Sunday, January 24, 2010

Friend or…Fan?

Although I don’t really like terms that include s-n-a-r-k, I find that at the moment this is the most appropriate word to describe the tone of this post. I just have the urge to engage in a little writer snarkiness, so for this post, pretend I’m not an agent. Pretend for a moment that I’m a writer and, more importantly, a reader.

I’ve come across a strange phenomenon on Facebook, and since it has to do with semantics, it captured my interest. Many writers use FB as a marketing tool with great success, as well as Twitter and other social networking/crowd sourcing type applications. One of the keys to being good at marketing your book is interpersonal communication skills and knowing how to relate to people who enjoy (or don’t enjoy) your work. To do this, you have to ask yourself some questions:

1. What do readers want from my book?
2. What do readers want from me as an author?
3. How do readers perceive authors and publishing in general?

If you’re a reader, which most writers are, you understand these questions, and you can answer them. Think about one of your favorite authors. What attracts you to her book? What level of interest do you have in the author? Some people want to meet a favorite author. Others want to hang out with him and have some nice conversation. Some readers don’t care about the author as long as she keeps writing the books they like. There are also those readers who just want to meet an author because they think that—and I’m desperately trying to keep a straight face as I write this—being an author is glamorous.

That brings me to my observation, which may or may not be worth the pixels that display it. On FB, a person can have up to 5,000 Friend connections, or “Friends.” We all know that on FB, “friends” is a catchall term that can mean anything from, “I don’t know this random stranger but I’m a marketing dynamo and will friend anyone who might buy my book,” to “This is my mother who carried me for nine long and laborious months,” with varying degrees of familyship, friendship, acquaintanceship, strangership, and professionalship in between. After the 5,000 limit is reached, no more Friends can be added. This leaves some authors in a dilemma. What does one do when he reaches that limit and still receives Friend requests and there’s oh-so-much more marketing to do?

This is where it gets interesting, as I’ve seen a couple of different solutions. One is that authors establish a Fan Page, which basically allows for the same type of interaction but has no limit. Some authors send a kind note explaining the situation and politely encouraging the person sending the Friend request to Become A Fan. Actually, most authors do this. However, I’ve seen one or two authors create another FB Profile to accommodate the rest of the people who’d like to connect with them.

Which do you think is best?

While you’re pondering that, let me give you my take on it. This is from me as a reader and writer, remember, not as a agent.

To be quite frank, it usually really irks me to friend an author whose work I admire, which I do under my pen name, only to receive an e-mail informing me that the person is no longer accepting friend requests and requesting that I please join her Fan Page. Now this isn’t necessarily insulting in and of itself. I have gotten some responses that were so kindly worded that I wasn’t insulted, because the author truly didn’t seem to know what else to do, and he had 4,999 friends already. These authors get me as a Fan, even though there is another solution.

However, the authors who write who have 2,000 friends and are directing me to their Fan Pages are doing it because after friending anyone and everyone in a marketing frenzy, they suddenly realized they may not be leaving room for the really important people who can help them achieve personal glory, i.e. agents, editors, and publishers. Readers, well they’re just fans anyway, right? Just a target demographic?

Also, I think these writers believe that having thousands of Fans sounds more impressive than having thousands of Friends, at least to a publisher. Or so these authors think. I know what I think. I think said author views me as some schmuck who might buy her book as opposed to a real human being who might want to connect to an author whose work I admire. She is purposely herding me in with all the other people in the demographic her book serves.

Oh, I know that a Fan Page has no limit and that an author can still communicate in the same way as on a Profile, but the words Friend and Fan have different connotations, and believe it or not, some people find the minute differences very important. Some people, meaning the readers who are actually the ones whose cash funds your paycheck.

Networking via establishing connections with publishing industry professionals is important; however, realizing that treating a reader like a sales unit can turn off even the most loyal fan is even more important. It sends a message about what the writer thinks of the “little people” who comprise the foundation of his career. As a writer, you can always think your readers are mere rungs on the ladder to success, but letting them know in no uncertain terms that they fall low on your priority list is a really bad idea.

A couple of writers actually started second profiles to accommodate Friend requests, and they have a Fan Page as well. While this may be more work and will probably prove to be terribly inefficient, apparently these authors “get” how important words, particularly labels, can be, in one’s marketing efforts. Imagine that. A writer who understands the value of words. Wonders never cease, do they?

Perhaps FB will change the Friend limit, and this will be a moot point, or maybe it’s just me being overly sensitive to the nuance of words. That happens sometimes. I don’t think so, though. I know that, as a writer, I think the world of the people who take the time to sit down and read something I’ve written, especially after paying for it, and for me to say “Sorry, you can’t be my Friend, but you can be my Fan,” just seems somehow dismissive. If they’d wanted to be my Fan, they’d have searched for my Fan Page to begin with, don’t you think?

Like I said, maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m just hyper-sensitive to words. They’re how I process, think, resolve, function. My life is the written word, even grocery lists. All words have a story to me. All words have meaning. None of them can be wasted. So perhaps I'm just being too critical. I mean, what does my opinion matter anyway?

I'm just a reader. *wink*


Melissa said...

Not at all snarky, and very well put.

Gary said...

Very well put. Never thought about the difference between labeled as a friend or a fan. But there is one, isn't there.

Gary said...

There is a difference between being labeled a friend or a fan, isn't there.

Anonymous said...

Interesting points. However, Facebook does encourage those using their accounts to establish a business presence to create "fan pages" instead of using a personal profile for this. FB also likes to remind us that creating more than one personal profile (even if only creating a duplicate, as you suggest, in order to accommodate a larger number of "friends") is against their terms of service and as I understand can result in sudden deactivation of one or both accounts. I think most authors are only trying to make themselves available in spite of all these changes in technology and social conventions and so should just be cut a break.

Wylie Merrick Literary said...

Sorry, Anonymous, but we thought this comment got published and just discovered it did not. Blogger malfunctions on comments sometimes. Our apologies.

Anyway, you make good and valid points. I'm not suggesting anyone violate FB's TOS, just noting that some authors were aware of the distinction between friends and fans, which I am obviously more sensitive to than most. I also did make a distinction between authors who really didn't know what else to do and those who make it clear that their fans are just a target demographic, and that, I think, is one of my main issues with some writers who market ineffectively. Marketing through social networks can be difficult and tricky. I think many authors aren't sure what they want to accomplish when they begin, and so they add fans to their personal pages not realizing there's another option, then realize that maybe that's not such a good idea or discover Fan pages exist. Marketing has to be well thought out in advance and there has to be a strategy to it, especially in the 21st century. That can be a challenge with the tools, which are limitless, changing every day. What a learning curve we have to endure as opposed to authors of the past. Thanks for your comments. :)