Facebook – more fun than I imagined

My Facebook pageTrue confession time – after reading of an editor’s comment that she always checks Facebook before deciding to take on a new author, I decided to get serious about Facebook. That was eight weeks ago. In that time, I’ve found 202 new friends and discovered a world of social interaction that is truly enjoyable.

Although still a relative neophyte, I now know a bit more about how this particular social media tool works. I’ve caught up with friends from the past, seen many pictures of children, grandchildren, dogs and cats, been inspired by words of wisdom that others share and expanded my connections with the historical fiction community. I’ve enjoyed hearing about the successes of new authors and the progress that writers like Elizabeth Chadwick and Sharon Kay Penman are making on their WIPs. Personalities emerge through choices people make about what to post and where to comment. Politics emerge too and I have tried to be careful not to dive into those particular waters. From a sociological perspective Facebook is fascinating!

Then, of course, there’s the opportunity to understand Facebook as a business. Two items come to mind.

  1. Recently I asked my son why he had ‘liked’ an ad for Volkswagon. He said that he had not to which I said, but I’ve seen three of these ‘likes’ in the past few weeks. A bit of head scratching followed and then an aha! Apparently about a year ago he had seen what he thought of as a clever ad for Volkswagon and ‘liked’ it. The folks at Facebook facilitate advertising for companies by putting them in touch with friends of someone who has ‘liked’ their product regardless of how current that activity might be. I suppose the assumption is that your friends will like the same products you do. Facebook owns the information about your friends and can use it for their commercial purposes. Interesting that Volkswagon fails to mention that my son liked their ad 12 months ago. Not surprising, merely new to me.
  2. Facebook seems to be aggregating product mentions on behalf of advertisers and posting them on your timeline as though they were status updates. I saw one today that leverages status updates from two of my Facebook friends where the word Amazon is included. (I won’t post a picture because I don’t want to include the names of friends.)

Both of these examples remind me that there is no such thing as ‘free’ in today’s digital world. I wonder if these commercial aspects are improving Facebook’s share price?

Generation Gap

An online friend who also writes historical fiction mentioned something that startled me and then got me thinking.

Heather Lazare, an editor for St. Martin’s–I think, said in a panel: ‘That whenever I find a ms I want to make an offer on, the first thing I do is go to their facebook to see how many friends they have.’

Whoa! My first reaction was to sputter and mumble about how ridiculous that approach is. What about all the platform work we aspiring writers do in terms of blogging, tweeting, involving ourselves in specific communities of interest, writing articles, reviewing books? Facebook isn’t the only measure of connectivity. I was incensed that a well-respected editor would consider such a simplistic measure. My emotional self was in high gear.

Smack! The other half of my brain took over. Of course that’s how an editor might think; FB is where she or he and most of their friends spends a lot of time connecting with one another. It’s a classic generation gap.

Let’s imagine the career trajectory of someone in publishing. According to Random House US, the career path is Editorial Assistant, Assistant Editor, Associate Editor, Editor, Senior Editor and Editorial Director. If an individual is hired out of university as an Editorial Assistant and averages 3-4 years in each career stage, she would arrive at Editor in her early 30s. As an example, according to her LinkedIn profile, Heather Lazare went from Assistant to Editorial Assistant and on through various roles to Senior Editor in a span of 9 years.

Not to get too nitty-gritty about my stage in life, but I have a son who is 29 and a daughter who is 32. Their crowd is on Facebook all the time. They post incessantly – random musings, photos, Pinterest links, Instagrams, links to various URLs, status updates, GPS notations. They click the ‘like’ button, scroll through timelines, make rude or funny comments about one another. They don’t call their friends, they FB them.

So … if this is the world that editors live in, this is the world I must embrace. Wanna be my friend?

Historical Fiction Survey – Connecting readers and writers

Note: This post originally appeared on the Historical Novel Society Features page.

2012 Favourite Reading SitesIn the 2012 historical fiction survey, 562 people listed favourite reading oriented websites, blogs and social media sites. The winners in connecting readers with books share three attributes:

  • thoughtful, trustworthy information about books,
  • opportunities for dialogue and an exchange of ideas, and
  • a community of like-minded readers.

Highlights

  • Goodreads, historical fiction blogs and small book review blogs are the top three by a wide margin.
  • Goodreads is the dominant site for book recommendations with 41% of readers listing it is a favourite.
  • Adding Library Thing and Shelfari to the Goodreads number brings the category of interactive reader communities to 49.8%.
  • Readers mentioned more than 150 book blogs run by individuals or small groups.
  • Top historical fiction blogs are Reading the Past, Historical Novel Society, Historical Tapestry, Historical Novel Review and Passages to the Past.
  • Only 13% of respondents said they did not use online sites.
  • Most participants mentioned three or more sources for recommendations.
  • Beyond Goodreads, Library Thing and Shelfari, Facebook (71), Twitter (21), other social media (13) accounted for 18.6%.
  • With only 89 mentions, Amazon does not fare well.
  • Big book review sites like Fantastic Fiction, Book Browse, Abe Books, Fresh Fiction, ACFW, London Review of Books merited 35 mentions.

small book review blogs are blogs written by one or two individuals, author blogs and sites include sites dedicated to deceased authors, genre sites include those dedicated to mystery, crime, fantasy etc.

How can we interpret the data?

Elsewhere in the survey, participants said that they choose books based on time period (27.2%) and on genre (30.3%). Only 18.3% choose based on author while the remaining 24.2% choose at random. Based on these percentages, it’s not surprising that historical fiction readers seek help to find stories from the time periods and genres they favour.

The responses concerning favourite online sources indicate that readers connect to others readers in order to find books they will enjoy. Taking a look at some of these blogs as well as Goodreads, it seems clear that readers like to build small online interactive communities with people they can trust – people with shared interests.

Connecting Readers & BooksThe diagram attempts to portray different connections between readers and online sources. Thick arrows connect the top three reader choices.  These arrows are double-headed to indicate two-way or group dialogue. Author sites and blogs find support amongst readers but offer less dialogue. Other interactive communities like Facebook or Twitter are multi-purpose and hence a dotted line to signify that the connection for reading purposes is not quite as strong. Broadcast sites like online newspapers and publishing houses offer primarily one-way flows of information signified by a single-headed arrow. Similarly, sites like Amazon and large book chains that are mainly focused on purchasing are shown with a single-headed arrow. Notice that these lines are thinly dotted to demonstrate their lack of intimacy.

The data suggest a number of conclusions:

  • Historical fiction readers love to share their book reading experiences with others. Many create blogs as a venue for sharing.
  • Readers are proactive in their pursuit of good books.
  • Reading is a social event; readers like to talk to other readers about books.
  • Readers prefer to rely on trusted communities for recommendations.
  • Though readers buy online in large numbers, they prefer other sources for recommendations.
  • Big book review sites are not intimate enough for readers.
  • Readers do not identify with publishing houses.

What do you think?