Monday, June 13, 2011

The Numbers Game

Post by Jenny

With the recent completion of his advanced sixth-grade math class, my older son reached an important milestone—he has now officially exceeded the level of mathematics I can do without straining, sweating, and muttering under my breath like a deranged woman. I received A’s in all the math classes required of anthropology majors (you can stop laughing now) but please tell me I’m not the only middle-schooler’s mother who had to look up ‘hypotenuse’ this year.

My husband has a much better facility with math than I do, so we have fallen into a natural division of homework duties. He handles more of the numbers, and I help with more of the wordy stuff. I’ve always been more comfortable with words, and I suspect many writers would agree. That’s not to say that writers have no use for numbers, but ours are fairly specialized, including word counts, print runs, agent commissions, and how many hairs will remain on our heads after we finish yet another revision.

But thanks to the web and social media, there’s a whole new bunch of numbers cropping up. Fans, friends, followers, likes, comments, tweets, visitors, page loads…we can now quantify our personal and professional popularity in ways that would have made the mean girls in my high school absolutely giddy. (Remember when ‘follower’ had a more negative connotation, such as Jim Jones or a stranger in the parking lot? These days, “Hey, that guy is following me” doesn’t sound nearly as sinister.)

I understand the purpose and usefulness of many of these statistics. As writers, we want to network, build platforms, and connect with others. We want to be able to show anyone who might be interested in working with us in a professional capacity that we’ve been getting ourselves out there, that we know how to play this new numbers game. And building a personalized following that provides support and feedback and connects us with people all over the world can be really fun.

But I do think we also run the risk of letting the numbers game drive us to distraction. (If you’ve ever spent time fretting over a lost follower, you know what I mean.) The more information we have coming at us, the more time and energy it takes to filter. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t have an infinite supply of either. So when I start to get caught up in the numbers, I ask myself if they are a help or a hindrance. If it’s the latter, I do my best to disengage. Thinking of algebra helps.

Do you find it useful to keep track of your stats?


Laila Knight said...

I'm not a number person either. When my stepson was in highschool I had to relearn algebra to be able to help him with his homework. I don't really keep track of stats. It's a hindrance. It's better just to post for fun, to socialize with fellow writers, and to just keep on writing.

Dean K Miller said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dean K Miller said...

hypotenuse: descibes the action of using the tool known as an hypoten.

Numbers can be shaped to tell anything you want. When my kids were taught that estimating is as good as figuring things out, I sailed my ship out of the math port...

(Don't proof-read so well either!)

Patricia Stoltey said...

Hi Jenny -- I was a little obsessive about numbers when I first got published (including how many libraries had my book on Worldcat and my wacko numbers on, but that got old after a while. I still check blog stats weekly.

All bets are off if I get another book published, though. I'll probably return to my deranged checking twice a day.

Jenny said...

Laila, I agree about the fun factor.

Very clever, Dean. I think I may have a hypoten in the garage somewhere.

Pat, I hope to someday be able to obsess about being published :-)

John Paul McKinney said...

Do men do this more than women? I've heard that we count more often. Teaching at the university we could get seduced or depressed about our worth as an instructor by the number of graduate students we attracted, the size of our classes, the number of publications per year, and finally (and here's where I quit counting), the number of citations our publications generated. Thanks for reminding me. Now I want something to distract me, too. Maybe writing. Thanks for the post,Jenny.

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