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The accessible author? Writing in the 21st Century

One of the things that has changed, in this new socially-enabled world we live in, is the accessibility of authors.

This is not just about me. Writers such as Chuck Palahniuk (The Fight Club), Paul Coelho (The Alchemist) and Margaret Atwood (The Handmaids Tale) are all Tweeting. These are among the most popular authors in the world. There are lots more at it too. Here is a list of 100 mainly US authors for starters. (click here)

What I’m interested in is, what this means for authors.

There has been a tendency for authors to be unavailable in the past.

When I grew up the idea of contacting an author was something you might do, but only on the rarest of occasions. You expected to be rebuffed. Many authors didn’t even give interviews, never mind tell you the quotes they like from a master in their genre.

Part of this was presumably due to the cost involved in responding to letters. Authors also adopted a mantle of inaccessibility. Whether it was a natural inclination to shut themselves away, a desire to appear superior, or a perceived need to maintain a cloak of mystery is hard to say. Each of these probably had a role to play.

 
But all that is in the past now. If you don’t play the social media game, especially as a new author, you risk becoming lost in the flood of hundreds of thousands of new novels and non fiction books being published every year.

So what does this mean for the author, both now and in the future? For now it will require a change of mindset. If you want to despise the internet go ahead. When paper was introduced in the middle ages, making volume production of books possible due to paper’s lower cost, the vellum and parchment lovers despised the new medium and denigrated its ability to expand the reach of authors. Those who despise the internet now, an increasingly social medium, have a similar mindset. This post is addressed to the rest of us.

The Seven Golden Rules of Twitter (being open about your real interests, not where you are, engaging with people, following people, adding your opinion to RTs and posts, being positive, teasing, providing insights) force a writer to come out of their shell. It’s great therapy for the isolated. And a support tool to make us all smile. I certainly have felt supported and have had many enjoyable moments reading the comments of my online friends.

But does all this have a greater significance for writers? Will it affect how we write and what we write about?
I believe that the Internet, our easy accessibility to people and facts, will fundamentally change the stories writers tell.

Being able to contact people, to get their views, is very useful, Being able to find out information without having the luxury of free time to visit great libraries, combined with an easier access to people, will change the stories written in the next 50 years.

Since before James Joyce literary writers have focused on the individual, his or her feelings, internal doubts, interpretations of the world they encounter in any given day. Only a few had experience of the wider world. To write about how a waitress serves you coffee, what the turn of her head might mean, as Raymond Carver does so well, became the ultimate goal for many literary and stream-of-consciousness writers.

I believe that internally focused literary age is coming to an end. Sure, there will be great writers who continue to do that well, but much modern literature is likely to open up to what the world is really about, savage murders in New Orleans, the secrets of Istanbul, the reality of romance in a modern London. Such stories are less cerebral, more tactile, more grounded. The internet and social media is likely to drive this popular literary revolution even further.

If you want to write about the reality of the world, real people, hard facts, your goal is now achievable. It’s time to write 21st century fiction. Don’t let the Ivory-Tower-Literary-Luddites fool you. They are less relevant than ever and will soon be about as popular as early twentieth century experimental poets are now.

Don’t you agree?

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