When I first joined Facebook way back in 2008, I was simultaneously anxious, thrilled, and validated when others "liked" my posts. People were, in effect, liking me, Sahar. The now iconic thumbs-up meant someone thought I was clever, funny, or my hat was damn cute. And when my post lingered for minutes without a like, I felt inadequate and not so cute. This social medium had become a measure of how others saw me (and still does).
As an MFA student, I realized how necessary FB was: I could keep up with my artistic community and they could keep up with me. When I graduated last year, I still had the network, making it very easy and free (no cost) to promote my work. Since most of my publications have been online journals and websites, posting about it gives immediate access to my fellow writers.
But, here's what I've noticed: most of my followers were only liking those linked posts; some offered a kind "Congrats" or "Awesome!" If the 60-plus friends actually read the piece, I never knew because I never got a comment relating specifically to the work. Just a thumbs-up--a sign to let me know they were happy for me, but weren't going to invest in actually reading the piece.
I get it. Reading this blog is taking time away from other important tasks and engagements. And there's so much to read, how can we even keep up? But this writing-reading relationship is very much a delicate eco-system we need to preserve. Everyone has a stake in it: writer-editor-publisher-reader. You write it, someone edits it, another publishes it, and a group of people read it. For all of its counter-productive ills, FB and other social media have given new and emerging writers a means to share their work. You don't need a hot-shot agent or a big publishing house to build a readership (though I'd love to cash Karen Russell's checks, if you please). It's (mostly) eliminated the elitist, sexist, and racially-biased-controlled marketing and proliferation of work, inviting voices that would not otherwise have been heard a decade ago. Democracy at last!
And there's no shame in self-promotion, as Erica Schwiegershausen reveals in her article about women and tweeting. And there's plenty of ways of to promote yourself without being douche-y, as Sheree Greer shows us. But, self-promotion is wasted energy when no one actually reads our stuff. A very distressing thought to me.
As much as we are producers, we need to be consumers in this industry. If you're the editor as I am of a fledgling or established journal, you know how vital this is to your creative livelihood. You continually check your website statistics, celebrating pages that have received the greatest hits/reads-- all of this affirms your sweat, blood, and tears, particularly if you're a nonprofit, volunteer journal. Most journals are all-volunteer or a solitary endeavor like The Grief Diaries, a journal I recently discovered thanks to a FB group (another score for social media!). Online editors and publishers rely on readership, not just a thumbs-up. We got into the business to provide a platform for talented writers who can't seem to get out of the slush pile. We love our writers, and we want you to love them, too--not just like them.
But it doesn't stop at reading the work. If you really want to preserve this literary eco-system, you must SHARE the work. This is how our work propagates and thrives--like pollination.
For my part, I like, read, and share the linked posts of my writer-friends as often as I can and come across them on FB. Any time they publish a piece, it's a triumph. It doesn't matter if it's a lesser known journal or a blog piece. I'm honoring their efforts and saying, "thank you for being creative and brave." More than being liked, we all want to be read.