How much should authors tweet to promote our books? Buckle up, because I’m about to get a little contrarian on your brain. We are told that Twitter is a conversation and if all we do is promote our books, we deserve to be unfollowed. Agreed! Let’s be clear about that. I agree. Okay? We get it!
But…there’s always a but… it’s tough to find the balance. If all you get from an author is “BUY MY BOOK!” then, yes, absolutely, the complainers are right. That’s too much. I’m not sure how they feel about all the promotion I do of other people’s books. Maybe that’s offensive to somebody, too. Anyway, work out your own cost/benefit analysis and do that UNFOLLOW math.
Now comes the contrarian counter programming: You want me to find the balance? I’m trying.
But is your view balanced?
I’m going to turn the narcissism charge around on the accusers and usual suspects for a change.
1. One person’s sensibility isn’t everyone’s sensibility. We’re taught in school to never start a rant, argument or sentence with the words, “I think.” This programs our brains to think they aren’t subjective machines. We mistake our words for universal law. I call this “King (or Queen) of the Universe Syndrome.” K(orQ)US is a common affliction which makes the afflicted think everyone should share their opinion. For example, I’m infected right now. (The only antidote I know is to go for a walk at night and look at stars.)
2. You’re telling me what to do. I don’t like to be told what to do. I’m interested in what other people think, but I like to decide things for myself. I don’t wear a collar well — everybody gets the devil’s advocate thing — but there’s a larger point: There are no rules. It’s the Internet. The only rules are in service contracts. Etiquette changes. Etiquette is not universal. Aside from the blogs of hyper-marketing gurus and scolds, we can do what we want. It’s the Old West and that’s what we love about the Internet. You and your tin badge don’t have no jurisdiction outside of town, Sheriff.
3. Twitter is a microblogging platform. People use it in all sorts of ways: to search out new customers, to find new friends, to discover grisly pictures of weird roadkill and cute baby animals. Some use it like it’s Instant Messenger. To some, a blog; to others, a flog. There’s a lot more diversity to our choices than simply insisting that people “engage” you all the time.
4. If I’m filling up your feed, you’re the narcissist for not following enough people. My incoming tweet stream is a roaring river of information, diversity and neural input. I love that. Even the most verbose can’t dominate my stream for long because I’ve got so much input coming at me from so many cool people.
5. What’s your problem? It’s free. Twitter is free and opting into someone’s stream is free. Complaining about something you got for free is beyond the “First World Problem” category. It seems rude to me.
6. The agony I’m putting you through is voluntary and your safe word is UNFOLLOW. If you are following anyone against your will, please call the police and take jujitsu so no one can snatch your autonomy from you again.
7. Just because you’re not interested, it’s not necessarily spam. It might just mean that you’re not interested. That doesn’t make all authors spammers. That makes you a Lookie-Lou. You’re a browser who has no intent to buy. What good am I doing you? What good are you doing me? What is this “Some pigs are more equal than others” con you’re trying to pull on me?
8. You’re a delicate doily. With Netflix, PVR and DVDs, the populace is trained not to sit through commercials to get to the good stuff. We used to have to sit through ads and now we don’t. (Tangent: Have ad rates come down significantly to reflect this fact?) But Twitter is not Netflix, PVR, or DVDs. It’s live people and a bunch of them are offering you the opportunity to sample their wares and delight you for hours for less than the cost of a Starbucks coffee. And it’s not killing you. Ignoring stuff is easy. The people who are delicate doilies stopped reading after the first paragraph of this post, for instance. They only read stuff they agree with. Hm. I should try that. It sounds peaceful.
9. You’re limiting my creativity. One morning I watched Kevin Smith’s Twitter feed fill up as he wrote a long treatise on art and aspiration. I loved it and couldn’t wait for the next tweet of argumentation and inspiration. However, some people complained he was filling up their feed. His answer was, “I’m expressing myself here! If you don’t want to read it, don’t.” That unfollow button is so darn handy.
Some people take a dim view of following too many people, but I think that means your interested in your world. However, if you’re really not interested in what someone has to say on Twitter and it offends you in some way, maybe you’re meant to follow only those for whom you’re a true fan. And if you’re a true narcissist (or weak-minded or insecure in your convictions) I suspect you follow no one on Twitter because this is Sparta and following is for sheep! Or some such macho BS.
10. To write, narcissism is necessary. It takes a truckload of delusion to write and allow the words outside of your house for others to read. Why should anyone care? Most won’t. Writing is a quixotic affliction. If we had a choice before birth, the smart babies would choose to be better at math so they could get a paying gig. Writers don’t choose writing. It chooses us. The crazy narcissism of expecting a readership to discover us? That’s what keeps us writing (and from stepping off that high ledge.)
11. We are all narcissists. All social media taps into the secret we keep from ourselves. We are all the stars of our own movies and the little people are waiting for our grand pronouncements. Let the extras eat after me. Deliver the pheasant under glass to my trailer.
12. I won’t miss you. I’m not into making rules for others, just the odd argument that is hopeless in the face of cultural entrenchment. However, if pressed for a rule it would be: When clicking unfollow, don’t tell anyone. “I don’t like what you’re saying, so I’m announcing to everyone that I’m leaving! I’m taking my marbles and going home!” How petty. That’s the ultimate douchey, narcissist move.
There once was a guy who was very rude to me on Twitter. I unfollowed. I never listened to his podcast again, either, but I will never name him. I’m sure he didn’t notice my absence or care. We’re both better off.
13. You’re not engaging me in conversation, either. That’s what Facebook is for. Seriously, I have noticed that the people who insist the loudest that they be “engaged” in conversation, are waiting for me to come to them. They’ve never tried to “engage” me with anything. They don’t retweet anyone. They wouldn’t pee on me if I were on fire. They are princesses, sitting on pillows, waiting to be asked so they can experience the delight of pointing their noses at the ceiling and saying no.
14. There are too many people on Twitter to have a conversation with everyone. That’s a silly, unrealistic requirement. That’s math. If you insist I engage you constantly and personally you, who’s the narcissist?
That’s the equivalent of requiring authors to go door-to-door…and…and…hey! Waitaminute! That’s the answer! I could sell my crime novels door to door! Excuse me. Gotta run.
No, before I go pound on strangers’ doors, one more:
15. Somebody I kind of like said that the only way to sell is by not selling. To me? That seems like a slap in Art’s face. Maybe that’s shame and fear masquerading as etiquette and high-mindedness. Whenever we tweet about our books, yes, we risk turning someone off. That’s focusing on the wrong end of the equation. What about all the people turned on to our books? Don’t focus on the I Hate Everything Cult. (There’s a clue. They hate everything! They only download books for free so they can crap on the dreams we are fulfilling!)
What about readers who actually enjoy reading a good book? What about your fan base, out there somewhere, searching for you? You’ve got a Twitter beacon but they can’t find you because you’re being so darn polite, you won’t risk a shout into the darkness. You don’t want to risk annoying people who don’t care about you, anyway! Grow a spine and tweet. Yes, for the love of all that’s chocolate, balance it out as best you can, but go ahead and tweet about your book without all the worry. You won’t kill anyone. And if you do, call me. I know a guy who’s good about making bodies disappear.
Does beating Twitter followers over the head with sales offers work? No. But keeping our magnificence a secret shame sure won’t do the job, either. Authors: toughen up and find your balance. Twitter etiquette fascists: for the sake of Art and your own enjoyment, ease up and toughen up. Or get out.
~ I’m Robert Chazz Chute, the award-winning writer and author of the world’s first bathroom/marijuana/suspense/humor book Self-help for Stoners and the twistiest, funniest crime novel Bigger Than Jesus (among other things.)
Follow me on Twitter @rchazzchute.
Or unfollow me on Twitter @rchazzchute.