The story or novel is done. It’s out there, people are reading it, maybe people are commenting on it…
So now what?
And not “now what” in terms of marketing or creating your “platform,” but what, beyond the book itself, do you owe your readers—if anything?
I’ve said myself that particularly for genre authors, being a part of the genre community is a must, but I’m happy to qualify “must” as: as much as you want to, if you have the ability to be a part of any community at all.
But even if you’re shy, anxious around strangers—or just don’t want to be the author-about-town at San Diego Comicon, at least be a fan, yes? Can you write effective fantasy if you don’t actually like fantasy? Of course not. I’m not a romance fan, and guess what: I don’t write romance. I have at least that much of a sense of responsibility to the romance community that I won’t try to just wedge myself in there, dismissive of people who have made that genre their life’s work because… I don’t know… I read somewhere that romance sells well. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but where I come from you don’t bum-rush the stage.
So you read fantasy, love fantasy, write fantasy—you get it. The fantasy novel is out. Now what?
Pretty much everyone will tell you that you now have to start a three year campaign of flogging the ever loving shit out of it in order to build your platform and to get every last goddamn Kindle download there is to get.
Do you really have to do that?
“I am and wish to remain a reader, an amateur, and a fan, unburdened by the weight of ceaseless evaluation,” Wisława Szymborska wrote. “Sometimes the book itself is my main subject; at other times it’s just a pretext for spinning out various loose associations.”
This is sort of a fancy way of saying “write for yourself”—that you are your first audience. And as for platforms, maybe with all the weirdness (to say the least) around the last election, a serious social media backlash is in progress anyway. In “The New Reading Environment: Each this is not to say or in other words a dull sword wielded against willful misunderstanding” the editors of n+1wrote:
It can be difficult to like one’s readers on social media. Their reactions can be glib, disingenuous, mocking, cruel, pedantic, self-righteous, derogatory. Every ideal reader you may find there will be matched by another determined to find your faults — your worst metaphor, your least graceful aside, the word your editor wrote in, the Getty Image selected (not by you) to run with your story, with its horrible title. It seems like everyone on Twitter is New Grub Street’s Mr. Fadge, the editor of The Current whose calling card — “flippancy, the most hopeless form of intellectual vice” — was “looked for with eagerness by that growing class of readers who care for nothing but what can be made matter of ridicule.”
So maybe building that social media platform has become exactly what not to do. I’ve all but abandoned Facebook, myself, have never been on Instagram and I’m not sure what Snapchat is. I still rely on Twitter to at least sort of get and/or keep the word out on what I’m up to even though I’m fully aware of others’ abuses of that system. One of the things I like about Twitter is that it’s exceedingly ignorable. I have the app on my phone and flip through it from time to time and happily engage as the spirit moves me, but when anyone starts talking about politics I just keep flipping. Oh yeah, and I block people/bots/companies at the drop of a hat. I don’t care how many followers I have as long as they’re actual people and those people have the simplest sense of common decency.
So that’s me, as much as I have any authority to do so (and in reality, I have none), letting you off the branding platform social media hook.
As authors, our responsibility to our readers begins with writing the best novel we possibly can.
And, frankly, it can end right there.
Be a part of the community—the genre community and/or the community of the written word in general—but only up to your comfort zone. Ignore unsolicited advice. If you would rather be writing than Skyping into a book group somewhere politely decline the invitation. You do not need to make friends with anyone, let alone everyone. And for the love of all that’s holy (and literature in all its forms is, to me at least, holy) you must not change anything you do based on “metrics”—whatever the precise fuck that is. Never write, read, or chase after reviews of any kind in any venue. Reviews are for the reviewers, not you, or your readers. If you do want to talk about books—I do!—be positive about other authors’ work.* Never read “comments” on any web site anywhere ever. Never respond to angry genre vigilantes, dissatisfied consumers, clinically insane haters, or other critics—or friendly genre faithfuls, obsequious hangers on, clinically insane stalkers, or other fans. If it occurs to you to write just one quick sentence explaining yourself to an anonymous Amazon review, just stop, take a deep breath, and use that number of words to start your next novel and move ever forward.
That’s your responsibility as an author. All of the rest is optional.
* And okay, so just yesterday I wrote a snarky “review” on GoodReads—something I basically never do. Obviously not never, never, but essentially never. I’ll put together something more about critics and reviews in the weeks ahead that might address that some.