Social Media Isn’t Free

October 27, 2014 § 16 Comments

salesmanThere is a literary magazine I love. (Yes, this one of course, but right now I’m talking about another magazine.) One whose issues I devour, grabbing random friends and saying, “wait, you have to hear this!”

This magazine contained the paragraph that I believe to be the most beautiful lines I have ever read in the English language, and some days when I want to write better, I read that paragraph over and over again, hoping it will osmose into my head and my heart and my fingers and homeopathically tinge my own work.

I love that this magazine releases all their issues by pdf, which makes them both free and also delightful to print out and carry around (I get carsick if I read off a screen in a vehicle). Their new issue is out, I saw on Twitter.

I didn’t retweet it.

I started to. I started to type “Another fab issue of @…” and dig through for a good quote to make a quality tweet instead of just a RT, and then I stopped. Because I remembered that I’d submitted to them–after reading many issues, carefully choosing what to send, polishing it for hours, formatting, tracking down where to send it (not as easy as many mags)–and gotten no response.

Well, not entirely true–they responded the same day to my cover letter that said how much I loved the magazine, to ask if I’d be a Reader of the Week. I took a photo of myself reading the magazine in an interesting setting, sent it in, then when they sent it out I happily spread it all over my social media, linking to their site. But my actual submission? Not a word.

I’m sure they have ninety gazillion submissions and their primary business is putting out a magazine and their staff is small and overworked…

They’re on Twitter. They want social media, the godsend of free advertising! Getting the word out! Going viral! They hope their readers will engage with them. And most of the time, I’m delighted to. But not after a year of hoping they might send a “not quite for us but try again,” or a “this doesn’t seem ready what were you thinking please never write anything again,” or even “thanks no thanks” as clearly copy-pasted by an intern who has been promised pizza in exchange for forty hours of labor in the keyboard mines.

You want my 30 seconds to retweet, multiplied by a couple of tweets a month, twelve months a year? You want my positive word of mouth, my recycling printed copies by shoving them into the hands of strangers in airports reading literary fiction? You want to engage in social media?

Well media costs money, so the key word here is social. And social isn’t “free,” it costs time. You buy my time with your time. The bigger the institution, the more their time is worth proportionate to my time–compared to their literary might, maybe my submission-prep time and my support-the-magazine time and my share-your-tweets time is worth very little, but it’s probably worth a 30-second thanks-no-thanks.

I’m glad that Brevity responds to every submission, and tries to reward the time of interviewees and essayists and authors (who are paid, but no magazine pays enough) with our time promoting their work. And Reader, if you’re promoting something right now you’ve worked hard on, that could use a little attention? Tweet me @GuerillaMemoir. I can’t promise we-the-magazine will RT them all, but I-the-writer will.

I’d like to bank some time.


Allison Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor.


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§ 16 Responses to Social Media Isn’t Free

  • sheilaboneham says:

    Yes! I run a blog and FB group designed for readers to find books and other writing, and for writers to cross-promote. I’m stunned by how few authors promote other people’s posts, or the group/blog as a whole. Excellent post – and I have shared it! 🙂

    • Allison K Williams says:

      Thanks! I agree – and yes, it sometimes takes some work to read things you feel good about sharing rather than just RT RT RT, but it’s worth it as an investment in the community.

    • lividlili says:

      This! I’m amazed at the number of people on Twitter & FB who just constantly promote their own stuff. We’re supposed to be a community! The best thing is sharing someone else’s excellent story or post.

  • jeffstroud says:

    My question is “what is the paragraph that so inspires you?

    I think it is important that if we wish for followers and readers we have to be that ourselves. As a photographer I have done that for sometime. Share and share!

    • Allison K Williams says:

      Jeff, I don’t want to rat out the particular magazine at the expense of discussing the practice, but I’ve put it in a comment at your blog 🙂

      • jeffstroud says:

        Thanks Allison,

        I saw that first and was wondering, if you had been reading my mind about another situation going on!

        It is powerful! and very meaningful !

  • millb says:

    Bravo! It does seem not only unfair but against the entire premise of “engagement” and what social media does best, connect people and ideas. In many ways these journals and presses who host book “contests” are no better, charging upwards of $45 entry fees. Surely that price at least warrants a small rejection slip or thanks but no thanks email as well.

  • sara says:

    Funny, social media is on my mind today too. Today I wrote about my good experiences using social media, the people I have been able to have interactions with that i would never have been able to without social media. How the sharing and communication aspects of social media, with genuine appreciation is a real highlight. When it doesn’t work, when people try to sell you things, or expect free advertising without reciprocating – yeah, that’s a bummer – but keep on participating how you want to anyway I reckon!

  • […] “Social Media Isn’t Free” by Allison Williams (“Nonfiction” blog, Brevity Magazine, October 27, 2014) — As someone who is just beginning to orbit the Twittersphere, I’m trying to determine how best to use my time to promote the writers, artists, organizations, ideas, and projects I love, even when my work isn’t noticed by the same people and places I Twitter about. Williams’s essay is a fantastic read for those writers who do their best to support the literary magazines and publishers they love but also could use a little love back, even if it’s just to say, “Thanks, but no thanks.” […]

  • Betsy Emdin says:

    Excellent post. I’ve been lax in my submitting writing lately, but I’ve noticed that “no response” includes online job applications. It seems manners have diminished as applications or submissions have become easier to submit. This is very frustrating, thank you for writing about this.

  • I recently received a nicely-written “decline” letter from a journal I’d submitted to and I was so impressed that they’d taken the time to do that, where so many others don’t bother, that I sent them a thank-you note.

    There’s no excuse for lack of basic civility.

  • Krisma says:

    As a fellow writer, I agree. With so many journals using Submittable or Submission Managers, there’s no excuse not to send a decline.

    As an editor, I would hope that if someone hasn’t heard back from DVQ in six months, he/she would send a query to find out.

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