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TYOH Q&A: Nicolas Dickner

Nicolas Dickner, author of Nikolski, talks about hearing news about his book via Twitter, why he likes blogging, and the coercive side of the Zeitgeist.

Tell us about yourself. What do you write and which social networking tools do you regularly use?
I’ve been writing for about 15 years. Short stories, columns, and novels. Thanks to my esteemed translator Lazer Lederhendler, my two novels (Nikolski and Apocalypse for Beginners) are available in English.

On the web, I can be found (intermittently) on Twitter and Facebook. When a manuscript starts taking up my time and energy, I do tend to close the hatch on social networks. I’ve overdone it in the past, so now I try to limit the damage as much as I can. 

How much work do you do to promote your writing?
I do very little self-promotion. I willingly accept interviews, roundtable discussions and other invitations - but it’s not me who makes opportunities like that happen. As for Twitter and Facebook, I use them to communicate, not to promote. 

Is there a line when it comes to self-promotion? How do you make sure you aren’t coming on too strong?
Generally speaking, I believe you need to strike a balance between promotion and personal expression. A Twitter or Facebook account shouldn’t become solely a broadcast platform. It needs to have a human, relational aspect to it - otherwise, before you know it, everybody thinks you’re really a press agent or a bot. 

Do you have a personal story of a social media interaction that has gone horribly wrong?
Not really, no. Let’s cross our fingers . . .

Conversely, do you have a personal story of a social media interaction that made your day?
Twitter was where I learned that the Romanian translation of Nikolski had finally been published. We’d been waiting on that for a few years. News doesn’t always spread very fast internationally - to a certain extent, we depend on agents and publishers, who obviously have better things to do with their time. It was pretty funny that I heard the news by chance from a Romanian reader. 

This really shows just how much social media are becoming standalone information channels that bypass the institutions altogether.

Do you see social media usage as an essential part of a writer’s professional life?
Yes and no. It’s a catch-22: perhaps social media have become essential in a way, but only because everyone thinks they’re essential. 

There was a time when everyone asked, “Do you have a website?” Then it was, “Do you have a blog?” Nowadays, it’s more like “Are you on (insert any social platform here)?” It’s become an automatic expectation, and it feeds on itself. That’s the coercive side of Zeitgeist.

What advice would you give a first-time novelist trying to build a following?
It’s more of a warning than a tip: it’s easier to build an audience than to retain their attention. People have a limited attention span. 

How do you feel being so accessible to your readers?
That’s actually the positive side of all this. As a general rule, I really like dialoguing with readers. Plus, social media allow for more informal, relaxed discussion. Many readers feel more comfortable talking to authors via Facebook than meeting them in person at a book fair.

What social media platform do you prefer for promotion, and why?
I’m a dinosaur - I really liked it back when I had a blog. It was the most flexible platform with the most possibilities. You could go brief or long, explain yourself, make comments, use a huge variety of formats, interact with other bloggers, set the parameters of the environment, and have your own domain name. 

But unfortunately, blogs were also the medium that took up the most time and energy. As they say, no pain, no gain.

Follow Nicolas Dickner on Twitter: @nicolasdickner.

Photo credit: Idra Labrie

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