Saturday, July 11, 2015

Cons, courtesy and the dangers of social media

In all the years I've been writing, and involved with the digital publishing industry, I have never failed to be aware of the importance of conventions. Terrifying at first, they became sources of pleasure - the vacations I sometimes missed out on personally, but found myself enjoying professionally. I have met and befriended wonderful people and visited places I never imagined ever seeing - thanks to the convention "circuit". For ten years I made sure I was at the biggest and also managed some of the smaller events - touching base and hugging readers in person is a joy indescribable to most of us writers.

However...there are the ugly facts of life to consider. Nowadays, conventions cost BIG bucks. Okay, the rooms are discounted (but even then, fees belt that daily charge back up again),  and there is a registration fee to take into account, most often higher than the year before. Then there is the terrible job of finding a flight. If I have to fly through O'Hare AND Dallas to get where I need to go without busting my budget...well, I'm going to think seriously about whether it's worth spending two days coming and going while enjoying the hospitality of the TSA.

See the picture emerging here? I am not independently wealthy. If I was, I'd be on my private beach while this would be being written by my ghost writer, Dave Barry. (Love that guy. Want to take him out for drinks and dinner. God, it would be fun!!!) Thus hard decisions have to be made about where, and where not, to go, because it's no secret that eBook sales are enjoying one hell of a roller coaster ride at the moment. I try to use my royalties for events, but these days? That would probably get me a cab to the airport. Or possibly the Metro.

Making con choices based on the financial end of things seems callous, but then again there are smaller events rapidly sprouting nationwide. If I'm faced with a $2000.00 bill for a "big" event, versus a $750.00 bill for a smaller event with fewer readers...well, duh, I didn't just fall off the turnip truck. In addition to the cost benefits, I KNOW I will get time to spend with the readers at the smaller con. Will I sell as many books? Actually, yes. Because one-on-one establishes a connection. The chances of one-on-one at a massive con with hundreds of readers scrambling to see their favorite big name author? Slim to none.

This, to me, makes sense. But here's where the second part of this blog enters the room and, sadly, darkens it. It does not make sense to everyone, it seems. This year has seen the unpleasant beginnings of a "whispering" campaign on popular social media aimed directly at smaller events. I saw it, and ignored it, until it hit an event I attended. I was, in fact, at my table at the event, when the whispers began. It was devastating for many reasons, not the least of which was the source - someone I had previously respected, and more than a few authors who should have known better than to jump on a bandwagon that had unverified wheels.

If it is plastered across a certain social site that I'm not selling books and in fact have packed up my table along with everyone else at the event, I would really like someone to tell me that, and also the reader on the other side of the table buying a book of mine at that moment.  I was gobsmacked; astounded and then disgusted. Apparently it is quite acceptable to lie like a cheap rug these days. Which is where the 'courtesy' part of this blog takes a real hit. Not that long ago, we were a community - a family of people who respected each other and were committed to writing the best books we could, then getting the word out by giving one hell of a party for those folks who kindly bought them and read them. We were never perfect, but were brought together by common goals and worked together without rancor, celebrating successes and commiserating at the bar with those of us suffering crappy reviews. Also sharing bottles of Advil the next morning.

What the F**K happened? Where did that environment go? Where is the common courtesy that requires you NOT LIE in such a brass-faced fashion to the many people who have cared enough to  'like' you? (Especially those who soak it up like it was gospel. JEEEEZ, people.) Am I THAT naive to believe it's wrong? It's done now, and over. But the community I thought I belonged to has fractured irreparably into something less. I'm saddened because it's just another in a series of blows our industry has suffered through no fault of its own - this time at the hands of social media, a dangerous weapon when wielded to harm and vilify.  So I ask you, readers and writers, to please remember we're all human. We try to live this life as best we can. We SHOULD NOT be trying to hurt anyone. And rediscovering our courtesy will go a long way toward helping.  Here's a few words from a dude who really nailed it...

Thanks Ralph. Well said.