Column: Writers struggling with digital fame
When I was a kid, my favorite authors were names to look up in the library and black and white pictures on the cover of a book. if i was lucky, maybe there would be a Q&A at the end of the book, or I could find a singular interview with them on YouTube. Anyway, if I saw one of my favorite authors in public, I wouldn’t be able to recognize him.
Now, almost all authors can be found on social networks, making daily posts on Twitter or Instagram, filming YouTube blogs or even streaming video games on Twitch. Authors are celebrities with faces, social media is the most powerful advertising tool for publishers, and book publishing is forever changed.
Over the past two years, Brandon Sanderson, author of the popular “Mistborn” series and many other fantasy novels, has been posting several videos a week on his Youtube channel, focuses primarily on promoting his books and giving advice to aspiring authors. Last month, it broke the record for most funded Starter by raising $41 million for the publication of four secret books he wrote during the lockdown that his publishers never expected to receive.
Patrick Rothfuss, author of ‘The Kingkiller Chronicles,’ streams playing video games on Tic every Friday and 102,000 subscribers on the platform. Rainbow Rowell, author of “Fangirl,” “Carry on,” and other YA romance novels, has about 224,000 subscribers on instagram and post regularly.
Like many other celebrities, authors mostly post on social media for marketing purposes to bring more attention to their books and engage with their audience. Editors often expect authors to sell out after securing a book deal. After all, if an author has a large audience, then the book too. Some book contracts too require that authors post a specific number of social media posts about their books before and after publication to generate interest.
For authors like Sanderson and Rothfuss who were big names before entering online spaces, social media has extended their reach and led them to generate bigger fandoms online. But for new writers, social media serves as a tool to find their audience.
Xiran Jay Zhao is a rising star in the fantasy genre whose first book, “Iron Widow”, was New York Times Bestseller list last year. Zhao worked for eight years to get published, but their novel was not expected to be a big release by publishers. Last year, before the publication of their book, Zhao started a YouTube channel where they posted videos about the representation of Chinese culture in the media, and through this they built an online presence that propelled their writing career. Thanks to the support of Zhao in line audience, “Iron Widow” debuted to high sales. As Zhao said, “I worked my way to the bestseller list,” posting memes and information about their book on Twitter.
While social media has allowed Zhao’s writing career to flourish, online spaces have proven to be a double-edged sword for other writers. In a column published on BookRiot, Tirzah Price, author of “The Jane Austen Murder Mysteries,” explained how many authors are unprepared for the demands of fans on social media and the parasocial relationships they are bound to have. Price said she didn’t just ask fans to ask her personal questions, but one of them asked for her precise location after posting a photo taken by a lake and was able to guess a location very close to where she was.
Dealing with parasocial relationships is something all artists have to deal with and is commonplace in the music and film industry. It’s always existed in the publishing industry, but giving authors faces and lives has made it more prevalent than ever.
In many cases, social media has resulted in perpetrators are not more than authors. They are Twitter and Instagram streamers, YouTubers, and bloggers. Although their talent as writers and their The ability to tell compelling stories remains supreme, online success impacts the success of their books.