“I don’t have a problem with fandom,” she says. “But I don’t think fans realise the pressure they put on authors. The very vocal ones can change an author’s next book, even an author’s career, by what they say on the internet. And writers are expected to engage and respond.” She pauses. “The internet is poison to authors.”
Swainston is also unhappy with the “book a year” ethos of modern publishing: “Publishers seem to want to compete with faster forms of media, but the fast turnover leads to poorer books, and publishers shoot themselves in the foot. And it’s as if authors have to be celebrities these days. It’s expected that authors do loads of self-publicity – Facebook, Twitter, blogs, forum discussions – but it’s an author’s job to write a book, not do the marketing. Just like celebrities don’t make good authors, authors don’t really make good celebrities.”
The saddest thing to this has been seeing negative reactions on Twitter, which has made me want to say a little on the subject.
Authors are all different people.
I’ll say it again, everyone is different. Authors cope and react in different ways to fandom and the Internet. You need to be wired in the right way to cope with it (my trick: I take the writing seriously but not the Internet).
We all know there’s no longer just the writing. There are interviews and blogs and all the paraphernalia that comes with writing – because publishers encourage it; it all helped to sell books, and I do think that a couple of years ago there was a lot of merit in jumping in to build an online profile.
Not now. The Internet is saturated with all levels of writers, self-published up to writers-to-be, through to small press to large press. Saturated. For any new author to get heard out there these days is next to impossible, certainly to be effective within a couple of years. But of course authors have to because it’s included in some marketing brief somewhere as a good thing (it’s not a bad thing, it’s just hardly effective these days).
Steph’s also right to assert it’s tricky to hit a book a year (especially if you’ve a full time job), though I know that Gollancz are the type of people who seem happy to wait a while to get a good book. The year deadline is not a strict rule, but it’s useful to hit a book a year because the industry likes that regularity.
Steph highlights another problem with writing: you’re often on your own to cope with it all, and the nature of the whole business online – attention, microscopic picking over your work etc – seems to magnify both the importance and the solitude. It can quite easily fuck writers over and I’m surprised that there aren’t more suffering out there.
I suppose in teaching – Steph’s chosen exit route – you have others around you, which really does help protect one’s mind. That’s probably why authors get together and have a good moan at convention; certainly Twitter has helped put me in touch with other writers, so that’s useful to shoot the breeze sometimes.
So I can fully understand her decision to do things in her own time. Churning out shit is easy. Being happy with what you’ve done in a year and letting that get out into the public sphere is not always that easy. Some writers are wired to work in a fast-paced environment; others are wired to take their time. Neither one is better.
I don’t think the Internet is poison, but I do think it is a drug. Some authors are addicted, some go cold turkey to cope, some get withdrawal symptoms, and none of it is particularly constructive to one’s sanity.