Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Writing in the Age of Social Media

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Over the last two Thursdays, I attended two symposia that sought to investigate the changing landscape of writing and book publishing in the twinned age of the internet and social media. The first, called The Written Word and the World of Books: An Interaction with Social Media, was held in conjunction with Social Media Week that took place in six global cities, including Toronto, during the first week of February. A range of speakers, headed by editor and Twitter-short story writer, Arjun Basu, spoke of the impact of social media on writing and publishing, assessing the impact on publishers, readers, and writers (often, lamentably, at least for me, in that order). All of the speakers were ardent believers in the virtues of social media and its capacities to remake the often fraught relationships between publishers and writers, to create audiences for one’s writing, be it Twitter feeds, blogs, or soon-to-be-published oeuvre, and with the growing presence of self-publishing, to even bypass traditional gatekeeping functions of the agent and the publisher. Basu, along with co-Twitterer of book reviews Erin Balser, and Julie Wilson, the 'Book Madam', gushed about:
• Building a web presence for your budding writerly identity
• Converting your social media into fans who may want to buy her book
• The potential of deeper conversations around books on Twitter
• Becoming a brand as a writer
• How their twittering and blogging has drawn the attention of agents and publishers

Indeed, it was the latter idea, the potential for building one’s identity as a writer through the myriad of Internet and social media tools that was both seduction and salve for any writer frustrated by rejection letters from agents and publishers, too-intimate book readings, unsure of the future of the physical book in a world where electronic readers are growing in popularity.

The second Thursday symposium, albeit unrelated, was held by the The Writers’ Union of Canada and aptly, if wordily named, Secure Footing in a Changing Literary Landscape. Travelling from coast to coast, authors Ross Laird and Betty Warland provided a more writer-centric review of the transformation of writing and publishing with engaging and interactive sessions (such as actual juggling to symbolize and gain comfort with the juggling that will intensify for writers in an increasingly insecure world, writerly and otherwise) that offered good depth, personal experiences and reflections, and arresting statistics. The audience in Toronto, perhaps due to the eight-hour length of the symposium, attracted a decidedly grey-haired crowd, yet one that was hardly new to building a web presence or social media. Rather, the symposium offered a necessary and timely opportunity for writers to truly begin to comprehend the vastly changing world in which ideas interact and to learn to appreciate why Ross Laird, for one, was highly enthusiastic of the vast array of possibilities that lay for writers. Talking about how
“the slate has been wiped clean,” Laird saw great freedom for writers, in terms of creating new kinds of work, in finding new ways, both traditional and electronic – or some sort of hybrid – of publishing their work, of creating conversations with readers, and taking control of their creations, rather than surrendering them. Laird identified what many of us viscerally felt; namely, that there was a conflict of values between those of (most) writers and those of the entertainment industry. Yet, he encouraged each of the writers at the event to:
• Find ways to become an expert on something
• Post content on one’s blog that would be useful to a stranger (target: 100 pages/year)
• Get involved in local and national creative/literary communities – findable through http://www.meetup.com

For me, as someone who has worked (but not thrived, at least in the past) in marketing and advertising, the idea of branding is something I wanted to run away from, and yet, the moral of both these symposia, is that it is something which I must learn to embrace. The idea of seeing yourself not only as a person, but a public personality, it would seem, is not only essential to being a successful writer or creator in a digital, networked twenty-first century economy, but perhaps, to gaining any recognition as a writer at all.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Nitin Deckha

Nitin Deckha is the author of Shopping for Sabzi (TSAR Publications, 2008) and a contributor to Once Upon a Time in Bollywood (TSAR Publications, 2007) and several other publications.

Go to Nitin Deckha ’s Author Page