Love it or hate it, social media is a part of our life. But does an author really need it? Elissa Weismann swore off Facebook and Twitter at the start of this year, and it has given her pause to reflect. She shares her experience with us in this latest instalment of The Reckoning.
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I’m a terrible millennial. I carry cash, I stink at selfies, and I’ve never been comfortable on social media. But most authors—even those published by large, traditional houses like I am—must do 95% of their own marketing and publicity, and experts insist that a strong social media presence is vital to promotion. So, with new books coming out in 2017 and 2018, I dusted off my Facebook account, joined Twitter, and tried leaning in to that part of the job.
I enjoyed some things, like seeing popular media outlets mention my work, promoting my friends’ books, and joining the kidlit community to champion noble causes. But it was time consuming, and it rarely seemed like time well spent. I’d spend fifteen minutes crafting a one-sentence post, agonizing over the tone. I’d spend another fifteen minutes checking for likes or replies. Then I’d scroll through my feed—hundreds of authors, librarians, teachers, and bloggers, all talking about books I didn’t write, lists I didn’t make, awards I didn’t win, festivals I didn’t attend.
We all know that the lives we present online are not reality; they’re curated to make us appear happy and successful (yet #grateful and—don’t even get me started—#humbled). But knowing this didn’t stop it from getting me down. I never signed off Facebook or Twitter with a smile; I either felt slimy for promoting myself, jealous of everyone else, or guilty about being jealous. After all, my curated life was probably making other people feel jealous and lousy. It was an unhealthy cycle. So, in 2019, I decided to break it.
We all know that the lives we present online are not reality; they’re curated to make us appear happy and successful (yet #grateful and—don’t even get me started—#humbled)
At first, I was worried. I was going against all the prevailing advice about how to find success in the twenty-first century. But here’s what I realized: Though social media had connected me with many readers and potential readers, the overwhelming majority of those connections had remained online. Posting and tweeting had not brought me more school visits, conference invitations, interview requests, or people at signings. Despite my best efforts, it didn’t lead to more reviews on Amazon or Goodreads. I don’t even think it helped sell more books.
Perhaps that’s because I was doing it wrong. But I doubt it. When I tell friends or fellow authors that I ditched social media (because hardly anyone’s noticed on their own, a revealing fact in itself), they typically respond, “Good for you.” They often say they’d like to quit too but feel obligated to stay. I get it. Social media facilitates easy communication between readers and writers. But what if that ease is chipping away at some of the magic?
When I was a kid, I viewed my favorite authors with a reverence bordering on hero worship. I’d study their jacket flap photos, wondering what they might be like in real life. I wrote to some of them—Gordon Korman via mail, Ann M. Martin via primitive email—and when they wrote back, it was special, even life-changing. Being an author was mysterious and glamorous, something to aspire to. Would it have held the same mystique if I’d been able to hop on Instagram and see Gordon Korman’s breakfast, or log into Facebook and “like” Ann M. Martin’s new haircut? I don’t know.
I wrote to some of them—Gordon Korman via mail, Ann M. Martin via primitive email—and when they wrote back, it was special, even life-changing.
Don’t get me wrong: I love connecting with readers. But if we authors make our lives just a bit more mysterious, perhaps it will nudge some of those readers to write us an email, invite us to their schools, or come to our book signings. When you can click a heart icon and feel like you’ve done something to support the literary community, it’s easy to get lazy about doing things that actually support the literary community, like buying books, going to the library, or attending events. Being off social media has pushed me to support authors and touch base with friends in more meaningful ways; it’s also given me the time to actually do it.
I can see why New Zealand kidlit creators might view social media as a way to share their work with other parts of the world. But having moved here from America just six months ago, I know firsthand that people in other parts of the world view New Zealand with the mysterious, glamorous reverence I had for my favorite authors growing up.
So, if you truly enjoy social media, or if it brings you tangible benefits that make it worth your time and energy, by all means, share away. But if you’re only engaging out of professional obligation, consider embracing this country’s mystique instead. New Zealand can be a place where writers are so cool, so confident, we don’t need to prove it with humblebrags or followers. If readers want a taste of our happy, successful lives, they can reach out to us personally or, even better, read one of our books.
by Elissa Weissman
Published by Simon & Schuster
Editors' note: The Reckoning is a regular column where children's literature experts air their thoughts, views and grievances. They're not necessarily the views of the editors or our readers. We would love to hear your response to any of The Reckonings – join in the discussion over on Facebook.
Elissa Brent Weissman is an award-winning author of novels for 8-12-year olds best known for the The Length of a String and the popular Nerd Camp series. She also edited Our Story Begins: Your Favorite Authors and Illustrators Share Fun, Inspiring, and Occasionally Ridiculous Things They Wrote and Drew as Kids. Elissa lives in Christchurch with her husband and their two nerds-in-training. www.ebweissman.com