A lot has been written about Facebook's various attempts to mis/manage our online data. In general, I am of the opinion that we can forgo a few minutes of updating our status about, say, whether or not we've brushed our teeth or exactly how many papers we have left to grade, in order to take charge of our own privacy settings. We do not need Mark Zuckerberg to hold our hand or reassure us. Come on, people, aren't we all more grown up than that by now? The real problem is that many of us writers have begun to use Facebook for marketing rather than for networking. This irked me so much that I had to update my status thus:
"I don't buy things from telemarketers or from direct marketing mailings to my address. I won't suddenly think it is a brilliant idea to buy things marketed to me on FB. Which is to say, FB is a place to browse and consider, but rarely to buy. Unless you are far more interesting than your product."
'Tis the season when people who have things to sell - be they Chop-Yer-Own-Fir Farms or Independent booksellers or, indeed, authors - have to give their wares an extra push. I know. But after the zillionth status update in the course of three months about one book or another streaming onto my screen via Facebook's live news feed, I realized that we were all descending, en masse, into a vast swamp of self-promotion that is just not becoming of the writerly class. So, with the blessings of a few good people who happen to be authors, I have come up with ten-step pathway to grace for writers. Here goes:
Rule #1. Share information about the successes of your writer friends more frequently than you share information about your own. Bragging is never pretty but it is particularly tiresome on Facebook. An indication that you are overdoing the self-promotional posts? More 'likes this' checks and few or no comments. There is a lot more exposure for your book when it is talked up on someone else's wall where it is more likely to be seen by people who may have never heard of your existence, than the exposure you might get when it is talked up on yours. So, return the favor.
Rule #2. When responding to a comment left on your wall by a fellow writer, do so on their wall, not yours. When you write a response on your wall, you are kind of talking to yourself. Unless they keep revisiting you in which case they need to learn the lyrics to 'I Can Be Your Facebook Stalker' and broadcast themselves on YouTube. Again, when you write on their wall you expand your FB world. This is what networking is all about.
Rule #3. If you truly just want to talk about yourself and your book, be straight about it and set up a Fan page. Nobody is forced to join your fan page and you can go crazy-mad with self-referential information on it if you truly want to and it's okay. Your fans won't mind and your friends (who wouldn't be fans if they didn't want to support you and who probably already know everything you are talking about), will simply ignore it.
Rule #4. Don't join Facebook because you've heard it is a Good Way To Promote Your Book. It is a good way to promote your book, but it is primarily a - say it with me - Tool for Networking. That's right. It's a bar. It's a soirée, it's a gigantic party, it's a flat out junket, but it is not Ebay, it is not Etsy, it is not LastMinuteDeals, it is notAmazon.com.
Rule #5. When you do - and you should! - post some good news about your book, short story, essay, blog posts etc., keep it light. Learn from these pros:
Jennine Capó Crucet Check it out! HTLH named a Best Book of 2009 on the Latinidad List! (Note: Non-Latinos are welcome to read any of these books as well. We're cool.)
Marie Mockett In which I explain that, no, I am not a vegetarian (and never have been) and why I think a ghost is scarier than your generic western devil.
Antonya Nelson promises never ever to do this again (please don't HIDE me!) but wishes to announce the publication of paperback Nothing Right. Is it fit for holiday gifting? Probably not. Will it make you feel like hanging out with or hugging your family? Doubtful. And yet, I announce its arrival nonetheless. And now I solemnly... renounce any further shameless self-promotion on facebook.
Rule #6. If you are genuinely thrilled about the success enjoyed by a friend - and posted by them on FB - write it, share it, brag on their behalf. The 'likes this' icon should only be clicked if your friend is breaking Rule #1. Or there's a psychopath at your door and you have no time for more than a quick click before you do whatever you have to do at such moments. Otherwise, get serious about getting happy for them. Like in various other situations in our lives, both on and off the page, faking it just kind of fake.
Rule #7. Express gratitude to the magazine editors, bloggers, online reviewers who carry or praise your work. Make that an ongoing expression of gratitude by keeping up with the other artists they carry or praise, and by handing over at least a few of your updates to talking about them.
Rule #8. It's okay to friend people you find interesting judging by their erudite posts on other peoples' walls. All they can say is no. Don't freak out and talk about it on your wall; aren't we all immune to rejection by this time?
Rule #9. It is okay to friend someone who happens to be friends with more than seventy five other writers. Chances are they are one of two things: a writer or a reader and do we really have a beef with either group? And don't we all know that when we get a friend invite from someone it doesn't necessarily mean they want to couch-surf at our place next time they are in town but rather, would like to keep up with whatever it is we are doing or saying for a few minutes each day? Well, maybe more than a few minutes, but still.
Rule #10. Every now and again, throw out something interesting to enliven our web-surf-dead brains. Here are a few favorites:
Alexander Chee is cold as ______________________.
Which generated responses ranging from "Joe Lieberman's conscience" to "an overused simile."
Cheryl Strayed Note to holiday card senders: if two people marry and both keep their names, they are not "Mr. & Mrs. Husband's name" nor are they "The Husband's Name Family." Is that really so hard?
Antonya Nelson Holiday Hostess Hint #3 True or false: Pouring cheap (plastic-bounces-back-to-the-bum's-hand-when-he-drops-the-bottle-type) vodka through a Brita water filter twenty times will result in an elixir of Grey Goose quality. (True.)
Giuseppe Taurino is wondering what happens to people who die at home? The interweb is giving me conflicting info about how you get from a) finding a body to b) getting it to the funeral home.
Meakin Armstrong Oh, the stupid drama of rewriting something on deadline. I should just sell ice cream from a truck. We'd all be happier.
Fave response: "food trucks are really 'in' right now."
Jen De Leon always thought it was 'up and adam' but recently learned it's 'up and at them.'
Response #1: "Pretty sure my mom used to get me out of bed with, 'Up and at 'em, Adam Ant.' Who is Adam Ant?"
Who indeed. Happy networking!
Follow Ru Freeman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RuFreeman