July 9, 2012 in Essay, Interview
Part Four – What do you think the impact of all this access has been? Good? Bad?
#4. Do you think that readers having this kind of access to writers is good for either the readers or the writers or both? Do you think it has been good/bad for the industry in general?
This final question is obviously a bit general and in the end it begs oversimplification to answer. When you send a question like that to writers guess what happens? Yeah they ALL start out by pointing out that it’s a very complex issue and thus not as simple as “good” or “bad”. Love writers. Seriously, these people use their brains and I genuinely appreciate that. They also made an effort to respond to the question anyway.
I’ll start out with the positive responses to this question. Something that is common among writers is that most of them are readers. At some point in their lives they were on the Reader side of the Writer/Reader divide. This whole internet access experience is still relatively new. So most of them brought up that at some point in their lives they had wished they could contact some writer that they loved to ask a question or just tell them that they loved their books. Ilona Andrews (writing team Ilona and Andrew Gordon) pointed out, “It (internet access/blogs) benefits the readers, because they can ask questions and there is a reasonably good chance that the writer will answer them. I would have loved it if some of my favorite writers, the ones I grew up reading, had a blog. I have so many questions.”
Sure you could write a letter back in the dark pre-internet days but your chances of getting a response was almost non-existent. These days a published writer’s blog not only gives readers a way to access the writer but to also peer into their lives a little bit. As Jim C. Hines says, “And as a reader, I usually enjoy getting a glimpse of the person behind the books I love.”
They all also pointed out the double edged sword that access can be for a reader. What if the writer turned out to be a jerk? You might not ever want to read their books again. What if the writer’s personal politics are VASTLY different than the readers? Again, you might not want to read their books or support them financially. This is a thoroughly internet age issue.
When I was reading the Pern series as a kid I couldn’t have told you one thing about Anne McCaffrey’s views on politics or religion. Not that I couldn’t have gotten some information about those things if I wanted to do a lot of research but these days you can, depending on the individuals use of social media, easily get that type of information about a favorite writer. I know one that I particularly like that has religious/social views that I find to be…narrow minded at best. As Seanan McGuire says, “I think that sometimes, both sides need to remember that we’re strangers.” It’s easy for readers/fans to think they know a writer based solely on their books and then as a result of a blog or email finding themselves quite disappointed or angry when that writer turns out to be different than they had expected. Seanan also said, “It’s an ecosystem. We need to play nicely with one another.” Indeed.
So this brings us to whether or not all this access is good for the writers and the industry in general. Ilona Andrews pointed out the most obvious advantage, “Writers benefit from it – when we have a release or a piece of news, many people will retweet and link to it. If the blog wasn't as active, our "internet reach" wouldn't be nearly as wide.”
A couple of writers talked about how their blogs and the internet in general reduced their sense of isolation. A writer’s life does require a fair amount of time alone at a computer or a notebook. Getting warm encouragement about works in progress and appreciation for works already published is gratifying. Every writer expressed that they really benefited from the sense of community and felt that the industry benefited from that as well.
So I’d say the end result of my small survey of a handful of published writers is that writers engaging in social media and blogging benefits readers and I, for one, am very happy that so many writers are willing to engage with readers and fans. It also benefits writers both personally and professionally but it’s also a very tricky process which requires navigating what can sometimes be very stormy seas of personalities, expectations and boundaries.
I’d like thank all the writers who answered my questions including the few that didn’t wish to be quoted or named specifically. I appreciate that they took the time to send me such thoughtful responses. In all four parts I have only named, quoted and linked to the writers who specifically gave me permission to do so.