Yesterday I read “Goodbye to Twitter Village, Part II: Lessons Learned” by author Benjamin Anastas. It’s a lengthy post about why, after more than a year on Twitter, Anastas has decided it’s a waste of time.
It’s hard to disagree with much of what he says. (Perhaps this comes as a surprise to those who see me as a big advocate of writers having an online presence, building platform, etc.)
Here are some of his points that I find striking and true—each encapsulating things I’ve told authors myself, again and again:
- “It’s all ephemera, meant for instant consumption and destined for replacement by the avalanche of tweets to follow.”
- “If I wanted to gain an audience on Twitter—and keep as many of them as possible from un-following me—I had to offer something beyond a promotional platform for my book.”
- “I came to Twitter because I had a book to sell, and my misgivings about the whole enterprise meant that I would never be any good at it.”
- “I’ve come to doubt Twitter’s value as a marketing platform.”
- “My friend A. was right when he said that you had to enjoy Twitter for it make any sense.”
- “Tweets won’t gain you followers. Publishing in the real world will.”
It’s how Anastas ends his article that’s sparked me to post about it:
Mystery plays a big role in our love of books, and by using social media to promote yourself, you’re only demystifying your work for everyone who follows you. And that makes you lose potential readers.
It’s a perspective I find most common among the more literary authors—a desire to preserve the mystique of their work, who they are, and what they do.
I’m pretty torn on this.
On the one hand, the whole author mystique game is very peculiar to the literary community. It’s hard to find commercial or genre authors acting like a Thomas Pynchon; you won’t find them saying things like “I don’t really write for readers. I think that’s the defining characteristic of being serious as a writer.”
On the other hand, I think it’s possible to use social media and keep the mystique in play. That’s part of the artistry. Use the tools to your own ends, rather than letting the tools use you (which I believe happened to Anastas—and it happens to all of us, at one time or another).
The paradox for me: Anastas appears to have no problem with blogging. (I think—maybe that complaint is in a different post.) I didn’t follow Anastas on Twitter, but if I did, I wonder if I would know as much about him as I do now, from reading this single blog post. Blogging is as much social media as tweeting, Facebooking, and all the rest of it. Anastas has a comments section where he invites people to “fire away.” And now here I am, engaging in a dialogue in my preferred venue, because I’d like to bring his provocative perspective to a wider audience, if I can—I’d like to stir a discussion and see what you think. Because I’m still deciding.
One favor to ask: Pair Anastas’s piece with the following RSA Animate video. It’s about 10 minutes of your time, but watch it and see how the two perspectives compare. Are they compatible? And if they’re not, will writers in the future be able to take the same path Anastas has: “I’ll go back to being a writer again. Just a writer. Not a writer who’s wasting his time on social media.”
Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.
In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.
Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.