Perhaps the authors have lost their guts, or their creativity, in recent years. On hearing that publishers Maunsel and Company and printer John Falconer had rejected – and burned – sheets of his short story collection Dubliners, James Joyce redeemed himself in verse. Responding to his culturally constipated critics who had called his work “un-Irish”, Joyce circulated the poem Gas from a Burner, which satirized Falconer with the famous line “s—e and onions”. Imitating the printer, Joyce declared, “I’ll burn this book so help me the devil / I’ll sing a psalm as I watch it burn / And the ashes I’ll keep in a one-handled urn”. Joyce’s censors are so rude that he makes them store their charred anger in the chamber pot.
Shouldn’t today’s authors also be prepared for a bad reception? Twitter only democratizes criticism: every Tom, Dick or Harriet can now have an opinion on your work. It’s not specific to creative writers either: critics can get it in the neck too. After writing a particularly pointed review of a terrible book, I was once approached not only by the aggrieved author, but also by his daughter. The couple cornered me at an event and let me know how awful I was for daring to expose the deficiency of contemporary professional feminism in their long work. Perhaps their social media strategist had advised them to “handle the crisis” offline, where no one would see the interaction.
What many publishers don’t seem to realize is that Twitter can’t be happy. It exists as a sort of 21st century mirror of the censorious Philistines that Joyce opposed. Unlike him, however, many writers now seem reluctant to rebuke their editors’ cries of caution. Oscar Wilde described the latter as “a useful intermediary” who should “never express an opinion on the value of what he publishes”: I wonder what he would have thought of a social media expert under contract .
One company cited by The Bookseller is “social media agency” Truffle Social, which counts Rolls-Royce, H&M and Superdrug among its clients. And while her ‘director of client services’ has (she says) been approached by editors for help with ‘community management and crisis support’, it’s unclear why a writer , involved in a complex art form that revolves around mastery of words, would like the involvement of a company that helps write social media-friendly ads for dabs and glitzy booze eye.