Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Unplug me?

You may have noticed that sometimes we poke a little fun at Amish books. (Could that be because Amish books sell like hotcakes, and our books sell like personalized birthday cakes? That is to say, there are lots of people named Elizabeth who would like a cake with that name on it, hundreds of thousands in fact. But the vast majority of the world would pass on it.)

I’ve heard explanations for the popularity of “bonnet” books. One is that people yearn for the simplicity and close relationships of such cloistered societies. Another explanation is that they’re the Christian subgenre equivalent of what we’d called a “locked room” book in mystery novels: Everything happens in a microcosm, or shows that microcosm reacting to the outside world. It’s tidy and neat.

You know what I yearn for that the Amish have? A lack of connectedness to the world. (Now, lest you remark upon the utter hypocrisy of someone posting on the Internet about how great it would be to not to be connected with the world, hear me out.)

I've done the heroic co-pushing with my publishers of my books. In fact, one of my publishers told my agent Janet Grant that I was “a publisher’s dream.” I spent most of a year (and probably most of my writings earnings) helping get the word out about my books when they were released about 18 months ago, by good publishers. As a result, I have thousands of Facebook, Shoutlife, SistahFaith, and Twitter friends. There are reviews of my books, and videos and discussions about them and me all over (the Web of) tarnation.

Recently, I read a long post by a published author who spoke of the “new rules” for authors. Because our economy is hanging publishers upside down and shaking them until their pockets come inside out (my image, not the author’s), he said we must do things differently. He said to disobey the system, shun publicity and crowds, not seek them, write for yourself and not an audience nor a niche, and embrace what the world would call failure.

Yeah, I’m all up for that big bear hug.

I can’t recommend the article because it is profane, anti-religious, and I (and apparently a lot of others, judging from the comments) couldn’t figure out if he was serious.

But it struck a chord. A chord of wanting to be disconnected. Not just so I can be a hermit, but so I can focus on actually writing. To not feel guilty if I don’t follow strangers back on Twitter when they have sought me out. To get up in the morning and not feel neglectful for dragging myself away from scores of emails from more strangers, some of whom who might really need me (and when you write on leaving a cult, a lot of people really believe they need you.)

The Amish call to my soul, I believe, because they are disconnected.

Now, talk me back from a tipping point here. What reasons should I stay connected? I mean, other than answering emails from people in real trouble, and posting and reacting here on Novelmatters, why would I want to continue being “connected”?

Well, another reason is that agents, editors, publicists, and other industry people say we are not attractive to a publisher if we are not connected. To the hilt.

What say ye?


Nicole said...

It's easy to bark out a reply when I've gone the self-publishing route, Latayne, but sometimes with all the hoopla and demands we forget who we serve. Not publishers. The Lord God Almighty. It's hard to believe He places all these demands upon us but I know He directs and guides our steps if we allow Him. He's ordained some very busy paths for some, but people seem to be either lazy or too consumed with busyness to believe He'll keep us steady in what He has for us. I think it's far easier to get ahead of Him or too far behind Him when we veer off the path He's chosen to get on the paths man has for us.

Sounds like you need a short sabbatical to let Him refresh you.

I've yet to see the effectiveness of much of the marketing choices for most CBA publishers for their authors. It often reminds me of third world hawkers in the crowded market place.

Marcia said...

"Talk me back from a tipping point here." Love that line, LaTayne. Can I steal it when I'm playing the devil's advocate and trying to get discussion going among my friends?

You've made the case so well from either side that it's hard to know how to argue.

Even though I love connecting deeply with people, I'm not my natural self in front of (or mixed in with) a large crowd. Advertising myself and what I've done goes against what I view as personally decent.

Maybe that's why I got excited when I read what Donald Mass wrote in Writing the Breakout Novel. He said the third myth of success was this: "The biggest factor in making an author a brand name is promotion."

"...all this angst over promotion is misplaced. Advertising certainly does not sell books... In reality, there is one reason, and one reason only, that readers get excited about a novel: great storytelling. That is it. End of story."

So I tell myself with a sigh of relief that all I have to do is learn the craft. Easy, huh?


Wendy Paine Miller said...

Oh I so get this. I hibernate in the winter and it's hard to keep plugged in. I have to admit I've always lived a little counterculturally. I still do. I make decisions that others might find odd and I don't have a need to keep up with anyone with the last name of Jones.

The way I see it we go through seasons. Some periods of our life we are out on the dance floor waving our hands. Other times we are hanging out at the bar (or the table--take your pick). Point being, Ecc. there is a time for everything.

~ Wendy

Kathleen Popa said...

Love this, Latayne. You are a publisher's dream because you do what Donald Maass says: you write wonderful stories.

Latayne C Scott said...

Hey, it's hard for me to take myself too seriously-- even to receive the compliments-- when I realized that the illustration I chose shows the plug for a washing machine or something. Somehow that kinda fits.

Well, I started my day by unsubscribing to everything that "notifies" me except my blog and a couple of daily devo types that edify me. Whew. That's better.

Joyce E. Rempel said...

What reasons should you stay connected? Brene Brown, in her TED talk, The Power of Vulnerability, after a decade of research about "connection," says we are hard-wired for connection. It's why we're here.

What I hear you asking is HOW connected must I be?

A sabbatical might be in order. One high profile example is John Piper who recently disconnected with specific goals for a pre-set length of time. But this is not a lifestyle. We follow a God who is all about relationship. This is who we are.

The Amish may be a microcosm, but they are not relevant, evangelistic or influential. Not exactly following the command of Jesus to "go into all the world and preach the gospel."

Creating margins is essential. Our model is Jesus, who withdrew from the crowds to pray. Talk about people who needed him. He knew when to say no, in order to be quiet before his Father and renew his heart and mind for his ministry.

Connecting via social media and email has its place, though I'm sure we've all seen certain authors hawking their books who are about as appealing as a new Amway recruit. No one wants to hear from someone online who is a monologue of self-promotion.

I like this blog because I get to know the authors as human beings, like minded with the same struggles and passions as I. This connection motivates me to go find your book(s), when you offer me something that contributes to my life instead of just your bottom line. That's why you connect and that's why I read.

Marian said...

Caring about the people you are connected to makes the difference.

Henrietta Frankensee said...

I applaud you for disconnecting the alert notifications. There is only so much electronic stimulus the human brain can take. If you want them you will seek them in your own time in your own space without them intruding.
I agree with the Right Honourable Slow and Steady. The human factor is paramount. You are very generous with yourself to us. And wherever you tip to we hope you write it all down.

Steve G said...

Jump, Latayne, jump! What I hear you saying is not that you need a sabbatical, but challenging us to stop trying to be something we are not (or trying to be everything to everybody). Because publishers ask for it, we scurry around like rodents trying to "create our brand" and build our networks, and do our own publicity. What you are calling us to do is write, to be masters of our craft. We can't do it all. But the stuff we do do, it should have substance (I made you say doo-doo).

And while most of us will not be totally unplugged, the people and things we do connect with will bear the fruit of our peace and depth, rather than the shallow ruminations we toss around as we run by on our way to the next social media encounter.

Unplug and become who you already are in Jesus.

Latayne C Scott said...

Nicole, I appreciate the reminder of for Whom we write. I agree that any distraction -- and for me, the biggest one is the lure of the Internet where I can explore and satisfy my curiosity about all kinds of things -- that takes me away from my ministry, is questionable at best.

Marcia, you just take that phrase and run with it! And I thank you for your support.

Wendy, you fit in here because you swim upstream. And that's a compliment.

Katy, I love you dearly.

Slow'n'Steady, I appreciate what you said, especially about margins. I think a lot about Jesus-- how I don't think He'd be the interviewee that most Christian bloggers would want. And endorsers? I think they'd hand the New Testament back to the publisher with a no-thank-you. Too controversial!

Marian and Henrietta-- bless you for the reminders. I try to remember how I felt when I was flailing around in error and needed somebody to help. Not a book or article, somebody.

Steve, I'm leaning forward into the breezes....

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Latayne, this is funny, because I'm kind of on the opposite journey. If you haven't heard of "My one word", make sure you Google it. It's a website that recommends ditching the long list of New Years resolutions and choosing as your focus just one word to define your whole year.

As I prayed about this concept, I felt God impressing on me the word "Connected". This word sums up a lot for me. First of all, I want to be connected with God. Such a simple and basic thing, and yet I've let it slide because last year, for me, was all about survival. (Nothing dire - just parenting a toddler and a new baby, having my routine completely turned on its head and suffering from terminal sleep deprivation.) LIfe has slowly returned to an even keel as my babies have grown, and I know that it's time - past time - to reconnect.

Secondly, the word speaks to me of connection with the writing community. Living in Australia has left me feeling somewhat isolated in the past. This year I've joined a critique group of Christian fiction writers, mostly based in America. Already I feel as though my soul is being watered by this connection.

The thing is, I don't think there's any right answer that applies to everybody. God has us all at different points on the journey. He could be telling me to connect and you to disconnect, both for perfectly valid reasons. In any case, I think there's a lot to gain by keeping your connections narrow and deep instead of broad and shallow.

Susie Finkbeiner said...

I think another reason that people (ahem...ladies) read the Amazing Amish Adventures is to escape the harsh realities of this world. It is a ragged edged world. It is TEMPTING to want an alternate reality. But, we can't live like the ostrich with her head stuck in the sand (and her fanny in the air). Unfortunately, we must live as pilgrims traveling through that land that we, through the power of Jesus, are attempting to help.

Latanye, if there are that many people writing to you, then you have struck a chord. You have helped them! You have served God well! And, from my experience with you, you have done it with much grace! Maybe you need a break, maybe not. That's a God direction thing. But it is clear to me that He is using you.

I don't know the answer...but you're using your gifts for Him! And that's awesome!

Latayne C Scott said...

Karen, I can identify. I during the time I wrote and researched my first book I had a baby, nursed that baby & my first baby (19 months apart) & pumped milk for an allergic baby of a friend, moved three times, graduated from college, and recovered from two major surgeries.

This writing thing can be done. If God is in it, He will help you do it.

Susie, your words were so kind. Thank you so much.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Latayne - holy COW!

Not exactly eloquent, I know. But I'm kinda speechless. You're amazing. Right, no more whining from me....

Latayne C Scott said...

Karen, I don't know about the amazing part. But I do remember telling my husband over and over, "You realize the Chinese drive people crazy by keeping them from sleeping, don't you? You do realize that?"


Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

LOL! So true! :-)

April Mae said...

I come to this question, "Unplug me?" from the stand-point of a handweaver, not an author.

I have a love/hate relationship with all the new technology which has entered my life in the past five years: a laptop - which has become my second brain; high-speed wireless Internet which helps me use my second brain; a pay-as-you-go cell phone to track children; an iPod Touch which contains all the music I own, plus an assortment of entertaining "apps" (including a metronome); and a Kindle I was given for Christmas - which I surprisingly like. I also joined FaceBook a couple of years ago, am a member of a couple of specialized on-line communities, and follow over 50 blogs - mostly about weaving (I like the pictures).

Even so, I find that I long for "the good old days" before computers and related technology and "social networking" took over my life. I have deliberately avoided mixing computers in with my weaving life and have no plans to ever get a computerized loom. For me, the entire appeal of the weaving process is that it is very tactile and is all done by hand or by hand/foot powered machinery. It is a way for me to slip away into my own little world with just a transistor radio playing classical music in the background.

I spent over ten years in my warm, fuzzy world of yarn, weaving for my own personal enjoyment - with no particular goals in mind, and was very happy and fulfilled with this approach. Then, I began to sell items in my annual guild sale and ever so subtly, things began to change. After selling for six years, I realized this past year that I was no longer weaving for my own pleasure but was only considering whether a project was something I could sell for a profit. This year, I am going to do some projects just for me - projects which will be too detailed and time-consuming to ever sell. I am going to enjoy myself once again and explore the areas where my curiosity takes me.

I assume writers struggle with this same battle - gradually tailoring books toward a specific audience in the hope that it will result in sales - rather than exploring areas of personal interest or curiosity. Latayne referred to a fellow author who advised to "write for yourself and not an audience nor a niche." This strikes me as a good ideal - but there isn't anything wrong with making some money either.

I think we all need to carve out a place for just ourselves and get away from all the demands and expectations of this electronic age - none of us are going to wither up and die if we "unplug" for a few hours here and there.

However, I must confess that when my Internet router died last week - I immediately rushed out to buy a replacement.

Latayne C Scott said...

April, you mirror with handcrafts some of the struggles I have with the fruit of my hands, my writing. I can really identify. As a subsequent post on this blog notes, the kiss of death is when you begin writing (or weaving, or painting) just with the thought of profit. On the other hand, a laborer is worthy of his or her hire.

I think the issue of delayed gratification enters in more strongly with writing. It's not unusual at all, in fact, it's the norm, for a book writer to wait years before getting any public feedback. (Of course that makes it all the sweeter when it does arrive :)

Lynn Dean said...

Oh, so timely! These machines--they were supposed to simplify our lives, right? Robotic servants, but too often we become slaves to them.

Latayne C Scott said...

Lynn, how true that is. But I realized I've been struggling with this issue for years. On my blog

you can read a poem I wrote over 25 years ago about this very issue. *sigh*