Tuesday, September 25, 2012


A recent confluence of events set me to thinking about social media lately, including an incident in which an agent, active on Twitter and Facebook, was attacked by someone who was able to use the media to follow her every move. Few industries have embraced the trend with the enthusiasm of publishing. Once, authors were encouraged to establish websites. These days, I can't imagine an author without one (although there are a few). Then came blogs, but they've largely been made obsolete by Facebook and Twitter, and it's reaching the point that many publishers don't even consider those two optional anymore.

Now, I actually like blogging. I started this blog nearly seven years ago, when we were still reeling from Hurricane Katrina and I had a lot to say. I don't post as often these days, but I still enjoy it. I am officially on Facebook, but I almost never post on it because I can never think of anything to say. Someone told me recently that Facebook is like cocktail party chat, and I thought, Ah, that explains it; I've always been lousy at parties. And if you can't think of something to say on Facebook, then you really can't think of anything to say on Twitter!

But here's a dirty little secret almost no one talks about: many of the bestselling authors so visible on Twitter and Facebook don't actually write their own posts; they hire someone to basically impersonate them on line. I understand why they do it; the publishers are so insistent. But keeping up with social media takes time. The more followers you have, the more time it takes to respond to all of them, and that's time a writer should be spending writing. So in desperation, they turn to assistants. Yet there's a level of dishonesty at work here that troubles me. I keep thinking of all the millions of readers out there, trustingly following their favorite authors on Facebook and Twitter, convinced they're getting to know those authors, and it's all just a hoax. Pay no attention to the assistant behind the curtain...

Yes, there are some bestselling authors on Facebook who really are on Facebook: Catherine Coulter is one who comes to mind. But I could name dozens of authors whose on line presence is really a paid assistant. I've no doubt the same thing is even more true of actors and musicians.

So what do you think? Is this just a giant hoax that everyone is in on and therefore it's okay? Is it all symptomatic of something disturbing? Or am I just being crabby?

Photos courtesy of my daughter Danielle.


Random Michelle K said...

For those of us that love Twitter, the people we tend to follow are those whose personality comes through.

The two biggest examples I can think of are Wil Wheaton and John Scalzi (and the interactions between the two are often hilarious: https://twitter.com/Scalzi/). Both take great glee in being ridiculously silly and use twitter for that rather than primarily for self-promotion. Except, of course, that making people laugh is perfect self-promotion. (IMHO)

Another author I follow, Ilona Andrews, also occasionally posts goofy stuff, but also tends to turn to twitter when she needs questions answered.

I'm sure there are lots of authors out there who do use Twitter solely for self-promotion, but those are people I have no interest in following.

And FWIW, I don't see Twitter as a cocktail party. I see it as the virtual water cooler at work--you need a five minute break from what you're doing so you head over, tell a few jokes, and when your mind is cleared, head back to work.

Le Fleur said...

That depends : are you being crabby because YOU don't have a paid assistant? ;-)

Also, good to know that not all authors aren't good at parties. Except now that I've typed that I feel foolish because of course there are reclusive authors

cs harris said...

Michelle, Thanks, that's an interesting look into its appeal. Like I said, I know there are some who actually do it and enjoy it, and so it's a medium made for them. I guess what disturbs me is that because it is so useful, publishers push those who don't want to do it into a level of dishonesty that many feel uncomfortable with and that results in something less than sincere.

La Fleur, LOL. I was probably crabby because I wrote this post at 3 a.m., having bought a couple of boxes of chocolates from the neighbor's children (chocolate keeps me awake, but I have no discipline).
I also should have included one of the things that provoked this post in the first place: an agent very active on social media was attacked by a mentally disturbed man who had become familiar with the patterns of her life by following her on Facebook and Twitter.

Charles Gramlich said...

I've often fantasized about having an assistant who would pretend to be me at conferences. Alas, until they create clones I guess it ain't gonna happen. I still haven't joined twitter, although I do the facebook thing fairly regularly.

cs harris said...

Charles, maybe I'm crabby because I'm such a control freak that I'd have a hard time trusting someone to be me, and it's not about the inherent dishonesty at all!

Random Michelle K said...

FWIW, I believe the are some celebrities who make it clear when their assistant is posting versus when they post something. That's one way to handle the issue if someone is pushing you into a media you don't feel comfortable with.

Re: the stalkers, I pretty much refuse to post live location information to Facebook, precisely because I don't trust all my acquaintances there (ie I don't trust them not to have their accounts hacked.) I'll post stuff after the fact, but not in real time.

But again, that's less of an issue when one uses Twitter as a place to be silly versus telling people, "I AM NOW ENTERING STARBUCKS." "I HAVE NOW LEFT STARBUCKS."

I also think it's ridiculous to *force* someone to use a technology unless it's on their own terms. If you wanna use Facebook as a place solely to share bad puns, then BY GUM you should be allowed to do it. (I don't recommend that course of action for most people, but it DOES work for George Takei...)

If it were me, I'd say, "sure, I'll do Facebook, but I'll do it on my own terms."

Really, it seems to me that being real and honest is far more useful in the long run than being popular for a short time.

cs harris said...

Michelle, I must say that I'm glad to hear that some celebrities are honest about their assistants, because the authors I'm thinking about are not. I guess there are actually three things that disturb me (I should have written this post when I was more wide awake!): the dangerously personal information these sites can lull people into revealing; the dishonesty the formats can engenders; and the extent to which the industry is now pushing authors and agents to do something many are not comfortable with. But I'm tilting at windmills here; this is the reality of the modern entertainment industry.

Random Michelle K said...

Well, keep in mind I'm a "genre" reader, so perhaps that makes a difference?

FWIW, I was thinking that what would be cool on FB or Twitter would be if you posted random historical facts about your time period--things you're researching for your book etc.

I, myself, would find that fascinating.

But then I'm a tremendous geek. And proud of it.

cs harris said...

Michelle, that's funny, because I just put up a new post on that very thing! I never thought about trying to do that with Facebook, too.

Anonymous said...

I'm not on Facebook or Twitter (I'm just a reader), but I can't see the point of supposedly being on them yet having someone else write your stuff. I guess publishers are working on the basis that constantly hearing a name works as marketing. I would argue that it isn't going to work to win new people over unless it's very true to the individual.

As a reader, I would be seriously annoyed if I were following an author who wasn't writing her own posts. And since I suspect that is true of all true fans, faking it could be seriously counterproductive. I like reading blogs written by my favourite authors, but I know that they can't blog too often because they need to spend time writing. I'd certainly rather they didn't spend time on Twitter or Facebook when they could be writing the next book!

Liz said...

Thanks for addressing this whole social media thing. I do think that keeping up with everything can be overwhelming and take away from time better spent writing (or in my case designing and knitting). I definitely enjoy blogs and blogging (even if done only once a month) because they provide background and insight into what someone is thinking. In my case, they can also provide extra instructions. I've made the decision not to join Facebook or Twitter because of privacy concerns and because they really can swallow up too much of one's day. Even with blogs, there is a fine line to tread between the public and private, especially where other family members are concerned. I always ask family, friends, and students for permission to include photos and/or information about them on my blog.

Le Fleur said...

Love the idea about writing information on locations in your book. I'm always curious about that info.
I think that people want to follow their favorite authors, actors, etc because they want to know the person behind the public persona, (one reason why I love this blog) and agree that it's a serious violation of trust to not disclose that the postings are not from the actual person.

I also have no self control, that is why I try to eat all my chocolate as early in the day as possible.

Jonesatwr said...
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