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The Slippery Slope of Social Media (Part 2)

I wanted to post a quick follow-up to yesterday's post because it started me thinking - and discussing with some friends - as to what a writer owes his or her readers and what this means with social media. As I mentioned yesterday, a few author friends have found themselves pulling back into a more solitude space - that social media has left them feeling too exposed and that, in essence, they've over-shared themselves out.

For me, personally, I feel like I "owe" readers (and that's a terrible word choice but you know what I mean) some graciousness and some responsiveness and some interaction. I truly am so grateful that ANYONE would pick up one of my books and invest both the time and money in reading it, that I am almost always willing to engage with them on Twitter or on my FB fan page about it. But for me, that's probably where my sense of obligation ends, which is maybe why I'm not struggling with the balance of social media that others do. I don't think it's an author's job to invite readers into other aspects of their lives - the personal FB pages with pictures of my kids, the blow-by-blow of my weekend plans, my political views (which I never, ever share publicly) - even though, sure, this might make me seem all the more relatable. I think there's a balance that can be found in the exchanges that I have with readers that doesn't involve me opening myself up for full exposure.

But it's a hard line to toe, to be sure. I ENJOY being friends with readers and enjoy knowing things about their own lives. So, of course, I share things about my life, but I try to be careful about crossing boundaries, in the same way that maybe agents do with clients or that bosses do with employees. These boundaries are all established for a reason: after all, really, at the end of the day, we really DON'T know each other.

Some authors don't believe in even establishing this line in the first place: I can name a few who don't tweet, don't FB at all. They want to write books, full stop, and their obligation to readers begins and ends with writing a good book. That's it. From a marketing standpoint, it's hard to fully get behind this tactic, but from a personal standpoint, I suppose they're of the belief that authors should still be relatively mysterious to their fan base. Or maybe they just truly - and this I can understand for certain personality types - don't have the interest in engaging online.

Anyway, I'd be curious to hear how you guys deal with putting your personal life out there...if authors should feel a sense of obligation to do so or what, really, they SHOULD feel obligated to do for their readers. Nothing? Everything? What's the middle ground?

Reader Comments (10)

I don't think authors have an obligation to their fans to be available through social media. It's great when they are (thanks Allison!). It can be so inspiring to make those connections. But privacy matters. It can really effect the quality of your life. Authors should absolutely have a choice about it. They should not feel bad if they want to avoid social media altogether. I think the tough thing is the marketing aspect. Publishers want authors to establish and maintain a platform.

August 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

I struggle with this all the time...I am careful not to use real names in my blog posts or tweets unless the subject is also an author and I feel that it is good PR for them. And I don't post pics on Facebook, figuring that while I occasionally get tagged in other people's pics, they should know I have over 1500 "friends" who will be able to see them.

But as a struggling mid-list author, whose books barely make a ripple in terms of press or marketing, I am relying on my own initiative and social media to help me get the word out. It often takes up time I should be doing my "real" writing, but at the end of the day I think being accessible to my readers makes a difference, and I am always grateful when they interact with me. One of my besties is someone I met at a signing. I definitely have wonderful people in my life because of social media, so despite the annoyances, I do think it is ultimately good. The contest I am currently running to win lunch with me and Jen Lancaster is only getting traction becasue of social media.

But I agree with you that it often makes me uncomfortable when I see people opening so much of their lives, and particularly their children's lives, in these outlets.

August 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStacey Ballis

At the end of the day, we're authors not reality stars. I've had to stop following and, consequentially, reading an author or two who just can't stop over-sharing details about their lives. The last thing I'd want is for a reader to pass my book by because they already know way too much about my personal life to care about my characters. Best lesson I've learned is to know when to stop typing. (Really how hard is it to never have a twitter fight with your husband, or boyfriend, a former friend, an author you don't know...) If anything, it'll make marketing/public relations a lot easier if there isn't constant damage control.

August 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMargo Candela

Ditto what Sarah said.

On the one hand, as a reader, I love finding out about my favorite authors, what their lives are like, the goofy things they do, etc. But like Margo said, there is a line, and over-sharing can be a huge turnoff.

As an aspiring writer, I (like you) want to be accessible and connected to my audience.

Then, on top of all that: as someone who grew up in the internet generation (had my first computer at age 2, was playing online role playing games by at 9, also started blogging and code websites by hand at that age, etc.) my idea of privacy is probably a little different. I control what I put out there, but I don't mind if people see pictures of me and my dog, or know that I'm having a bad day, or whatever. I *do* try to be strategic -- don't trash talk people or books, don't get political/religious, do be interesting and genuine -- but I don't try to hide anything, and I don't think of parts of my life as clearly off-limits. (Note: I fully realize this may change when I have kids. Or if anyone in my life asks me not to be on my blog.)

So for me, social media is a big mish mash of desires, attitudes, and priorities that I have to navigate and balance. And I think that balance -- that "middle ground," as you called it -- is going to be different for each writer, and for each reader.

Luckily there's enough of us out here that we can all connect with people who best suit us. :)

August 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKristan

Social networking is my blessing and my curse. I do not have the enviable role of published author . . yet, (hopefully). And so I have to put my name out there, my thoughts, some bits of my life in an effort to entertain the masses and wrangle myself a reading audience for when that big day comes. Having said that, I have found I have to be a bit more careful, in terms of what I do share with my blog and FB audience. I've had a few uncomfortable situations with readers who have wanted to become more involved in my life and the fine line was drawn by me rather quickly after that. I often refer to these days of social networking as the Wild West. We're just figuring it out as we go along. And I have had my own stops and starts along the way.

August 10, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjoann mannix

I agree with Margo.

I enjoy the inspiration you provide to aspiring authors and the insight into your own writing process that you provide on this blog. However, I can think of one author, whose books I enjoy, who has over-shared and it unfortunately turned me off to her books. So it is a fine line.

BTW, Allison, I think you do a wonderful job of protecting your privacy while promoting your books. Nice balance!

August 10, 2010 | Unregistered Commentersuzanne

It's true that some authors show a poor side to their characters on places like Fb or Twitter, or bombard people with sales messages. But it's not a major problem. You just stop following them if you dislike what you're reading. Frankly, I doubt that the number of people turned off a writer by such issues cancels out the number who buy their books thanks to those same sales messages or conversations, sales which might never have been made if that person WASN'T actively sharing their lives on social media.

Social media is in its infancy. People are still learning what effect it has on a writer's life, on friendships and sales, on the building - or destroying - of a public profile. It's important to be cautious, yes. But most 'mistakes' made on social media are minor and containable. The gossip machine rolls on, looking for new victims. What's interesting about this new sharing of information culture is how rapidly we learn that views we've always held to be sacred and true may well be the opposite for others. That's a shock. But it also reinforces the old adage, you can't please all of the people all of the time. Which suddenly makes the individual opinion stronger when viewed against the backdrop of the collective.

I can see a time coming when, if you don't have a social media profile, you will simply not exist in the public view. You will be a non-person. Refusing to engage will become a serious problem and could make you look suspicious - as though you have something to hide from the rest of us, all madly sharing. So it's not only a fabulous sales and spin machine, the internet, but also a sinister weapon, a threat to our future privacy. How we learn, as a society, to control and limit personal information whilst still agreeing to engage in social media will shape and inform our lives in a way no other cultural phenomenon has done since the invention of the telephone.

August 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJane Holland

I think the nature of our job as writers leaves us more susceptible to this kind of social interaction. It is hard to ignore the fact that our job relies on us dedicting our time to solitude on the form of being sat in front of a computer screen to create a reality in throught the medium of the written word.
A combination of solitude and time spent with our PCs means that it is almost inevitable that we will eventually use them to reach out as well as to conduct our jobs.
I think that we just have to make sure to keep on top of it by remembering that we are always on the lookout for the next story. We have our creative senses on at all times, or I would imagine this to be the case for other writers as it is for me.
To step away from the PC and live our lives does not necessarily include switching off those senses and therein lies the added potential for allowing lines get blurry.
As it has been said in previous posts, a balance must be established. Anyone in any work environment must always keep their guard up and remain professional. As long as we can see these lines exist in the first place, I believe that is a step in the right direction.

August 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSusannah

I don't think authors should feel obligated to share their personal lives if they're uncomfortable with the idea. Some writers are more private than others.

I've had a personal blog for many years, but am always wary about posting certain types of info. I don't like to advertise the fact when my husband and I are away from home, for example, and always try to be careful about respecting the privacy of my friends and family.

On the other hand, I don't mind sharing some personal info that other writers may balk at, such as talking about the death of my brother years ago. I don't post this info for self-therapy, but rather in hopes that my experience might help others who have gone through something similar.

Thanks for all the info and insights you share in your wonderful blog, Allison.


August 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDebbie Ridpath Ohi

I was just thinking five minutes ago about sharing some personal, political angst on Facebook, and you know what held me back? Sad to say, I was thinking, "What if my Fb friends don't agree with my political views and decide they wouldn't like my novel either (based on my politics)?" I felt ashamed and mercenary to even think this, but after reading your post, which says you also keep mum about politics online, I'm glad I put a sock in it. Thanks, Allison!

August 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLori Ann Stephens

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