Social Media: One Perk of Being an Author…or Being Human

Yesterday I was faffing about on Facebook – as you do – and stumbled over this…

One household staple sums up why Americans and Brits will never see the world the same way.

The article makes a couple of basic assumptions, primarily that London flats with in-home laundry are likely to have combination washer/dryers. More importantly, those dryers don’t work, and people end up draping soggy clothing all over their flats to get things dry.

They author argues that it’s in the British national character to accept an appliance with less-then-optimal functioning, while Americans would treat it as a challenge to find a way to make the things work better.

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Which is interesting, but not really the point of this blog post. What I did with the article is.

I posted the link on a group Facebook page, mainly because many of my friends there are from the UK, NZ, Canada, and Oz (Australia). As I expected, the link got lots of conversation. (It helped that I started off with a comment about microwaving water for tea, which never fails to stir things up. Apparently some consider this American convenience a travesty.)

Here are some of the things I learned:

  • Some people – especially Americans who are living/have lived in London – hate drying their undercrackers on the radiator.
  • Others who live there think having a separate dryer would be a waste of space and electricity. Also:
    • An “airing cupboard” works just as well.
    • “Panties” are for children.
    • “Knickers” are for adults.
    • Radiators are for drying socks.
    • Microwaving water for tea is a travesty.
  • One British friend who lives north of London does have a “real” dryer.
  • A friend from New Zealand said the cure for line-dried, sandpaper towels is a fabric softener you put in the wash rather than the dryer sheets.
  • Another friend from Oz would never use a dryer because of economic and environmental concerns.
    • Electricity is too expensive and too hard to generate to waste.
    • The sun dries things perfectly well, and is a natural stain remover.
  • Microwaving water for tea is a travesty.

All of that from one random article!

Maybe this post says as much about me as it does about the state of household maintenance. I don’t travel much. It’s just…never been a priority. Part of the reason is that when I travel, I’m always conscious of being a visitor, an outsider, not part of the fabric of life. In the space of five or seven or ten days, I never get deep enough. I always leave wanting more.

My fantasy European vacation would take at least six months, and would involve a castle in the south of France and a cottage near Brighton.

While I’m plotting and scheming for the perfect vacation, meeting people on-line helps me learn about life in other places without ever leaving my living room. And not just the picture-postcard-tourist stuff. I’m learning about airing cupboards and fabric softener and tea. The details! The things only locals know!

The good stuff!

So what does all that have to do with being an author? Well, my progression as a writer evolved in tandem with the world wide web. I published my first book in 2012 and took a blogging class to learn how to promote it.

The class’s teacher – Kristen Lamb – required us to start Twitter accounts and created a class Facebook page. This was my first experience with making internet friends, and I still keep in touch with some of them. It might sound a little over-dramatic, but that class changed my life.

No joke. It lead to me becoming part of the Spellbound Scribes!

As an author, I need to be savvy about social media, because the various outlets can be very effective tools for promotion. But really, I hang out on Facebook and Twitter because that’s where my friends are, and because it’s fun.

And because I very much believe that every connection I make shrinks the size of this big blue world, and realizing how much we have in common is the only thing that’ll keep us from riding our divisions into catastrophe.

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Politics aside…

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Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we’re about to have an election here in the US. Actually, if you haven’t heard about our election, I want to be where you are, because I’m so ready for it to be over. Maybe not the election itself, but the divisive rhetoric we’ve been drowning in just needs to stop.

I’ve already voted, so no amount of advertising dollars – or November surprises – is/are going to change my mind. And if you haven’t cast a ballot yet, I’m pretty damned sure nothing I say in this blog post will change your mind, either.

Though to listen to some blogging gurus, it might keep you from buying my next book.

And I’m not really sure how I feel about that. See, I write because I have something to say, and to an extent, I believe that anyone who’s going to be interested in reading about Thaddeus the gay, vampire, monk probably won’t come down too hard on my liberal leanings.

Because the stuff in Vespers will likely require a more open mind than the occasional #ImWithHer meme.

There are writers I follow who’ve been very vocal about their support for the Democratic Presidential nominee and a slew of other socially progressive causes. Other writers I know keep their Facebook and twitter feeds full of writing-related posts, cute kid pix, and kittens. Or sometimes puppies.

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PUPPIES!

I believe two things. First, now matter how you’ve approached this extraordinary election, you do you. I know people both from the internet and in real life who are voting differently than I did, and I respect their right to do so.

However, it’s important that whatever public platform I’ve been able to develop expresses my values. To me, that means sharing thoughtful articles or thought-provoking memes, making it clear where I stand on the issues. It doesn’t mean trolling someone else’s discussion threads and blasting everyone who’s opinions are different than mine. It also doesn’t mean un-friending people who share thoughtful or thought-provoking material from opposing points of view.

This election’s going to be over soon (please God) and we’ve all got to live together afterwards.

True confessions: I’m more likely to be aggressively liberal on Twitter, because stuff goes by so fast and as a medium it doesn’t seem as substantial as Facebook. I’m @LivRancourt. You’ve been warned. (lol!)

In the end, I think it’s like that rule we learned for taking multiple-choice tests: if the answer has ‘always’ or ‘never’ in it, it’s probably wrong. One of the guiding principles behind social networking is to allow others (like, you know, potential readers) to see the real person behind the novels. And well, this real person votes Democrat.

To say “never post about politics” is unrealistic, at least, and potentially harmful. Social change requires all of us to participate, and to speak up. Although, you know, we might need a time out from now until a couple weeks after the election.

Peace out…

Liv

Hey, in case you’re ready for a holiday read, check out Bonfire…

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Silent night, holy hell.

Thaddeus and Sarasija are spending the holidays on the bayou, and while the vampire’s idea of Christmas cheer doesn’t quite match his assistant’s, they’re working on a compromise. Before they can get the tree trimmed, they’re interrupted by the appearance of the feu follet. The ghostly lights appear in the swamp at random and lead even the locals astray.

When the townsfolk link the phenomenon to the return of their most reclusive neighbor, suspicion falls on Thaddeus. These lights aren’t bringing glad tidings, and if Thad and Sara can’t find their source, the feu follet might herald a holiday tragedy for the whole town.

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We Get By With A Little Help From Our (Writer) Friends

I took the first step in this journey as a writer alone.

The only person who knew I was writing my first manuscript was The Missus. No one else. I had this strange fear back then, that if I told a bunch of people I was writing a book and it was never finished, never published, never sold any copies or whatever, I would be be considered a failure. It was a silly fear, I can admit that now, as my friends and family aren’t horrible people and wouldn’t look down on me for trying something that didn’t ultimately work out, but that’s how I felt at the time. And if I’m being honest, I was probably more worried about failing and disappointing myself.

And thus, I wrote my first manuscript pretty much in a vacuum. I had no idea about the publishing industry, about trends in genre, about the appropriate word count for a first time manuscript (hey this story is kinda like Game of Thrones, those books are super long and they’re super popular, surely this can be as long as I want it too!)

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But most unfortunately, I had no idea there was a community of writers on Internet that were in the same boat as me. In hindsight, I probably should have gone out searching for these folks, but I was so insulated and focused on JUST GETTING IT DONE, I didn’t think there was a need to find other writers until I actually had a book finished I could share. A bit of social anxiety had something to do with it too. I’ve actually met a few of my now Writer Buddies in real life (which was AMAZING) but starting out, there was (and still is) something uniquely terrifying about putting yourself out there – you and your creative work – to strangers on – even on THE INTERNET – for the first time.

It was only after I had the first draft of my manuscript done that I told anyone I’d been writing a book. The response from all friends and family were very positive and most of the questions were “Are you going to get it published?” Well of course I was! That’s why I wrote this damn thing!

And it’s just that easy isn’t it?

Franco Interview WTF

So after typing “how to publish a novel” into the ol’ Google Machine and reading about one hundred million articles about getting an agent, and how the industry works and just how unimaginably difficult it is to get a book published the traditional way, I was just a weeeeeeeee bit overwhelmed.

One of the things that really stood out to me in all these articles, was the emphasis on building a presence on social media and network of folks in and around the industry. The best way to do this, by all accounts, was through Twitter. This was completely foreign to me, a guy who has a sparsely populated Facebook and thought Twitter was just a tool for people to show off what kind of latte they got at Starbucks on a particular morning. But I was in it to win it, so I signed up and started searching out other writers.

The first real immersion into the Twitter writing community was through a little hashtag called #WriteClub (you may have heard of it), a sprint club hosted by a rotating group of writers on Friday nights. This is where I found my first real Writer Buddies. These folks had been through all the same things was me while writing my manuscript and many were much further along in the journey than I was. It was inspiring and comforting to find people I could share my experiences with and learn from theirs.

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And it only built from there. I was finding new people to connect with every day and I still am. I just entered my first Pitch Madness contest ever this past weekend, and have already met a whole bunch of new and exciting writers to follow. And the community just keeps growing too. I had a wonderful conversation with a writer from the Pitch Madness hashtag who is where I was just a couple of years ago and I hope sharing my experiences helped her as much as so many others helped me.

I’ve met so many amazing people over the last few years, almost exclusively through the Twitter writing community. So many great voices, so many great stories – some already told, some still waiting to be. There is so much talent – discovered and undiscovered – out there, it’s astounding. So many funny, brilliant, caring minds out there that are going to be writing so many amazing stories for years and years to come.

These relationships have been priceless to me and my development as writer and developing my craft, but beyond all that, these relationships have meant so much to me as a person too. I’ve met folks in this community I consider to be real friends, not just people on the Internet I share a common interest or career goal with. They’ve become an important part of my life and I hope I have for some of them too.

Most important of all, I’ve learned that if you want to make it in the publishing business, you have to let go of your social anxiety, you have to let go of the fear someone isn’t going to like your work. You have to let go of the fear of failure. You will fail, and spectacularly in some cases, but you will have people there to pick you back up when you’re down.

Your friends.

Dang, this post got mushy.

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So how about you, dear readers? How did you go about finding your kindred spirits in the writing world? How has the community impacted you and your work? Who’s a little misty-eyed right now? C’mon, be honest.

We’re all friends here.

Knowing When It’s Time to Unplug

Image from Tereza Litsa who has great tips for unplugging on her blog: http://terezalitsa.blogspot.com/2013/09/is-it-time-to-unplug-from-social-media.html.
Image from Tereza Litsa who has great tips for unplugging on her blog: http://terezalitsa.blogspot.com/2013/09/is-it-time-to-unplug-from-social-media.html.

It’s kind of ironic that I’m writing a blog post about unplugging from social media, as it’s a form of social media. Plus, I’ve sent more tweets tonight than I have in two weeks, but that’s neither here nor there.

The point is this: over the last few weeks, I found that social media was doing me more harm than good, so I decided to back off of it for a bit. I think after five years on social media almost every day, I’m suffering from too much of a good thing.

Why? Well, some of it is the place I’m at in my life right now. The main thing is that my priorities need to be elsewhere. I’m also finding that some of my online friendships have turned from uplifting to toxic, so I need to take a break until I can see those people from a healthier perspective.

Plus, there’s always drama. Twitter seems to have a rant of the day, Facebook can be populated by people spouting off without knowing all the facts, and everyone has an opinion on the Amazon/Hachette dispute, which doesn’t even affect me. I don’t need that. Life has enough drama in it without hunting it down online.

So to avoid a mental meltdown but still stay active, I’m sticking to blogs, Pinterest and watching my basic Twitter lists: my agent/agency, local writers, and famous authors. That’s it. I’m even staying quiet with Team Awesome (which includes many of my fellow Spellbound Scribes) until I get my head on straight. It’s nothing personal, but it is for everyone’s benefit.

Sometimes we all need a break, that’s true for social media as much as it is for anything else. While it’s a great suite of tools for reaching/building an audience and interacting with other writers, it can also be a distraction and source of irritation. I, for one, would rather maintain a more limited positive presence online than have you see my nerves get frayed or the unguarded moments when I can’t control my (sometimes negative) opinions.

So if you’re wondering why you haven’t seen me as much, that’s why. I’ll be back, but I need some time to just be a writer, without the constant streams of articles on what I should or shouldn’t do to be successful or the relentless “look, I’m wonderful, now buy my book” tweets and posts. I need time to focus on me, my research and writing, on my life outside of the world wide web. Then, I’ll be in a better place when I am back full-steam ahead. But I wanted to be open and honest about it, rather than hide in the shadows.

Have you ever had a time when social media just got to be too much? How did you deal? Do you think it’s a good thing or a bad thing to admit when you’ve had enough?