Social media, sigh...

27 January 2012

It may be a heresy to question the value of all this social media stuff. But I can’t help wondering. It’s all part of the package for a new author. In years gone by, a gentleman of letters would drop his goose quill into the roaring log fire, and sit back thoughtfully stroking his muttonchop whiskers, before packaging his finished manuscript up in brown paper and string, and dispatching it to a suitable London publisher. That was it, presumably. That’s certainly not the way it is now.
These days as well as writing books, there’s all the rest of it. It’s a competitive business, this writing lark, and you can’t afford to let the grass grow under your feet.
First there’s a website that has to be there, which you’re looking at now, dear reader. But a website alone is as much use as the proverbial chocolate fireguard unless it’s updated every twenty minutes. So there has to be a blog as well. I have to admit that although I started using the internet when it was still in black-and-white*, I shied away from blogging and came to it late, ie, when it had already become unfashionable – and the blog here seems to get updated about every three weeks rather than the prescribed twenty minutes. All right, that may be an exaggeration. But less than a couple of times a week isn’t going to build a loyal following.
But then there’s the other blog, the International Crime Authors’ Reality Check blog that I’m fortunate to share with a bunch of real crime writers – people who have whole strings of books to their names. That’s fun and interesting to write for, as it gives me a soapbox at the same time as a deadline to stick to once a week. I’m wondering how long it’ll be before my ranting will start to go stale, but it seems to be coming through for the moment and I’m sure the others will let me know if I start cranking out crap too often.
So then there’s Facebook. (And we’ll not even think about the gruesome MySpace). The same with Facebook, came to it late, and to be honest, I don’t like it a great deal. Its main purpose is to maintain contact with friends in Iceland who don’t really like to communicate any other way. But, anyway, there’s a Facebook page here for those who might to want to click ‘like’, or just leave a sarcastic comment or two.
With Facebook becoming increasingly passé, now it’s Twitter (@graskeggur) that I’ve managed to get to too late, dammit. I’m not wildly enamoured of twitter either. There are some delightful people there, but there’s the painful following/unfollowing etiquette; a bizarre dance on tiptoes as people follow and discreetly unfollow a few days later. Being snubbed rather prissily by a fairly obscure (but not as obscure as I am) writer took a bit of the shine off it. I can take being told to piss off, and dish it back out, but in that kind of forum and for no particular reason? I don’t get it, but what the hell. So it has taken less time to fall out of love with Twitter than it did to get fed up with Facebook. I may be wrong here, but Twitter seems to be pretty much what usenet used to be, but less free, less open, less vital, less quirky and interesting.
The entire social media thing can be a terrible thief of time if you let it be. Whole ice ages can advance across continents and retreat while pithy 140-character comments are dispatched into the ether for the twitterers on the other end to scroll idly past, or you let yourself be drawn into checking those pictures someone just posted of their cousin Jim’s 32nd birthday party. It’s a great way to avoid real work. It’s possible to spend hours blogging, tweeting, Facebooking (is that a verb? If it is, it shouldn’t be), and stand up at the end of it wondering who or what stole all that time. Admittedly there are writers with iron self-control who manage to do write their books while effortlessly bunging out elegant blogs, tweets, etc, and if I were wearing a hat, I’d doff it in their direction.
I can’t not question the value of all the time spent on this stuff. Does it sell a few books? I’ve no idea and have no real way of knowing – but I have doubts. Saying that, I have some fascinating and interesting friends and acquaintances made through F’book, Twitter, etc, as well as using these media to maintain vital contact with real, flesh-and-blood friends. But if I’m not blogging, F’booking, tweeting,  and all the rest of it, it’s probably not because I’ve been run over by a bus, but more likely because I’m trying to get another book written.

*It was actually only my laptop that was in twelve shades of grey. Back in the mid-90s I tried to convince my then-employers that the internet might possibly have a future and that as a publishing company, it might be a good move for them to get a handle on this new technology before their competitors. I schlepped up to London with my laptop (which weighed a ton), plugged the modem into the frowning managing director’s phone line, listened to the tuneful electronic beeps as it connected, and showed him this internet thing.
He looked at the words and pictures on the little screen with one eyebrow raised. ‘I don’t think that’s going to catch on, do you, old boy?’ he asked, clearly perplexed. ‘Lunch?’

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