Do Literary Authors Need a Social Media Support Group?

from flickr.com user pedrosimoses7

Whenever I am not sure where to take my blog post for the day, I spend a few minutes with Twitter before getting out of bed.

This is one of the many things on my smartphone that make my job as a writer better, easier, or more efficient.  This morning, my friend and former teacher Cathy Day tweeted about her female #amnoveling students being pissed about some things that were pointed out by a particular op-ed by Meg Wolitzer about women literary fiction writers, and differences between the ways books by men and women are publicized.

So of course, I Googled that shit right up.

And of course, it’s not shit at all.

It’s a beautiful essay.  It’s a thing I love about the New York Times (And the L.A. Times), the writing is just gorgeous.  There seems to be a pervasive notion among the newspaper set that the writing does not have to be good, it has to be fast.  But it’s nice about the digital age: the writing can be.  The web gives us our poorly-written, instantaneous news, and in the print media we can slow down a bit.  Thanks, New York Times (and L.A. Times) for understanding that.

And as I read the beautiful piece that talks about literary fiction like it’s something people talk about, I got sad, because it’s true that in the literary fiction world, it does seem like people are talking about it.  But even Jonathan Franzen’s popularity is nothing next to, say, Neil Gaiman’s or Stephen King’s or Norah Roberts’s or J.K. Rowling’s.

I was talking to Sari Wilson at The Wildcat Comic Con about how Literary Fiction is sort of atomized or ghettoized, and that there are all kinds of irritating preconceptions about it that are moshing around in the mass market.  Sari Wilson, though also an educational writer and collaborator with her partner Josh Neufeld, who is a graphic novel artist and author, is a literary writer herself.

So I offer that the unceremonious labeling of literary fiction by women as “women’s fiction” is probably the action of someone who’s noticed this odd ghetto and wondered, from a book-sales (not academic) standpoint, what could be done about it.

Enter the clumsy semantic.

And Wolitzer observes, rightly, that it’s problematic.  But she also acknowledges that women are the biggest consumers of fiction (all types), and that “as readers they are attentive and passionate.”  My friends who write romances experience this generosity. Plus, they are superstars.  Everyone in their world knows them.

But you know what about commercial fiction writers?  Something HUGE that’s different from literary writers?  They give back (to their fans).  I’m not talking about giving readings at colleges and signing books or answering questions after, showing up at AWP (though the commercial fiction writers I know do that, too, only with a different conference).  I’m talking about blogs–they do blog tours about their books, blog about their processes, their offices, their characters–they are active on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, etc.

I’ve linked to this piece from Justine Musk a million times, but she really says it eloquently.  She says that the world of publishing and marketing and authorship has changed, and that fans want to be able to connect with authors, online, immediately, without having to go somewhere or be a student.  Even readers of literary fiction.

It’s true that commercial fiction authors don’t often have mountains of undergraduate papers about killing the first buck to read, but they do often have other careers, children, partners, homes.  And oh yeah: book deals.  They’ve promised a publisher they can write four of them.  In eighteen months.

Of course, writing literary fiction is totally different from writing commercial fiction in terms of time.  Language does not make itself beautiful, and conflicts do not complicate or render themselves, and characters do not deepen without major intervention.   Probably the average literary fiction novel is about two to five years in gestation.

What’s the deal?

The thing that defines what you think about the literary fiction world is where you sit in relation to it.  If you are within it, there is nothing more important, even though the reading audience of literary fiction is much smaller than that of mainstream (or commercial or genre or whatever you will call it) fiction.  I can’t find any hard numbers on this, but go to a book store, and compare the number of genre labeled shelves with the contemporary fiction shelf and you’ll see how it just can’t not be true.

But if you’re outside of lit fic, there’s nothing less important.  It’s like this fuzzy blurb of hoity toity on the periphery of culture that the Amazon Bestseller list ignores, that the New York Times has a special bestseller list for, and that’s slowly getting smaller or getting absconded with by other genres.

For example, I read “Some Zombie Contingency Plans” by Kelly Link in an anthology of Zombie stories, fully expecting the poor writerly discipline I’ve grown accustomed to in commercial fiction, and was pleasantly surprised.  I can see it anthologized like “Trauma Plate,” by Adam Johnson, because it’s doing a similar sort of cultural commentary thing.  It’s asking why we value what we do, and when stuff is important, and maybe it’s even indicting the way we handle the mentally ill.

I wonder how many other little anecdotal literary stories and novels have been absorbed by the mainstream, that nobody in the literary world even knows about.  In my experience, the literary world is incredibly insular.  It, like its mainstream counterpart, posseses a great number of biases and misconceptions toward the mainstream literary world.

So we have a genre which is itself other, within which women’s fiction is acknowledged to be equal but is still other, and we wonder why people look poorly upon the academy which–as my friend Carolyn points out in the comments of my post about MFA vs. PhD–does within itself that which it proclaims to abhor.

I’m still concerned about literary fiction and I still think that something needs to be done to make it more visible to more people.  But what I’m starting to think, as I read and study this topic is that–while marketing and publicity efforts would surely help, literary fiction authors need to help themselves.

Like Cathy Day and probably a small number of other literary authors have done, they need to figure out Twitter and Facebook and Blogging and build themselves a platform.  I suspect that if they build it, their fans will find it.  And that will happen without additional effort.

But somebody needs to figure out how to put it in terms that are adequately academic such that they take notice and actually do it.  Jane Friedman’s blog is going a long way toward this end, but I don’t know if a blog is the medium that can get through to enough literary authors.

Maybe that’s the scholarly thing I’ll do for my MFA:  Social Media for Very Brainy People Who’ve Written Beautiful Books and Are Perfectionists And Who Think Social Media Will Ruin Their Lives (and It Might, but More People Will Read Their Books).

For Writers and Wannabes and Bloggers, and a Serious Question.

This is a drawing by Harry Clarke for Edgar Allen Poe's story, "The Premature Burial." It is from http://www.publicdomainreview.org

Yesterday I wrote that you have to read in order to be a great writer.

It’s true of blogging, too.  I decided about 2 months back that it was time to try to take this blog to the next level.

As I began to read about others’ ideas about blogging, things have more-or-less fallen into place.

Here are a few highlights of the things that have set the ball in motion for this blog, and for my future as a person who makes a living doing social media:

1. I finally focused.  Not hyperfocus or microfocus, but I figured out what I write about most often, watched my hits by varying post types, and paid attention to tweets & retweets & comments.

2.  I’ve got a schedule–sort of.  A loose one anyhow.  I (almost) always write for my blog first thing in the morning, and I post at least 5 days a week.  I don’t find this to be terribly difficult, but some folks would and do.  You do what works for you, okay?

3. I am a read like a crazy person–at least one blog post or resource a day.  It’s paying off.

Next?

1. Reorganize and purge my categories and labels.

2. Get some material in he hopper for weeks I have big projects.

3.  Post two reports for sale (hopefully by end of April): one on How to Start a writers’ group (post on the topic on Friday), and one on verb tenses.  Both inexpensive and well worth it.

4.  Figure out some kind of email subscription service (a la feedburner) and do a newsletter.

5.  Post a survey.  That’s next.   If you read here regularly, or if you’re in new blog love, please take eight seconds to click your answer or write one.  I don’t feel like I have to ask people to vote if they hate it, because haters like to hate.

Blogging Resources

279 Days to Overnight Success is an amazing resource.  And it’s free.  Read it.  That’s all.  Any type of blogger with any goals would benefit from the 12,000 words (which is not a huge time committment, either).

Stanford at Pushing Social writes a lot about how to use blogging to build your own business or brand.  I find some of his tips to be too sales-y for me, but he is not over-the-top.

Penelope’s advice about blogging which was the first place I went.  That was not–though I do love Penelope–100% all the best advice for me.  You really have to find what works for you, what’ll make you feel like doing your blog.  Now, I’d say about in the middle of my journey, I’m reaching a spot where I synthesize the voices I hear.  Pluck some advice from one, and other advice from another.

My Name Is Not Bob is Robert Lee Brewer’s blog.  RLB is an editor at Writer’s Digest which is a terrific publication.  He writes about other stuff, too, but his thoughts about social media for writers tend to be more about sharing than about bossing you around.  I dig that.

Copyblogger is more about the business of copywriting and web marketing. But they’ve got loads of free info on SEO and Keyword stuff that I’ve been meaning to get back to.

Brian A Klems is one of the bloggers and editors for Writer’s Digest.  Most of the time I dislike his posts, but this one is truly excellent, and a pretty solid distillation of all the best blogging advice.

Of course, Jane Friedman’s collection of voices and solid advice is an invaluable resource for any blogger, writer, social media afficionado, or 21st century human.

Resources for Writers, Novelists, Self-published, and Wannabes

A note here:  You can tell when these various folks have done their due diligence about blogging and are doing it well.  Reading at these sites–though they are not as universally well-blogged or well-designed as above, sometimes they didn’t have to because their readers came before their blogs–can be educational on the point of what looks most professional or badass.

Justine Musk writes about creativity and authorship and being a badass.  I really dig her.

My friend Jamie writes about being an editor.  She gives great tips about excellent stuff to read, writing pitfalls and grammar issues to avoid, and has a generally enjoyable voice & aesthetic.

These two gals are @duolit on twitter, and their website is all about self publishing.

Julianna Baggott’s blog is probably weighted heavily toward being more entertainment than advice, but she does have an advice to writers section that she updates whenever she posts on the topic.  Always, the posts are beautifully written.

The Rumpus is great.  I haven’t spent enough time there, but there’s a lot of entertaining, smart writing.  Entertaining, smart writing is good stuff to know about if you wanna be a writer.

Kristen Lamb’s blog is all about writing and authorship.  Her voice is also spunky and fun.  My favorite thing she’s doing right now is her series of posts called “Don’t Eat the Butt!”  It’s about bad–but prevalent–advice to writers and how to avoid being bogged down.

Cathy Day is a force of nature, and her blog is pretty great.  It’s more academic than anything I’ve listed above, but reading her blog is an experience that’s a little like taking her class or being engaged professionally by Cathy.  Cathy is one of the academic authors who “gets it” about social media.

I just love this one.  I found her yesterday, via 297 Days to Overnight Success, and she doesn’t offer writing or blogging advice specifically, but boy oh is her site a fun place to be.

Coming Attraction

Tomorrow is the Weeks to Geek post.  It’s going to be a little bit headier than you’re used to, but the whole component of the event that’s for librarians has gone–so far–unmentioned in the press & on this blog.  And well, I’ve always been a softy for the underdog.

Thanks, people, for making it real.

Bloggers I like to whom I will award this JPEG

Here we go.  Those of you on whom I bestow this award, your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to pass this award along to 15 other bloggers, and share 7 things about yourself that your readers may (or may not) know.  You can read mine here.

A note about my awards: I am first awarding to people like me–or better than me, but not so much better than me that they won’t participate and re-award.  These account for about half.  I’m including Justine Musk in this category because I have a small suspicion that she would view this kind of thing as big fun, and participate to prove that she’s not too big time.  The rest will be blogs I think it is essential for you to read, but by people or organizations who are so awesome that my blog is not even on their radar, or if it is, they are really freaking busy doing all the stuff that their big-time public lives allow or require of them, so they will probably not be paying this award forward.

Also, like Smoky, I don’t think I have 15.

I hereby award this Versatile Blogger Award to (drum roll):

Neato!

1.  Marc Schuster: Marc’s blog is informative and writerly.  He tells good stories.  Go forth, friends, and read him.  And buy his books.

2. Becoming Cliche: This woman is really funny.  And her blog is inspiring because she does, indeed, post every single day, and she uses strikethrough to great effect.

3.  This is me not awarding to Solomonian, since she hasn’t posted since she got a job.  But before she became employed, her blog posts were one of the joyful parts of my day.

4. Jamie Clarke Chavez is my newest cyber-acquaintance, and it turns out, we are the same person separated by about 1,000 miles and an undisclosed number of years.  Seriously, why would you even ask?  Jamie is wonderful, so much so I’m excited to meet her in person, and will travel to do so.  So I’m hereby extending the scope of this blogging award to include exceptional social media cheerleading, friendship, and food love.

5. Ashley Jillian is funny.

6.  Justine Musk.  This is the kind of blog I can get lost in for hours.  Her writing is delicious and she is legitimately a generous soul topped with an excellent mind.

7. Penelope Trunk is inspiring and smart and obnoxious and she home schools her kids.  I love her.  I write about how much all the time.  Doubt me?  Go ahead, plug her into the search bar over there.  She’s easily the most-linked person here.

8.  Julianna Baggott is smart and incredibly prolific.  She’s like 40, and she’s written 17 books, some of poetry, most novels.  Her blog is lovely and she is so thoughtful & generous with her time and thoughts.

9.  Jane Friedman‘s blog provides amazing insight into the publishing industry, what thinking people are saying about authorship, social media, new media, etc. She collects voices.  My blog is not 100% off her radar, since she has published a couple of my posts on her blog, but she is really busy.  And really inspiring in her ability to get stuff done.

10. Copy Blogger is a great place to learn how to do any and all of the following & more: market yourself as a writer, build a platform, use SEO, use social media, find copywriting work, etc, etc.  Very helpful.  Not maybe for all of you, but there’s a lot of stuff there that can be applicable to anybody using social media for business–not necessarily all writing projects & work.

Four Links You’ll Love: or I’m a Lazy Blogger (yeah!)

I took this picture, but don't remember doing so.

I am living just now in that not-space in my mind where all the things I want to say are blurred together, a smear, not distinct from itself or other smears.  There are smears for the grand things I have not done yet, like buy a star for Child’s menarche, or spend a month on another continent.  For the mundane things like taking out trash and doing laundry that I have also not done.

Because I have, all day, swallowed mucous and made hot tea and thought about things, but remained mostly inert.

So instead of attempting to say anything reasonable to you in my muted capacity, I will make some links to things I read today and yesterday that made me happy, and to some nice music that made me sad.

Kristen Lamb is really cute.  I know because I have read her blog, and because she is cute on Twitter.  This post is cute, but it’s also funny in parts, and good advice for anybody dealing with trolls.

I’m pretty sure that I might be replacing Penelope with Justine Musk.  And it’s not for the assonance in her name.  It’s for the rebellion. And for her delicious writing.  

The Rumpus is a great place to get sucked in reading for hours.  This particular post made me really happy, and when I sat down to write for you today, I almost wrote a mimicry of this.  But my brain would not cooperate.  Go forth and read.  And smile.  And then write your own list.  That is my assignment for you.  Post it in the comments or on your own blog and post a link in my comments.

And now for the music that made me a little (or a lot) sad. I mean, it’s sad in a nice way.  Like how sometimes I cry uncontrollably at Johnny Cash songs because they are so deeply felt, so sincere, so evocative.  That’s how these are.  If you know Jim White, he’s like that, too, but with a softer edge, sort of.

Fun Fact from researching the links here: Jim White has a bizarre web presence.  Google him.  Jim White Music.  Click like the first 4 links.  Odd.