You Are Not a Gadget…Or, at Least, You Shouldn’t Be

One of Matt Staggs’ links last week was to a New York Times Book Review piece on Jaron Lanier’s book You Are Not a Gadget. I haven’t read the book, but the description of its main points really resonated with me, especially because I’m currently taking a break from Facebook and my personal blog.

This part of the review made perfect sense to me:

Mr. Lanier, a pioneer in the development of virtual reality and a Silicon Valley veteran, is hardly a Luddite, as some of his critics have suggested. Rather he is a digital-world insider who wants to make the case for “a new digital humanism” before software engineers’ design decisions, which he says fundamentally shape users’ behavior, become “frozen into place by a process known as lock-in.” Just as decisions about the dimensions of railroad tracks determined the size and velocity of trains for decades to come, he argues, so choices made about software design now may yield “defining, unchangeable rules” for generations to come.

This argument and others from his book mirror my own concerns about new media. Even as I’ve embraced much of what new/social media has to offer, I also strongly recommend, in Booklife and in my lecture for MIT, thinking about what you’re doing and remembering the importance of balance. In particular, these points:

(1) New media tools like Facebook and Twitter are exactly that—tools. They are not strategies. Just getting on Facebook, creating a blog is not a strategy or a plan. I can’t repeat that enough.

(2) It’s when you mistake the tools for a strategy that you begin to not only become tactical and reactive but also limited in your thinking because of the limitations of the tools.

(3) The most successful writers in the future will be the ones that stop responding in Pavlovian fashion to our current need for that little food pellet in the form of a response to a Blog entry, Twitter line or a Facebook status message.

(4) Further, the tools which you help realize both a creative project and create interest for it are constantly changing. Thus a focus on the tools is a focus on what will all too soon be the past.

(5) A focus on tools thus also means that you are in some ways limiting your options by letting the limitations of the tool and the preconceptions the tool engenders shape your project. Don’t let your imagination become a lackey to a new media tool. If a tool controls your actions, it to some extent controls your imagination.

Lanier’s book also seems to make strong arguments about not supporting mob behavior on the internet, something that we’ve seen too often—in which sheer force of numbers seems to win an argument, even when there hasn’t been true or logical discussion of the issues. Nuance suffers and the facts tend to become distorted.

Food for thought–and a book I’ll be picking up shortly. Amazon has an interesting interview with the author here.

Booklife Guest David J. Williams, with “Viral Marketing Case Study: Or, How I Built Fake Websites to Sell My Real Books”

Today, a great guest post by author David J. Williams , whose futuristic military thrillers I quite enjoy–tightly written, intelligent, and exciting. This is being posted on Tuesday rather than the regular Wednesday due to a WordPress issue. – JeffV

er, hey, is this thing live? Well, first of all, thanks a ton to Jeff for inviting me to say a word or two about how I’ve been marketing my Autumn Rain trilogy (consisting of the books THE MIRRORED HEAVENS, THE BURNING SKIES, and the forthcoming THE MACHINERY OF LIGHT). I’ll also say a bit about Lessons Learnt and all that…

First, let me reveal the Actual Strategy, and then I’ll break it down a little from there. “Viral marketing” has more definitions than you can shake a stick at; it seems to me that the essence of the best campaigns is that they’re not transparently related to the author, but instead help to generate a buzz by virtue of their being a little mysterious.

The core of my campaign was the following site:



That dastardly terrorist group Autumn Rain! Who the #$# are they? I.e., we’re dropped straight into the world, with a faux news site with CNN-like look-and-feel, reporting on the aftermath of the catastrophic event that opens the first book. There’s plenty of “apparent” content and even (if you click on the graphic at the top) an actual video, in which a doomed reporter broadcasts his final hapless transmission. Of course, if you try clicking on the other links, you rapidly realize that there’s really not much to this website: it’s just a shell, intended to convey the emotional impact of Something Really Huge Going On, creating the illusion of verisimilitude…an illusion that’s carried still further by the page that virtually every link takes one to:

The world of 2110 is one where the government has the Internet in “lock-down”, so it ties in thematically…but the point is that this website is like a cat that arches its back and makes all its hair stand on end to appear larger than it actually is. (I apologize for that somewhat-forced analogy, but as I write this, my feline friend Captain Zoom is sitting on my lap and intruding upon my cognitive processes, in addition to making it that much harder to type).

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Envy for a Cheery Wednesday

The tour continues! Tonight I’ll be at the National Book Awards, covering them for Tomorrow I’m at MIT in Boston, delivering a lecture on Booklife, followed the next night by a reading at Borders. Then, Saturday the 21st, I’m back in New York City participating in a discussion on fantastical and real cities. – Jeff

Protecting your Private Booklife means confronting issues like envy. I don’t know of any writers who haven’t experienced this emotion. Here’s an excerpt from my essay on the topic in Booklife. Next week: Despair!

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Book Promotion: The Value of Acknowledging Constraints

Promoting your book project may seem like it’s about shooting for the moon, and dreaming about the kind of coverage that means you have a chance to reach the largest possible audience under the circumstances. However, without acknowledging limits you may find yourself over-extended and floundering. Contraint can be as important as ambition. Here are two things to keep in mind when considering your options for promoting your book.

(1) Acknowledge the limits of your skill set.

The skills that led you to write a book or story or article are not the same skills required to leverage it in the public world. That is a separate skill. Not everyone has it, and only some people have it in genius-level quantities. This can work for you in areas where an element of inspired amateurism—the Do-It-Yourself impulse—is appreciated, even expected. However, even in areas previously the domain of amateurs, like YouTube book trailers or podcasts, more and more sophisticated, professional efforts have started to become the standard.

Therefore, to avoid stress and be more successful: Recognize your own limitations and find others with the required skills and experience. You may need a budget to hire someone, but you may also be able to barter for services. The barter system has become more and more common as creative individuals collaborate across the Internet. The best way to find the right people to work for you is to find existing examples of what you want to do, and approach whoever created them—whether it’s a banner ad or a website or a short film. In all things remember that a combination of mimicry and your unique vision provides the best chance for success.

Luckily, too, online platforms like blogs come with ready-made templates, and a blog platform like WordPress allows you to turn a blog into something very much like a website. Make sure to let standardization and templates do the work for you where appropriate. If you cannot find someone to do something you know is not your strength, you may need to decide whether it’s worth the effort. An ugly or clunky website or book trailer can be worse support for your efforts at leverage than no website or book trailer at all.

(2) Define the limits of your effort.

There are only so many hours in a day, and you have only so much stamina, across a day, a week, or a longer period. Before entering into a campaign for your creative project, decide how much time and energy you can afford to spend on it. Ask yourself these questions:

—How much time will I be spending on this effort and over how many days, weeks, or months? (For example, are you going to devote forty hours over three weeks, or sixty hours over three months?)

—Will I be traveling as part of this effort, or staying at home? (Time spent traveling may not be time spent promoting your work, but it’s still time lost.)

—Will I be spending money or only using opportunities provided by the publisher as well as free tools and platforms? (If you’re spending money, what’s your budget, and are you buying services, access, or hardware?)

—What form of follow-up is required for this project? (Whether it’s nudging gatekeepers, conducting interviews, or finding ways for people to view your book trailer, every creative project requires some type of followup. Follow-up, even if it’s just emailing people, takes time and must be accounted for in your efforts. Sometimes this is the most important part of what you will do for your project.)

—How much additional follow-up am I willing to do? (The “X” factor in all PR campaigns is the exponential way success feeds on itself. If you’re successful in your initial efforts, there will almost certainly be additional investments of effort to leverage that success.)

These questions and their answers exist in the context of a wider space: your creative life. Some writers can easily promote their work and continue to create by separating “creative” and “career” efforts into separate daily blocks of time. Others require the immersion of total concentration on the act of creation and must acknowledge (without guilt) that focusing on their careers will require not working on creative projects during that time. Whatever your personality and approach, make sure you know the personal consequences of your decisions in this area.

This week on my book tour, I’m lecturing in Seattle, heading over to Los Angeles for readings at Cal-State San Bernardino and BookSoup, and winding up in San Francisco for a workshop, reading, and discussion.