First it seemed like everyone was writing a blog. Then it seemed like everyone was getting a MySpace page. Now it seems like everyone is hopping on the FaceBook and Twitter trains. We asked this week’s panel about it:
Read on to see their responses…
How has social networking changed publishing? Hmmm. That’s tough. I recently dealt with it in my monthly Internet Review of Science Fiction column. But I think I’m just seeing the iceberg in the distance-I haven’t even reached the tip of the iceberg yet.
I do know that social networking is making things change quickly. Bad well-hyped movies now die within the first day of release instead of the second weekend of release, thanks to tweeting. (People come out of the early shows and tweet, changing other people’s plans.) I assume that good things will also have quick buzz, all of it excellent. I think the social networking will make it easier for mid-list writers to connect with their readers. But I think it’ll be harder to be Number One for very long, simply because the new, the different, the interesting will take over quicker.
I’m not sure what will happen in the long term with publishing and social networking. I think we’re in the early stages, and it’s hard to predict. I note that NYC publishing is catching a clue. Not only are most on Twitter and other social network sites, but they’re also having a big electronic conclave in NY in January. It may be too late to catch the wave, but you never know.
As for me, I’m enjoying Twitter far more than I expected. I hated it at first. Then I discovered that if I followed people who have my interests (publishing, politics, entertainment, news), I learn things far quicker than I ever would in the regular media. If I want something more in-depth, I follow the links or get the magazine article or read the in-depth online piece. I feel much more informed about many things than I did even six months ago.
Facebook to me is like a science fiction convention. There’s a lot of noise, but it’s fun noise. And every now and then an opportunity arises. I’ve sold some things that I wouldn’t have sold thanks to both Facebook and Twitter. Mostly, though, I’ve been interacting with fans-and I’ve always loved that. Because at heart, I’m a giant fan girl, and it’s nice to have “conversations” with like-minded folks.
Am I losing writing time? I don’t think so. I’m checking Twitter when I’m waiting-when I’m waiting for the water to boil for a pasta dinner, when I’m waiting for my order in a restaurant, when I’m waiting in line at a bank. I have incorporated Facebook into my e-mail time, but a lot of my work has migrated to Facebook so that’s okay. The new timesink for me is my website, but I think that’s an essential backup to the social media stuff.
So to answer both of your questions: how will social media change publishing? I don’t know. I just know that it will. How has it changed me? I love the stuff. I’m enjoying the connectivity more than I ever thought I would. Honestly, dunno how it’s changed me either. But it sure is fun.
On the upside, it gives me several other grassroots ways to spread the word about a book-signing tour, a new release, a local appearance. It lets me keep in close contact with the fans, and many of them feel a part of the creative process.
On the opposite site, it sure sucks up a lot of time! Hours that I could spend editing are now spent blogging. For all the words I write in a blog, I could be writing publishable articles for magazines. Hmmm, now that I think of it…
I think as far as publishing – in the sense of this multinational, multibillion dollar industry – social networking probably doesn’t play a large role outside of the publicity department, possibly. We do see greater interaction between publishers, writers and readers, I’m just not sure that particularly affects the printing and selling of books.
In many way I feel very out of touch with what’s happening right now, technologically – I’ve been living in countries where communication technology is at a very early stage in comparison to more developed countries. So while I get the sense that suddenly – or so it seems! – everyone in the US and Europe has Internet-ready mobile phones and 24/7 connectivity, I am back to using dial-up and rarely if ever use a mobile phone. I’m not sure that’s necessarily a bad thing…
I joined Facebook because my brother was on it, and thought it was a lot of fun playing with, for a while. What happened then, I think, reflects the pressure writers are under to publicize themselves. So all of a sudden a lot of people I didn’t really know added me as Facebook-friends, but with the main purpose, it seemed, of trying to sell me their books. It seems all I ever get on Facebook are invitations to virtual book launches, to join fan pages writers set up for themselves – I mean, how can a writer set their own fan page? – to buy this or that book that I’d never heard of… I actually had to bar a few people when the level of spam just got too high. So that’s not been an entirely positive experience.
I don’t blog very often either, and it’s mainly about stuff I’ve got that’s coming out. A part of me wishes I could blog more – I have a lot of admiration for people like K. Tempest Bradford, Adam Roberts, Nick Mamatas, who just go for it, say some of the things I would have liked to say – but at the end of the day, I prefer to leave that to the fiction. So I’m online, I have a web site and a blog and a Facebook page, but most of my energies go to the writing itself. I guess it’s about finding a balance – and who knows, maybe I could still become a controversial blogger one day!
As I examine in detail in my new book, New New Media, blogging and social network have first and foremost had the impact of making every consumer or reader a potential producer or publisher. It is just about as easy to post a blog or status report or tweet as it is to read them. Although few if any blog posts are the size of books, in aggregate a blog can be longer than a book. And, in any case, the short forms of microblogs are providing competition to traditional kinds of texts.
But these new social media also offer powerful new ways to promote one’s writing, including books. The same ease of posting a blog or tweet applies to posting links to reviews or Amazon pages with your books for sale. I have been using social media to promote my fiction and nonfiction since February 2006, when I got active on MySpace. I now have over 6000 “friends” there, more than 2500 on Facebook, and 2000 “followers” on Twitter. These provide a ready audience for announcement of new books, signings, and reviews. If you’re an author was a taste for self-promotion – if you’re not comfortable sitting on the sidelines and waiting for your publisher to promote your book – the access to social media is catnip.
Where you say “social networking” I would rather say “social media”, because networking has been around a long time, and has certainly been a part of publishing pretty much forever. Social media like Facebook and Twitter and blogs are expanding social networking through their democratizing effects and language. James Owen recently made a blog post about fans being shocked when a friend of his suggested they approach him directly at Mythcon–“We can DO that?!”–but that same blog post was undoubtedly read and commented on by other fans who find it much easier to approach an author online.
This sort of instant connection, and the sudden vast availability of all sorts of information that used to be private or circulated only in gossipy zines, is affecting publishing in two directions. One is that people involved in publishing have all these new ways to reach out to one another and to people who are interested in publishing. That affects every part of the publishing business, from promoting books to hiring editors to buying manuscripts. Again, there’s a democratizing influence; the blogosphere is the new slushpile, and a retweeting chain that links someone with a manuscript to an agent or editor might pass through three “friends” who barely even know each other.
The other direction–and I think this is often overlooked amid all the discussion of connection and conversation and community–is that the web, especially the blogosphere, is also a giant free library of fanac (fan activity and the records thereof, such as zines and convention reports) and other incredibly valuable information about the industry, and this gives newcomers ways to educate themselves that they never had before. There are about sixty websites out there on how to write good cover letters and format manuscripts. Every publisher and agent has guaranteed up-to-date submission info on their website, and what’s more, you can Google up that agent’s blog and Twitter stream and read all about what’s been most appealing (or annoying) to her lately. Your favorite writer’s struggles with their current work in progress can give you hope for your own, and some valuable tips as well. Today on Twitter, Maureen McHugh casually tossed out this gem in a conversation with Charlie Finlay: “two classic plot developments for pp 200-300; a new character introduces complication or a physical or spiritual journey.” To her that might be a classic, but to a new writer working on their first novel, that tip could be the difference between a story that sort of trails off and an intriguingly twisty plot.
Most of all, you can pick up the vocabulary and history and other state-of-the-profession information that helps you know what you’re talking about, always the most important currency when it comes to proceeding down a career path. This is where my personal story comes in. I got my reviewing gig at PW in 2002 through old-fashioned networking: I knew a reviewer who introduced me to Peter Cannon, who was editing the SF/F/H reviews at the time. He agreed to look at a sample review, and he liked what he saw and brought me on as a regular reviewer. I was between jobs at the time, so I asked him to send me as much work as he could spare, which ended up being about three reviews a week. I also had plenty of time to read LiveJournal, which I’d joined in 2001. It was already extremely fannish, and where there are fans, there are pros. I started to see names I knew popping up, like Patrick Nielsen Hayden and Pamela Dean. As I “friended” more writers, I learned more about the industry, almost by accident.
When I decided to make a go of writing and editing full-time and pitch my reviewing services to other publications, the first thing I did was pull up all the writers’ LJs I could find, friend them, and then go through their friend lists and friend everyone whose name I recognized, and so on for a few iterations. The three or so hours I spent doing that are quite seriously why I am where I am today, because after a few years of reading everything these writers and publishers and editors and agents had to say about their works in progress and new jobs and arguments and marriages and conventions and rights sales and so on–a few years in which the information I gleaned began to appear in my reviews and post-review notes–Peter invited me to take over his job so he could focus on editing mystery and thriller reviews. He had always been more interested in mysteries, he explained, and I clearly knew more about the SF/F/H field than he did.
Well, the reason I knew so much about it was the blogosphere. Not cons, not zines, not growing up reading a lot of Terry Carr YBs, not even those three books a week I was reading and reviewing for PW. Just blogs. That plus five years of turning in clean copy on time (which is really the minimum standard for any working writer) was enough to get me this really wonderful job. I still learn a lot from blogs, and now from Twitter as well, and that information helps me do my job better. I know who’s being talked about, who just struck a big deal with a new publisher, who’s launching an imprint, who’s on sabbatical, who’s being stalked by crazy fans. A year ago, when I took over the mass market reviews section, blogs and Twitter were how I educated myself about romance, and that educational process has only intensified since I met some of the romance world’s top social media mavens at RWA last month.
This is a very long way of saying that social media provide a quantity and quality of information that in the past was only available to insiders, and so people who go out and look for this information and soak it up and discuss it and use it in reasonable, ethical ways can quite easily obtain the sort of respect that has also previously only been available to insiders. It gives even moderately committed, ambitious people a leg up. I don’t think of myself as ambitious at all; I just wanted to know what the hell I was talking about. It turns out, though, that it is now really, really easy to educate yourself and become known as someone who knows what the hell they’re talking about, and this is greatly enlarging the class of people who earn quite a lot of reputation-currency simply by having a clue. A few years down the line, that translates to real-world currency via book sales and jobs and paid blogging, which means we’re putting a professional megaphone in front of more and more people who didn’t come up through the traditional system. Voices from outside a system that are interested in entering the system always change the system in really valuable and interesting ways. (I’m not patting myself on the back here; I may have skipped the usual path of college degrees and internships, but I’m still very rooted in old-school fandom, and I don’t think I really qualify as enough of an outsider in that sense to precipitate major upheaval.) I think we’re just barely beginning to see some of those changes, and we’ll see more of them as more people who have an interest in the genre and the industry but didn’t grow up in fandom figure out that they can take advantage of this enormous online library to give themselves what is essentially a graduate degree in SF/F/H publishing by correspondence course.
I want to make it very clear that I’m not talking about using social media-gained knowledge to fake anything or manipulate anyone, nor suggesting that information is a replacement for wisdom or good manners or original ideas. To quote my favorite Theodore Sturgeon line, “Knowledge is a pile of bricks, and understanding is a way of building.” Without knowledge, though, all the understanding in the world gets you nowhere. Social media are the means by which people with dreams and ambitions get the material to make them come true, and the things they build are not going to be like anything we’ve ever seen. I can’t wait.
Well, there’s way more pressure on writers to be publicly accessible to be readers. Good or bad? I think it’s good for some, who’re personable and chipper. To others I think it’s a liability. But on the other hand, there are some misanthropes online who’re still selling books, so I don’t think people are still so socially plugged into their favorite writers that it’s making a huge difference, in the NY Times bestseller sense.
However I think there’s some leverage there, in making a one to many relationship with people and building relationships.
For me the best part, with both social media and blogs, has just been to extend my sphere of readers, friends, acquaintances, and professional contacts far beyond what it normally would have been. My last novel saw most of its sales come via Amazon.com as bookstores modeled it way down, and yet still did okay for me, implying that my online reach compensated for what, to many, would have been a very tough place to climb out of. That was solely thanks to the readers following me on twitter, my blog, and the reviewers who all found me via my online presence.
Blogging and social networking have brought me literally everything in my life, from my partner to my first book contract to the house I live in. It has allowed me to develop a fanbase for what is admittedly a weird and not-exactly-commercial kind of writing. I’ve been blogging since 2001, and have had my Livejournal (yuki-onna.livejournal.com) since 2003. I live declaratively, and chronicle almost everything there. I have had few bad experiences with it and without it I would simply not be selling the books I am selling today. My fans can find me, and form an ersatz family–that’s the core of what I do.
As for the future of publishing, I think it’s a combination of print and electronic availability. Publishing a serial YA novel online as I’ve been doing for the last months has taught me a lot–people will, in fact, pay to read a novel online, if it’s by an author they know to deliver quality or if it’s recommended by another trustworthy source. However, my email is full of people asking when they can buy a paper copy. Many, many readers will always prefer a physical product. But without the distribution network traditional publishing supplies, the signal to noise ratio of online self-publishing makes it impossible to find the good hiding in a torrent of bad. I think providing free content and electronic editions is vital to developing a following in this world, but at the same time, it cannot be the whole of one’s publishing portfolio, not unless the publishing climate changes drastically. We are in a transitional time, and I have no idea what we’ll transition to, ultimately. A healthy hybrid, I hope. The death of the printed book would be tragic–so would the death of the electronic one.
The digital revolution in general, and the web and social media in particular, have been and will continue to effect a sea change not only in publishing, but in all media industries. Hell, in all industries, really. It’s pretty clear that we’ve barely scratched the surface of how fundamentally technology and communications will affect our lives in general, and the observed effects on the publishing industry so far are, I suspect, only the tip of the iceberg.
For authors, the increased proximity (real or perceived) to their fans has been an interesting phenomenon to watch. As often happens, each author is a separate case: great instances of authors successfully managing their ‘tribes’ are Neil Gaiman and John Scalzi, for example. But it can be a double-edged sword: for every fan that hangs on Neil Gaiman’s every Twitter update, there’s some fan angrily recriminating George R. R. Martin for blogging too much and not making with the next installment of The Song of Ice and Fire; for every fan who discovers the witty and entertaining (almost) daily updates of Scalzi’s Whatever, there are those who are disappointed when they come across Orson Scott Card’s political views on his personal blog. It’s up to each author to decide how much or how little of themselves they’re willing to reveal online, and only time will tell if that metric has a lasting effect on their book sales.
Aside from authors, I’m particularly interested in watching how these new technologies affect editors. Editors have traditionally been very behind-the-scenes, only known within industry circles or to very, very engaged fans. As editors become more public figures, I wonder if they’ll develop followings similar to authors, or similar, perhaps, to movie directors, and if perhaps that scrutiny will affect their curatorial work.
As for publishers, it’s a bit different. Publishers aren’t used to interacting with their end users-the readers-at all. In a very real sense, they package, market and sell their books with only a small number of people in mind: the buyers for large retail chains like Borders and B&N. This handful of individuals decide what books get bought for which stores. It’s inevitable that these individuals will bring their personal criteria, tastes and biases (for better or for worse; I’m not ascribing a value judgement to the bias) to the table, and it’s totally understandable that publishers tailor their sales pitches and book packaging to these people. What ends up happening is that the publishing industry becomes one big echo chamber, and publishers are be left scratching their heads and saying to themselves “But book X had such amazing buzz in the [industry] press, and everyone I talked to was talking about it-why didn’t it sell?”.
It will be interesting to see if buyers for the big chains will refine their criteria based on what they see people talking about online, or if publishers will begin to take into account actual readers into their sales and marketing process. There’s a bit of that going on already, where publishers are starting to engage with Twitter and with Facebook, but I suspect it’s with the trepidation and skepticism that is part of any foray into a completely new medium, and exposure to entirely new modes of communication.
To their credit, individual book publicists and independent book stores in particular have been quicker to suss out the value of services like Twitter, which amount to basically a big peer-to-peer network of book recommendations; Twitter in particular is the ultimate hand-selling tool. Publishers as corporate entities haven’t been as successful, and I suspect that has a lot to do with their lack of experience in actual customer service, and their lack of comfort with the candor and transparency that is de rigeur on the internet. The traditional hard-sell, “If you like X you’ll love Y” marketing pitch is, of course, anathema to the well-connected netizen (“get thee behind me, marketing bot!”), but that’s the only mode of communication that many corporations are comfortable with, and it will take some time until we see the publishers’ equivalent of an @zappos, or an @jetblue.
As for me personally, it’s been amazing. A year ago I was a graphic designer who-even though I had my own blog, was on Twitter, Facebook, and all that-was perfectly content to sit behind a big monitor and push pixels, with very minimal interactions with a small group of people.
On a professional level, my job now requires me to interact with almost everyone in the SF/F field in particular and the publishing world in general: writers, editors, publicists, journalists, designers, artists, publishers-you name it. Having tools like Twitter, IM, email, blogs, and other social networking technologies at my disposal is indispensable, and I don’t think someone with my disposition (I’m a very reclusive guy; I cherish my alone time) could have done this job without them. Granted, most of the components of my job wouldn’t exist without these technologies, but there you have it.
On a purely personal level, I’ve been very lucky in that some of those interactions and acquaintances have blossomed into actual friendships, and my life is much richer for it. Even if I stopped doing what I do tomorrow, and went back to being a designer, my world has been burst wide open-I’ve met and been exposed to many different, wonderful, intelligent, idiosyncratic and talented people. I’ve also been exposed to many stupid, arrogant, ignorant, and downright batshit crazy people. Both these groups have forced me to take a broader look at the world around me, and to be much more open-minded (in ways I hadn’t previously thought I needed to be) as I face it.
Depends on which end of publishing you’re talking about. Trade publishing hasn’t changed substantially, not yet. The feelers are out there — the entire tor.com project can be viewed as a social networking effort, in one sense. Many individual editors, agents and other players in trade publishing have blogs and Twitter presences. But they’re not doing business there, except in the loosest sense of the phrase.
Independent publishing, on the other hand, tunnels into social networking from the inside. Strange Horizons, Ideomancer, Fantasy, Clarkesworld, etc. are all Web-driven, and can in a sense be viewed as blogs. Certainly their integration into the blogworld is a lot more organic than the trade press’s.
Even further out there are the fiction blogs per se, like Shadow Unit, and the Twitter fiction feeds like Thaumatrope. Here we have publishing explicitly adapting blogging and social networking as their direct vehicles.
I think the far more interesting angle on this question is what blogs and social networking have done to the intersection between writers and readers. It took me half a dozen years to build a blog readership in the thousands. But my Twitter feed only took a handful of months to reach the same level of penetration. My readers have access to me as a writer in ways unprecedented at the beginning of this past decade through both these vehicles, and their intersection at Facebook.
Is this good or bad? My instinct says good, but ask me again in five years. Do these changes benefit publishing? Harder to say. Certainly the much bruited deconcentration of publishing bodes ill for authors who make all or part of their living from writing.
Whoever figures it out first, and right, will profit. The rest of us will come along for the ride. Change is undeniable, direction debatable.
Did you see the news report last week which breathlessly revealed that most Twittering is “pointless babble and conversations between people”? I know, I know: I’m as shocked as you are, i.e. not at all. Every now and then some would-be curmudgeon rises up on his hind legs and yowls at the sky that the latest form of social networking is a blight on the cultural landscape and proves that people have nothing better to do than post pictures of their pets in various shocking forms of dishabille. It was not thus in the old days, we are told, when conversation was an art. Twitter is the villain today; yesterday it was FaceSpace or MyBook; tomorrow it will be the Daydream Function of the Hive Mind. It all proves nothing except that curmudgeons must curmudge.
Most conversations in any venue are not earthshaking. I remember sitting around through a long dark afternoon as some people I thought I knew discussed in exhaustive detail the advantages of different kinds of winter boot. This can be a serious topic in Minnesota in winter (which it was) but it does not sparkle. I tried to steer the conversation toward more interesting channels, but my Shakespearian pun (“It boots not to speak of this….”) caused people to stare at me as if I were an imperfectly preserved corpse even as they continued to compare the merits of various types of boot-tread. In the end, I escaped by skirkling away into the night–which is how most of my conversations end, as a matter of fact.
But the point is that even pointlessness like this actually does have a point. It’s a set of signals where people acknowledge each other’s existence and right to participate in a group. As social beings, that matters to us. So much the better if we’re interacting with some latter-day equivalent of Oscar Wilde or Dorothy Parker, and even better if we’re doing it with people we know well and care about. But even if we’re not, we need to do this stuff anyway. We were wired for it before there were computers–or wires, even. Successful social networks are ones that address this ancient need. And if a little information on an upcoming publication slips in along with the lolcats or the mere “conversations among people” that’s fine; there’s no harm in it.
Unless, of course, there’s harm in it. That’s the thing. Social networking may benefit writers by raising their public profile, making people who might be interested in their work more aware that said work actually exists. On the other hand, it can easily harm their public profile in two different ways.
One is treating the social network as a merely commercial network. If somebody posts–to LifeJournal or FriendFondle or whatever–constantly along the lines of, “Buy My Book! Have you Bought MY Book! My Book is all about that–if you like things you’ll love My Book! If you don’t like things, you’ll also love My Book! But only if you buy it NOW! P.S. Buy My Book!” then sooner or later people will begin to tune them out. Writers have to bring something else to the conversational table or they will be treated as spambots. Hence: lolcats. Lists of lawyer jokes. Winter boots. Something.
The other potential problem is malice. Some people, finding themselves alone in a room with a keyboard and a softly glowing screen, sooner or later will start working through a weird psychodrama with the voices in their head. It’s all in good fun until they hit the “send” button–and then it’s hilarious. For everyone else. You don’t want to be that person, ground zero in some blogosplosion that has the suffix “-FAIL” attached.
There’s a school of thought that controversy of any kind is good because it promotes the sale of books. This may be true if controversy is at least part of what you’re selling, like the non-fiction of Ann Coulter or Michael Moore. My instinct is that fiction doesn’t work that way.
I’m not saying that people should refrain from participating in a controversy when they feel there’s some principle at stake, or even just because they like a good argument. I am saying that the internet is forever and that the taste of venom, in particular, lingers.
“Hi! Remember me? The guy who unfavorably compared your beliefs to Satanism and said you were a little bit like Hitler? Buy my book!” There’s the voice that launched a thousand bozo-filters.
I think it will change how people connect with and communicate with fans. I see things becoming more personal and direct, like how Gaiman talks with his following on Twitter and his blog. I see this becoming more and more common, but with that will come a price- some fans are too crazy for that kind of closeness. Most are fine, but after awhile you’ll get some of the strangeness with Martin’s blog (people demanding A Song of Ice and Fire books, etc.), since they feel closer to their favorite author than before.
It’s affected me by giving me an audience I might not have had 10-20 years ago. People can discover who I am and what my short stories are like quickly and simply, without the need of going out and buying a ton of magazines just to discover some lowly poor schmuck of a writer like myself. Instead, I can get emails from people discovering my work for the first time, talk to other authors on twitter or my blog, and just in general find and discover more writers myself. I love discovering new writers- and this connectiveness makes it all the more easier and exciting.
The future of social networking is interesting because of the faux closeness we feel with our celebrities of choice. It’s also dangerous and exciting, and a good reminder how small this whole community really is. In a good way
Social Networking gives us the chance to know the small details of people we’ve never met. The health of their families, the food they prefer, the books they are reading, the books they are working on. It means when we work together, we have a sense of bonding, of friendship, which makes communication – including sharing views and opinions – easier. It means we know of good books, sometimes before they’ve even been published.
At a personal level, my son asked me if all my writing friends were Australians. Thanks mostly to LJ and Facebook, no, they’re not. They’re New Zealanders, Israelis, Americans, Canadians, Filipinos, South African, Norwegian, Dutch and English. They’re living all over the world and I plan to visit them all with my family. I hope they have the spare bedroom ready.
“Social Networking” is definitely a buzzword in publishing circles – no question about that. At the company where I work, not only are we all (marketing folks and editors alike) encouraging our authors to do all of the online networking that they can, but we’re also publishing books with titles like Twitter Power! to show other businesses and business-people what they’re supposed to do in this brave new world.
In my end of publishing, though, it was always all about networking to begin with, so the change is more of a matter of emphasis. Books on serious topics, particularly those for professionals, only sell when the audience knows and respects the author – so that author needs to already be one of the top recognized experts in her field (which can be difficult), or to network strongly before and after the book is published to establish herself as the one with the answers. The old-fashioned kind of networking was professional meetings – particularly presenting papers or giving presentations – publishing articles in the relevant journals, and similar activities. The new kind of networking is doing the same kind of thing online: webinars, blogging on professional topics, and just building your network on sites like LinkedIn. The tools are different – and quicker – but the activities are very similar.
It’s more complicated for consumer books, though – the audience is much larger and more diffuse, and there wasn’t an established mechanism for most authors to routinely reach large numbers of readers in the pre-Internet era. Sure, thousands of self-identified SF&F fans frequent blogs like SF Signal and John Scalzi’s Whatever, but most of the people who regularly read a particular type of book don’t spend a lot of time thinking about that genre or arguing with others about it online – they just read it, and spend their online time arguing about whatever they care about most, like hockey or politics or knitting. Most of the audience for anything isn’t that passionate about it, and you’re not going to reach them through specialized media of any kind.
So what social networking can do for a writer of books for consumers is to connect her to that most passionate, committed audience. That can be both good and bad – the online audience is not the same as the wider audience, and the tastes of one can be quite different from the other. (And that’s leaving out the possibility of vastly different online audiences for seemingly quite similar things – for example, the folks at Baen’s Bar have a very different set of assumptions about SF than the readers of Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist.) As we’ve seen over the past year, the online audience is much more likely to play the “gotcha game” – to be looking for a book or magazine or author or editor to fail to meet their specific standards (political, racial, gender, or whatever) and then to launch into an attack at the top of their voices against whatever that is. All media privilege loud certitude over quiet thoughtfulness – it’s as true in social media as it is in talk radio – so the loudest and most opinionated voices are the ones that resonate the most and carry the farthest.
So authors can be cynical, and try to play up whatever they’re most radical about, in hopes of getting bandwidth and eyeballs that way, or they can be as honest as they can, and hope not to be targeted by whoever is most easily annoyed that day. There’s no guarantee that either method will work, of course – there’s no guarantee on anything in publishing – but the first will tend to tie that author down to that audience for the long term. If you like throwing raw meat to your particular slavering hordes, go to it.
There have been several notable successes over the past decade from both strategies – fear of lawsuits keeps me from naming those using the first strategy, sadly – and I’m sure there will be many more in the years to come. But what social networking really does is give writers more opportunities to write words that readers will see. That’s good, in that it can attract new readers, and bad, in that social-networking words (whether they be tweets or blog posts or Facebook updates) are unpaid writing, and writers always need to beware of doing too much unpaid writing.
But, really, just like the professional end, what social media really do is replicate older types of communication at a faster pace and with greater choice. And most people end up being pretty much the same kind of person – or, at least, one of the kinds of people – that they are in real life. The big difference is that there’s a bigger potential audience online – and that that audience can be severely asynchronous, turning up hours, days or years later that you expect.
You know, I don’t believe I can answer that question. I have no idea–it’s always been a part of the publishing world as I know it. I had a blog long before I had a book contract, and I maintain it because people seem to find it useful, not because I’m sold on its usefulness as a promotional tool.
I do find blogging is a great way to meet interesting people, though, and I owe a whole bunch of joint projects–A Companion to Wolves, Shadow Unit, various other fun–to acquaintanceships made online.