A few years ago, Jonathan Franzen, the literary curmudgeon said he didn’t like it when fiction writers participate in the PR game. Here’s what he said:
But what happens to the people who became writers because yakking and tweeting and bragging felt to them like intolerably shallow forms of social engagement? What happens to the people who want to communicate in depth, individual to individual, in the quiet and permanence of the printed word, and who were shaped by their love of writers who wrote when publication still assured some kind of quality control and literary reputations were more than a matter of self-promotional decibel levels?
Ok, there’s obviously some bias here. I’m a fiction writer. I’m writing on a blog, which in part serves as self-promotion. But I think there’s some false hope here. A book is not an individual to individual conversation. The genius of a book is that it can seem that way. That’s the ultimate book marketing trick–making your reader think you wrote it just for them.
I’m not that good of a writer to accomplish that, but good ol’ Franz probably is.
What is Franzen missing?
1. Writers can write for different audiences and different purposes all the time, even on social media
I write marketing stuff, I’ve done essays, I’ve done reviews, I’ve done (bad) jokes on Twitter. Readers can follow writers for a variety of reasons and writers should have the freedom to create and say whatever and however they want. What’s really great about writing for different audiences is that we can still make money from writing different types of things. A lot of literary fiction writers and authors do this.
2. It’s not just “buy, buy, buy”
Twitter could strictly be used for promotion if someone or an organization wants to do that, but hopefully there’s a conversation going on. No one likes to be told to “buy, buy, buy” all the time. Writers can use Twitter and social media, not just for social media promotion, but to follow news or trends.
3. Twitter is just another medium. Like…the novel, possibly?
That sounds crazy.
But once people told stories only. No writing. No diagrams. Just their voices and gestures. Those great storytellers probably lamented the move to writing. But what about my awesome facial expressions and the timbre of my voice?
We’re seeing a similar shift. Right now, television is arguably the most popular story vehicle. But YouTube is right behind there. Then Vine videos. Different stories are being told there than what’ being communicated in novels. And that’s fine. The novel still has a place, and it can do certain things that other works of art can’t. Franzen, respect the diversity of storytellers and mediums of storytelling. And great literature still needs to be read (dare I say it?) and promoted to regain its power and relevancy.
All that said…
There’s this weird tendency for writers to be scared of what they’ve created. And I’m guilty of it, too. Like it’s not worthy to be read by others. In his book, Book Launch Blueprint, author consultant Tim Grahl says:
In a successful launch, the author believes that buying their book is actually a good thing for people to do.
In just about every other business, any creator or entrepreneur honestly believes this. Most authors don’t. We feel that we could always do better. That’s probably true–but why shouldn’t we be proud of what we can do and have done?
I guess most of the time I don’t think people will be interested…so that keeps me from overdoing what Franzen is afraid of.