So, you’re a creative type — a writer of epic literary novels, an actor schlepping tables in Hollywood or a great artist in a black turtleneck who paints canvasses black because that’s HOW YOU FEEL about global hegemony.
How can you bust through and make it?
Oh, I’ve written all sorts of silly posts about free ink and airtime, and have sent my minions to start work on the Mother of All Evil Media Plans, as a special thing for my peoples.
But all that free ink and airtime stuff is somewhat Serious, and requires Work — while you are in a Hurry.
Who has time for all that sweaty work nonsense?
Here are my Top 10 Evil Tips for Authors, Actors and Artists.
10) Learn to love Top Ramen.
As a creative type, you must properly suffer. True art does not come from being content. No.
The first step in suffering is living on a food budget of $25 a week. As a former reporter, I have done this. Unless you’re a Trustafarian, you also did this during college.
Nobody can eat on $25 a week without a heavy reliance on Top Ramen, which comes in the following flavors: beef, chicken, fishy shrimp something-something, salty, picante beef-whatever and extra-salty with a hint of I-don’t-know.
Also good and cheap: zucchini, which they damn near give away, and tofu.
9) Travel the world on the cheap and document your brilliance.
Nobody will take you seriously as a writer, actor or artist if the only foreign country you’ve visited is Canada, which DOES NOT COUNT. Neither does Google Earth, wise guy.
But how can a person with a weekly food budget of $25 see the world?
First, you must hitchhike across the country.
Are you on the East Coast? Get to San Francisco. Those living on the West Coast must sneak onto freight trains and ride the rails to NYC.
All you folks living on the farm in Iowa, growing corn and having long conversations about Hemingway with Bessie the Cow, well, you can flip a coin: SF or NYC.
Once you get to a real metropolis, visit all the free museums you can to soak up some culture. Then get on a tramp steamer that’ll take you to Amsterdam / Africa / Australia or some other foreign land that starts with A.
Stuff your backpack with Top Ramen — you’re gonna need it. Learn to eat it dry, like popcorn. Also, your clothes are not “used” and “bought from Goodwill for $2 a pop.” They are “vintage” and “rare” and “unique.”
While you travel, fill a Moleskin notebook with deep, thoughtful scribbles. Do this all the time: in your apartment, during smoke breaks at your job waiting tables at Applebees, on the tramp steamer heading for Amsterdam — just scribble away.
Great artists can say pithy things about anything, whether it’s the social dynamics of cooks vs. wait staff at soulless suburban restaurant chains or sunset from the deck of a cargo ship carrying iPods to India.
8) Take photos of your life, and your journeys, with a cheap camera.
Did your mom give you a fancy Nikon D3100 for your birthday? Sell it.
You’re a struggling artist, and nobody struggles when they’re using a camera that’s worth more than their car.
Find a camera that fits your lifestyle, something retro and vintage and cheap that uses this thing we call “film.” Will you have trouble finding places that still develop film? Yes. But a true artist will make their own darkroom and develop their own photos using Lysol and bleach or whatever as fixing agents.
Your photos are NOT blurry and out of focus. They are SAYING something about life that crisp, clear, corporate photos don’t have the courage to say.
7) Start out with a bang.
Now that you’ve suffered, traveled the country and world and documented it all with words (“text”) and photos (“images”), you need to make your first real move.
Don’t do the usual thing of starting a blog, writing for a small magazine or acting in community theater.
You need to make a splash. To say something insanely bold, even if you don’t believe a word of it. To do what has never been done before.
Write a novel using only the letters on the left side of the keyboard. Putting a toilet on the wall of a gallery is boring — stick a PortaPotty with a real person inside up there. Do a one-act play reinventing Hamlet in a darkened theater where the actors are all wearing black ninja outfits while they speak German.
6) Find a patron and marry well.
Now that you did something insane, find a bored, rich person who was entertained by it.
Write a memoir about their life — or paint their portrait using six different types of soil from the farm in Nebraska where they grew up. Whatever it takes to stop eating Top Ramen.
A rich patron is great and all, but their loyalty is not guaranteed. Who’s to say they won’t start giving scads of money to the next hot painter or writer? The money spigot could be shut down at any moment. You can’t count on them paying the rent every month. Marry them if you can. If you can’t, find a pediatrician, dentist, torts attorney or business executive who does something boring and needs a creative type to balance things out, to provide a little spark and adventure and culture in their life. Also, to pay all your bills.
As a great artist, you’re not worried about making sure this person is “the one.” It’s expected that you’ll have five or six marriages and an insanely complicated love life. What matters is that (a) the gossip rags print your name right and (b) the bills get paid.
5) Make sure your ways are mysterious.
Other people write using Word, on a computer. Their successful habits include writing at least 500 words before breakfast and separating writing / creating from editing / polishing.
Those things put the B in Boring, and you are anything but boring.
Compose everything on an Underwood typewriter while (a) blindfolded, (b) drunk and (c) smoking unfiltered cigarettes from Morocco.
Paint your masterpieces while hanging from gravity boots and listening to Black Sabbath.
Your methods must be inscrutable.
4) Take up an appropriately impressive sport.
Hang gliding is not quite epic enough. Ultimate Fighting would have been great 10 years ago, but it’s too mainstream now for you.
Fencing is interesting and harkens back to the good old days, you know, when men who felt insulted grabbed a rapier or a pistol and tried to kill the other man.
Knife fights against rival artists would be perfect. Make sure you win, which means you should probably cheat somehow. Ideally, you’ll win a fight against your nemesis but get a wicked facial scar and maybe even lose an eye, so you can spend the rest of your life wearing a black eyepatch.
3) Lie like a rug.
The truth is boring and bourgeoise, isn’t it? You’re above that.
If three different people ask you the same question, give three different answers. Bonus points for making each new answer more outrageous and epic than the last.
Did you once get lazy and not mow your lawn for a month? Well, that’s not what you TELL anybody. You tell a reporter that any moral person should have objections to wielding a gasoline-powered instrument of death on defenseless vegetation, that only a heartless fool would decimate the habitat of millions of insects and birds. Then the next time somebody asks about it, you say that plants and insects aren’t truly conscious and you burned your lawn with a flamethrower as a demonstration of the existentialist absurdity of life.
Have you been faithfully married to the same person for 21 years? Oh, don’t tell anybody that. It is so suburban. Say you live in a free-love commune with seven other authors, artists and actors, and that you all sleep on a trampoline covered in fleece blankets.
2) Be obscure, difficult and deep.
Nothing says “loser” like being nice, direct and clear.
Give quotes and speeches so convoluted that you don’t even understand what you said. Abuse your underlings. Contradict yourself in the same sentence.
Wear sunglasses at all time while chain-smoking Gallouise Blondes in non-smoking areas, and don’t leave when asked. Don’t even leave when the police show up, because getting arrested is like having $100,000 in free press. You’re not a real celebrity until you’ve got a decent collection of mug shots on TMZ.
If you tell somebody you love them in the morning, you can’t say the same thing that night, now, can you? You hate them. Then the next morning, you love them again. Celebrate this new development by going on a five-day road trip where you sleep during the day at cheap motels and drive at night, taking photos only of different rest-stop signs.
1) Fake your death.
Nothing boosts sales like dying. The tricky part will be coming BACK without ruining everything.
Maybe you were having a knife fight on a tramp steamer heading to Zanzibar when a rogue wave swept you overboard, and it took you six months to cross the Sahara and catch another boat back to the states.
Do this right and maybe you can finally afford to divorce Pediatrician No. 4.
I marvel at how people like Snooki and The Situation and the Kardashian sisters are famous, or infamous, though they wouldn’t know the difference if you flew in a Harvard linguist professor to explain it to them every morning.
Snooki has a book deal. The Kardashian sisters have clothing lines and money coming out of their ears.
The joker who calls himself The Situation in on track to earn $5 million this year.
I have witnessed episodes from the first season of Jersey Shore by using the power of the internets, and I have come to an epiphany.
These people are not making scads of money, scoring book deals and dancing badly on “Dancing With A Few Stars and A Bunch of Other Schmucks” in spite of their obvious handicaps in the areas of brains and common sense.
Just up the road from the beaches of New Jersey are thousands of people on Broadway who can sing, dance and act. Many of them are gorgeous. In every way, they are clearly superior to the reality stars picked by producers to invade our lives. So why aren’t they making $5 million a year and getting on the covers of all the tabloids?
Let it be known: These reality stars are not chosen and elevated in spite of their lack of common sense. They are famous precisely BECAUSE OF this very flaw.
Normal, well-adjusted people are boring. They don’t make for exciting television.
If a film crew followed you or me around for 24 hours, they wouldn’t get footage of four random hookups, two screaming matches and a bar fight. They’d get film of us driving to work, doing our jobs and fighting traffic on the way home to have dinner. If you’ve got pookies, maybe you take them to soccer or baseball or whatever. If you’re young and single, maybe you catch Arcade Fire if they’re in town.
You would not spend three hours showering, spray tanning and doing your hair to get ready to go clubbing, then get into a bar fight.
You would not steal your roommates latest girlfriend, as they have been a steady item for at least 48 hours, which is a record. You would not drink all of the booze in the house and call your father at 3 a.m. while you were crying and whining about your boyfriend being pissed about that fact that you slept with a roommate or three.
You would not not order pizza and tell the pizza man that your last name is Situation and your first name is The.
And therefore you do not have, and will never have, a reality show.
Twitter isn’t built to sell books. Or anything else.
Yet if you belong to the Twitter, you see all sorts of authors pimping their books.
Some do it subtly, or randomly. Others do it faithfully, if not relentlessly.
And even if they mount a full Social Networking Offensive — a combined-forced attack with tweets on the ground, blog battleships at sea and Facebook fighter planes swooping down from above — even if they do all that, they will fail.
Attack of the Internet Fanboys
Oh, this is sacrilege. I know it.
Internet Fanboys believe that the Twitter, the Book of Face, blogs, the entire series of tubes — hey, that’s the future. Old Media is so old. They say, “Social media once was the student, and now it is the master. If you only KNEW the power of the Dark Side…”
Except they’re wrong. No matter how much you want it to work, how hard you squeeze your eyes and reach for that Internet lightsaber, it doesn’t fly through the air and into your hand. Even when you pick it up and push the button, nothing happens.
Faith isn’t enough.
Here comes the science
But spam works, right? And it uses the series of tubes.
Sure spam works. That’s why most email being sent today is spammalicious. Scammers send billions of emails every day, despite all the spam filters and barriers, because all they need to make money is a 1 percent response rate.
One percent. That’s a terrible success rate. Horrible. That’s like asking 100 girls out and hoping one says yes. But with enough volume, you can make money.
Surely, authors will do better than spammers. They aren’t peddling cheap Viagra and penis pills. They’re (a) pitching great books and (b) targeting their audience to book lovers rather than random people, therefore (c) the response rate for authors should be way, way better than 1 percent.
These are your internet friends, fans and family, right? They know you. They talk to you every day. They’re gonna buy your book.
But they don’t.
Want to know why?
Snooki vs. Nathan Bransford
Snooki can’t string a sentence together without committing sins against the English language. Yet she “wrote” a novel.
Nathan Bransford, on the other hand, is a muffin of stud.
He was a literary agent and understands the business of selling books
The man looks like a movie star.
He’s got 100,000-whatever Twitter followers and a blog with a lot of hits
He wrote a great book — a YA novel, which a hot genre, and his book got buzz and good reviews
THE MAN LOOKS LIKE A MOVIE STAR
If there ever was a picture of literary studliness, it’d be Nathan.
This isn’t an agent writing a book about writing (cliché). This man is writing a novel (brave!). So if anybody was poised for success using the Series of Tubes, it’d be this man.
I don’t know Nathan, but what I’ve heard of him made me root for the man. People say nothing but nice things about him. Every indication is that he’s smart, talented, good-looking — a literary rock star.
And his book had buzz before it even came out. I expected — and hoped — that he’d have a best-seller.
Snooki, on the other hand, is firing blanks.
She’s more infamous than famous
No sane human being would call her a writer and nobody believes she wrote this novel of with her name on it
She’s a walking, talking train wreck — would you let her borrow your car or babysit your firstborn?
It’s safe to say Nathan’s audience — people who follow him on Twitter and read his blog — are literary types who not only love books, but actually BUY book via the series of tubes — or, if they’re feeling really frisky, walk inside giant buildings stacked with bazillions of books where they hand people pieces of paper decorated with images of dead white guys, or let them touch a rectangle of plastic, then the people who seem to live in this giant buildings hand you books of your choosing and complete the ritual by asking you to have a nice day.
You could also bet the farm that 99 percent of people who know Snooki’s name and have seen her on the Glowing Tube would never guess, not even if you put a Nine against their noggin and started counting down from five, that Snooki has ever read an entire novel, much less written one. Her most avid fans, the ones who don’t watch her for the live-action train wreck and the irony of wallowing in low-brow nonsense, are 125.6 times more likely to be in a tanning booth than a bookstore.
Before we make our predictions about how well Nathan’s book did vs. Snooki’s book-like substance, let’s do some math.
The math, it is BRUTAL Nathan having 100,000 Twitter followers should be a huge marketing advantage.
Marketing Architects used this formula: “If half the people in the networks actually see my posting, and one percent of them respond, and 5% of the responders buy, what will the outcome be?”
(possible audience) x (% who see it) x (% who pay attention) x (% who buy it) = sales
So for this example with Nathan: (100,000 followers) x (50 % see it) x (1 % pay attention) x (5 % buy it) = 25 sales.
Here’s another bit of math from Dan Zarrella, social media scientist, who I believe is the World’s Greatest Expert on Twitter.
He takes raw data from bazillions of tweets and studies the heck out of them. The rate for retweets is actually even more pessimistic than the first bit of math I used above from Market Architects. Now, retweets cost you nothing. The actual purchase of books, movies and whatnot will be far lower than the rate of retweets.
But let’s be generous and go with the actual math of what Dan has discovered from sifting through all that Twitter data.
Go read up on Dan the Zarrella, especially this post: Viral Math: R-Naught and Zarrella’s Hierarchy of Contagiousness. He’s a brilliant man, dedicated to using real science and math to get things done, and he hates the whole unicorn-and-rainbow advice out there about the series of tubes.
Back to the math: it’s brutal and evil. Surely this didn’t happen to Nathan, who I do believe is a literary muffin of stud. If I were a betting man, I would say no. He should buck this bad math and sell better.
Most authors don’t even have up-to-the-minute sales figures. We can’t know exactly how many books sold. We can get a good peek at Amazon sales, though, and if the Internet Fanboy theory is right, when you pimp your book via Twitter and Facebook, people click their mouse and presto, massive online sales.
The Amazon sales rank of Nathan’s book is 267,136 — which doesn’t tell us anything yet.
Rachelle the Gardner, another literary agent with a blog and a brain, blogged about a study from a major publisher that tracked Amazon sales rankings and sales over six months.
Books ranked 1 to 750 = 75 to 275 sales per week
Books ranked 750 to 3,000 = 40 to 75 sales per week
Books ranked 10,000 or above = 0 to 5 books sold per week
So that rough math isn’t crazy, at least in terms of sales on the Series of Tubes. I bet Nathan sold more than that. Maybe his physical book sales were a lot higher. HOWEVER: the Internet Fanboy theory that tweets lead to online sales of books gets shredded here.
What’s the Amazon sales rank of Snooki’s novel? 13,812.
How could a literary loser like Snooki do better — with a terrible book — than a literary rock star with a great book and a huge online following of book-loving writer types?
Why this happened
Part of the reason is simply this: if you’re friends with 500 writers and authors, you can’t buy all their books. Because you couldn’t afford to pay rent.
Same thing with politics. People who work in politics naturally know hundreds of elected officials and candidates, but donate to very, very few. Why? Are they heartless? No. They can’t afford to do otherwise. If you work in politics and gave $200 to all 200 candidates you know, that’s $40,000 out the door. You’d be living in a cardboard box.
Same thing with books. Most of the 13,000-whatever folks I’m connected to on Twitter and the blog are writers and authors. Love these people. Some authors send me free ARCs or e-books, which is great, and I do buy books from authors I know sometimes. But you can’t buy them all. Let’s say only half of those folks have books out this year. $10 times 6,500 is $65,000 in books.
Therefore, I’m not shocked that book-loving followers don’t buy books from each other all day. We’d go broke.
Back to my favorite New Jersey train wreck, Snooki. She isn’t a special case or some crazy outlier.
There are scads of untalented hacks — people who couldn’t write their way out of a paper sack if you handed them a sharpened pencil, people who typically don’t even WRITE THEIR OWN BOOKS — who sell more books than great writers.
It doesn’t even matter how bad the ghostwriters do their job. These books sell like hotcakes anyway.
And no, I’m not talking about some weird subgenre of books that live an in alternative universe. These untalented non-writers sell all kinds of books: fiction, non-fiction, children’s books, whatever.
What’s the secret?
You know their name.
That’s it. Name recognition. Nothing is more powerful.
Kim Kardashian could do nothing more than wave her mascara wand over a manuscript that her agent had some ghostwriter crank out, and yet she’d sell more copies of KIM KARDASHIAN’S ILLUSTRATED GUIDE TO QUICKIE MARRIAGES AND DIVORCES than 99 percent of people who’ve dedicated their lives to writing literature so good you cry tears of unbearable joy and beautiful sadness.
Here’s a number that will blow your mind: Kim Kardashian makes $10,000 per tweet.
That’s right. Kardashian makes more for some 140-characters of product placement — something she probably has a staffer write for her in about 30 seconds — than some authors get for an advance on a book they spent years polishing and perfecting.
Kardashian got a reported $10 million for her fake wedding and could earn $5 million for her divorce. Yes, that’s a link to a story quoting an expert who has math backing him up. Click it and cry.
This doesn’t happen because Kim Kardashian is the prettiest woman on the planet or because oozes from her every pore. There are thousands of actresses on Broadway who can sing, act and dance circles around any of the Kardashians, but those Broadway actresses don’t have their own reality TV show.
Kardashian and Snooki make money, and sell books, because they are famous. Because you KNOW THEIR NAME.
I’ve written about name recognition for The New York Times’ about.com, as their expert on public relations, publicity and whatever. They sent me checks that said The New York Times on it, and I cashed those checks. As a journalism major, that was fun. The next three links are from stuff I wrote for that blog. There are reasons why corporations spend billions on ads that repeat the name of their company billions of times. Also, there is real science on how name recognition works — read it here at the brilliantly titled post, How Name Recognition Works — and finally, there are ways — evil, secret ways — to boost your name recognition.
(Yes, I know the last post says “Four Ways to Boost Your Name Recognition” when the url-whatever says Five Ways — this is a mistake. The internets, they are fallible, and I told folks to fix that long ago.)
Back to talentless celebrities who write books which make more money than people with writing talent on loan from God.
Glenn Beck wrote a terrible thriller, something that people said sounded like a bad parody of a bad parody, and yet it became a best-seller. Is he a talented writer? No. Did he even hire a talented ghostwriter? Nah. There’s no point in bothering with that when your name alone sells things.
Sarah Palin has “written” best-selling books that are — and this is a strange coincidence — all about Sarah Palin.
The fact these celebrities had best-sellers has nothing to do with talent and everything to do with name recognition.
That begs the question, how did they get such amazing name recognition?
Here’s the answer that will blow the minds of Internet Fanboys and make them wish they had the strength to run from the keyboard and wrap their Cheetos-covered fingers around my neck and squeeze really, really hard: all that name recognition came from dead, tired, obsolete OLD MEDIA.
It came from the millions of people who see Snooki and Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton on the Glowing Tube.
It came from the covers of People and US and The National Enquirer, who seem to be spending a lot of ink on real housewives who are on reality shows despite the fact that many of these women are not housewives, or married, or interesting at all except in a train wreck kind of way. But they’re on TV.
It came from newspaper interviews and entertainment sites like TMZ and from tired, obsolete Old Media standbys like Entertainment Tonight and hip new cable shebangs like The Colbert Report.
And it came from the millions of people who listened to Glenn Beck on the radio.
All these people with huge name recognition are doing something far, far different than the hordes of authors and writers placing their faith in the power of social networking and the Series of Tubes.
They’re using Old Media. There’s a reason it’s called “mass media.” It reaches the masses.
Bottom line: You could spend three years building a popular writing blog and getting to 10,000 Twitter followers, or 100,000 followers, and it wouldn’t be as useful as 10 minutes on a cable reality show with a weekly viewership of 3.5 million.
Think about that. Ten minutes beats three years.
Social networking — it’s not social media — is for meeting people. A few hundred people, or a few thousand, but not millions.
Social networking is meant for dialogues, not monologues where you spew links asking people to buy something, even something as nice as a book.
If you want to reach a mass audience, you must use the mass media. Must. Not “should.” Must. IT IS REQUIRED.
Now, it is true that big corporations are spending a lot of money on internet advertising. Banner ads do reach millions of people. That’s advertising, not social networking. And yes, it boosts name recognition. It just costs a lot of money. Earned media — coverage by the press — is free and has more credibility than ads.
Even the worst movies are a publicity godsend It’s not an accident that a ton of big-shot authors got a rocket boost to their careers when one of their books became a movie.
Stephen King started out with CARRIE, which was a bestselling novel and then a movie — boom, off he went.
Scott Turow had an injection of Harrison Ford with PRESUMED INNOCENT.
Joseph Finder, Carl Hiaasen (funny man – but he needs more vowels, doesn’t he?), Elmore Leonard, Tom Clancy, Clive Cussler, J.K. Rowling — a ton of authors that are household names got that way not just from having bestselling books, but from having movies made from those books.
The power of name recognition is also why Hollywood has lost its mind and is busy making movies out of board games (Battleship – seriously) and Every Bad ’80s Cartoon Known to Man (G.I. JOE, TRANSFORMERS, HE-MAN, SMURFS and so forth).
Why are those good fodder for movies? We already know the name.
Here’s the rub: the movie doesn’t have to good, or a hit, for the author to get a massive shot of sales. That’s because studios spend millions promoting each movie.
You see endless trailers on TV, ads in the paper, posters. You hear radio ads and read reviews of the movie in the newspaper. The entertainment shows and blogs plug the movie, or pan it. The movie stars go on the talk-show circuit. Publishers put out new editions of the book that say, “Now a major motion picture starring this handsome man and that sexy woman on the cover, the two of them kissing while they hold a gun or whatever.”
Even if the movie bombs, the author just got millions of dollars in publicity, seen and heard by hundreds of millions of people around the world.
Am I saying you need a movie to sell a book? No, that’s not the point. I’m saying even the worst movie, and the worst book, will sell a lot simply because of the publicity budget Hollywood spends.
Let’s take a horrible example: BATTLESHIP was a bad, big-budget movie based on a board game. It only got made because toy companies like Hasbro realized they’ve built up so much name ID with G.I. Joe and Monopoly and every other toy, they can make bad movies with those titles and people will see them. And as a bonus, they can sell more toys, including special movie editions of Battleship and G.I. Joe dolls (sorry, “action figures”) and even rush books of the novelization of the movie.
Those bad books about bad movies based on toys? They’ll sell. Quality doesn’t matter when name ID is high.
Here’s the math: let’s saying only 200 million people get exposed to the trailers, reviews and hype for a movie. That’s a huge understatement, since movies make most of their money overseas now, and publicity campaigns for movies are global today, aimed at billions. Either way, I’m going with 200 million out of a sense of fairness, justice and equality or whatever.
(200,000,000 people) x (50 % see it) x (1 % pay attention) x (5 % buy it) = 50,000 sales.
That’s a bestseller right there.
The point is, quality doesn’t necessarily matter when exposure is that high.
The new math: to sell thousands, you need to reach millions
If you’re going from the other direction — high quality, no advertising and publicity budget — you can’t get to the audience needed via social media.
Without a big advertising budget, you’ve got to use the mass media to reach the masses. That means earned media, and reaching audiences in different ways.
Some people rely entirely on the Glowing Tube for entertainment and news. Other people listen to NPR as they drive to work. Others read the paper.
If you only focus on the series of tubes — and you don’t have a presence on radio, TV and print — then you don’t exist to those people. They’ll never see or hear your name.
But don’t tell the Internet Fanboys trying like mad to add more Twitter followers and Facebook friends and blog hits, like this is some kind of Tetris game where the winner is whoever racks up the highest score. “You just don’t understand the power of new technology — Old Media is so 1982.”
Think about big-shot authors again. What do they have in common? They go on book tours. They give interviews to newspapers and magazines and TV shows. They get movies made from their books.
They don’t just use mass media. They use the hell out of it.
Do most bigshot authors go all-out for social networking? No. Some ignore it entirely. Others have people handle that. Because it’s not critical. It’s a bonus rather than a pathway to success. They know something most people don’t: to sell 50,000 books, it’s not enough to tweet to 10,000 followers, or even 100,000.
You need to reach for a mass audience. Millions — or hundreds of millions. The only way to do that is through mass media.
The thing people can’t wrap their head around is that by using the Series of Tubes, anybody can reach any mass media market anywhere in the world, for free. But you need to know how to do it, and you need something worth that free ink and airtime.
The fact that your punk rock album / novel about elves with lightsabers / book of poetry Gertrude Stein would write if she were alive today is “super, super great” doesn’t get any ink and airtime. You can’t pitch quality — you need something worthy of free ink and airtime. And that’s a different topic entirely.
Every novelist, journalist and aspiring writer I know is all over social media. They’ve got a blog and a Twitter account, or a Tumblr and a Facebook page.
Or they have all four, plus three things that are so bleeding edge, I haven’t heard of them yet.
HOWEVER: you could spend all day banging out blog posts and tweets and Facebook updates. It could suck up all your free time. And you might not get that much out of it.
I see people doing it wrong all the time, and it kills me.
So let’s get some things straight:
It’s not about how many friends you have on Facebook.
It’s not about how many hits you get on your blog.
It’s not about how many people follow you on Twitter.
If you want to make more money writing for a living — or quit your day job to write full-time — then you need to look inside the media toolbox and see each type of social media for what it is: a tool.
Not a magic bullet. Not a sure-fire path to fame and fortune.
You also need to realize that social media can’t be your entire media plan. And no, you are not the exception, Internet Boy.
Here’s a quick-and-dirty look at each tool:
This whole Twitter thing is for meeting people.
The social barrier is incredibly low, because tweets are by definition super-short.
Nobody is going to send you a rambling five-page email about their feelings. There’s a lot of freedom in 140 characters.
Want to BS with other writers? Look up the right hashtag for the kind of writing you do. I bet #poems will get you in touch with poets around the world.
Movies, romance, thrillers, journalism, whatever you’re into, you can find people with the same interests on Twitter, and it’s non-threatening.
It’s like a big bar that’s always open where the drinks are always free and the people are friendly, because they’re drunk. I said THE DRINKS ARE FREE.
The Book of Face is nothing like Twitter, nothing at all. It’s a closed system.
If Twitter is a big bar where anybody can talk to anybody, then Facebook is a giant hotel with 500 million rooms where you’ve got to know the right hotel room number, knock on the door and have the person behind the peephole look at you and say OK before they open the door and let you in the private party.
Facebook is for friends and family.
It’s for people you’ve had dinner with, or would have dinner with, and want to share baby photos and wedding photos and private things you don’t want to share with the world.
Maybe you think a Facebook fan page is the best thing ever, and you swear by it, and it’s the reason why you went from reporter at The Willapa Valley Shopper to editor of Vanity Fair.
I don’t recommend it. Facebook’s niche is friends and family. There are better tools.
Also: don’t play Farmville, or Bejeweled, or whatever on Facebook, for doing so a Sin, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster DOES NOT FORGET.
He doesn’t forgive, either. Not his thing.
Blogs are a bit like Twitter, in that everybody can see them. It’s not a private party like Facebook.
With a blog, you can write a helluva lot longer than 140 characters and put in silly photos of zombies and movie clips about hair bands from the 1980s. IT IS GLORIOUS.
Blogs are where the people you meet on Twitter can come to hang out. You can have literary flame wars in the comment sections about whether the Spork should be sent along with Snooki and the Situation on a one-way mission to Mars.
Different tools for different jobs
Think about those three tools — Twitter, Facebook and blogs — compared to a face-to-face meeting, a phone call and an e-mail.
Asking for a face-to-face meeting with an important and powerful stranger is the highest possible hurdle, right? A six-foot brick wall to climb over.
A cold call is chain-link fence. A little easier.
E-mailing that same VIP is three-foot wall.
Posting a comment on their blog is a little hop over decorative plants.
Tweeting is like hopping over a crack in the sidewalk. It’s nothing. Go give Yoko Ono a tweet. DO IT NOW.
It’s not about getting hits
Social media is not a games of Tetris, where you’re trying to get the high score.
Having 500,000 hits to your blog or 20,000 followers on Twitter doesn’t do anything, by itself.
Social media is about meeting people and learning things. It’s about a dialogue, not a monologue.
Fame and fortune still comes from old-fashioned mass media.
Do people like Charlie Sheen start Twitter accounts and instantly get 6.8 bazillion followers? Yes.
And there is a reason for that. That reason is simple: he was already a famous movie and TV star.
Also, he is an infamously insane train wreck, which is hard not to watch.
Want to reach a mass audience? Use the mass media
If you want national success, you need to reach a national audience.
To sell a million movie tickets, or novels, you’ve got to reach tens of millions of people with the mass media — and if you’re lucky, advertising. National success means trying to reach 330 million people. International success means reaching out to all 7 billion on this rock.
You can’t do that with Facebook and Twitter and a blog. Not everybody uses it. The only real way to reach a mass audiences is by using the mass media. TV. Newspapers. Radio.
A big chunk of the population only gets their news and entertainment from the idiot box. A different chunk only listens to the radio. A smaller bit rely on newspapers and magazines.
If you’re not on all of those channels, you don’t exist to those different audiences.
Social media isn’t a magic bullet
Old-fashioned mass media still has the biggest bullets and the biggest guns.
Is this heresy to the fanatics of the web? Yes. Too bad, so sad, tell your dad. Journalists and public relations pros will tell you this is the truth. Suck it up, internet boy. Sometimes, you have to get up from behind the keyboard and talk to real reporters, live and in person.
Someday, you have to go on a radio show. Eventually, you need to get on TV shows — not once, repeatedly — to reach all those people who only watch TV, even if you’re just trying to reach a local or statewide audience.
Say you’re a playwright in Seattle trying to make your debut play a success. Are you gonna sell out the season by having a blog and a Facebook fan page and tweeting twice a day? No.
Don’t waste your time dreaming that lightning will strike via the internets.
Get on the local TV stations, on radio, in the newspapers, on local blogs that are already popular. Your own blog and whatnot is gravy. It’s not a serious media plan.
Take solace from the fact that with 5.84 bazillion people trying to do via the series of tubes, there’s less competition for serious, hard-working people who know how to work the mass media. By “work” I don’t mean “annoy.” You need to do it right.
It isn’t easy. It isn’t simple. But it’s a lot more effective for reaching a mass audience than hoping hits on your blog will turn into magic, like lead into gold.
There are gold mines out there. That’s where you should take your pick and your axe and your mighty pen to look for the shiny yellow stuff. Because that’s where it lives.