There isn't a day that goes by when I don't receive e-mails from MySpace, Facebook, Crimespace, or any of the other various networking tools. They tell me someone wants to be my friend, someone has sent me a message, someone has bitten me and wants me to join vampires or someone wants to meet me at the virtual bar. When the networking sites first started gaining popularity, I was only into Facebook. At the time, there was some filtration of who was allowed to sign up, not to mention it was strangely entertaining to search high school buddies and see what they were up to. But when the site went public, everything changed. Authors, bands, even corporate offices were setting up profiles as a way to network and sell their products. Except for the interface, MySpace and Facebook seem the same to me: an open forum in which to self promote and network with people.
If that wasn't enough or someone didn't like the options that were out there, Ning came along and allowed folks to create their own social network with their own specificities. Firefighters, crime writers, pagans, and Greenwood High School students finally have networks of their own. Now I was being asked to join Crimespace, GoogleBlogger, and Book Place.
The question I have is, what do these sites really do? Every author I know has a Facebook profile, MySpace page, and a Ning ID. But are these really selling books or is it just a way for authors to feel more connected?
In my experience, no one in publishing really knows what sells books. Blogs, print advertising, appearances and mailers, are just a few ideas they try out, but it's impossible to know what it takes for masses of people to run into a bookstore and buy someone's book. I don't think anyone truly believes that belonging to these social networks is going to sell books, but because everyone else is doing it, they don't want to be at a disadvantage. Couldn't hurt, right?
But I truly believe that these sights don't do anything except suck time away and maybe provide free advertising space for a book signing or author event. I've never met someone on Facebook and thought, "Wow. They have a lot of friends, most of whom are other authors. I should probably pick up their book." While I continue to have a Facebook page for the purpose of stalking old high school classmates, I'm saying no to joining anymore networks and to spending hours trolling for friends, looking at other people's pictures, or writing things on people's walls. And though I may be at a disadvantage since everyone else is doing it, I'm going to spend those free hours writing, reading, and maybe even leaving the house and meeting a real life friend.