Craig Lancaster is an award-winning Montana-based fiction writer comfortable with the anything-goes approach of publishing today. In 2009 he self-published his first novel “600 Hours of Edward,” which the small press Riverbend later reissued, and then the book was reissued again by AmazonEncore.
. . . .
Fellow Montana writer David Abrams — whose first novel “Fobbit” was a 2012 New York Times Notable Book of the Year and a finalist for an L.A. Times Book Prize — took a more traditional path to publishing.
. . . .
I interviewed them about the interplay between social media and their writing careers.
. . . .
Craig, how did your approach to social media change at each step in your career? Do you think the fact that you have been so active on the Internet contributed to your publishing opportunities?
Craig Lancaster: When I was trying to get published originally — and, jeez, 2009 seems like a long time ago, especially when you consider all the tectonic changes in publishing since then — I had read all the advice about having a social-media presence and how that might make a prospective author more attractive to a publisher. But I didn’t really know how to go about doing that. I mean, it’s great if you have an audience like, say, Nathan Bransford, but I didn’t and don’t and probably won’t. I blogged because I wanted to chronicle the journey in a way that entertained me, if no one else. I took to Facebook because it was a good fit for me. At the time, I was reconnecting with a lot of people from high school and college and earlier stops in my career, and the way the site worked just made some intuitive sense to me. I like to get in there and mix it up.
I don’t know how much effect it had on my books being published. I’d like to think I got published because I wrote good books. And I certainly haven’t seen social media as a tool to generate more attention for my work. If anything, the online version of me is pretty much what you get in person: a guy who’s funny and weird and a little bit all over the place.
In a professional sense, the nice part about social media is the way it allows me to connect with people who’ve read my books. I’m all about removing links from the value chain between writers and readers, and Facebook and Twitter do that. It’s a kick to interact with folks who’ve found something worthwhile in what I’ve written. Hell, it’s even kind of fun with the people who think I’m an unyielding hack.
. . . .
What social media platform is most effective for you, as best as you can gauge, either in terms of book sales or in terms of connections made — Twitter, Facebook, a blog, a website, Goodreads, or something else?
DA: It’s nearly impossible for me to correlate book sales with anything, really — apart from bookstore signings where I see the actual receipt peeking out of the pages when people hand me their copy of “Fobbit” to sign. I can spend hours twisting myself in knots over whether or not I’m going to get a “bump” in sales from this or that tweet or blog appearance, but it’s so hard to feel any ripples without actually seeing the stone that caused it. In the end, social media is all about the connections you make — relationships that form between two individuals, wholly unrelated to whether or not a book will be sold. In terms of the best platform … frankly, I most enjoy spending time on Twitter — the links to book news, the Instagram pics, the pithy one-line jokes; but if I really want to engage with followers, I go to Facebook. I get a much more immediate, stronger reaction from people I “know” on Facebook.
CL: Facebook has been a boon as far as connections, as has Twitter to a lesser extent (for me — your mileage may vary). My website is pretty much a stake in the ground, and my blog — with two whopping entries since April — is only slightly less static.
I have no data on how Facebook and Twitter have affected my sales, but I would guess it’s minimal. What usually happens is some casual friend on Facebook will say, “Hey, I didn’t know you wrote a book.” That’s always amazing to me, because I have a high sensitivity to posting too much about the work for fear that I’ll become really annoying about it. It takes a lot to penetrate some people’s lives online.
I guess there are authors out there making bank with their Facebook posts and tweets, but I’m not one of them. In any case, I wouldn’t even want to attempt to be that craven about it. I know some authors like that, whose only utterances in social media are about their books, and I start to tune those folks out. I’m much more interested in being me, having some fun, getting to know some people, and being available if fans of my work want to talk.
. . . .
How do you balance participating in social media so that you have an active presence on the Internet without interfering with the writing of your next book, your family time, or your day job?
DA: Oh this is the Big Burning Hemorrhoid Question of my life these days — how do I spend the few remaining minutes and hours of my briefly allotted time here on Earth? Should I read Proust, or should I Google “Mylie Cyrus twerk” and see what comes up? I think you know which ill-advised path I usually end up taking. I love the Internet and I hate the Internet in equal measures. I spend a lot of my time battling the tyranny of email and trying to keep myself locked out of Twitter so I can have some quality time with my keyboard. I have to paste notes to myself all around my desk that say, “Write, Don’t Tweet” and “Stay Off-Line” and “Just Write One Good Sentence Today.” It’s a constant struggle to find that balance and I am a weak-willed person. It would be hard for me to go completely cold turkey with my Internet addiction, but I do wish I was a little stronger — especially at 5 a.m. when I’m approaching my computer fresh for the day, all ready to begin work on a new chapter in the novel, and then I start hearing the siren song of Twitter.
CL: Well, one of the nice things about my advancing career is that I no longer have a day job. It’s just me and the writing and the book sales and whatever amount of workshop teaching and freelance editing and design I have to do to keep the financial chains moving.
I’m pretty rigorous about how my time is used. When my wife comes home from work in the evening, I’m hers. Whatever amount of work I’ve done, or however much I’ve played around on Facebook and Twitter, ends there. Until the next day.