I just came across an article in Publishers Weekly presenting The Future of Reading: 10 Trends for 2014 and Beyond, published in 2014. Not all the predictions have come true... yet. We are not all wearing 'reading glasses', not reading glasses like those of us with what I like to call 'mature' eyes wear, but glasses that actually do the reading for us. (As with most technology, I may have totally understood that. Perhaps I really do need a device to do my reading for me... )
Among the paragraphs on 'Visual Literature' and 'Data-Driven Narrative', 'Print-on-Demand' and 'Instant Translation' was this: "In the social media era, it’s become commonplace for authors to provide free content on blogs, Pinterest, and Tumblr, and to interact with fans on public forums (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) as a way to establish their distinctive brand personas."
So authors are not only expected to appear at literary festivals for free (cf my last post for my views on this topic) we are also supposed to establish 'a distinctive brand persona', whatever that is. (I have to confess to being out of my depth with all this.) And of course we have to find time to do that other thing... what was it?... oh yes, write books.
Some authors are better than the rest of us at exploiting the opportunities offered by social media. Many of the very successful self-published authors have a background in PR of some sort. Of course it's a given that they write books other people want to read, but well done to them for having the knowhow to help promote their books. If I had those skills, I'd use them. Who wouldn't? When it comes to self-promotion most of us are clumsy amateurs.
So is this 'free content' online really useful to an author? First literary festivals, now blogs and twitter and Facebook and all the other outlets, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr... there are so many, most of which I have only vaguely heard of. Should we give up our time 'for free' to interact with fans?
I have to admit to loving my little forays into social media. Confession time: it's fun to write a blog post where I can go crazy with hyperbole and indulge myself with ridiculously excessive punctuation!!! It's very different to writing books, where I take scrupulous care with my language. Facebook is fun too. I post photos there, something I haven't mastered on my blog. Sometimes it works. Mostly my attempts fail, or the photo is ridiculously large, or refuses to go where I want it.
But if writers don't enjoy social media, it really doesn't matter.
I'm not suggesting that, as creatives, we need only sit in our ivory towers and write a book for great wealth to pour into our needy coffers meaning we never have to work for a living again. Isn't that how it works? We are the Cinderellas of the world, and the Prince - let's change his name from 'Charming' to 'Success' or 'Fame' - will seek us out and save us from the nightmare of obscurity, a pitiful existence where no one has heard of us.
What I am saying is that most of us are doomed to - or possibly blessed with - obscurity. It all depends on your attitude. The fairytale teaches us that there is only one prince. There can be only one Cinderella. Losers outnumber winners in that family. The majority of us are destined to play the role of the ugly sisters, names unknown. Yet Cinderella's sisters never had to sweep the floor or do menial work around the house, and they were invited to the royal ball. When you think about it, they had a very comfortable existence. They just had a bad attitude. They thought they were entitled to marry a prince.
So here's my advice, for what it's worth. Use social media if you want to. It can be fun. You meet all sorts of lovely and interesting people online (and, just between us, it's a great way to procrastinate!) but don't expect it to turn you into a 'distinctive brand persona'. Live in the real world, and manage your expectations accordingly. I don't expect my efforts on social media to bring me fame and fortune. I'm relying on my fairy godmother to do that.