I am one of those people who thrives on intimate conversation. My favorite sort is one-to-one, preferably barefoot, feet tucked under me on a couch, coffee cup in hand. If it’s a dinner gathering, I like small groupings of four, six people, max. But compel me to attend a large, loud cocktail party? Just the thought of standing in a living room trying to shout over the noise to hold a conversation makes me miserable. I say this with neither pride nor prejudice. I admire people who enjoy such events and put them to good use: Make friends. Forge new contacts. Network, network, network. Me? I just want to retreat to a back bedroom and wait until I can slip away without seeming rude.
Over the last year, I’ve discovered another expression of this aspect of my nature: I am not comfortable with social media. Like many of you, I’ve been forced to confront my resistance to social networking in the walk-up to a book launch. In my case, the book is a memoir, one that explores how I coped during a period that began with my husband’s diagnosis of leukemia and ended with four burials in seventeen months: my husband, sister, mother, and mother-in-law. Given the detail that I disclose about some of the most intimate and painful moments of my life, it would be reasonable to assume that, in order to lure readers, I’d be comfortable tweeting, pinning, blogging and posting about my life.
I have come to accept that I am not. For a few months, I tried to get into the spirit of—or at least get better-educated about—our interconnected age. I read up on the magic of SEO and buzzing my book. Watched online tutorials about how to build a website, then tried to build one. Subscribed to various blogs, Twitter accounts, Instagram feeds. Studied what fellow authors were posting on their Facebook pages to promote their books.
Quickly, my hours online began to feel like time at one of those noisy parties: so many voices, such a din. Even if I were to shout really, really loud (which is not my style), who would hear me? My “following” is miniscule—an apt reflection of my disinclination to communicate on social media sites. Still, I persevered. But as I tried to climb the learning curve and get beyond my discomfort, I discovered another obstacle lying in wait, a reminder, really: I am not a good multitasker. While tuned into social media, I couldn’t find the quiet mental space I need to write. And writing is what I like to do.
So, I abandoned my social media efforts and fashioned a different strategy. In coming months, I wrote and sold several magazine essays. Unlike haiku-style tweets and status updates, each was roomy enough to say something I truly wanted to say. Each produced income. Most important, as those pieces now hit the newsstand each advertises my book by mentioning the title in the small author bio at the bottom of the article. Collectively, they draw attention to my book, but in a way I find comfortable.
Looking back, I realize that I could have saved myself a lot of self-doubt and busy work if I’d paid closer attention to my posts on Facebook. In the five years since I created a personal page, I’ve written a grand total of five posts. The first two were “testing, one, two, three” messages to learn how the site works. The other three were brief messages to let far-flung friends know that my husband had died, that my sister had died, that I had remarried. But posts about my daughter, my dog, my reading habits, my pet political peeves, my feelings about Gwyneth’s marital break-up? Zero. It’s not that I don’t enjoy sharing things that interest, amuse, or give me pleasure. But when I feel moved to share, I prefer to communicate person-to-person, via email.
I’ve made my peace with my limitations. To build a website and penetrate social media, I’ve used my earnings from those magazine pieces to pay people who know what they’re doing—and, unlike me, enjoy doing it. When my book comes out, I’ll add a sixth post to my Facebook page: Please read my new memoir! Then, I’ll reach out the way I always have. One-to-one. Via email.
I know, it sounds dinosauric. But I can live with that. And I may not be quite as prehistoric as I sometimes feel. The other day while tuned to a financial report on the radio, I heard this gem: “The killer app? Email. You want people to visit your website, send them an email.”