The following is the first essay in a series (that I might or might not continue to write) exploring my own curiosity and dread at having to market my first novel.
Every time that I hear of someone deactivating or deleting their Facebook profile, I give a silent “whoo-hoo!” and/or “you go, girl!” (depending on gender). The thought of untethering myself from the world of social networking, allowing myself to float free and to drift away from constant phone and iPad monitoring, is exciting and liberating: a life where one portal has closed, and where my energy can now be directed at things that matter. When I hear that someone else has successfully accomplished this, it’s akin to hearing that someone has sold all their possessions and moved to Alaska, or that someone has given up Diet Coke and coffee.
Just imagine the beauty of your world without Facebook…never again scrolling down your “newsfeed” on a Friday night to see how much more fun the entire world seems be having than you…never again witnessing real-time photos from friends who seem to be on constant honeymoons while you work under fluorescent lights all day…never again getting bombarded by pictures of what everyone else is cooking at any given time…never again suffering through another election season (do I need to describe this?) or seeing another fucking Willy Wonka meme.
Imagine this world. This has got to be one of the most common first-world, middle-class fantasies these days (and therefore deserves some sort of hashtag, whereby I register my complaint with my frivolous issue, but also mask it with self-awareness at my frivolousness…the hashtag offers a nice balance).
But it’s fantasy. For each of us who still logs in to Facebook regularly, there’s something keeping us there. Maybe it’s the pure “social” function of the site, its ability to connect you with a friend from high school, or with an old family member. Maybe it’s the creepy ability to keep tabs on an old ex-boyfriend, or a co-worker or subordinate, or to learn more about those you only barely know in person, to see their lives in ways that you never imagined…Maybe it’s become your newssource, and how the hell would you know what’s happening in the world if you didn’t follow the feed, follow the reactions, and follow the story links?
And ironically, it is for this reason that Facebook has become a hotspot for many writers. Like, literary writers. Yeah, I know. Sounds weird. The stereotypical writer who boards herself up in some cold cabin and pounds out a manuscript on a centuries-old typewriter and refuses visitors and barely even knows what it’s like to have a conversation with a living, breathing human being anymore because she’s, like, deep into the world of her poetry…well, she’s got a Facebook page. And man, it’s crazy the things she “likes”: Amazon, The Loft, Taco Tuesdaze at Tijuana Flats.
Facebook has allowed me to connect with more other writers than I ever thought possible, many of whom I’ve never met in person but whose work I read and follow, and who—in turn, maybe?—follow my own work. I’ve become familiar with the journals they edit, the schools at which they teach, the new stories and poems and essays they publish. I spend too much time following links to sites I’ve never heard of, reading work that I never would’ve known existed…and I’ve bookmarked what seems like a thousand stories and articles that I know I’ll never get a chance to read.
More on this in another post. It deserves to be talked about, the way that Facebook has opened up my reading habits to new authors and to great online reading…For now, though, it’s only important to know that—for writers—this sort of interaction and connection (and this ability to share our work, and to develop readers in a truly intimate way) is pretty much what we’ve always wanted. How amazing to know that you can post a link to a new published story, and someone can read it on his/her lunchbreak, and then comment on your link and say “Awesome stuff! Love that story.” Immediate reader reaction. Immediate knowledge that someone else out there actually read your work, that you didn’t just publish a piece in some magazine or journal based out of New Hampshire that (for all you know) no one has or will ever read. I can’t overstate this: it’s incredible.
So why the hell does it also make me so anxious? It’s incredible, yes, but why lately do I feel paralyzed with Facebook, nervous about every single posting I make, about who comments, about who “likes,” about when it’s all right to make another posting, and when I should vary my subject matter in my status updates…? Why, these days, do I spend more time worrying about my contributions to Facebook than actually reading or contributing?
Maybe this question is easy to answer.
My novel, American Fraternity Man, will be a physical object in just a month.
And lately, I’ve been terrified not just at the prospect that the thing will soon have real readers, people who will take issue with Page 5 and Page 35 and the entire scene from pages 67-90, and the acknowledgements page, and the author photo, and…shit, do all writers feel this way? I’d like to think so, that ours is a shared anxiety at reception…But anyway, I’ve been terrified not just at the prospect of readers, but at the soon-to-be-constant Facebook postings I’ll need to make about the sale of my novel.
I know, I know. We need another hashtag about White People Problems or something. Life is soooo tough for poor little me, and why don’t I go back to my beautiful baby and hot wife and mold-free house (and fantastic Florida weather) and just drink my craft beers and watch an episode of Mad Men and just shut up? And, like, seriously, it must be so rough to have a book coming out, right? Poor me. Etc.
But when one considers that I spent nearly seven years writing, revising, then submitting this book to publishers and literary agents, then writing, revising, and re-submitting, etc., it’s at least a little understandable that I might be anxious and/or apprehensive about the book’s reception, right? It’s not like I pooped this thing out over the weekend, and it’s no big deal what happens I hit flush. (#bestmetaphorever) Seven years of work, and ultimately, what if it’s received with the sound of one hand clapping? The book doesn’t sell. And my readings and “release parties” go sparsely attended. And all of the friends who I’d thought would support it—from family to groomsmen to colleagues to former students to fellow writers—ignore me and get upset at my annoying postings? (And side-note: does this make me “not a real writer”? When I publish something, should I have some sort of Hemingway “I’m too good for the world, and fuck the readers if they don’t appreciate me!” type of literary lion toughness? Somehow I don’t think Cormac McCarthy or Richard Russo have these sorts of worries.)
But hell, I worry about this crap all the time. Last Fall, I created a Facebook event for my “32th birthday.” (An irrelevant birthday needed a grammatical error in order to feel fun.) I took the self-deprecating route in order to not really care whether my birthday was a big deal or not: I’m gonna go drink beer and eat bratwursts at my favorite German restaurant, so, like, come to celebrate my irrelevant birthday if you want…if not, whatever…I mean, it’s 32…who cares, you know?
But the book is not an irrelevant birthday: the book has become this lofty object, this symbol of my own writing career, a surefire litmus test of whether I’ve got any readership, any audience interested in my work, any reason to continue. It’s become a confirmation or denial of the seven years spent working on the project. Should I have just taken up golf lessons instead? Should I have learned how to draw caricatures, or tended bar and made a boatload of cash? Should I have used those seven years to instead finally paint the scratched door to my office? Oh man, the possibilities.
Because here’s the problem with Facebook, the reason it causes me to worry so much (even with my 32th birthday, to be honest). And it’s the exact same reason that writers love the site so much. Once you create and post something on Facebook, from a status update to a link to an event, it records the tangible reaction to that creation. And that shit can sting. Put another way, it offers hard data about how much the world cares about you. Write a status update about a life event (marriage, new job, first attempt at cooking beignets), and it will tell you how many people “like” it. Better yet, it’ll tell you precisely who liked your update. Did your wife find your update funny? Did your best friend? Or did you only manage to cull the favor of those whose own updates you’ve never really liked? Oh God, my only “like” was T—— or R——-. NOOOOO! Time for a divorce, or time to quit the new job, or whatever.
Next Up: “Like-Watching,” and Facebook Givers/Takers