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  • [SWP: Behind the Book] The Social Media Conundrum
[SWP: Behind the Book] The Social Media Conundrum
Written by
Jill Smolowe
April 2014
Written by
Jill Smolowe
April 2014

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.”     


Jill Smolowe’s new memoir, Four Funerals and a Wedding, explores resilience in a time of grief. You can read more about Jill and her book on her website, www.jillsmolowe.com.

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  • Jill, one of the things you nailed so aptly is the trade-off with maintaining one's digital platform - it takes time from writing. Sometimes I'll make myself feel better by thinking, "well, I did some writing on this post or that email" but mostly I want to shut down the computer and write. (Wait...I need Word. Oh, well)  Good job, Jill.

  • Nancy McMillan

    Thank you, Jill, for this post.  I read it with relief and reassurance.  I go back and forth with the social media, too. I set up a FB page last summer about my book, got excited initially, then quickly felt lost in the constant onslaught of other people's news.  I now visit FB only occasionally.  I don't tweet and whole idea of trying to say something in 140 characters seems absurd.  I don't even like the name of it!  Sounds either too bird-like or too much like tooting your own horn.  I am more seriously considering a blog, but I know it requires a commitment I'm not sure I want to take on.  So the conundrum continues.  It's so good to read about a writer who has found another way, a way that works for you.  Your voice of sanity helped me to take a step back and ask myself what I feel most authentic doing, and most comfortable.  Not that I don't think we should stretch our comfort zone, but I do believe in being true to myself.

  • Joan Z. Rough

    Thank you so much for your post, Jill.  I'm another one of those with social media phobia, though I've been pushing myself to do it.  I'm considering paying others to do the work I don't like.

  • Jill Smolowe

    All yours, Sherrey. And thanks to everyone else for weighing in. It helps to have support, especially when you feel like you're dogpaddling against the tide!

  • Meg Bortin

    Thank you, Jill. This is a wonderful post for those of us (and I'm sure there are quite a few) who are rather hapless on the social media front. I find your approach to be inspiring!

  • Sherrey Meyer

    This is the second post of yours that I've read today, the other being at The Memoir Project with Marion Roach. I am so glad to have clicked the "read more" link to this post. I struggle finding a balance between social media and the passion I feel for just sitting down and writing. I know what they tell me ... build your platform, put yourself out there, you've got to get noticed, etc., etc., etc. And like you, when I'm trying to figure out which venues to use, what to say, how to sound expert and savvy, I end up feeling like I want to run away from a too big party! I so appreciate your honesty and for being your authentic self. I may just adopt that same style, unless you've had it copyrighted. :)

  • Joanne S Frye

    Thank you so much for this. It's now been two years since my memoir (Biting the Moon: A Memoir of Feminism and Motherhood) was published, and I still can't do social media. I have a website but it is woefully neglected. And like you, I find it hard to think about new writing while trying to figure out the marketing angles. Your experience pushes me to turn in a direction that works for me: to write more and worry less about past writing. (But I still hope to update my website . . . http://joannefrye.com

    I look forward to reading your new memoir.


  • Colleen Haggerty

    This is a great post, Jill.  Thanks for sharing your process with us and staying true to your nature.  I'm happy to hear you've found success with submitting essays.  I'm at a juncture myself:  focus on social media, a milieu that requires a huge learning curve and is outside my comfort zone or focus on writing and submitting essays.  I'm encouraged that the later has worked for you.

  • Jill,

    Since I am, much like you, social-media averse, this was exactly what I needed to hear. There is another way to put oneself out there, and there's no point in fighting one's true nature. Thanks, and much success with the memoir.


  • Kay Rae Chomic

    Great post, Jill. Thanks for sharing. 

  • Kim Ivie

    Wow, you have overcome a lot! Congratulations on your perseverance and your book and I hope you have found happiness after so much grief. I will look for your book. Best wishes!