I think it’s fair to say that I was quick to embrace the possibilities of the internet for promoting my books. I first took up blogging in 2005, ahead of the publication of my first novel, Taking Comfort. In those days, my blog was called ‘Roger’s Plog’ – plog being an unashamed combination of blog and plug. The whole point, as far as I was concerned, was to plug the book.
When twitter came along, I jumped on the bandwagon enthusiastically. I won’t say I was one of the first writers to sign up, but I got the impression from my then-publisher, Faber, that I was a relatively early adopter compared to other authors. I certainly didn’t need to be told to do it.
The only marketing plan there is
But nowadays it seems that’s precisely what publishers are doing: telling their authors to use social media. I get the impression that it’s the only marketing plan there is. Self-promotion online.
It even seems to be obligatory, almost as if it’s written into the contract. We’ll undertake to publish your book, provided you make a nuisance of yourself on twitter.
In the meantime, of course, traditionally published authors have been joined by the massed ranks of the self-published, many of whom exercise a tireless and sometimes desperate energy in promoting their work.
All of which makes it harder and harder for the individual to be heard. It also engenders the sense that you have to be out there, online, trying to build a platform… or whatever it is we’re supposed to be doing.
And yet, over the last few months, I seem to have drawn away from twitter – not completely, but significantly. While my blog has been languishing in dusty neglect.
Part of this is due to natural perversity. For certain people, being told you have to do something makes you less likely to do it. Especially when it’s something that everyone else is doing.
It’s also been due to the fact that I have been a little busy. I had a book to write. And for me, with limited time and too many demands on it, writing the book was always going to come above feeding the blog, or spewing out tweets. You see, the thing is, to blog well, to tweet entertainingly – these are time- and energy-consuming activities in their own right. There are even courses on blogging now.
But I never wanted to be a blogger, or a tweeter. I wanted to be a novelist. That’s what I signed up for. That’s what I want to do well, as well as I can.
Me with a fixed smile on my face
There’s another side to this too. (I’m not sure how many sides this thing has, but never mind.) By tweeting and blogging, I’m creating a public persona. Which is similar to me, but not quite the same as me. It’s like me with a fixed smile on my face.
When I started blogging back in 2005 I posted a tongue-in-cheek account of receiving the proofs of my first book to check. In the account I was cowering behind the sofa while my wife opened the package in another room and read the comments to me via walkie-talkie.
In a parody of the precious-writer, for comic effect, I over-stated my reactions to the copy-editor’s changes. My deliberately punctuation-light text had been ‘corrected’, destroying the effect I’d been aiming for.
The profanity-littered outburst that I let rip was meant to portray the anxious impotence of the first-time novelist in this uneasy, stressful negotiation. It was not meant to be taken literally. (The clue there, remember, was that I was supposed to be hiding behind the sofa at the time, talking to my wife on the walkie-talkie.)
Freedom of speech and all that
The satire was not appreciated by my publisher, who sent me a sharp email complaining about the post, which he thought showed his publishing company in a bad light. I volunteered to take it down and he was grateful.
Maybe he was right, maybe he over-reacted. Maybe I should have stood my ground. Freedom of speech and all that. But the episode does seem to dramatise the tensions that are inherent in an author maintaining a blog which is both intended to entertain and engage, but at the same time is constrained by what we might call promotional (and therefore corporate) imperatives.
That’s probably the real reason why I’ve been quiet online. My fixed smile was beginning to hurt.