Being an author is a funny business full of paradoxes. You work in isolation and have to try to reflect the opinions, views and tastes of a really wide audience. Work is incredibly intensive for short bursts of 18-20 hour days (sometimes) followed by relatively long periods of inactivity when you are waiting for your next book contract to come through or the next great idea to percolate through your head and ‘hit you’. You love reading yet have to stay away from it when you write in case it filters through and its style affects your own voice. You write for many readers who will have diverse needs and experiences yet you only worry about what your editor will think and what reviewers will say. And everyone you meet thinks your job is a lot more glamorous than theirs.
Social media is changing much of this if not all of it. Suddenly my readers have access to me wherever I may be. The ability to discuss writing, my books and the way the online world is developing, provide a constantly shifting background against which much of my activity and the usefulness of my books on SEO, social media and online marketing, can be measured.
The real-time web is taking the writer out of his cubby hole and now makes him a participant in an ever-growing online conversation which is bound to change the way he sees the world and the way the world sees him. In the past, for instance, writers had to rely on two facts to judge how good or bad they were at their trade: Industry reviews and annual sales figures. Both of these used to take place in a kind of elitist-driven vacuum. Reviewers could be primed through the mutual-admiration, reciprocating review ploy and industry magazines, relying on publisher advertising revenue, had a vested interest in being key to driving sales so they could be trusted to provide, if not a good review, at least not a bad one. Similarly that other indicator of quality, sales figures, could be ‘massaged’. Books could become bundled in special offers or become part of internal bulk sales (where say the US side of a publisher bulk buys 4,000 copies of a title from the UK side of a publisher) leading to a muddled picture. While all of this, to some extent, is still at play social media has stripped away much of the camouflage and infused a much needed dose of reality-check.
Real-time reporting of sales from Amazon (the company allows authors to sample offline sales of their titles as well as online ones), the inevitable rise or fall of specific titles on sale in Amazon’s database which is updated hourly and the fact that social media networks now allow an audience to reach out to a writer directly and discuss their work creates a new collaborative background against which the business of writing is now transacted.
For a long time I have held the view that a writer has an unwritten contract with his audience. A writer’s job is to write the books he feels are of real value in their content (irrespective of their technical virtuosity) rewarding readers for their trust, patronage and support. Without a writer’s sense of this duty or an audience which reads the books he’s written the business of writing collapses and they both lose out.
Readers’ Reviews and Writers’ Profiles
How has social media changed all of this? Writers now play a much more central role in the promotion of their books than before and, in the process, become much more accessible to their readers. Whereas in the past a publisher or a writer’s agent would be able to soften the blow of a bad review and could multiply manifold the glow of a good one, these days writers get to speak with their reviewers and ask questions about their books to readers directly.
Transparency and accessibility become catalysts in their own right. A writer listening to a reader’s opinion, irrespective of whether it is good or bad, begins to understand how the writing is perceived. This is direct, crucial reader contact at a level which prior to social networks would have been impossible to contemplate, let alone achieve.
Writing a book is a complex matter, particularly where non-fiction is concerned (but it applies well enough as an observation to any kind of writing). A large number of considerations need to be taken into account any of which can throw the balance of a book off-kilter (which is why as many bad books as good ones get written) and the point where rubber hits the road, to use a metaphor, is exactly the point at which writing coalesces from the writer’s mind to the reader’s eye and the connection is made.
Writing, primarily, is about connecting. Without that connection then the purpose of writing which is to transport the voice of the writer into the head of the reader. Writing has always been a collaborative process with the writer and the readers taking equal parts in it in imperceptible but very tangible ways. With these bonds now becoming stronger, theoretically, writing in the 21st century should get better.
Now I do wonder what you think about this.
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