Today's 101 is another "we thought this was too obvious to post about until we saw people being dumb online" situation. So, let's have a quick chat.
This series already borders on becoming a weekly ethics lesson so that I can go off about moral philosophy, and I'm going to try to rein myself in as much as possible. This topic in particular, however, really just has me wondering why sometimes people are just assholes.
Creatives tend to be both passionate and introspective. This can make it easy to come across (especially online to strangers) as self-involved. It's one thing to talk a lot about your own projects online, and it's another to expect others to talk about your projects. That crosses a weird line into entitlement and it's a slippery slope in this community.
Cliques form. There are weird power dynamics. It can get messy.
Honestly, I think the whole thing could be avoided if we could just learn to share in each other's excitements without expecting anything in return.
Why are you writing?
The last year or so has been rough for the community. Some people seem more invested in discourse and social politics than writing. (I myself am not totally innocent here. I'm nosy. I like to feel in the loop and I like hearing all sides of any and all juicy social media stories. We all have that impulse and I in particular am very weak to it.)
The thing is balance.
Ideally we'd all get along better and there'd be no fighting or gossip or little subsections of the communities sparring with each other. Unfortunately, that's not super realistic, and we can't expect the world to be that way. The only thing we can really control is how much energy we put into discourse.
I put more energy into it than I'd like, but I also know when to cut myself off. If I'm spending more time in a day online reading nasty exchanges between other writers than I'm spending writing? That's when I know it's time to log off for a while and get some work done. A lot of people (I'd argue better, healthier people than myself) don't get involved at all.
Obviously the balance is going to be different for everyone. But if you find yourself constantly in social media drama, or approaching that point of being "terminally online", that might be one factor toward not meeting all your personal or writing goals.
It never hurts to stop and ask yourself why you're in a space. Is it for the discourse? Or is it to create? How much of yourself are you putting toward each of those things? Is that balance healthy for you? Is it helpful to what you'd like to achieve?
Why are you reading?
Similarly, we have to ask why you're reading.
Now, this is Writing 101 and not Reviewing 101, so we're going to focus on some of the strange behavior we've seen from authors, and less on the hyper-specific toxicity that festers in review spaces. (Don't worry, we'll get there too someday.)
One thing that I've seen a lot of is this weird sort of social ladder climbing. Writers will read, praise, and review books for the "indie darlings" and people just a little more famous than themselves. As they get more sway and clout they will keep reaching higher and higher, forgetting about their previous "favorites."
We often see this paired with some pretty hypocritical framing. I've seen authors do this who demand for more "supporting of the little guys" and are very loud publicly about reading lesser known authors. I'm not going to name names here but there are probably two or three "indie" horror writers you can think of in this space right now that aren't exactly "small names" anymore. They're the first writers that will get held up as an example of "reading indie" by authors whose intentions might not be 100% community motivated.
Those writers are part of our community. I'm not saying that there's a certain sales figure that disqualifies anyone from being an independent author. But a big part of the indie movement has been reading more authors and platforming more creatives. So praising the ideology while only reviewing the top few names feels a little antithetical to the "read indie horror" movement once it's become an exclusive pattern.
If you find yourself reading only the same authors or choosing your new books exclusively from best-of lists, it never hurts to examine your motives. Are you reading books you want to read? Or are you hoping to rub elbows with someone? Be really honest, this is a private discussion with yourself.
Don't Point Fingers
We were really careful not to name any big names because we want to avoid finger pointing as much as possible. This article is a resource to help make writers more self-aware about their social presence and how it might be perceived to strangers.
We don't want this to be a witch hunt, or an excuse to try and cancel anyone.
A thing to keep in mind is that you never know what's going on with people behind the scenes. A lot of ladder-climbing and clique-forming behaviors are just a natural part of being in writing circles that are easily misinterpreted.
I promote my friends and their work most on social media. It's not because I'm being dishonest or intentionally biased, but it's the work I have the most exposure to, and it's on my mind and I get to it first. And honestly, sometimes it's work I get for free, which bumps it up my list and other stuff gets pushed down. In trying to be a supportive friend, sometimes I look online like I only read the same 3 or 4 indie writers.
Sometimes it's also just about what sort of a reading mood or phase someone is in. Before I switched to indie horror I had a King phase and a Barker phase. I never totally left my Hill or Jackson phase. Those patterns still form when I'm reading indie books and sometimes I'll have to make it through a writer's entire catalogue before I feel satisfied.
If that writer is a bigger name than me (and let's be honest, all the writers I know are bigger names than me) I totally understand how that might look to someone reading my Twitter feed like I'm really sucking up to someone. (Candace Nola. First name drop of the article. I just recently went through a period where I was posting about a different Candace Nola book every day and I don't regret it even if it looked fishy. 10/10 would do it again.)
If you're worried about how people will perceive your reading and promoting habits online, it's okay to evaluate your motivation for yourself. I'm always okay with however I come off online in this regard because my opinions are always genuine takes that I can back up guilt-free. But I still don't want or need people coming at me for being biased or trying to get attention from whoever my author of the week is.
What we owe to each other (a little Scanlon reference for my fellow nerds)
So what do we owe to other writers?
A lot of people would argue nothing.
We don't owe anyone blurbs, sales, reviews, or free promotion. Technically, I guess that's true.
But if everyone thought that way, it would be much harder to get things like blurbs, sales, reviews or free promotion for ourselves as well. I don't think that's the sort of community any of us want to have, and it's our job to make sure there's a better system.
What we ask of others
I like to think I'm more in the habit now of helping out my fellow writers, but the thing about habits is you have to build them. It doesn't hurt to periodically ask yourself when the last time you pitched in for someone else was.
A good tip if you feel like your feed has been getting a little self-promotion heavy is just to find something else to promote that you feel passionately about. Or if you want to do something more hands on, you always have the option to send out feelers and ask if there's anything anyone needs.
You can also offer services that you know you've had trouble finding, like blurbs or maybe beta reading if you feel up to it.
I have seen this become a slippery slope. You don't want all your friendships or even work relationships to be a 1x1 exchange of things all the time. Do you want every conversation with another writer to be you reminding them you posted their book and asking if they'll do the same for you?
You don't. That's awkward and weird and that post probably isn't going to feel genuine even if you get it. Nothing gives me writer's block like being asked out of the blue to do a social media post, even if I do have the time and willingness to help.
I very rarely get those requests because I genuinely try to do promotion for others organically. I like sharing in people's good news and I try to post at least three things for other writers to every one thing I promote for myself. Obviously that depends on the day and what I've got going on, but it's easy to stick to because there are so many things to promote.
It can be hard (especially with the Twitter algorithm being so insane right now) but try to spread that love around to new writers and friends, in addition to your core circle of colleagues.
Paying it forward
If you want to avoid things being transactional, you've got to not analyze things so much. Don't keep a list of who you've promoted how many times, and how many times they've promoted you in return. Just be grateful when people help you spread your good news. Then when you have the time/spoons/bandwidth/whatever, try to pay that forward to whoever needs it.
The idea is not having to call in favors from people, it's being part of a community where we're all trying to lift one another up always, and that's important.
Being kind to yourself
Sometimes you have a lot going on. If you have two releases close together, or one release and several anthologies, it's going to feel like you're talking about yourself constantly.
This can always feel self involved, but that's especially true if you're trying to monitor how much you're helping others. But if you are that busy with things, it's okay to put yourself first a little bit. Have a selfish period. Try not to even think of it as selfish, because I think as writers we all understand how hard selling books is, and how necessary.
Take that time to be grateful for the friends you have supporting you, and when it's over, see if you can't find the time to help lift up some others.
The indie horror community is a community.
I feel like this should be the tagline for this site sometimes. The indie horror community is, and should be, a community. That means we have to look out for each other and have one another's backs. It also means that one writer's success is something we should all celebrate in.
General ways to help writers
If you've read this and it's inspired you to get your karmic points by doing some promotion for other writers, I highly recommend doing all the basic-bitch reader stuff that you know helps, but can forget to do.
Buy indie horror books.
Review indie horror books.
Post about your favorite indie horror books .
Keep in mind that books and reviews don't expire. Old books need sales too. Those are great to talk about.
Recommend indie horror books to friends.
Retweet, Reshare, Repost links and news and book promos.
Specific ways that writers can help other writers
Blurb a book.
Offer to beta read.
Recommend open submission calls to friends who might be interested.
Talk about your favorite indie horror books. (I'm putting this one on this list too because while all recommendations help indie authors, you as an indie author have the ability to talk about it to your platform of readers, which is extra effective.)
Really, this entire thing could have been summed up with my initial thought, but don't be an asshole. Writing is difficult and lonely and can feel isolating sometimes so try to make it less those things by building bridges to the people experiencing it with you.