I was born in the 50s. I'm in my 50s. At the beginning of the 00s, my brother had to explain e-mails to me. It takes me an hour to accomplish electronically what it takes a 12-year-old 90 seconds to do. But about three years ago, like a dinosaur getting a sudden chill and realizing that the Ice Age was coming, I chose to evolve and dove headfirst into the New Media Age. I've come such a long way that I don't even write with my fingers anymore. I talk into a headset, and words magically appear on my computer screen. I Skype. I IM. I YouTube. I Droid. But until yesterday, I had never hosted an actual live event with people from all over the world on the information superhighway.
As The Book Doctors, we're right in the middle of doing a 30-city book tour in front of flesh and blood humans at brick and mortar bookstores. And there's a real physical visceral excitement that comes with doing a live event. There's a ritual. You shower, get dressed in nice clothes, get yourself psyched up, get caffeinated, try to make sure your hair doesn't look too nasty. Then you look into people's eyes as you try to connect with them.
It was a very different experience as Tuesday afternoon rolled around, and we got ready to do our Twitter event #novelpitch for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month*), under the tutelage of our cyber guru #thebookmaven herself, Bethanne Patrick. We really had no idea what to expect. But I was in my European nightshirt/pajamas and I was thoroughly unshaven. Arielle had on her very very comfortable pants. I was extremely caffeinated. Plus, we only had a 30 second commute to get to the event -- already approximately 1 million times less high maintenance than actually going somewhere and doing something. As the seconds ticked away until our two o'clock kickoff, we were relaxed but ready to rock, and curious what it was going to be like falling down this new rabbit hole.
Our hostess with the mostest introduced us, and told people we would be answering questions about publishing, books, writing, and specifically about pitching your book. Most Citizen Authors who participate in NaNoWriMo have been trying desperately in the month of November to finish a 50,000 word novel. This begs the question: Then what? That's where we were trying to step in. We wanted to get these novelists who've been toiling so hard churning out all those words to think about how to best capture what's unique, excellent, exciting, important, and/or great about their book. We introduced ourselves. People in the tweetchat starting tweeting about the event inviting others to join in. Everything was getting retweeted all over the screen, and it was hard to see what was new and what was fresh. Then suddenly tweeps were tweeting questions thick and fast. All with little picture/avatars next to their real/fake names.
Quickly the restrictions of 140 characters became apparent. I've done a lot of tweeting, and I look at it like a very large and specific kind of haiku. But I've never had to answer questions on the fly, off the cuff, mad rapid fire, in 140 characters. Plus, there were often several monikers in a tweet that took up 10 or 15 of the precious 140 characters. You quickly learn to grab one simple idea. Convrt in2 tweetspeak. Because if you take too long, five more questions will have shot in. And then everyone's retweeting, reretweeting and rereretweeting and it's just one massive clusterfunky fireball, where you're paddling as fast as you can just trying to keep up so the electronic undertow doesn't eject you out into cyberspace without an oxygen tank.
Then there'd be a little lull. We'd frantically scan down the screen to make sure we hadn't missed anything. Separate the wheat of new original questions from the chaff of regurgitweetation. About an hour in, the fur was flying in a maniacal rhythm. Because our page refreshed every 5 seconds, nothing would happen as we frenetically tried to answer all the questions whiplashing at us. 1 1000, 2 1000, 3 1000, 4 1000...
A whole new flood of comments and questions would engorge our page, and Arielle's fingers would fly over the keyboard as our brains moved into hyperdrive, accelerating evolutionarily at the speed of the worldwideweb. If we'd been cartoon characters, smoke would've been coming out of our ears because our brains were working so hard and moving so fast.
During the second hour there were a few wee respites, and we were able to put out some quotes and observations. "A pitch is like a poem." "There are three rules for writing a great novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are." It was so much fun to watch them bounce all over the screen, all over the universe, it was like a CGI computer generating special effects. It was like stepping into the future.
Yet what we heard was much the same as what we hear in our in-person events. Great pitches (our favorite was "Die Hard in a laundromat"). Lots of questions about self-publishing, independent publishing, platform, monetization, whether a bio is really important, and what a writer can do to increase the chances of getting successfully published. There seemed to be a lot of writers who were wondering why they should spend lots of time, effort and emotion trying to track down agents and publishers who are going to reject them, often without even looking at what's being offered. We tried to convey that it's great to have so many more publishing options than ever in history. E-books, print on demand, social media. These have obviously turned the world of books on its ear. We sensed quite a bit of confusion, but lots of optimism at the opportunities which are now available to writers. There were also, as the two hours came to a close, a flurry of writers saying they felt energized and inspired, which was wonderful news for the evangelists in us. We do consider it our mission, our prime directive, to try to help every writer in America get successfully published. Whatever that means for them.
Then, out of nowhere, the dark side of technology reared its hydra head, and bit us right in our e-asses. We tried to post and we got the dreaded 403 Error message. Betrayed by the very tools that got us here to begin with. We madly e-mailed #thebookmaven who said: "It happens sometimes." Words to live by. We tried the Mac. We tried the PC. We tried the Droid. No matter what we did, we were impotent. And the questions just kept coming in. It was like some horrible nightmare where you're on a game show, you know all the answers, but you can't win the million dollar prize because you're suddenly a mute.
Luckily we were put out of our misery pretty quickly. We were only off-line for ten or twelve minutes. But it seemed like about a year and a half. Turns out we got shut down by Twitter because we had too much action. Is that like getting cut off at the casino when you win too much?
By four o'clock we were done and collapsed on the sofa. We hadn't realized how jacked up we were until we turned the motors off. We were exhausted and dehydrated. And yet we used absolutely no physical energy whatsoever. After live in-the-flesh events, you have all that adrenaline going and people are talking to you, shaking your hand, engaging you. So you're wide awake for hours afterwards. This was different. It was so hyperactive mentally that the crash was extra extreme. Like we had to go into our pod and recharge.
When the cyber-dust settled, we had tons and tons of new Twitter amigos. We got a bunch of traffic to our website. But most of all, it was great fun. Like stepping into the middle of a science fiction movie. After we woke up from our naps, Arielle and I both decided: We like the future.
*National Novel Writing Month is an organization of writers who endeavor to write a 50,000 word novel in one month.
David Henry Sterry is co-author of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published, and is coming to a computer near you.