To Page Or Not To Page?

October 4, 2016 § 6 Comments

Brevity's Social Media Editor (L), pictured with a more circumspect member of our staff.

Brevity’s Social Media Editor (L), pictured with a more circumspect member of our staff.

Officially, I’m Brevity‘s Social Media Editor. What that means is I blog here, tweet, help boost the signal on Facebook posts and tweets by/about Brevity‘s journal and blog, and keep an eye out for trends in the literary internet, many of which I report back to you, our Gentle Readers. I also maintain my own social media–Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and an occasional personal blog post.

I’m often asked–and I see writers agonizing about–what social media we “should” have. In particular, whether it’s worth it to have a Facebook page for our “author self” as well as a personal profile.

If you’ve already decided Facebook isn’t for you, or you don’t enjoy social media at all, feel free to skip this post. Go write something. But if you’re wondering about Facebook pages vs profiles, here’s the skinny:

Facebook pages are only useful if your agent insists you have one and you have ten thousand likes. Even then, 90% of your followers won’t see 90% of your posts, unless you pay.

Sad, but true. The way Facebook’s algorithms function (as of October 2016) makes pages without paid advertising more or less useless. People will only see your posts if they visit the actual page, on purpose. (Notice that the Brevity “page” is actually a group, which gives us more engagement with Gentle Readers, but requires more time to monitor and maintain.)

You may want one anyway. Facebook pages are useful if you are very concerned about online privacy. Your agent or publisher may insist you have one. And if you do, you may as well copy-paste all your writing-related statuses over there. It’s nice to refer people to, and to show off all your reviews in one place. About every six months, ask all the people you know to like your page, so that you gradually build an audience of people who have volunteered to hear from you. Other than that, leave it alone unless you’re embarking on a specific social media campaign–it’s one more thing sucking your time away from writing.

You don’t need a Facebook page if you’re OK with less privacy. As far as I’m concerned, Facebook is my public face. It’s not a private sharing space. I don’t friend back everyone who friends me, and I don’t post anything I’m embarrassed to share with the world. Right now, I’m also small-time enough that connecting personally with readers is still doable and desirable. For me, this goes hand in hand with the idea that the internet isn’t really a private place, and if I’m ever a big enough deal to get paparazzi-d, they’ll find anything I ever put out there. So it might as well be words I chose.

If you choose to use your personal Facebook page as your public face, don’t post things you don’t want strangers reading/seeing, and check your privacy settings for anything you want to limit to friends or a specific list. Remember that you don’t have to friend everyone back and clog your own feed with the rainbow-pug memes of a thousand strangers–when someone friend-requests you, they become your follower and see your public posts. It can be worth it to spend 5-10 minutes liking and commenting on the posts of people you don’t know well, but who you would like to have become your readers and your far-flung connections–your posts show up more in the feeds of people you engage with. Every day, think a little more about crafting your posts so that you’re revealing what you choose, and you’re pleased to have a stranger see them.

Yes, this can feel a little fake. A little dishonest. Even creepy. But I’m a confessional nonfiction essayist, and my brand is personal me. And “personal me” is a curated, purposeful presentation of subjects I genuinely care about and engage with, much like a “personal” essay. Every time I post, I’m practicing writing to be read. Every time I post, I’m aware that people I don’t know personally are reading it–and I’m pretty happy about that.
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Allison K Williams is (clearly) Brevity’s Social Media Editor, and the author of Get Published in Literary Magazines. She’d love to see you on Facebook!

How to Start a Podcast

December 16, 2015 § 15 Comments

Listening-Recording-DeviceTesting…testing…is this thing on?

Around the Brevity editorial room, we’re rolling up the legs of our dungarees and stepping gingerly into the whirlpool of podcasts. It’s been in the works for a while–we’ve been listening to our favorites with a new ear, making notes on what makes them great.

There are some terrific resources out there for beginning podcasters:

As Social Media Editor, I’ve been wanting to do a podcast–any podcast–for a few years now, but haven’t had the critical convergence of time, desire, topic and support. And here it is.

Armed with four years of research/procrastination, I’ve tested out Call Recorder for Skype. I’ve sent emails to my nonfiction heroes (check your inbox!) and tweeted for more suggestions. I’ve ordered acoustic panels, a Rode Podcaster USB mic, pop shield and shock mount. The acoustic panels are particularly important–I live in Dubai, where all houses have tile floors and hard surfaces abound.

But I had to mail all those things to the USA…

I get to pick them up in January (thanks, Mom!). Meanwhile, I present to you: Studio B.

StudioB

 

Note the acoustic deadening effect of two duvets (who the heck needs a duvet in the desert? Now they’re useful) and a yoga mat. I’ll be doing my best with my Macbook Pro’s microphone, and backup recording on my end with a Tascam DR-07 MK II. I still have to check whether noise-cancelling headphones are going to screw anything up.

We’ll be releasing a monthly podcast beginning in January, each one featuring readings from the magazine (past and upcoming) and an interview with a noted nonfiction practitioner. We hope you’ll subscribe. And in the comments, please let us know whose voice you’re dying to hear!

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Allison K Williams is Brevity‘s Social Media Editor.

Breaking Up Isn’t That Hard To Do

November 3, 2015 § 32 Comments

Always a classic. From XKCD.

A couple of weeks ago, I read a post from a conservative wingnut someone whose political views differ from mine. It wasn’t their original thought, but a re-posted meme from a hate-mongering politically oriented talk radio station. A photo, with a caption, that touched on an issue I hold dear, that I believe to be genuinely important in my country and to my fellow citizens.

And it was wrong.

Someone was wrong on the internet.

I looked up some statistics. I did some math. I rephrased as evenhandedly as I could. I revised. I posted my response, with substantiating links and documentation that this wasn’t just my opinion, this was verifiable fact.

It took forty-five minutes.

The response–one sane and compassionate person who agreed with me, a few likes, and a doubling-down from the original poster, reaffirming her position that people not as white and wealthy as I am are lazy whiners financial difficulty is a moral failing.

It took forty-five minutes. And not just forty-five minutes of writing and research time (time I should have spent on an essay, or freelance editing, or the upcoming Brevity podcast), but forty-five minutes of focused emotional investment during which I was–literally–trembling with rage.

The original poster might well be a loon have different views from me. But I don’t hate her–I don’t even dislike her. I’ve been her guest, eaten her food, had many lovely and temperate in-person discussions.

What’s right with Facebook is that I can keep in touch with my friends, family and acquaintances. Cheer their successes, console their failures, have a quick online chat to catch up, set up coffee when I’m in town.

What’s wrong with Facebook is that I care. These are people I have a personal investment in, not bloggers I follow or website articles several steps removed by virtue of being “the media.”

What’s right with Facebook is that it invites dialogue. What’s wrong with Facebook is that it invites dialogue.

So I took a break. Moved the icon into my fourth-screen folder next to Apple Watch and Stocks, activated Self-Control for the first twenty-four hours. It’s been tough to change the physical habit of checking whenever I have a minute, but it was easier than I thought to cut the emotional cord. Yes, my thumb strays to the screen, but I’m realizing how much was mindless habit rather than an actual connection to the information. I’ve subbed in Twitter when I feel the pull, and the very nature of Twitter is less emotional. There are fewer people I know as people rather than their media face, I see more subjects faster, and the 140-character limit is not an easy venue for serious argument. It’s the online equivalent of chewing gum instead of lighting up, filling the physical urge without continuing the addiction.

I haven’t suddenly filled that extra time with a fountain of new words of great beauty and technical craft, but I’m no longer spending time dreading multi-day conversations that leave me in helpless fury. I haven’t been in a pointless argument with a friend whose mind I will fail to change. I haven’t “needed” to assert my moral superiority correct online strangers.

Will I be back? Probably. It’s still the easiest way I’ve found to stay connected to the mix of friends, acquaintances, and fellow writers in my life. This is a separation rather than a divorce. But finding out I may want you in my life but I don’t need you feels pretty good.

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Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor and the host of the Brevity podcast, which will debut in January.

Comic illustration by XKCD https://xkcd.com/386/

Platforms Are For Divers (updated)

January 21, 2015 § 9 Comments

I don't remember his name but he told us it meant 'Ocean.'

I don’t remember his name but he told us it meant ‘Ocean.’

Platform, platform, platform. If you’ve got a book coming out–or are hoping to have a book coming out, or just hoping to raise your profile as an author, chances are you’re buckling down to work on your “platform.”

How many Twitter followers is enough? How many Facebook friends? Do I need an author page separate from my personal page? What about Pinterest? Does anyone even read blogs anymore? What happened to success on the merits of writing, and how did all my time get sucked into the Internet?

Sometimes I suspect ‘platform’ is shorthand for “We don’t know how to sell books any more but everyone seems to be online so the secret must be in there somewhere right? Please let the secret be in there somewhere…

But I’m doing it. My agent sent a questionnaire asking about, basically, my ability to sell books. Do I have an email list? Do I speak at large events? And yes, how many followers, how many friends, etc, etc. So I’m following and hoping for follow-backs, retweeting my little heart out, setting up Instagram and Tumblr and counting on my 17-year-old intern to fill me in on how it all really works (Thanks, Macy!).

I don’t love Twitter. I do it because book people are on there, because it leads to interesting things to read, and because I can schedule it for a week in advance and then do extra in spare moments (I know I’m not the only toilet-Twitterer out there). Right now it’s in the same mental pile as my MFA–might be useful someday. And I still haven’t really figured out Tumblr, other than to know that if I write a YA novel I’ll probably need to learn it.

But I made a little discovery on Instagram. Yeah–Instagram, the pictures-only one. I sort of staggered along having fun with photo filters, and then I discovered Jeff Sharlet, who’s doing some pretty cool things with micro-essays paired with photographs. And that made me want to do it, too. I travel a lot, and it’s become a joy to sit in the airport waiting for my flight, or gently wake up in a strange hotel room, pick out a photo from the past couple of days and write a micro-essay. They’ve become postcards to my family and friends (I crosspost many to Facebook), and an exercise that keeps me writing more often, more days, and thinking about how to tell the truth simply and succinctly. It’s not a chore anymore. It’s not a platform. It’s a chance to write, every day.

(UPDATE 1-21-15 1:38PMEST) Jeff Sharlet adds:

I love being called a photographer, but the truth is I’m not, except in the sense that I have a phone and I take photographs. I’m a writer and have been all these 20 years of working life. But I started with Walker Evans and James Agee, and under the tutelage of Michael Lesy, and became obsessed with Helen Levitt, and found a copy of the rare and out-of-print Sweet Flypaper of Life, by Langston Hughes and Roy DeCarava–words and pictures–and then, Instagram gave me my chance.

For what it’s worth, I don’t see it as a platform for selling books. A platform for making one, or two, as may happen. But none of these social media do more than sell a few copies, I think. One of my books was a longtime bestseller, for which I did a lot of media, and gained a relatively large number of twitter followers. If that added 20 sales I’d be surprised. It’s one of the great cons of publishers these days, or maybe they just don’t see it — social media speaks to the converted, OR those who are happy to learn what they learn online.

But, of course, it can also change the way one thinks about writing. I’ve had the opportunity to speak to a few groups — an MFA program, an arts lecture series — about using Instagram to write. Some want to try it, or their own experiments. I see them as recognizing, as I think you and I have, that there are all sorts of interesting lessons about essays to be had there, about the visual as text and text as visual. Others are horrified: some because they’re aesthetically conservative, some because they believe they’re avant-garde, and either way Instagram is too populist for the priesthood. That’s fine. More room for us.

(Thanks, Jeff)

Platform is a tool like any other. You can hang it on the wall and it will do no good, you can learn to use it as a way to make your work easier, or you can, yes, decide it’s not your tool and do something else. It’s up to you.

Check out Jeff Sharlet’s Instagram, and he’s also teaching a class who are doing photos+micro-essays as @mutantjournalism. And hey, stop by mine, too. I promise I’ll follow back–platform’s a lot more fun when we’re standing on it together.

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Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor. Yes, she’s on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr

Self vs. Self vs. Self

January 12, 2015 § 7 Comments

tumblr_mlo968i8hK1s40wp8o1_500More and more, we’re told as writers to find our “platform.” Get x number of Twitter followers. Build a Facebook page and worry about algorithms. Put our self out there, connect with potential readers, be “real,” be “authentic” and sell, sell, sell.

What are we selling? Dani Shapiro writes:

We have our “real” selves, of course—the ones who put dinner on the table and drive the kids to school and go out for a few beers with friends; then we have our creative selves, which require the solitude, the space to access the private, internal place which we write from; and then we have this whole other self, one that threatens to encroach on the other two: our “avatar” selves—the pixelated, haiku version that tweets and maintains a Facebook page and goes on the road in carefully planned outfits (these could be ripped jeans and a T-shirt, but believe me they’ve been thought through) and this—this avatar version—becomes how we’re seen, how we’re responded to, and if we are not careful, we are at risk of it becoming who we are.

Shapiro talks about connection in real life, too, and the internal conflict of telling one’s story so authentically that readers believe themselves connected, email their personal stories, come up after readings to say how much they appreciated the author “sharing.”

How much soft underbelly should we be showing, and how much spiky protective shell? How much of our true selves can we sell before taking something from ourselves we can’t afford to lose?

Read Shapiro’s essay at her site.

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.

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Allison Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor.

 

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