Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Engagement: Interaction between authors and readers

Engagement. It’s what everyone wants, right? Comments and retweets and all the rest of it. Maybe. In fact, I find it harder to promote myself as a writer in the social-media era than I did in the days when one put up a no-feedback website in hand-coded HTML and didn’t need to worry about how many comments it attracted. My personal blog, Reality Skimming, still functions as an announcement list and online repository of facts and web links, attracting one comment every few months if I’m lucky. 

So it clearly isn’t the magic of being me that accounts for my success at snagging comments on the Clarion Blog with my weekly Writer’s Craft feature. I get an average of 15 comments per post, most of them within 48 hours of the post going up each Monday morning. Posts that exceed 20 comments or that continue to collect new comments days or even weeks later are the best performers. I particularly like it when mini-conversations break out, because  it isn’t just about numbers. The tone of the input is friendly, even when contributors disagree with each other. I am happy with 20 comments and would get happier up to 50 or so, but beyond that I think the experience would start to lose its intimacy.

So much for the “what” of the Writer’s Craft on the Clarion Blog. Here’s the how. It’s almost embarrassingly easy. I’m a writer. I asked myself what inspired me to comment on other people’s blogs and what worked best for me in writers groups after the critiquing is done and people sat around basking in the positive energy of a shared love not always appreciated by non-writers. All good friends swallow their pride and hand out congrats to the success stories in the group when accolades are due them, but writers don’t just want to hear about how other writers “done good”. We’re creative, thinking, typing, talking people. So I wanted to strike upon a formula that would open up the conversation.

Since I’m no saint, and I wanted to have fun, too, I model the kind of talk I want by leveraging my own work and experience as raw material. But the approach is always “here’s my example, what’s yours?” And I really want to know. I like writers. They are infinitely variable and fascinating. I like to see what they think about each other, too, and take part in the discussion as a fellow participant once it starts to roll. I facilitate, rather than set an agenda, and enjoy the outcome. Which really shouldn’t surprise me because I have always been a better facilitator, moderator or MC than a pundit. I loved to teach, during the twenty years I did a lot of that, but even then what I liked best was those times when students became people.

I set up the Writer’s Craft as a way to make the acquaintance of other writers and find out about them. In the process, I intend to promote them as well as myself and to make anyone who drops by feel the “coffee shop” vibe. I often e-mail someone whose post catches my interest to ask him or her to guest-post on the Writer’s Craft. I struck on that habit the same way I did on the basic formula: I asked myself what I liked best. And I like to be asked to contribute to something because someone has noticed me. That’s why I surf to the homepages of the writers who post to the blog, and when an idea results I ask the writer if he or she would be willing to write up a post about it. Sometimes I just post a comment to the writer’s blog, and sometimes I just browse and leave, due to a failure of my own imagination that particular hour.

I can’t promise writers who participate on the Writer’s Craft that their sales will go up or their web presence will intensify – but I’d genuinely like to think this might happen. What I can promise is that published, unpublished or however the gray zone is defined these days, I will provide a writer-friendly environment where they will meet other writers, their participation will be valued, and we’ll work with the real stuff of writing. If it works, it’s because it’s the sort of blog I’d like to take part in. And I must admit, in conclusion, that the Writer’s Craft has been a revelation to me about how to enjoy social media because until I discovered I could be myself instead of needing to turn into something I can never be, the whole thing felt like a hostile sea of “me, me, look at me” in which any venture I could enjoy taking part in was doomed to be laughable. I would like to thank each and every contributor to the Writer’s Craft for making me feel good about being me, with them.

If you write SF, drop by and tell us about it some Monday.

Lynda Williams is the author of the ten-novel Okal Rel Saga published by Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing and editor of the Okal Rel Legacies series from Absolute XPress. She holds two masters degrees, has taught at the college and university level, won awards in digital innovation, and now works as an educational development consultant for BCIT.