I struggle a lot with the professional side of writing, versus the artistic side. For those who have seen me speak at conventions on this topic, know that I distinguish between being an author (a paid professional) and being a writer (a literary artist). I like to keep those two things separate and distinct because, well being successful at one does not equate success at the other (though they can be tied together, and one tends to suggest at least some success of the other).
Writing in this day and age is a complicated profession that involves not just story development but also literary acumen and grammatical ability, but also cultural awareness and social knowledge. But that’s just the construction of the manuscript. When you get into developing the book, you often also must as well scout talent, negotiate prices, and arrange additional work with editors, copyeditors, artists, and others. Then, once the book is done, things get really harried. Then, you get to promoting.
I suck at promoting. I really do. I barely understand how to get something to get some momentum. The thing is, I’m not sure others know how to do it either. As early as 2008, Cracked.com talked about how advertising in the post-millennium was basically a craps shoot. That’s certainly how I feel about it. Buying ads on social media may or may not produce results. It can even backfire! Wouldn’t that suck?
Building a brand is such an odd thing, too. I get it, conceptually. You are trying to get your audience, both established and new, to associate you with certain types of entertainment and value. Cool, great. Except, it feels a little dehumanizing. As an artist, you are trying to turn yourself into an entertainer in a different medium. Writing novels is not the same as writing tweets, and yet we consider a successful social media presence an integral part of the modern literary profession.
This isn’t new, of course. Writers in the first half of the 20th Century complained that if you wrote short stories, you would be asked when you were going to write a novel, and if you wrote novels, you were pressed to write short stories to drum up interest for your books. It seems strangely insulting for a work of art to be viewed through such a lens; to turn short stories into little more than advertisements.
I say all of this because I’m rebuilding my social media presence, so this has been on my mind. Composing interesting tweets, trying to engage established readers and newly-interested parties alike. It’s tricky and it’s difficult and it’s time-consuming. And while I like engaging with people, I don’t like the ‘job’ component of it. I’d rather spend my time writing fiction.
See, this stuff takes a toll. Even if it’s a small toll, it takes its toll. It costs. Just having things on the proverbial to-do list takes its toll. The concept of de-cluttering is related to this very thing. Even if a thing is inert, it takes up space, which takes up cognitive processes in the mind. The act of physically clearing a desk helps one to think clearer. And so the distractions of social media can truly impede and hamper one’s literary efforts.
There isn’t much to be done about it, sadly. I can’t afford to hire a promotional team and I’m too niche to really have a fanbase that can do the work (if that even happens anymore). And again, it’s not terrible. It’s not unpleasant; merely cumbersome. As Everlast put it on the Cypress Hill song ‘Rock Superstar’, “It’s a fun job but it’s still a job.”
I also think about this often because of how tied it is to not just advertising, but commercialism in general. I want money, don’t get me wrong. I want a lot of money. But I still can’t get passed just how much of this profession seems to be weighed against, judged by, and added up to, making money. Selling. Moving units. It just troubles me. A lot.
Conceptually, I understand. It’s hard to gauge cultural impact or artistic merit, but dollars sold or units moved is an easy thing to track and measure. That which is measured is managed, right? But it still boils art down to some kind of commodity. And I’m just not a fan of that thinking. But still, bills got to be paid, right?
So I write tweets and I post on Facebook. I have an Instragram, but man it’s hard to generate relevant pictures. Even just pics of captions takes more effort than you might think. I share videos of myself when I can, and pictures when I find them. I try to cross-promote on podcasts and stuff. But during all of it, I keep coming back to the basic reminder that, ‘I should be writing’.
I don’t know what would replace the free market of today. I don’t know how we might pursue our artistic goals without units sold and dollars made. I don’t know what might push us to determine who competes with who (for writing is very competitive, make no mistake). I just know that the interest of driving views, sales, readership, and audience, distracts from the purpose of creating compelling and engaging stories. Every time I struggle to find the words for a tweet, I wonder how much this lost time adds up to across a career.