Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Asocial Networks #2: 15 Years of Online Writing


To twist a line from The Good, the Bad & the Ugly, there are two kinds of people in the social networking world: those who embrace it like a lover; and those who see it as a tool, who use it like a carpenter who uses his hammer without mistaking it for the house he’s trying to build.

I’m the second kind: To me, Twitter, Facebook, and the other social media pockets are an extension of my desktop, extremely useful, even indispensable in the pragmatic sense; often informative, once in awhile a bit of fun—in the way that carpenter enjoys lining his tools up on his shop wall, discovering a better brand of chain saw, or trading shop talk with another builder, or landing that next project.

I’ve found Facebook to be both a more useful and compatible tool than Twitter (though whether it contributes significantly to sales of books is another matter.)

On FB, it’s easier for me to follow a thread than it is on Twitter’s relentless confetti stream. My jokes, quips, and snark receive more acknowledgment, as does any Internet flotsam I share, making it more a manageable amusement.

Dragon’s Ark interior designer (and indie-publishing maven of mavens) Joel Friedlander said in a discussion on his site that he thought Facebook was a mess. I’d agree that it’s certainly in danger of becoming one. I haven’t switched to FB’s “Timeline profile” yet; first, because of the tsunami of negatives I’m seeing from other users. Second, when I look at these profile pages, they do look terrible: confusing, overbearing blocks of incomprehensible sidebars, where I can’t tell a newsfeed from advertising.

At some point, I gather, I’m getting the “timeline profile,” like it or not. I’m trying not to whine because, first, Facebook is a free service and when it’s free, I don’t really feel I can gripe, even if I’m bein’ served a heapin’ steamin’ plate o’ poop. When I want more control, I’ll pay for it, when I can afford it.

And I can always leave.

Some asides: I suspect that the real force driving these pointless changes is techie boredom: the constant itch of change for change’s sake. In Techie World, if it ain’t broke, break it.

I don’t divide up my friends into “circles” either, not out of some woozy egalitarianism, but because I can’t be bothered. It’s not that important to me that I can see the advantage. Whatever’s private can be taken care of with a private message.

One more thing I don’t do: Inform everyone of my whereabouts at any given moment, for reasons comically illustrated in this piece from 2010 that may have led to my being “unfriended” at least once.

Speaking of “friending”: I’ve been on Facebook since 2010 and only have 92 “friends.” This, I’d like to think, is not because I’m especially obnoxious (at least by Internet standards), but because I don’t try very hard.

Again, it’s my Yankee/MidWestern upbringing. Of course, I suffer from the status anxiety epidemic in the modern world, but it only raises mine to go running from person to person, tugging on their shirttails and whimpering “Would you please be my friend!?” (“Friend!?” as Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein monster so memorably pleads). It’s much too much like high school and college, experiences that still poignantly sting the memory.

Now, some of you marketing mavens, I’m sure, are frowning, tapping your toe, one hand on one hip while waving your finger:

“This is all very fine and funny, Mr. Burchfield, but what about your marketing plan for your books? Huh?”

OK, let’s go.


I used to be an advertising skeptic. “Oh, who the hell pays attention to advertising?” I would proudly scoff, my nose angled leftward and up. “It’s all lies, exaggerations, and evasions! I’m sooo above all that!”

Sometime in 2010, I signed on to Goodreads. Goodreads is a social “cataloging” site for readers that has become enormously popular, with, according to Wikipedia, 2.9 million members listing 78 million books. (Yeah, I know, Wikipedia also says that Rick Santorum was a major sperm donor to Planned Parenthood, but give me a minute, please?)

I didn’t use Goodreads much at first, until late last year, 2011, when I noticed that they were offering an “Author’s Program.”  Among the features of this program is the ability for Goodreads authors to launch advertising campaigns for reasonable effort and cost.

I felt much more comfortable with this approach than I did spamming my FB friends and Twitter followers, something I really find distasteful and representative of what’s wrong with the Internet.

Further, I was a little flush at the time. So I put up ad on Goodreads for Dragon’s Ark.

The results didn’t knock me out, but they definitely perked my eyebrows, as you can see here. In less than two months, a little over half a million people viewed the Dragon’s Ark ad. Of those, 313 “clicked” on it. Of those, 30 decided to add it to their reading lists. Seven read the novel (with two of them giving the book five stars, one of them a chap from Indonesia), while the rest have it on their “to-read” lists. (None of them have read it since then, but perhaps they need a little reminding, say by another ad campaign.)

No, not large numbers, but definitely a sign of where I should point my marketing efforts. Now, with two more books for sale, I’m eager to do this again, plus send an ad across Facebook, which seems to have a similarly structured advertising deal. With a fourth book coming out soon, I want to send all of them across as many platforms as possible at once, a fairly expensive proposition.

I like advertising because it sends my work out among my circle of friends across the wider world of readers who may actually enjoy my work. I don’t feel like a nuisance. No one feels obligated to me, but they might be interested in my books, which is what counts. With even more money at hand, I’d hire a marketer to extend my reach even further (because, let’s face it, with few exceptions, all independent writers need help here.)

Unfortunately, a sudden drop-off in the freelance editing business, a very expensive health issue that needed fixing, and more debt than is safe have suddenly and tightly tied my eager hands. As John Lennon once said, life is what happens when you’re making other plans.

But me, I go on living, anyway. So stay tuned . . . . As usual, I’m hanging in, staying at the table, playing the chips I have.

(Re-edited 4/12/11)

Copyright 2012 by Thomas Burchfield

Photo by author.

Thomas Burchfield has recently completed his 1920s gangster thriller Butchertown. He can be friended on Facebook, followed on Twitter, and read at Goodreads. You can also join his e-mail list via tbdeluxe [at] sbcglobal [dot] net. He lives in Northern California with his wife, Elizabeth.

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