AUTHORS AND TWITTER
Last Sunday's NYTBR featured an article by Anne Trubek on the benefits of tweeting for authors. In it, Trubek addresses the "common conception of 'the author'" as solitary and asocial, noting that a number of writers use Twitter to establish closer communication with readers. She writes:
Many authors have little use for the pretension of hermetic distance and never accepted a historically specific idea of what it means to be a writer. With the digital age come new conceptions of authorship. And for both authors and readers, these changes may be unexpectedly salutary.
She goes on to quote clever tweets from writers that may draw additional readers to their books and to describe ways that writers can collect reader feedback, presumably as a type of market research.
I think it's great that social media offer writers whose books aren't necessarily getting a big push from their publishers a way to connect with readers directly. But I have questions about what seem to be the underlying assumptions of the article.
First, how much do we want writers to be influenced by readers? Of course, most writers want to reach the widest possible audience, and both professional and reader reviews can be important in helping writers recognize when they are not communicating well or are indulging in flights that are significant only to themselves. But I can't help wondering whether constant back-and-forth with readers is likely to result in a homogenization process.
Second, while it is true that not all authors require "hermetic distance," some are more social than others, and some really do need hours of focused effort to write. There is not, as far as I know, any correlation between a writer's personality style and the quality of his or her work. So I don't think Mat Johnson's statement that "It’s a meritocracy; if you’re interesting, you get followed” is accurate. Rather, it seems to be a popularity contest: If you can entertain potential readers and make them feel a personal connection to you--and possibly allow their opinions to influence your choice of covers, titles, etc., as Jennifer Weiner does--then your books may sell better. There is nothing wrong with that, but it doesn't make you a better writer than the person who can't bear the constant interruption of Twitter or who doesn't think in one-liners. And as publicity becomes more and more the job of the author, I am afraid that these quieter voices may be drowned out.
Susan O'Doherty, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist with a New York City-based practice. A fiction writer herself, she specializes in issues affecting writers and other creative artists. She is the author of Getting Unstuck without Coming Unglued: A Woman's Guide to Unblocking Creativity (Seal, 2007). Her Career Coach column appears every Monday on Inside Higher Ed's Mama, Ph.D. blog, and she is a regular guest panelist on Litopia After Dark. She can be reached at Dr.Sue at mindspring dot com.