New Year, New Focus

Woman in robe standing back-to in a mirror
Edited in Prisma app with Flora

Lately, I’ve been feeling ever more squirmy about the tangled mess that is authorship, marketing, publishing, PR, building a readership, and social media. I became a writer because I loved to write fun and and quirky fiction in a literary/commercial narrative style. My goal is to create stories with flawed but relatable characters navigating relationships and careers. Stories with emotional impact. Stories with satisfying, often happy, conclusions.

I didn’t become a writer to be an influencer.

I didn’t envision spending hours a day on social media competing for eyeballs and attention.

Here’s the skinny: Unless an author is already famous and/or has a Big Publisher marketing machine working for them, options for growing a readership are limited. Almost any traditional marketing scheme (magazine and newspaper ads, radio spots, major book reviews) will be expensive or unreachable. When’s the last time the NY Times Book Review covered a indie small-press title? I’m thinking, um, never?

[I love the NY Times Book Review Podcast. It’s worth a listen.]

So what are small-press, mid-list, and indie authors advised to do? They can pay for services like ads themselves (cost: $$$). They can purchase boxes of their own books and schlep themselves to book festivals and libraries ($$ cost: books, gas, dinner, mental health). They can beg readers to spread the word. (cost: pride) They can review other authors’ books in hopes they’ll return the favor. (cost: cynicism.) They can grow an email list and send emails once a week/month (cost: increasingly $$ plus time plus no guarantee of open rate or delivery).

Social Media and Cultural Flattening

One free and seemingly-manageable option is social media. Grow your friends and followers numbers, we are told. Be authentic. Nurture engagement. Never mind the gaming that takes place, the tit but not for tat. Never mind the time it eats out of your day. Never mind the algorithm that ensures only a slim percentage of your followers ever see your posts because their business is to sell ads, not create community.

Never mind the deadening funnel to conformity, the illusion of individuality shimmering over an underlying scheme to get us all to consume, promote, and glorify the same products. (A book I’m going to read on this topic just came out. It’s called Filterworld: How Algorithms Flattened Culture by Kyle Chayka, a regular New Yorker writer. Review to come. Stay tuned.)

I have an author friend with whom I carry on a running conversation via DM (direct messaging) on Instagram, and nearly every day I say something along the lines of “I hate social media.”

The irony is not lost on me.

I’m as addicted to social media as everyone. It’s become a habit. I have a Facebook profile, a Facebook page, and an Instagram Account. I refuse to Tik the Tok. I got out of Twitter when it became X because I already despised it.

The question remains: Is social media a good place to interact with the writing community and gain readership? Yes and no. It’s free (if you consider your time valueless) and it works (sort of). I mean, I guess it’s better than nothing, and again, it’s free. I think (hope) it helps me stay connected to my lovely, loyal readers.

But are socials working to build my readership? I don’t think so. And that’s what gets me down.

So I’ve been thinking about all this and the futility I feel and how I sort of use social media as a kind of writer journal in case people want to follow along on my journey, and I just get so bummed because it seems rather fruitless.

All that engagement is nice. I truly value the loyal readers who like and comment on my posts (if that’s you, thank you from the bottom of my ragged heart), but I feel more and more as if I’m providing free content to the tech company who then leverages that content to sell ad space and less like I’m doing something good for my writing career.

Blogging is Back, Baby

If I’m going to take time to create free content, I want to do it for me, not the social media companies. I’ve decided I’d rather go back to the once popular but now retro practice of keeping a blog. Remember when we used to go online and find a cool person who loved something we loved and curated their finds for us? Or they had embarked on a journey or challenge and kept a public log anyone could read? And how we’d look forward to their latest post?

Well, I love writing. I love books and authors and cover art and libraries and the literary life. This blog follows my reader bliss, my writing and publishing journey, and cozy & bookish lifestyle ideas.

I’ll post links to By the Pen on my social media, but this is where I’ll be my most in-depth and chatty.

Maybe you are tired of socials, too?


    1. Thank you so much for reading and leaving a comment. Hope this adds something to the world–and my life–rather than sucking something away.

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