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Posted on Sep 3, 2014 in Blog, Writing

Feed Spammers, Content, and Creativity

Feed Spammers, Content, and Creativity

Over the summer I cut back on my Instagram posts, mainly because I was working as a graduate assistant at the VCFA summer residency and then traveling. I was surprised that I didn’t lose followers, even though my “like” count was a bit down immediately on my return. (My numbers have bounced back since.)

Before she sent him away for the writing retreat he'd always wanted to attend, Mireille got Patricio for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. One of my most popular photos.

Before she sent him away for the writing retreat he’d always wanted to attend, Mireille got Patricio for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. One of my most popular Instagram photos.

My first year of Instagram has made me aware of a certain type of poster known as a “feed spammer.” In an effort to build followers quickly, the feed spammer puts up multiple posts — sometimes dozens of posts — a day. If the photos aren’t good, no one likes, no one follows, and the person either quits or rethinks his or her strategy, focusing on only the best photos.

But what if the person IS good? I have followed about a dozen good to excellent Lego photographers who post multiple pictures daily. But then I see problems — too many photos that look alike, some less-than-quality photos in the mix, sloppy captioning. And the biggest problem — the photographer builds up a fan base in the space of one or two months, and then burns out. Great photos — and then no more. I think, “Why couldn’t that person put up one photo a day and entertain us for an entire year or more?” because the entertainment value of a photo — no matter how good it is — diminishes with each multiple in a short space of time.

Dr. Drea is working hard to find a cure for ALS, and your generous donations through the Ice Bucket Challenge will help her continue her effort to wipe out this terrible disease. This is my second most popular photo on Instagram.

Dr. Drea is working hard to find a cure for ALS, and your generous donations through the Ice Bucket Challenge will help her continue her effort to wipe out this terrible disease. This is my second most popular photo on Instagram.

The problem of feed spammers, with their associated diminishing returns and potential for burnout (theirs and mine), occurred to me in the course of a recent discussion with other writers about the pace at which some authors’ books are coming out these days. It took me 22 years to write Gringolandia and get it published. It came out three years after my adult novel, Dirt Cheap, which came out three years after Once Upon a Cuento. Until Curbstone Press folded, I was on the “three-year plan” and envied those authors — including one in my critique group at the time — who had books coming out every two years. After Curbstone’s demise, there were four years between Gringolandia and Rogue with a manuscript in between gathering dust on a shelf.

Nowadays, I see authors with books coming out every year, or even twice a year. Post-Gringolandia, I consider myself a fast writer, but I can’t write and revise a novel in less than a year, and if I did, it would be because I’d plagiarized myself, lifting large amounts of characterization, plot, and verbiage from previously published work. At best, I would become like the feed spammers whose pictures look alike. At worst, I would be putting out work that isn’t ready, thereby testing the patience and loyalty of my fans.

According to the authors with whom I’ve spoken, the buzzword now among corporate publishers is “branding” — the regular release of predictable content to keep fans satisfied. But is it sustainable without burning out the writer and his or her readers? And does the publishing of fiction for children and teens then become less creative endeavor and more the churning out of content for a corporate entertainment industry?

Asking these questions will probably not endear me to the executives of this same corporate entertainment industry. But as a creative person — and one who appreciates the creative work of others — I know these questions need to be asked if we are to honor and encourage the best work of our writers and artists.

 

4 Comments

  1. Lyn, This is a great post. It touches on so many wonderful issues. For me on IG I really have a hard time with people who post multiple images a day if they are trying to be “serious” photographers. It shows a lack of editing skills. But I also appreciate that most people on IG are just hang fun. Who am I to judge what that looks like. The most egregious spammers are the ones who loo to boot followers or who “thank” their followers by doing a give-away that requires you to post their stuff on your feed. Ugh!

    As for the publishing industry it saddens me to see teen literature move to the word count publishing style. I have always avoided first time authors because I have never felt they have had the practice of an older, mature writer who knows how to craft a sentence. Something you can only do successfully with experience. I think the publishing industry turned to YA authors because they had already “ruined” the adult market by chasing the latest autobiography / memoir.

    Now it seems the YA market is publishing one derivative novel after another. I despair to find a current novel worthy of my time.

    Again, great post!

    • Thank you for commenting, Shelly! Interestingly, you’re more likely to find a quality novel with a debut, in large part because the writer has been polishing over a long period of time while trying to break in. While Gringolandia was not my debut (only my debut YA novel), it took 22 years of effort to get the novel right. Someone who’s then writing to deadlines while trying to market another book is more likely to cut corners than the first-time author.

  2. Thought-provoking post, Lyn.

    I tend to think there are as many different types of writers as there are readers. Some readers love reading, read very quickly and will read almost anything. Others love reading, read slowly, cherishing every word, and are more exacting in what they like to read. And then, there are others who love reading and are a little bit of both of the above, depending on their mood or how tired they are or where they are reading–a plane or beach or home on the sofa. And I think there are editors who fit into the different categories, as well. There have always been quick reads and literature and I’m guessing (or at least hoping) that it will always be that way.

    • I’m hoping it will always be that way, and the quickly-generated content won’t drive out the carefully-written, thoughtful works of literature. And I think they’ll still be around, but more likely to be published by smaller presses and boutique imprints that aren’t driven exclusively by the numbers.

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