Critical Mass

Guest Post: Kit Reed on Twitter, Google, Facebook et al


For those of you with shortened attention spans: a friend is writing his novel on Twitter. A plot twist in every tweet. One editor at a major publishing house expects her authors to spend several hours a week burnishing their Internet presence. With print book review space compressing geometrically, writers by the thousands are hurling themselves into cyberspace.

Most of my novelist friends are blogging. Now, author blogs range from feisty to funny to flat-out narcissistic, but who has time to read them all? Or start one? But apparently, I must. How else do I achieve viral marketing? A Technocrati rating? The YouTube Hall of Fame?

Blogs, however, grow like the plant in “The Shop of Little Horrors,” crying, “Feed me. Feeeeed meeeee.” Novelist friends admit spending hours browsing for fodder. The most effective blogs are group efforts like boingboing. and The Inferior4+1,in which writers share the burden, offering such variety that the reader smiles at the occasional spurt of self-promotion.

Even so, the pressure is intense.

How to lure readers? One friend intersperses witty posts with the occasional suicide threat, prompting comments by the dozens: no no, don’t do it. His subtext? I’ll hang in as long as you buy my books. The combination is dynamite.

Another posts beautifully crafted advice on writing that makes me feel—well, inadequate, but how much of his time does that take? He intercuts soul-searching with accounts of literary gatherings at which glossy writers laugh and dance and get famous together, like those grownup parties we children watch from the top of the stairs. 

Once I went to his MySpace page. OMG, as the kids say. It says right there that he has 450 friends, many of whom cheer him on in posts. But listen, that’s nothing. Another writer I know via Facebook (oh yes, friend me. Friend me!) cheerily reports that he has 5,500 friends on his MySpace page, many of whom follow his blog. He also maintains a page on Goodreads, and his Second Life character spends hours sitting in front of his virtual bookstore, where if you have a character, you can click through and buy his titles after you chat.

Oh, to have 5,500 friends. Do they all come to his readings? Buy books? Send presents and bring him chicken soup when he’s sick?   

While I’m at it, how much time does he spend replying to comments and counting hits? He says, incidentally, that he writes in ten-minute increments—between Internet activities which, he reports, drive his sales.

Now the Authors Guild Bulletin presents blogging as a professional necessity. With a blog and a MySpace page, I too can collect friends and boost sales. The right YouTube video will net my next book gazillion hits. One author says his 75,000-recipient email “shouts” make his Amazon figures jump. (Am I the only person who deletes all mail headed: New Book?)

OK. Is there something I should be doing? Oh dear, should I tweet? Wait. Here’s Nicholas Carr’s anxiety-producing piece in The Atlantic, titled, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” At which point I must confess: my Internet habit dates from 1994, when I got a character on LambdaMOO; I’m connected 24/7, don’t ask.

So here we are at the bottom line. The Internet does not necessarily make us dumber, but it does split concentration. Can I really write as well as I did before I started checking Facebook friends’ updates or Googling or skimming blogs instead of staring out the window when I get stuck? It’s too soon to tell. I just can’t blog about it. I have a novel to write.—NBCC member and former board member Kit Reed