Writers Notebook: Do you need to be an influencer to be a writer?

Jason Pargin is a successful writer who emerged from Cracked and has gone on to publish six novels. He also has a substack, and his recent post Celebrity Worship is Weird and Will Only Get Weirder discussed the strange situations that he’s in as an artist.

While Pargin has a big readership, it’s not quite large enough for bookstores and publishers to do his marketing for him. In order to let people know he has a new book out, he needs to keep an audience around ready for that announcement. Which means he has a newsletter, but that needs to be entertaining rather than just containing adverts for new books. He’s also had some success on TikTok, but that platform requires regular updates. A significant amount of Pargin’s time is spent maintaining an audience that he can market his books to.

As Pargin writes: “I literally cannot write novels as a full time job unless I turn myself into a multimedia influencer that posts daily to a large, loyal, highly-engaged audience.”

Writing a novel takes a substantial amount of work but, at the end of it, you then need to take it to readers. I’m guessing this was never an easy thing to do. But in the past you were dealing with human gatekeepers, but now the gatekeepers are algorithmic. You either need to build an audience, or be amplified by someone who already has one.

The obvious case of the latter is how a twitter review of This is How You Lose the Time War by someone called Bigolas Dickolas boosted the book to the top of the charts. It’s a lovely story. But Robin Sloan compared this to ‘the breath of the gods’, pointing out this is not a very efficient system. You either spend a substantial amount of time cultivating your own audience, or hope to be picked up by someone else’s.

You can complain about this state of affairs, but you still need to think about it. Writing a novel takes a large amount of time. Finding people have want to read a novel requires either hard work as an influencer or trusting to luck.

If you want to follow what I'm up to, sign up to my mailing list

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *