A fellow author friend of mine, Jack Heath, recently posted an explanation on Twitter as to why he needed to take a break from social media in order to better focus on other things.
As Jack explained, one of his biggest concerns is that in maintaining an active social media presence, which he feels compelled to do with respect to book promotion and establishing connection with fans, is that it’s having an impact on the way he experiences the world.
“I used to go through life looking for stories to tell. Now I’ve found myself looking around for things to post about. I worry that if I keep going down this path, my books will cease to be imaginative or original. I can’t even enjoy reading anymore, because whenever I hit a good paragraph, I feel the urge to take a picture of it. I almost always resist that urge, but it’s too late – the thought alone has taken me out of the story.”
Jack raises an interesting question – do authors need to have an active social media presence? Or even should they?
Like most writers, I’ve had conflicts with this myself. My day job is writing about digital marketing, so I need to use social media in order to understand how everything works. But I don’t post much myself, and I don’t see a huge amount of value in doing it, personally. But many authors do indeed gain significant value from being active online – I’ve written previously about how authors can maximize the benefits of social media, and build their platform to help them sell more books.
But it’s hard, it’s a big commitment if you want to use it as a brand-building vehicle. it’s not just posting whenever you feel, it takes a dedicated effort in establishing your place and what you want to be known for. That then enables an audience to find you, and you can then use that to help promote your books, and some authors clearly have a knack for it. But others…
Writing is a solitary exercise – you need time away from everybody else in order to gather your thoughts and let your stories form, before then needing even more time alone to actually write them. Given this, it’s not surprising that many authors are actually quite introverted and aren’t looking to be the centre of attention. Which is counter to the aims of promotion – and definitely, with access to millions of people, social platforms provide you with a means for promoting yourself and your work. But as Jack notes, it can also take a toll.
So should you bother?
This really comes down to the individual. Again, many authors gain a lot by being active online, yet equally as many high-profile writers don’t even have a Twitter profile. Tara June-Winch has won virtually every major literary award in Australia in 2020, and she doesn’t have a Twitter presence. In fact, of the five authors nominated in the fiction category in the 2020 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards, only one of them has an active Twitter account.
In some ways, this seems like an option only available to more established authors, as they have less need to build that initial brand awareness. But it does also suggest that it’s not 100% necessary, being active online is not a definitive requirement.
Yet, there is also a growing focus on author identity in book promotion, with often as much discussion around who the author is as the work itself. This is counter to literary discussion, in my view, as the work should always be the focus, but either way, it’s a trend that exists, which points to it being beneficial to let your audience in, and to share more of yourself with the world.
In many ways, though, it seems like more writers would prefer to take the Cormac McCarthy approach.
Notoriously media-shy (or resistant, depending on how you look at it), if you want to get in touch with Cormac McCarthy, for an interview or any other purpose, you reportedly have to leave a letter in a mail box which is checked periodically by his ex-wife. If she thinks it’s relevant, she’ll pass it on, and then he might, if he deems it of interest, get in touch. But probably not.
There’s no other form of contact, which leaves him to concentrate on his writing.
As one of McCarthy’s ex-wives noted to The New York Times in 1992
“Someone would call up and offer him $2,000 to come speak at a university about his books. And he would tell them that everything he had to say was there on the page.”
That feels like a better approach, though there is much value in writers groups, online discussions, contributing to the wider community. But it can also get to be too much.
In the modern world, establishing the right balance is increasingly difficult.