"Promoterism" In Writing?

While some readers will doubtless laugh at what follows, I still have the feeling that I went, almost overnight, from “up-and-coming writer” to “he’s-been-writing-forever.” It wasn’t all that many years ago when my editor asked me to introduce myself to a young writer who had just sold his first book. I introduced myself and got a blank look, followed by the statement, “I’m sorry. I’ve never heard of you.”

That was less than eight years ago, and I’d published almost thirty books. Now, I see comments like, “The Recluce Saga is older fantasy, but still good.” A former publicist remarked that, “I can’t believe the Recluce Saga is still going.”

Times do change, and I’ll have to admit that my reaction to one of the changes probably marks me as being of the “older generation.” This change has to do with how writers tend to get started. When I first began to write seriously, my naive thought was that, if I wrote well enough and worked hard enough, I’d get published. And I did… and it happened. It also happened for other writers.

Today, I can think of more than a few would-be writers who seem to spend more time promoting themselves on the internet than writing or attempting to improve their craft. And in a way, they remind me of juvenile ravens, because they tend to collect in a gaggle [although technically and grammatically and practically, the term is an “unkindness”], where they spend an inordinate amount of bandwidth and space commenting on the writing field and promoting the new works of the younger writers, whom they wish to join. Call it the support of the “new” by those who wish also to be the newest of the new.

I don’t mind that aspect of it. A majority of the “young” have always done that. I never was in that majority, but that’s another story that won’t be told. But what concerns me is the amount of time that this represents. This is not, for the most part, time spent refining one’s craft as a writer. It is not time spent creating stories or novels. It is sheer personal promotion, often before the writer is question has much of worth to present.

Is it understandable? Absolutely! Now that only one or two F&SF of the major publishing firms accept unsolicited manuscripts, how else can a writer find a way to get either an invitation from a publisher or an agent interested?

Is it good? I don’t think so. More than a few editors have suggested to me privately that the technical quality of submissions is declining. That’s not to say that some are not good, or that all of that decline results from the shift of energy from writing to promoting, but they’re fewer and harder to find. It also is a trap, I suspect, because maintaining a high-visibility website takes a tremendous amount of time. If the site declines, so does viewership… and visibility. But in a culture that is incredibly media-driven, not “improving and advancing” is seen not as stability, but as failure. So, in order to attract “attention,” more and more effort is required for promotion, and less and less time is available for actual writing and learning the craft.

Add to that an increasing pressure to produce profits by the parent companies of larger publishers, and what happens? More and more profit is generated by a handful of books and by media knock-offs, while good books that don’t appeal widely don’t get published by the majors and/or are put out by smaller presses.

From that point of view, it seems to make sense for a newer writer to try to build a following through the internet, but the problem is that when they’re all chasing the “flavor de jour” they’re all trying to appeal to the exact same audience, and that audience is still not a majority of the book-buyers, even in F&SF, and the rest of the audience is often put off by the “flavor de jour” and purchases fewer books.

Do I have an answer? I’d suggest that more new writers take a risk, a real risk, and concentrate on writing and not promotion. Remember, neither J.K. Rowling nor Robert Jordan needed a website presence to get started. They just needed books that lots of people, and not just the internet crowd, wanted to read.