Written by Francesca Lombardo.
Edited by Victoria Jones.
When it comes to book publishing, a writer’s contribution does not end with them submitting a manuscript and eventually getting their book published, but it extends to their ability to promote their books, which nowadays happens mainly through social media. While publishers require writers to be an integral and public part in the promotion of their book, it is important to question whether authors feel comfortable in doing so or not. I am not implying in any way that, when carrying out a publication, there is a fault on the publisher side of the business. I do believe, however, that a light should be shed on what this means for an author’s mental health. Is it always good for them to be so exposed, or to have such a public relationship with fans?
We are all aware of the vast amount of research that illustrates the negative impact of social media on one’s mental health. A study conducted by the University of Copenhagen shows how the users that abstained from social media felt more satisfied and confident than the ones who were asked to stay online. The researchers coined the term ‘Facebook envy’ to refer to the feeling of jealousy and a sudden lack of confidence that users would experience when comparing themselves to others.
In this case, however, we are taking a different stance, arguing that while authors have all the rights to be on social media, as everybody does, they do not always share the same freedom. They might feel constricted in exposing their ideas or write things to draw the attention of fans, rather than their genuine opinions. They cannot always talk freely about everything they want to talk about, as they will face some amount of backlash, or even receive threats by some fans. In her article, author Joanne Harris explains how the good old days where authors could afford to be reclusive, with publishers being active in the promotion of their books on their behalf, are gone. She managed to have a right balance by alternating between promoting her book and engaging readers – as well as other writers or influencers – in different ways, such as giving out writing tips, sharing artworks or works-in-progress. When discussing the negative implications of social media for an author, Harris argues that artists have bills and mortgages too. Thus, the notion that artists are corrupt because they are trying to make a living out of writing is not only wrong but also elitist. This elitist approach is reminiscent of the past when only the rich could afford to write and the act of working for a living was seen as lowly and vulgar.
Authors write books as their principal source of income, or at least they would like it to be that way, but sadly, a writer’sannual average income rarely exceeds £11,000. Most of the time, authors would like to live off their books, but unfortunately, that is not always the case. Thus, it is even more important that authors are protected when promoting their books online. As it is their job to increase sales, it should also be in the publishers’ interest to have more protected and, thus, happier authors. The lack of protection seems to be negatively affecting the writers’ relationship with the public as well as with their publishers. To begin, the majority of authors are usually shy people, so by being active on social media platforms, they are already stepping out of their comfort zone. It would be interesting to understand in what ways publishers could ensure their safety. They could, for instance, communicate more with their authors, by inserting new terms and creating boundaries that focus on the author’s social media presence, during the stipulation of contracts.
One could argue that authors could just take some time off social media, but this is not an effective method as they already practise that, and it is not enough to prevent trolls or to draw a line between nice fans and harassing ones. Good common sense is not enough anymore. For example, Cassandra Clare’s latest book, written together with Wesley Chu, was leaked online – and also translated – way before its release date by one of the five lucky fans that had won Clare’s giveaway including five signed copies of the book. Clare and Chu tweeted their disappointment over the fan’s behaviour, stating that it diminished the value of the main characters’ stories and that it might also signal the end of future giveaways to fans.
From the point of view of a reader, I completely understand the excitement that a story gives you, and the chance to talk to your favourite author; but being excited to talk to them and having a good common sense on what is ethical to do or not, are not mutually exclusive. Even famous people – such as actors, singers, and so on – have to deal with critics and bad comments all the time. However, they were perhaps a bit more prepared – as opposed to writers – in what they were signing up to when they decided to pursue their careers. I am not suggesting that they deserve it in any way, but I think their career is more equipped to deal with the negative aspects of being in the spotlight. For a writer it might be different: they wanted to write a story, and even though they wanted their story to become famous, they could always sit behind the scenes. I would not expect an author to be actively and constantly involved in social media; they can experience fame nonetheless, without unnecessary critics, threats to their lives, and especially without readers leaking their work online.