I'm a full time author. I am part of professional networks, and have colleagues and friends that are authors. One of the maxims is that an author needs a platform. That platform includes social media. If you don't use them you will face obscurity and poverty.
This post is the culmination of a number of decisions. One of them: I'm planning on leaving social media.
Those who know me won't be so surprised. They know I am a non-conformist. That I question everything (including myself). That I'm the kind of person who would email my audiobook narrators and offer to sign all my royalties over to them as part of me leaving Amazon. (I did that this morning.) That I would stop using Windows after 20 years and switch to Linux. (I did that last week.)
Those who don't know me will just think I'm bat-shit crazy.
But I do have my reasons, however strange they may appear at first.
I became a full time author in 2015. Before that I'd had a career as a librarian. Some of it was in public libraries, some as a subject and information skills specialist in university libraries. Alongside that I worked for JISC for a number of years, liaising with the staff of Further Education libraries across Wales to develop information literacy programmes, and looking at how technology could benefit learning and teaching.
Aside #1, because I like asides: I was told that the JISC job would be impossible to do unless I drove a lot. Sure, I had a driving licence, but after I passed my test c.1990 I decided I didn't want to ever own a car or drive again, for environmental reasons. So I insisted I could not only do the job without driving, but could do it more effectively via public transport and online technologies. I would arrive at meetings or to give teaching sessions or conference papers feeling refreshed, and had spent the time on the train or bus going over my notes, whereas a colleague who had just driven would often be stressed and not have had time to look over things. I developed new ways of communicating with my whole sector. That included blogs and social media - although, back then, we called it Web 2.0. And, by the time I left JISC, it turned out that I hadn't needed to drive a car in order to get around Wales or support staff across the country. I just needed imagination, planning, and commitment. And, by changing methods, it was often possible to reach many more people than could be done by driving back and forth.
So I was an early adopter of many technologies, both as a librarian and as an author. My Twitter account was set up in May 2009. My Facebook Page (as an author) on 10th July 2012, partly to promote my first publication, the suspense novel Turner. Instagram was much later, and I have only been using the platform for a couple of years. Anyway, across social media I had a few thousand followers, many of them became friends. I also had groups of super fans, and Insider Teams, and people who would beta read my work, or help to promote it, or leave reviews.
Aside #2: another early technology I used was smartphones, before they became omnipresent. In fact, I had never owned a mobile phone until I bought a smartphone in 2011 so that I could explore the possibilities for learning and teaching. And, to this date, that is the only mobile phone I ever owned (and I was born in the 1970s!) Another example of me not fitting the pattern of "normal". I soon became disenfranchised by them. The culture of tech adoption and replacement led to mountains of toxic e-waste, which is getting worse as everyone wants to upgrade all the time and phone contracts keep churning out unnecessary replacements when there was nothing wrong with the old phone. The idea of phones as freedom soon became a reality of phones as tethers, where you are constantly tracked and spied on, your data monetised to make the rich even richer. Nowadays every company wants to make it mandatory for you to give them your phone number, so they have more ways into your life; they often tie this to the excuse of 2FA (two factor authentication) where a gadget is intrinsically tied into access to services you need, and those who don't have or want the gadgets are excluded from financial and social services. Good luck if your phone is lost or stolen and you try to access an account which is tied to it. So, Instagram came late because I didn't have a mobile phone, and it is a platform that tries to exclude you if you don't have one. But there are workarounds. I would go to Instagram in my browser, use Ctrl+Shift+M, then F5, to enter a Firefox developer mode where I could then upload a picture.
What might be clear from my tone is that, over the years, I have transitioned from evangelist to sceptic. I'm concerned about society. About the environment. About the connections we make with each other. About who controls things. About the loss of freedom. I make choices because they are right for me, not because they are convenient. So when something niggles at me, I think about it. I have a philosophy background, so refuse to accept anything without considering it for some time. I've generally found that what I am told most vehemently by mainstream media and advertising is often the opposite of what I believe to be true.
Why Leave Social Media?
There is no single reason. This is a decision that has been a long time coming. Due to my varying issues with tech giants I have already been looking to divest my life of Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Google. I'm getting there.
I don't buy anything from Amazon any more, and I no longer publish via KDP. Since Amazon started overcharging customers for paperbacks of my work, I've been directing customers to independent bookshops, where the titles are often cheaper. Amazon's latest scandal #Audiblegate has been echoing across the audiobook world. I have moved from Windows to Linux as my main PC operating system in the last few weeks (having spent a year moving from Outlook and Microsoft Office towards Thunderbird and LibreOffice). I don't own any Apple devices or have an Apple account. I closed my gmail account and don't use Android; my search engine is DuckDuckGo, not Google.
The social media companies are just as guilty of spying and tracking everything we do. Fun fact: if you create accounts for services with Apple, Microsoft, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Amazon and Google you will be agreeing to hundreds of pages of terms and conditions, split across stacks of interlinked documents that get updated regularly, written in dense legalese. When I kept a document once of every EULA that a normal week involved agreeing to, it turned out there weren't enough hours in the day to read and understand them all: and yet these companies claim we actually agree to every right we give them, even though that is clearly nonsense when we can't keep track of it, understand it, or even read it. But EULAs are a separate issue.
I used to go to my social media sites every day. Endlessly scrolling, like we're trained to do. Spending hours without realising, in order to earn the trickle of reinforcement that trained me to keep tapping the button. But it wasn't just an innocent waste of time. Everything I uploaded, every interaction, was adding content to the platforms, or giving them data. And what would they do with it?
This is from a RockPaperShotgun article this week about Facebook:
"Facebook has been used to incite genocide, foster insurrection, spread disinformation and conspiracy, subvert democracy, and more. Their attempts to control it are so half-hearted and uncaring that woefully undersupported moderators are often left suffering PTSD. They can't be trusted with your uncle's photos of pub lunches, let alone a new plane of cyberexistence."
Aside #3: as a lifelong player of games (role playing games and computer games) I love the experience of virtual reality, and the immersion it brings to a medium. I owned an Oculus VR headset. Then Facebook took over Oculus, and we were told that our Oculus accounts would no longer be allowed: we would have to link the headset to a Facebook account. You could not use the tech without one. So, I sold my headset. I informed the buyer of what was coming, and advised them to transfer all the Oculus games I'd bought to their Facebook account ASAP. Unfortunately they didn't do so in a timely fashion, and Facebook ended up locking massive numbers of accounts. All the games I'd bought were lost. Other issues with Facebook taking it over include the device being forced to connect to servers even though it should work standalone, privacy issues, and VR becoming a platform to push more adverts in front of your eyes.
In the last two years I stopped using social media so much. I would open a feed and just see things that made me angry or upset. I would unfollow people as a way of trying to get rid of things that depressed me. But, of course, the platforms continuously push things in front of you - adverts, "trending items", "news" and so on. I installed ad blockers. Some of it still got through. It is their nature. Instead of social media at least having an element of feeling that I was connecting with friends, it became more like having hot needles jabbed into my eyeballs. Instead of reasoned or adult respectful debate it was insults, shouts, pile-ons. Instead of difference of opinion being accepted, it was an excuse for hysteria, hyperbole and attack. I felt awful. I started to disengage from it.
Of course, I'm an author. I want to let people know about my work, though generally kept that to a minimum, interspersed among my interactions and personal news and photos. But once I cut back on the latter, it meant I cut back on the former. And I began to question why I was spending time just helping to boost the profits of social media companies.
There were other incidents. Twitter blocked me. What had I done to earn such a fate? I complained about an organisation in a post, and the screenshot of an email from them included some email addresses. I was blocked for "including personal information". Funnily enough, the emails were all publicly available - the organisation's contact addresses, listed on their website! That was specifically allowed by Twitter's terms. However, the only options I was given was to admit I was wrong, and agree that if I did it again (even though I'd not broken any of their terms) I would have my account permanently deleted; or I could appeal. I did the latter. I included their terms, and pointed out that I hadn't broken them. Then I discovered that, if you have the temerity to appeal against the false positive, you account remains blocked until they make a decision. And you can no longer contact Twitter - their support site also blocks you. There are no progress reports. A week went by. Two. Three. One of their help pages said if your account is blocked for four weeks it is permanently deleted. It was obvious they were never going to get round to my appeal, and my account would be gone forever. Ah, that's how they get rid of problems! So my only option was to agree that I'd broken rules and get a black mark on my account. At that point I realised how fragile it is to base any part of your business on companies that can remove you without warning, as a result of a false positive bot. You don't own any data, they do. It can happen at any time, without warning. It's almost impossible to get through to a person, and all the contact options do is pop up a chat bot that spews irrelevant help article links at you. If this is the future, I don't want it.
And I thought again about how, on the one hand, I kept being told I had to be on social media; and, on the other, about how unhappy it made me in general, how much time it sucked up; how fragile it was, and how much I disliked the companies in charge of it.
I don't like the idea of social media being a kind of untargeted shotgun blast out at the universe, with everyone shouting to be louder than everyone else, hoping that by screaming they will get more attention. And so you just get a cacophonous wall of noise. I don't like the impersonality of much of it.
And do I really need to be on there? My business is already unconventional. I don't do paid adverts on Amazon and Facebook. Yet people find me and my work, and they buy it. And, more often than not, they love it. Another convention is for books to have a copyright page telling you everything you are not allowed to do. I'm the opposite. I want readers to have more rights. Certainly more than the law currently allows. So some of my books have a copyright page saying it's fine to convert my e-books between formats, and to save a copy as a backup (I don't add DRM). To copy or quote up to 50% of a print book. To give print books away or sell them on. And, because I give away more rights than licensing organisations such as the ALCS/CLA allow, I can never be a part of those organisations. It would be illegal for them to collect money from licensing my works, because my works give more rights to readers (for free) than their licences allow. Some would say I'm throwing away money. But I would say I'm putting my readers first, and I wish more companies did that. Treat others how I like to be treated.
So, What Are My Plans?
I'm going to do it. I'm going to close my social media accounts. They tie you in by becoming a habit. They tie you in by making you think you need continuous reinforcement. They tie you in with follower counts, and the implicit threat that if you walk away you'll lose thousands of followers gathered over a decade.
The last one isn't true. As in, you don't lose anything. Because, out of those thousands of followers, it's often only a handful you interact with. The ones where you genuinely do like keeping in touch. The direct messages. The comments. The support, the kind words. The friendships. Those are the things of value, and if they are true, then you'll keep in touch anyway. And where that isn't true, where people have never interacted beyond clicking a like button - those are just numbers. Removing that number does not impact on your life in a detrimental way.
I wanted a new platform where I can combine a blog and a newsletter. Where people can interact with me in multiple ways, and - if they wish - get updates about me and my work via posts emailed as a newsletter-like subscription, or they can just read them on the site. Instead of me being in multiple places, with seven different ways for people to follow me and my work, I can just focus on one. Fewer people, but more meaningful engagement. You can follow me here.
I have some fans who go above and beyond to support me. The ones why buy my books as gifts for others. The ones who make a point of leaving reviews of my work on vendor sites and Goodreads. The ones who contact me to check if I'm okay if they see that my area has been hit by floods. The ones who I chat and share music suggestions with, or tips on playing the guitar, or to discuss books, or our cats and dogs, or recipes. The ones who see I have set up a Kickstarter and support it and generously throw in some extra money. All of those will be able to interact with me as before, via emails, or comments, or chat. And I'll include a paid subscription option for anyone who wants it, the equivalent of buying me a cup of coffee and a piece of cake. And, obviously, I'll be extra grateful, and hopefully be able to say thanks with acknowledgements, or first looks at my new books, or maybe a signed copy. Who knows. But that's optional. The basic system of keeping up to date with me and my work will, as always, be free.
I also want a platform that will pay any income straight into my bank account. Draft2Digital (my e-book distributor) do that. Ingram Spark (my print distributor) do that. But many platforms refuse to do so, and only pay into a third party account such as Stripe or Paypal. My issues with these companies are for another day (let's just say Paypal one froze an account I had and tried to keep the book sale royalties that I needed to live; companies like Stripe won't let you create an account unless you also own a mobile phone and give them the number). As such, some of the platforms that looked great: Ko-Fi, BuyMeACoffee, Patreon, Substack, Podia, Steady, Medium, Ghost, Buttondown - turned out to be useless to me.
So, here I am! I'm excited and hopeful. If it works out, I'd have this account, and be able to do away with the conglomeration of Instagram, Facebook, Mailchimp, Twitter, and Square. One ring to rule them all, and in the blog posts, bind them.
Now I have a system that should work for my fans (e.g. they should be able to subscribe to updates without creating an account - just enter an email address if they want to receive updates by email) Ican start Phase 2. I'll start shutting down social media accounts. I'll do them one at a time, so people have plenty of chance to follow me if they wish to. A sort of leaving party as I transition my whole "author engagement platform" (gotta love those buzzwords). People who want to stay in touch will have many opportunities to. They can follow me. They can email me. They can post me cake. All the things of value in social media will still exist for me: the people and interactions. But I'll be dumping the drama and the time wasting and the faceless corporate overlords.
What I love is interaction with my friends, my readers, my fans. Instead of the shallow social media stream, I'll have fewer interactions, but they'll be of more value to me, and hopefully more value to the other person. I live opposite a river. That's my metaphoric touchstone.
I hope some of you will stay with me.Follow me on Gumroad