Monday, August 17, 2009

Do authors who Facebook ruin their crime books?

By Steve Weddle

With authors on Twitter and Facebook, what chance would a hermit writer like Salinger have starting out today? Or Pynchon?

Salinger’s books hit the shelves in the 50s and 60s, while most folks consider Pynchon a 60s and 70s writer. One humongous difference is that Pynchon is still publishing books. His “Inherent Vice” just came out, to pretty good reviews and even more publicity. And he’s not on the Twitters or the Facebooks. How do you get good publicity if you don’t have a Twitter account?

Salinger might very well be on the Twitters, under some goofy assumed name, of course, holed up in his Cornish bunker. Remember that story about the school kids who interviewed him for their school paper and he had them to his house and they spun records or whatever? (Kids, ask your grandparents.) For the most part, Salinger has told the world not to bother him. Then, the more the world finds out about him, the more we realize he’s bothered enough without our help. Heck, we all are. How much do you really want to know about your favorite crime author?

So you’ve just finished a book with each of the deadly sins well represented, including the burning of an orphanage and the raping of mid-sized farm animals and you want to sit down to coffee with the author? Really? What kind of freak are you? You want to see this dude’s Twitter stream? (Is it just me, or does ‘Twitter stream’ sound like where you’re supposed to hold that pregnancy test?)

And when you do find out about the author, is it like that Ferlinghetti poem about a girl you meet and learn too much about: “Only the next day/she has bad teeth/and really hates/poetry”?

What happens when it turns out your favorite crime writer is as dull as the rest of us, that he has three kids, two mortgages and a wife he doesn’t even cheat on? In an interview he’s asked where his ideas come from. Rather than make up some nonsensical answer like a character in his books would, he tells the truth. “Well, I was watching my Season Two DVDs of ‘Matlock’ when I got to thinking about this triple homicide I’d seen on the True Crime Network. So one Tuesday when I was helping out at the PTA bake sale, I asked Sheriff Barnes – we’re the tenors in the St. Bart’s choir – for any ideas. So that’s how I ended up naming one of the victims ‘Cupcake.’”

If writers ever had any sort of rock star quality, do Twitter and Facebook kill it? Who is the biggest name in fiction right now? Whoever it is, I don’t want him/her mad at me, so let’s make someone up. Jerri Fakename does not have a Twitter account or a Facebook page. You have to go to the publisher’s site to find her Web presence, a Flash-heavy site that the publisher pays for. Fakename writes books. That’s it. She does interviews via email through her publisher, which means she doesn’t do interviews. She certainly does not update her status. In fact, her assistant has set up a Twitter account in her name. “Jerri is up early to write today. Drafts look super.” Followers 23,467 & Following 7. So Fakename comes to a town within a couple of hours of you to give a “reading/signing.” You take some friends and drive up, wait in line for her to sign the hardback. It’s so exciting, an event. You got to see Jerri Fakename read from her novel. Wow.

Then there’s this guy who teaches a couple of classes at a small college and makes some cash on the side editing technical manuals. His Twitter account is @Jeff_Hines1960. He twatted about a movie last week that you’d also seen. (That sounds weird, too. Is it “twittered” or “tweetered”? Whatever.) You ask what he thought about it, just kinda goofin around. The dude responds and asks what you thought. Heck, the dude responds to just about everyone. He’s following pretty much the same 2,000 people who are following him. He even follows the spammers and makes jokes about them. He has a blog and last Friday complained about how tough it is to get good seafood where he lives, which everyone knows is a little town just outside Wichita. You go to his reading and buy a copy of the trade paperback because that’s the way his books come out. He recognizes your username when you introduce yourself. He even tells you he thought about what you said about that movie and that you were probably right.

That’s the good version. And it doesn’t matter that you don’t think Jeff Hines is as bright a star as Jerri Fakename. Maybe that doesn’t matter. Maybe it doesn’t matter that Fakename is a rock star and Jeff Hines is like a friend of your mom’s who has a book or two out. But what happens when you find out a little more about that author?
What happens when, like the author who gets his ideas from “Matlock” re-runs and PTA bake sales, you find out that one of your favorite authors isn’t cool? Fakename is glamorous. She’s going on the Today Show next week. You’ve got the DVR set already.

But what if you learn more about the author? Does it matter when you find out that the guy who writes your favorite hero is not heroic? That the creator of the toughest, meanest, biggest, most athletic badass in all of crime fiction is a 700-pound hermaphrodite with a substantial lisp and an incontinence problem? That the writing process is “I just read a bunch of novels by other people I like and then put them all together in my head and write”?

When I was a kid falling in love with the Glass family, would it have mattered to know some of the weird stuff about Salinger?

What if you’re looking on the Facebook page of your favorite novelist and find out she’s a flaming liberal who only writes crime fiction to shine a light on the perils of handgun ownership? Or that he’s trying to hurry the new novel out so that he can fund his lifelong dream and finally afford those calf and pectoral implants?

“News” floated around recently that Thomas Pynchon unhermitted himself to record the voice-over for the book trailer to his new book. Um, big deal. Let me know when he’s coming to the Barnes and Noble near me. I’d like to know what he thought about that latest Star Trek movie. If he thought it was anything other than crap on a stick, then I’m done with him.


Today's Questions:

Are Twitter and Facebook good for authors?

Do you want to know more about the authors you love?

Does it help you as a writer if your readers know more about you?


John McFetridge said...

These are kind of seperate questions.

Yes, I like to know something about the authors I like, but no, Twitter and Facebook aren't the best ways to get that information across.

I like a good author website with some interviews, maybe some short stories I can read online to get a feel for the author, a bio and a list of publications.

I sure don't need daily updates.

There was an article in the paper here in Toronto today that Margaret Atwood has started Twittering. She has a new book coming out soon, a prequal to Oryx and Crake, and I was wonering if she'd be Twittering if it was a prequel to The Robber Bride or some other historical novel or if the sci fi aspect had anything to do with it. Are some "markets" more open to online promo than others?

Dana King said...

I like to know bits about thier writing and what influences it, and whether they're at least decent people. Extreme political philosophies will probably come through in their writing, so I would probably already have stopped reading anyone who offended me in that manner.

I do not need daily/hourly/minutely updates on how the book is going. If I have become friends with an author and he wants to share with me how things are going, great. If he doesn't, that's great, too. Let me know when it's done. I do not need to know you're going to the bathroom right after you finish this scene between Frances and Edgar. Really. I've been to the bathroom myself. I know how it works, and I doubt you're going to tell me anything I don't know that I wasn't happily living without knowing.

Jay Stringer said...

Tricky question.

As a writer, i want to know other writers. I want to be able to network, hang out, discuss writing and just shoot the shit with people who do what i do but better.

As a reader i've always had little or no interest in who the people are behind the art. There are exceptions, naturally, but on the whole its the work i want a relationship with and not the artist.

Merle Gornick said...

I think that it could work either way for the author. If the author, like everyone else, is careful about his or her tweets, then i think that it can work for him. He has to look at Face Book and twitter from the marketing standpoint and carefully balance his professional tweets and his "personal" tweets...especially ones that includes "opinions."

We all saw what happened when that one author got angry and a reviewer and ranted on, even giving personal information about the reviewer. Worked against her, but at the same time, didn't it make us curious as to who that person was? Publicity is publicity, in some cases...until it becomes way out of balance. Then it may work against the author.

I also think that the social media tools help "fans" get to know the authors as real people...well, as real as the author projects, anyway.

In the end, is that not as close to reality as possible anyway?

Scott D. Parker said...

Twitter is something I think is rather an overindulgence. Take a look at the latest Verizon ad where the kids are lamenting that their parents are online and the dad is twittering "I am sitting on the patio." Who the hell cares? I don't. Even on Facebook, I'm something like five days behind on my 'status' because I dislike reading "I'm going to the grocery store" so I don't write my status(es) like that.

Like John, I love a good author site. Pelecanos has a good one b/c he blogs about some favorite movies, music, etc. If an author I like loves a particular style of music, sure, I'll give it a listen and make my own decision. And yeah, I do like to know more about the human behind the story, particularly the writing process. I am fascinated that everyone can achieve the same finish line (completed novel) via different methods. Who knows? Perhaps another method is what's been complicating my life? It's all part of the process and the search.

Steve Weddle said...

Excellent points, folks.

The useful Web site is a great point. Having an interview and some "sample" writings can be a great way to interact with the readers.

Readers are more likely to promote/support a writer if they feel a connection with that writer. Makes sense. That connection can come in many forms.

And if you have a better understanding of the author by reading his/her social media ramblings, well that's kinda cool, too. Unless your better understanding shows that the writer is a complete lunatic.

M. R. Sellars said...

Just an off the wall thought here, but as writers - especially thos of us who pen fiction - isn't it entirely up to us as to whether or not we are boring?

I'm not advocating either side of the coin here. Simply trying to look at it while it is spinning on its edge...


M. R. Sellars said...

Some of us can even spell too...

"those" of us...

Sorry about that.

Scott Phillips said...

the more I post, the less people know, whether I want it that way or not.