Almost a week ago, I decided to take an indefinite hiatus from Twitter. I haven’t looked back since.
For many reasons, I just don’t feel comfortable using Twitter anymore. It’s definitely not the same place it was back when I first joined. And, to be completely honest, I made myself a promise back when I started my career as an author.
I decided that, if any part of this ever stopped feeling good, I’d stop immediately.
Twitter hasn’t felt good for me in a long time. I straight up get nauseous when it’s time to check my timeline or mentions, wondering Now what? Wondering who’s going to be stomping on #OwnVoices authors while demanding more diversity, or who’s going to be telling me I’m not queer enough or disabled enough. Wondering who’s going to wander into my mentions without actually reading my tweets and start ranting at me. I’ve witnessed authors drag other authors or even bloggers and readers, encouraging their thousands of followers to pile on.
If you stand up and say “This isn’t right,” if you don’t instantly block the “trash” people, you’re out, too. Twitter feels like the digital version of high school: “You can’t sit with us, especially if we see you sitting with her.”
I’m almost 29. I am far too old for these kinds of games. I’ve got lots of books I’d rather focus my energy on writing. Not to mention my energy is already lacking, thanks to a current flare.
I’ve tried taking regular Twitter breaks. I’ve tried paring down the number of people I follow. These things helped a little, but they weren’t enough in the long-term.
So I’ve decided I’m done.
I’d already decided to focus my time and money on Facebook. Now that I’ve connected my Facebook page to my reader group, it’s so much easier for me to manage everything. Through research, I know that Facebook is where I need to be if I want to connect with readers. Plus, I’ve made some lasting connections with other authors there.
Authors who are professional and courteous, even when they feel passionately about something.
From here on, my Twitter page will serve as an outpost. I will not be checking mentions or DMs. I have, however, unlocked my account again; I will be tweeting only when I have news to share, and it will usually be an auto-shared link to my blog.
Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most importantly, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
It feels so good and quiet now, I can hear myself again.
I’ve been working in the indie publishing industry for five years, with a smattering of trad pub experience right before that. I mean a very tiny smattering; I had a couple short stories and poems published in journals before I got addicted to self-publishing, and I was with a small press for a year. But I’ve always been an introvert, and the thing most people don’t know about us introverts is that we’re super observant. We may not say much, but we see everything. And we pay attention.
Lately there’s been a lot of ugliness in the lit community. Some high profile authors were outed for attacking readers, there’s been a lot of mudslinging over diversity in fiction, and now I’m seeing a lot of authors griping about how “oversaturated” the industry is.
I get it. Amazon sales have tanked for everyone this month. In general, there’s been a decline in sales. The industry has been plateauing, trying to find its footing in the midst of this digital revolution. But I’ve noticed the panic really dig in to authors when Amazon changes something. And then things get ugly.
I’ve been doing this for five years. It’s not a long time, by any means, but I’ve seen a lot of things change. It’s completely natural to look for something to blame when the industry shifts, but it seems kind of petty to lob it at the increasing number of authors and books out there.
For one, the market has always been full. Even before indie publishing took off—back when it was considered vanity publishing to go and print copies of your books and sell them out of your car—there was a vast traditional market. Book stores became more and more selective with who they gave shelf space to. It was a game of dollars—which publisher could pay the most to get their star author front and center in stores. And it still is.
New authors are debuting every day in the traditional world. Some never sell. Publishers are taking a huge gamble on them. Many authors will not publish again, or will and remain low- or mid-list. Those who buckle down for the long haul will ultimately have the most rewarding careers. Some will become overnight bestsellers and will be completely okay with their single famous series.
It’s the same on the indie side of the fence. The only difference is whose dollars are backing the production and marketing.
Authors, we’re not competitors. There are millions of readers around the world, with new markets opening up every single day. (Right now India and Nigeria’s ebook markets are booming, by the way.) Readers don’t play favorites. Sure, there are authors they love who they will always buy from right away. But most readers are just looking for something good to read that fits their tastes and their budget—especially while their favorites are in between releases.
We’re not competitors, the same way sushi and pizza aren’t. They’re different foods, with different flavors, but they’re still tasty. Depending on the day, I’ll have a craving for one or the other (or a variety of other foods).
Amazon tweaked an algorithm that slashed sales. Okay. That does sting. My sales, for example, aren’t that high in the first place. Being disabled and low income, I work hard so that my book sales help pay my bills. I more than understand the stress. However, Amazon isn’t the only retailer out there, nor are they the only avenue of income for authors.
For example, over on Kobo my sales are business as usual. I’m participating in a 30% off promotion and my standalone romance The Nanny with the Skull Tattoos is currently selling all over the world, with little effort on my part at this point. All I did was sign up for the promotion. Thanks to Kobo, I just sold my first book in Sweden. A couple months ago, I broke into the UAE market for the first time.
Kindle Unlimited is just not a long-term business plan for indie authors. It’s great in the short-term, but as Amazon tweaks algorithms to better service their customers, it affects the authors. And that’s fine, because Amazon is a business and they have to do what’s best for their customers. They don’t owe authors anything. Their job is to keep their business running—and our job is to keep our businesses running.
I was recently listening to an episode of The Creative Penn podcast and Joanna Penn said something like “readers don’t owe you a living.” This really resonated with me.
Amazon and readers aren’t obligated to keep our businesses running. We are. And we do so by being open to other streams of income, such as going wide (maybe rotating series in KU but not putting our entire catalogs in), writing in multiple genres, writing nonfiction, and looking for related work, like teaching courses and workshops.
Our entire careers do not and should not depend on Amazon. Our sales do not depend on whether other authors are releasing. Our sales do not depend on readers.
How well we do is up to us, the author—the entrepreneur at the head of our own businesses.
Our careers depend on how hard we want to work. It’s as simple as that.
I’m in it for the long haul. And no algorithm tweak or market condition is going to change that.
Alliteration! 🙃 Okay, but seriously, I strongly feel that this needs to be addressed.
The publishing community—also known as the lit community—is like a small town. There are two major neighborhoods: the trad suburbs and the indie village. Everyone knows everyone, and you’re often as strong as your acquaintances. So I can understand why some townspeople might feel as if they’re better off not standing up to the bullying selectmen and mayors. But when those prominent figures start vandalizing buildings on Main Street, there are only so many times you can scrub the bricks clean.
I think we’ve seen enough episodes of Authors Behaving Badly. As public figures—yes, even those of us who are prawny and barely make coffee money off our writing—we ought to hold ourselves to certain standards. Siccing our Twitter followers on someone who had a differing opinion or belittling another author’s reading comprehension on a public message board falls miles short of that. As writers, you’d think we would understand the weight of our words and actions.
Yet it happens over and over.
Occasionally, it spawns a series of Twitter threads and blog posts calling out the bad behavior and attempting to correct it. Too often, though, it goes completely ignored—especially if there isn’t a group to support us and back us up. We continue our friendships and business arrangements with authors who repeatedly let their tongues go hurtling out of the yard.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t want to be associated with someone who purposely walks all over other people.
Everyone is entitled to a bad day. Sometimes our words get jumbled and what we thought sounded right and correctly conveyed our feelings was simply hurtful. We apologize and we move on. We are forgiven and we learn from our mistakes. But I’m not talking about those people.
I’m dismayed and nauseated when I see respectful authors buddying up with authors who have a history of attacking readers and bloggers. My reputation—my business’s brand—is much more valuable to me than thousands of dollars in royalties. I’d rather stay prawny than know I got to the NYT bestseller list because I turned the other cheek while friends were steamrolled. I’ve put my foot down and walked away from seemingly amazing opportunities because I couldn’t stomach the Napoleon-esque, demeaning behavior.
I want more of us to do these things.
What one of us does and says reflects on all of us. Even though it sometimes may seem like everyone out there is an author, we’re actually a very small community. While I’m not arrogant enough to think that we should have a blacklist along the lines of Writer Beware, I do believe more of us should have a little more pride and integrity in our little town.
This shouldn’t be a witch hunt; we’re no better if we start publicly outing people and burning them at the Twitter stake. But maybe if, while we’re strolling down Main Street, we see someone pull out that graffiti can, we can say,
“I see you, I disapprove of your actions, and I will not work with you.”
By “fun,” I mean another riveting episode of The Book Internet Blows Up.
Not everyone will agree with me, but I strongly believe that the number one rule of being an author is do no harm. This means choosing your words carefully and not allowing your emotions to get the best of you. “Freedom of speech” is not a Get Out of Jail Free card for bad behavior.
For one, it’s not okay to accuse authors writing under pseudonyms of scamming readers.
It’s also not okay to shame people for protecting their privacy.
And it’s really not okay to compare a mostly harmless thing—or anything, really—to rape.
There are many authors writing under pen names. Most authors use some kind of pseudonym these days, whether indie or trad published.
Very rarely do you hear of authors screwing over readers, and certainly not hordes of writers. For sure we would’ve all heard about these people, because readers are not stupid. Readers are incredibly adept at sniffing out scams and unmasking the culprits. Just ask James Frey. The truth almost always comes out, and the lightning-fast reader grapevine can make or break a career.
While it’s true that there’s a lot of illicit gaming going on—take a stroll through Kboards and you’ll see many complaints about the KU system being scammed—readers and retailers alike catch on quickly. Amazon, for example, is constantly tweaking things to even out the playing field.
Insinuating that all authors writing under pen names and using inanimate objects as avatars are ripping off readers is a blanket statement and not at all fair or true. With how passionate the reader community is, word about these supposed scammers would spread like wildfire. In all of the years I’ve been a part of the indie community (as both a reader and an author), I’ve heard of less than a handful of scammers.
More than likely, an author using a stock photo instead of her or his actual face is probably just trying to protect their privacy. For example, many authors who write taboo subjects such as erotica have day jobs or families that would not approve of what they write, and there could be serious ramifications. That’s not deceiving readers. Deceiving readers would be uploading an ebook full of gibberish to Amazon and charging $20 for it, or writing a completely fake memoir and telling captive audiences about the horrible, untrue things that you’ve endured and overcome.
There are also authors who write memoirs or novels based on traumatic or very personal events such as transgender transition who need the protection of a pen name because our society treats these people like dog shit. Coming out could have serious emotional consequences for these authors. That’s not scamming or hurting anyone.
Then there are authors who simply need to separate business from personal life. Some authors feel that having a pen name helps them focus better, while others find that it helps keep them and their families safe. Having had experiences with stalkers both online and in the real world, I can completely understand the need to keep some details under wraps. Occasionally I even wish that I’d written under a secret pen name and kept my face a mystery, because then I might be able to stop beating myself up about my books.
More often than not, a pseudonym is in place to protect the author, for whatever reason. That’s hardly lying. The relationship between author and reader is storytelling; authors promise their readers that the book they’re holding is going to take them on some kind of adventure and offer them an escape from everyday life. A pen name doesn’t interfere with that. Before I ever started writing books, I never wondered about the authors behind the story. I never questioned whether the name on the cover was her or his real name, or whether she or he actually lives where their bio states. Mostly I just wanted to know when I could read more of their work if it was a book I loved, or what else I should try instead if it wasn’t my cup of tea.
The definition of catfishing, according to Google, is to “lure (someone) into a relationship by means of a fictional online persona.” Since most authors are too busy untangling plots and naming characters to bother with dating their readers, accusing writers with pen names as catfishing is hyperbolic at best. Sure, it might catch your attention if you find out J. Doe is a Jane instead of a John, but no lies were told. Jane still wrote that book.
I think the original blog post wouldn’t have been so outrageous if the writer hadn’t compared using a pen name to raping readers.
Rape is a horrific, violent crime that traumatizes the victim—often for life. Last I checked, using a pen name is not a crime. An author scamming readers, however, is certainly committing a crime, but it’s not the same thing as rape. Not even a little. Comparing the two is completely unnecessary, not to mention offensive to actual survivors and victims of sexual assault.
Throwing around the word “rape” casually or even for emphasis is a direct contribution to rape culture. Misusing words so loosely makes me seriously question an author’s supposed concern for readers. Statistics show that 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men have been sexually assaulted. That stands to reason that a percentage of any author’s readers may have been sexually assaulted at some point in their lives, or know someone who has.
As authors, we have a responsibility to do no harm to our readers. We’re also responsible for our behavior toward other authors.
Perhaps a better method of bolstering the community against scammers is sharing actual anecdotes of known scammers, rather than attacking both authors and readers within the community. 💜