Last night I had a chance to listen to a recording of a panel from ConFusion earlier this year (yes, I'm a bit behind in my listening material) on using the Internet as a marketing tool for writers. It doesn't sound like scintillating stuff, but a lot of it was pretty interesting--especially when I learned that authors love to party.
...no, no, not really. Though I've heard Fitzgerald could be pretty crazy when he wanted to be...but I digress. No, the partying I'm referring to is of the virtual kind; the panelists all belonged to (at least) Facebook, MySpace, and LiveJournal, in addition to their own websites--and at least one of them also belonged to Blogger, Blogster (I think), and some random Geocities site, which for some reason still exists. They didn't even mention the newest entry to the online social network party, Red Room. All of this, of course, is at least partly in the name of promotion; as all the panelists pointed out, it helps to have a robust online presence, and the more you can get your name out there the better. And since all of this stuff is essentially free, there's no reason not to do all of it, right?
I wonder. On the one hand I'm obviously in favor of having an online presence (exhibit A = here), and there's no question that promotion is critical; I certainly want to get the word out about my work as much as I can. And theoretically, the more places you frequent, the more residents of said places you'll reach. And at no cost, it seems like a pretty clear choice. Except, maybe, if you think of cost in a different way:
1. Name cost. This is a little weird, but bear with me. Who's the most over-exposed actor working in Hollywood today? I'll give you one guess, and it begins with Sam and ends with kson. Yes, there's no part that Samuel L. won't co-opt for his own (devious?) purposes, and you can pretty much bet that he's in a movie in some fashion at least four times a year (I really don't think that's an exaggeration). Result? Jackson is ridiculously well-known and, increasingly, the subject of a ton of "are you kidding me--he's in this too?" jokes. It's hard to respect someone who apparently hasn't seen a script he didn't like (and let's be fair, he could have used a bit more discernment now and again). Familiarity breeds contempt, at least over-familiarity, and I think there's a danger of that for authors too--there's something a little desperate about an author who posts on every blog, maintains six different sites and has eight different social network tools. In the long term, that kind of an author might get people in his/her network(s) to buy his/her book...but unless he/she's truly superhuman, getting more than a thousand to notice him/her that way isn't likely. It is likely, though, that he/she'll irritate a lot of people by hanging around so much, and that's not a good way to build respect for one's craft (unless you really did think Samuel L.'s performance in Jumper was Oscar-worthy, in which case...well, in that case I can't help you :) ).
2. Time cost. This is probably the biggest problem--it just takes time to maintain all this stuff. Even updating a blog every few days is time-consuming, especially if you're not content to mail it in on any given post (and I try not to be content with that, though we'll see how well I stick to that around final exam grading time this year). And the more time I spend on this, the less time I have to write, revise, submit and write some more.
Now none of this is to say that promotion isn't important, or that an online presence isn't valuable. Quite the opposite. But I do think we run a risk of spreading ourselves too thin if we're not careful, and until we all get rich enough to hire personal assistants to do this sort of thing for us, discretion is probably the better part of valor.
And besides: Jumper? Really?
Causes Gregory Wilson Supports
National Resource Defense Council
National Multiple Sclerosis Society
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