sit and write. Then I get stressed about sharing the stuff I’ve already written. I agree that I’m not qualified to share advice, soI’m going to try and move away from that and get more personal with my post. Tell some stories. Practice my craft on the mundane aspects of life and make them shine with amazing prose. It’s a balancing act and right now I’m falling off the beam, but I was told there is a net. I just want to write again.

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  7. Great post, Drew. Promotion vs. overpromotion is something I see happening online every day. All I know is that the people that overpromote are only hurting themselves. It’s downright irritating. I tend to agree with James Scott Bell – that in the end, your work will speak for itself. That is, if you make the time to DO the work. And that usually means backing away from social media and hunkering down. The writing is the important thing. All that other stuff is just hype, but since we can’t totally ignore it, we’ve all got to find a way to put it work for us. There is no magic formula for discoverability, which is the Big Question right now.

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  8. Such a difficult thing to sort through.

    I can tell you that your well thought-out posts and fiction are what caught my eye. I think this might be the first time I’ve ever posted, but if you asked me to take a look at your books, I would. I’m a reader who looks for intelligent stories and has found today’s offerings wanting. I’m a writer who wants to add to the collective unconscious by expanding its mind, not just plunking out a word count.

    Just last night, my husband and I were having a quasi-philosophical discussion about what we would read to our children. You know what we talked about? The classics, the ones that were written 30, 50, 100 years ago. Nothing today, because nothing today stands the test of time.

    I want to write something that stands the test of time, and I think you do, too. And not just “want,” but “actively pursue.” I’m not trying to disparage my fellow writers, but whenever I feel lost in the sea of social media, I try to remind myself of that one goal.

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    1. Thank you so much for your comment. I’m glad to see these questions are resonating with people.

      I like long form blogs that don’t presume the audience’s attention span always sputters out at the 500 word mark.

      It’s good to know that people are hungry for something new.

      I feel the same way. I want to make a new classic, rather than another cheap paperback with headless models posing on the cover.

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    2. “For what are the classics but the noblest recorded thoughts of man?”

      “Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations.”

      “A man, any man, will go considerably out of his way to pick up a silver dollar; but here are golden words, which the wisest men of antiquity have uttered, and whose worth the wise of every succeeding age have assured us of; — and yet we learn to read only as far as Easy Reading, the primers and class-books, and when we leave school, the Little Reading, and story books, which are for boys and beginners; and our reading, our conversation and thinking, are all on a very low level, worthy only of pygmies and manikins.”

      The above quotes are all taken from Walden by none other than Henry David Thoreau. I don’t mean to go all Transcendental on you guys, but it seemed fitting. I’ll just let a “classic” speak for me. Cheers!

      I have also complied my favorite Walden quotes which you can peruse here: http://www.neilsolanki.com/walden-by-henry-david-thoreau-a-quote-compilation/ (I promise this is not an attempt to self-promote my ad-free blog)

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      1. That’s funny I’ve had a craving to reread Walden ever since it’s prominent use as a plot point for the film Upstream Color. I’ve been having a lot of cabin in the woods fantasies as of late… you know, as long as that cabin gets good reception.

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  9. I feel for you. I guess every artist has always had the same question: Who is my real audience? Once that question is answered, you’ll know which activities will *not* reach them. But real readers, those of us who read several books a week, don’t have a lot of time for the internet, so how do you snag us?
    🙂

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  10. Very well said Drew. The thing about truth is this: If I wasn’t trying to sell books, I probably wouldn’t be trolling Twitter looking for blog posts and interesting folks. So my motivation is to sell at its core. In that vein, I’m already in a position to lose. In our online presence we must then find that Zen in which we let our target go and somehow become the target ourselves. We must show up not to sell, but to connect. Interestingly enough, when we learn to truly let go of what we want and start giving selflessly instead (in this case in the form of positive energy, truth, etc.) then we find… (at least I have) a new peace I didn’t have before. There’s no more marketing… only sincere friendships. However, Zen has been said to be that thing which disappears when one shines a light on it. It is dreadfully easy to lock up, fearful your project will not be noticed and start selling again. Deep breaths friends… Go study some Japanese archery. 🙂
    Thanks for getting my mind flowing again around these topics dude.

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    1. I wish I could say that the spamming ex-lovers line was hyperbole, but when I released my audiobook Terms and Conditions, that’s exactly what I did. I’m guilty of all of the sins listed above.

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      1. All the better. I do relate to much of it.

        At some point FB became a public journal for me. Whether it has been a blessing or a curse remains to be seen, but commenting on my own posts has provided me with some decent insights.

        Many lines are blurry, but thanks for helping me to laugh at myself.

        Cheers!

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  11. Fantastic post, Drew. Twitter has brought me into contact with a whole writing/reading community, which I love, but you have nailed some of its downsides. Found myself nodding (and sometimes laughing) while reading your post. Really acute observations and you’ve definitely articulated why I’ve been feeling a little like I’ve been on a diet of fast food recently when it comes to writing. Long live the long form 😉

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    1. Thanks you so much for commenting and sharing!

      I love long form blogs with complete thoughts. Hell, many of my short stories have pushed well into the novella length.

      I’m really happy to have found so many people who aren’t ashamed to complete their anecdotes.

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  12. Coming from the world of design and blogging about design (and stepping into the transitional world between print and blog but launching a digital magazine) I agree with your points. To a degree. The point I want to bring up is that at some point there is a line in the sand. The line…. and it’s at a different place for everyone….is that place where eventually the whole blogging medium begins to take over and replace other aspects of one’s time.

    The thing design/product/fashion bloggers have learned is that in order to be on top of the news, at the forefront rather than as a follower, to provide the quality content that ensures that readers continue to come back, it takes a major devotion of time. Many of us have (or had in my case…) real world 9-5 jobs and at some point when you start to realize that your time is being overrun by photographing shows, traveling, or just plain writing decent content AND you still have to get up for work the next morning, you realize that it’s not helping keep the roof over your head. And then you make the crucial decision ….

    To become a marketplace of sorts or to continue on the same path with the same undesirable outcome.

    I closed my practice so I could focus solely on my writing and the magazine. This is my job and it has to provide an income otherwise I’ll be hawking my wares from a Corona typewriter on the corner begging for paper.

    I think that where my opinion differs from yours is that it isn’t so much about the “blogging” community succumbing to the proverbial peer pressure of trying to make a buck but it should be about remaining authentic to the content and providing a level of credibility even in the presence of sponsorships and advertorials.

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    1. I’m really happy to see that this conversation has brought on comments that are worthy blog entries in and of themselves.

      I don’t resent blogging as a medium. I don’t fault anyone for making their living off of ad revenue either. I’m a video log addict and many of the ones I love use Blip which is funded by ads.

      You’re absolutely right in asserting that the authenticity begins with the author. Most of what I’ve listed above are bad habits I’m afraid of slipping into myself.

      For instance, a year ago I wrote a handful of top 10 lists for Halloween. They included my favorite scary movies and my favorite funny episodes of The X-Files. That damn Top 10 Funny Episodes of The X-Files post still gets more hits than most of what I’ve posted since. The temptation is there to write more pop-culture top 10 lists in the hope that someone might check out my audio book. I don’t want to resort to those kind of cheap tactics.

      I don’t fault career bloggers, as long as they are passionate and honest about what they do. That passion will resonate with their audience.

      Thank you for your comment.

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  13. Ha ha. Interesting post, Drew. And strangely, a funny one.

    Self promotion has always been part of a writer’s life. Nothing has changed really.

    Nowadays we just have more tools like immediate gratification Social Media.

    I kind of enjoy the process, actually. It challenges me to face some fears and that is always a fun thing.

    That said, you might be over-thinking things a bit.

    My advice: Focus on the story. The end product. And if the quality is there, it will get noticed once you put it out there. The rest is just fluff.

    Self-promotion is the village hustler on one too many beer you meet at noon in your local mud brick tavern. Content is King. Quality content is the King of Kings.

    And if you don’t have the content you can’t be a King.

    Max

    PS. Stop by my blog for some village hustler stories.

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  14. I think I’ve made pretty much every social media mistake you’ve highlighted … and then some.

    All it has done is make me a little bitter and twisted towards social media and marketing in general.

    But, in reading this, it’s like having an epiphany – realizing that I can change…

    …I think.

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  15. Great post Drew. Loved the way you described the legions of self promotional types out there in such a frantic chaotic way – it beautifully mirrors the reality!
    Seems every time I go online there is a new way to promote myself that ties in and interfaces with all the other similar ones I’m struggling to use as it is.
    This must be how Darwin felt in the Galapagos Islands when he looked up from his notebook and realised that there was just way too many different species out here for him to catalogue and understand in a hundred lifetimes.
    For what its worth your approach works for me. I enjoy your comments on twitter, I really like this piece and I’m definately going to read more of your work.

    Cheers,

    Tom

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  16. I appreciate this post. It definitely speaks to the way I’ve felt about social media since I’ve begun to pursue publication. I prefer to read (and write) the longer form posts myself, but so many times I’ve heard to write shorter because people just aren’t interested in reading long ones (no matter how well-written they are). This has me confused about what to even do with my blog, since I’m a mix of writer/illustrator and I seem to step on all the writer blogging rules. So I’m feeling my way along and still trying to determine what kind of blog I have.

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    1. I’m in the same boat. I just posted a piece that’s over 2 thousands words that’s loaded with 8 images. It got about half of the hits as a piece a fourth of the length, but I like the longer form piece more.

      The way I see it is you should make some posts for you, for your intimate audience, and some posts with a broader appeal.

      No matter what you do, do it on your terms.

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