Once upon a time, I thought I understood the writing world from the perspective of an author. I thought I understood it, because I understood my position as a reader and a fan. I would devour books, drink in powerful words, escape to universes that were so different from my own, and when I was done, I'd stare at the book jacket with a sort of longing one could only feel when bowing in celebrity worship.
I wanted to know them, and I wanted to be them--and since I couldn't have that last part, I wanted to be like them. Authors were my celebrity of choice growing up, and it was such a strange bit of separation because they didn't have the same public persona that actors and musicians did. I knew that if Anne Rice had walked past me on a crowded platform, I probably wouldn't recognise her. I didn't see her outside of her dusty, black and white author photo until I was fourteen and watching an interview with her after Interview With A Vampire made it to the big screen.
She was untouchable, unreachable. She existed in a world where at best I could stand in a line for hours and hours to get that coveted autograph. She had fanmail which a PA read and signed for her, she had a website without a contact form. She was a goddess of words in her own right, and all I could do was hope she knew that people cared about her words.
TL;DR- I was a young, super goth teenager full of angst and queerness and her words spoke to me, and I had no way to tell her how she'd gotten me through some of the hardest times in my life.
I published my very first book in 2012. I knew a bit about the ins and outs of the industry through friends and colleagues. I had a freelance editor, and I was trying this new up and coming medium of getting books into people's hands called Self Publishing.
We all know this term now. This term is no longer a bad word the way it was back then which generally meant unedited, poorly covered words that belonged on watt-pad rather than costing you 2.99. I was determined to rise above the reputation, even if I scrubbed the internet of those first heinous words and spent three years working on Verismo until I was ready to start again.
In 2014, gay romance was still niche enough that when I achieved seven hundred actual sales for Endless, Forever, I cried. I got my first deposit of over a hundred bucks and I thought, this is it. This is where I consider myself a success. I had bare bones social media and there were seven hundred whole strangers across the globe who kind of knew my name. I wasn't famous, but I was something.
I was someone.
The soft comfort of anonymity didn't last. I had a Facebook for adverts and promo, and people found it. Messages reached my inbox that weren't kind, people started demanding my time, and my answers, and my attention like writing a book meant I owed them something. I didn't understand social marketing and I was overwhelmed with the unknown--what's appropriate, what do I say, how do I answer this? Why are they making me feel like I owe them a book written to their exact standards instead of my own?
I left. I queued up all those delete buttons and I disappeared in one go. I hit the tiny little x in the corner of my document and closed that chapter of my life--something I thought would be for good. After all, I'd accomplished what I'd set out to, right? I sold those books, people other than friends and family purchased my writing. It was done. I was no Anne Rice. I would never be her.
By then, I didn't want to be.
Of course, writing is in my blood. Even the early years of my childhood when I struggled with language and my teachers laughed at my terrible scribble in my, What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up: An Author, list, I knew this was what I wanted. I wasn't going to be content with writing nothing. I wasn't going to be content with hobby-writing fanfic or short stories. It was just...not me.
I wrote again. Before I even considered social media once more, I wrote again. I sat down with this mad idea about political intrigue and a gymnasium for disabled folx and suddenly three books were born. And then a couple of stand-alones. And then my grumpy florist meets tattoo shop artist trope took off in ways I didn't expect, and suddenly no social media wasn't an option.
I was gently eased in by a few readers who were kind and held my hand as I nervously started a Facebook and began to answer messages. I learnt how to navigate through author groups and reader spaces, and found that divide.
And I understand how much the writing community has evolved now with the structure of social media the way it is. It's not just writers--all celebrities are accessible in ways they never have been thanks to IG and Twitter. It would have never occurred to me to read a book and then slide into DMs to tell that author what I thought.
It's a marvel--both good and bad, there's no two ways around it. It's easy to forget that you are owed space, and whatever anonymity you want to have, and your presence isn't required to exist or be successful. And it's easy to forget that people appreciate when they can reach you--and that it does make a difference.
I remember having this talk with my kids about the internet, because it's become more and more obvious that a computer screen promotes a lacking of empathy not because a person isn't empathetic, but because that distance, that lacking in physical interaction creates a disconnect and it's easy to forget the person on the other end of your comment, or message, or statement is an actual person with feelings and lives.
The smallest comment can make or break someone's entire day-- but when you don't see the aftermath of that, it's hard to apply the lesson we all learnt as kids: that actions have consequences.
It's been hard to navigate that as a parent with my kids, because it's a whole new level of interaction that did not come naturally to me. The internet was a room full of big, clunking computers for things like space and spies when I was growing up. It wasn't this. My kids are learning faster than I am.
It's also hard to navigate that for myself. When I walk away from Facebook after a hard day, I feel weak. I feel like I've failed. "Why can't I just turn these feelings off," I ask myself. "This one opinion doesn't define who I am."
But it hurts, often as much--if not more--than if a person had said it to my face. And I don't have an off switch. It's hard to separate myself from the incessant need to give an answer to every single question, or to cater every word I write to every single person's wants that have expressed them. I've never been a people pleaser, but I've always been a perfectionist, and not being able to live up to every standard out there is nothing short of hell for me.
But I'm trying. I'm trying to be better to myself--softer and kinder and easier.
And I'm trying to find that distance, rather than letting all sides of my life collide all at once.
Because I know for damn sure--that way lies madness.