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Posts Tagged ‘platform’

A sex columnist and a children’s book writer went out on a first date. The conversation flowed, the chemistry was palpable…but ultimately the children’s book writer decided there couldn’t be a second date. He was afraid his dating a sex columnist wouldn’t work for his career. True story.

I thought of this story again when I read Penelope Trunk’s recent post about being honest about who you are at work, in the context of Jason Collins’ coming out story in Sports Illustrated: “The more you hide, the harder it is to find a job that’s right for you.”

I think a lot about the post I wrote about the distinctions of public, personal, and private, especially when I’m talking to people about social media strategy. Because in order to be genuine, in order to connect with people in a deeper way, it’s often necessary to share some of the personal. But figuring out what’s personal and what’s private isn’t easy. And when the career you love and your private life (or alternate for-money career, as is the case for many artists) don’t quite mesh together, it’s hard to reconcile. Hence the children’s book writer making the tough decision not to date a woman in whom he was interested in order to avoid a later dilemma.

Our society is in the middle of a shift involving the availability of information and the level of connectedness between us. I met a book editor last month who complained about how often his writer Facebook friends posted about their politics and how much this bothered him. A decade ago, this wasn’t an issue. It’s so much easier to avoid talking much politics when you’re going out for drinks with your editor than it is to avoid posting about anything remotely politically every day. And even if you talked about politics over those drinks, that conversation has a different contextual place for both you and the editor than it does in a social media feed.

So we find ourselves wrestling with two related problems: having less control overall over the information the world can access about us, and having more of a platform from which to release our own information about ourselves, which means we have to decide what to say (and what not to say). In addition, we have to deal with the implications of all this information floating around (or the potential of it to be released) to our careers, to our loved ones, to our complicated social landscapes, and in terms of ethics.

Our lives as open books. Photo Credit: Honou via Compfight cc

These issues are exacerbated for artists because of our society’s collective difficulty in considering works of art as something apart from their creators. This is when we begin to see parents objecting to a children’s book because its author is not seen to be of sufficient moral character. I also know people who don’t want to go see the Ender’s Game movie this fall not because they object to any of the material they think they’ll see but because they don’t want to give money to Orson Scott Card. Certainly as content consumers we have every right to decide what art we will and won’t consume, but it is interesting watching the trends towards making that decision based on the creator instead of the work. Why is this change taking place? Because more information about these artists is generally available (both from themselves and from outside sources).

As privacy becomes less possible and we have less control over accessible personal information, it will become increasingly important to use our platforms to tell our own stories about ourselves. As Justine Musk says, “If you don’t tell your story, someone else tells it for you.”

It is going to become harder and harder to hide. Sometimes we might be able to make decisions like that children’s book writer and keep things simpler for ourselves. But other times, what’s at stake will be too important. And perhaps it’s at that point when having the platform and ability to communicate in your own way becomes the most important.

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So you’re a writer using social media. Either your agent or publisher has persuaded you to do it, or you’ve heard that new writers should start building a platform even before they have a deal on the table, or you’ve decided to take a greater role in publicity for your creative work. Whatever the initial motivation, a writer on social media has to answer the basic question: what am I going to talk about?

A lot of writers fall back on the obvious answer: well, we’ll talk about writing, of course. After all, that’s why we’re here interacting with strangers in the first place. And that’s what we’re passionate about, and what we think about all the time, and what we are closest to being an expert about. From this thinking arises the bottomless pit of word count stats, updates on the WIP, and pleas revealing writerly insecurities, not to mention the massive sharing of articles about writing.

This may come as a big surprise, but the nitty-gritty details of writing? NOT interesting to the average non-writer person. And guess who you’re trying to connect with via social media? Potential readers, many of whom will hopefully be non-writers. See the problem here?

I’m not saying we can never talk about our writing. Indeed, part of why social media is effective is because we can use it to promote our work, whether that be our latest book, short story, or blog post. We can also become more active in a writer community, through which we can learn information about craft and business and be supported by like-minded writers. This is all fabulous and useful. But we also want to be building a network of readers, people who theoretically might be willing to spend money to read our work, and if all we do is post how many words we’ve written today or that we’ve had a good or a bad writing day, these potential readers might get bored.

However, fear not. We are writers, and we are capable of writing engaging content, even if we secretly fear that we are boring. All we need to do is think about our audience (those potential readers I keep talking about), think about ourselves and our interests, and find a place where those two groups intersect. Easy, right?

I’ll use science fiction and fantasy as an example since those are the genres and audience most familiar to me. (YA, unfortunately, is a bit trickier, since the audience and the purchasers are not necessarily the same people.) Subjects to consider discussing via social media if you write sf/f include: books, movies, comics, etc. in the genre (or even outside of it); politics (after all, Lois Bujold says that speculative fiction novels are fantasies of agency, but be aware that discussing politics on the internet has its perils); history (esp. for writers of historical fantasy and alternative history); technology; futurism; science and advances in science; folklore; anthropology; geek culture; gaming (board gaming, RPGing, etc.); costuming; philosophy. The list goes on and on. Not that every writer should talk about every subject mentioned here; we each get to choose subjects that we like and feel comfortable talking about.

So in between posting about your newest story coming out and sharing a great article your friend wrote about writing, you can ALSO muse about some interesting strategy ideas you had during your latest game of Dominion and share an article about a recent awesomesauce scientific discovery or some recent photos from the Mars Rover. And if you’re being especially organized, you can share that great writing article with only your writer friends via your Writers circle on Google+ or your Writers list on Facebook.

And if you want to talk more accessibly about writing, think about what aspects are most intriguing to non-writers. However irritating you might find the oft-asked question about where your ideas come from, the reason that question pops up again and again is because people find it interesting. Think of the more “glamorous” aspects of a writer’s life and write about them: where ideas come from; strange facts you discovered while researching; travel due to conventions, conferences, and book tours. You can also take problems you’ve faced while writing and universalize them to apply to other creative disciplines or develop them into general life lessons.

Finally, the use of key words are essential. People find writers on the internet in a variety of ways, and perhaps the strongest of these is the network effect (aka word of mouth). But there are other ways to connect online. Let’s say I’m obsessed with Dominion and post about it once a week. And let’s say a reader who also happens to be obsessed with Dominion searches for it on Google+ and finds my posts. The reader might start following me not because I’m a writer but because they like to talk to me about Dominion. And then, months later, when I announce my next book is coming out, this Dominion friend of mine might decide to check it out. Why? Because now she knows me and wants to support me. Or she finds me interesting and thinks she might like the book. But this reader would never have found me if I didn’t make myself easy to find by using key words. If you’re talking about something related to psychology, make sure to use the word psychology somewhere in your post. If you’re talking about the Mars Rover, perhaps you can slip in the words “space exploration” into your post. Help people find you.

The community of writers needs its wonderful specialist blogs on the craft and business of writing, and the writers involved in these blogs are providing an invaluable service. Writers also need ways to communicate with and support each other, and networking with industry professionals can provide us with opportunities and expert insight. But when we think of the bigger picture of social media, we need to remember the non-writers too. Think of each social media platform as a cocktail party. We want to be witty, well spoken, and concise. We don’t want to be the prima donna who simply talks about herself all the time or the bore who drones on and on and on; instead we want to ask questions and discuss subjects that are interesting to more than just ourselves.

So ask yourself these questions: what am I interested in besides writing? what do I enjoy talking about? who is my audience? what do we have in common? (The most obvious answer here is, of course, a love of BOOKS. But then dig deeper.) We don’t have to be perfect on social media, and we can’t always be interesting to everybody, but a little bit of effort can make a huge difference.

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