Steph Swainston: “The internet is poison to authors”; quits writing

Fantasy author Steph Swainston stops being a fulltime writer to pursue her dream of being a chemistry teacher:

But – cautionary tale alert! – the writer’s life isn’t what it could be. For starters, packing in the day job can be a mistake. Swainston says: “Writers have to have something as well as writing, something which feeds back into their work and makes it meaningful.” She references the 19th-century Scottish writer and reformer Samuel Smiles. “He said that if you are going to be an artist, you should have a job as well, so that you’re not relying on your art to pay your bills. If we don’t have external influences …” she pauses, “well, look at Stephen King. All his characters seem to be writers.”

Then there’s the lack of human interaction: “I suffer terribly from isolation while writing. I really need a job where I can be around people and learn to speak again. It’s much, much healthier to be around people. Human beings are social animals.”


“I don’t have a problem with fandom,” she says. “But I don’t think fans realise the pressure they put on authors. The very vocal ones can change an author’s next book, even an author’s career, by what they say on the internet. And writers are expected to engage and respond.” She pauses. “The internet is poison to authors.”

Swainston is also unhappy with the “book a year” ethos of modern publishing: “Publishers seem to want to compete with faster forms of media, but the fast turnover leads to poorer books, and publishers shoot themselves in the foot. And it’s as if authors have to be celebrities these days. It’s expected that authors do loads of self-publicity – Facebook, Twitter, blogs, forum discussions – but it’s an author’s job to write a book, not do the marketing. Just like celebrities don’t make good authors, authors don’t really make good celebrities.”

You can’t blame her for her decision, but it does point out a worry that in these much more commercially minded times, where writers do have to depend on their own gifts for self promotion, some writers will lose out because they aren’t good at playing this game. It certainly doesn’t help fantasy/science fiction to lose yet another prominent female writer this way…


  • A. A. Roi

    July 11, 2011 at 4:17 pm

    I don’t really think that today is more commercially minded than the past. A number of my favorite authors happily published a book a year during their heyday, some even two or three. I can empathize with her need to socialize, her need to put out the best writing possible, but, seriously, she makes some awfully broad proclamations in her interview.

  • Martin Wisse

    July 12, 2011 at 7:59 am

    True, although I think she’s probably correct in assuming publishers used to have more patience with slower writers twnty or thirty years ago. In my opinion she had a stronger point about how much more is expected from a writer these days regarding self promotion, having to be visible online: blog, Twitter, have your own linkedin/facebook/Google + pages etc.

    Part of this is because technology makes it so much easier for readers to interact with their favourite writers of course, but part of that is also pressure from their publishers. Some people thrive on that, she obviously doesn’t.