The thing is that as an author these days you are strongly encouraged both by your publishers and by logic to partake of social media. Wallow in it. Dive in and only come up for air when you need to write.
The best of books can utterly fail without sufficient initial publicity (the author in question is actually a prime example of this - their excellent book only flourishing after belated publicity following years in the wilderness). So clearly there is a vast pressure for authors to engage with the public, be seen on forums, be available on Twitter, be responsive, witty, entertaining, constantly placing their product in the spotlight without seeming to do so. All striving for that golden ratio of "just enough" selling that it moves books while not pissing folks off.
And that's fine if you enjoy social media and have a more or less healthy relationship with it. Many of us do enjoy it. With my caring duties it's basically my only social life, a much needed window on the world. I would be all over social media whether I had a book to sell or not.
But for those whose personal makeup makes them vulnerable to the harm that social media can inflict ... to then be bound to it by your profession must be a very hard thing. Like having to drink poison in order to stay alive.
And an author's relationship with social media is not quite like Joe Public's. Not only are we spreading our wares out, but we are talking with strangers who know us only through our stories. We are part of a complex network of obligation and interactions each with different boundaries. We talk with reviewers and readers, with authors who sell way more, or way less, or broadly similar amounts to us. Strangers of various shades become friends in varying degrees. We have to say "no" a lot, to reading this book, to critiquing that chapter, to signing at this venue. Everyone has expectations of us. Some think we can help their careers, some we know could help ours. Everything is potentially coloured by these sorts of unhealthy considerations when really we would just like friends.
So again, for those of us with sufficiently thick skin, arrogance or whatever is required to navigate these waters safely, its great to have a swim. But to those who feel they are drowning in it, social media is a burden.
And what if you set it aside and then your next book dies on the launchpad? Imagine how that feels. You, left unable to tell whether that would always have been the book's fate or if somehow you had swallowed your medicine and gone out to bat for it on Reddit the book might have found its audience and soared.
It's a scary equation to consider. Nobody should think they have to do themselves harm in order to succeed.
In the end it is definitely possible to succeed and to continue to flourish with your back turned firmly toward all forms of social media. And I wish those who take this path every success. But, sadly, it is also entirely possible for superb books to fail entirely without that first flame being applied to their touchpaper. And in this day and age it's hard to walk away from the channels of communication knowing that they really could make the difference between the career you want and writing as a hobby.
I've no answers to offer.
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