The Salesperson and the Tortured Genius

Since reaching the end of the first draft of our book I’ve started to climb out of my writing cave and emerge, blinking, into the bright and sometimes confusing world of social networking – hence the creation of the blogs and a twitter account – in preparation for the next phase of our writing process.

I could write an entire post on twitter and what an eye-opener it is, how I had an account before, failed to make it work and then researched until I ‘got’ it and started again. But this post is about social networking and where it fits in a writing life.

There is this common perception of the writer as a cossetted genius, locked in their garret, bashing out words at midnight, sucking at whisky bottles and pleading with their muse. They’re a bit smelly and nobody wants to sit next to them on the bus. They like it that way, people are annoying, they stop them from writing.

But books are written specifically so that other people can read them – it is not about the author, it is about the audience who will experience that person’s work.

There comes a point where the artist, the creative genius, the loner who locks themselves away so that they can craft works of wonder, has to peel off that soiled and grubby tshirt, put the whisky away and scrub up. They have to exchange those grey-rimmed, sleepless, antisocial eyes for sparkling friendly ones, knock on doors and become the shiny salesperson – effervescent, sociable and persistent.

“Here madam, take a look, it’s what everyone’s been waiting for. Special price, just for you. What about your husband, what does he like?”

I’ve got a sticker on my front door that the police handed out, it’s to keep people like this away, as if it releases some repellent gas or forcefield. Whenever I get one of these people trying to sell me something I point at it. Their shoulders slump in resignation and they trudge off.

Okay, the tortured genius and the pushy salesperson are extreme stereotypes but I think as I started to learn from twitter and the blogs that it streamed my way that many struggling writers don’t even consider the selling aspect of their potential career. I know I didn’t.

To a large extent there is a single person responsible for letting the world know about this book that you’ve sweated over.

You.

Hence the desperate, pushy salesperson, getting in your face, sticking their foot in the door, giving you free samples, trying to get you to sign up for something you don’t want.

Or is there an alternative to this?

Imagine you meet a person, just like you, struggling to make it as a writer. You see yourself in them and get chatting.  You find that they’re not all that weird, they’re actually very friendly, and they’re blog is very useful and interesting too. How about that guy over there, he reads a lot of books, has he got anything to recommend? You learn something new from him, that was a conversation worth having. This lady here, she’s always got something interesting to talk about – not always about writing but she is funny. This guy – he’s into the same stuff as you, not writing, one of your other hobbies or interests. He remembers a lot of stuff you remember, you get on, there’s a connection.

When I was in Perugia, Italy, we used to sit on the steps in the piazza, us foreign students, drinking beer and smoking. It was a great time for social interaction, a real life version of the above, of twitter and the blogosphere. I remember one young guy, who was obviously foreign but his Italian was near perfect, who seemed to have more friends than anyone else. Everybody knew him and said hi, he always had a friendly word. But he was never in a group of people chatting, he would flit in and out. One time he came over to us and talked, and talked and we got on famously. He told us about a bar where he knew the staff and could get us cheap drinks. Why not? we thought. So we followed him, he got us our drinks and then said he had to go and talk to someone. Sure enough he was giving his spiel to some other couple – he was a salesman, working for the bar, drawing in the punters. He wasn’t anybody’s friend at all. I felt a little cheated by this, nobody wants to feel they’ve made a bond with someone only to have it cheapened as a sale for commission. A friend is a friend. Being charming and nice might make people buy your stuff but if they see that you are only putting on the niceties to make them get their cash out, and not because you like them then you are a fraud.

Social networking made me forget all about the pushy salesperson, the tortured genius. It showed me the friend, the acquaintance, the colleague. The key word to social networking is social. We’re here to write books and hopefully sell them, but along the way we meet people, we support one another, we talk about stuff that has nothing to do with writing and they see that you are not simply a machine bashing out words, or a jabbering sales hoarding trying to flog your wares, you are a person. They drop their guard and talk, perhaps every so often you will tweet or blog about your work, and by now people have talked to you enough to know that you are the kind of person they can get on with, who interests them and they take a look.

Nobody likes feeds that are full of  ‘buy my book’, they’ll expect it to some degree if you are a writer, but not for the majority of your posts. So maybe your cat plopped in your slipper again, perhaps you’ve bought an amazing new bike and want to share it with the world. Or maybe you’ve got some ideas about character, or want to talk about plot – share it all with the rest of us, we’re listening.

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Posted on September 16, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Hi Fran,

    Your experience seems to have mirrored mine with regards to twitter. I’d had an account before but never really got the hang of it. I also felt pressure to pimp my book or website, but that didn’t come naturally. So, I just relaxed and used it for making social connections. I’m proud to call some of these connections my friends.

    Outside of the audience building potential, Twitter, and other social networking is a great way to find fellow writers to collaborate with and also to keep an ear to the floor for publishing news.

    I think it’s quite easy to spot those who aren’t genuine once you get the hang of it all, and it becomes easier to filter those out.

    Good post Fran. 🙂

    • Thanks Colin

      I’ve made some good buddies along the way – both of you included, something I didn’t expect to get out of twitter at all. I mean, it’s the equivalent of wandering into an enormous crowd and listening to millions of voices, most of them trying to sell you stuff or talking about shit. But sometimes the shit is fun, and it gets the conversation going and that’s what it’s all about.

  2. Another great post, Fran!

    The image of the ‘lone writer’ is a myth, especially in the 21st century. Like you, social media was a real eye-opener to me. I’d see all these writers tweeting all the time and be thinking to myself, ‘when do they get time to actually write?’

    But it’s true that writers need to interact with people and get chatting to others, not even necessarily about writing, at all.

    I think if you’re trying to sell your book (oh, am I ever? 😦 ) then you have to find that balance between trying to sell but not come across as an annoying spammer.

    • Thanks Gayle. Heh, it’s easy for me to moan about spammers when I’m not at the sales stage of anything yet, but I don’t think you fall into that category 😉

  3. Great post, Fran! I’ve definitely found that just by being friendly online and helpful to other struggling writers, I’ve made a load of pre-order sales on a debut novel that won’t be out for another six months yet!

    I would add forums to the social networking mix – better for long, writerly conversations that would bore the rest of your friends to death. I think forums have fallen out of favour because you have zero control over who joins in the conversation (unlike Facebook or Twitter), but well-moderated ones exist and are a lot of fun (and a good source of information and gossip!). I’m very active on Absolute Write, but also on forums that are more reader-oriented like SFF Chronicles and Fantasy Faction.

    One tip I would add is to always use your author name as your account name if possible. That way people are likely to remember your name when they’re browsing the bookshelves or reading a book blog – it’s basically free advertising without any of the pushy salesmanship 🙂

    • Thanks Anne, great advice. Forums are next on my journey I think – it’s all so shiny and new. As one of the most friendly and least pushy authors I’ve encountered I think you are proof that social networking for the right reasons works. I’m looking forward to reading The Alchemist of Souls in six months time 🙂

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