A friend of a friend (I’m being vague to protect the innocent) published a chapbook of her poetry several months ago and presented an autographed copy to a colleague and fellow writer. This colleague, eager to promote the new writer’s work, extracted a few stanzas of poetry (complete with awkward sentence breaks and missing punctuation) and placed it on his Facebook page. Dozens of “friends” chimed in to “like” while others offered unsolicited feedback.
You can imagine the author’s dismay when she found her work posted for public consumption especially since she is one of those social media luddites and privacy freaks (ahem) who is not on Facebook. She argued that she had offered her book for a “professional” review, preferably in a literary journal, and that Facebook was not an “officially sanctioned platform” for book reviews period. In so far as literary feuds go, this was no Gabriel García Márquez and Mario Vargas Llosa dust-up but it severed a long-time professional relationship.
As a fellow Facebook abstainer I could understand her feelings—but not her naïveté. According to one study, 95% of all communication online is through social media. Over a billion people—and their pets—are on Facebook. You can’t slap a restraining order on people who post your photos, your vacation plans, your poetry! on their Facebook page. Anything you write—be it in a journal, blog or magazine—can be extracted, linked, posted or tweeted on a friend or stranger’s Facebook without your consent or approval.
A few months ago I would have said this was a terrible thing, but now I’m not so sure. After all, a writer’s greatest fear should be obscurity. Millions of titles are published every year by amateurs and professionals alike and they’re all competing for publicity. If you’re lucky, your book will attract attention–and potential readers. Facebook, despite its creepy pokers, photoshopped images, moronic comments, and narcissistic vibe, could very well be the perfect place for a writer to build an audience—and get some honest feedback.