A delicate dance

November 28, 2021

In recent times, conversations about books have gradually shifted towards YouTube and Instagram

A delicate dance

Writers must be skilled dancers. Before you run a Google search to find your nearest dance studios, let me clarify that the dance in question is metaphorical. From their fortuitously scribbled first words to their first life-altering book deals, writers are locked in a delicate dance between expectation and despair. This delicate dance takes on a feverish – often dizzying – pace after a book is published.

Once a book flies out of the writer’s mind and finds its place on bookshelves, it has to be kept alive as a potent, pulsating entity – a brand that no one can resist. During this phase, even the slightest deviation could prove detrimental to a book’s fate.

Creating new lifelines for a book can be a gruelling process. There is no antidote to this form of marketing mania. Amid the ever-evolving realities of the publishing world, writers are expected to act as the sole spokespersons for their work and promote it with great gusto.

Be it to ensure the survival of their work or recoup a hefty advance, many authors turn to social media to give shape to their marketing strategies. Unsurprisingly, the digital sphere welcomes them in its warm embrace. Conventional wisdom would have us believe that book-blogging is devoid of the elitist trappings that assail the mainstream literary intelligentsia. Social-media platforms have ostensibly democraticised the space for literary criticism by providing coverage to books published by small and independent presses.

The trend, though rewarding, can pose challenges if writers don’t tread with caution. Authors are often warned against pursuing aggressive tactics of self-promotion as it could alienate readers. Subtlety and tact remain at the heart of new-age book marketing. These ingredients are also critical in maintaining amicable relations between authors and bloggers. Without any peacekeeping initiatives, the symbiotic relationship that binds writers with online book reviewers always stands the danger of turning sour.

In recent times, conversations about books have gradually shifted towards YouTube and Instagram. Pakistan hasn’t been a laggard in this regard and the popularity of its book-blogging is unprecedented. For many years now, writers and bibliophiles have been able to locate each other within the digital realm. Social media has been more than just a meeting point for those who write and read books. Instead, it has emerged as a doorway for debate and feedback at a time when literati sections at newspapers have been either scrapped or scaled down.

Timelines are fundamental to any form of marketing, and the emphasis remains on instantly gaining traction and visibility. It can, therefore, be a gamble for authors to wait several weeks or months for reviews from prestigious publications to drum up interest in their book. Writers and publishers usually tend to dispatch advance review copies of their work to bloggers. Through their posts that feature eye-catching photographs of their books, bloggers are able to generate a buzz about a title before it is catapulted into the mainstream through the conventional route. More often than not, these reviewers enjoy an added benefit as they are more prompt with their feedback on their books.

The intellectual calibre of these reviews remains something of a moot point. Sceptics are of the view that a vast majority of these blogger reviews are ill-informed, unbalanced or unabashedly self-serving. Be that as it may, these commentaries have the power to push a book into the spotlight or relegate it onto the fringes.

The instantaneous nature of this reviewing process can be a tad overwhelming for authors. In an age when social media lurks in our midst like a spectre, writers may find themselves inundated with reviews of their book. An unfavourable comment on their book can trigger unpleasantness and, in a worst-case scenario, spark a flagrant war of words between the writer and a reviewer.

To excel at this delicate dance, the dance partners need to ensure that they don’t step on each other’s toes. Confrontations must be avoided by exercising discretion and preventing ego clashes.

Even so, it is difficult to expect all the stakeholders to check their impulses. Any attempt to curtail the liberty enjoyed by bloggers to pass judgement on a literary work will be construed as censorship. Writers are therefore advised against reacting to negative remarks about their work. In a realistic sense, the vehemence of a harsh comment about a book cannot alter the fact that they were able to write and publish a novel. They must remind themselves that criticism is a disease that they must become immune to.

A disproportionate burden cannot fall on writers alone, and bloggers must understand the significance of their role in the book-marketing process. Over the last two years, Pakistan’s publishing industry has gained a much-needed impetus, the digital sphere can be beneficial in providing some direction for growth and improvement. At this critical juncture, the publishing sector needs to invest more time and effort into strengthening its marketing outreach and offering sound editorial feedback to writers. The book-blogging community can play an indispensable role in helping the industry achieve these targets by tapping into their fan base and facilitating a culture of constructive criticism. Book bloggers are more than just a set of opinionated readers – they also have the power to start meaningful conversations about Pakistan’s literary horizons. For their part, bloggers should continue to uphold ethical standards of reviewing. While it is acceptable for them to charge a fee in exchange for a review, online reviewers should be conscious of the ways in which their actions can inadvertently jeopardise the literary community. For instance, local writers have often come across instances where PDF versions and pirated copies of books are being disseminated through a few dubious online accounts. Such practices stand in cold defiance of the fact that writers are entitled to make money from the sale and distribution of their books.

As the publishing world becomes all the more dependent on social media, writers and bloggers must recalibrate their need-based relationship in a way that maximises gains for the industry. Writers can only perform their delicate dance to great effect if they receive due support from other stakeholders.

The writer is a freelance journalist, and the author of Typically Tanya. He curates Tales from Karachi: City of Words, an Instagram e-anthology that publishes flash   fiction from and about Karachi. He recently   compiled and edited the first print anthology of the initiative titled Tales from Karachi

A delicate dance