Strangers on the Interwebs

When Beth and I set out to become Luminous Creatures, we knew nothing about being self-published authors. We simply wanted to do it, and with characteristic earnestness and eagerness, we leapt into the deep end of the pool. Marketing quickly emerged as our butterfly stroke—you know the butterfly stroke, the one no one can learn, the one that makes you feel like you’re a flailing cow in the water? That’s marketing.

Our deepest marketing questions: In a market flush with too many options, how do you convince a reader to take a chance on your unknown book? Particularly when you’re working on a budget of dreams and effort rather than money?

Determined to solve the mysteries of marketing with minimal flailing, we explored options. Social media emerged as an obvious avenue, though we were both a little skeptical about how participating in these websites might translate into actual sales. As Beth pointed out loudly in the middle of our favorite meeting spot, The Barefoot Café in Fairfax, California, “Twitter is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard of. Tweeting is a moronic verb.”

Aside—the folks at Barefoot must get a kick out of us. We’ve had some pretty funny conversations there:

Beth, earnestly, in her onstage voice: “Did you know? I’m an extrovert! I can belt a conversation across the room from the power of my butthole.”

Emily, wryly: “Really? I had no idea.”

Then there was the time we performed squats after lunch to determine the best way to describe Emmeline’s exercise regime in The Velocipede Races.

Oh, yes. They love us at the Barefoot.

Being the introvert to Beth’s extrovert, I wanted nothing to do with putting my private thoughts on a public board. Being the intrepid extrovert that she is, Beth opened a Twitter account. Here’s what I love about my writing partner: She hates it? She thinks it’s moronic? She does it anyway!

I dug in my introverted heels, saying, “I don’t like interacting with strangers on the interwebs. It’s creepy.”

Beth agreed she’d be the official Luminous Creature on Twitter and cheerfully tweeted away, usually posting something about our books. She complained [loudly] about the stupidity of it for several weeks. But a month or two later, she began to make friends with other self-published writers, specifically those who write Jane Austen spin-offs like some of her recent work. She connected to a whole wide world of Austen fanatics.

We kept exchanging startled looks over lunch and saying, “Who knew there were so many Jane Austen fans out there hungering for sequels?”

Beth found a blog to review Mary Bennet and the Bloomsbury Coven and wrote a guest post. She connected with a young woman in England and exchanged reviews. Mysterious marketing leads were arising! The social media were working! With great reluctance and a fair amount of [quiet] grumbling, I slumped to my desk and opened my own account on The Twit to begin the painful process of interacting with strangers on the interwebs.

At first, I was overwhelmed by self-published authors tweeting the titles of their book IN CAPITAL LETTERS and the seemingly endless stream of people informing me that their wrists hurt because #amwriting and OMG 1550 words today!!! Gradually, I learned to use the list function to sort the interesting tweeps from the shameless self-promoters, the thinkers from the whiners.

And now, in the past two months, two exciting things have happened because of strangers on the interwebs! I can hardly believe it. Momentum Magazine, which covers “the bicycling lifestyle,” put out a call for bike commuters interested in being interviewed. I submitted my name because I wanted to promote The Velocipede Races, which I largely composed while commuting by bike, desperately repeating phrases as I rode so I could scribble them on index cards when I arrived. Momentum wrote me back with interview questions and photo specs and collected my replies in a matter of days. I’m currently waiting to receive my free copy. Keep your eyes peeled for the April/Spring issue on stands in your local health food store. You can also check out Momentum online.

The second, more exciting lead revolves around writing. I follow Maggie Stiefvater on The Twit. She is the author of fantastic YA books, including The Scorpio Races and The Raven Boys, and she is also an entertaining and humorous tweep who made it onto my “real people” list for her amusing posts. A few weeks ago she posted a match-up on her blog for writers to connect with potential critique partners—not friend crit-partners as all mine have been—but rather strangers-from-the-interwebs critique partners. I submitted my data and bit my nails. I exchanged information with five other writers, including brief descriptions of my works-in-progress, an introduction to my reading and writing interests, and of course, samples of my work for them to critique.

Two of my exchanges were discouraging, one a flat-out poor match, the other a rather painful case of drastically different writing styles and strong opinions. But the third stranger was a match! I was so excited to receive my first feedback from Tony Caruso of Long Island, New York. And truly, I was even more excited to give my first feedback to him. My secret fantasy profession—aside from a velocipede jockey or a circus acrobat—is an editor.

At any rate, I thoroughly broke out the red text all over Tony’s gripping work-in-progress, Welcome to the End. People who know me know I only bother with the red text if I think something is good. But I’m so used to working with Beth that it never occurred to me to take it easy on my first real possibility of a new crit-partner. I’m a little…avid. Especially if I get to write rather than talk, though those of you who have heard my rant about the pitfalls of belly-breathing and the importance of the side-belly muscles may think I’m…avid when I speak, too.

After hitting send on my editing demonstration, I gnawed my already-chewed nails. Had I been too aggressive? Would he think I was a big meanie for creating all that red sprawl on his pristine document?

And there it was, quickly! The reply! I opened it with a shaking hand. (One of the reasons I now know Tony is a good crit-partner match for me is that he always gets back to my emails very promptly, and he writes a nice long chunk of an email when he replies, too.) He told me he was surprised when he first saw my edits, and my hopes fell.

He hates my comments. I’m a big meanie.

Soul-searching commenced. I admitted to being aggressive when it came to editing. I asked myself, Am I one of those people? A nasty dream-crusher?

If I am, I defended, it’s not my fault. It’s all that ballet training when I was a child. I only learned to give criticism because we had no time for compliments while seeking perfection.

Tony, a mature, open-minded sort, reassured me that he thought my edits were helpful, and we have proceeded with sharing more. He sent me edits on the first few chapters of my epic fantasy book, The Gantean, offering suggestions for line edits, cuts, and world-building. The exchange has so far been an incredibly rewarding process and fascinating, too. I’ve gotten to do fact-checking research on pharmaceuticals, methods of murder, minarets, and the difference between acids and bases. I’ve gotten to experiment with recreating fight scenes in the privacy of my office, not to mention discussing the best insult for a teenage girl to use on her sister.

Who knew it could be so much fun to connect with strangers on the interwebs?

3 thoughts on “Strangers on the Interwebs

  1. Nancy Street

    Wow! What a delightful read “Strangers on the Interwebs” is. It was humorous, as well as thoughtful. And great to see how networking really does work for marketing. Keep it up–I look forward to more great works from both of you.

  2. Bradford

    This is a perfectly written little essay – thoughtful, balanced, precise, humorous (at good Beth’s expense, but Emily’s too – the Barefoot must be a lively cafe). And the author admits to learning a little something as well. “The Interwebs” has a nice archaic (?) sense to it. Most enjoyable. An essayist in the making?


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