Surviving the Social Life

Am I allowed to say something that’s already been said a million times?

Okay. The internet is mean. Social media, at least. Twitter specifically. I’ve only dipped my toe in the social whirlpool in the last couple of months. Even then, I only did it because you know what “they” say: you have to be searchable to survive.

I can’t even call it a love/hate relationship cuz there’s no love.

Most of my interactions have been pleasant enough, up to this point, because I’ve worked hard to keep them that way. But today I felt the Twitter wind in my face when I least expected it. I’m not cut out for this kind of anonymous conflict (and, to be clear, I didn’t court it with thoughtless or mean words. I asked a follow-up question on someone’s post). I’m not a troll, but I was treated like one. The whole exchange left me confused and sad.

It’s one thing to develop a thick skin because I’m sending my manuscript out to publishers who might not understand it or (worse) ignore it. That kind of toughness makes professional sense, though it’s not easy to cultivate. It’s another thing to try and change my personality.

Today left me wondering if social media toughness is something I need or want to develop. And let’s say I can’t. Then what? Do I avoid the whole scene altogether? Is that publishing suicide?

What I know is this: writing is extremely important to me. But so is emotional wellness. I want to be published. But I also want to feel safe.

I continue to wonder if both things are possible.

Winning, Losing, and Making a Difference

My kids are taking a government class at their educational co-op. They each ran for a different class office as part of a unit on the electoral process.

Two of them campaigned, which felt a little awkward because they were running against good friends. My middle teen hardly tried at all because he found out he was running against his closest friend (not by choice), and he was tempted to drop out of the race altogether.

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Elections were yesterday. All of my kids won their offices, and not by slim margins. Their reactions to their victories were decidedly mixed. On the one hand, they couldn’t help feeling the rush of success, the satisfaction of a return on their efforts. On the other hand, they felt downright blue because the people they beat were visibly dejected.

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My husband and I haven’t taught our kids to view life through the “everyone gets a trophy” mindset. They regularly engage in activities that require them to compete against themselves and others. They play sports where, after all, the point is to win.

Still, they couldn’t help wondering if their friendships would be the same the day after the election. And, in the end, friendships are more important to them than winning.

In the writing world, authors are expected to market themselves. Many of us balk at the idea because it feels like we’re saying, “I know you only have so much time, and there are millions of books to read. But you should read my book and not that one over there.” Feels like a campaign, kind of. Vote for me, not that guy. And it rubs some of us the wrong way.

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But I have to remind myself that, really, marketing it ISN’T like an election. Elections are about scarcity (there’s one position and many people want to fill it). While it’s true that there ARE a lot of people writing, there are lots of people reading, too. Marketing, then, is really about finding your tribe and offering them something that will benefit them. If I can think like that, I can move forward with joy.

In the meantime, I remind my kids that people voted them into office for a reason. They have an opportunity to be wise, kind, and fair in their dealings. They can make important decisions. It’s not a bad thing to win, sometimes, because it means you have a chance to do good for others.

Which is how I want to use my words: to do something good for others.

On Surviving ‘Big Opportunities’ Part Deux

I’m back from the ACFW conference. After going to bed at 9 p.m. for the last two nights, I feel like I might be getting back to normal (it’s a process that involves a little crying here and there). The conference was rewarding, but it pushed this introvert fairly far as I shook hands, flashed my lanyard, and explained what my novel is about to people waiting to tell me about theirs. Each night I fell asleep with my mouth open, Golden Girls blaring on the hotel TV, while other conferees partied and swapped business cards.

Some takeaways: be prepared that your best laid plans might not be the ones you stick with, and that’s okay. Be nice to people, just because, and let them be nice to you. Don’t keep eating the spicy dessert because you can’t think of anything to say to the table full of strangers.

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More takeaways: my novel is interesting to agents. I will have to write a proposal. It’s good to be humble, but it’s also good to put yourself out there. Just because you want to keep “creative control” doesn’t mean you can’t compromise in order to get some help. Everyone defaults to Facebook when it comes to social media and building a brand except for one person, and she said YouTube was better. I’m trying to decide which of those I find more horrifying.

Final takeaways: my teenagers got taller in four days. God is good to me. I really, really like my own bed.

A Way Out

Oh, my goodness. Just when I’d made up my mind I needed a couple or three social media accounts in order to build an author platform, Austin Kleon comes along and reminds me why I don’t want to.

The conundrum (and, yes, I know it’s boring to bring up) is that to be a creative with an audience, you have to find people who might benefit from your work. In today’s world, that means finding them online. But to find them, you have to spend time thinking up ways to virtually “connect” on social media when you’d rather be exchanging ideas with an actual person.

And, look, you have to make the connecting feel real. Not too real because that’s weird. But certainly not fake.

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You have to do this while everyone else in the entire world is also connecting in the same giant room, at the same time, and you have to try not to feel too depressed that no one’s listening to anyone else.

It’s like going back to high school, only meaner, plus you will never graduate, and the principal is selling your data.

There’s got to be a better way to find your tribe. I don’t know what that way is. I’m just wanting to believe it exists.

Austin?

 

 

A Book by Any Other Name

One of the things fiction writers are supposed to be sure of is where their writing fits in the book world.

Do they write romances, sci-fi, or horror? If so, they’re genre writers. Genre writing, also known as commercial writing, is extremely popular. It’s mostly plot-driven stuff and fulfills specific reader expectations. Book marketers and publishing houses call it commercial because it sells.

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The other type is called literary, and boy howdy are there ever different views on what that word means. Some say it’s writing that’s character-driven, full of subtext, or has an overarching message. Others┬ásay it’s a way of warning readers a book has no plot. Still others think of literary writing as the kind your English professor assigned you in college (the kind you bought Spark Notes for).

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Guess which kind I write?

I’m attending a huge writer’s conference in early Fall. I’ll meet lots of industry professionals there, and do you know what at least one of them will tell me?

That literary fiction doesn’t sell.

They may also inform me that calling my book literary fiction (even if the plot is well-developed with plenty of action and clean writing) is the kiss of death in terms of marketing.

In the past, I might have said, “Then tell me what to call it, and I’ll call it that. Only let me write the way I have to.”

But times have changed. My writing is literary, and that’s what I’m going to call it. It’s not full of talking heads in cafes or one dream sequence after another. It’s not esoteric or high falutin’. It is character-driven. And, yes, I’m trying to say something.

I’m not worried about the label because there are people who want to read books like that (I know I do). It’s my job to find them.

 

 

 

 

Thoughts on Marketing

I sort-of watch my teenagers play video games together. They talk trash while making little square-headed men jump up and down. The ceiling fan goes ninety miles an hour over my head, drying my eyes out as it always does, because our T.V. puts off heat.

As I listen to the kids argue about which avatar is the lamest, I think about the uncomfortable position writers are in now. Gone are the days when an author wrote a book and let a publishing house handle the marketing. Now they’re expected to “promote themselves.”

Promote: to cheerlead for a team made up of oneself.

It turns out, I really don’t want to do it, along with lots of other creative types.

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A book launch guy, a big name who knows what he’s talking about, tried to convince me I should think of marketing as being “relentlessly helpful” instead of salesperson-y.

Thing is, I don’t know how to be relentlessly helpful–to anyone, not even myself.

No matter how you slice it, marketing is saying, “You should pay attention to this thing over here that I made that you should buy.” To a crowded room.

And when everyone is saying the same thing about different things, the room gets loud.

And annoying.

And I don’t want to say any of it.

If it were enough, what I’d say is, I write books I care deeply about and labor over. I want to share them with you.

But I’m not sure that’ll cut it.

These are the things I think through as I watch my kids grow up in our living room.