As a genre author who’s achieved a certain level of success (that level: “not much”), I’m expected to cheerfully embrace social media in all its forms. After all, technology has handed me these wonderful tools for making new connections and strengthening old bonds — and, more importantly, selling people shit — all while I sit in a cluttered home office/glorified closet wearing sweats so smelly they could throw bloodhounds off the scent two counties away. Surely every writer’s dream come true!
Yet Facebook and Twitter and the like can be a double-edged sword for an author. On the one hand, now your readers can get to know you on a direct, personal level. On the other hand, now your readers can get to know you on a direct, personal level.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not stalkers I’m afraid of. I still don’t have any even after publishing five mysteries and two zombie novels. Not a single Randy Quaid mugshot lookalike has carved my name into his arm with a razor blade, nor have any albino book hoarders sent me postcards with messages like “I KNOW WHERE YOU LIVE” written with the urine of their own half-feral cats. It’s disappointing.
No, my problem with Twitter and Facebook has nothing to do with the obsessed, psychotically possessive fans I’m not lucky enough to have. My readers seem to be, for the most part, decent, balanced, intelligent people. (I’m excluding the guy who keeps trying to get me to play FarmVille.)
But here’s the rub. I’ve been followed and “friended” by hundreds of people who’ve read my books. And because I get to see the things they post and share and comment on, I’ve learned something important about them.
At least half of them would hate my guts if they really knew me.
It all comes down to politics, of course. You’ve been on Facebook. You know what I’m talking about. (I think it’s safe for me to assume that most folks reading an essay on a website are neither Trappist monks nor Amish.) The damn thing is clogged with stuff like this:
[PICTURE OF FAMOUS DEAD PERSON]
“[SPURIOUS QUOTE THAT SMUGLY CASTIGATES EITHER LIBERALS OR CONSERVATIVES]”
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Arlene Kuhlenschmidt lol! that [famous dead person] really knew what [he or she] was talking about!
Buck Weaver BS! It’s the [people on the other side of the political spectrum] who r really [whatever]!!!
Penelope Welch What’s the problem, Bucky? Did [the famous dead person who probably didn’t even say the thing everyone’s commenting on] hit a little too close to home?
Sister Mary Magdalene Go fuck yourself, Penelope.
Twitter is just as bad thanks to that virulent pox upon cyber-humanity, the retweet button. If I wanted to read the pithy zingers crafted by a hack politician’s communications staff, I’d follow [INSERT NAME OF SENATOR YOU DISLIKE] like every other [INSERT DISPARAGING TERM FOR PEOPLE WHO DON’T SHARE YOUR IDEOLOGY].
Why don’t I come out and name a politician? Why be so cagey about my own political beliefs? You’ll find the answer in the first sentence of this post: I’m not that successful. I can’t afford to alienate half my audience. I can’t afford to alienate one-tenth of my audience. I can’t afford to alienate the guy who keeps trying to get me to play FarmVille.
I was only joking, dude! Please — keep telling me how many non-existent pigs you have on your f-ing non-existent farm!
(I’m pretty sure the Farmville guy isn’t a regular visitor to this site. Still…maybe I should go back and delete that.)
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because my newest book — a satirical novella called Cadaver in Chief — gets all, like, political and stuff. I mean, I say things. There are critiques and messages and subversive subtexts and that kind of junk. Not that the book’s a didactic screed. It’s called Cadaver in Chief, for Christ’s sake. It’s about a reporter who thinks the President’s a zombie. I’m not trying to be [INSERT NAME OF HAM-FISTED, SELF-RIGHTEOUS PUBLIC FIGURE WHOSE FAN BASE I ALSO SHOULDN’T OFFEND]. But still — this thing could blow my cover and reveal me to be the diehard [REDACTED] I really am. And then what will I do?
Fortunately, no one’s accused me of demagoguery yet. One reader even wrote me to say he’d read the whole book wondering if I were conservative or liberal because I make fun of everyone. So I seem to be safe for now.
All the same, I’ll have to be careful about what I “like” and “share” and retweet in the days ahead. If you’re a friend or follower and you’ve already figured out my dirty little secret — you know, that I have deeply held beliefs and ideals — do me a favor and keep it under your hat, okay? Thanks.
Oh, and while you’re at it, don’t let on that I’m an atheist. If that gets out, I’ll really be in trouble….