Make Room for Disagreement

All my heroes are problematic.

All my enemies are loved by someone.

I struggle to know who the villains are. Activism, at least the successful kind, almost always requires a villain be named. We define ourselves and we label the opposite “evil”. I see this in politics on the right and left. I see this in conversations about poverty, disability, race, education, gender, status, location, and diet. If we come to a conclusion about what is “right”, we no longer feel a need to listen to anyone with a different opinion.

I don’t share (as in literally click the share button) a lot of other people’s disgruntled posts, blogs, or commentary. The usual reason is that, even if I agree with it 90%, thereĀ  are moments when the opposing view is misrepresented. If we can make the opposing view seem really, really, really terrible then we have an easier time convincing people to agree with us. And doing this is not a calculated plot by manipulative people. This exaggeration of the “bad” guy is internal. We do it subconsciously because it simplifies right vs. wrong. We feel comfortable knowing we’re on the right side, so the broader the line between the two, the easier we will rest in self-righteousness.

You know, sometimes people really want to uplift the downtrodden. But they also want to throw some punches just to be punching. It’s easier to lash out when you have dehumanized an entire swath of people you’ve never met based on a single label.

Vilifying others is effective, both mentally and socially. But it is a foolish thing to rely on. It prevents us from reaching consensus, growing individually and collectively, and it discourages others from critical thinking.

So many people are afraid of “seeming” a way if they engage in discussion. We are afraid to point out one flawed part of an otherwise perfect idea for fear we will be labeled the “bad guy” or one of “them”. We put people on pedestals because their outrage is so passionate and persistent. We become convinced that, yes, finally this issue has no gray area. It is clearly black and white, good guy vs. bad guy, pick a side and block the other, it’s time for war. Then no one is allowed to question these people on high. Discussion dies. It becomes an arena where we shout “amen” and “yes” and if someone in the room dares to demonstrate doubt about *anything*, we punch them in the face.

Oh, you think I’m exaggerating just because you wouldn’t hurt a fly. But, people in groups do things people as individuals would not. People representing social righteousness and/or religion behave a little differently than people representing only themselves. The internet has made it very easy for us to form these groups, and the formula for becoming a prominent spokesperson in them is pretty simple for anyone to follow.

I engage in this behavior sometimes. I am flawed. I see that I have done the exact thing I am complaining about now. But every day I do it less. I realize that the people that have been in my life longest have not been there because they agree with my activism. They have been there all this time because despite our very different opinions, we see the good in each other. We see the other person’s heart first and filter their ideas through what we know of their heart. I want to surround myself with more people like this, and give less credibility by default to people only wanting an echo. Maybe that means my circle gets smaller. I’m okay with that. Actually, it may be exactly what I need.


Self-Promotion: What Successful Authors Would Do

If I had a dollar for every time someone has said something similar to: “Stephen King doesn’t tweet about his books. Look at how successful authors use social media and do likewise.”

Uhm… really? So, Stephen King has sold a freakafillion books because he tweeted about his cat instead? (Disclaimer: I don’t even know if Stephen has a cat.) Is that how we’re expected to sell books around here?

Obviously, promoting other people’s books is socially acceptable, just not our own. So, is that how Stephen King became so successful? He made an agreement with a friend to tweet about each other’s books? And then BOOM! Bestseller list. That’s how it works, right? Rule for authors: Whatever you do, don’t tweet about your own book because that’s just so tacky.

“OMG! It’s soooo tacky,” she says and flips her long cinnamon waves over her shoulder. “Like, oh. my. god!”

Do you know who says you shouldn’t promote your own business? (Can we please compare this to a business, because our books are where we sink all our money in hopes of eventually earning a profit?) Okay, so, do yo know who says things like this? I’ll tell you:

  • Authors who are signed with publishers who pay for some level of advertising.
  • Authors who have a clique who routinely gushes praise at each other on social media.
  • Authors who have an established readership.
  • Authors who are wealthy enough to pay for an adequate number of ads on their own.
  • Authors who would like it if all other authors would drop off the face of the Earth. “The bestseller list will be ALL MINE! Mwah-ha-ha-ha!”

Do you know who self-promotes?

  • Brand new authors.
  • Authors who don’t want to endorse work of others without reading it first.
  • Authors with little to no funds to pay for advertising.
  • Awesome authors (and sucky-authors) who are confident about their work.

It is generally understood that spamming people with ads is not helpful. Most authors know that if all they do is tweet about their books, they will be unfollowed or blocked, or will end up only being followed by authors doing the exact same thing. Over-advertising will push people away. The simple fact that it is not productive to spam people will cause most of us to avoid doing it, even if no one flips their hair back and wobbles their head around about it.

Is it possible to sell your books to twitter followers? I have sold my books to people on twitter and bought books sold to me there. I don’t auto-tweet, but I do talk about my books. Sometimes people find the plot interesting and they follow the link to buy a copy. Because it works, I continue to self-promote in a very personal (non-spammy) way.

It is no different than a business which makes organic peanut butter tweeting about recipes listing peanut butter as an ingredient and plugging their flavors of peanut butter. We would find it ridiculous if that peanut butter company only tweeted about their love of amphibians and lyrics to Janis Joplin songs while completely neglecting to share information about the peanut butter they sell. If the peanut butter company never tweets about their actual products, they would almost certainly go out of business.

Self-promotion has to be balanced and it should be personal. It should happen in a way that reveals as much about you as an author as it does about the book you have written. And because you are a person, not a group of people, you are expected to resemble a human when you post things to social media. You are expected to interact with the people you follow. No spamming.

Now let’s talk about using hashtags for self-promotion. Some hashtags originate to help facilitate a conversation. If your book is REALLY relevant, no one should expect you not to bring it up with that hashtag. If it’s not relevant, the Twitter police will plead with their gods to smite you. But there are some cases where it’s really not okay. I’ll use #1lineWed as an example. Every Wednesday on Twitter, authors will post a single line from their works in progress based on the theme chosen for that week. Kiss of Death sets the theme. The rules state that authors should not post buy links, but can link to personal websites. There technically are no rules, as in Twitter won’t ban you. But it’s kind of like a fun game, so you should try to play fair and within the guidelines. With something like this, you shouldn’t self-promote. Granted, some authors see people using the #1lineWed hashtag and aren’t aware there are rules, or that the “event” actually has a theme. But someone will likely inform you of the rules, at which point you will understand it is designed to help you as an author, and it is best to stick to the guidelines. Just getting to share snippets of your work should be enough.

But, what about when someone asks for book recommendations and you think your book would be a good fit? I’ve been in this situation before. Very soon after publishing my first book there was a question posted about why there weren’t any books with a certain element about them (I forget what). My book actually fit what they were claiming didn’t exist. So I tweeted about it, said I had just written a book like that, and shared the link. A few minutes later, the same person made a joke about how annoying self-promoting authors could be.

Was it really annoying?

I would think if someone asks why there aren’t any books about gay ostriches on the moon and I have written a book about gay ostriches on the moon, it would not be annoying for me to point that out.

If I was looking for fluorescent yellow tube socks and someone said, “I make fluorescent yellow tube socks.” I would not find that annoying. And I would not suddenly have a dislike of fluorescent yellow tube socks just because the maker herself informed me of their existence (as opposed to if her friend told me about them, which would hypothetically make me buy a dozen pairs or so.)

Seriously, new authors, you can not be shamed into never talking about your work, or never being proud of what you have created. It’s important to understand the effects of your marketing tactics. And it is important to not forget that you are talking to real people who value their time. But you’ve worked hard on your book and you should talk about it. If you see a place where it fits into the conversation to mention it, then mention it. Maybe the elite will think you are tacky for doing so, but this is your baby so show it off anyway. Don’t be silenced.

I think that’s what Stephen King would do if he were you.
(Disclaimer: I do not know if this is what Stephen King would do.)

Books by Julie Roberts Towe

Click here to buy my books because your heart needs the rush.

An Author’s Friends, Real and Imaginary

Writing fiction is such a solitary act. The stories we write about are inside of us. We become close to the characters we create. We glimpse very private moments of their lives. But at the end of the day when we put our laptops away they disappear. They do not chat with us over coffee. They do not call us to inquire about our child’s archery tournament. Did she score high? For all the intimacy we feel with the characters we create, for all the care we take in how we treat them, they feel nothing at all for us.

Most of us write in a quiet room. But some of us will venture out to restaurants, cafes, or parks. We will sit in the middle of other people living life and observe them, jot notes about their mannerisms, be inspired to add twists to the plot we are orchestrating. When we go to these places, we go with a cloak of invisibility. We want to see, not be seen. The real world is much like our characters, we try to understand it; it will never try to understand us.

When we finish writing our books, real people will read them. They will connect with our characters, laugh with them, care for them. They will most likely remember the names of the characters but will less likely remember the name of their creator.

And we are fine with this. We, as author, choose this. It is a sign of success that we are lost to the reader and all that exists is the story itself.

Even though living such a solitary existence is good for the author, it is not always good for the person inside that title. The people around us can do more than just inspire our story. If we let them, they can inspire us personally. They may encourage us to keep going when we want to quit. They may bring us back down from unreasonable heights. They may remind us to laugh. They may validate our experiences by sharing their own similar tales.

Not every town has enough authors to fill up the local hot spot for drinks and camaraderie. Even if it did, many authors are introverts and wouldn’t attend. So, mostly we’re alone.

Social media becomes our water cooler. Twitter is a virtual space we enter for real human interaction. Comments on our blog and facebook posts also serve as reminders that there are real people outside of our writer-haven who really want to connect with us. They see us. We are not invisible.

Not all authors have these struggles. Some are naturally extroverted (I haven’t met one, but I’m sure they exist). Some authors do not struggle with the effects of isolation. And, sadly, some authors aren’t authors at all, but pay ghostwriters to do the work and hope to make lots of money. It’s hard to tell the difference these days.

Though I can not spot all the frauds, I can certainly spot the legitimate authors I encounter on social media. They are talking about their work, their way of working, or the industry. They discuss these topics in real time and blend in moments of daily life. They come to the water-cooler that is social media in need of interaction just as much as they come in need sales, maybe more so.

The point of this blog post is to tell you, authors, that I see you. I value your presence here in the virtual world. In a space cluttered with spam and manipulation, it is because you show up in real time that I believe in you. You demonstrate all the signs of true authors in an industry full of phonies. Many of you have made me excited to read and support your work by simply tweeting about life as it happens. But a few have even proven to be my friends. Thank you.


Social Media Sundays

Writing to create a novel and writing for social media are two different animals.

Working on my novel requires solitude and silence. I write when the kids are at school and my husband is at work. There is no television, no radio, no interruptions other than an occasional meow from the cat. There is no one standing behind my chair asking for the last Chobani yogurt or to know where I hid their tablet.

The work of writing requires that I get lost in the story. It doesn’t happen only inside my head, but I feel the story happening everywhere within me. It’s like a movie on the big screen in a dark theater, all my senses are focused on the unfolding story. Trying to watch a movie while other people continually talk and interrupt is frustrating. For me, it is worse to be interrupted in the middle writing. If I can’t be assured of silence, I don’t even try to do it.

Don’t get me wrong, stepping out of my writing cocoon of silence does not stop me from thinking about the storyline. I welcome the time of day when I have to close Scrivener and head out to pick up the kids from school. I love being completely immersed in a storyline and then stepping out of it to see it from afar. Writing happens in the background of everything I do.

Social media isn’t so focus intensive. As long as no one is wrong on the internet, because I sometimes make futile efforts to argue with them, I can usually type out a post or two with a room full of chaos around me. If the post needs introspection, I can manage to find a few minutes of quiet time to complete it.

If I have too much time to spend on social media, I tend to over think it and agonize over every word on twitter. That isn’t how social media works best. It is thoughtful, real, and in the moment. It is the perfect thing to do in the center of chaos.

By Sunday, I am craving time to write my story. I have two or three scenes that I have plotted out in my head and I need to get them down. But, the chaos doesn’t allow it. So, I use the little windows of relaxation time to write small entries, words, and sentences to share with my friends and followers. It fills the need to write. It fulfills my obligation to be present in social media. It gives me a chance to connect with people with whom I can relate.

“Until you value yourself, you won’t value your time. Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it.” -M. Scott Peck