Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

“Reading and writing are acts of empathy and faith. Guard that trust carefully — in this rapidly changing business, it’s the only sure thing.” ~Erin Keane
"Never give up. And most importantly, be true to yourself. Write from your heart, in your own voice, and about what you believe in." ~ Louise Brown

"Write something to suit yourself and many people will like it; write something to suit everybody and scarcely anyone will care for it."
~Jesse Stuart

"A writer's job is to take one thing and make it stand for twenty." ~ Virginia Woolf

Monday, July 13, 2015

How Much Information is Too Much?

In this age of information overload, how much online sharing is too much? As authors with books out, we understand the necessity of getting our name and work out there. People have to know about a book in order to buy it, and bookstores and libraries aren't where readers go anymore to discover new books and authors.

With millions of books out there, a physical bookstore can only hold a tiny fraction of them. Besides, what about the unknowns who have written good stuff just waiting to be discovered?

And thus we love Amazon with its unlimited shelf space, and the e-reader with its unlimited storage space.

Writers face this new frontier of book publishing with hopeful enthusiasm for the possibilities. Yet the problem of discoverability remains. With so many to choose from, how will anyone find your book?

We get on social media, figuring the more people know about us, the more we will sell. I wonder if this trend causes us to not only spread ourselves too thin but overshare in the process.

Image result for F. Scott fitzgerald photoRemember back in the far distant past when the mystique of the writer was part of the excitement of reading their stories? I used to wonder about the people who wrote my favorite books: what was their life like, how did they get their ideas, were they anything like the characters they wrote about? What kind of house did they live in? What was their favorite food? What did they look like beyond the author photo on the back?

We don't need to wonder any longer. It's all out there for the world to see. I know my life is. Read one of my books and want to know more? You'll find everything in a few clicks. This concerns me sometimes.
Not about my identity being stolen or being stalked by eager fans or having my picture taken without makeup. It's that I, who used to be such a private person hating anyone to know my business, now freely share so much of it online.

Blogging especially does this to a writer. You need a topic and there's your convenient daily life including pictures for variety. Besides, as writers, this is what we do. We write. And write. And write. We write about what we know, which is ourselves and our families and our activities, our good days and bad.

Seriously, there are times I'm tempted to delete my blog, wipe the slate clean and keep a nice, spare website with very little personal information. Do you ever feel that way?

But then reality hits. We no longer live in the day of author mystique. A writer who avoids social media might be diminishing the chance of success. So there we have it. The conflict between oversharing and the need to make oneself and one's work known on social media.


A few have found a nice balance between the two. Most have not. There's a well-known women's fiction author whose books I used to love, until I started following her Facebook fan page where she posts long, boring updates about her everyday routine. I can't get past the first sentence. Since I liked her on Facebook, I've had no desire to read any more of her books. Her Facebook oversharing has taken away my interest.

Do you think social media can hurt a writer more than help? 

How do you feel about oversharing with your own blogs or with others you've read? How much is too much? 

Think the pendulum will ever swing back toward writer mystique? I kinda wish it would, how about you?

42 comments:

  1. I share too much I think but I still think that what is shared on social media is highly curated. People are so upbeat and lively and they frame their struggles like Readers Digest 'overcoming the odds' stories. I'm suspicious. I try not to put too much about my struggles on my blog because I find people overreact. I've noticed that in fb too - those people who say anything sad get all these comments. Bah! I like what you share and I feel I know you enough to want to know you better. As it should be.

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    1. Jan, 'Oh poor me" posts may get attention for awhile but a steady diet of it gets old. Like you, I filter my moods and stay off social media when I'm feeling down.

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  2. Crap, I hope I'm not boring any of my fans!
    That was my biggest struggle. Trying to remain private while still sharing about myself. Hopefully I've found a good balance.

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    1. Alex, It is such a struggle and I remember you posting about this topic once. If you feel positive about the balance you've hit, then I'm sure it is the right one.

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  3. You are so right! There is a fine line. It's a difficult internal struggle sometimes when posting to find that right balance.

    Sometimes in an effort to not overshare, people post deary other stuff too. I'm always afraid that I'm doing that!

    What a cruel animal social media is! ;)

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    1. Bear, I rather wish I'd gone anonymous like you have and stayed Wonder Woman. She was my avi when I first started blogging.

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  4. I follow big authors like Stephen King and Meg Cabot on social media and I still see that mystique. They share snippets of their lives occasionally, but it's rare...and it's never so much that you really feel that you've seen into their lives at all. I think we're all guilty of only showing the best of our lives online, so it's all filtered. Nobody sees us as we really are--writing in our pajamas with no makeup on and empty drink containers on the table/desk next to us!

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    1. Stephanie, It's good to find some excellent examples among the selection.

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  5. I am not a writer, just a sometimes blogger and yes, I do worry about over-sharing. Only occasionally do I put my opinions out there for others to see, and afterwards I have regrets. I try to stick to lighter matters and enjoy it when they come out OK and my family likes them. When others comment, that is icing on the cake. However, Google scares me with the information that they have collected about me, but I guess I am to blame for giving it to them.

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    1. Oh yes, Big Brother Google knows it all! And Little Brother Facebook.

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  6. The cult of personality has always been a factor in developing a fan base who will buy an author's product so I do think it's important to let readers have a peek into the writer's life. To me mundane is okay, but an author needs to make what they are saying seem special. How disappointing when an author we admire delivers us boring text when we crave the magic of the words we read in their books.

    Lee
    Tossing It Out

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    1. Lee, Yes you say it so well. Perhaps it isn't the oversharing that turns me off about this writer but that her FB posts are dull. A writer can be a lot of things on social media but DULL should not be one of them!

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  7. I share more about myself on my blog than I ever thought I would, yet I still do keep some things private. It's a balance, and I think it's different for everyone.

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    1. Madeline, It is different for everyone. I think if one is content with having made the balance, then it's probably a good one.

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  8. Sadly we have to sell us first, our books second.

    I'm careful what I share, especially my exact location. I don't want weirdos showing up on my doorstep.

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    1. Diane, Being a public speaker as you are adds an additional element to that too, doesn't it? I imagine if you talked too much about yourself in those venues your audience would get bored.

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  9. I have not found the balance. I'm that struggling author who wants to be discovered yet I feel I've shared so much more than I ever thought possible about myself. And still, readers appear blind to my presence.

    I'm not sure how to find that balance, honestly. If the pendulum swings back to writer mystique, well, not sure it will matter for the majority of us scrabbling for the right eye to notice us, the right speakerbox to tell the world about us.

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    1. Angela, Yet at WiDo Publishing our consistently best selling books are by people who are conspicuously absent from social media. That makes me question the idea authors need to be so public in order to attract readers.

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  10. I think many people over share on social media. The worst offenders are totally clueless too. I remember seeing someone's FB post where she shared some pictures of herself in skimpy attire, and way too much alcohol. Then she bragged about how she milked a project at work. She was shocked that in the next layoffs, she was let go. Coincidence? I doubt it.

    And then there are authors who are so opinionated and arrogant that it colors my whole perception of their books. It made me wonder if what they wrote was nothing more than their personal agenda.

    How much more alluring these authors would be if they had maintained a little mystique?

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    1. Maria, Your example shows this isn't limited to writers trying to attract attention for their books. Too many people are trying to attract attention for whatever reasons and why social media can really get tiresome.

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  11. Oh yes, I think there is such a thing as too much over-sharing. I'm really not interested in anyone else's coffee break ... nor when they cut the grass ...

    I know we need an online presence. But - and here I can only speak for myself - I'm probably excessively careful about what I share online. As a memoir writer, I'm aware that my books say as much about me as they do about the places I visit - but that doesn't mean that I don't keep the core of myself private. Nor do I write about anyone without his/her permission. And you'll find no photos of my grandchildren, so you'll just have to take it from me that they are the most beautiful children in the world!

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    1. Jo, I'm in the process of writing a memoir as well and this topic is always on my mind.

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  12. Hey Karen -

    As a reader, I fancy personal blogs more than any other kind. As for over-sharing, that's not my call. Whatever someone wants to share is their business. For example, I'm reading a personal blog about a women with breast cancer for the second time. She shares a great deal and it extremely personal. Very well-written and I'm thankful she shares so much with us.

    Those are the blogs I enjoy the most.

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    1. Happy whisk, I think there's a gift some writers have at being able to share personal things in a way that touches others and inspires them without turning them off.

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  13. I prefer not to know authors too well. I've met at least two in person that caused me to stop reading their books. They were real, actual mean people. I try to be very careful how much I share.
    Susan Says

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    1. Susan, I no longer do public appearances of any kind because I don't come across well in those kinds of venues. I'm too anxious and not in an endearing way. I relate to people in person best when it's one on one rather than a group.

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  14. I am probably on the fence. Over-sharing would mean, to me, my bathroom rituals-who cares and also too much information. It also depends on the personality since there are authors we know so much about and others are perfect mysteries yet both sell books well. In any media you have the people who talk and the people who don't. Greta Garbo was known for being very reclusive while we know all about Judy Garland. Both are great. Let's take Daniel Craig who loves his privacy while George Clooney is much more in the news and that is calculated. Hugh Jackman is the rare one like Jimmy Stewart. He is known but yet he does have a private life and people respect that. So, in the end, it depends on the person I guess

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    1. Birgit, It's fun to get the Hollywood connection from you! I remember my mother having do much respect for Jimmy Stewart because he was one of the few actors with a "normal" private life and he didn't seek the limelight with personal drama. I didn't realize Hugh Jackson was too. So is Meryl Streep.

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  15. This reminds me of an article in the paper on the weekend, talking about authors who shunned the spotlight and demanded a private life, such as Harper Lee and JD Salinger of Catcher in the Rye fame. The article was excellent, claiming these two were living 'ownlife' which George Orwell named in 1984. Yes, the time has passed where authors can be hidden away, but good for those who choose to live the way they want. :-)

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    1. Denise, Poor Harper Lee is certainly in the limelight now! But at her age and condition maybe it won't bother her like it might have earlier. I wonder why she only write the one book. This new one isn't really a new book, but the original manuscript that To Kill a Mockingbird was taken from, a revise and resubmit on request of her agent.

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  16. It is tricky. From my own example: I have a blog about writing, but if I only write about writing (how to's and so on), I might have good responses in the beginning, but then interest wanes.

    So I have to throw in bits of details of my life as a writer in as well. But I try to keep things on topic in some way. (Don't always succeed, though.)

    That said, when things went really badly last year, I pretty much left my social networks alone. All of them. Some might argue that I did severe damage to them doing that. I think that I limited damage that way, because who the heck wants to read about the near constant doom and gloom that was my life at that stage?

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    1. Misha, If I were experiencing a serious upheaval in my life, pretty sure I'd stay off as well.

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  17. I am coming late to this post, but I've enjoyed reading it and the responses. I think it's good to be 'real', but a lot of people on social media tend to forget that it isn't necessary to show everything. They shut the bathroom doors when they shower or bathe (don't they?) and they shut the doors of their houses when things are in an uproar.

    I think perhaps the 'Disneyland' mentality is the best way of thinking to follow. That is, all Disney's employees, from tram driver to street sweeper, are told that they are performers, and while they are on the job they are performing and should never slip out of character. Don't be false, but remember that people are watching you and judging Disneyland by your behavior.

    Substitute 'your writing' for 'Disneyland' and you have a writer's situation.

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    1. Diana, What an excellent example! I really like this idea. As writers we can go into "social media character" and make it interesting to our readers.

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  18. I share so that others might relate... But not everything. We all keep a lot private I think.

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  19. Like anything else, the benefits of social media depend on how it is used.

    I try to share small bits and pieces, and do it after a lot of thought-- nothing shared on the internet ever goes away, so I keep that in mind.

    Our online persona is curated, it can't be our unedited self all the time, because we don't want to either bore or put off our audience.

    On the other hand, we need to be genuine, because that's always the easiest and best way to be, in any community.

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  20. As far as sharing too much goes, one reason I haven't posted any of my fiction online is because I'm afraid that it might get stolen; I've seen some of my own Tweets and blog posts show up on other people's social networking sites (and not as retweets either but as lines that the people stole and pretend to have written themselves).
    I also think that you can decide what you do and don't want to post online; there are some things that I never write about online, because I know what the consequences could be. So I always keep those in mind when I'm blogging/Tweeting.

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  21. While I agree that authors can't "hide" like they did in years past before Internet and social media came along, I feel that one often has the option to share only what they want to share about themselves on social media. It's not blogging where I see the most oversharing there. Let's just say I've seen the most character revealing activity on Twitter.

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  22. I totally agree with what Cynthia says above - we hold the reins on what we share and what we don't. Lucky for me my daily life so boring that I'm rarely tempted to share anything from it, ha.

    I also agree about Twitter - you can tell a shocking amount about some people in 140 character bites.And like you w/ that writer on Facebook, there's a popular Chick Lit writer that caught my attention because she's funny on Twitter, but the more I read her Tweets the more she began to rub me the wrong way, to the point that I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be able to enjoy her stories. That's definitely something I need to keep in mind w/ my own Tweets - but being too cautious about sharing can lead to blandness and that might be worse. Ug. Such a conundrum.

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    1. Nicki, I see the evidence all across social media and am beginning to wonder if the pendulum will swing back toward the other direction. Just like "overselling" on Twitter can turn people off on buying a book, oversharing can too.

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  23. I always thought it would be cool to be that anonymous writer. The hermit that lives away somewhere distant and the only one who knows my identity is my publisher/editor/agent. But I really don't think that sort of thing is possible now days. Being traditionally published is so hard and it's easier to self-publish and that requires putting yourself out there. I've never been good with this social media stuff. I think I'm doing ok though. Twitter two-three times a day, random things. Facebook page, once a day.. going down to once a day only three days a week. Blog, three times a week. Everything's all connected, but hopefully it doesn't feel like overshare?

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  24. True about that FB part. People think that all are dying to know their day to day activities on a regular basis and that puts off any one.

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