I’m the administrator for several public pages over on Facebook. One of those pages was created for readers and fans of a series I was involved with to talk to the authors, ask questions about upcoming books in the series, and just be part of the inside group for that series. Readers were vested in us. They saw value in buying our books, because they “knew” us. The interaction between authors and readers wasn’t just about buying our books.
It was, by all accounts (including Facebook’s own analytics with the “Group Insights”) a very active group. Four authors creating content, engaging readers, letting readers have a peek into the process of writing. We had about 200 members, of which more than 150 were active on a regular basis in the group, which frankly was phenomenal. We gradually grew the group of readers. The active members stayed about the same, even when we reached 300 members.
And then someone got the idea to open the group up to other authors for posting. The idea was to bring the readers who follow those authors into the group. I was beyond hesitant. I warned that unless we set some ground rules immediately, our little group would turn into just another “buy my book” drive-by posting site on Facebook, and all the good will we had created with those 150 or so very active members would be squandered. I was told that “we would monitor the situation and if we have to, we’ll set up some rules for posting.”
Anyone care to take a bet as to what happened in that group?
As a founder of the group (not just an administrator), I admit to being protective of the relationship developed with the readers in that group. After a few months of “buy my book” drive-by postings and no other interaction with readers by these authors, group insights revealed engagement was way down. Surprise! (Yes, that is sarcasm.)
I went off on a rant in the reader group. I was told by other authors (in the author group for that page) it was unprofessional, how dare I show the warts and wrinkles of the writing life to readers, and even worse, HOW DARE YOU CRITICIZE OTHER AUTHORS? I made no apologies. I flat out refused to apologize for viewing readers as little more than a potential sale.
Two really interesting things came out of that rant. First of all, it was the most active post in the group for that whole month and readers publicly and privately thanked me for creating it. Secondly, even though at that point, the other admins realized we had a problem and set up specific days of the week for posting “buy my book” posts, group action continued to fall. The readers got it.
I’ve looked at group insights for this group again today. Even though we have garnered even more members, engagement is down. The most engaging posts are NOT the “buy my book” posts. They’re posts of interesting tidbits of history, pictures of period dresses, cute memes…that I and one other of the founding authors create. That being said, I am pulling back further and further from this group. I neither have the time nor the energy to fight what I see as an uphill battle against the drive-by posting. I’m no longer active in that group, and honestly that makes my heart hurt. Some of those readers when the page was started came into my street team. Others became “stalkers” of my author page. Because of Facebook friendships, a few other readers became people I count as friends in real life, even though I’ve never met them.
I’ll put my energy elsewhere. I wish all the authors posting in that group the best of luck. I guess, when you consider the time it takes to post a link in a space that has become little more than a free advertising site and keep on going to the next Facebook page to post the same link, the ROI might be acceptable. It isn’t to me. I NEVER want to view any reader as little more than a potential sale.
I’m a historian. Not by trade but by education and choice. When I write a romance set in a historical period, I research that period. I research where those romances are set. Even though every book I have written so far is set in the aftermath of the American Civil War, I still research before I commit to writing. Klint Caper’s backstory—the hero in Brokken Angel posed several problems for me, especially in light of the current trend to eviscerate authors for what is perceived as racism in historically accurate novels. I found myself utterly paralyzed by self-censorship. That paralysis brought all of my writing a complete and utter stand-still.
Racism in the history of the United States has always existed, in many forms—all of those forms just as ugly, just as damaging, just as deadly, and just as pervasive as it is purported to be now. Former Union general Philip Sheridan is reported to have said “The only good Indians I ever saw were dead.” Read some of the letters sent home by Union troops about what they NOT fighting for when the Emancipation Proclamation was revealed. Jim Crow laws held on in the Deep South until well into the mid-1960s. Let’s not forget the signs in New York City when a large wave of starving Irish immigrants arrived in the 1800s. “No Irish Need Apply.” Even as recently as the 1960s many stated they wouldn’t vote for John Kennedy because he was an Irish Catholic.
As a writer of historical romance (hint—it’s fiction), I still attempt to be as historically accurate as possible. That means revealing the prevailing public sentiment of the time, the mores of the period—warts and all. History is not and never has been clean or pretty or even just—but it is history. Were there those who defied the dominant public sentiment, bucked the mores? Of course. History is rife with those who refused to believe that “this is as good as it gets” or would not accept “this is how it’s always been done.” Our own national history is founded in the hope that there was a better way and the belief that tradition wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. We fought a Civil War and almost destroyed this beautiful experiment because of “tradition” and the hope that there was a better way.
I believe there is a better way, that the best is still to come, and only by viewing history through a dual lens that looks back and forward—NOT the mono vision of today’s standards—can we move forward. History is unchanging. Only the interpretation of it changes, much to the detriment of those who fail to understand attempting to define history by modern standards is a dangerous trap.
As an author who does her homework and fully researches a time period, the lives of those who lived in that period, who attempts to understand the prevailing social and political thought of the time (without bringing my own modern judgements to those thoughts), I would hope that I can write a character unlike me—a character who isn’t a white, middle-class, straight female—and do those characters justice.
My blog is where I do most of my venting about all sorts of things--book scammers, book stuffers, book thieves (I refuse to call them 'pirates' because I won't insult pirates), stupid crap that happens at dog shows. You never know what you'll read in this blog because I don't ever know what I'm going to write until I start writing.