Cass Sunstein on the echo chamber and his new book, #Republic

SunsteinSocial media gives us ways to nurture ever more elaborate online communities, but is it friendly to the kind of democracy diverse societies need? In #Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media, Cass Sunstein, the New York Times bestselling author of Nudge and The World According to Star Wars, shows exactly how today’s Internet is driving political fragmentation, polarization, and even extremism—and what can be done about it. Recently, Sunstein answered a few questions about his timely new book.

Why did you write this book, and how does it relate to your previous work?

Well, we are obviously in a time of national division. The splits between Americans across political lines are striking and disturbing, and there’s a lot of division and mutual misunderstanding out there. There is distrust and anger as well. Social media contributes to those splits. So I wanted to get hold of what is a really serious problem in a nation that aspires to E Pluribus Unum. The book grows out of my previous books on the general subject—but the media environment has changed so rapidly that some of the central arguments, e.g. about Twitter and Facebook, are entirely new.

What new threats to democracy does the internet pose now that it didn’t pose, say, five years ago? Haven’t people always sorted themselves into like-minded groups?

We used to have a much larger role for general interest intermediaries, such as the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. That’s diminished, and with it, trust in them has diminished too. The use of niches—especially for people who are politically engaged—is pretty dramatic. Hashtag Nation (#Nation) isn’t really something we’ve seen before. I wouldn’t want to say that things are getting worse, but they’re getting differently bad.

We’ve all heard the term “echo chamber,” perhaps particularly in the recent election cycle. Can you talk a bit about this idea and the implicit dangers?

Echo chambers breed extremism. If you hang out with like-minded people, you’ll get more confident and more extreme—and the group will get more unified. Pretty soon, people in different echo chambers live in different political universes. That makes problem-solving really hard, and it makes enmity really easy. My own work in the White House showed me the importance of focusing on objective truths and of not insulating oneself—echo chambers are destructive to those endeavors.

How can the internet be made friendlier to democratic deliberation?

A big question. Let’s start with Facebook: It should redo its News Feed so as to ensure that there’s less in the way of informational cocoons. Let’s end with each of us: We should make choices so that we hear lots of points of view, including from people we think we disagree with. If you can’t learn something from someone with a very different political orientation, you’re missing a lot. You’re not an ideal citizen, or close to it.

What kind of democracy is needed in diverse societies, and how can your book help us to get there?

We need deliberative democracy—one in which people deliberate with people who are unlike themselves, and learn from them. We need to put a premium on science and facts. We need serendipitous encounters with people and ideas that we would not choose to engage. We need a lot more technocracy, not less. The book might have a few ideas on those subjects.

Cass R. Sunstein is the Robert Walmsley University Professor at Harvard Law School. His many books include the New York Times bestsellers Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness (with Richard H. Thaler), The World According to Star Wars, and #Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media.

University Press Week: Behind the scenes with Stephanie Rojas

#UpWeek

In honor of University Press Week, we’re featuring interviews and posts with members of the Princeton University Press community all week. Next, Stephanie Rojas, Marketing & Social Media Associate, talks about her role at PUP:

Stephanie RojasAs the Marketing & Social Media Associate at Princeton University Press, I work in two departments: copywriting and social media. My duties for copywriting include requesting copy approval from authors, soliciting Author Promotion Forms, writing copy for our paperback titles, and aggregating our marketing plans for each book into a letter format to be sent to our authors. As a member of the social media department, I write blog posts and edit original content from our authors, contribute to our social media accounts, and help brainstorm social media campaigns.

For me, one of the most rewarding things so far has been building our new Instagram account from the ground up. Before we launched the account on September 1, I took hundreds of photographs of our books, the office, and Princeton University in preparation. I made lists of popular hashtags, ideas for how we could get the most out of the application, and accounts we could follow with the help of colleagues in publicity, design, editorial, and sales. Coming up with new ideas, executing them, and seeing how our followers respond has been a really fun part of my job. I can’t wait for everyone to see what we have planned later in the season!

I came to this position very deliberately. After studying history at Boston University and interning at Candlewick Press, I made the decision to earn an MA in Publishing & Writing from Emerson College. I took courses in all the departments in publishing and added two more internships to my résumé—one at Beacon Press and another at the New England Quarterly. I also spent some time working as an assistant at Kneerim, Williams & Bloom, a Boston-based literary agency. Graduate degree in hand, I knew that I wanted to work in marketing or publicity at an academic publisher. I started at PUP in April 2015, and when I had been working here for a few weeks I knew it was the perfect fit for me. I look forward to continuing to work in academic publishing and getting the word out about the great books we publish here!

Brexit, voting, and political turbulence

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Helen Margetts, Peter John, Scott Hale and Taha Yasseri

On 23rd June 2016, a majority of the British public voted in a referendum on whether to leave the European Union. The Leave or so-called #Brexit option was victorious, with a margin of 52% to 48% across the country, although Scotland, Northern Ireland, London and some towns voted to remain. The result was a shock to both leave and remain supporters alike. US readers might note that when the polls closed, the odds on futures markets of Brexit (15%) were longer than those of Trump being elected President.

Political scientists are reeling with the sheer volume of politics that has been packed into the month after the result. From the Prime Minister’s morning-after resignation on 24th June the country was mired in political chaos, with almost every political institution challenged and under question in the aftermath of the vote, including both Conservative and Labour parties and the existence of the United Kingdom itself, given Scotland’s resistance to leaving the EU. The eventual formation of a government under a new prime minister, Teresa May, has brought some stability. But she was not elected and her government has a tiny majority of only 12 Members of Parliament. A cartoon by Matt in the Telegraph on July 2nd (which would work for almost any day) showed two students, one of them saying ‘I’m studying politics. The course covers the period from 8am on Thursday to lunchtime on Friday.’

All these events – the campaigns to remain or leave, the post-referendum turmoil, resignations, sackings and appointments – were played out on social media; the speed of change and the unpredictability of events being far too great for conventional media to keep pace. So our book, Political Turbulence: How Social Media Shape Collective Action, can provide a way to think about the past weeks. The book focuses on how social media allow new, ‘tiny acts’ of political participation (liking, tweeting, viewing, following, signing petitions and so on), which turn social movement theory around. Rather than identifying with issues, forming collective identity and then acting to support the interests of that identity – or voting for a political party that supports it – in a social media world, people act first, and think about it, or identify with others later – if at all.

These tiny acts of participation can scale up to large-scale mobilizations, such as demonstrations, protests or petitions for policy change. These mobilizations normally fail – 99.9% of petitions to the UK or US governments fail to get the 100,000 signatures required for a parliamentary debate (UK) or an official response (US). The very few that succeed usually do so very quickly on a massive scale, but without the normal organizational or institutional trappings of a social or political movement, such as leaders or political parties. When Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff asked to speak to the leaders of the mass demonstrations against the government in 2014 organised entirely on social media with an explicit rejection of party politics, she was told ‘there are no leaders’.

This explosive rise, non-normal distribution and lack of organization that characterizes contemporary politics as a chaotic system, can explain why many political mobilizations of our times seem to come from nowhere. In the US and the UK it can help to understand the shock waves of support that brought Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Jeremy Corbyn (elected leader of the Labour party in 2015) and Brexit itself, all of which have challenged so strongly traditional political institutions. In both countries, the two largest political parties are creaking to breaking point in their efforts to accommodate these phenomena.

The unpredicted support for Brexit by over half of voters in the UK referendum illustrates these characteristics of the movements we model in the book, with the resistance to traditional forms of organization. Voters were courted by political institutions from all sides – the government, all the political parties apart from UKIP, the Bank of England, international organizations, foreign governments, the US President himself and the ‘Remain’ or StrongerIn campaign convened by Conservative, Labour and the smaller parties. Virtually every authoritative source of information supported Remain. Yet people were resistant to aligning themselves with any of them. Experts, facts, leaders of any kind were all rejected by the rising swell of support for the Leave side. Famously, Michael Gove, one of the key leave campaigners said ‘we have had enough of experts’. According to YouGov polls, over 2/3 of Conservative voters in 2015 voted to Leave in 2016, as did over one third of Labour and Liberal Democrat voters.

Instead, people turned to a few key claims promulgated by the two Leave campaigns Vote Leave (with key Conservative Brexiteers such as Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Liam Fox) and Leave.EU, dominated by UKIP and its leader Nigel Farage, bankrolled by the aptly named billionaire Arron Banks. This side dominated social media in driving home their simple (if largely untrue) claims and anti-establishment, anti-elitist message (although all were part of the upper echelons of both establishment and elite). Key memes included the claim (painted on the side of a bus) that the UK gave £350m a week to the EU which could instead be spent on the NHS; the likelihood that Turkey would soon join the EU; and an image showing floods of migrants entering the UK via Europe. Banks brought in staff from his own insurance companies and political campaign firms (such as Goddard Gunster) and Leave.EU created a massive database of leave supporters to employ targeted advertising on social media.

While Remain represented the status-quo and a known entity, Leave was flexible to sell itself as anything to anyone. Leave campaigners would often criticize the Government but then not offer specific policy alternatives stating, ‘we are a campaign not a government.’ This ability for people to coalesce around a movement for a variety of different (and sometimes conflicting) reasons is a hallmark of the social-media based campaigns that characterize Political Turbulence. Some voters and campaigners argued that voting Leave would allow the UK to be more global and accept more immigrants from non-EU countries. In contrast, racism and anti-immigration sentiment were key reasons for other voters. Desire for sovereignty and independence, responses to austerity and economic inequality and hostility to the elites in London and the South East have all figured in the torrent of post-Brexit analysis. These alternative faces of Leave were exploited to gain votes for ‘change,’ but the exact change sought by any two voters could be very different.

The movement‘s organization illustrates what we have observed in recent political turbulence – as in Brazil, Hong Kong and Egypt; a complete rejection of mainstream political parties and institutions and an absence of leaders in any conventional sense. There is little evidence that the leading lights of the Leave campaigns were seen as prospective leaders. There was no outcry from the Leave side when they seemed to melt away after the vote, no mourning over Michael Gove’s complete fall from grace when the government was formed – nor even joy at Boris Johnson’s appointment as Foreign Secretary. Rather, the Leave campaigns acted like advertising campaigns, driving their points home to all corners of the online and offline worlds but without a clear public face. After the result, it transpired that there was no plan, no policy proposals, no exit strategy proposed by either campaign. The Vote Leave campaign was seemingly paralyzed by shock after the vote (they tried to delete their whole site, now reluctantly and partially restored with the lie on the side of the bus toned down to £50 million), pickled forever after 23rd June. Meanwhile, Teresa May, a reluctant Remain supporter and an absent figure during the referendum itself, emerged as the only viable leader after the event, in the same way as (in a very different context) the Muslim Brotherhood, as the only viable organization, were able to assume power after the first Egyptian revolution.

In contrast, the Leave.Eu website remains highly active, possibly poised for the rebirth of UKIP as a radical populist far-right party on the European model, as Arron Banks has proposed. UKIP was formed around this single policy – of leaving the EU – and will struggle to find policy purpose, post-Brexit. A new party, with Banks’ huge resources and a massive database of Leave supporters and their social media affiliations, possibly disenchanted by the slow progress of Brexit, disaffected by the traditional parties – might be a political winner on the new landscape.

The act of voting in the referendum will define people’s political identity for the foreseeable future, shaping the way they vote in any forthcoming election. The entire political system is being redrawn around this single issue, and whichever organizational grouping can ride the wave will win. The one thing we can predict for our political future is that it will be unpredictable.

MargettsHelen Margetts the Director of Oxford Internet Institute and professor of society and the internet at the University of Oxford. Peter John is professor of political science and public policy at University College London. Scott Hale is a data scientist at the Oxford Internet Institute and a faculty fellow of the Turing Institute. Taha Yasseri is a research fellow in computational social science at the Oxford Internet Institute, a faculty fellow at Turing Institute, and research fellow in Humanities and Social Sciences at Wolfson College, University of Oxford. The four collaborated on the book Political Turbulence: How Social Media Shape Collective Action.

An author’s guide to social media

CC image courtesy of Leigh Prather on Shutterstock

Book promotion has changed a great deal over the past few years with the disappearance of book review sections and the explosion of new media. The rapidly expanding world of social media offers a creative, personal opportunity to promote your book and your personal brand directly to a targeted community of followers. Of course, not every author heads into her pub date with active social media accounts and a substantial online following. Not to worry. Though anyone can use it, social media isn’t for everyone, and you shouldn’t feel under any obligation to participate. But if your forthcoming book has you feeling a bit more like sharing than usual, there are some basic ground rules for cultivating communities, as well as some ways you can collaborate with your publisher.

At Princeton University Press, we use a variety of social media platforms to promote your book, but primarily the PUP blog, Twitter, Facebook, (and soon, Instagram). Here is a general overview of what we can do for your book on each of these, and some tips about what you can do on your own time.

Blog

CC image courtesy of Mathias Rosenthal on ShutterstockThe PUP blog has grown in recent years from a place to share Press news and updates to a sophisticated online publication that runs daily features: regular author interviews, essays from staff, exclusive slide shows, and opinion pieces by our authors. Many of our authors are leaders in their fields, and PUP blog pieces have been widely cross posted or linked by outlets like the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog, The Atlantic, Newsweek, History News Network, Marginal Revolution, The Daily Nous, The Leiter Reports, Bloomberg View, and more. In addition, we have recently launched a partnership with the widely read Arts and Ideas magazine, Aeon, which gives authors the opportunity to write short opinion pieces that will appear simultaneously on the Aeon PUP partnership page and the PUP blog. Read more about the Aeon/PUP blog partnership here.

You and the PUP blog: Better together!

Your book is finished, but if you still have more to say, you’re in luck. At PUP, the Social Media Manager works with the editors and publicists to identify potential PUP blog contributions and schedule them to coincide with news hooks, anniversaries, pub dates, and special series. If you are interested in contributing, contact PUP’s Social Media Manager, Debra Liese, for guidelines and assistance with developing your piece. Your piece should allow you to showcase your area of expertise, and if it’s an ‘opinion’ piece, should feature a strong argument. Publishing through the PUP blog is a great way to test out your blogging voice, and the pieces you write can  be cross-posted to your own blog, posted by your university’s communications department, or even picked up by other venues. We generally allow cross posts of the pieces we publish with proper attribution and a link back to the original at the top of the post. (For more information on our reuse policy, which will be officially posted shortly, contact the Social Media Manager).

How do we promote your post? We receive an average of 25k unique visitors to our PUP blog a month, and that number is quickly growing. In addition, your posts to the blog will be pushed out over PUP Facebook and Twitter, and to targeted groups.

Facebook
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What does PUP do? We use Facebook to promote PUP books, push out our authors’ posts on the PUP blog, promote links to their op eds, interviews, and special events. We announce major awards and promote special giveaways.

What can you do on your own? First, we suggest you set up an author page rather than a book page. A Facebook author page is a wonderful way to promote your professional work overall. By comparison, a ‘book page’ appears too much like static advertising, and gets little engagement or organic reach on Facebook. People are more likely to follow a person than a product, and an author page has the added benefit of letting you build your following with each subsequent book you publish, rather than starting from scratch with each book.

Getting started

* Whether you create a professional presence that is distinct from your personal profile is up to you, but many authors like to have a combined page. Worried about mixing public with personal? You’re not alone. Facebook allows users to select who can view each post, meaning you can tailor personal posts for close friends, and put up promotional information globally. Facebook has a Follow feature, allowing people to subscribe to your public updates without “friending” you.

* When you set up your author page, use a professional profile photo and your book jacket at the banner. You should include professional details on your profile including professional affiliation and book title. Think of this as cultivating your personal brand.

* Like all social media, Facebook works best when approached interactively. Your Facebook followers are a community you can personally nurture through regular posts and engagement. You may wish to share coverage your book has received, post announcements to your wall, and engage with comments. You can even use polls, write about current events hooks, and advertise your own special appearances.

* Limit yourself to no more than 5 posts in a week. Always best to leave them wanting more.

* Avoid seeming too self promotional by balancing posts about your book with posts relevant to your field — you can share links to news stories that tie to your research, and stimulate discussion around them. Make sure to like comments, and interact with some of the professional posts of others in your community. Engagement is important on Facebook, and people don’t like to feel that they are following an ad. Show your human side.

* A strong opinion is ok, but offensive language is not. And give credit where credit is due — proper attribution is key on the internet.

Twitter

CC image courtesy of igor kisselev on Shutterstock

What does PUP do? We use our Twitter presence to connect with book lovers, academics, students, authors, booksellers and readers all over the world. We share articles by our authors in high-profile publications, promotional videos and podcasts, author events, special contests, and all original content from the PUP blog.

In addition to our central @PrincetonUPress Twitter feed, we have a feed dedicated to our Natural history community, @PrincetonNature

What can you do on your own?  Twitter can be an effective vehicle for authors. You can quickly share links, support others’ work, or tweet news about an upcoming event. Starting an account is a very straightforward process.

Getting started

* Choose an appropriate username and handle. Use your real name, and avoid obscure handles like @starsearcherphysicist, since that will make it harder for users to search for you.

* Follow people you know who support your work, or locate followers using the ‘find people’ search function. You can search for specific keywords to find people in your discipline.

* Limit yourself to 4 or 5 tweets a day. Over-tweeting can turn off even the most dedicated followers.

* Don’t forget to retweet others whose work you find interesting, and engage with your followers. Twitter is most successful when you take time to cultivate a community and have conversations. If you’re lucky, others will reciprocate.

* When they do, tweeting ‘thanks’ is gracious, but don’t overdo it. If an article is getting a lot of traction, there is no need to retweet every mention and clutter everyone’s feed. Choose select tweets to share, and if you want to acknowledge the others, that’s what ‘favoriting’ is for.

* Adding hashtags (#) to your posts will make them searchable by popular categories, though it’s best to use tags related to your topic rather than creating a hashtag specific to your book. A general, subject-specific hashtag will help your tweets to come up more in searches. You can also tag other accounts (include someone’s username in a tweet if you would like them to see it).

* Be mindful not to use offensive language and always cite your sources—you can use the ‘H/T’(hat tip) or tag your source.

* Expect to be unfollowed by many regardless of how tastefully you use Twitter. And don’t expect everyone you follow to follow you back. They simply won’t.

* Follow PUP. We maintain a list of our authors on Twitter so that we can take note of what you’re tweeting and support your efforts when appropriate. If you’d like to make sure we see a certain tweet, make sure to tag us. You might want to support fellow authors as a way to build your own community.

Instagram

Is your work visual in nature? Our robust art, architecture, urbanism, and natural history lists in particular lend themselves to Instagram, and the Press is in the process of launching a presence here. Instagram is the fastest growing social media platform, so consider opening an account if your work can be expressed visually via photos or short videos. You can use the search function to find and follow other relevant accounts, and add popular hashtags to land your photos in one of the popular “hubs”. You might use a Hub Directory to peruse some of the possibilities. If you want to get the attention of a specific account, tag them in the comments section of your post.

If you’d like additional guidance on social media, don’t hesitate to reach out to PUP’s social media manager for tips on using the platforms or getting involved with the PUP blog. If you decide to try social media, take it one step at a time, and have fun. While there are general guidelines to keep in mind, social media is a place where you can bring your own unique personality and expertise to bear. Cultivating a supportive professional community takes time, but the benefits will be yours for years to come.

 

Princeton University Press launches new Design Tumblr #ReadUP

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This week, the Press is slated to launch its own Tumblr blog, part of an initiative to visually document our designers’ efforts and accomplishments across all areas of publishing at Princeton University Press.

Originally intended to serve as a digital portfolio for designers, the blog has since expanded to promote visual communication in publishing more broadly. “By offering a glimpse into the way we work,” says director of design, Maria Lindenfeldar, “we hope to connect with others far beyond Princeton, including designers, publishers, authors, and anyone interested in ideas and visual culture. We look forward to seeing what conversations unfold.”

The blog will examine the many layers, both literal and figurative, of book design, while chronicling the progress of books from concept to print. Designers will frequently share their reflections on the creative side of publishing, with features on cover and interior design, paperback publications, recent award winners, poetry and classics editions, and other assorted topics.

spring catalog

Our Spring 2016 catalog is a great example of the creative and collaborative work done by designers at Princeton University Press. The PUP Design Tumblr will feature work from designers in the Production, Marketing, and Advertising departments.

“We’re now publishing a much wider range of illustrated projects here at Princeton University Press,” says Michelle Komie, executive editor in the humanities, “from art and architectural history to urbanism, design, and photography. Tumblr offers an excellent space to bring our innovative visual work into the larger conversations about book design happening around the world.”

Of the various social media options available, Tumblr was chosen because of its ease of use and integrated functions. When work is posted, it can be re-posted by fellow Tumblr users, as well as users of other social media. What’s more, PUP will have the opportunity to connect with groups and organizations outside of university publishing, such as trade publishers, libraries, bookstores, and reading groups.

“We’d like to reinforce the Press’ reputation for inventive and visually compelling design work,” designer Jason Alejandro notes. “Today, design is regarded as an essential aspect of an organization’s ability to strategize, communicate, and operate.”

To these ends, PUP’s Tumblr blog will give appropriate visual form to the remarkable scholarship Princeton University Press publishes and to demonstrate the truly collaborative nature of publishing. At the same time, it seeks to illustrate the integral role of book design, both as a marketing tool and as a means of complementing – even shaping – one’s reading experience. We’re excited to share it with you.

Follow us on Tumblr.

PUPCheck out posts on design by these university presses: Northwestern University Press, MIT Press, Georgetown University Press, Syracuse University Press, Stanford University Press, Harvard University Press, AU Press, and Yale University Press.

A Letter From Your Publicist

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Happy pub date to you, happy pub date….

Congratulations on your new book! Whether you’ve just put the finishing touches on your first book or have been down this road before, you’re probably eager to see what you can do to help to give your baby a proper send-off into the wild world of book critics and Amazon reviewers alike. Though I may not be your publicist, here’s hoping this guide can address the publicity questions you have, but were hesitant to ask.

Will you send my book out for review?

Absolutely! We are as invested in seeing your book land in the right hands as you are. Many months ago you should have filled out an Author Promotion Form (APF). Every press calls these forms something different, but this is an opportunity for you to share any suggestions for publications or special contacts that should receive a copy of your book. Didn’t fill it out? Don’t fear. You can contact your publicist at any time with leads for reviewers. Your publicist has also been familiarizing herself with your book and compiling a list of contacts that are just right for the target audience. Your book will be sent to a well-curated list. We also send out press releases and targeted email pitches.

My book is out and I haven’t seen any reviews in journals. What’s going on?

Don’t despair. Reviews in scholarly journals can happen at a glacial pace. Often they appear many months (or even a year) after publication date. This is also the case for major publications like the New York Review of Books, The London Review of Books, and the Times Literary Supplement.

What can I do to help?

writingA lot. One of the best things you can do after writing a book is… write some more! If your book’s research can be leveraged to comment on current events and you’re able to write a short (750 words) piece with a definite argument, you can pen an op ed positioning yourself as an expert, mentioning your book in the byline. Your publicist can help you  to get this into the hands of the right people. Never written an op ed before? Start by reading them.

Notice they are free of jargon, written for a general audience, and feature a strong point of view. Here’s a good place to read about the dos and don’ts of op ed writing.

Take advantage of other writing opportunities too. Guest blog if you are asked. Respond quickly to reporters who solicit your expertise. Reach out to personal contacts and colleagues who may have an affinity with your work and be interested in covering it.

Should I promote my book on Facebook/Twitter? Something else?

If you’re already active on social media, get more active now. The three months following the publication of your book is no time for modesty. You can follow people working on or writing about similar topics, retweet your book’s reviews or your own opinion pieces, use twitter to engage with others on your topic, or simply tweet ‘thanks!’ at someone for sharing your piece. If you know of an organization or individual that might be interested in your book, you can tag them in tweets to let them know about it.  But whatever you do, make sure to use your twitter feed to do more than self promote. Pay attention to what others are writing and be generous. If you share someone else’s work, there’s a good chance they’ll pay attention to the next thing you write as well. Finally, don’t worry about jumping onto every social platform there is. Use whatever is most comfortable for you, and where you have a natural following.

Should my book have its own hash tag?

Probably not.  Instead, use a popular tag on a topic you cover (like #edchat or  #behavioraleconomics).

I’ve never used social media and feel silly tweeting. Do I have to?

dislike buttonThere is no pressure at all to engage in these activities. If you’re on the fence about social media, now might be a time to give it a whirl. But if social media use is painful for you, forcing yourself into that territory it isn’t likely to benefit you or your book. No need to worry. Your publicist and press’s social media manager will be pushing out posts on your book themselves. Just sit back and enjoy the show.

Can my university help?

Definitely leverage the power of your university. Be in touch with your communications office to see what resources or plans they may have to promote your book. Some will share special features on social media, put out a press release on your book, post interviews with you their own website, or even be willing to produce a video interview or book trailer. Make sure to keep your book publicist in the loop about any plans to avoid duplication of effort, and offer both your university and your publisher opportunities to cross post.

I was interviewed, but the reporter used my quote without mentioning my book. How can I make sure my book is mentioned next time?

Just ask. Most reporters are amenable to referring to you as ‘author of…’ when using your quote. Don’t be shy about making the request.

Help! My book got a bad review! Should I respond?

angry manSome reviewers may draw conclusions about your research that you think are off base; in rare cases, they may even write caustic takedowns. There is no absolute rule covering how or whether to respond, though in many cases, the best response is no response at all. At times, we may counsel authors to reply, especially in the New York Review of Books, which has a long tradition of spirited exchanges between reviewer and author in their “Letters” section. Above all, if you do respond, you should keep it respectful and stick, as much as possible, to correcting errors of fact. Avoid the polemics the reviewer may have engaged in. You’ll come off better if you take the high ground. Kill’em with kindness.

I still feel frustrated.

troll signCompletely understandable. Post the offending review to your personal Facebook wall if you’re inclined, where no doubt your friends and colleagues will rally to your cause. But don’t feel the need to reply to everything, rectify every misunderstanding, or haunt the comments section under your own op eds. Remember the old chestnut that even bad publicity is good publicity? It’s true. The interest of readers and other reviewers is likely to be piqued by the very controversy that has you steaming, and that can only be a good thing.

Thanks for the tips, but I wish I could talk to another author. Someone who’s traveled this road before.

Jane Austen, Game Theorist cover artYou’re in luck! For another perspective and more ideas on how you can get creative with book publicity, check out this post by Michael Chwe, whose exuberant, hands-on efforts helped his book, Jane Austen: Game Theorist, to garner widespread attention. This is a man who said he’d stop at nothing—not even Jane Austen kitten memes—to get his scholarly book out there.

If you’re not as proactively disposed as Chwe, don’t worry. Successful publicity campaigns come in many forms. Remember, too, that your book is supported by the collaborative efforts of multiple people and departments. Although every new author’s journey comes with a bit of anxiety, take a deep breath, set up a Google alert for your name, and raise a glass to yourself. Whatever you do, try to enjoy the ride.

Sincerely,
Your Publicist

 

 

 

An interview with Jeff Nunokawa, author of “Note Book”

Note BookEach morning since 2007, Jeff Nunokawa, English professor at Princeton University, logs onto Facebook and writes something. But unlike most of us who take part in this simple exercise in connection, Nunokawa is both effortlessly lyrical and impressively well-read, drawing in references from Henry James to Joni Mitchell.  Note Book, which compiles the 250 most striking of the brief, daily essays Nunokawa has shared on his “notes” page, resembles an extensive multimedia project, but retains a remarkable sense of intimacy.  Laura Kipnis compares his posts to “witty billets-doux from an astonishingly literate secret admirer”, and if you take a look at the way he writes, you’ll see why. Recently, Jeff was kind enough to indulge us with some personal insights into his writing process, motivations, and obsession with revision on the social media platform. It’s fascinating stuff:

What are you doing when you write these essays for Facebook, and why are you doing it?

JN: Well, I write these brief essays every morning, or sometimes in the middle of the night because I’m alone a lot and lonely and very talkative but being alone, there’s no one to talk to. But actually, I’m not really alone, even when I’m by myself. I’ve read a lot of books and they’re all around me. Mostly literature although other things as well: a fair amount of philosophy, for example, and every Eleanor Roosevelt biography and memoir I can get my hands on. Also, a picture of my mother’s dog and various soccer players and my feeling of the presence of all kinds of spirits. And when I’m quiet enough for a while, these things all speak to me, if I let them. And after that, if they let me, I write a little essay which conveys as best it can the courage and clarity and good humor of the above spirits—some of the above spirits can be incredibly witty! (you should hear what Eleanor Roosevelt has to say about JFK!)—to others who might be able to use it.

I guess what I’m trying to do is to put to use what I’ve learned over the course of a long, strange life reading and teaching and telling stories. I’m trying to make it useful to other people.

How?

JN: Well, I think most people are like me, in at least one respect. I think everyone feels deeply in the dark, sometimes—sometimes, just lying in bed, wondering how they’re going to make it through the day. Sometimes it takes the best voices you’ve ever heard in your life just to get from horizontal to vertical. That’s where a lot of what I write tries to come in and give people a lift.

How has your writing changed over the course of the time you have been engaged in this project?

JN: Well, I think I used to be much more concerned with showing off when I started—showing off what I knew and how “knowing” I was. I think I’m less concerned now with showing off than I am with *showing*. I’ll put it this way: when I started out, my model was Walter Benjamin—a crazy beautiful German Philosopher-Mystic, who wrote these astonishing often very mysterious, fragmentary aphorisms. Now, I think, I’m a little more taken with example of the Reverend Paul Osumi.

Who?

JN: The Reverend Paul Osumi had a daily column in the Honolulu Advertiser when I was a kid. Actually, it wasn’t so much a column—it was one those “thought for the day” kind of deals: just these little daily inspirations to get through the day with as much light in your soul and your step as you could. I don’t remember a single thing he said, but I remember how important that column was for half of Honolulu. When I was a kid (like till about last year), I used to think he was some kind of shallow smiley-faced fool. Now he’s pretty much my role model.

Well aside from the Reverend Paul Osumi, do you have other role models that influence your writing?

JN: Sure: let’s see: lots of the big essayists of the 18th and 19th centuries—Hume, Johnson and Lamb and Pater, writers like that who were so concerned with using what they knew to try to help live better.

What about prose models—stylists whom you model yourself on? As you must know, your writing can be a little “quirky” as your editor calls it.

JN: Yeah, I know. Well, I’m really trying to be a little more mainstream and accessible—less Gerard Manley Hopkins and more E.B. White—but I’m always going to hear the call of “Pied Beauty” and all that gorgeous jazz that makes you cry and see the world more clearly through all the tears, all the Tears of this Beautiful Broken World. I don’t mean to sound all precious. Heck, I hear E. B. White wept whenever he read out loud and the passage in Charlotte’s Web where the spider dies.

The writing that you do on Facebook, you revise compulsively.  It’s ironic that the writing you do on Facebook, on a virtual platform of ephemerality, should be the site where you are most concerned with revising, so that you might produce something polished for the ages. What’s that about, I wonder?

JN: Good question. It may be that the answer would only be interesting to my therapist. Oh wait. I forgot. I don’t have a therapist. The writing itself is my only therapy, now. It used to be that I needed Therapy to write. Now writing is therapy. Funny how life turns out.

Anyway, to return to the question. I don’t know, except that the irony you’re touching on here informs the spirit and style of some of the greatest essayists and I’m happy to follow their lead: the impulse to put the realms of conversation—and what is the internet, if not a place where the live sense of ephemeral conversation crackles like an electric wire into contact with the realms of solid learning (“for the ages”). Hume says, on his essay on essay writing,

I cannot but consider myself as a Kind of Resident or Ambassador from the Dominions of Learning to those of Conversation

and by gum, what’s good enough for Hume is good enough for me.