Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The MJ Manifesto - Some Thoughts

Maureen Johnson, popular YA author has planted her flag and declared a line she will not cross.  MJ (as she is called by her fans) is almost a cult figure in the YA community and one of the 'must follows' on Twitter.  Her blog and her books are wildly popular and her name is one to conjure with in some circles.

Yesterday, she put her foot down on the hot-button topic of SELLING YOURSELF TO EVERYONE YOU MEET and CREATING YOUR BRAND and SELLING YOUR GODDAMN BRAND TO ANYONE WHO WILL LISTEN.  And other things that I'm required* by the Chicago Manual of Style to spelled in all caps.  Writers hear it all the time.  Every book, every blog, every magazine tells us that we are brands and if we're not, we're fools.  The writer has to be the key that winds a social media and self-marketing machine or YOU ARE DOOMED! DOOOOOMED!!.

But it's all BS because what the so-called social media experts who push this version of social media "branding" don't get is that social media exists to circumvent that kind of thing, to make it easier to ignore it.  Because social media is a two-way street.  It's not about shouting slogans and titles at your friends, it's about making friends and building community.

And what kind of friend would I be if I didn't buy your book?  Get it?
"The more the internet expands, the more people—okay, authors, who are a KIND of people—are being encouraged* to go online and PROMOTE, PROMOTE, PROMOTE! To aid in this endeavor, these poor writers are being shipped off to conferences where they roll out people like me under the guise of being experts on something. And in general, the quality of advice is pretty craptastic. “Get a Facebook page!” “Get lots of people to LIKE you!” “SHOUT THE TITLE OF YOUR BOOK AT PEOPLE UNTIL THEY START CRYING AND BUY IT.”
Maureen Johnson
MJ is one of the 'must follows' on Twitter.  It's a crime that she doesn't have a million followers.  She's one of the few writers I've followed online that I haven't knocked back a beer or two with or at least shaken hands with.  Frankly, I'm not her target audience, but it's difficult not to like her.  And she does social media as naturally as breathing.  She is genuine, funny, accessible and creative and quirky as all get out.

And she knows what she's talking about.  The more she demurs the appellation of "Social Media Expert" the more I'm inclined to take her advice because the so-called "experts" have failed to grok social media and are falling behind as the collaborative Web 2.0 model takes hold.**

Should you promote yourself and your work?  Of course you should.  But as she points out, there's a long walk between the advice of the SHOUT UNTIL THEY BELIEVE YOU model of social marketing and the true heart of social media.  There's a difference between making a connection and selling Band Instruments to the kids and then skipping town before they realize they've been had.

I've written a manifesto or two in my time or at least written several things that could be mistaken for one.  This is the first time I think I've really recommended one on this blog.  A few months ago, I outlined three authors I thought were the real pioneers in this game.  Two of them are already walking the path she's laying out here, creating genuine community, engaging in the conversation.  (Anthony Zuiker is the only one who didn't and his innovative project fizzled.  There's a lesson there in bringing people along rather than imposing your vision, but I digress.)

You can shout your message and repeat it until we're sick of it.  Some people will buy it and some people will even like it.  But that's not social media, it's old-school marketing.  MadMen, style.  Missing the point that when you are genuine and engaging and actually have something to say you're actually using the medium to be social.

Which is kind of the point, isn't it?


*Not really, but marketers do it all the time anyway.
** This footnote is just here as an homage to MJ, who loves footnotes.

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Pages to Type is a blog about books, writing and literary culture (with the occasional digression into coffee and the care and feeding of giant robots).