Monday, November 9, 2009

Preaching to the Choir

While I was out of town and during my re-entry phase, my online time was greatly curtailed. I only blogged once or twice, tweeted rarely and updated by Facebook status even less. In effect, I took two giant steps off the grid. Oddly, I find that I’m not missing it that much. In fact, I’ve had a helluva time getting motivated to dip back in to Twitter. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it, I did. But without it, there is a great, lovely silence in my life right now, an absolute absence of noise and distractions, as if someone turned off that television that was constantly playing in the background.

Then of course, guilt set in. OMG, I’m not doing Every. Possible. Thing. to sell my books every single day. Panic! Horror! Guilt! Trust me, it’s raining self-recriminations here in Southern California.

Which in turn precipitates a whole new set of recriminations:

1. What if all the online selling and promoting basically takes place in an echo chamber? On all the sites I visit and all the twitter accts I follow and all the blogs I read, I see the same names over and over again. What if we’re all preaching to the choir? What if the only people listening are those who are also interested in selling their books. I mean, sure, a lot of conversation takes place, and they can be interesting conversations, but by the same token, it sometimes feels like the sorts of conversations one has at a single’s bar; they aren’t obscuring the reason we’re all there.

2. I know there are a few people who have achieved astronomical book sales through their blogging or brilliant platform building, but just how many of them write in my field—specifically middle grade novels? Not very many. In fact, maybe even zero. I know there have been some YA novelists who’s online presence has really helped them build a readership, but most of their readership is online, very few middle grade readers are, and if they are online, they’re not on twitter or Facebook.

3. Which leads me to wonder just how many books I’ve sold through my online presence. Ten? Fifty? One hundred? What if the emperor really has no clothes? Or is only wearing a pair of fancy underwear? What if those who’ve sold tons of books through their online presence are the true outliers and there is little hope of replicating their success? What if I’m channeling all this well-intentioned energy right down a drain?

In fact, this conundrum reminded me of a great book I read a few years back called The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf. She talked about the sheer amount of energy women spent chasing an abstract ideal of beauty that was constantly shifting—and rarely shifting toward the women’s favor—and just how much energy woman lost in that pursuit.

So this week as I contemplated re-starting all my online engines, a similar concern was running through my head. What if all this energy is in pursuit of an unattainable goal? What if I spend so much time chasing the wrong goal?

Which all goes back to needing to find a way to balance our time and energy. I look at some of these people who tweet all the time and while I love their tweets I do wonder, when on earth do they write? It occurs to me that maybe it’s like those friends who used to like doing their homework with the tv on, versus those who do not.

And the reason I’m doing all this soul searching is, quite frankly, I’m tired. I’ve just come home from a long, hugely productive and overwhelmingly positive series of school visits, I have a book due in (gulp) four months, and a finite amount of energy to spare. I also know that I sold more books in those two weeks than I have sold in all my years online, so it just put me in a pensive mood about where we spend our energy.

For now, I think I have to be content to let my cyber-socializing swing in cycles. People who love and thrive on all the social networking as marketing tend to talk about the value of the conversation, and yes, there are extremely valuable conversations to be had online, fascinating discussions to participate in, and lessons to be learned. There are days when I love the heck out of all those cyber conversations going on out there. Usually when I am elbow deep in copy edits or galley proofing. But other times all those conversations are simply a huge distraction. Like when I have a book due in (gulp) four months. My blogging feeds my writing in that I blog about the writing process and wrestle with writing issues and demons there, so it is a good adjunct to writing. The other avenues are less so.

So I guess I'm struggling to give myself permission to back off my social networking for a while so I can write the next book. And on some level, it annoys me that I think I need permission. But that's what happens when you're raised Catholic--you need permission for everything. (Also forgiveness, but for now I'm talking about permission.)

However, since I have finally gotten to a place where I am feeling fast and loose with the permission giving, I thought I'd share some with you:

You officially have the Shrinking Violets Permission to lay down your social networking burdens and write. Or read. Or enjoy the ensuing silence. Starting now!


Vonna said...

You are one of the most generous and energetic bloggers out there, so slowing down won't hurt your online presence a bit.

BUT...I've bought many MG books because of the author's blog. If the book is any good, I recommend it to our local elementary school's librarian. She has acquired several books from my suggestions. I will eventually become bold enough to make suggestions to the middle school librarian, but I haven't know her long enough to take such liberties just yet.

So blogs, FB or even twitter (not for me) may not sell thousands, but they do sell. They also create people who are evangelists for the books of the authors they follow.

R.L. LaFevers said...

This is so helpful, Vonna, to hear that there are people out there who are finding MG reading material from their cyber-travels. Thanks so much for speaking up! And I do think your point about creating evangelists is spot on.

Maybe I'm wondering more about the need to cover ALL of the online avenues: a blog and FB and Twitter and forums...

Mary Hershey said...


I like what you've said about the your cyber presence having a "cycle"-- I think that feels true and right for me as well. I don't think the answer to social media is YES or NO. Like most everything, there is a fluid place somewhere in the middle of that.

Sometimes social media can feel energizing--least in small doses. Other times it can feel like a huge drain.

Self-care requires that you continue to monitor and assess this, as you are doing here. Sounds like you need to re-gather yourself for now. Makes perfect sense to me, considering the breadth and depth of your recent output.

By the by, how is it that I've known you forEVER and somehow missed that you were raised Catholic????

C U Soon!

Irene Latham said...

Here's to great, lovely silences... I do think the writing online community is a bit insular. It helps me to think of it as just one more tool to use - not THE be all and end all.

Alan Orloff said...

Very nice post! I'm going to print out a copy, carry it with me, and whip it out whenever someone gets on my case for not Twittering enough! Thanks! (Don't people know we've got writing to do? :) )

kathrynjankowski said...

Yes, the writing must come first! And we have to pursue it without feeling guilty that we're not doing everything we're "supposed" to do as far as social media.

Anonymous said...

With any kind of networking, online or offline, we never know how far each ripple travels.

As an introvert, I love that I can interact with people all over the world through the written word, via the internet. I love talking about books and writing with others, while sitting in the comfort of my own home.

Although my online contacts have brought me some delightful surprises, I don't think of my online presence as being primarily a sales-y one. I engage online with others because I like to.

Everyone finds his or her own comfort level and time balance with this stuff. There is no one size fits all.

Jenn Hubbard

Robin L said...

Mary, not sure how the fact that I went to Catholic school slipped by your radar. Maybe we talked about it early on--lo those MANY years ago--and it just faded into the background?

All these comments have really helped me narrow down what I'm having a problem with. Like Jenn says, my online interactions have brought me great joy and delight, and I do know that there is an unknowable ripple effect at play here. And maybe what is happening is that all the focus and emphasis on online networking as a promotional tool leeches some of the spontaneous enjoyment out of it? When it's something I choose to do, I enjoy it; but when it is something I am being told I must do, then it rankles.

Yes, the sad truth is I am just that contrary. Clearly, one of my greatest flaws.


I will add to this conversation that I use Twitter not for promoting my novel, but to make my own connections with the publishing industry. I have 'met' agents, editors, book designers by tweeting with them and would never have had access to them otherwise. I am re-tweeting their information and placing my name and friendliness in their circle, which I feel can only be good in the long run. So, not using Twitter for my book sales, but for me personally and professionally.
Does that make sense?

Great post, Robin. And I definitely turn off Twitter for days at a time. Anything important gets retweeted anyway - we aren't missing anything crucial!

Kimberley Griffiths Little said...

Your post rang spot-on for me - and I had to also laugh because your thoughts have been my thoughts lately. I just got back from a 9 day research trip and am still catching up on over 2,000 blog posts, most of which I'm skimming because truly who has the time???

The time sink can be frustrating trying to keep up with it all. And write. And manage family and home without going crazy. And still find time to enjoy READING.

I've also been thinking, like you, that YA books are what mostly get the buzz on blogs and MG not so much. Which is a concern since I have two MG's coming out soon with Scholastic (Summer 2010 and 2011) with a YA Fall 2011.

I've been trying to find blogs that focus on MG and they are scarce except for a few book bloggers or librarians who do review MG as well as YA. There are the occasional MG teachers who blog about books they use, but they're hard to find and sometimes don't have a very wide audience so it's a conundrum and I'd love to know the answer to the best ways to promote my upcoming book.

I recently have paired up with two other authors to create an online teacher/librarian/educator newsletter called SPELLBINDERS that we launched in October and are hoping to reach lots of people - eventually. We're very excited about it, our first feature being Jane Yolen. We address all kinds of literacy issues, story ideas for teachers, curriculum connections, lots of book buzz (my column) and an interview in January with a past two-time Newbery committee member who will be on the Caldecott in 2010.

I bring this up just to illustrate that I think we have to think in different ways to reach potential readers and teachers that we hope will discover and use our books. And Carolee Dean and Lois Ruby and I are hoping the newsletter will mean we don't have to spend SO much time tweeting! Although I haven't actually succumbed to that yet. I have mirror blogs on Blogspot and Live Journal and I Facebook. And I barely keep up with those as it is.

You make a GREAT point about being able to get more exposure and generate more actual book sales by doing school visits. Or Book Festivals possibly, although I'm still debating that one. :-D

Getting the school visits can be tough though as well as needing a great deal of stamina to go on the road!

Thank you for a great post, Robin!