I’m going to coin a term here: buzz-hunting. Buzz-hunting = trying to answer the question, “How’m I doing?” via the internet. (Or, similarly, “How’s my book doing?”) It includes self-Googling but so much more: Google alerts, blog stats, web stats, reading nomination lists, reading reviews, checking rankings and ratings, etc. I gather there is a thing called Klout that will assign a number to your alleged online influence. There are many ways to buzz-hunt, but those are just a few.
I call it buzz-hunting because the hunter is not only seeking buzz about him- or herself, but because it can also be used to obtain mood-altering emotional hits. I know there are people who can mine all these data with perfect equanimity, who can use it to craft promotional strategies and make decisions about how they invest their online resources. Then there are those for whom buzz-hunting is just an emotional roller-coaster.
I’ve always tried to be selective about buzz-hunting: only to engage in it when I’m feeling centered and ready to accept whatever I find; not to waste too much time doing it; not to let my well-being be determined by what I find. I try to do it on my own terms, and consequently I’ve never used alerts, for fear of having negative things thrown at me when I’m not ready. But back in February, I reached an unhappy place with it. It happened to be Ash Wednesday when I decided I wanted to step back from it, and so I decided that, even though I haven’t given up anything for Lent in years, this would be a good year to do so. And I figured that giving it up would increase my availability for inner reflection, which would also be in keeping with Lent.
The one thing I explicitly allowed myself was my weekly Bookscan check, because I use those numbers for actual practical things such as royalty projections, which help with my estimated taxes. Except for that and a couple of lapses (hey, I’m not perfect), I did manage to keep my resolution.
It was, in some ways, like being in a vacuum. My mind was quieter. I developed a passionate curiosity about a few pieces of information I would’ve liked, but I also had an overwhelming sense of relief. My books were out there, making their own way, and I did not have to agonize over how every single reader received them. A few kind people sent me fan tweets or emails (which are always appreciated), but I was not following all the quantitative measures by which we can rank ourselves on the internet. One thing I’ve noticed by never having alerts is that, if anything really big and wonderful happens, somebody will email me about it. YALSA list nominations; big writeups in the paper; state list nominations: when they happened, I found out about them eventually.
Now that the season is over, I’ve made a short list of the kinds of buzz-hunt measures I do want to track—a much shorter list than my pre-Lent habits. And I’m willing to give those up again if they make me unhappy. The weird thing about buzz-hunting is that even when you find only good stuff out there, it doesn’t necessarily lead to satisfaction. Sometimes it triggers a craving for constant reinforcement.
By saying all this, I’m not saying that buzz-hunting is bad or that nobody should do it. I’m just sharing my own experience in case it is helpful to anyone else. Everyone has his or her own comfort level with this stuff. I do want new writers to know that if other people tell you you have to get Google alerts or track your blog stats or whatever: No, you don’t have to. You can, and you might like it and find it helpful, but it’s up to you.