Welcome to the 11th interview in the Authors and Social Media series; where I interview some of Australia’s most acclaimed speculative fiction authors and some rising stars.
This week we have Patty Jansen, who funnily enough, I discovered through social media. Regular readers might remember the review of her novellete, His Name in Lights, I posted in April.
How important do you view social media to selling your books or interacting with fans?
I don’t know about selling books, but social media is vital for interacting with people, because it expands your reach. Not only does it allow you to talk to a potentially larger interest group (note that I avoid the word ‘audience’ because it’s not a one-way interaction), but there are pearls of wisdom you can learn, and submission opportunities you would never have found out about otherwise. Your ‘friends’ will be readers, other writers, editors or book buyers, or—very often—a couple of these functions rolled into one person. The important part of the term social networking is the word networking, and we all know this is vital if you want to get the good gigs in many professions, so why not writing? It’s not so much a question of who you know, but how those people know you.
Since the question was about selling: Readers feel good if their favourite author is open to interacting with. How cool is it to receive an email from Facebook saying ‘C.J. Cherryh has accepted your friend request’. Translate that fangirl moment into the feelings your readers will have. People like to be made to feel special, even if only for a few seconds. Interact with these people in a nice way. They have lots of real life friends, and they will say ‘this author Sean is such a nice guy, and he writes damn good books, too. You have to buy them.’ And in the long term, people will. But, you don’t go into social networking to sell books. You go into it to connect with your friends and your audience all mashed into one great interwoven network.
Do you or would you want to receive any guidance from your publisher/agent on interacting via social media, both in a technical sense or in a 'professional presentation' sense?
I am unlikely to be impressed if a publisher dictates what I can and cannot do online. That said, if a publisher encounters a writer who is new to social media, I think it would be nice of them to give the writer tips and warnings about things most of the rest of us have learned the hard way, by making the mistakes and having them fly back into our faces. So: publishers and social networking: tips on using FB, Twitter, etc.—fine, rigid rules—no.
There have been some recent examples of inexperienced authors reacting badly on the Internet in response to blog reviews etc., what are your thoughts on being social media savvy? What advice would you give to new authors?
Just one piece of advice: don’t be a dickhead. If you’re unsure what constitutes a dickhead, sit back and watch at any time some sort of conflict blows up. Analyse what happens. Some people get abusive (and everyone defriends them). Some people make hyper-long responses (which no one reads). Some people try to play mother hen and try keep an increasing divide together. Do you really want to be involved and risk being dragged to either side of an argument, quoted as proof for the reincarnation of the Evil Overlord, and re-tweeted six thousand times?
Consider for yourself how you want the world to perceive you. If you’re fine with being seen as an opinionated right/left/sexist/ulta-feminist/commie/religious/and-so-on-and-so-forth pedant, if those opinions are what you stand for, then fine, go ahead. Opinion writers and social commentators make a living out of doing just this. But this also means that you will receive a lot of wind from the opposite direction. Sometimes, the wind will be smelly. It may be beneficial to your fiction sales. Then again, it may not. It will certainly distract you from writing.
So I guess my point of advice would be: before you wade into the fray, consider how you want the world to perceive you, and act accordingly. I know it sounds horrible, but you are the product, and you have to craft an image. Hint: images that are close to your real personality work best.
Something I do when I feel compelled to say something in a discussion that is clearly going to blow up, is to state my opinion once and don’t visit that discussion site again. It is often in replies and replies to replies that the damage is done. And a discussion where everyone finds continual re-wordings for the same argument wastes everyone’s time. If people get angry, no one listens.
In my experience Social media breaks down normal communication conventions. People can be more familiar and 'take liberties'. Have you experienced problems where this ease of communication has lead to followers/fans 'crossing the line' or has your experience been entirely positive?
I think it is important that you realise that the one who sets ‘the line’ is you. ‘The line’ is how you differentiate your personal and professional (writing) networks. I use my Facebook account solely for writing. If people from real life want to friend me, I warn them, and then leave it up to them. The same with Twitter and my blog. My private communication is all conducted through completely separate channels. Except my brother who follows me on Twitter because he reads SFF and probably reads this (hi, bro!*)
In the writersphere: I am very informal and am not easily shocked. It’s probably safe to say that I keep my ‘line’ very close around me, but that doesn’t mean I’ll discuss any subject in the open, or answer any question. If the subject is controversial, candid or not-yet widely known, I take the discussion to email or private messages. That said, I don’t mention people’s names online unless they’re in their professional capacity. For example, I will mention the names of writers I meet when I’m talking to them as writers, but my family always go under the names husband, daughter #1, daughter #2 and son.
In the time I’ve used social networking, I’ve had some ‘interesting’ interactions, but none that gave me pause about my use of the internet. It’s positive. Full stop.
How vital is social media to the genre in which you write and how do you think social media will effect affect the way you write and interact in the future?
I have never written without social media. I’ve been on the internet since 1994, when I wrote non-fiction. I couldn’t imagine being without it. I think it’s vital regardless of genre. Genre-specific? I don’t know. If I’d been a crime writer, I still would have been writing in isolation had it not been for the internet. There are big geographical distances between writers full stop, never mind the genre. Social networking allows us to connect.
*My brother and I have this game of sending each other weird greeting messages. He sent me a ‘hi’ through the google search terms that come up on my blog’s stats.
Patty Jansen is a writer of primarily hard Science Fiction, Space Opera and Dark Fantasy. She is a winner in the Writers of the Future contest, and her story This Peaceful State of War has been published in their 27thanthology.
Patty has also published stories in the Universe Annex of the Grantville Gazette and Redstone SF, and local anthologies and magazines, such as Dead Red Heart, Tales for Canterbury, and Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine.
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