You see them in every playgroup—parents who aren’t really interested in the give and take of meaningful conversation. Instead, while Johnny eats dirt in the sandbox, they want to monologue about just how great he is. No matter the topic under discussion, they turn it in the same direction: “MY son. . .” (fill in the blank with a brag of your choice, often only very tangentially related to the subject at hand). Nobody likes these people. Nobody enjoys talking to them. Why then, I wonder, do so many authors model their social media interactions on these bores?
I’ve noticed quite a bit of this sort of blind self-centeredness lately, particularly in writing and reading related facebook groups. When I join a group devoted to say “Lovers of Mysteries with Dogs as Their Main Character” (okay I made that one up, but I don’t want to point fingers at actual groups or communities), I expect folks therein to share information on good books with doggy detectives, or links to websites to help me in researching or writing such tomes. Instead, what I am getting these days are nearly naked brag-ver-tisements—“My book ‘It’s a Dog Eat Dog World’ just got a super-duper review at ‘Dog books R us!’ Read it here. Or better still buy my book here, or here, or here.”
Come on fellow book-parents, if I want advertisements there are plenty running along the top or side of every darn website I visit. You’ve got a personal facebook page, probably an author FB page, and doubtless an author website where you can share good reviews and “buy it now” links. You can even directly and unabashedly promote your book at those locations (though the jury is out on how effective that will be for you). But the essence of communities/groups (even in the virtual world) is dialogue.
A hybrid of “boast posters” are the folks who share EVERY blog post they’ve ever written or will ever write to a facebook group, irrespective of whether it’s on topic. Sure, if you (or if I) have written a post that is germane to the topic of a group or comment thread (or touches on one of the subjects that you assume people follow you on twitter to hear about) then posting your link is a worthy public service. But if you are turning every conversation in the direction of yourself or your book-baby then spare us and save yourself the time (because pretty soon I for one am going to stop even looking at your posts because I already KNOW what they will say—some version of “my baby is so great.”)
As writers today there is a great deal of pressure on us to market our own work, and very specifically to have a presence in the virtual world. But I presume that an annoying presence seldom sells a book. If you join a community of like-minded people as part of your “building an internet presence” campaign, please try to interact with fellow members in a genuine, non-agenda-driven, manner. And for the record an interaction is neither effective nor genuine when it amounts to commenting on topics started by others about their book-babies PURELY for the purpose of turning attention to yours (“Oh Missy looks great in her tutu, but did I ever tell you about the time Mary did a guest appearance with the Rockettes? Here’s the video link!”).
People can smell a pushy mama a mile away—whether in a school auditorium or on twitter. If you are only talking and not listening in your on-line relationships you are wasting your time. People are going to start moving their chairs away. Want to get something out of your on-line-community participation? Put something in. How? I can suggest two concrete ways:
Be a friend, make a friend. When another mom asks a favor of me in real life (e.g. can you pick up my kid tomorrow I have to go to the dentist) I am WAY more likely to go out of my way if I genuinely like that her and have a sense that she’d have my back if I was in pinch. So in your author interactions build meaningful connections. Listen to what other virtual community members have to say and comment intelligently. Make friends rather than trying to score sales. You may just get the sales to boot, because I buy books written by friends (folks I’ve gotten to know through writers conferences, through on-line communities and through their blogs), don’t you?
Gain influence by offering information and expertise. I write historical fiction. That means I know what other history nuts like. When I read an article that makes me say “oh wow” (most recently an article having do with research on Roman toilets—to each her own eh?) I think, “who else would like to see this,” then I share it accordingly in the correct facebook group or using the appropriate twitter hash tag. In addition, I take the time to comment, share experiences, or answer questions where my personal knowledge might assist someone else. A question about the difference between a Spanish and a French Farthingale?—I’ve got that. A fellow writer wondering whether writers conferences are worth attending—I’ve got an opinion on that as well. Be useful and before you know it you’ve built a “value niche” in the virtual world. Can that help your book-baby? I think so. After all if I know that author X consistently exhibits an impressive knowledge of 18th century Italy, I am more likely to buy her historical thriller set in 18th century Rome.
And hey, think of it this way. . .even if being a full-fledged contributing member of an author playgroup doesn’t demonstratively increase your sales, at least people won’t wince when you pull up your lawn chair next to the monkey bars.
Sophie Perinot is the author of The Sister Queens(NAL/Penguin, March 2012) a novel of sisterhood set in the 13th century. Her debut was widely well-reviewed and made a number of “best of 2012” lists.
When Sophie is not chauffeuring one of her three kids or lint rolling the hair of one of her three cats she is hard at work on a new novel novel set in 16th century France.