A window or a gateway?

I recently rewatched the 1954 Alfred Hitchcock movie, Rear Window. I can’t help but feel as though it is a lens into the challenges that writers face in navigating social media. Today I want to talk about how the movie is a metaphor for these challenges.

If you are unfamiliar the movie, it takes place in a single room. The main character, Jeff (played by James Stewart), has a broken leg, and spends his days staring out the window to the courtyard in his New York City apartment, able to see into the lives of his many neighbors. Their windows are all open because of the hot summer days. Here we see our main character on the left (along with a friend), looking out onto the courtyard behind other buildings:

 

It all looks so ordinary. A guy in a tiny apartment looking at the backs of other buildings. Yet this is the entire movie. This is akin to how we can experience social media, peering into the lives of others from our screens.

Jeff observes strange behavior from one neighbor in particular and begins to suspect that he has murdered his wife. I won’t give away the ending, but throughout the film, he collects evidence to back up his thesis, as skeptical friends around him poke holes in his theory. One by one, these friends go from skeptics to believers that the neighbor committed murder.

Just like how we observe others in social media, we have partial information. It’s easy to draw conclusions about the lives of others with a few key facts (or Instagram photos), even if we are missing so much context. What’s more, by following someone on social media, we can feel involved in their lives.

It’s not uncommon for someone to compare their own life to the lives of others on social media. To become envious of someone else who got a book deal, or whose work is being celebrated, or is on vacation, or is simply having a great hair day. So many writers and artists I speak to talk about the difficulty of “doom scrolling” on social media, where they are drawn to social media, but end up feeling worse about themselves the more they scroll.

In the film, there are multiple times where Jeff comes to his senses reflecting on having become a person who uses binoculars and cameras to spy into the apartment across the way. Yet, he is constantly drawn back into a preexisting narrative of wanting to solve the mystery of the woman who disappeared from the window across the courtyard.

Social media can be a WINDOW. A one-way look into the lives of others. And we too can observe others with preexisting narratives of what their lives are like and why.

What is another way to look at social media? As a GATEWAY. I wrote about this in my book, Be the Gateway: A Practical Guide to Sharing Your Creative Work and Engaging an Audience. What is the difference between a window and a gateway? In the gateway, you move through it. As do others when you welcome them in. It is about shared experience and connection, not distant observation.

The movie shares a wonderful example of this with two of the other neighbors that Jeff observes. One is a woman who seems lonely. Another is a frustrated pianist who can’t seem to finish a piece he is working on. Here we see the woman setting dinner for two, but then only pretending to be eating with another person, holding a conversation all by herself:

 

And here is the frustrated piano player, working alone:

 

At a pivotal moment in the movie, when all hope seems lost for the woman, she hears his piano and comes alive, moving toward the window. We later see them together, engaged in a lively conversation, having come together over their shared love of music. Here, music is the gateway, reaching out across that courtyard. And theses two people moved across it as well to meet each other, to find a real connection and a meaningful experience:

 

I will simply encourage you to focus on social media as a gateway, not just a window. A way to truly connect with others. Yes, this can happen in a variety of ways, but I want to encourage you to not just be a silent onlooker. We all have the opportunity to reach out and connect with others. To validate who they are and create a shared experience. What if you are the person that celebrated someone’s book, amplified their voice, or simply said ‘hello’?

This is the opportunity we each have every day. What will you make of it? A window or a gateway?

Thanks.

-Dan

What does “just be authentic” on social media mean?

As a writer or creator, I’m sure you have read that you should connect directly with your potential readers on social media, a newsletter, and elsewhere online. And when you ask “Um, what exactly do I share? How — specifically — do I do this?” You may have heard the advice of:

“Just be authentic!”

But that isn’t as easy as it sounds. So today I want to talk about what it means to share your work, how “authenticity” works, when it becomes ridiculously complicated, and how you can approach all of this as a craft that feels safe and meaningful. You know, one where you slowly learn and build, instead of feeling like you are flopping around, a fish out of water.

I want to present this in two ways, the first is how I think people intend “authenticity” to feel, which is this: that it is deeply true. That it resonates in your bones. That you are sharing what matters, whether that it a moment of total excitement, or an experience of deep truth. The idea of “being authentic” in how you share online is supposed to mean, “Don’t be a fake poser,” which I have to imagine resonates with most people.

But, I kinda fear that the encouragement to be “authentic” online also makes people feel, well… bad. That it creates an expectation that they every day they can conjure up something “authentic” via a status update, photo, or video, that feels right and others love. Where this gets complicated is when you share something that feels authentic, only to hear crickets. No one comments, no one clicks “like,” no one shares it, no one validates you. This can effect someone’s mental health in a negative way. They may think:

“Well, I shared myself and no one cared.” Or simply: “Me being authentic is me not knowing what to share.”

Knowing how to communicate what we care most about is not easy. I mean, in college I majored in Communications. Even at the time, it felt a little odd because all around me, everywhere I went, people were communicating. So on the surface, how to communicate isn’t a mystery. But of course, there are layers to how we communicate well. For sharing your creative work, I think this can also get wrapped up on our own sense of identity too.

For instance, we can dream that “being authentic” is wearing an amazing outfit, on a great hair day, sitting in a trendy cafe in a cool city, writing a book next to other people who are awesome and creative. Oh, and eating a delicious brownie.

But the reality of “being authentic” is often the opposite: sitting on an old chair in a room by oneself, in sweatpants that are fraying at the bottom, watching a YouTube video on their phone of someone renovating a kitchen. Oh, and eating Cheez-Its.

This idea of “just be authentic” can also make someone feel like it’s easy for everyone else. They can look at others sharing on social media, and it just looks so wonderful and effortless. So in that moment, the idea of “just be authentic!” can often feel like, “Well, I want to be authentic, but a certain kind of authentic. Not THIS KIND of authentic. Not the kind where my home is a mess. I feel like I look horrible. Where the lighting is bad.”

The conversation around “Just be authentic” that feels like it is missing is that of mental health. Our complicated relationship with self-esteem, with wondering who we even are, what we are projecting , who it is for, how it relates to our goals, of wanting to both stand out yet also fit in, and just this pervasive feeling of: “am I doing this right?”

Maybe none of this resonates with you. Maybe some of it does, but you have your own spin on it. I spend my days working with writers and talking to creators, and this stuff comes up constantly. So what do I recommend to help you feel a path to sharing with authenticity, but avoiding the downward spiral of second guessing and feeling bad about it? Some ideas:

  • Be clear about the topics and themes you want to be known for. Think of it like this: “what topics am I endlessly curious about?” Or: “What topics do I love exploring?” Know your messaging inside and out as a way to give yourself permission to go deep and share frequently.
  • Focus on sharing a moment, not a thing. Just share something that gives you joy, gives you pause, or you want to share because it felt interesting
  • Connecting with one person should be the goal. Don’t try to speak to “an audience.” Because that can be terrifying to feel you are pleasing everyone.
  • Ask questions. Simple questions that make people feel a part of, or connected to what you are sharing. I mean, just look at this question that author Sara Petersen shared with her followers the other day: “What are some of the most infuriating things people have said to you re: motherhood?” The response? 677 replies and 125 people resharing it to others.
  • Define ways that feel safe for you to feel seen. For example, look at my Instagram feed. You see one corner of my studio, that’s pretty much it. Yet within that corner, I can do a lot!
  • Don’t be afraid to hone the craft of how you share. Give yourself time: weeks, months, years to learn how to share in a manner that feels authentic to who you are.
  • Show up. Don’t hide. Your voice and your message deserves to be heard.

These actions don’t have to be complicated. They can be sharing a question:

 

Or Sharing a selfie:

 

Or recommending a book. Sure, this is celebrity, but I only saw it because a friend shared it, along with the comment: “I. Need. This.” Her other friends quickly commented, “For real me too lol especially lately” and “same.” This is how word-of-mouth-marketing happens.

“Authenticity” in how you share is what you make of it. I want to encourage you to set clear boundaries so that you feel comfortable and safe, but then consider how you share as a craft. The goal is not a vying for a “like” or going viral, but truly connecting a theme or idea with another human being.

Thanks.

-Dan

Great marketing is giving people something they WANT to share (podcast)

There are many writers and creators who think that marketing is the act of getting in someone’s way. Of tricking someone to subscribe to a newsletter by giving them a freebie; using a hashtag to game the social media algorithm to share your work; or posting a random meme to social media to get any kind of attention for your book. But the opposite is what is true. Great marketing is giving people something that they want to be a part of, and that they want to share with others.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking ‘play’ below, or in the following places:

You can watch the episode here:

Great marketing is giving people something they WANT to share

There are many writers and creators who think that marketing is the act of getting in someone’s way. Of tricking someone to subscribe to a newsletter by giving them a freebie; using a hashtag to game the social media algorithm to share your work; or posting a random meme to social media to get any kind of attention for your book. But the opposite is what is true.

Great marketing is giving people something that they want to be a part of, and that they want to share with others.

I watch a lot of YouTube channels in my downtime, and one of them is a video game streamer. So this person’s profession is to play video games, and more than 1,000 people will tune in live to watch him do it because he’s really good, and they just like his personality. One day, someone asked him about his sponsor, which is Red Bull. The person asked if Red Bull requires the streamer to wear their logo on hats, sweatshirts, etc. Here’s what the streamer said:

“Am I contracted to wear Red Bull merch as part of my contract? I’ll be real, Red Bull does not have any sort of rules or regulations for me at all. They absolutely prefer if I wear their hats when I’m doing things. But what Red Bull does to get around requiring you to wear any of their stuff, is they send you a lot of their stuff that’s all such high quality; these hats are physically better than New Era hats. I also have unlimited access to it.”

I had to look it up, New Era hats go for around $30-50 each, and they are the official hat company for Major League Baseball. But I just loved this idea… of not making a streamer feel locked into having to wear something. Why? Because personal style matters to people, including to someone who earns a living sitting in front of their screen all day playing video games.

Good marketing isn’t tricking people. Instead it is connecting with their passions, their needs, their goals, their challenges. It is them feeling seen for the first time, of feeling connected with something — or someone — who deeply resonates.

When you consider how you share your creative work, how you will approach developing your platform, or launching your book, I encourage you to keep this in mind. This is not about you “putting on your marketing hat,” it is not “now I have to become a marketer,” and it is not “Ugh, people are going to think I’m a marketer now.” The act of marketing is about understanding your ideal reader. It is connecting with them in a way that is meaningful to them. It is sharing something that they want to participate in. It is them talking about it because they truly want to.

When you look around at author events, authors on podcasts, #booktok, Instagram, literary festivals and the like, watch for this. The people who show up to hear and support these authors — aren’t they doing so out of enthusiasm? Don’t they seem to love it? Connecting with books, authors, and other readers. Is this a moment where they feel “tricked by marketing,” or is it the one moment in their day where they feel filled with joy, purpose, and connection?

I would encourage you to think of the purpose of marketing in this manner: to give people the opportunity to be a part of something that truly matters to them.

Thanks.
-Dan

Why should writers worry about marketing at all? (podcast)

Isn’t it enough just to create a great book or work of art? Why would a writer ever have to feel responsible for marketing their own book? Shouldn’t that be the job of the publisher? Let’s dig into this topic. 

You can listen to the podcast by clicking ‘play’ below, or in the following places:

You can watch the episode here: