Anti-Social Media

I have sent my manuscript off to a publisher.  I’m taking advantage of what’s called an “open door,” where they accept unagented manuscripts.  The period for submission was on the scale of some six months, so they are, no doubt, dealing with a huge number of submissions, meaning the odds against them giving mine more than a glance are very long.  So be it.  That reflects the odds against getting published in general.

The waiting stage, I’ve been warned, can be upwards of a year, so the question now is what to do in the meantime.  I have been pointed to a couple of other publishers who are also accepting submissions.  Each has its own requirements for submission, which is why some people are suggesting I do not pursue any more of these, and instead turn my energies into trying to find an agent.  But this, too, is complex, and it turns out that, while there are many arguments in favor of using an agent, there are just as many reasons why not to.

But I am particularly intrigued by one of the submission requirements of the publisher I have already sent to.  They very specifically asked for information on my social media outlets.  Including, presumably, this website.  Hmm.  That could be interesting.  I’ve been famously down on the current state of YA publishing, and my chances of breaking into it, and I have to wonder what they will make of that.  But then the question really is why they want to see this at all.  The answer they provide is simple.  They want to see the degree to which I am able to promote myself on-line.  Because, as it happens, that’s what I will be expected to do.

I have mixed feelings about this.  I’m a lousy self-promoter.  That’s one of the main reasons that I am pursuing traditional publication and have rejected the idea of self-publishing.  I won’t get into the whole issue of whether people who self-publish can really call themselves “published authors,” but I do know that the amount of work they have to put in getting their material out in the public eye is substantial.  I, frankly, do not want to do that.  I’m not very good at it, and I’d rather have it handled by someone who is.

I’m reminded of a college friend who got himself hired by a company in the 1990s that had a really innovative plan.  This was during the height of the so-called dot-com bubble, when numerous internet start-ups were springing up, making money off of little more than simply being on the internet.  Most of them failed, of course, when they realized you have to actually offer a product or service.  But the company my friend got on the ground floor of was different.  They weren’t an internet company.  They were a personnel service for those various dot-coms.  These start-ups were being run by “visionaries” who had neither the skills nor patience to actually run a company, so this operation provided that, handling hiring, payroll, benefits, all the stuff that you actually have to do with a business that employs people.  This left the dot-com founders free to focus on their ideas.  Brilliant.

That’s what publishers and agents provide for writers.  That’s what I need.  I don’t want to be a businessman or promoter.  I’d rather leave that to someone else so I can focus on, you know, writing.  That’s how it’s always been.  Until the self-publishing revolution.  That’s actually made it harder on the rest of us.  Suddenly the book deals don’t go to great writers of great books.  They go to the ones with connections and the unfailing ability to present themselves.

These are the ones who have mastered the internet, who have popular blogs (as opposed to mine, where I will be lucky if this article is read by five people), and who are artists at using social media to brand themselves.  I’m not good at that either.

But then, I’m not sure I want to be.  Different people approach social media in different ways.  Some use it to sell themselves, so to speak, others use it to stay in touch with friends and family (it’s literally the only way to communicate with my sister-in-law).  Some share their personal doings, on the assumption that their child’s latest bath is as fascinating to the rest of us as it is to them.  Some (like me) post amusing quotes and cartoons and links to items of interest (such as this article).  And some use it to express their views on whatever issues grind their gears.

This is also not new on the internet.  Political/moral arguments go back to the early days of Usenet.  But social media has made it much more accessible.  And more of a minefield.  Political rhetoric on the internet runs across the spectrum, but I confess that, from where I’m sitting, much more of it seems to be coming from the right these days.  And much of it is infused with such a degree of intolerance and outright anger bordering on rage as to make it disturbing.

I was subject to this recently, having posted my thoughts on a friend’s profile in response to her latest condemnation of something or other.  I was well-aware that this person had very strong conservative views, and an unabashed hatred of all things liberal.  Many of this person’s friends were similarly inclined, and when I expressed my own slightly-left-of-moderate responses I was frequently subject to a shocking degree of personal invective.  Okay, don’t go in the water if you don’t want to get wet.  I can handle it.  But I was unprepared that an innocuous comment on what appeared to be a discussion about the merits of a movie musical would generate a nasty, screaming phone call.  And this from someone who once accused me of throwing a “hissy-fit” over something  I don’t even recall any more.

I confess, I can get that way, which is why I’ve tried to scale back.  I know how it goes.  Something about posting your thoughts in a public forum brings out a very dark side of people.  It can quickly escalate as people on both sides of the argument find it increasingly important to save face in front of the presumed audience of readers who are hanging on every posting.  Forget the reality that most of them have already moved on to something else, and in any case are much less interested in reading your views than in posting their own, which, of course, really are of great importance to huge numbers of people.  On line, we are all solipsistic narcissists. 

It’s just like being back in high school, where you were convinced everyone was staring at you and couldn’t grasp that they were actually busy worrying that everyone was staring at them.  This mindset brings out the immature teen in many of us.  There’s an old internet formula: a+a=a.  Meaning, anonymity+audience=asshole.  Deprived of the immediate social cues of face-to-face communication, people forget the basics of civility and let loose.

It annoys me when someone is rude on the internet, but then others defend it by saying, “He’s not like that in real life.”  Okay, which is a lie?  I suspect the former.  Nothing reveals a person’s true character so much as what he does when he thinks no one can see him.  I, for one, try to be honest.  I’m just as much a jerk in real life as I am on-line.  What you see is what you get.  I’m also irritated about how capricious and arbitrary the “standards” are, how someone can feel free to go on at length about how the President should be in prison for trying to “destroy the country,” yet I have to be careful lest I offend someone by posting a cute picture of someone’s backside.

And that’s why I’m worried about the idea that I will have to market and promote myself.  I want my book to speak for itself.  Because if I speak for it, I suspect people aren’t going to want to hang around.  As my tiny number of social media friends and the miniscule traffic to this website can attest, people are definitely not hanging on my every word.  I’m actually fine about that.  Except when it come to my book.  Which is why I want a publisher to get it out there for me.

And I also want a pony.

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