Real Friends

According to the dictionary that lives inside this machine on which I’m typing, a friend is someone with whom one has a close bond usually without sexual relations and excluding parents. We’re going to test that my dear friends but not just yet.

I am fascinated by how the meaning of a word can change over time. When I was a kid we had two kinds of friends. Someone you hung around with was a friend. Someone who would lie for you or stand in front of a truck to keep it from hitting you was a friend. When I was young I had one of those little brother/big brother talks take came from my very didactic brother. He told me that if one managed to have one or two friends in life one had done well. I was at a very impressionable age and I followed in that mold. It is a bad one. People need people around them and just so long as they are not ax-murderers or swindlers it’s fine if they are friends and not friends.

Today the kids who are now the age I was then have taken this to the extreme. They have BFFs. For the uninitiated, that’s best friends for life. I’ve noticed that these relationships often have the life span of a butterfly or more generously may last a year or two. I’ve also noticed that most BFFs will lie about you rather than lie for you, throw you under the bus rather than stand in front of it with their hands up to keep it from making you road kill.

And then came Facebook. It turned friend on its head. The race for friends became frantic. Facebook now limits one person to 5,000 friends. I don’t know why. Are 5,000 friends capable of more intimate relationships than those with 10,000, most of whom one doesn’t know and will never meet? And what about those famous folks who are followed by 500,000 followers? Are they stalkers? Friends? I don’t know that either and if you are so moved to explain it to me, thank you, but please don’t.

Facebook also pops onto one’s screen every-so-often to remind the hunter that one should only make friend requests to people you know. ‘seems silly. If you knew them why would you have to ask them to be friends? (I know that answer.) I suspect most people say “tee hee” under their breaths (so the computer can’t hear and report them) and continue at a feverish pace trying to add to their list of friends.

There are several reasons why one would want 5,000 friends, friends or not, BFFs or not. One is ego, another is business. On the ego side you can tell however many friends you have what you are doing every waking moment of your life and convince yourself that they are actually interested while at the same time reading their drivel and wondering how they could possibly think you’d be interested in the just sent description of their lunch. However, on the business side, the more the merrier could turn into sales.

I’ll let you into my little secret. I have just finished my third book and I have several options beyond self-publishing to put it on the market but a published book with no readers or only one’s friends as readers is as successful a work as a three-wheeled car. The publisher wants the author to have as large a platform (jargon for lists) as possible. Preferably the author’s platform will rival in size the ones that hold up ocean-going oil drilling rigs. A wizened publisher shared with me the 1% rule. That every list usually produces 1% in sales. It’s easy math and explains quickly why one wants a platform of 500,000, or 50,000 rather than 500.

Clearly, one does not live or die by the sword of Facebook friends, italicized or not, but it’s a start. I figured out a formula that is anything but scientific. In my race to 5,000 who would be most likely to respond to an appeal to purchase? I’m thinking older rather than younger (the book is about growing up in the 1950’s and 60’s); northeastern urbanites (it’s about Brooklyn, NY); more men than women (it speaks more to the neurosis from childhood of men than women); educated (it will have appeal to those who are users or and consumers of words–lawyers, teachers, professors); and religion (while you don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s you’re more likely to choose Levy’s from the shelf instead of Irish Soda Bread if you are Jewish–the book is about a Jewish boy).

I’m hoping for the sake of sales that most of these assumptions are wrong and that everyone will love it. In fact, I tested that out too. I sent it to 10 people each as different from the others as could be. Each thought it was wonderful and most importantly that they could relate to it. Now those are real friends and hopefully are lying to me….

Now comes the test. What kind of friend will you be when it comes times to plunk down the hard cash on the barrelhead (Paypal is how it’s really done)? Will you sit a spell atop the barrel, spout kind and well-meant bon mots about what it takes for such an accomplishment as writing a book, and then talk yourself out of buying a copy, or will you be the friend who not only makes the purchase but thinks what a wonderful holiday or other celebratory gift the book would make? The kind of friend who thinks, “Gee I could buy a bunch of these and give them to clients, or to purchasers of the new cars sold at my dealership, or just get the word going, maybe by suggesting to your friends or friends or BFFs it become a book club selection.

The best and worst things that could happen to me in the next three months are the same, that Facebook would decide, “What the heck, let’s raise the bar to 50,000 instead of 5,000.) Best? Use the rule and do the math. Worst? My fingers might fall off and my eye-sight fail in my insane attempt to find potential friends who fit my demographic odds-making as I continue my frenetic pursuit of Facebook’s new Holy Grail. But it would be worth it–at least from my perspective.

Bill Gralnick’s mental meanderings can be found here most every Sunday. The full body of his work, blogs and books, can be found on his website http//

Bill always says, “Read. It’s good for both of us.” He’s now urging you to save your nickels, dimes, and pennies so you’ll have what you need when it’s time to line up at the barrel head.

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