Social Mendicant

I can’t fall out of bed in the morning without hearing about the importance of social media if you want to be a writer — well one who is published and hopes to remain so in such a capricious publishing world.

I have no publishing deal (yet). And I have no editor or publishing house advising me to have a social media presence like Moses had his commandments. But I’ve heard the twitter through the grapevine and I’ve tumbled around the Web, and, well, I knew that having a social “platform” as an aspiring writer would probably serve me better than having that creepy echoing sound of silence all around me. It seems now that if you don’t cast a shadow as a writer, your chances of success and a healthy relationship with a publisher are dodgy. So I blog and I have a Facebook presence (disguised as a fox) and I also group blog with a collective of exceptionally talented writers (Groupgrok) who I got drunk one night and convinced to let me be a part of their social network.

And you know what, the whole social media thing just stinks. Is this really the brave new world for writers? Are writers to act like nothing more than mendicants, begging for alms from the publishing world and from readers?

We’re supposed to write books! So why are writers Tweeting about the news that Rowling has written an adult book with the Red Light-district title of Casual Vacancy? Or why are authors spending more time on a Facebook page than a book page? Or blogging words that will never end up in a book?

In the voice of George Emerson (E.M. Forster character): Why?

I just don’t believe in this malarkey. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that what readers really want from writers are more characters and stories and books from writers, not more Tweets and Facebook posts and blogs, these are all just virtual crumbs. Readers want feasts! Just look at the amount of eBooks that sold last year (I’ve read it is somewhere around $69 million). People are buying books and reading them. Plus readers are getting their digital fix with eBooks, so is more (in the form of social media) of the same thing better? And if writers write more, it’s not that hard to imagine that readers will buy more — unless you write a dud, which might happen if all the time you should be writing you are on Facebook and blogging and Tweeting.

Marketing tools are about as helpful as handles on a coffin.

And what really needs to asked is exactly how beneficial is all the social media trappings, all this begging for new readers? Is there any evidence? Real evidence, not just the mass evidence that so many writers are tooling with social media, therefore it works, as being proof. I mean, there are a mass of people who believe in God, and you don’t have to be an atheist, although it helps, to figure out the missing piece in this argument.

Plus, there are writers (many more than I think the publishing world will admit to) who sell lots of books and keep getting new readers who don’t do any kind of social media dance. Here’s just a few who come to mind: China Mieville, Jo Walton (Welsh writer just nominated for a Hugo!), Cormac McCarthy, David Mitchell, Nick Hornby, Peter Ackroyd, Ruth Rendell… and I could go on, but all this is keeping me from my writing….

The truth is, nobody — not even Philip Roth or Jonathan Franzen or Martin Amis or JK Rowling — knows whether social media is a boon or a bust. And if that is the case, then shouldn’t it be left up to each and every writer to decide whether to blog or Facebook or Tweet or not?

I was a reader long before I became a writer, and I want more books! So you know what, social media, leave my bloody favourite writers alone and let them get back to doing what they do so well, and what I love to read.

Let the writers write! Let the readers read!

And let’s put social media out to pasture. Its stud days are over. There’s a new hotshot in town and he or she is called a writer who pens books. Jesus, that’s such a novel idea, I might just take it up. Because as I writer, I just don’t want to grow up to work on social media’s farm no more.


One thought on “Social Mendicant

  1. Oh, Allister, you curmudgeon. Conform already.

    Nah. I like your take, and I sympathize.

    My only quibble is this: You (and I, and whoever) are not China Mieville, Jo Walton, Cormac McCarthy, David Mitchell, Nick Hornby, Peter Ackroyd, or Ruth Rendell. Maybe we will be like them someday, but right now it’s probably in your best interests to play the social networking game. Spend 5-15 minutes on it a day, cross your fingers, and shut up.

    Or. Disregard all that. Honestly, who knows what’s more valuable? If you spent those 5-15 minutes writing–or playing with your kids or building your own jetpack–it may well pay off far more than being a social media darling.

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