Author Jacqueline Lichtenberg has written a long and eye-opening post contradicting the standard publishing wisdom, “You determine your own success or failure by just how compelling your story is.” Lichtenberg is looking at TV shows as fiction, as well as books, for which I think she builds a good case. Pay attention to what she’s saying, folks! This is the keystone.
Her post, in turn, refers to an article by Andrew R. Malkin describing his career in publishing promotions.
And Malkin refers to Seth Godin. I mean, these days who doesn’t?
Victoria's blog is one you should subscribe to! Here's the link to that particular entry, but just look at her others!
So to this week's topic is about the mistake people are making when trying to understand online social networking, a mistake so huge it's invisible to the naked eye.
Victoria A. Mixon's reference to my blog post is a case in point on social networking that is more pertinent because I have no clue how she found my blog entry. She might have picked it up on twitter or via the Agent Rachel Gardner's blog (which is rated #4 on Technorati's list of 100 top book blogs) or might have found mentioned on Galaxy Express here:
http://www.thegalaxyexpress.net/2010/02/10-steps-to-making-science-fiction.html where the full title is
10 Steps To Making Science Fiction Romance A Contender
You see? Social networking creates these nebulous networks where the networkers don't know where the information came from -- it's on the network!
So I was thinking about that "network" concept and how the e-world differs from the ancient world (pre-WWW) and I suddenly saw a pattern while trolling twitter.
I will attempt to connect three improbable dots and show you this pattern:
C) Commercial exploiting of social networking
As far as I know (which isn't very far) nobody else has discerned this pattern from these particular dots.
If you stick it out through this huge post, I may make you crazy.
Here's how it all came together.
I had just filed my September review column for The Monthly Aspectarian, which is published on paper in the magazine, then posted to their website (lightworks.com) then finally archived at
The books reviewed this year are posted on that 2010 index page and you could look them over and see what the ones you've read from that list have in common.
The September column is about books where the main hero is fully engaged in defending a particular USA city from some form of paranormal attack, and I noted some things cities have in common. If you read those books carefully in close sequence you will see how the authors exploit the mechanics of social networks within cities that propel the plot dynamics. But that wasn't the exact focus of my column.
Right after that I ran across another tweet on Twitter:
@michaelpinto: #kidscreen it's not until kids hit age 12 do they use social online services
Michael Pinto is Creative Director of Very Memorable Design, Publisher of Anime.com and Editor of Fanboy.com -- has over 2,000 followers on twitter, and his website is http://www.fanboy.com/
And I offhandedly shot back at him:
@jlichtenberg @michaelpinto #kidscreen "socialization" awareness of "other" may be primarily part of the reproductive urge?
To which he answered:
@michaelpinto @JLichtenberg actually most of the social media at that age is your immediate peers, so it's more of a tool thing
And the head-wheels start spinning! (I do love twitter!)
The image that flashed into my mind was the typical Middle School school yard during recess and the behaviors of various age-groups of children.
It's something I had noticed when I was a child and continued to notice throughout the years, and to puzzle over.
Watch the 4th Grade girls -- they gather in groups, sometimes larger, and they PLAY, they do things, they engage in activities, and the only things they say to each other are in regard to the activity (Dodgeball, jacks, races, games).
Watch the 5th Grade girls. Some play, some gather in small groups and talk.
Watch the 6th Grade girls. They ALL gather in small groups and TALK-TALK-TALK.
Something happens at puberty that shifts interest from the activity to the people.
Most of the focus of that talk is "I-I-I" -- it's all about Self. But watch the 7th and 8th graders. The talk is 'you' and 'look at that cute boy'.
There is a major shift of awareness we call socialization, and it is a shift from I-self to You-other. There is a dawning (before puberty) of awareness that others exist, have feelings, and an inner emotional life separate from all activities.
There is a dawning of awareness of the inner emotional life of the Self -- and then a seeking of the mirror of the Self in Other.
The yen for BONDING starts, and it first manifests in those cliques gathered to talk-talk-talk. I've seen groups of 4 or 5 girls walking home from school stop in the middle of an intersection, totally lose awareness of any approaching cars, and just focus tightly on talk-talk-talk and the talk is all about FEELINGS and interactions with others.
The search is for those who have similar feelings, and the process brings the individual's emotional responses into conformity with the majority or dominant individuals until a group is formed that has very similar emotional responses.
Last night I saw a feature on PBS about the psychology of investing, about neuroscience and other really detailed scientific studies of fear and risk and herd behavior among humans. And one item struck me relevant to social networking. The science behind human herd behavior has revealed how neurologically a human being will subordinate the individuality in order to be accepted by the group -- out of fear, out of risk aversion - out of the very sort of "Primal" responses Blake Snyder talks about in his SAVE THE CAT! books.
And that TV feature brought to mind that school yard full of little knots of girls chattering at each other, seeking emotional conformity and emotional bonding with each other (and talking about cute boys, of course, what else is there to talk about?)
Today's cliques of pubescent girls use texting and social networking, but as Michael Pinto observes, it's a tool to carry on the exact same transaction I had observed so many years in schoolyards. Now they'll text each other across the yard. But the transaction is the same - bonding self-to-other. First in small groups. But today's world is much bigger.
A couple days before that, I ran into the following news article on Yahoo that says YouTube is 5 years old (only 5 years!) and details the changes its advent on the scene has made.
5 years! Today's pre-adolescents don't remember the world without Youtube and video-via-cell-phone. It's just a tool they use to assuage their bonding urge.
Remember, some time ago I did several entries here about social networking especially as used by marketers:
The point of that post was essentially that advertisers who tried to use social networking to force a message to "go viral" in order to make a profit were shooting themselves in the foot by following the oldest adage of Marketing.
Mastering this oldest adage of Marketing is a hurdle as difficult to surmount for budding marketers as "show don't tell" is for budding writers.
It is "You Are Not Your Customer."
And I pointed out why Marketers can never succeed at using social networking to promote a product on purpose by citing successful social networking examples such as Linnea Sinclair. (one of the contributors to this blog http://linneasinclair.com )
In social networking, YOU ARE YOUR CUSTOMER or you fail because the society will reject you violently and with extreme prejudice.
This rejection phenomenon is not new any more than puberty is new.
Way back when Science Fiction fandom (before Star Trek) was a tiny, closed community of people social networking via snailmail, it consisted of several circles of people who knew each other and knew different circles of professional writers personally.
Science Fiction fandom was so closed that people who took a new interest in the fandom without coming from an encyclopedic knowledge of the fiction admired by the groups were viewed as unwelcome intruders.
But of course, "science fiction fandom" was so tiny that even publishers of science fiction paid no attention to it.
Even if a book sold to all the social-network connected science fiction fans, that alone couldn't make it commercially viable.
A book's publishing overhead required that it sell to 100's of times as many people as ever connected to SF fandom's little in-group. Sales volumes of books that sold to most of fandom and those that sold to no fans were statistically indistinguishable. The "Hugo Winner" didn't sell enough additional copies to make a difference. Neither did "Nebula Winner" though when BOTH appeared on a book it meant something commercially. (that changed gradually, year by year, and then SUDDENLY in the 1960's into a "Golden Age." You can look up dates if you like.)
Then came Star Trek in the late 1960's and with the conventions in the early 1970's and the explosion of "trekkies" as opposed to people like me known as Trekkers, started to change book sales patterns. (but Trekkies would buy spinoff novels but not follow an author into their own non-Trek works!)
"Trekkies" is a derogatory term used to designate people whose motives are similar to those of "roadies" -- starstruck fanatics who follow rock stars around the country screaming at concerts.
Trekkies is an odious term because it's a static psychological state. It's like an addiction. Instead of making progress in life because of the interest, learning skills, gaining expertise, widening horizons, acquiring stabilizing associations and contacts with people above you on the ladder of success, the "trekkie" just sits at the feet and goes gaagaa.
"Trekkers" are active and growing people -- people on a Trek, a JOURNEY. They are going somewhere. All their efforts are toward an attainable goal and they do attain that goal.
Trekkers wrote amazing fan fiction, and many of those fanfic writers became professional writers (after a few were shut firmly out of mainstream publishing because they were known fanfic writers).
Fanfic generated social networks within networks, all connected, knowing each other or knowing of each other. And those generated whole conventions where thousands of dollars changed hands just with the buying and selling of fanzines (on paper no less.)
More than that, the efforts of Trekkers produced the fan-run Star Trek Conventions (not the "shows" where the Stars posture on a stage, sign autographs for money, and disappear -- the CONVENTIONS where the Stars might drop in and speak on a stage, then go buy stuff in the Dealer's Room and converse with trekkers but ignore the trekkies).
The Trekkers got sucked into Science Fiction and invaded Science Fiction conventions causing an immense backlash of rejection because a lot of Trekkies got mixed in, and Trekkies didn't read the "right" books to be accepted.
This invasion changed the face of SF fandom and actually changed its prestige among publishers because of the large numbers of people and the among of money that changed hands. But individual authors didn't see TV show fans grabbing SF novels off the shelves unless they were TV show spinoffs.
Don't forget that YouTube effect. It's a 3rd generation video-entertainment-only development.
My own Star Trek fanfiction (text-only), the Kraith Series (which attracted 50 creative fan contributors who wrote and drew in my alternate Trek Universe) was nominated for the Fan Writer Hugo (SF Fandom's top award) (and lost because of that backlash of text readers against TV-fan invaders - resentment continues for that, too).
Kraith can be read for free online at
Here's an image of the Hugo runner-up certificate :
It's a good thing I didn't win the trophy because the Trekkie-invasion issue in SF fandom was incendiary, and the person who won really REALLY deserved it.
However, that was an inflection point, and today Science Fiction conventions and even Worldcon have "media" track programming (which was so resoundingly rejected at first). If the resistance hadn't gone on so long, Worldcon would have been the Event that Dragoncon is now - media and gaming.
These are now two immiscible social networks in fandom, media and books.
Here are a couple of websites listing conventions:
Here is the Locus list of cons: http://www.locusmag.com/Conventions.html
On #scifichat on twitter (Friday afternoon Eastern Time - Follow @scifichat for info ) David Rozansky (a publisher who runs the chat) advised writers aiming at text-publishing:
@DavidRozansky Attend literary-focused #scifi cons, like WorldCon or MileHiCon. Media-focus cons are fun, but won't help you. #scifichat
Of course he was talking about launching a career in book publishing, not media.
He also said that writers today need to develop their own following (of fans of their writing) before they can become well published, and the way to do that is social networking.
So far, nobody I've run across has pointed out what I have pointed out -- that for social networking to become a vehicle for your message, you must first and foremost be a part of that society. You Are Your Customer - or you are nobody -- in writing novels.
Any writer of heroic fiction has learned the principle of what makes a leader in real life. A "leader" must emerge from the group he/she leads.
If you don't put that into your fiction, nobody will believe it.
In fact, implicit in the concept "leader" is "emerging from the Group to Lead."
But in our real everyday world, "leaders" are often chosen from outside a company.
Everyone who's gotten a job where they come in to manage people who were expecting promotion into that spot knows they have to weed their group of those ambitious ones before they can lead that group. The first job of a leader is to bond with the group. THEN they have to "separate" from that group (as Captain Kirk illustrated with his "loneliness of command" theme.)
In the real world, the CEO search goes OUT - rarely do top people get promoted from within.
In fact in order to get to such a pinnacle, a candidate may have to climb the ladder inside a company, then switch to another company and climb there a while, then get head-hunted as CEO of the original company that employed them. (I've seen that career track happen several times lately in the real world).
Mystically, and practically, a "Leader" has to be or have been a member of the society he/she is to lead. (think King Arthur)
But Marketers learn bone deep, "you are not your customer" -- it is their mantra.
Alienation on the one hand, and membership bonding. A dichotomy and a tension line.
Marketers come into social networking determined not to "be the customer" but to "sell to the customer" - retaining the clinical distance, the emotional disconnection of an outsider but attempting to lead the herd into a behavior (buying this brand of product).
Yet playground training in early life, the very first pre-pubescent bonding experience, is not to follow someone who is not organically, emotionally bonded to the group. And that dynamic turns up in individual investing habits, too.
Physicians learn to be "objective" and Healers learn Empathic Bonding (I explored that dichotomy in depth in my first Award Winner, Unto Zeor, Forever which is about the medical career tracks of physicians vs. healers).
The key element here is the Group Mind vs. Individual Mind and the relationship between them, as in the several novels about Cities.
I discuss that in my September Review column
(You should be able to access the actual column there sometime after October 1, 1010)
To be a leader, you must first be a member.
If you're not a member, when you behave like a leader you become a tyrant.
That's the playground principle the marketers who are trying to use social networking to move product are ignoring and they will regret it. It is a "Primal" principle that every writer knows in their bones, and it's rooted in (oh, yeah, you knew this was coming) ROMANCE! And it's all about reproduction, successful reproduction which involves rearing the young, which requires bonding.
Yes, successful commercial marketing is all about sexuality, all about the fundamental psychological components of which love is built.
I discussed a possible solution to the marketer's problem in this post:
Now let's look at the world from a fiction writer's perspective again.
If we're worldbuilding and we get down to building the society Our Hero is embedded within, then we have to ask ourselves, who's connected to whom and how?
In other words, to create the drama that we wish to display, we must embed Our Hero in a society -- a social network.
Why is that? Why must worldbuilding include social networks we make up out of thin air? And why is it so easy to make them up?
Because all heroes (even the villain is the hero of his own story) are "connected" -- like The Mob. The Mob is a "family" or a network of families, some of which are connected by being adversaries, opponents, or rivals if not actual enemies.
Look at the "flip-outs" we hear about in the news. A person gets fired, broods over it a while, grabs a gun and sprays bullets at the group which rejected him/her, or deliberately shoots at people who are members of a social network which has rejected the shooter.
A bit into the news cycle and we learn this person was a "loner" -- a nice person, quiet, kept to him/herself, had become distant from family (or had none) -- was not active in groups, volunteering, or any of the things you and I always do. But went out of the way to be "nice" while holding forth with opinions that separated them from the group.
Watching such a news story unfold, it's so hard to understand why this person flipped out and sprayed destruction upon those who "rejected" -- because we get rejected all the time (sometimes 3 times a week for months on end) and don't grab guns and spray bullets.
Why does REJECTION hit some people in the VICIOUS BUTTON triggering a killing spree?
Life rains blows upon us from all sides. Mostly, we spend a lot of time feeling like punching bags and emotional garbage cans, recipients of other people's eruptions. We endure the flame wars on Lists and try to be very quiet until it dies down, or sooth things over off-list. We engage actively with other people's emotions, but we don't kill them.
What's the difference?
You and I are connected seven-thousand-ways-from-Sunday into dozens of social networks. Many dozens. From that early playground experience to today, we keep adding networks.
Even standing in line we exercise networking skills. The worse the situation at airports gets, the more we chat up the folks behind us in line, play canasta with the person next to us on the stuck plane, or entertain their kids. Every point at which you find yourself in casual touch with someone becomes a conversation just like those play yard conversations - emotional interchanges that form social networked bonds.
The people who dump on us are either members of one of our own networks and are dumping because they need a friend -- or they're NOT on our network but on some other that regards all members of our network as the source of all the problems in the world. Or source of best friends.
Either way, the emotional blows that rain down on us push us off center emotionally, and we push a little on our supporters, who push a little on theirs, and the blow gets absorbed by a huge number of people, soaked up and dissipated.
People on line now are almost all also on their cell phones! That can annoy us, but probably because nobody's calling us right now.
Think how snow shoes work.
Social networking works just like that.
By being socially connected to many, MANY people, we become more stable. We become able to soak up and dissipate blows that are way beyond our personal capacity.
(And I'm not even including any connection to the Divine in this -- this works even without any sort of religious connectivity! Just plain humans supply enough support for most of life's vicissitudes. Add the Divine and boost the effect to a whole new level.)
The sign of a mentally healthy person is that membership in many social networks.
Is the social network the source of sanity or the result of it?
Does it matter?
Wherever you find humans, you find social networks no matter how inconvenient or difficult the connections are. (Even before snailmail social networks existed and functioned).
Who benefits from the existence of social networks?
The individual (as anyone who's on Twitter and Facebook knows) expends a lot of time and energy networking socially.
Marketers have poured lots of brainpower into trying to figure out how to get the effect that individuals get from networks without spending that much time or energy because it's just not cost-effective.
For every single shortcut they invent, they lose more respect from networkers who observe them.
Why is that? What's really going on with social networks?
We, as Romance Writers, need to know because
a) all Relationship stories, nevermind actual Romances, depend entirely on the answer to that question. and
b) how in the world could we build an alien, non-human society without social networks and have it believed by our readers or accessible to our characters? Where's the drama without social networks?
Why can't marketers duplicate our results?
Take a single company - advertising via social networking.
What do they expect as a result?
Emotional support in times of stress?
They expect PROFIT and expect to measure that profit in INCOME.
Why do you social network?
What is the real motive in your heart of hearts when you click into twitter?
You might want to repeat a pleasure you've had - finding out what's going on, who's interested in what. Some bit of random mental stimulation such as I've pointed out I find in twitter all the time.
That's what you get. What company would want that? What SEC form could they file for that?
But what's your real motive in networking (and blogging, even just reading blogs, is networking), not the conscious one?
The real source of PLEASURE, the payoff from social networking is the GIVING.
There's a whole mystical dimension to Giving and Receiving that I've discussed in my Tarot posts. I don't recall exactly which of the 20 posts it's in, but you wouldn't understand it without reading them all. Start with the most recent one of the 20 and follow the links back, then read them in order of posting date:
There's a spiritual charge we get out of just giving.
But to "give" there must be a recipient -- an element on the other side of the transaction that accepts what was given. (for a blog, that's a reader who drops a comment).
With social networking, who's the recipient of the huge amount of energy out pour out?
Think hard. It's not just the bloggers who drop a comment or link to the blog as I pointed out with the Editor and Agent and fellow Romance blog that linked to this blog.
If it were JUST that first level commenter, it would be private communication such as on the pay ground.
It's all the people those people reach! And all they reach beyond that.
The real recipient of what you GIVE (that corporations are trying to avoid giving because it's too expensive in terms of the profit in money that comes back) the real recipient is SOCIETY. The real recipient of what you pour out into your social networking is the network itself. The social fabric of society.
That's why it's called social networking.
You as an individual participating in social networking are pouring your personal energies into a huge, open, black hole. AND NOTHING COMES BACK.
But you experience pleasure for having poured yourself out.
The whole point is that NOTHING COMES BACK.
That network must be energized, constantly maintained by those who pour themselves out into it, "fruitlessly."
The existence of those social networks is the very foundation of our civilization and more, even of our personal SANITY!!! And sexuality. And successful reproduction, transmitting social values to the next generation.
The beneficiary of your social networking skills and contributions is society itself.
If you're not a member of that society, if you're not your customer, you really do drain yourself dry and get nothing for it.
If you are a member, you benefit by membership, but it costs you more than you will ever be able to get out of it, just like rearing children costs more than you get. You pay it forward!
The benefit or profit that you, personally as an individual, derive from your non-cost-effective investment is really huge, though.
What you get from the existence of the society you belong to is emotional support, ethical support, moral support, even perhaps spiritual support, and ultimately the stability to absorb huge blows. Ultimately, what you get is immortality in the form of posterity.
As long as that social network lives, part of you survives even if you have no progeny of your body.
I wrote about this a little in my two novels HERO and BORDER DISPUTE, which can be found on Kindle as a single volume:
Free chapters at http://jacquelinelichtenberg.com
Because of your outrageous expenditures on social networking, you can rely on being sane and stable enough to absorb the blows that life flings at you because the energy of those outrageous events will dissipate into your social networks harming none, least of all you.
That is not a benefit a corporation can return to shareholders as a dividend, so they have no business doing business via social networking.
But let's look again at the history of publishing.
I've discussed this in prior posts here. A change in the US tax law regarding books kept in warehouses changed the whole business of publishing.
The essence of the change was that books became treated as if they were bolts or hammers -- just stock produced in advance and warehoused until sold. Each year you keep books in a warehouse, you pay a tax on those books even though you haven't sold them and they've reduced in value.
It used to be that publishers would print thousands more copies than they could sell in a year, hold them in warehouse and sell through a trickle until it sold out - maybe remainder the last couple thousands.
Under that new law, about thirty years ago I think, the business of publishing was nearly destroyed and then shifted into modern publishing which is entirely for profit, choosing titles on a totally different basis than before that tax law.
Print runs were reduced, and titles were chosen only if they could sell out before the tax deadline -- shelf-life cycles were reduced by weeks and months.
Under the pressure of that, publishing grabbed at the Print On Demand concept, but even today that hasn't entirely caught on.
Under the old tax law which didn't penalize publishers who published books that "ought" to be published for literary or social merit, pricing was all about what people could afford to pay, or would be willing to pay.
Today, pricing is about how soon the e-book edition will come out. And publishing in general is much more sensitive to price-points than ever because of numerous other shifts in tax laws that treat books as commodities not social treasures.
This image is from
And you should read and ponder that whole article:
But think about it more carefully. Step back and connect all these dots in your mind.
Who benefits from PUBLISHING?
Well, publishing, as I pointed out with the story of SF fandom, Star Trek fandom, and the explosive blending of the two, generating fanzines, and from Star Trek fanzines, a plethora of fanzines devoted to other TV shows, spawning a generation of writers who transformed the face of Romance with SF-Romance, Paranormal Romance, Futuristic Romance, etc etc. Other genres have experienced the same.
Remember the story of how I got into Science Fiction fandom? I wrote a letter to the editor of a Science Fiction magazine and they published it - my first published words; instant addiction! But they published my address, and I was instantly invited to join the N3F, the National Fantasy Fan Federation - a network of networked SF fan organizations, founded by the same man damon knight (small letters deliberate) who founded SFWA, the Science Fiction Writers of America, which I'm also a member of.
Networked networks -- social networks that take more out of you than they ever can give back.
Book publishing is just a larger version of fanzine publishing, and in fact grew out of it before fanzines ever existed! The Gothic Novel - check the history of that back to the early 1800's. Go back to the 1600's and the printing press revolution. The American Revolution and the "Broadside."
Think about it. That new technology was first adopted by amateurs doing nothing but social networking with a tiny, closed group of people who liked to read.
PUBLISHING is nothing but a giant social network of networks, just like the N3F.
They've tried to make it into a business, just as the marketers are trying to make social networking into a business.
It's a doomed effort.
Because of the nature of the social network.
If I'm right, and publishing is nothing but a social network (so large we can't see it as one), then the beneficiary of all the effort poured into publishing by writers, editors, publishers, marketers, publicists - the whole apparatus - only benefits SOCIETY.
The beneficiary of the effort expended is the network itself, which out-lives the individuals and carries their immortality forward.
The end result of all these social networks? We call it "Civilization."
People think the definition of "Civilization" is from the root of the word and means CITY-DWELLERS. (remember we started this with my September 2010 review column on books about cities being defended from paranormal threats).
Under the old tax law, publishing was treated like a social network that existed solely for the benefit of society.
Under the new tax law, publishing can survive only as a profitable business.
If I'm right, publishing is doomed until the tax law is changed back. But I don't think even that will restore things because we now have the whole rebellion against the concept of copyright which is the foundation of publishing.
So the 3 things to connect:
C) Commercial exploiting of social networking
Publishing and Puberty - the connection is the way sexuality and the reproductive urge toward immortality creates social networks.
If I'm right, Publishing is a social network, or it used to be and needs to be by its nature.
That's why the concept of copyright has become an odious one. Publishing practiced as a for-loss industry under the old tax law was justified in using copyright because it contributed more to the social fabric than it took.
Publishing was a member of society, a member of the network.
The tax law changed that viciously and I think forever.
So that now Publishing is the stranger, the intruder, the alien, the tyrant attempting to "lead" the social network without being part of it. Publishing is no longer the customer but the marketer. So morally it does not deserve the protection of copyright.
Marketing attempting the commercial exploitation of social networks is just an extension of what the bean counters are trying to do with publishing, make it
Marketing, advertising on TV, on the net, everywhere it intrudes, is attempting to lead without ever having been part of what it is leading.
The resistance is gathering. It is the same force that a play yard clique generates to repel the outsider, the rejected kid.
And that force is the very force that powers sexuality.
Who will win? Marketers or sexuality?
Lay your bets, pour yourself whole heartedly into your social networks, build your immortality, then watch to see what happens.
Perhaps the nature of publishing will change so much that it no longer is, at core, a social networking phenomenon.
If that happens, will you still read books?
Or will you just hang out on YouTube and watch videos and movies (yes, they're doing streaming of feature films now).
Or wait! YouTube is a social network, isn't it?