Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Twitter Fatigue

After being on vacation for a week I found it hard coming back – not just to work and civilian life and the grind of the ordinariness of living – but to Twitter and social media. I didn’t miss the burden of tweeting while I was on hiatus.

Twitter is a love-hate thing for many. Twitter is good at some things, such as when users want to announce something, comment on trends, share news, and for celebrities to commit their latest faux pas. It is not so good at encouraging a real dialogue – people just shout brief mumbo jumbo statements at one another. It is a self-centered tool used either by teens to spout nonsense or by marketers and publicists to push a product, service, or agenda.

It is something you cannot ignore, but Twitter is also something we embrace only reluctantly, or out of need. If I was not a book publicist I don’t think I would ever go on Twitter.

But whether you love it or hate it, it is an obsession for millions. That is the part I didn’t miss while snoozing on the soft beaches by the cozy Caribbean Sea of Mexico. Twitter forces me to be aware of time. My day gets broken up by it. Every few hours I feel compelled to tweet, seeking to strategically catch readers who may care about what I have to say.

Tweets look like modern-day hieroglyphics. I am not sure if they will mean anything to archivists rummaging through them in 50 years when Twitter is long gone. The 140-character limit forces a Sudoku-type approach to typing out a message that is based more on the pressures of meeting an artificial space cap than penning thoughtful content.

If I could be granted a wish to make something that exists to disappear, I might think of guns, greed, and cancer, but Twitter ranks up there. If you agree, tweet this blog post – or better yet, don’t.

Interview With Author Steve Jenkins

1. What type of books do you write? Non-fiction picture books for children. They are all about some aspect of the natural world, and often feature animals. Many of my books are co-written with Robin Page, my wife and partner in the graphic design firm we founded many years ago. 

2. What is your latest or upcoming book about? Robin and I just finished a pop-up book — our first — about animals that turn upside down. It's intended for readers a little younger than our typical audience (I think of most of my books as being written for a five- to ten-year old). Unlike most pop-ups, in which the 3-D effects are mostly decorative, we are trying to use the interactive features of the book to show how  turning upside down helps an animal survive. (Think an opossum plying dead, or a bird-of-paradise signaling a mate). I'm also working on a large (250+ page) book about animals and animal behavior, focusing on unusual or unfamiliar creatures.

3. What inspired you to write it? I used to get many of my book ideas from questions that my own children asked: what's the biggest animal? How far away is the sun? Now that my kids are older, ideas come from something I've read or from a question that I've asked myself (why are there so many different kinds of beetles?). The Animals Upside Down book came out of a conversation with Robin about trying something new.

4. How does it feel to be a published author? Any advice for struggling writers? It's gratifying — and still a little surprising — that it's possible to make a living doing something that's so much fun. Though it is really hard sometimes. As far as advice, while I suppose many authors do just fine with a "figure out what the market wants then give it to them" approach, I have to believe that success is more likely, and more gratifying, if one writes about things for which one has a real passion. That kind of personal investment may also make it easier to deal with the frequent rejection that seems to be part of this business.

5. Where do you see book publishing heading? I have a bit of a Louis XV attitude about printed books. At least I hope they'll last my time. And I think children's books — along with art and other coffee table volumes — may be one of  the last bastions of ink on paper. I do think we'll have "real" books for a while. The aesthetic experience of an e-reader or tablet is not the same, at least for those of us who grew up with books. I can imagine, though, a couple of things that might change this. The first is that the 3-year-olds who are playing with iPads may not have the same nostalgia for paper when they grow up (duh). The other is that, as in one of Neal Stephenson's technological projections, we'll have paper-like digital readers — something that can be rolled, folded, maybe paginated — that have many of the haptic qualities of a book with the ability to hyperlink, show video, and so on. Which would be pretty cool, but which would offer the same distractions (that will, in the future, be geometrically more distracting) that reading on a computer or pad does now. As for the business-model future of the publishing industry, I don't think about that too much, as it's out of my control. Plus, it's difficult to talk about Amazon without resorting to love/hate, elephant-in-the-living room, 800-pound primate cliches. So I won't.

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

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