I Hate Losing Friends …

I am a pleasant guy. Honest. Look at me. Not terribly shifty, am I? And all I do is write books, after all. I am a very nice fellow.

So why have I just ditched several hundred friends and friend requests from Facebook?

It is a weird thing, that whereas in the past, authors were left alone to get on with silly little concepts like, perhaps, writing books.

In those halcyon days there were teams of publicists and PR folks to sell books. They would go all over the place busily selling the idea of having the author visit, but only if there was a pleasing hotel in which the author could be installed.

Authors had to get on with the books. Sitting in a lonely garret, ideally. They’d wake with a mild hangover, stretch, perform some physical exercises, pulling the wrapper from the pack of cigarettes and lighting up the first of the day. Then it’d be down to the desk, to bash out the couple of pages of perfect prose that were required (on the worn out manual that was de riguer) before calling on the agent or editor to begin the build up to the next day’s headache.

Nowadays, authors are left to sink or swim. Don’t get me wrong: it’s done me proud over the years. I am a trained salesman, and getting up on my hind legs in front of an audience or signing books holds no fear for me. The nearest I ever got to being scared was going to run a presentation for Kent County Council when I worked at Wang, when there were some 120 staff present, and I had to coordinate a team of engineers, support guys and programmers in a full day of presentations. It was hard work.

So, yes, I am used to meeting people.

Trouble is, of course, publishers don’t really want authors doing things like that. Because a publisher like mine has hundreds of authors. Possibly many hundreds. And if they have to spend money to send me to America to give some talks, that would work out expensive. Far better to concentrate on a smaller number of scribblers. The top sellers.

This isn’t a gripe, incidentally. I am quite used to the realities of the business world. Publishers have a small pot of money to distribute among a small number of books and writers. They have to be careful how they spend it. I’d like a bit more – but who wouldn’t want a little more?

Still, all this means publishers more and more often have to rely on authors being self-starters. Which again is no problem to me. I am used to starting projects and getting them to work.

Like this. Writing blogs. No, I don’t do it purely for fun. There’s an ulterior motive.

One of the great ways to get to new potential readers of books is to write blogs, tweets, and comments on Facebook. They are all good marketing devices.

Of course, Facebook is very good because it gives an author like me the chance of speaking with readers. It is so good, I managed to get to 5,000 friends in January. And then, suddenly, I couldn’t like anyone, add more friends: nothing.

Of course now I know that Facebook restricts everyone to that magical number. You reach it, and everything stops. It’s a way to stop businesses from taking advantage, I suppose.

So, I set up a new page – an author page. People don’t have to be my friend on that page. Brilliant.

So what, I wondered, should I do now?

I began to write to all my excess friends. It’s easy, I thought. I’ll just mailshot the 5,000 and ask them to like my new page. Easy. They’ll all migrate themselves.

That was what I thought.

Did you know that Facebook prevents mailings to more than 25 people at a time? No, neither did I. Makes it sort of slow to ask people to migrate. I spent an entire evening trying, and at the end of that I’d contacted several hundred people.

Not enough. Nowhere near enough. Even now, I still have getting on for four thousand listed.

And I’ve been getting friend requests ever since, too. Hundreds of them. So another thing I’ve done is write to them to apologise, but say no, I cannot be your friend. I’ve got too many already.

Sounds sort of arrogant and rude, doesn’t it? “I am so popular, I have thousands of friends, but you don’t measure compared with them.”

But even while I was reviewing all these people, I found that there were some I wanted to keep.

There were writers. I like writers. But I was good and didn’t take them. Even the ones who were long-established.

No, it was the others that got me. The number of people who wrote and asked to be my friend, but blocked me from seeing anything at all about them. Now I am pretty conscientious. I looked at every request with a view to seeing whether I knew them or not. But lots have set up their pages so that I could see nothing about them at all, and could not even send them a message.

They were easy to remove. I want to be fair, but if there is a person who (in one case) has a strange avatar, a name I don’t recognise, no means of mailing her, and no rights to see her profile page to see if I knew her, well, removing her was easy!

Others were harder. The ones who were keen. A lovely lady who’d sent me a note asking whether I would accept her because she loved my books. Another who was a writer who admired my books.

And this is the full circle bit.

You see, like I said up top, writers used to live in splendid isolation. We sat at our desks and worked, happily unaware of the real world outside our doors.

Not now. We cannot. Fans intrude into our daily lives too often. In the past, writers were held on a bit of a pedestal. Now, we’re common property. People want to contact us. They want to know why we wrote that scene, why the character behaved in that way, why we used that area, that period, that weather, even.

And that, to me, is fine. I am happy, even when I get asked whether I’ve committed adultery because in one of my books I had a knight behave in a naughty manner. I’ve also killed several tens of people in thirty books, but no one ever asks if I’ve committed murder.

And I haven’t – murder or adultery – incidentally. But I do have quite a few friends. Real ones, many of whom I met on Facebook.

Thanks, guys!

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

3 Responses to “I Hate Losing Friends …”
  1. Carole Schultz says:

    Another great blog, thanks!


  2. Avril says:

    I suppose the analogy is like comparing contemporary crime fiction to the ‘golden age’ when people could get away with stuff editors won’t accept now. I like to think I write puzzle crime stories, the odd bit of violence etc., but no bloodfests. Writers are now beset by ‘rules’ – including the most stupid one, to me, of POV – no omnipotent POV, no authorial voice. Why not? Frederick Forsyth does this all the time and I don’t notice myself saying ‘oh, authorial voice, must stop reading at once.’ A damn good story is a damn good story.

    I find myself in a kind of limbo land. My agent is doing her utmost to find me an editor and, whilst she does this, there is no way I can start marketing something that doesn’t yet exist. So, I tweet and blog about my life and my writing habits and hope that somewhere along the line, someone gets the message that, actually, I CAN write well and is willing to take a chance. Chance?? Publishers?? Wash my mouth out!


    • Avril, it is enormously hard out there. I agree with you about POV and guys like Fred Forsythe. He is about the best thriller writer we’ve produced in the UK, and his books still stack up well compared with most of the modern crop. But editors are directed in the sort of books they can take on, and since they all have similar degrees, they know what they ‘should’ be looking for. And they all have to stand up and discuss any new concepts in an editors’ meeting, and if all their colleagues dislike the book they’ve picked, it’s their future that suddenly looks dodgy. So you can understand their caution. Not that it helps.
      Good luck, though.


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