COUNTDOWN: PLATFORMING

This is the second installment of the “countdown” posts I’m doing for shewrites.com.

In my last post I chronicled the long and winding road I travelled to a contract for my new memoir. I feel incredibly lucky, but, as I’m sure you know, getting a book contract is only part of the publishing picture.

In the same message telling my wonderful agent that my memoir had been accepted, the kindly editor added a kind of warning, or at least a very strong recommendation, despite her enthusiasm for the book: “Nancy will have to work on her platform.” Platform?

I was not completely bewildered by the phrase—translated by the editor as the need for me to develop an “online presence.” I had heard it before. Indeed, I had entered the “platform” world with What They Saved. And shared my struggles with the process of self-promotion (at the heart of the platform) in this very column. I described the injunction to launch news of my work into the vast Internet ether as a sado-masochistic plot. A twisted plot in which I became my own torturer. After all, I was promoting “me.” So why was I complaining? And to whom was I complaining?

DominatrixI learned a lot and even enjoyed my book launch. So this is what  “real” (read: non-academic) writers do. But now that I’m ready for another go-round in  dizzying trade book land, I’m having that sinking feeling again. It’s not enough to write your book, you have to take it to market. It’s time to take out the whip.

At this point in my countdown, I have no idea whether I am successfully platforming, or whether my shameless self-promotion has accomplished what it is meant to do. Has my online self come into existence? Will that make a difference in the book’s fate?

Is platforming even a verb? Maybe not, but hey there’s: Tweeting, Tumblring, blogging, Facebooking, just to name a few of the activities that have been urged upon me and that I’ve done, with a little help from my friendly publicist, who is a fan of Tumblr; ditto for Twitter. (Tweet: Pretend you are sending newspaper clippings to your friends. Remember, like your father used to do?) I comb newspapers and magazines looking for something to comment on. Oh, and there’s Goodreads. (Well, I would be reading anyway, wouldn’t I?) As far as I can tell, Goodreads is a place where my publisher gives away book galleys for free. (A good reader is someone who knows a bargain when she sees one?)

Um, should I participate in something that’s not a real word—tumblr?—to tumblr? (tumble +bumble+blunder?), though tweet probably is one by now, since everybody does it. Am I not contributing to the illiteracy problem in our country? Next I’ll be saying “awesome.” Every week, at the instigation of my web designer, I post a meditation on the diary page of my website, instead of preparing my seminar. My students can just check out my website if they want to know what I’m thinking!

At least I have eschewed LinkedIn (that must have been the inspiration for leaning in, another unfortunate coinage), and a few other web activities that are supposed to be good for one’s profile (platform?)

There’s also the fact, if we think about these words literally, that for a woman of a certain age, by which I mean a woman like me in her seventies, standing on a platform, or showing one’s face in profile, may not really be a selling point. And above all, no “selfies.”

Only time will tell. For now, given my grouchy temperament and my Jewish anxiety genes, a shameful confession: despite immense gratitude that I’m finally publishing my memoir, I can’t help feeling I’d rather be home trying to write another book than out there (is there a there there?) trying to sell one. In the end, it’s less lonely.

Twitter and Trolls

The FEMEN movement has warned London and Britain that an offensive on the city is in the works. Inna Shevchenko whose face inspired a new image for Marianne, the female symbol of the French Republic as portrayed on French stamps, is proud of her activism, especially if it provokes Right-wing Christian groups to fits of range: “Now all homophobes, extremists, fascists,” she is said to have tweeted, “will have to lick my ass when they want to send a letter.”

boobs

I’ve been wondering whether they’ll be coming to New York anytime soon, and if so, will their picture appear in the Times? A girl can dream.

But FEMEN isn’t here yet, and one can only imagine the kind of reaction they will get if the criminal rape fantasizers thriving in the Twittersphere have bare breasts to deal with.

Since I have yet to master Twitter, I’m paying a lot of attention to its effects, and finding it hard to understand why it’s so appealing to so many―for good or for ill. But there’s no missing the ease with which it can become a mode of intimidation. This past weekend, in order to create policy changes on the medium, there was a 24-hour boycott (#twittersilence) over the obscenity, abuse, and rape threats proliferating online, ostensibly triggered by the announcement of the Jane Austen ten-pound bank note, and aimed at Caroline Criado-Perez, the young feminist activist involved in the campaign to keep a woman’s face on the currency. Not all women agreed on silence. Some felt it was better to fight back, but the excesses were a wake-up call.

And it wasn’t all about Jane Austen. Living women writers were equally vulnerable to attack.

Mary Beard

While Criado-Perez was taking cover outside the city―what was thought to be her home had been targeted for potential violence– historian Mary Beard, famous for her popularization of classics scholarship on television (and criticized by some for her appearance―long, gray hair among other sins against feminine beauty) has been threatened not only with rape but with decapitation and bombing. Although some of the feminists here think that Twitter silence is the wrong way to go, better to stand up to bullies and online trolls, the reactions have forced the general manager of Twitter in the UK and the director of trust and safety to promise (weakly) that they will build in better report buttons on various platforms. The police are also on alert.

What connects sex, text, feminism and misogyny? There’s a strange stew of extremist ingredients simmering and ready to boil over the moment anyone turns up the heat on the status quo about women’s place in contemporary politics and culture.

No one seems to have a handle on the sudden proliferation of misogyny conjoined with social media. But I can’t say it makes me want to learn how to have a public face, as it were, on Twitter, any time soon, even if it’s been touted as a way to create attention for my new book.

“New-Wave Feminists,” starring Jane Austen

I’ve long been enamored of new-wave movies since they changed my life, and so it was a treat to see feminists referred to as “new wavers” in a spirit of excitement. A lot has been going on this summer by activists of feminism’s fourth wave. For one thing, due to campaigning by feminist activists, the Bank of England announced that the face of Jane Austen would appear on the next ten-pound note. No small achievement.

janeaustin10pounds

And crossing the channel for a moment, it was reported a couple of weeks ago that the Femen leader was to be the face of France’s iconic Marianne: a new postage stamp designed to mark François Hollande’s presidency.

But, back to England, and not just stamps.

I’m not sure how many lions it takes to make a pride, but there’s a pride of feminist journalists reporting in the Guardian and a great deal of attention to feminist issues, from the mass rally in Hyde Park to mark the 100th anniversary of the suffragettes’ action in 1913 to the Jane Austen story, to the battle against the display of what’s called “lads’ mags” in a large grocery chain. (A typical title: “Nuts and Zoo”).

Oddly, or perhaps predictably, the avowedly feminist triumph of getting Jane Austen’s face on the ten-pound note produced an unpleasant, and even violent series of misogynist reactions posted on social media.

Elizabeth Criado-Perez, the brave young activist who led the campaign to have Austen’s face on the note, was attacked and threatened with rape on Twitter. Various conversations about an effective response have ensued guaranteeing that this individual case will not go the way of anecdote. Rather, this specific attack has led to a widespread conversation about the kind of harassmentthat has repeatedly been taking place across the Internet.

Even the distinguished classicist Mary Beard has entered the fray, “naming and shaming” an Internet “troll” who mocked her on Twitter. This feels like the beginning of a serious debate here about what’s been dubbed “anti-social media.

janeaustenI almost forgot. Jane Austen is also making news because of the recent installation of a larger than life Mr. Darcy (a k a Colin Firth) emerging from the Serpentine in a wet shirt as a publicity stunt to promote a new tv channel’s production of yet another film version of Pride and Prejudice. It seems that the lake scene is the scene from the novel (or would that be the movie?) most Austen fans like best.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Hadley Freeman’s primer for how “not to be a dick on the internet,” belated advice to Anthony Weiner, pro-actively, how to fight back against internet abuse.

I know I’m given to idealizing places where I do not live, and god knows there’s plenty of sexism and misogyny alive and well in the UK, but I confess it is a restorative experience to read a newspaper column that refers to “fourth-wave” feminism as if it were something real, interesting, and potentially effective.

What will I do when I’m back with the Times?

If Emily Dickinson tweeted…

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you―Nobody―Too? (c. 1861)

Emily Dickinson

Despite Dickinson’s well-known gift for concision, these lines and the ones that follow in the poem, suggest that Dickinson would not have been out there performing the acts of (shameless) self-promotion that writers today have been urged to practice by their publishers, via Twitter, Facebook, and social media sites as yet unknown to me. A friend and writer, Yona McDonough, who knows the poem by heart (she recited it to me from memory), discussed this phenomenon at the reading of another writer friend Daphne Kalotay, who was reading from her new novel Sight Reading the other night at Posman Books.

Ah, so now I’ve shared the shame of self-publicity by including two women in the performance. Does that change the fact that I am being “public―like a Frog–” putting names (not least my own) out there to an “admiring Bog!” Does it make it better if I link myself to others? But that’s also a strategy, I’ve been told.

It’s a conundrum. Poised on the threshold of a season of self-promotion as my pub date approaches, I can’t help but feeling dread at the thought of having to work on my “platform,” my “online presence,” as the editors have made clear to me that I’m expected to do. At the same time, I should ask myself why I think it’s OK as a memoirist to put my most personal memories in the world for public circulation and consumption, but not OK to help find an audience for the book that contains them?

“I know the reader doesn’t need to know all that” (details from his childhood experiences) but I need to tell her.” (“Her” is the generic him, masculine in French.) That’s a “confession” about getting autobiographical in public that Rousseau plants early on in his Confessions.

Jean-Jacques_Rousseau_(painted_portrait)
Every memoirist feels that need: the need to provide readers with details that the readers might even consider: tmi. Too MUCH information. And maybe that’s the issue. What details are necessary to convey the story, what details are (my husband would say) self-indulgent? And who decides?

So I guess that is my question to myself and to fellow memoirists: how to decide what is enough and what is too much?