Once upon a time, in a land where the summer sun can kill your soul , on the patio of a restaurant bar where the libations eased the slow heat-death, a discussion took place betwixt a certain writer and a certain beloved person in the writer’s life. The conversation was initially mundane, with rambling whatnots about who would sleep with George Clooney if given the chance and whether or not a proper queso recipe should include diced onion. Then, in a rather alarming development, the dialogue became a wee bit accusatory, and non-sexual passions were enflamed. Nonetheless, some intriguing considerations arose, and I would be remiss in my responsibilities as a writer if I didn’t share this conversation with you.
(Note: Forthwith, the “writer” shall be known as “Hexom”, a character in one of my books, a simple ploy that should give the illusion that someone else has an issue, even though it’s really me. Additionally, the “beloved person” shall be known as “Lydia”, a moniker that is not relevant to any of my friends or family members, even though I am aiming this well-intentioned but slightly-bitchy post directly at 86% of the people I know and love, or could potentially know and love once I review their performance evaluations for the fiscal year.)
Lydia, vigorously stirring her mojito because the stupid mint leaves were a bit cloggy and causing intake adversities with her straw: “Oh my GAWD, I loved that post you did about the animal crackers and the fire hydrant.”
Hexom, not stirring anything because nothing was clogged and the alcohol was mainlining directly to his brain, bypassing inhibitions: “Did you? That is so sweet. But I noticed that you didn’t bother to share the post with your 46 billion Facebook friends. “
Lydia, ceasing the stirring, not sure of the new branch on this conversational trail: “What do you mean by that? I clicked ‘like’, because I liked it. How does that make me a bad person?”
Hexom, setting down his drink and shoving it slightly to the side, because although the concoction had allowed him to breach a topic of importance to him, there was no need to increase the intensity of the breaching: “You’re not a bad person. But as you know, I’m struggling to promote myself as a writer and-“
Lydia held up her manicured hand. “Stop right there.” She first turned to a passing waiter and got his attention by her sheer stage presence. “Could you bring me another drink, please? Something with a little less seaweed? Thanks, dear.” Then back to Hexom: “You’re babbling about one of those writer things again, where I try to be supportive but I really don’t know what you’re talking about, so could you do another writer thing and write it down so I can read it later? Work was a beast today and I really don’t need any more deep thoughts at the moment.”
Hexom hesitated only momentarily, then he reached for his battered laptop bag, zipped it open, rummaged a bit, and produced a thin document which he gently placed on top of the tortilla-chip crumbs that littered the bistro table. (Both of them had attacked the appetizers with a bit more zeal than was really required.) One second later, the waiter plunked down a gallon-size margarita and a fresh bowl of tortilla chips.
Hexom: “I believe that’s your cue.”
Lydia: “I have to read this now?”
Hexom: “Well, in case you have any questions…”
Lydia: “Of course I have questions, the first one being why do you make me do these horrid things when I don’t really want to?”
Hexom: “Because you want me to be happy and would do anything for me.”
Lydia sighed. “I don’t recall ever having that contract notarized, but I’ll play along for now.” She cast her eyes upon page one.
Magical Things You Can Do in Social Media to Help Your Writer Friends Succeed
One. Realize that your writer friends use social media a bit differently than you do.
Of course, writers will often make social media updates just like everyone else, posting videos of stupid people doing stupid things, or sharing a selfie of the writer in the drive-thru line at Taco Bell, or making a drunken status update that they will delete the next morning and never mention again. Writers are people, too, and they have down time, where they mess around on social media doing pointless things that are entertaining and fun.
On the flip side, writers have a secondary (and in some cases, primary) reason for utilizing social media. They are trying to build a fan base and promote their work. Gone are the traditional ways for a new writer to get himself published: Find an agent who will promote your work or go directly to the publishing houses and try to wing it with a submission and a smile. (Well, to be fair, there was/is a third way, where you tactically slept with anyone who could help you get a book deal, but that wanton avenue really belongs in another post.)
Lydia: “I’m really bored so far. Does this get better?”
Hexom: “Of course it does. You know I ramble before I get to the point. It’s my signature.”
Lydia: “Is your signature going to be on the bar tab? Because if it is, I could probably focus more.”
Hexom, sighing: “Yes, I will pay for whatever beverages your soul requires for you to finish reading this thing. Keep going.”
In the modern literary playing field, publishing houses, as is the case with many professions, have gone through some dramatic changes. Mega-corporations have swallowed up the smaller prey, spitting out anything that doesn’t have a huge profit margin. We no longer live in a world where a dedicated single reader in a publishing house can stumble across a jewel in a pile of unsolicited submissions, race to a senior editor and proclaim “we have GOT to do this one”, and next thing you know Harper Lee is winning awards for To Kill a Mockingbird.
So the majority of struggling writers are left with only two options:. One: Give up on the Big Guys. Find a tiny little publishing company that tries to keep the faith by taking a chance on an unproven, fledgling writer. (You still have to prove your worth, although on a smaller scale, and the degradation of rejection somehow seems not quite so soul-shattering.) Or Two: You take the plunge into the fascinating but mind-numbing world of self-publishing.
Sadly, on top of the American economy being whittled down to a handful of conglomerates controlling everything (thank you, Republicans), there’s an additional and perhaps more important game-changer when it comes to the publishing industry: The explosion of digitally self-published “books” that are overwhelming society as we know it. Granted, it’s nice that we have websites and applications that allow basically anyone with a laptop and an Internet connection to cobble together a story and then blast it across the airwaves. Trouble is, this easy-enabling has resulted in a mind-numbing deluge of tripe that would never pass muster in your sixth-grade English class, assuming that you went to a school where scholastics had more importance than the football team taking state. It’s crap.
And this crap is cluttering up the intake valves that lead to validation from the “real” publishing industry. No wonder the remaining employees at the publishing houses, trying to balance quality writing with the need to keep their job, look at you with disdain when you mention that you are “self-published”. This doesn’t mean anything nor does it win you any kudos. A quick search on Amazon will lead you to hundreds, even thousands, of “books” that should never have seen the light of day. This is one of the truths of modern digital society: Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
To make a long story short-
Lydia: “Too late. Just like my next margarita.”
Hexom: “It’s on its way. I just signed over my life insurance policy to the waiter. As long as he doesn’t work for the Koch Brothers, we should see some positive results.”
Lydia: “Did you tell him that I only want salt on half of the rim?”
Hexom: “No need. We’ve gotten blitzed at this place enough times that your salt expectations have been scribbled on the ‘Daily Specials’ chalkboard. We are actually in a bar where everyone knows your name.”
Lydia: “Really? I need to get a picture of that for Instagram.”
Hexom: “We’ll do that in a minute, promise. Keep reading.”
-we no longer live in a world where you can simply write something of worth and then hope that someone recognizes the worthiness. It’s not going to happen, unless Ellen DeGeneres, or at least one of her staff people, happens to stumble across one of your obscure posts on an obscure blog that nobody is reading because there are roughly 4 billion blogs in the digital stratosphere. Before anyone ever gets to your writing, they have to get to you. And that means you, dear writer, must suck it up and whore yourself on every social-media platform on the planet.
Passing waiter: “Did I hear a request for a whore? Because I’ve gotta guy, and he doesn’t ask questions.”
Hexom: “Thanks for the down-low intel, but I think we’re good. Wait, I believe Missy here might need another beverage, based on the way she is using that straw to remove any trace evidence that her glass ever contained any alcohol.”
Waiter: “Is she the one on the ‘Daily Specials’ board?”
Hexom: “When is she not?”
Missy/Lydia, tossing her straw to the side and inadvertently dinging a passing pedestrian who was only trying to pick up his dry-cleaning: “Did he just call me a whore?”
Hexom: “Don’t act like it’s the first time, we’re sisters here. More importantly, you need to keep reading.”
Lydia: “But I’m so bored. Can’t we do something that’s about me?”
Hexom: “And that right there is what this post is all about.”
Lydia: “Me not getting what I want?”
Hexom: “No, me not getting what I need. Turn the page.”
Two. Clicking “Like” on a blog post that is shared on Facebook is not the same thing as going to the actual website and clicking “Like” there. There’s a big difference.
Lydia: “I always click ‘Like’, on everything that you do in Facebook. How is that not helping you?”
Hexom: “Oh, it does, there’s a possibility of exposure, which writers need. Thank you for doing that. But when a potential publisher is reviewing a possible client, they are going to go to that writer’s website (which the writer should have, by the way) and review the stats. If there are no followers and no interaction, then the publisher can justifiably assume that there’s no fan base. Why take the chance?”
Lydia: “I don’t really like where this is going, with you telling me how to act on Facebook.”
Hexom: “Then you probably won’t care for the next item.”
Three. If you took the time to like your writer friend’s post about a blog update, take it a step further and share that post.
Lydia: “Oh God, now you’re really pushing it. That means it goes into my feed. Everybody can see it, and you know I have quality-control issues.”
Hexom: “So… you’re embarrassed about my posts? Is that where we’re at?”
Lydia: “No! I didn’t mean that. You’re twisting it around. I love your stories!”
Hexom: “Then let people know that. Share the damn thing.”
Four. Whenever possible, make a comment.
Lydia: “That’s pretty vague. I comment on people all the time. It’s part of my skill set.”
Hexom: “And you do a very good job of it, vocally. But what’s important to me, and all writers, is that you actually type those comments out so that other people can see them. And then maybe those other people will do some investigative clicking of their own. See how this works?”
Lydia: “I don’t think I appreciate how you’re making me look simple in this narrative. I’m very supportive of my friends. But you have to understand that what’s important to you is not always evident to people who are not in your position. Social media can take a lot of time, and there’s only so much you can do.”
Hexom: “So you have the time to share a video about baby goats running amuck or take a quiz to let you know which ‘Golden Girl’ you should be, but when someone close to you, someone you know is struggling to make it as a writer, posts a link to a piece they have written, you don’t have five minutes to do what you can to help that writer succeed?”
Lydia, pausing in the slurping of her salty libation: “You sound really bitter.”
Hexom: “I am, a little. I just don’t get it. Why wouldn’t my friends and family want to help me succeed?”
There was a slight commotion at the clever wrought-iron gate leading to the restaurant patio wherein we were ensconced, and suddenly Oprah was pulling out a chair at our table and taking a seat. “You seem troubled, Hexom. Let me offer some advice based on my 400 years as a talk show host, where I had to listen to a lot of people babble about personal dissatisfaction. I think the root of the problem here is that your friends and family don’t know what you expect of them, and therefore they are incapable of meeting your expectations. This can lead to emotional turmoil, potential drug usage, and vague but vindictive late-night posts on social media. Have you taken the time to share your personal feelings with your loved ones?”
Lydia, unsuccessfully trying to stifle a salt-scented belch: “What she said.”
Hexom, not really wanting to be polite but fully aware that there was a contingent of reporters hovering just outside the clever gate: “Why, thank you for that insight, Oprah. I appreciate you taking the time to… fly here from wherever you were and proffer counsel. But that’s exactly what I’m trying to do with this blog post. Express my true feelings, but in a quasi-fictional manner that doesn’t name names and involves alcohol, so I can make my point but still distance myself from any political or familial fallout.”
Oprah: “Well, okay then. It seems my work here is done. I’ll have my people get in touch with your people and they can work out whether or not it would be advisable that we meet again. Be sure to order the stuffed-shrimp appetizer. There really aren’t enough words in the English language to fully describe the exquisiteness. Ciao.” Then Oprah went back out the clever gate, at which point someone named Gail cracked a whip and a contingent of minions proceeded to do things that would make Oprah happy.
Lydia and I both shifted our eyes from the over-mentioned gate to the waiter now at our table.
“There’s someone in the audience who has a question.”
Lydia: “Wait, that sounds like something someone would say on a TV show. Are we taping this? My agent never said a word, the twit. I’m not prepared. I need a stylist to fluff my naturally-curly locks.”
Waiter, gently patting Lydia’s hand: “The cameras are only in your dreams, sweetie.”
Hexom: “I don’t know if I can deal with yet another person who has an opinion.”
Waiter, patting Hexom’s hand, confirming that he was one of those people who relish touching things that don’t belong to him: “Why don’t you just see what she has to say, and then you can commence with the judging, hmm? She’s right over there, at Table 4.”
We glanced at Table 4, and I instantly regretted it. The young woman waving back at us in a spastic manner was covered in enough Goth makeup that it wouldn’t surprise me to learn she had just crawled out of the La Brea Tar Pits and ordered a pastrami on rye. In contrast, her head was topped by a jaunty beret and there was a cloud of clove-cigarette smoke wafting from her table to ours. Great. Not only did we have a stalker, we had a stalker with a split-personality, unable to decide if the voices in her head are from a 1980s album by The Cure or from a jazz club in 1950s Paris. I was not in the mood for this impending pain parade.
Gothette/Mimette didn’t care. She leapt to her feet, grabbed something from her table, raced to our table, took a seat, placed the something on the table, flipped it open to reveal a backlit keyboard, positioned her fingers over said keyboard, and then looked at me. “Please continue.”
Hexom: “I thought you had a question.”
Lydia: “Well, I have a question for her.” She glared at Gothette. “Do the people who are supposed to be watching you realize that you have managed to escape?”
Gothette looked from me to Lydia and back. “Oh, I’m sorry. Sometimes I get so excited about things that I forget to explain to other people what I’m doing.”
Lydia: “Like when you do your makeup?”
Gothette, patting Lydia’s hand, because that was now a symbolic theme in this story: “You poor thing. You must have had a very troubled childhood to become so truculent.” She looked at me. “So anyway, I was over at my own table, innocently eating vegan nachos, when I inadvertently caught snippets of your enticing conversation. I couldn’t hear everything that you had to say” [glares at Lydia] “because someone kept interrupting you, but what I did hear was fascinating and I want to interview you for a blog post.”
Hexom, warming slightly: “You want to write about me?”
Lydia: “That’s rude of you. I think you should leave.”
Gothette: “I have 74,000 followers.”
Hexom, turning to Lydia: “I think you should leave.”
Lydia: “I am NOT leaving this table. I don’t care what anybody says, especially Breach Birth over there.”
Just then, our waiter came rushing up and patted Lydia’s hand. “Girl, you are not going to believe. Oprah hasn’t left yet and she’s doing street interviews in the parking lot. She’s looking for people who want to break into show business and I thought of you and-“
Lydia knocked over three people as she thundered her way out the clever wrought-iron gate.
The waiter patted Hexom’s hand. “Oprah’s been gone for an hour. Just make sure you leave me a good tip.” Then he went to go see if he could find a radio station that wasn’t playing a Taylor Swift song.
Hexom: “Okay, Gothette, please proceed with the interviewing.”
Gothette: “Actually, the name is Alice. But anyway, here’s the deal. My followers are very dedicated, but they have very short attention spans. We can’t get too far off topic, like you’re doing with this blog post.”
Hexom: “But I’m known for my long blog posts.”
Hexom: “Okay, point taken. We’ll keep it short and sweet.”
Alice: “And be sure to phrase your answer in a block of text that can be easily cut and pasted, because most pseudo-bloggers are lazy and that’s all they ever do, cut and paste. And you only get one answer, so work it.”
Hexom: “One? How is that an interview?”
Alice: “My blog posts are only two paragraphs. Research has shown that most readers never make it past the two-paragraph mark, especially those people who are speed-scrolling through their feed and only clicking ‘like’ on the posts where they think they can get a courtesy return ‘like’. So why waste the time typing anything longer that two paragraphs?”
Hexom: “This doesn’t feel right.”
Alice: “74,000 followers.”
Hexom: “Use me as you please.”
Alice: “Great.” She whipped out a microphone from somewhere, the movement was too quick to truly discern the source of origin, shoved the connective end into a USB port on her clove-scented netbook and then shoved the business end into my face. “Ready?”
Hexom: “As much as I can be.”
Alice: “I’m here live with the up-and-coming novelist Hexom Breen, author of the obscure novels Screaming in Paris and Unexpected Wetness. We are discussing how important it is for friends and family members of aspiring novelists to do everything they can to support their loved one. Hexom has some thoughts on how social media can do just that. Hexom?”
Hexom: “Thank you for asking, Alice. Well, it’s important that family members and friends, even digital friends that you’ve never physically met, do everything that you can to help out a writer that you admire. And even if you don’t know the writer, if you enjoy their work, you should help them out. Click on like buttons, click on share buttons, click to go to the writer’s website, if they have one. And make comments whenever possible. It might seem unimportant, these little clicks and comments, but in this new playing field where millions of people are vying for attention on the Internet, every single action you take might be the one click that helps someone achieve the dream of writing for a living.”
Alice hit a button on her keyboard that made a vibrant red dot on the microphone fade. “That was nice. This post should be up by the morning. But you know how it goes…”
Hexom: “97% chance that no one will ever read it, no matter how much effort you put into it.”
Alice: “Exactly. I got lucky, which is really what the publishing industry is all about these days. Still, keep the faith. And don’t stop trying. And now I’m going to head back to my table and try to figure out the exact tags I should use on this post so the search engines will find me, tags that rarely have anything to do with the actual content. But that’s how the business works.” She gave me a fluttery little wave as she left, and I regretted the Tar Pits comment, not the first time I misjudged.
The clever wrought-iron gate slammed open, followed by Lydia clattering through and reclaiming her throne, signaling our waiter that she was parched. He promptly scurried to our table. Lydia babbled. “Oprah talked to me for hours. And she took pictures. I really think she might do a write-up in her magazine.”
Hexom: “That’s really swell. You should post the pictures. I know it’s important to you, so I’ll be sure to click ‘like’ and share it with all my friends.”
Waiter: “Honey, that wasn’t Oprah. It was a drag queen named Sal.”
Lydia, sighing: “Damn. Why does this keep happening to me? I have really got to start looking for an Adam’s apple when I meet new people.”
Waiter, placing a fresh margarita on the table in a glass the size of a Buick: “That sounds a bit genderphobic, poodle. But speaking of people saying things that they shouldn’t, look who just arrived.”
We all turned toward the clever gate…
Stay tuned for Volume 2.