The Ivory Tower meets Social Networking

When I was a young reader I didn’t know much about the authors I was reading, barring maybe a blurred photograph, or a polished paragraph of biography.

I was always curious about the way authors went about their arcane art. I wondered at the fact that they spent years toiling on each tome and the first I knew of them having finished their mighty work was when I walked into the local bookstore. I remember the feeling of delighted incredulity as I found one of my favourite authors had released their latest book, and would walk home clutching it to my chest, determined to crack the spine as soon as I got in the house.

I’m talking about being an avid reader before the rise of the Internet. A time when release schedules were not readily available. And a time when authors seemed to exist in little ivory towers of creativity, their work done behind a veil of secrecy. Sometimes we were invited to contact the author via their publisher or through an anonymous P.O. box by posting an actual letter, but this is all the contact we had.

And I found this somehow magical and exciting.

Times have changed.

These days I follow authors on Twitter; at times I make comments in reply to something they’ve said. Sometimes they reply! I see little snippets of information about their writing process. I know when they are suffering a lack of muse; I am delighted to see their progress towards the completion of a new book, which is sometimes detailed chapter by chapter. (Brent Weeks, I’m looking at you!) Occasionally they throw out pages and pages of completed manuscript because it is not working right and I despair that they will ever finish.

Alongside this, I read author pages on their websites where they answer all those familiar questions: how did you start writing? Where do you get your ideas? Will you please read my story?

I see release schedules on publisher websites, so that I know months in advance about when my favourite authors are releasing new books.

The interaction between author and reader is greater than ever—does this mean the magical secrecy, the untouchable nature of authors has vanished?

In my opinion, no. Well, sort of. The authors are touchable (if you’ll excuse the slightly ribald-sounding term!); there is little secrecy these days. But the magic is there in other ways. I love knowing that writers are interested in their readers; I love watching new authors court well-known bloggers; I enjoy the bantering and the information that authors now freely release. I find the release schedules and teaser reviews of new books impossibly exciting—although it does mean my to-read pile resembles a mountain to be climbed now that I have more knowledge about books coming out.

It amuses me that these days I am actually disappointed when an author doesn’t have a webpage and doesn’t make an effort to interact!

There is, of course, a flipside to all this interaction: some authors are finding themselves subject to vitriolic attack because they don’t spend their days writing to complete an expected book. When authors do suffer writer’s block their affliction is discussed via messageboard, sometimes in a callous manner. Readers now assume that writers are public property.

We also see occasions when authors hit back—when they decide to interact with their fans in a negative manner. Candace Sams learnt to her cost that sometimes authors should remain behind that veil of secrecy, especially now that such situations go viral and are re-tweeted with a vengeance!

Overall, though, I think I prefer these days to when I was younger. The fantasy and science fiction field is thriving at the moment, with new and exciting authors emerging all the time, and part of the enjoyment is the fact that these authors are prepared to talk to their readers.

What do you think—did you enjoy the “ivory tower” nature of writing and authors before the rise of the Internet? Or do you prefer the heightened interaction now?

Amanda Rutter contributes reviews and a regular World Wide Wednesday post to, as well as reviews for her own site (covering more genres than just speculative), Vector Reviews and Hub magazine.


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