Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Why Twitter Matters to Writers

I know, I'm writing a lot about Twitter these days. There's a reason. It's getting to be a force in the writing universe. Consider the following:

I've heard it all before--as have you, "Why bother with Face Book, Twitter, My Space (so not cool now), etc.? Just a black hole of my time and keystrokes. Who has time?" I've heard myself say these same things.

Well, 28-year-old Justin Halpern found the time to setup his Twitter account titled "ShitMyDadSays." It has over 700,000 followers. One of those followers is CBS television. And--please sit down for this so you don't fall down--they just signed Justin to a TV deal. In addition, Justin signed a book deal recently based on his Dad who says shit.

Here's a sample:

"You look just like Stephen Hawking...Relax, I meant like a non-paralyzed version of him. Feel better? ... Fine. Forget I said it."

("ShitMyDadSays," Twitter 2009, Justin Halpern)

I can totally see how a creative executive at a network could run with this. Whoever saw the potential in this tweet made their salary for the year. And they made the right call. This is perfect for sitcom development, and this is the kind of stuff that fuels TV development all the time. I completely see how this could spin off into a multi-camera, family sitcom.

So, why Twitter matters, why Face Book matters, etc., beyond the social networking aspects, is that there are companies out there scouring these sites for ideas. We've all known for a dog's age that media companies have their story department interns reading e-books, watching every new web series, and listening to podiocasts galore. Web series like "Quarterlife" are now legendary for jumping species and moving to TV (disastrously in Quarterlife's case). But, now the focus of the Great Eye is now taking in anything where an ounce of creativity might show itself.

The point here is that writers can no longer take social networking for granted. Social applications where you can create a presence for yourself are gold. They are part of doing business for the writer, like writing every day, or calling your agent every week, or drinking gallons of coffee. You have to have a presence in all these venues. It's time consuming and a pain in the ass, but if you want to work, if you want exposure, if you want to be seen by the Great Eye that sees all things remotely creative, then you have to play the game.

If you watch anyone under thirty, you will notice they spend as much time thumbing their mobile device as they do making eye contact. These are the people who are being hired into power positions at networks and studios. I'm an old fart, but I'm tech savvy and I know this stuff, so I'm not behind the curve. But, how about you? Do you have your blog? Do you have a Twitter account? Are you marketing yourself in all the places you can to maximize visibility for your work and your brand? Even if you don't have a brand?

I'm happy for Justin. But, his story is no different than the stories we used to hear about in the indie movie world where the young-up'n-comer from out of nowhere lands the movie deal for the sixteen millimeter short he/she shot while on summer break from school. We just heard a similar story with the phenom "Paranormal Activity," shot for 15,000 by an unknown director two years ago. Recently released by Paramount, "Paranormal" is now pushing 100 million domestic and hasn't even been released globally. There are always the lottery winners out there who fuel the dreams of struggling filmmakers and writers everywhere. "Hey, that might be me next!" I say dream on, and congratulations Justin.

But, in the meantime, while you wait for the lottery to shine on you, take a cold, hard look at what is happening in the marketplace and on the Web. This is where writers have to be in the years to come (screw years-months). It's just starting. We don't even know how all this is going to end up, because it is constantly evolving. All I know is that Justin is a huge shout to us all to rethink our businesses and our writing. I'm not saying you have to abandon traditional values and/or methods, or that you have to start writing 140-character novels. I'm only suggesting its time to open up the repertoire and design a business model for your career that leverages the world as it is, not as it was.

Publishing, movies, television, it's all changing--and fast. Justin is our canary in the coal mine, only instead of dying form poisonous gases he is flying high for being in the right place at the right time. You can too. It just takes work and attention to your writing life--screw the lottery. You have to be your own lottery.

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