Writing Advice: Adaptability and Control
Like last week, this is going to be something a little out of the usual realm for the Writing Advice segment of this blog. But it’s still advice, and it pertains to writing, so…here goes.
One of my writing teachers once recommended that every author have their own website, so their presence online wasn’t beholden to another company (like, say, WordPress) that might change its terms of service, go out of business, get overrun by Nazis, etc. “Control your own presence online,” is how he put it. This was over a decade ago, and websites aren’t really the first thing people think about now when they think about a presence on the web. I have one; it has basic information and a listing (currently and often out of date) of my books. But it’s not where I make announcements about books going on sale, it’s not where I connect with my communities (both of readers and the furry community in general), and honestly if the website went down for whatever reason, I doubt it would have a huge impact on my business.
In the present day, most authors I know—most creators, in fact, including artists and musicians—who maintain a community presence do so on a large company’s platform. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Telegram, Discord: these are where the community gathers. Fewer people browse websites in the way we used to a decade ago, so if you’re trying to get a message out to a large number of people about your new book (or your art or your music), those are the places to do it.
The problem with those places, as my teacher pointed out, is that they are not under your control. They’ve all at one point or another changed their terms of service; many of them have a, shall we say, Nazi problem; at least one seems teetering on the edge of going out of business. Whether Twitter survives or not, it’s changed and it’s become a less attractive place to advertise your presence, at least for me and people in my community.
But the flip side of relying on corporate-brokered community spaces is that the communities will always find a space somewhere. Furry fans used to post in alt.fan.furry on Usenet; we hung out on MUCKs; we chatted over AIM. Now we post on FA, hang out on Discord, and chat over Telegram. A year or two ago, Mastodon surfaced as an alternative to Twitter (it had been around longer, but that’s when I first learned about it), but it was a small, quiet place, and though I liked it, there wasn’t enough activity to keep me coming back without a conscious effort. Now, two or three Twitter meltdowns down the road, I’m finding a lot of the people I followed on Twitter popping up there, and it’s much more active, for all the good (and some bad) that entails. Is it going to be the same as Twitter in its heyday? No; what could be? But it’s a place the community has adopted.
And the point of this is that we are always going to be relying on outside help to advertise our art and to get it to the people who want it. There is a limited amount of control we can reasonably expect to have. Mastodon, though its architecture helps prevent trolls from getting into your timeline (and there are no ads!) is still run by people whose circumstances might change (your Mastodon instance probably has a way for you to financially support your admin: please check this out and help if you can!). My books are published and sold by FurPlanet, which relies on a couple people similarly vulnerable to circumstance. Patreon, responsible for a large chunk of my income, has changed their policies several times. This newsletter is hosted on Substack, which could also change its policies and has already got something of a Nazi problem (fortunately, Substack’s model means that the worst case scenario “Nazi problem” is that you might get right-wing shitposts suggested to you for further reading).
In 2005, Fred Patten had helped Sofawolf pitch our “Best in Show” anthology (which he edited) to a company called iBooks, which was going to reprint it and put it into bookstores. We’d signed the deal and were going to meet up with them to say hi at ComicCon that year. When we found their booth, we learned that the founder and head of iBooks, Byron Preiss, had been killed in a car accident just a week before. There was nobody ready to take over the company, and it was quickly sold following the accident. “Best in Show” showed up in bookstores, but nobody was really interested in promoting it anymore. Trad pub authors have numerous stories of their editor being fired or changing jobs, their agents changing agencies or quitting the business; self-pub authors have to deal with Amazon’s Kindle Publishing rules, SEO, and (for adult creators) maddeningly inconsistent content guidelines.
Which is to say, yes, any of our creative endeavours rely on other people. To the extent that you can minimize that, do, but don’t believe in this fantasy world where you control your work from inception to distribution. You can host a website in your office and sell your work only from that site and take payment in MeCoin (please do not create your own cryptocurrency), and you will still be reliant on someone to maintain the structure of the Internet, besides which you will need a way to tell people about your work. Right now those communities gather in corporate-owned spaces, and there’s nothing you can do about that except try to make those spaces better. Adapt to the current landscape rather than trying to control it, and you’ll be much happier and (I hope) more successful.
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