Thursday, October 20, 2016

Why I shamelessly blog about my stories—and not about cats and politics

If you’re a nonfiction writer, then social media is a relatively straightforward set of tools. 

If you write nonfiction books about history, you write blog posts about history.

If you write nonfiction books about car repair, you blog about car repair. 

You tweet news stories about cars.

And so on….

For fiction writers, the path is considerably less clear. 

Too many fiction writers have been told: “Don’t be too pushy! Don’t turn your social media presence into a sales pitch!” 

(I both agree and disagree with this advice, as I’ll explain shortly.) 

So what do (most) fiction writers do instead?

Well, let’s take a look….

The fiction writer as political pundit

As these are political times, many fiction writers blog about politics. “Hey, did you know how bad the Democrats/Republicans are? Let me tell you…”

I’ve recently visited the social media accounts of household-name writers like Stephen King and Joyce Carol Oates, as well as countless fiction writers you’ve never heard of. Lots of them are tweeting and blogging about politics. 

Did you know that Stephen King and Joyce Carol Oates both really, really dislike Donald Trump? (Joyce Carol Oates hates Trump so much, in fact, that she won’t even type his name. She types it T***p. Cute.) 

But more importantly, do you care?

Probably not. I’m pretty sure that no one ever determined their stance on a controversial issue by saying, “Hey, let’s see what Stephen King has to say about this!” 

Likewise, you may love Donald Trump or hate him, but the endless anti-Trump tweets of Joyce Carol Oates have likely had a negligible influence on your opinion.

And if you don’t care what Stephen King or Joyce Carol Oates think about politics, why should you care what I think? 

Don’t get me wrong: Political punditry is both a valid and a viable field of writing. 

But fiction writers are in the escapism business. 

Yes, I have lots of political opinions; but I’m not here to argue with you about the news—or to tell you who to vote for. 

(I am here to tell you (for example) a story about an eleven-mile stretch of haunted road in Ohio, and about a young filmmaker who was hired to walk that stretch of road one night, and the horrifying, life-changing experiences that he had along the way. (That would be my Ohio horror novel, Eleven Miles of Night.)

I am also here to tell you a story about an office complex—called Lakeview Towers—that is really a portal into another reality. (That would be my fantasy novel, The Maze.) One day three corporate employees visited Lakeview Towers with the expectation that they were going to an ordinary business meeting; but they ended up getting lost in another dimension, filled with killer robots, human-wolf hybrids, giant birds, and various other perils….)

The fiction writer should not be that annoying Facebook friend who constantly posts rants about the news, and political memes. You already get enough of that from your Facebook friends, right? 

The fiction writer as writing instructor/coach

Most people who write fiction have innumerable ideas about how fiction should be written/edited/marketed, etc. 

There are a few fiction writers who actually do this quite well. I particularly like Joanna Penn and the Sterling & Stone guys. 

But I have to admit: This isn't my calling. If I’d wanted to be a creative writing instructor, I would have gotten an MFA. 

(Many of my stories, like Termination Man, are set in the corporate realm, where I spent more than 20 years in various roles. This is about as far removed from a university English department as you can possibly get!)

The fiction writer as book reviewer

Like most writers, I was a reader first, and I still read for pleasure. And yes, I write the occasional book review or shout-out for other people’s work.

What I’ve discovered, though, is that my heart really isn't in the book reviewing business. I’m far more interested in writing and telling my own stories, than in writing or talking about stories that other people have written. 

But more importantly, book reviewing is an art in itself, and there are plenty of sites and blogs throughout the Internet dedicated to reviewing books. These are maintained by people for whom book reviewing is a singular passion. 

It is better for me to leave that work to them. They’re going to do a more thorough job of it. That will leave me more time to tell stories.

The fiction writer as blogger of random miscellanea

Although storytelling is my passion, I have a lot of interests

These interests include—in no particular order—weightlifting, running, foreign languages, history, current events, economics, coin collecting, and computers. 

I have a lot to say, for example, about learning the Japanese language. I have a degree in economics. I could say a lot about that, too.

But as before: There are people who can do all that much better than I can—people for whom these topics are passions, versus mere interests.

I will therefore leave those topics to them.

The fiction writer as socialite-at-large

Yet another school of thought says that fiction writers should go on the Internet with the aim of being widely chatty and gregarious. This will enable them to “connect” with as many people as possible. Build relationships.

I get that—to a point. I’m reasonably responsive on social media. And I appreciate hearing from readers. Do you like something I’ve written? Drop me an email or leave a post on my Facebook page. You’ll make my day. 

But let’s be honest here: If you’re an “average” person, then you already have about 338 Facebook friends, according to the latest research. 

You already have existing relationships with them offline. You don’t need a fiction writer who wants to be your pen/Twitter/Facebook/YouTube pal, because, golly gee, social media is all about being social

Why I’m here, why you’re here

As an author, I’m really only on the Internet for one purpose: To tell the best stories I can. (And I think I tell some fairly good ones, if I do say so myself—but that’s ultimately for you to judge.)

I don’t want to bring you here under false pretenses—that we’re going to talk about Spanish verb tenses, or politics, or the law of diminishing marginal utility. 

I’m here to tell you stories. That’s it, as far as my social media presence is concerned. 

“So now you’re going to ask me to buy your book(s), right?”

No. I use my social media presence (especially my YouTube channel) for telling you storiesnot for telling you to buy my books. 

This is a key distinction. 

At the time of this writing, I’ve made YouTube videos of a handful of my short stories. I’m presently finishing up video readings of the aforementioned supernatural thriller, Eleven Miles of Night. 

Next up is 12 Hours of Halloween, my coming-of-age horror novel set in the early 1980s.

Then, perhaps, Blood Flats, my Kentucky crime thriller. Blood Flats is a story about Lee McCabe, an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran who is accused of a drug-related double homicide that he didn't commit. 

Almost all of the stories I present online are available in book form from Amazon. I obviously wouldn't be heartbroken if you sampled some of my fiction online and decided to buy one of my books—or two, or three. 

But even if you don’t (or never do) that’s okay. Really.

Because maybe you’ll tell your friend: “Hey, there’s this horror novel, ‘Eleven Miles of Night’. I’m listening to the YouTube videos right now, and it’s pretty scary. You should check it out.”

And maybe your friend will listen to several of the videos, and he’ll decide that he’d rather read the book, versus listen to the book being read, section by section, chapter by chapter. 

Authors should sell books like rock bands sell albums

Once, a long, long time ago, I heard Def Leppard’s song, “Photograph” on the radio for the first time. (That was 1983—you had to be there.)

Then I saw the video on MTV. (Believe it or not, MTV used to be wholly dedicated to music, rather than lame reality shows. But I digress.)

I probably heard a few dozen playings of “Photograph” before I actually bought Def Leppard’s 1983 album, Pyromania

But by then I was a fan. I subsequently bought Def Leppard’s other albums: On Through the Night, High ’n’ Dry, Hysteria, etc.

As far as I can recall, no member of the band ever said to me: 

“Hey, you—bloke,” (Def Leppard is a British band.) “We’ve got some bleedin’ good music. You want to listen to it? Well, then you need to plunk down some lolly and buy our album. Unless you want to be a wanker about it! Don’t give us any of your tosh—give us your quid!”

The rock bands that I used to listen to in the golden age of MTV and radio understood how to sell albums: First, you show the world a little (a lot, in fact) of what you’ve got. 

Because that’s only fair.

Not everyone will like what you have to offer. Some will only like it passively. And an even smaller subset will become fans of what you do. 

But the key point here is: You’ve got to show the world what you’ve got first. That comes before everything else.

Comparatively few fiction writers on the Internet act like rock bands. On one hand, there is the group of fiction writers who talk about everything but their stories (politics, cats, etc.) These are fiction writers who don’t want to lead with the fact that they write fiction…because they don’t want to seem “pushy”.

At the opposite extreme is the group that wants you to buy a book on faith, before you’ve seen what the author has to offer you. These are usually the authors who have written only one or two books, and are very concerned that someone will read their work without paying them for it. 

But who ever bought an album without hearing a few songs first?

I prefer to think like a rock band: Most of you are going to want to read (or hear) at least some of my work for free before you’re going to spend money on it. I’m cool with that—I expected no less of Def Leppard, after all.

My social media manifesto

With all the above in mind, I intend to shamelessly blog my stories on social media. 

I’ll do this mostly by actually presenting my stories—in both spoken and written form. 

I’ll sometimes talk about them, too—but only to the degree that I think will interest you as a reader

If you like what you read/hear—great! Please stick around. There will be more where that came from, I promise. 

If you’d like to buy one of my books on Amazon—great! I appreciate it. Thank you!

But my objective in being on social media is to build an audience/readership, not to extract the maximum revenue possible from every visitor and every pageview. So no--this is not a sales pitch.

But it is a project with a purpose. On a crowded Internet, focus is crucial. You can't be all things to all people, and foolish is the person who tries.

I'm not here to compete with the book review sites, or to teach creative writing. (Those are worthwhile endeavors, mind you; but others do those things far better than I can.) I'm not here to generate random blog posts about every topic that remotely interests me. Nor am I here to amass 300K Twitter followers for the sake of achieving a high Klout score.

And I'm not here to talk about cats or politics.

I’m here to tell stories. I hope you like them, because I don't dish out much else on social media. 

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