An Observation Concerning… The Failure of Social Media, and why it’s Needed

“Talking is just masturbating, without the mess.”
-Our Lady Peace, “Happiness & The Fish

For authors, booking an event is a wonderful feeling. A store values you; people may value you. However, the difficult part of an event is marketing. Yes, there’s the crazy chance that people think you’re worthy of their honored presence, but you have to convince them to come first.

Back in February, I had an event for “Cursed: A Jack Swift Case” at a local bookstore. The owner had stocked both Jack Swift novels leading up to the reading, and they promoted the booking on social media as well as traditional advertising avenues. I was also responsible for promoting the event, and therefore believed that the best way to do so was through social media. Millennials and younger generations worship social media; they believe it’s how society should function, and frankly, advertising rules the world and social media is the best way to reach an enormous audience for not only product placement, but for the arts as well. Unfortunately, this reliance on the medium is unwarranted. Social media doesn’t work for all, and worse, it makes people feel like they’re providing an important and cherished contribution.

I tweeted, shared status updates, posted photos with tagged details and personally asked friends and colleagues to spread the word—through an in-person meeting with the use of my voice! Who would have thought a vocal face-to-face interaction could also be used as an effective source of communication. The responses were promising; thumbs pointing up, warm and bright red hearts and ecstatic yellow faces with wide mouths and tears of joy filled my notification box. I fell victim to my own vulnerability; I thought people cared, but the point of all the responses weren’t to help me, but rather promote other users’ sympathetic support. They did their part by clicking a button or smudging a phone screen, and assumed their work was done as they felt rewarded for their good deed. Let us celebrate their generosity!

From all the likes and loves and encouraging threads of text that others could recognize and praise each other’s care, four people showed up to the event. That’s right; four. That’s not the most shocking part, however.

The event was on a weeknight, and that gave people an excuse. On the other hand, the restaurant that shares the same foyer as the bookstore had a long wait as diners clanged their utensils against their plates and laughed over nursed drinks and loud gossip. I set up as the store emptied and my first fan entered. She was the aunt of one of my closest friends; I recognized her short blond strands before she opened the door, and gladly conversed with her as there appeared to be no rush to start my spiel. Next my friend, business partner and fellow local author, Jason DeGray, sauntered in as the staff placed way too many chairs in front of my podium. To my surprise, a random book browser plopped down and waited patiently as if she had nothing better to do with her time—my third attendee. I finished setting up a clever display: The book was stabilized upright, a replica Honus Wagner card ignited wonder behind its plastic armor, cheap chocolates wrapped in sport ball foil overflowed a homemade bowl, and a Bluetooth speaker softly played the playlist from “Cursed.”

I spoke about my background, credentials and style; I explained how Jack Swift came to be and transitioned from reference to excerpt flawlessly; and I interacted with the audience and listening staff members—especially the browser who was taking notes for whatever reason. The fourth fan, my dentist, strolled in during the presentation, but immediately became involved as she answered a question I had for the spectators. It was a good crowd; it was fun; I had a surge of confidence after practicing my presentation and completing the event. Almost everyone isn’t aware of that, however.

Not one of those four people came because of social media. DeGray knew through me, the browser stumbled upon the event because of first-hand in-store advertising, and my friend’s aunt and my dentist read about the reading in the newspaper. The newspaper of all places! That’s almost as extinct as in-person conversation. As a master of journalism, I appreciate that the newspaper is still relevant and proving to be more effective than the highly touted social platforms that run the world—in regards to this specific situation. That’s why I didn’t share the outcome of the reading right away; it wouldn’t have felt good; it would have been an emotional response; there was no sustenance; no one would care. They would have just pretended to care or completely avoid the recap because it’s easy to not see one post among the meaningless over-saturation of more important things like pictures of food, or fishers hoping to hook compliments about their good deeds, or snowflakes flurrying for empathy as they overcame a difficult situation like making it through a full eight-hour shift.

Social media is just masturbation; it’s purpose is to please the user in any way, shape and form. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a medium that has become essential in society and industry, but from my experiences, it deserves little praise. Authors shouldn’t rely on it because it doesn’t guarantee anything. They also must remember bad showings can happen to anyone.

One of my professors shared that she had an event where no one showed, but at least she had a good book to read to pass the time. Esteemed novelist Leslie Epstein, who is referenced in “Cursed,” told me that he held a reading where two people came: one old lady who fell asleep knitting, and the other seeking shelter from the rain.

Yet, we need social media which is bittersweet to embrace. It may fail most of the time, but if it can create just one success, that may be all an author requires, so don’t disregard the whole system.

We also still need newspapers—obviously—so don’t rely on just one form of marketing.

For authors booking their first event, don’t expect much and, most importantly, don’t base your future on how many people did or didn’t attend your reading. Practice your presentation and interact with anybody in attendance—even if that’s just the staff. Go through the motions before human interaction becomes artificial.

Talking to someone in the same room is still pleasurable, and less messy than social media.

A Setting Entry

The half-moon is swallowed by the warming blue and orange. Loose cotton twirls on the asphalt, the cool breeze lifting each stray for a slow dance. It’s quiet. It’s nice.

Just a quarter-mile beyond the peace and behind community walls, the tone shifts to weeds, trash, and empty plastic pints of cheap vodka. It was once a promising sanctum, but has become yet another ordinary escape for degenerates.

No picture taken.

An Observation Concerning… Getting Back

“It was lost long ago but it’s all coming back to me.”
-Celine Dion, “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now”

This weekend meant something for the sports world. This weekend meant something for society as a whole.

We were supposed to be watching the final round of the PGA Championship, the NASCAR point totals were supposed to be higher and this was supposed to be the final match weekend of the German Bundesliga. It doesn’t matter what was supposed to happen anymore; it matters that the sports world has taken a step toward hope, and season sacrifices were vital to accomplishing a sense of optimism.

Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Matthew Wolff played a round of golf yesterday. Good for them; many cities have become more lenient on restrictions that targeted courses and country clubs. The difference is that this foursome (not the inappropriate kind; you’ve been spending too much free time on the computer) was televised live. Okay, the other difference is that they’re professionals and city players are amateurs, and no one would watch a group of four aging drunkards hacking up divots and struggling to maneuver a golf cart at sub-10 mph speeds.

Live sports. Wow. Stopping golf was interesting to begin with. Their season pause seemed more like an example to set or the association following suit because others jumped off a bridge. Frankly, if they had let the players play without any fans, it would probably be one of the more safer spots in the world. The only equipment you would use would be your own, there are acres upon acres of open outdoor space and the players would only be with three other people on any given hole: their opponent and their respective caddies—and you can easily walk six feet apart on a golf course.

That’s beside the point; even Johnson and McIlroy’s victory was overshadowed by progression. We got to witness something live. Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Florida hosted the TaylorMade Driving Relief tournament, and the event generated $5.5 million for charity, as well as plenty of viewers tuning into something refreshing. No more reruns, no more over-analyzed documentaries as we discussed last week and no more anxiously waiting with uncertainty.

Two states up the east coast, Kevin Harvick won the Real Heroes 400 in Darlington, South Carolina. He circled around the pit, screeching his tires and leaving his mark to celebrate his victory, but there were no sunburnt and raucous fans to absorb the celebration. For people who don’t follow NASCAR, Darlington Raceway has a capacity of 47,000. Racing is immensely popular—and even more so in Europe.

Soccer is also more popular in Europe, but it goes well beyond the continent’s borders. It’s the world’s sport, and the Bundesliga gave society a boost this weekend. Eight matches were played in front of empty stadium seats, concluding with the league-leading and UEFA powerhouse Bayern Munich finding form in a 2-0 victory over Union Berlin.

The game was eerily bittersweet. Players tried not to touch their face, but they did. They tried not to spit, but they did. Coaches tried to wear masks, but they didn’t. Players tried to offer a courteous hand to fallen opponents, but they couldn’t. You could hear the players communicating, you could hear the ball bouncing off their cleats in perfect precision as if the season had never stopped. There was this purity to the beautiful game that we haven’t seen in a while, but the loud chants and unifying song of supporters was absent and missed.

The Bundesliga is bigger than the PGA, it’s bigger than NASCAR; it was truly the first great league to return to the international stage. Yet, without fans, there was this sense of neglect looming over the pitch. Then Robert Lewandowski buried a penalty kick. That moment reminded us it was real; it was normal; all was right again. It’s amazing what star power can do; it’s amazing what sport means to the world—especially when people are in dire need of just a beacon of assurance.

So something meaningful happened this weekend even if you don’t follow sports. We’re coming back. We’re strengthening. Society is alive.

A Setting Entry

I shake while sitting; I feel simple bumps, hear the clatter of uncontrollable motion, and see the outside as a normal day, but the public relies on this governmental stranglehold.

The public: a lazy bike rider who smokes away his bad mistakes without regret; a large man, a whole pizza to himself, friendly but stable and authoritative; a young man who has already lost his way; various Native-Americans of different ages and scents staring at various Hispanics of different ages and scents; an African-American woman at the front of the bus.

I’m being transported into the unknown. Coincidently, when a new group of African-Americans came aboard, my stop was next and I exited the worn chariot. It was unfortunate; I didn’t want to appear racist, for I am a white male and society has now labeled me for something I’m not.

I don’t understand. I could never understand, but it doesn’t mean I’m not aware. People are wrongfully accused based on assumption, others are pathetic in their intentions and mask their stupidity under a false sense of intelligence and entitlement.

The stereotypical public.

No picture taken.

An Observation Concerning… Missing Things

“I spend my time, thinking about you, and it’s almost driving me wild”
-John Waite, “Missing You”

I miss things.

I was doing a local magazine feature on teddy bears, pastel mosaics and messages of hope etched in chalk, and spoke to a neighbor of mine whose home best exemplified optimism—a middle-aged woman with the spirit of a free college coed abroad. It was the first time we interacted in the near-decade being part of this community, and she said she missed being able to hug people the most, even strangers like myself.

I’m not sure if I miss hugs, but I miss life.

I’m a homebody by nature—well, now. Tastes change as you get older and phases drift into recollections. I sit at my computer, conjure up thoughts and create sentences to share with people I don’t know, but strangely this pandemic has connected us more. Well, maybe you and someone else, but we know each other because we’re going through the same situation.

We may not like and miss the same things, though.

I love three things that aren’t people (and that list isn’t much longer): Music, sports and writing. Yes, they are generic interests, but within the vagueness we all find our relative love which makes us commonly unique. That doesn’t make sense. Sure it does.

Music has been a good distraction. I’ve started a challenge that no one else has done or cares to attempt—even all those self-proclaimed music lovers who “can’t live” without melody. I’ve decided to make a playlist, on top of other ongoing playlists, that holds the best 100 songs I’ve ever heard. It’s a lot harder than it sounds (no pun intended). In fact, I have a spillover playlist now even though I guess that’s considered cheating. It’s not the best songs the world has ever heard; it’s the best songs that have had a personal impact from lyrical, musical, meaningful and grandiose perspectives from any or all genres and generations. Some, again if they did partake in the challenge, may feel the pressure to put a track on their list because it’s a hit or they’re supposed to like it because everyone else does. For example, I’m a 90s kid, and grunge and post-grunge rock are my favorite genres, but not one of the grunge powerhouses received a spot on my top 100. Charles & Eddie and Savage Garden did, however. It’s not a bad thing when you surprise yourself.

Okay, to avoid any misguided impressions, here’s this song for balance.

I’ve also been able to compose two more piano pieces during this time—and learn one of my top 100 songs: Phildel’s “Qi.” Music is an escape, one that I can’t fully appreciate when I work or study because I pay too much attention to the notes or lyrics or both of whatever track flows in the background. Dave Sheinin, a reporter for the Washington Post, said, “I’ve never been able to listen to music casually. No matter what else I’m doing, the music is where my ears and my mind drift.” His great perspective piece covered his time as a sportswriter trying to write game stories while the loud speakers offered stadium soundtracks. Ah, sports.

Sports have left a void, and the talking heads have resorted to over-analyzing a long-awaited documentary. Sports have been important to me my entire life as a fan and an athlete. This isn’t about being a jock (which is a term that has mislabeled many people, but that’s a separate post); it’s about what it means to a person. Children can’t watch their role models; fans can’t passionately talk about remember-whens, what-ifs and this-is-the-years; we can’t watch the only show that doesn’t have reruns—we have to rely on reruns now; we can’t witness the brilliance of strategy, the intellect that is required to perform at the highest of levels, and the athletic feats that defy physics or ordinariness; stadiums aren’t full of loud and raucous crowds, one of the only sanctuaries in the world where it doesn’t matter what race, sex, generation or political affiliation you are because you’re all there for the same reason; tears of joy and pain can’t be shared in the exact same moment; and significant bonds between cities and athletes, parents and children, friends and partners have been put on pause. Sports are entertaining, but they’re also emotionally important.

Then again, it is about being a jock. I miss that unmatchable form of exercise, the release of emotions and heightened senses, the strengthening of coordination and health, the progression of the mind, the adaptation to aging and performance, and the physicality. Yes, that’s right, I may not miss hugs, but I miss having an opponent pushing me around and I returning the favor. At least I can write about it I guess.

Writing has not come to a halt; it remains a constant, though motivation is scarce. For example, I wanted to post this weeks ago. I’m obsessed with news updates (as any Master of Journalism would be) and they have served as a distraction. However, it may be the looming uncertainty that sidetracks me more. Then again, writing as a career, especially fiction, questions certainty or stability on a daily basis. I’ve been able to complete a new short story, start two new fiction novels and begun researching and outlining the newest Jack Swift installment. Essentially, I’m creating more content that people don’t know exists. Motivation is scare, indeed.

This is a strange time. Hopefully future generations avoid dealing with such calamity and our new relative normal remains.

For now, we can go on missing things and hope they return—or lose our minds, whichever comes first.

A Setting Entry

Birds tickle the treetops underneath a cold gloom. One flies away to recruit more winged soldiers, feathers as black as night, intentions as cruel as the chill that makes the motion painful. They sit atop the highest point of a branch, proving they have conquered death for another winter. Hell is not as south as we would think.

20170120_071212

A Character Entry

Thick clear frames, thin lenses if any, and tight red pants. She’s a younger girl, just old enough to drink and not realize she’s susceptible to weight gain. She will always assume her image to be desirable though it repels many.

She has potential to be attractive, but would rather follow trends to appease an unfulfilled few, and all of those unmotivated burnouts would lazily take advantage of an easy opportunity. A circle of unwarranted vindication.

A Character Entry

An aging man, long ponytail with a receding hair line, sits at a table with a craft beer and a younger couple. He isn’t old enough to be their father, but rather a desperate friend. He wears shorts in January, but his heavy jacket doesn’t match.

Perhaps he enjoys younger people; maybe younger lovers; maybe a little too close from ending up on a certain shunned list. Or maybe he can’t let go of the youth that let him down.

 

A Setting Entry

The sky was on fire; a rolling explosion set to consume. Yet, there was hope as a streak of blue sliced in half the smoky orange from the foggy underbelly. The doom was relentless as it spewed over the top of the mountain.

An anxious sight not worth missing, but hope prevailed. (No Picture Taken)

An Observation Concerning… Incentivized Fraudulence (Eesh, That Sounds Serious)

“Don’t sell your soul for a pack of lies”
Eagle-Eye Cherry, “Rainbow Wings”

I realize that last post’s song, “She Works Hard For The Money” by Donna Summer, would have been a perfect fit for this article as well, but the lyric above still strikes the right chord (pun intended).

Solicitation. Whoa, whoa, whoa, settle down now, we’re not talking about the bad kind—or good kind, whichever way you want to view paying for services. The solicitation I’m talking about takes place in the writing community and the publishing industry. I’ve done it, you’ve done and future authors will do it.

Just to be clear, because I know some readers may be “groggy” from the turn of the year, I’m not talking about prostitution involving sexual acts. Sometimes, you just have to state the obvious.

Moving on. Let’s start by reading Amazon’s Customer Review Policy. I will give you a minute.

Don’t worry, that wasn’t the extended one. If you did read it, you may have noticed that some of the exclusions may seem outlandish, others valid and most create a double standard. Authors are in a difficult predicament when it comes to reviews because, whether we like it or not, they’re very important and have a direct impact on sales. There has been an ongoing argument in the writing community about who reviews are intended for. Some reviewers tend to believe that their posts are generally for readers, while publishers and authors view critiques useful for their own business or brand. The truth is: reviews are meant for everyone. Readers use reviews to see if the work is something that matches their interests or sounds intriguing enough to purchase, publishers examine how their product is performing through direct market analysis, and authors review criticism—hopefully constructive, but we know that’s not true all the time—to understand their demographics and better their writing. Though it seems that a review is as simple as writing something down and clicking the mouse, it’s far more complex than that. Here’s something a little startling: authors, the creators of the intellectual property, may actually make the least amount of money off their work out of the three mentioned parties.

Last post we discussed the amount of money that authors must put forth to publish a book, and that includes the time spent drafting and completing a written work. The author is now responsible for more tasks that have been primarily done by others in the past. This isn’t just limited to authors, but most writers. For example, in the journalism industry many job openings post duties that require the writer to not only write and report, but also take their own pictures and touch them up, design the layout of the article and fully edit the piece. As a journalist, that isn’t a big deal, however, they’re still only being compensated for one job, not three. I once saw an open position for a paper in Santa Fe, N.M., and the writer was responsible for all of the duties above and the salary was $30,000. The average salary in Santa Fe is $56,000 and the cost of living is very high for the region.

You may be thinking, “What the hell does this loser know?” Well, I know this type of stuff. I’m a writer in many forms, and this is why I returned to school to earn my graduate degree in journalism and creative media, and this is what my research involves. I’m here to help the writer—unlike other parties and platforms.

It takes authors longer to write a book than publishers to publish that work, and it takes authors longer to write a book than it takes for reviewers to read and critique that work. The time authors spend doing the actual work doesn’t guarantee any income. On the other hand, publishers take over during a stage that should lead to sales which betters their chances at turning a profit, and many reviewers are incentivized for their contributions—despite what Amazon believes, and what they do themselves for that matter.

Peter Riva, Publishers Weekly- Why most Amazon reader reviews are worthless

With incentive comes fraudulence. Ex literary agent Peter Riva said in his 2016 Publishers Weekly article, “My observation is that most Amazon and Barnes & Noble reader reviews are either fraudulent, or, at best, useless in assessing the true merit of any given title.” He continued, “It is trampling on First Amendment rights and playing into the hands of what is, after all, a nonliterary, mathematical rating system.”

Money drives the industry, but it doesn’t drive the authors. Many authors do this because they love writing and creating, however, their success and status is directly impacted on how other parties are incentivized. This is most apparent in reviewer credibility and retailer/media gatekeeping. Regarding the former, just like the publishing industry, the reviewer world is also competitive and over-saturated. In order to keep earning revenue through advertising and subscriptions, reviewers strategically provide scattered ratings; it’s almost like a quota to appear as a true critic rather than a paid blogger. An author may be receiving an average review just because a reviewer needs to mix up their rating average and not based on the quality of the content. The consequence of losing revenue isn’t the only factor in fraudulent reviews, however. There is also the relationship factor between blogger and author, whether that is a positive or negative connection.

In regards to the latter, giant online retailers like Amazon and major publications like The New York Times have a stranglehold on which titles are presented to potential readers. They decide what is relevant and what is trending, and most of it is based on what already sells. Just like in the news: we’re only aware of what we’re exposed to, and sometimes the relevance is for ratings. Amazon essentially tells authors they’re prohibited from soliciting their material for reviews, however, this creates a double standard. Amazon will solicit an author’s work via their advertising campaigns—and incentivize reviewers themselves—and the more the writer is willing to spend, the more their book will be visible across the massive retailer’s site. They don’t care about quality; they only care about quantity—available titles and revenue, that is. Who suffers in the end? The author.

Jay Green, The Washington Post- Amazon sellers say online retail giant is trying to help itself, not consumers

In his 2019 Washington Post report, Jay Greene explained that in 2018, Amazon generated $42.7 billion in revenue from seller services, fees and commissions, and they have the power to charge for communication with account managers, push their own brands, alter pricing and control product exposure through advertising services.

That is a lot of money if you couldn’t figure that out, and authors are considered sellers as well. However, they also produce intellectual property, but as we have discussed before with the music industry, that doesn’t seem to actually matter no matter the legal jargon and threats. If intellectual property is work or invention that is the result of creativity, then shouldn’t the rights always be with the creator? Of course, people sell rights and this and that, but the origin remains and the creator of that specific work or invention will always be the same. That is an argument for another time, however, and law definitions are written a certain way on purpose.

Anyway, we’re spiraling here. The truth of the matter is reviews and publishers and self-publishing platforms are needed, but authors also need more flexibility when it comes to how they go about promoting their work because they deserve to make money off their intellectual property; especially considering most still maintain those rights. Authors should be aware that if their work only receives five-star ratings, then the reviews probably are not credible. I received a one-star review for Cursed: A Jack Swift Case recently, and that’s okay, not everyone is going to like your content, but what is said in these types of critiques needs to be considered as well. Due to cases of fraudulence, it has left authors and readers in a annoyingly difficult spot because sometimes both parties really need to take the time to dissect the review (time they don’t have) to see why a critic was unhappy or overzealous about the work, and if the rating was valid. With said one-star review, the reviewer was upset at a few word choices I used in dialogue (though the linguistics were consistent with a character’s personality). Did that warrant a one-star rating? Did the other 80,000 words not matter? Are we now teetering on the line on unwarranted censorship? Honest constructive reviews help everyone, but unfortunately, we all have to work for them.

Who are we really in competition with, and when did books become less about writing and more about the politics of the industry? Two of the most important things to do within the writing community is to support your fellow authors, and keep writing.

If you’re really bored, I will be more than happy to share past relevant research by scholars, and my theory paper as well if interested. Who has time for that? You should be writing because someone needs to make money off that.

Happy New Year!