I'm Not a Writer; I'm a Brand

As an author currently trying to convince the public at large, many of whom have recently been laid off, to spend a small chunk of money on my book, I've been getting a crash-course in the new world of online social marketing. My instructors are my agent and my publishing house; the textbooks are Gary Vaynerchuk's Crush It! and Seth Godin's Linchpin; the focus is on those who've Tweeted their way to success. The course is not elective but required if I want to continue to make my living as a writer.

I can't tell you how this thrills me. I can't tell you because I'm too busy upchucking all my ideas of what I thought it would be like to be a writer, a Real Writer.

Recently, my agent said, "Stop thinking of yourself as a writer and start thinking of yourself as a brand." I pondered this on my way home; if I were a brand, what brand would I be? Hormel? I'd really like to be Tiffany, but is that too alienating in these troubled times?

Praise for my book is high, but sales are low. The economy has been blamed, but since a few people whose names are not Dan Brown have, in fact, managed to clear shelves of their books -- in actual bookstores as well as virtual ones -- I'm being advised to emulate these masters of social media. Being at an in-between age where I'm neither as tech-clueless as my mother nor as savvy as my 13-year-old cousin, this feels like imitating a Picasso by doing a paint-by-numbers version. But fill in #6 with blue I must, because "Tweet or Die" is the new mandate from my industry. I love the publishing world, and I also love paying my rent and having food in the fridge, so I will dutifully Tweet and post.

I haven't found posting on Facebook to be a problem since my Friends and I find each other adorable and fascinating; I'll always hold Lauren's "I WANT CHICKEN!!" post near to my heart. Twitter, though, is a different beast. Who knew 140 characters could be such a burden? What to Tweet? Stuff as benign as a dinner preference, or the links to my blog? (Oy, the blog... That's another story.) And how often to Tweet? Gary Vaynerchuk Tweets so frequently I fear I may be arrested for stalking him, even though we're miles apart. I know exactly how many miles, too, because he Tweets me where he is all the time. I know where Gary Vaynerchuk is more precisely than I know where my husband is at any given hour of the day.

I was on Twitter when I read this quote from Seth Godin: "Writing isn't about money; it's about exposing yourself to others and seeing what happens." Well jeez, Seth, this is kind of unfortunate news to me, because all I know how to do, and the only way I've ever made a dime, is by writing. Fortunately, most of the dimes I've made have been by exposing myself through my writing, so maybe I can make a deal with this new online devil.

The only problem is that I'm doing so much Tweeting, posting, Digg-ing, sharing, blogging, and trying to make it all go viral, I have no time to write anymore. Maybe my brand is Toyota...

And at the end of the day, while I can rest easy knowing exactly where Garyvee is, do I know whether any of this monetized, as they say? In other words, did my social media blitz push a book out of Amazon's warehouse? The chicken-or-egg theory has been updated: In order to sell books, my instructors say, I must Tweet. But I must also have a following that may be so knocked out by my Tweet that they immediately order my book. But first I have to build a following. And how do I build a following? Tweet. But if a Tweet falls in the forest...?

I don't know whether someone like me can sell books via online social media networking/branding whatever. But according to 92 unique visitors, my blog about wanting to adopt a beagle totally crushed it.