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    Bridge Ladies Sometimes I think a meteor could strike the earth and wipe out mankind with the exception of my mother’s Bridge club — Roz, Bea, Bette, Rhoda, and Jackie — five Jewish octogenarians who continue to gather for lunch and Bridge on Mondays as they have for over fifty years. When I set out to learn about the women behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, and most of all the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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You either gonna be rich or famous fuckin wit me, probably both.

Hi Betsy:

First of all, Jesus I love your blog. I love your book, I love your twitter and I love your taste in music. Had there been a jdate for agents and authors, I feel certain we would’ve been together now and forever [Doubtful, like many self hating Jews, I never date tribe members.](I adore my agent, btw, but she lacks most of your endearing neuroses). [Then what does she have to offer??]

Here’s the deal: my narrative nonfiction book is coming out in the fall. [far-fucking-out-that’s great.] I am giddy, excited, nervous, schpilkes–[I am against random y-dropping] the whole thing. It’s great. Obviously I would like for it to do well. [I trust “well” means off the charts successful] I need for it to do well. So what am I doing to help make that happen? I blog, I tweet, I give lectures when asked and sometimes when not asked. I plan on hiring a publicist. I’m not on facebook yet but my resistance is weakening. The thing is, Twitter often feels to me like an icepick in the forehead (your feed is a notable exception). [No argument there.]There’s so much stuff whizzing by; I always feel bombarded and overwhelmed. When I’m not checking it I worry that I’m missing stuff. When I am checking it, I worry because the Important Lit Blogger has ignored my personal tweets, so and so thinks I’m wrong about the existence of God or the price of fish, and all the Super Important Shit I Need to Say requires, like, at least 147 characters. And even when it doesn’t, it feels like I’m pissing in the ocean. I fear that when I finally succumb, Facebook will be even worse. [Did you leave your Ritalin at my house last week? I thought it was you.]

And I don’t have an author website. Do I need one? Can’t I just append my Amazon link to my blog? Hand out flyers on the street? [How about a sandwich board?]I am reluctant to drop $5000 on yet one more thing that requires frantic major screen-time and curation but whose future seems uncertain.

Please understand: this is not about shyness. I am self-hating, sure, but I’m also a narcissist and a shameless self-promoter. [Yeah, yeah.]I really do want the book to succeed. I just wonder if an author has to avail herself of every single social networking tool available to her. Does she have to be ubiquitous? What say you? [As I say in MY FORTHCOMING revision of Forest for the Trees, you don’t need to slap pasties on your tits and dance around a pole to get attention, BUT publishers are expecting authors to be building an audience one way or another. It takes time to build an on-line community just as it does any sort of following such as popular classes, a newspaper readership, radio listenership, etc. If your non-fiction book has a niche market, I would figure out as many ways to reach that market as possible whether it’s through the internet, universities, clubs, religious organizations, etc. Most publishers will cover you on the general publicity push, but you need to reach your niche. As for all the frenzy around websites, blogs, facebook and twitter — if you do one really well, you’re ahead of the game. You also don’t need to spend 5k on a website. If people can reach you through your blog, then you’re covered. Figure out what you’re trying to accomplish and use the best social networking tool to reach the widest audience. And that is my advice. Love, Betsy]


Sincerely,

In Tweetment [Ha ha, I get it.]

19 Responses

  1. Sounds like your revision of Forest for the Trees strikes a different tone than the original. Good advice, too. Pulling those pasties off was getting painful, with the chest hair and all.

  2. One of the best epiphanies about writing is, most writers are just as crazy as you are and the rest, are crazier.

    Love the blog, Betsy.

  3. The only reasons to engage in self-promotion are to try to assuage the guilt (good luck with that) and to appear worthy in the eyes of your publisher. And while the latter can be a pretty good investment in your career, because publishers love writers who are eager to abase themselves for sales, there is no correlation between frequency of twittering and number of books sold.

    Every year, twenty thousand new authors spend ten hours a week being blandly charming online. Two of those authors break out. You know who sold pretty well without first building an online following? These people: http://www.nytimes.com/pages/books/bestseller/

    Publishers encourage authors to do as much of this as humanly possible for good reason: it costs them nothing. If they were paying you $5/hour to jerk yourself off online (and my god, what I’d give for *that* job), all of a sudden you’d start hearing about ‘return on investment.’ For the great majority of us, the most effective way to self-promote–really, the only effective way–is to write another book.

    Do enough online to keep your editor (and agent) from dismissing you as unserious, but not so much that you actually become unserious.

    (Though I’m not disagreeing with the ‘niche-market’ stuff that Bets mentioned. I wrote three nonfiction books, all of which withered on the vine. Should’ve hit the religious organizations and newsletters and newsgroups and columnists harder. I’m just talking about trendy social media stuff, facebook and twitter.)

    And I don’t know if a publicist helps. Be interested in hearing if anyone’s had any luck. I bet it’s a good idea if you can find a publicist in your niche, but otherwise is a waste of time.

    • I gotta say my thoughts are pretty much in line with August’s on this issue, including August’s previous perfect rant on this topic (Which blog post was that, anyone? I want to go back and read that without having to scroll through weeks of posts. ). All the eagerness to please in this area really reminds me of all the suck-ass cheesy non-intellectuals in class with me at college.

    • As a former in-house publicist I an tell you that nine times out of ten hiring an outside publicist produces absolutely no tangible results. So often we saw authors spend ridiculous sums of their hard earned cash ($20,000 was a common number for a campaign) in order to feel at peace with themselves for doing everything they could for the book. What they got for that money was perhaps a little more sleep at night but as far as extra media that would actually moves books, almost nothing. I’m not dissing freelance publicists here at all, just saying that if your house has a decent in-house publicity team it shouldn’t be necessary for most books; I realize that some houses don’t and that changes things. The exceptions to this rule are the occasional non-fiction authors whose platforms are so big (usually celebrities) that there is simply too much work for the in-house publicist. I had a first time novelist whose agent told her to get an outside publicist, she asked me if I thought she should. This always puts us in between a rock and hard place because we don’t want to tell an author not to do this and then have it come back to bite us when the book doesn’t get much coverage ( a sad reality for many books no matter how many publicists work their asss off on its behalf). I was forced to give her a sort of non-answer to this question and true to form the outside publicist did nothing I couldn’t have done myself. The author was a lovely woman and I wished that someone who was in a better position than I to do so had told her not to throw her 20K down the drain. I still don’t know what her agent was smoking telling her to do that; our imprint published some of the biggest bestselling authors in the world without outside publicity help, she should have known better.

  4. I think the key is to get important bloggers to read your book and promote it–not necessarily on review sites, but on their personal blogs. I’ve read at least a dozen books this past year because bloggers recommended them. So perhaps the key is to spend money on ARCs and send them to carefully selected people…I get bored with authors on Facebook plugging their book and appearances etc (I generally hide these people)….

  5. I’m reading my entire work aloud on Chatroulette. Naked, of course, because we all know sex sells.

    • Despite what I said above, I’m a big fan of Baldfatroulette, myself. A little creepy, granted, when I read my middle-grade stuff naked–but I think it’s important to get myself out there.

      • Ben Folds improvising on Chatroulette at a concert: http://tinyurl.com/yzzegog

        This makes me so happy.

      • That’s great. I actually don’t know anything about Ben Folds except he’s got that one song with Regina Spektor, upon whom I have a desperate and age-inappropriate crush, despite the whole ‘tribe member’ thing. My musical taste atrophied sometime in the 80s, but every now and again some young whippersnapper sneaks in.

  6. As both a small business owner and a writer, I am spend way too much time Twittering, Facebooking and blogging. The Facebook page feels worth the time and effort, while Twittering mostly just drives me crazy. In fact, I’ve recently surmised that 98% of people on Twitter are geeks. As for my blogs, my mom says she loves them, so they must be good. I think what makes these social networking tools useful is HOW you use them. Are your posts engaging? Witty? Worth reading, both by friends and strangers? I often post one-liners from whatever essay/chapter I’m working on to get people intrigued and curious. Your twits/statuses/blogs must be relevant to both you and your audience for social networking to be successful, and not simply repetitive advertisements for your website or books.

  7. Is it as important for fiction writers to have a platform as it is for non-fiction?

  8. Wow. Sounds like he had too much coffee that morning. 🙂

  9. Imagine Faulkner with a blog, or Woolf. Give me a drink and fill my pocket with rocks.

  10. Good advice from Betsy.

    I think it’s crazy to publish in this environment without investing some of your time in promotion.

    But nobody is good at all avenues, so try them all, but gravitate toward the ones you click with and cut yourself slack over not doing the others.

    (If only I could take the latter advice. I kick myself daily on the missed ops.)

    Personally, Twitter still seems alien, and blogging entries drain huge energy, but FB really works for me. So I’m directing more energy there.

    I wish I’d figured out the personal appearances better, earlier. The book festivals have been great for meeting other writers, and fun, but hard to reach large numbers. I’m learning that schools are thrilled to have published writers, though, and can deliver hundreds of potential readers (current and future) to an assembly. Setting up my own gigs on each trip the publisher funds should have been a no-brainer. It wasn’t.

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