Social Notworking

Recently I was invited to a presentation for authors (Authors he says! Get him!) by a lovely woman from Facebook who explained how we could use their site to promote ourselves and our work. Relentlessly cheerful and upbeat – even when challenged by a surly and cynical Ulsterman (cough) – she concluded by announcing that Facebook had recently expanded the maximum size of an update to something like fifteen thousand words. Making it possible, she explained brightly, to publish an entire novel on their website with only a few postings!

Total silence. I’m pretty sure I speak for everyone in that audience when I say that my first thought was ‘I’ve put my blood, sweat, time and tears into this novel– and you think I’m going to publish it for nothing so you can flog more ads for singles-dating websites?’ To give her credit, the speaker knew as soon as she’d spoken that this was not exactly the target audience for that particular feature. But for me it sums up why writers should beware the lure of Facebook (and Twitter, my own drug of choice.)

If you write for a living, and try to ensure that your words have meaning and value (monetary or otherwise) the last thing you want to do is devalue your work by giving those words away for nothing. (Unless you’re talking about ‘free samples’. I’m all for encouraging readers to find out more. And if they buy the book but don’t like it they can’t say they weren’t warned. )

Apart from debasing your product, and leaking away piecemeal all the insights you could put into a screenplay or novel, every minute you spend tweeting, posting status updates or blogging is a minute you are not being productive. Publicity is lovely, but the priority is to have something worth publicising. I recently received a circular from another social-networking website aimed at writers which talked approvingly of a would-be author who hadn’t written a word of her planned self-improvement manual but had spent two years ‘building her brand’. Any writer of experience will recognise the whiff of bullshit coming off that statement. To be generous, perhaps the woman in question was merely putting off work and deluding herself that her displacement activity was a valid use of her time. Or maybe, to be utterly ungenerous, she was one step up from a snake-oil marketeer, busily selling a message when she had no message to sell.

Hence that disclaimer on my home page about updating when I am supposed to be working. I even feel guilty about writing this–but if you can’t update your website ten days before your first novel comes out, there’s no point in having a website at all. And of course publishers themselves encourage authors to join in the hyping party, because they want to sell books. Just ensure you never mistake PR for actual work.

For the sake of transparency I’ll admit I’m as guilty as every other author of leaving my desk unattended to hawk my ass on the high street. In a recent piece for The Guardian newspaper I attempted in vain to puff Crusher while trying not to talk too much about a certain erotic-romance author of my close acquaintance. For readers who are feeling flush there is also a more objective version behind the paywall of the London Times. If I was the vain, preening type I would say the Times photographs are much sexier, but thankfully I’m not.

So, in this spirit of dedication to the Muse I am keeping this blog update short in order to focus on work. Just as soon as I’ve found the right outfit for my five minute slot on breakfast TV later this week.

4 Responses to 'Social Notworking'

  1. cppelham says:

    Well said. I am terrified of acquiring a facebook page or a mobile post 2004 for this reason. Making endless cups of tea and email are good enough ways to procrastinate without adding more fascinating things into the mix.

    BTW, just read the “free excerpt” of Crushers handed out in H&F Vue and immediately found your blog and ordered your book!

  2. Niall says:

    Thanks for buying the book, and sorry for the delay in replying to your posting. I am wrestling with a sequel to Crusher at the moment, so haven’t been a close enough eye on my website. Hope you enjoy Crusher, and if you do, buy it for your friends for Christmas!

  3. Kate Spanswick says:

    I’ve got it to work! Happy days – hope you’re coping with the exams. Good luck with the new book – loved Crusher!

  4. Niall says:

    Thank you Kate – the new one is called Incinerator and will be out later this year, hopefully…

Leave a Reply