Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Split Personality of the Writer-Blogger

Over at Dan Green's The Reading Experience, there's a debate about what is seen as the increasing tendency of literary bloggers to be coralled into publishers' marketing systems rather than to retain critical independence. Since I have championed the idea of critical independence on this blog, on one occasion pouring scorn on a publisher's enthusiasm for the virtual book tour, and yet today am hosting with happy enthusiasm such a tour on my author blog - Charles Lambert's The Scent of Cinnamon - I should perhaps say some words about my own position within what Dan sees as the evolving function or nature of 'lit-bloggers', and about the conflicting allegiances which we literary bloggers who are also writers need to negotiate.

Norm once asked me with a genuinely puzzled air why I had two blogs. Now Norm is of course an academic, with an academic's happy insulation from commercial demands (though he may disagree with me about that last), but others, including literary bloggers, have seemed as puzzled. The way it happened is very much to the point.

This was the blog with which I began blogging. I began it with the specific intention of discussing the increasing commercialization of publishing and its implictions for 'literary fiction', an agenda which inevitably included discussions on the nature of fiction. Since 'literary fiction', for want of a better word, is what I write myself - or at least what other people seem to have decided I write - and since I'd experienced this increasing commercialization at first hand, I can't claim that my aims were impartial, but I hoped to approach the matter in as rational a way as possible, and in order to focus attention on my arguments I made the blog pseudonymous (about which Susan Hill complained on Scott Pack's blog: she felt I should have the courage of my convictions and stand up and be counted rather than hide behind a pseudonym, and indeed seemed to feel that my views were less valid while they weren't contextualized by my identity). But there was of course another reason for assuming a blogging name: as I've discussed before, writers can be extremely vulnerable: after all, what writer in their right mind looking for a publisher (as I was at the time) would be seen as going round criticizing the publishing industry? Not that I was doing that; I understand that publishers too can be the victims of an increasingly commercial culture, but you never know... The joke was, though, that in the end Blogger outed me anyway, by combining the blog with the other, author blog I had started in the meantime.

So why had I started another, author blog? Whether we like it or not, whether we are ideologically opposed to it or not, any published author must nowadays take an active part in the publicity machine, and the blog is clearly the prime tool for this. I hadn't at that point found my short-story publisher, but it's instructive to read this in their current submissions guidelines: You should be prepared to assist in a wide range of marketing practices, including social networking sites and blogs. As a publisher or a writer, it's only sensible, after all, to embrace the marketing opportunities of the web. We writers want to sell our books because - apart from the odd purist who claims otherwise - we want people to read them, and we want our publishers take our next book (and not turn us down as someone who doesn't sell). Not that selling my work is all I'm doing on my author blog; what I'm doing is far more complex, and I hope has more integrity, than that - I'm engaging in thoughtful discussions with readers and other writers, mostly about the writing process and the writing life. But there is that necessary element of promotion which I'd like to keep separate from this blog as far as possible, and which does therefore result in something of a split personality.

Though, I know, I know, I've felt compelled to advertise my writing on this page too...
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