Sunday, April 8, 2012

Buzz-hunting

I’m going to coin a term here: buzz-hunting. Buzz-hunting = trying to answer the question, “How’m I doing?” via the internet. (Or, similarly, “How’s my book doing?”) It includes self-Googling but so much more: Google alerts, blog stats, web stats, reading nomination lists, reading reviews, checking rankings and ratings, etc. I gather there is a thing called Klout that will assign a number to your alleged online influence. There are many ways to buzz-hunt, but those are just a few.

I call it buzz-hunting because the hunter is not only seeking buzz about him- or herself, but because it can also be used to obtain mood-altering emotional hits. I know there are people who can mine all these data with perfect equanimity, who can use it to craft promotional strategies and make decisions about how they invest their online resources. Then there are those for whom buzz-hunting is just an emotional roller-coaster.

I’ve always tried to be selective about buzz-hunting: only to engage in it when I’m feeling centered and ready to accept whatever I find; not to waste too much time doing it; not to let my well-being be determined by what I find. I try to do it on my own terms, and consequently I’ve never used alerts, for fear of having negative things thrown at me when I’m not ready. But back in February, I reached an unhappy place with it. It happened to be Ash Wednesday when I decided I wanted to step back from it, and so I decided that, even though I haven’t given up anything for Lent in years, this would be a good year to do so. And I figured that giving it up would increase my availability for inner reflection, which would also be in keeping with Lent.

The one thing I explicitly allowed myself was my weekly Bookscan check, because I use those numbers for actual practical things such as royalty projections, which help with my estimated taxes. Except for that and a couple of lapses (hey, I’m not perfect), I did manage to keep my resolution.

It was, in some ways, like being in a vacuum. My mind was quieter. I developed a passionate curiosity about a few pieces of information I would’ve liked, but I also had an overwhelming sense of relief. My books were out there, making their own way, and I did not have to agonize over how every single reader received them. A few kind people sent me fan tweets or emails (which are always appreciated), but I was not following all the quantitative measures by which we can rank ourselves on the internet. One thing I’ve noticed by never having alerts is that, if anything really big and wonderful happens, somebody will email me about it. YALSA list nominations; big writeups in the paper; state list nominations: when they happened, I found out about them eventually.

Now that the season is over, I’ve made a short list of the kinds of buzz-hunt measures I do want to track—a much shorter list than my pre-Lent habits. And I’m willing to give those up again if they make me unhappy. The weird thing about buzz-hunting is that even when you find only good stuff out there, it doesn’t necessarily lead to satisfaction. Sometimes it triggers a craving for constant reinforcement.

By saying all this, I’m not saying that buzz-hunting is bad or that nobody should do it. I’m just sharing my own experience in case it is helpful to anyone else. Everyone has his or her own comfort level with this stuff. I do want new writers to know that if other people tell you you have to get Google alerts or track your blog stats or whatever: No, you don’t have to. You can, and you might like it and find it helpful, but it’s up to you.

22 comments:

  1. This is a post which I will copy and put in my "Read this at least once a month" file. I especially appreciated the truth in this: "The weird thing about buzz-hunting is that even when you find only good stuff out there, it doesn’t necessarily lead to satisfaction. Sometimes it triggers a craving for constant reinforcement."

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom, Jenn.

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    1. Thanks--somehow it is more comforting when we realize others go through the same ups and downs!

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  2. This is a wonderful post. I haven't set up Google alerts either, and I'm weaning myself off reading Goodreads reviews. People tweet good reviews at me, and I find that when I do self-Google, it usually only leads to that bad place wherein one bad review ruins my night despite the four good ones.

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    1. Thanks, Jess! I know what you mean about how negative finding can overshadow the positives. I'm trying to conserve my energy for things I can control. :-)

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  3. I agree with Angelina. Same with trying to replace real person friendships with online friendships. If you don't make time for real-life friends, the Internet friends cannot possibly fill the void. This is a great post.

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    1. That's a good point about real-life relationships, and how only part of the world is inside these digital boxes of ours!

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  4. This was great, Jenn. So true about the trigger for constant reinforcement. I find myself very vulnerable to this with regard to my blog. Just checking those stats can either make or break my day. I realize I shouldn't focus so much energy on that. The focus must be on the work I actually want to put out there. The blog and twitter account are just the extras.

    This is a helpful reminder of what buzz-hunting can do to or for a writer. *attaches virtual sticky note*

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    1. And blog stuff is so unpredictable. We never know what resonates most or generates the most comments or interest. All we can do is put forth our best efforts and let go of the outcome.

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  5. I've noticed a lot of, well, buzz in the last couple months over the issue about reading what people say online about your work. It sounds like you've found a balance!

    Great post.

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    1. Thanks! I think it's a balance everyone has to find for him/herself, and it probably changes with time.

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  6. I'm with you. I don't track anything and it helps me focus on writing!

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  7. Sometimes I think I unconsciously look for negative reinforcement. So I think I'd stick with waiting for people to tell me about the good things happening.

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    1. I think if we look long enough, we always find something we wish we hadn't seen. That temptation becomes increasingly resistible!

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  8. Lovely post and great reflections. I think that as technology & social media expand we need to constantly refind our own balance - but it can get so busy it's hard to even step back and do that. Thanks for the reminder. (oddly enough, I find that the alerts relax me to some extent, so that I rarely feel I need to do more hunting. And I TRY to just skim the summary & not go to link unless particularly appealing.)

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    1. Yes, alerts work well for some people. The key is knowing ourselves, so we can choose the tools that work for us.

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  9. I couldn't have read this at a better time. Just yesterday I set up a siteblocker on *that* site because it was making me feel worthless and ready to give up writing.

    I don't need that in my life, real life is good enough at telling me what a failure I am, don't need to go looking for more of it on the internet.

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    1. Some criticism can help us sharpen our work. But some criticism is just not helpful at all. If it deflates our will to keep on, that is the time to shut the door on it!

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  10. It's so important to find your own limits and balance when it comes to this sort of thing. I have an author friend who reads my reviews and lets me know if there's anything I need to be aware of, and I read hers. I've taken my name off an alert. I don't Google myself. I keep feedback to beta readers I choose, and to my publisher and editor. Like I said in my last post, sometimes I wonder if I'm building a wall or letting go of things. I'm still trying to figure it all out. All I know is that I'm finding a more secure happiness inside myself, and that is what matters most. :)

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    1. We all need a balance between the inner voice and social interaction. Since the line is in a different place for everyone, it takes some trial and error to find it! And I think it moves over time, too, depending on what's going on in our lives.

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