New Writers Under Pressure
Good morning, Readers!
Floating around the Twitterverse yesterday was a long thread of new authors bemoaning all the extra stuff they’re expected to do — all of that extra work extraneous to their craft — that writers are expected to engage in if they have any hope of being successful with their publication.
It’s true. When I first started on this publishing quest oh, some [indistinct] years ago, my research revealed that I had a lot of things to do if I wanted to be successful. I had to be on several social media site. I had to belong to several writing groups. I had to blog. I had to do a book blog tour. I had to secure book reviews and interviews (but good luck getting either if you’re self-published or published by a small/micro press, and entirely unknown). I had to create a launch party. I had to create and maintain a newsletter. The list seemed endless and entirely overwhelming. I understand the dismay and frustration expressed on Twitter yesterday.
It’s valid. There is a lot of hidden work behind being a successful writer (unless you’re very, very lucky).
Here’s the very uncomfortable truth (which I still grapple with to this day): writing is more than simply writing. A writer also has to do what they can in order to give their books the best possible chance in a very crowded market. Not only must someone be a writer, but they must also be a marketer, a publicist and a social media star. Writers, who are most usually (but not always) shy, retiring kind of people, have to force themselves into the public eye. The shoving around to reach the front row is wildly uncomfortable and entirely unnatural for most of us.
Some, however, have nailed it. They’ve got the social media and networking like champs.
I am not such a writer. Lots has slipped through my fingers. The first thing to go was all of those writing groups that I signed up to on various sites. I was quite active on Goodreads for a while. But I had been withdrawing for a while, and almost never go there anymore. A lot of that is in direct response to the acquisition of Goodreads by Amazon, which immediately sought to monetize the platform, demanding ridiculous sums of money for simple things like hosting a giveaway on the platform. For small writers without much spare change, it literally priced us out of Goodreads. I quit going to the site at all after that. It’s been years now.
I’m also not a master of social media. I just don’t have the energy to engage with strangers on any platform. I spend all day in an office, and for this introvert, all of that human activity around me is utterly exhausting. I don’t have any spare energy for interacting with humans online, too. I am still online. I have a Twitter account. I have a Facebook page. I’m even on Instagram. Follow me for a long list of pictures of my cat. I’m not as active as I should be, and almost none of that activity is me trying to sell my books.
I used to blog quite frequently (Mon-Thur every week) until recently. A massive life change has left me a little off balance and I’m still trying to find my feet. I tried to do the newsletter thing, but it didn’t last. It was too much for me to handle.
I could go on and one about my failure to get myself and my books ‘out there,’ as it were. My failures has resulted in very few people reading my stuff. I fear I may labor in obscurity forever.
That said, my failures have made me just a little bit wiser, and so I want to reach out to new writers out there.
It’s so scary, putting your work out there, not knowing if the world will accept it. Chances of failure are very high. Manage your expectations. And yes, there is a lot you can do to increase your chances of success. But here’s the thing:
Luck is the mistress of this fate.
Do only what you can.
If you don’t feel like social media is something you can leverage, then concentrate on something that you can use to your advantage. You don’t have to put out a newsletter. You don’t have to blog. You don’t have to arrange interviews or reviews if you don’t think you can handle it. Do what you can. Outsource what you can (seriously, if you have any spare change, outsourcing some of these things can be super helpful. It is also, quite honestly, a privilege). Go slowly. Dip. Your toe in. See what you can handle. Challenge that line every so often.
My boundary challenging — braving crowds and attending a convention — has created for myself a place in a brilliant, vibrant SFF scene in my city, and new, strong friendships with some wonderful people.
I know it’s incredibly frustrating. You’re a writer, not a publicist or marketing guru. If it helps at all, writers have always walked this fine line. The myth of the writer hiding in their hermitage while the world soaks up their genius is just that — a myth… much to my personal vexation. Of course, that might have something to do with my lack of genius. I digress.
There is no magical formula for success. Some folks do almost nothing and find raging success. Some folks do everything, and find barely any. Luck has more to do with it than anyone wants to admit.
You’ve written a book. Relax into that for a little bit. Celebrate it. Do what you can to give it the best chance. Then turn your attention to the next book. Don’t be dissuaded by any perceived lack of success.
You wrote a frickin’ book!
When S.M. Carrière isn’t brutally killing your favorite characters, she spends her time teaching martial arts, live streaming video games, and cuddling her cat. In other words, she spends her time teaching others to kill, streaming her digital kills, and cuddling a furry murderer. Her most recent titles include ‘Daughters of Britain’ and ‘Skylark.’
Very enlightening entry! This overwhelming need to push oneself (and one’s friends, too, where possible) is poisoning the air to an immense degree. This seems to be true for the writers as well as for pure readers like myself, if I may broaden the perspective a bit. Platforms that fifteen years ago were a great source of information are deteriorating – or already have done so – to mostly marketing and networking ploys, to everybody’s detriment. Over the last few years I found sites like Black Gate, once sterling platforms, rapidly devolving into forums for the mutual plugging of contributors and their friends, to the point where I have for example stopped reading the “Future Treasures” entries beyond these very words. The pressure put on authors is to their as well as readers’ detriment.
Michael — you’re definitely right that many platforms out there use their reach and marketing power to promote works by contributors and friends. Black Gate is as guilty of this as anyone. Probably moreso — we’re a fan site, which means that the only payment contributors get is the exposure we can bring them. (It’s true that can sometimes be sizable — it’s not unusual for us to have 1.5 million pagevews a month — but believe me, it’s still less rewarding than being paid!)
As the guy who writes over 80% of the FUTURE TREASURES posts though, your comments made me curious. I looked back at the last six months of posts to see how many of the folks we wrote about I know personally:
The answer? Precisely two: Rich Horton and Tim Pratt, both of whom I’ve met at conventions. That’s less than 10%. I select the books I want to feature in FT articles from review copies sent to the site, and the vast majority of those are sent by publishers, not authors.
Are we 100% impartial in our selections? Hardly. But I contend that we are very far from “rapidly devolving into forums for the mutual plugging of contributors and their friends.”
As I see it, you have two choices. You either have a day job and write part time, or you invest a lot of time promoting your books and write part time. There is no writing full time, unless you are independently wealthy or have a name so big that sells by itself.
I am inclined to agree. I’m hoping lightning strikes and my books gain ridiculous traction – or, and hear me out – I win the lotto.
MichaelH says ‘…Over the last few years I found sites like Black Gate, once sterling platforms, rapidly devolving into forums for the mutual plugging of contributors and their friends.’
As a matter of curiosity, I checked over the entries for the last week or so (I’ve listed them in chronological order) –
Joe Bonadona – the Silistri Quartet
New Writers Under Pressure – S. M. Carriere.
Tony Hillerman – Bob Byrne
Vision Terrania – John McMaster
The Blacktongue Thief – John O’Neill
Swordfighting – Ty Johnson
The Tempest – Fletcher Vredenburgh
What We Do in the Shadows – Sue Granquist
Feedback Loop – Aaron Starr
Cinema of Swords – Lawrence Ellsworth
The Red Man & Others – John O’Neill
Twilight 2000 – Patrick Kanouse
Black Mask – Bob Byrne.
Based on the list above, there’s no evidence to support this. I’m guessing ‘Future Treasures’ is simply John’s laudable attempt to demonstrate that the site isn’t entirely devoted to work from the Eighties and Nineties? Plus The Blacktongue Thief – the last book he reviewed – has 1699 ratings on Goodreads – hardly suggestive of an author in need of additional publicity.
I’m not discounting the idea that a contributor to the site sometimes gets reviewed, or gets an opportunity to mention their own work (hell, I once got something reviewed!) just that it’s comparatively rare; I’m guessing around 1% of the articles listed? So ‘rapidly evolving’ is – possibly – a slight exaggeration?
Just my two cents’ worth.
Thanks, Aonghus. That’s an insightful list — we’ve covered a lot of books so far this month!
I think Michael was specifically commenting on my FUTURE TREASURES column, which looks at upcoming books, instead of new releases (covered in NEW TREASURES) or old books (VINTAGE TREASURES). The unique thing about FUTURE TREASURES is that it’s almost always based on advance copies we receive from publishers, so it’s a little more prone to outside influence than the other categories.
I do tend to get more early copies of books from people I know (including reviewers and contributors), so honestly it’s more susceptible to the kind of “mutual plugging” I think Michael is talking about. But looking at our record for the last year, I think we’ve still exhibited decent editorial integrity.
I certainly don’t mind being challenged about this kind of stuff. Anyone in a position like ours should welcome questions about editorial integrity, and be prepared to respond openly. This is what keeps us honest.
Thanks for this, S. M.! Sound advice. I appreciate the fact that in these columns you always manage to be near egoless and self-effacing when turning a critical eye upon your own behavior to better illustrate the points you are making. This demonstrates high-level, psychologically sound and astute metacognition. (If you don’t mind me saying. Heh!) I think anyone reading your columns comes away with the impression: Here is a writer who is grounded, honest, real. Trust is established.
As for myself: I have had published a number of short stories and poems of varying lengths in divers places. (I refrain from mentioning them here, for fear of adding more fuel to the “writers hyping themselves” fire.) I struggle with the “get yourself out there” part of the equation. The only solution I have found that works for me is to blog-post occasionally on a writers co-op site I have been involved with for near a decade now.
The danger/fear, I believe, for most writers is this: What if I face-plant in public on social media? How do I recover? There are a billion, billion ways to “fail”–and only a laser-narrow way of succeeding; that is to say: of gaining–by ones and twos–an appreciative reading audience.
The self-recriminations/administered beat-downs for having engaged in social interaction that goes awry can be so debilitating and cringe-inducing for hyper-sensitive writers (and aren’t most of us of this breed?) that I can well understand the impulse to withdraw behind a wall of impenetrable, inscrutable, narcotizing silence and declare: “F– it! The world gets my work–if they want it–and nothing else.” It is emotionally and intellectually exhausting to triple-think everything you post in a public forum–be it a blog post, twitter tweet, site comment, etc.–and then brace for blow-back.
Isn’t it safer–wiser–to say as little as possible publicly? ‘Course, then we’re right back where we started: languishing in (well-deserved?) obscurity.
Well, thank you for your kind words.
It’s all definitely a tightrope walk. My entire social media strategy is to be my bumbling, honest self (so… literally no strategy). There is always the risk of bumbling badly, and it could be disastrous. It’s definitely a scary place to be.
The best we can do is, well, our best.
Yep. Makes sense! We’re flawed, fumbling creatures of flesh and blood, not paragons of sculpted marble. If I hear you correctly: accept the fact that we all are eccentric/flawed in one way or another, so relinquish the notion of crafting a “perfect” social media profile in favor of grounding communication in something real.
Pretty much. I think people crave authenticity when trying to make connections, even if it’s an incredible impersonal space like online. I try to be a good person online, as I try IRL, and hope for the best.