Psst, Kid. Wanna Write a Book? Authors, Writers & The Curious Rash of Social Media

Ciao, kittens! Spring’s in full swing and all’s swell here at the Hotel Del. Dr. Lucy and I are in the early stages of prepping for Comic-Con. Costumes are the project du jour and Lucy’s going steampunk with a mad vengeance. It’s all Airship Pirates this and The Parasol Protectorate books that. Speaking of, Gail Carriger, authoress of said-books, will be a featured guest at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con and Lucy’s just beside herself about it. Plus, she can’t tear herself away from shopping at Clockwork Couture and currently has her eye on a stunner of a bejeweled Onslow Octopus ring. Moi? I’ve got my peepers on a steampunk, octopus parasol. Even ghost chickadees need a pretty parasol. In addition, I’ve decided to go as Ruby/Red Riding Hood, the va-va-va-voom, sylvan vixen of ABC’s Once Upon a Time, of which you’ll recall my recent review. Looks like I need a quality red cloak and some huntsmen’s gloves. Luckily, I’ve already got a dandy Belgian sword.

 

Apropos to Comic-Con, my dear pally, Miss Jenny Devore, is wringing her hands awaiting word on a piece submitted to the fine editors at the official Comic-Con Souvenir Book: topic being the 100th anniversary of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan. Me Hannah, You Tarzan! Hubba hubba! Take a jungle hike, Jane. Leave your canteen and snake-bite kit, you’ll be fine without ’em.

An accomplished author in her own right, Miss Jenny’s got some opinions about the publishing world and I got to thinking about her and all the other poor mooks out there writing, publishing and turning bloody blue as they scratch and claw, day-in and day-out, for someone, anyone to notice them. Natch, I pondered further, might the keen writers of eras gone by, say, Laura Ingalls Wilder or Beatrix Potter, thrill in the elixir of today’s social networking opportunities? Or, might they flounder and panic futilely to extricate themselves from the inescapable tar pits of literary masturbation and personal promotion.

In an episode of Little House on the Prairie the television series, Laura Ingalls, as a burgeoning writer, contributes to and wins an amateur writing contest. The prize? She gets her stories published by a big city publisher: St. Louis or New York, I don’t recall. The twist? She turns down the offer when she realizes the publishing pills want to jazz up her innocuous Ma and Pa tales. (Seems execs haven’t changed much over the years.) Walking away, her moxie and integrity intact, our pretty, perky and plain prairie protagonist eventually does earn a book deal and, thankfully for us, we have the Little House series of books today. Whilst her publisher and agent would sell her charm and tout her words around the country, Half-pint had to do her share, too. She wrote the books. That used to be the hard part. Were she writing today, her bloomers and corset would need a good starching to keep her steady on the course and stop her from doing a swan dive under Ma’s quilt, grabbing her fave stuffed bunny, Mr. Sniffles, and giving up altogether, ’cause today’s book business is brutal, babies.

Photo: Jo Naylor

Knowing a thing or two, about a thing or two where indie publishers and authors are concerned, not to mention those backed by traditional, big publishing houses, it’s clear to this ghostdame that your worldwide, 24/7, omnipresent, vlogging, blogging, iReporting, YouTubeing kind of social media and promo possibilities are the bane of the solitary writer. Around every proverbial corner there’s some slimy crumb bumping his gums about how the worthless and pathetic can be better writers. Nasty and hateful industry insiders, bored readers and armchair critics tell the aspiring schlubs regularly how they suck eggs. The need and ability to incessantly and shamelessly plug, ply, hawk, rationalize and apologize for one’s precious wares morphs the once-quiet and pensive writer into a mealy-mouthed carnival barker.

Now it seems to me most writers crave attention: needy little bastards. Whether or not they inherently have the ability to market their work to elicit that attention is another story. Miss Jenny did a number of book signings back East at good ol’ fashioned Barnes & Noble brick-and-mortar stores, not to mention Borders and Waldenbooks shops. Remember those, kids? She was also a fixture in Colonial Williamsburg, schlepping her Savannah of Williamsburg books alongside more than few notable authors and historians. Jim Lehrer, Edward Cline, Dr. Phyllis Haislip and a gentleman whom is considered to be the worldwide authority on Thomas Jefferson, Dr. Alf Mapp, just to name a few.

With the exception of Jim Lehrer, being a tough bird to get close to, she spoke often with these folks and found many of them,  even those traditionally published by the big houses, spent as much time as she did booking appearances, wrangling events, scheduling book signings and even printing their own event signage. Want a real-life sob story? Here ya go.

One of these prolific authors waited nearly a year for royalty checks, was eventually sent a pittance check and then the publisher filed for reorganization, a.k.a. bankruptcy. Amazingly, the bankruptcy court forced him to return the wee check, dismissed the royalties owed altogether and allowed the publisher to keep the titles. Zowie! Talk about getting whacked with a bag of nickels by a bunch of goons.

To wit, some, but not the rightfully pissed off author in question, have dutifully joined the dance of the social networks to aid in their publishers’ quest for the almighty review, movie option and American dollar.

Photo: JSDevore
Come one, come all! See the Word Nerd! Careful, she's stark-raving mad!

 

For those whom deign to seek it, there exists more online advice and how-tos for the tentative scrivener than Spongebob Squarepants had excuses to put off writing his driving essay for Mrs. Puff. Countless editing fora, manuscript submission no-nos, insider agent tips, the psychology of cover art, character development webinars and marketing strategies up the wazoo flood not just the search engines, but the writer’s tenuous and wobbly noggin.  From what I know about the delicate genius, writing-by-committee is painful. Seek ye just a single, golden thread to pull one over the wall and kapowie! the poor, unsuspecting wordsmith is floored and buried with a dump truck of frayed, worthless bits of twine too short and thin to use anywhere.

Even Anne Rice –a moment of silent respect, please– comprehends the importance of Tweeting and Facebooking as she socializes and shares personal musings, liberal politics, current affairs, photos of her kitty, Little Prince Oberon, and, of course, updates of book signings and reviews. People of the Page, she dubs her fans and followers. Miss Jenny is an Anne devotee and thus, a Person of the Page.

Not only are Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Smashwords, SmartGirl, Blogger and the like literary campgrounds for amateur and professional writers alike, but the Wellborn of Wordsmithing have pitched their tents in cyberspace as well. Besides Anne, J.K. Rowling, Steve Martin, Peter Mayle, Bill Bryson, Brian Jacques, Sophie Kinsella, Gail Carriger and even Half-pint have succumbed.

 

I like to think Laura Ingalls Wilder, Beatrix Potter, Hunter S. Thompson, Charles Dickens, Bram Stoker, Edgar Allen Poe, Oscar Wilde, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Geoffrey Chaucer, Mark Twain, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Wm. Shakespeare -or Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton or Sir Robert Cecil or whomever it is we’re learning might have “been Shakespeare”- would have not shoved their work in our faces at every turn. I also like to think that some of them would have loved the idea of social media. You just know Mark Twain, HST and Ernest Hemingway would have delighted in followers, fans and friends, from afar, and would have certainly used the proverbial 140 to its pithiest and volatile best.

 

Ernest Hemingway Photo: FL State Archives

 

It’s a double-edged sword indeed, kittens. In my day, if you could write like F. Scott Fitzgerald and you were fortunate enough to get noticed or have the right connections, you could be a superstar. Just sit back, drink your scotch, holiday in Paris and let the industry professionals take on the lion’s share of the legwork. Being an author had caché because it was a rarity. It was a nearly impossible title to attain because one had to stand out in the crowd. Today, anyone may write, whether or not they can write. Of course, there lies an upside to the barrage of opportunity available online.

No need for Algonquin Roundtable connections anymore. Can’t get into the New Yorker cafe? No worries, dollface. You write it, you publish it, you sell it, you market it. Of course, there’s a lot of cut-rate writing out there; but there are a lot of great oeuvres, too, that we might have never seen without the Internet. The keys to the kingdom are no longer necessary and some of the unknown and worthy are busting through the front gates, pens blazing. The Internet, Amazon in particular, is like the Ellis Island of Bookland. Enter its turnstiles and leave the starched Old World with its stern Old Ways behind you. Opportunity beckons on every street corner, but, writer, beware … so do the scams, cheats, sure-things and a nasty, blistering rash if you’re not careful.

Lucy’s finding all kinds of goodies to buy at Clockwork and that got me thinking about another commercial marriage that might have flourished, but we’ll never know. See, if Laura Ingalls could be prone to Tweeting, Mrs. Harriet Olseon could certainly embrace the new culture easily, culling “friends” and patrons from the world over and redirecting them to her Joomla website: populated with goods from Olseon’s Mercantile as well as drop-ship, throw-away, plastic crap from Singapore and China. Nels, I’m pretty sure, would not have been allowed admin permissions.

By the way, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s current tweet @HalfPintIngalls: I know Almanzo is really into Morgan horses but… uh, should I be concerned that I found THIS in his stocking drawer?

I guess even Almanzo can’t be trusted online. What a fink!

 

Abyssinia, cats!

Hannah’s fave place to haunt online? www.jennypop.net and @JennyPopNet … ’cause we kinda have to. Murder!

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