Gleaned from Charles Tan’s blog, there is an interesting article by Guy Gavriel Kay in the Toronto Globe and Mail, about how the relationships between authors and readers are changing now that writers have more of a ‘public presence’, with blogs and suchlike. So we get tales of readers publicly expressing their anger when authors fall behind on writing the new book; and tales of (in Kay’s words) ‘the fan base functioning as a mobile attack force for the author’. Both of these strike me as things I personally would never do or want to be involved in; but the article has got me thinking about my own experiences of this.
I think it was 2000 when I first e-mailed some authors to tell them I liked their books — only a handful of writers, sure, but I was enthusiastic about doing so (I’m even still in touch with one of them today — hi Paul!). It was an exciting feeling to receive an e-mail back. I also remember my first FantasyCon, the buzz of seeing authors in person, stopping them in the hotel corridors for a breathless, semi-coherent chat… I have never ‘invested’ myself as fully in an author’s online community as some people do, but I can readily understand the appeal of it — I know what the feeling of ‘connection’ is like.
Interestingly, though, as time has gone on, as I’ve grown more confident in my ability to think and talk about fiction, as I’ve built up what I think is quite a substantial body of published work (though I recognise that it is still well off the radar of many people who may be interested in reading it), as the opportunities to interact with authors online have increased — I’ve retreated. I don’t e-mail authors to tell them I like their books (I might drop them a note about a positive review, but that’s about it). I’m more reluctant to speak to them at conventions. Why? I’m not sure. Perhaps just because it’s hard to know what the rules of etiquette are — but, as Kay’s article shows, they’re clearly changing.
And there’s another side of this matter to me, which relates to my reviewing and blogging. I feel a kind of obligation to keep this blog updated on at least a semi-regular basis, and I feel bad that my output of externally-published reviews appears in fits and starts rather than with any regularity.
But there’s no reason why I should feel these things. The blog is entirely my own thing, I don’t know how many people read it regulalrly but the number must be small (though I salute you all!), and nobody’s going to tell me off if I don’t post often enough (at least, I hope not!). And yet, in a way, it’s right that I should feel such pressure; as Kay says, it’s a pressure that comes from the nature of the medium — by choosing to set up a blog like this, there’s an implication that I will write stuff for it. Just as, when authors choose to engage with their readership online, there’s an implication that readers are entitled to engage back.
Which is a roundabout way of saying: I agree with Guy Kay.