June 18, 2012
How to avoid being a spam-bot and change the world in the process
Two of the things I complain about most often in public are terrible examples of authors promoting their work online and women writers’ lack of representation in the media and in the world, and so it is amazing to me that both of these annoying things can be addressed with one solution.
But I will address the former problem first, those head-bangingly awful incidents in which it’s clear that authors don’t understand that the opportunity to shill their stuff an offshoot of social media engagement and not its primary purpose. Though I’ve met writers who go the other way, who get a poem published in a national magazine and think it’s bragging to put a link on Facebook. It isn’t. Linking to cool stuff is what people do on Facebook, on twitter and on blogs. But it’s when writers cross a line from, “Look at this!”" (link to published poem) to “Look at me!!” (link to published poem posted on twitter five times daily for months at a time, and also spamming link to other people’s feeds) that it gets to be a problem. When you’re a human who’s a spam-bot, you’ve clearly gone too far.
So how do you avoid becoming a human spam-bot? Easy: don’t post the same link more than twice. If you run out of links, do something new, something better. And in between those links, how about you talk about somebody who isn’t you? A book that isn’t yours? If you’re part of a literary community, you can talk about what your peers are up to. If you aspire to be part of a literary community, deposit yourself within it by engaging with that community’s literature online. If you’ve got nothing to do with any literary community, talk about the best books you’ve read lately and– ka-pow– you’ve just situated yourself in (close) relation to those books, those authors. It’s amazing. From these references, your readers will be able to figure out what you’re about.
When you have promotional opportunities– to write guest blog posts, to write your own blog, when you’re talking to a reporter or answering a Q&A– share your attention with other deserving writers and books. When someone puts a call out for book suggestions, resist to the impulse to chime in with “Mine!” and suggest somebody else’s. If there is a readers’ choice award going on, take a risk and champion a book that you didn’t write (which is the point of these things anyway. It’s not a “writer’s choice” award). If your book is up for a readers’ choice award, sit back and let the readers choose. (If you win a readers’ choice that you rigged, you didn’t win anything at all.) Engage with social media not just as a writer, but as a reader. It broadens your approach, and makes you that much more interesting.
And it also serves to promote a culture of readers, of reading. If you’ve already got someone’s attention, they know about your book, so why not suggest another? It increases the odds that whoever is listening will buy two books instead of one. And as a writer, you certainly stand to benefit when people start buying more books. When you reference other people’s books, it becomes less about your book than about reading in general, which is a terrifying leap to take, I know, but if your book is really good, it will only thrive in that healthy bookish eco-system. It means that you’re taking the opportunity to support other writers, and not in that annoying “rah-rah we all stick to together” way, but in that you have a platform from which to promote the work you really believe in, the books you’d like to see growing up alongside your own, the writing you admire.
And if you are a woman (and even if you’re not) and if the writing you admire happens to be written by women, then herein lies your chance to be part of the solution to the problem of women’s lack of representation in the media and the world. You don’t have to be a book reviewer or an editor to do something about it. You just have to be a reader as well as a writer, a reader/writer who champions the work of worthy women writers. Use your power as someone with a platform to shine a light on other books, other works. Support great work, be vociferous in that support, and understand how that support has greater impact when it’s a woman’s great work you’re supporting, that you’re helping to change the game for the better.