A few days ago, I woke up in a panic. I was headed to Los Angeles to hawk my new book, and I hadn't called my grandmother (or anyone with the last name Andrews) to say I'd be home. Our conversation went like this: Me (feigning innocence): "Ugh, Grandmommy, I've been crazed, so sorry I didn't call you all sooner. So can you come?" My grandmother, who's been protesting her cell phone since 2006: "Oh, I know all about it. Please, with my face [Myspace], your face [Facebook], tweety twat [Twitter] and what not . . . Point is, word travels fast."
Indeed, 140 characters do travel fast. But what about the fingers behind those tiny Tweet-sized words? Trust me -- being a journalist/author/essayist/blogger/columnist is harder than it sounds. And it sounds crazy. The typical j.a.e.b.c.'s day starts with writing a story, blog, column or essay (that requires thinking up, researching, polishing, revising, editing and, ideally, a click-able headline), then sending a Tweet about said output, then posting it to various faces (I've got three Facebook pages), and, of course, subtly planting its link in a very witty G-chat status message, and then frequently checking all the aforementioned online outlets to see who's clicking, who's commenting and who's retweeting. (Then I tweak my tweet.) Thrusting them out onto the social-networking main stage, like Mama Rose in Gypsy (sing out, Louise!), is 10 times harder. By the time all that's done it's 5 p.m. and whatever actually happened (you know, like outside) that day is lost to self-promotion. Maybe social networking gets the word out, but perhaps it stops you from writing even more of them.
It's like a social experiment on steroids, all the interfacing we do on the Internet. But where's the governing body to regulate all this non-contact contact? Sure, we feel more connected. But are we? I haven't been in Los Angeles in months, but somehow my 88-year-old grandmother, who sent me an e-mail once in 2005 that read "life is no play thing," knows everything that's going on with me. Actually she knows what all the other people I don't really know know, which is where I'll be and what time (also that I hate the coffee at a certain place on U Street). With all that ego fertilizer clogging up the information highway it's almost impossible to tell which Tweets you should heed and which you can delete, which kind of defeats the purpose of promoting your book online in the first place. Maybe no one e-listens to my constant and increasing hostile e-blasts
("if you don't come to Borders on Tuesday I will delete you...FOREVER").
Like this one about my "rock star book tour"-- so dubbed because it is so not -- "I'm currently posted up at Houston Hobby because this seemed way LESS depressing than chilling at the Airport Marriott. #booktourshmooktour" Any hotel with "airport" sharing the title marquee is not "rock star," but these days anyone can be one as long as someone's following them, buying into it, and perhaps buying their book (but not necessarily in that order).
When I first started publicizing my book, a friend of mine, who does social media strategizing for a living, told me I had to get on Twitter. My response? "Umm, no, I'm a writer, I'm not crazy."
But I guess I may be both because now there's a CNN-ticker of my life @helena_andrews.
The most "it's funny because it's true" send-up of social networking's effect on old-school publishing is author Dennis Cass' 2008 YouTube spoof, "Book Launch 2.0." I discovered this viral jewel via Twitter and another author who puts in lots of time online, Rebecca Skloot, whose New York Times best-seller, "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," goes by #HeLa in tweet-speak. In "Book Launch," an increasingly frustrated and funny Cass, who's trying to promote his book, "Head Case," explains to an anonymous friend on the phone (really an avatar for all those anonymous friends out there) that "there's other ways to get people to know about books" than Oprah. (His pathetic non-Oprah list includes a "big" e-mail blast, a neighbor's book club and an updated Myspace page.)
"My book can I have a Facebook page?" Cass, the comedian, asks incredulously. "I didn't know that. I thought you had to have something with a . . . with a face." Point is these days everything has a face, and it's the writer's job to have split personalities. Because even while Cass is mocking the new media landscape, he climbs one of its highest mountains -- going viral -- with nearly 74,000 views. Now all we have to do is become alchemists -- turning page views, retweets and comments into cash.
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