Thursday, July 23, 2009

The New Reality for Writers

By KJ Howe

I've had the pleasure of attending two conferences back to back the last month—Thrillerfest in NYC and RWA in Washington D.C. with the fabulous Banditas! Being surrounded by writers for two weeks was incredible. It also made me consider another aspect of life as an author and I'd love to hear your opinion:

Most writers enjoy studying people (we're all looking for character traits for our heroes/heroines/villains!) and watching everyone at the conferences, I started realizing how the public life of a writer has changed dramatically with the advent of new technologies.

Back in the day, authors rarely had their photos included on their book jackets—now the entire back cover often features the writer in a scholarly pose (deep in thought, perhaps dreaming of the next method to kill off a character!).

Before the internet shrunk the world, authors didn't have much opportunity to meet fans from different countries. Now writers and fans can mingle no matter where they live. Just look at the Banditas…we're from a variety of countries that circle the globe.

Also, given the advent of Book television, Book radio, and the fact that writers are regular guests on talk shows and news programs, publishers are looking for authors who are comfortable promoting their novels in a public forum.

What happened to being able to write in seclusion? Are the days of the solitary author toiling away in front of the typewriter in obscurity over? Do authors need to accept that the world wants to know who is behind their book? Publishers are actively looking for authors who can both promote and be promotable. The new media encourages writers to do more to reach out to readers. Now fans are given unprecedented access to their favorite authors.

This has caused a near tectonic shift in the personality required to be a successful author. If you're more of an introverted personality type, do you feel overwhelmed by this change?

Have you ever read a novel, then met the author and had your opinion change or vice versa?

Do you think this change in the level of author/reader contact has been good for the industry?

Thanks for sharing your thoughts! KJ

43 comments:

limecello said...

!

limecello said...

Wow - what a great post, KJ! I have to say, interacting with authors has affected me in both a positive, and negative way. (Ways? I'm tired.)

If I were an author - I don't know how I'd feel. I'm quite shy. But I can also fake it til I make it :P

But authors- :X I shouldn't admit it, but as much as I try not to, my "friendship" or interaction with an author might affect how I read/review his/her book. Not ... well it's hard to explain, but basically only positively. If I "know" the author, I'll be more inclined to think positively of his/her work.
However, I have stopped reading author(s) entirely due to online behavior. There's a well known, well read and liked author that responded to a mediocre review basically with "well yeah? you suck and I'm laughing my way to the bank!" I was shocked, and haven't been able to read [author's] books since. Certain other situations like that, but there are only about 5 authors on my "shit list." It takes a lot to get there (e.g. plagiarism), but... once there, s/he isn't coming off. Barring some extraordinary circumstance which has yet to ever occur.

Lol - ok now that I'm being so long winded I feel like I should say more, just because :P

Helen said...

Congrats limcello have fun with him

KJ I agree with limcello this is a great post.

For me getting to "know" the authors has been fantastic I love it. It has opened up a whole new world for me (and the TBR pile has grown) and everyone I have gotten to "know" has always made me feel comfortable and I am able to talk to them and so many other romance readers that I have met on line a lot easier than I used to I have always been a shy person but I feel that I am loosing some of that shyness and it makes me feel a lot better about myself.

I class a lot of authors as "friends" these days and am very proud to be their "friends" and I do love to recomend their books to people but in saying that I have very much loved their work as well.

Have Fun
Helen

Kim Howe said...

Limecello, congrats on the GR! Take good care of him today.

Thanks for sharing your thoughtful comments. I guess we're all human when it comes to interacting with authors--if they impress us, we probably are more likely to enjoy their novels. If it goes the other way, then the author has an uphill battle to earn back respect.

Kim Howe said...

Helen, whenever I read a novel by an author I know, I hear their voice reading me the words. That makes it more fun for me. However, it can get interesting...for example, when Anna Campbell is doing one of her steamy sex scenes or Jeanne Adams is killing someone off! I have to remind myself that it is fiction. LOL

Kimber Chin said...

Did the solitary writer ever exist? Wouldn't writing about the world be challenging without actually living in it?

But the anonymous writer... well, that I would love. I've seriously blogged for about 6 years now without having my photo on the internet. Now that I write novels, I get regular requests for photos to go with guest blog posts. Most blog hosts understand my desire for privacy but some don't. The traditional media really doesn't. Newspapers always require a photo of the author.

(Sigh) Now the countdown to being outed is in days, rather than years.

Kimber Chin said...

Oh, and as for authors personalities affecting the way books are read... I am a clear example of that. I write angsty, serious romances, yet readers regularly comment on them being 'humorous.' The only explanation I can figure out is because I, as a person, crack jokes, readers look hard to find the humor in my writing.

hrdwrkdmom aka Dianna said...

Very interesting post Kim, I so enjoy being able to "talk" to authors. I think being able to communicate to my favs has made me more inclined to buy every single book they publish. I enjoy the "inside track" these conversations give me.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Good post, KJ. I think writers are by nature introverted, for the most part, but they lie on a spectrum of introverted. We're not all hermits hiding from humanity. :) Some do no public appearances at all; others thrive on it; and the rest of us are at various points in the middle. I enjoy meeting readers and other writers, attending conferences, speaking at events. But I'm also glad to go back home afterward and have my alone time.

Like you, when I read a novel by someone I know, I hear them in the main character. This is especially true of my friend Stephanie Feagan. Her character of Pink Pearl -- OMG, I could so hear Stef's voice.

BTW, it was so good to get the chance to talk with you last week amidst all the craziness of conference week.

Anna Campbell said...

I'm BAAAAACCCCKKKKK!

Hope you've all been good in my absence? What? Good's too much to ask? Well, in that case, I hope you've all been discreet.

Congratulations, Lime!

Kim, what an interesting post. This is something I've thought about a lot. Especially as I find the public persona doesn't necessarily help the private persona to put together stories and if I let the public one take over too much, it's hard to go back into the world of the books. Daphne du Maurier never did an interview, Georgette Heyer did one. Yet they hit the bestseller lists with monotonous regularity. The world has clearly changed since then! And reader expectations too. Readers expect to interact with their favorite authors these days. I find that very rewarding - again, as I said, it's getting the balance right.

Anna Campbell said...

Kim, at the moment, I have no voice. I screamed too hard at conference at a couple of loud events. I haven't got a sore throat. I just sound like Lauren Bacall after a night on the tiles. It made me giggle when you said you can hear me reading out my naughty bits. You'd think they were REALLY naughty if I did them today!

Nancy said...

KJ, those are interesting questions. I once went to a signing for an author whose books I'd loved, and he couldn't have been nicer. Chatted with everyone in line, seemed to really listen to people. Then I saw him on a convention panel, where he was like a different person--not enough room for his ego and anyone else at the table. It was very disappointing. But I still bought his books.

jo robertson said...

Interesting topic, KJ, and welcome back from your worldly travels!

It does seem that writers used to be more solitary creatures than they are now, but maybe that's just a matter of accessibility and the changing world. We used to enjoy the mystery surrounding an author as it added to the enjoyment of their works. Now, I think, most readers enjoy knowing the author on a personal level.

I think being outgoing enough to promote your own work is very important in today's world.

Nancy said...

Limecello, like you, I have to be pretty offended to stop reading an author. It's about the book, not the person, for me. But it someone happens to come across as a serious jerk, well, there are plenty of other people to whom I can give my money.

I once found out an author whose books I'd enjoyed had insulted another author who's a friend of mine, and made it personal, and done it online in a public forum. That did it for me. After that, I saw the same guy brush off a shy fan who'd come just to see him. So I was glad not to give him any more of my money.

Congrats on the rooster.

Nancy said...

Oh, and just BTW, KJ, you continued your trend of fabulous outfits at conference. I especially liked the glittery dress you had on when I saw you Saturday in the gift shop (Maribou, was it, around the neckline? Not everyone can carry that off, but it looked great on you.) and the fabulous print cocktail dress on Saturday.

p226 said...

My wife says she doesn't want to know the authors of the books she reads. She fears that knowing them would alter her perception when reading. Change things.

I can only think of a few authors that I've both read and met. And one of those I didn't officially meet. That was Lisa Gardner. We exchanged emails and talked fairly extensively over the phone. She couldn't have made a better impression on me. Regardless, having talked to her one on one for some period simply did not factor into my experience reading her book. I guess I just completely disconnect the author from the story when reading it.

Back in the day, I read a LOT of Stephen King. I had no idea what he looked like. Then this trend started of putting the pictures on the covers and I got to see what King looked like. Oh man did I laugh.

NERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRD! I mean, could there possibly be a dorkier looking guy writing these stories?

But there's absolutely no question. King is good at what he does. And when I cracked the cover, the goofy looking bespectacled comic-book nerd disappeared from my mind. At no point did I ever see a visual of King's face while reading his books. Only the characters.

So, for me, it doesn't matter. Apparently for my wife it does.

terrio said...

What a great blog and interesting topic. As an extrovert, I often feel bad for my introverted fellow writers how have such a hard time with the public aspects. Being *out there* so to speak comes to easy to me, I forget not everyone is comfortable in crowds.

I do think it's different today, though I can only guess as I wasn't attempting to write in the pre-internet days. In some ways, it might be harder now since the temptation to play online is so strong. Then again, I'm sure writers have always had trouble fighting off the distractions. LOL!

CJ Lyons said...

Hey, Kim, great post!

I admit it, I'm a hermit at heart--just leave me alone for a few hours (okay, days, lol!) with me and the voices in my head and I'm happy.

But I love meeting people and can't describe the really cool feeling when people write or find me at a conference or signing to tell me how much they enjoyed those voices in my head!!!

It's what makes writing worthwhile--and don't even get me started on things like hearing from fans who tell me their books helped them through a painful time in their life or how my characters have inspired and empowered them to change their own lives.

Talk about priceless!

Donna MacMeans said...

Funny you should post this, KJ, because I asked my editor a similar question at the Washington contest. This is what she said (and I agree 100%).

The best promotion an author can do is write a really good book. If that requires isolation and seclusion, so be it. Whatever it takes. Nothing can sell more books than a reputation for quality. But...

Some authors are more gregarious than others and use that to their advantage and that's good. Some authors need the encouragement from fans to keep them motivated to write and interaction works for them. Some authors hate the public presence and avoid conferences/blogs/and signings and if that works for them, that's fine. Because...

It's all about the book.

Everything else is window dressing.

Donna MacMeans said...

LOL - By the way, I've noticed my photo never, never shows up on my books. I've sent the publisher my photo on their request and signed releases for them to use it. But still - no photo. What does that tell you (very big grin!)

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

INTERESTING post, KJ!

And I second what Nancy said about your fabulous outfits at National!

I'm one of those outliers (in more ways than one, I know) who happens to be a writer who is an extrovert. I LURVE "meeting" readers and other writers in any venue! However, I do NOT necessarily want readers picturing or hearing ME when they read my books. I want them to totally identify with my characters. That's why I'm just a glad NOT to have my picture on any of my books. Well, that and the fact that ACK! It might actually resemble me and I can't possibly be that old! LOL!

AC

Authorness said...

Great post, KJ. I've often wondered about how authors separate their private and public personas. I think it's something that, increasingly, we have to establish at the very beginning of our careers. I still don't know whether I'll be the type of author who promotes actively or the one who hides away and lets the book sell itself. There seems to be reasonable pros and cons for both!

Anna C, I'm sorry your voice is still MIA. Your huskiness does sound awfully seductive, though! There's an up side to everything!

~ Vanessa

Becke Davis said...

Lime - Congrats on the GR.

Anna - Welcome back! I'm sure we'll see a villain named LAX Marriott in one of your future books -- or did you change planes in San Francisco? An awful trip all-round, and then to lose your voice on top of everything? Not fun. And your voice was already mostly gone at National. It was great to meet you, by the way. Such fun!

KJ - What a great, thought-provoking post! Since I met more authors last week than I had previously met in my entire life, you've really given me food for thought. Obviously, we are all a little different in person than we are when we write (blogs, comments, emails, books or whatever), but I think we often get to know each other on a deeper level when we meet this way first. By the time I met the Banditas (most of you) in person, I had a good idea what you all were like, and I wasn't disappointed in the least.

I would say that was true of just about everyone I met. I can't think of anyone who made a bad impression at National. On the other hand, some snarky comments I've seen on Twitter have made me raise my eyebrows once or twice.

Oddly, I had a more adverse reaction to an author's voice than to any author I met in person. A male author, famous for his humorous travelogues, wrote a couple of books my husband and I enjoyed. We bought an audio version of one of his books to take on a long car trip. His voice and manner of speaking was so annoying and condescending, we turned it off within ten minutes. I've never been able to bring myself to read anything of his again.

And I've had a couple of issues with other male authors who made disparaging comments about their fans. I've never come across a female author who did this, although I'm sure there are some. I didn't change my feelings about their books, but it definitely made me like those authors less as people.

Becke Davis said...

Donna - I've never seen Eloisa James' picture on a book, either, that I can recall. In fact, it doesn't seem that historicals usually feature an author picture. Hmm. Maybe I'm writing in the wrong genre.

Nancy said...

Kimber, that's an interesting point about wanting to remain faceless on blogs. It's almost as though readers, especially on blogs, expect a picture, a face-to-face encounter, even if it's one-way.

For years, no one knew Leigh Greenwood was a man. Or Leigh Brackett was a woman. Pictures would've blown either one right away.

Nancy said...

p226, Stephen King really doesn't look like a guy who'd write bone-chilling horror, does he? His book on writing was very interesting.

Whether I hear an author's voice depends on how well I know the author and how similar to her/him I find the characters to be. Some authors' personal voices disappear in their work, much as I think Alan Rickman disappears into every role. Others will peep through from time to time, and others are always present.

Kim Howe said...

P226, I also have had the pleasure of meeting Lisa Gardner (one of my favorite authors) and found her to be incredibly warm and charming. In fact, she's so pleasant, it's hard to think of her plotting to kill off her dastardly villains! I think it's great that you are able to separate the writer from the read.

Kim Howe said...

Nancy,

Thanks for the kind comments on the outfits (you too, Fo and AC!). I was a little worried that my dress for Saturday night might be mistaken for a festive tablecloth, but I decided to go for it anyways! LOL

Kim Howe said...

Jo, really missed you at National, especially at the Daphnes where we have such great memories. I didn't enter this year, so it was very relaxing to sit there and just cheer on my friends!

Kim Howe said...

Terrio, I'm very happy for you being an extrovert...makes publicity so much easier. You go, girl!

Kim Howe said...

AC, I love your saucy photos and think that they would just increase the number of book buyers for you!

Kim Howe said...

Donna and Becke, I'm quite intrigued that there aren't photos on most historical novels. Anyone know why???

Kim Howe said...

Authoress, thanks for stopping by. I hear you on not knowing which route to take. I love people, but I also value my privacy.

Kim Howe said...

CJ, I agree with you wholeheartedly about the priceless nature of fan mail. I work hard on my writing, longing for that day when someone loses him/herself in my book as a pleasant escape from daily life.

Kim Howe said...

Trish,

It was just fantastic being seated back to back with you that night in the bar! Makes me wish we could have a Bandita retreat every year! Thanks for all the encouragement and support.

Anna Campbell said...

Becke, killing myself at the villain called LAX Marriott! He is definitely coming to sticky end, both of him! ;-) It was great meeting you too. Just wish we could have had more time just shooting the breeze. Everything just turned so frantic!

Kim, your dress the awards night was absolutely spectacular. I thought of jewels and humming birds and peacocks and the Taj Mahal, not tablecloths at all!

Gwynlyn MacKenzie said...

Great post, Kim.

I've chosen to write under pen names to preserve my family's privacy. (My youngest bears the same name as I) While I enjoy getting out and meeting people occasionally, I'm a bit of a hermit at heart. (Few people who know me would ever guess that, but it is true.) I want to write, but I want to do a Greta Garbo "I want to be alone" most of the time. I can't process surrounded by people and noise and chaos. I need to meld into my stories. That takes solitude and quiet. Let the neighbors think I'm the crazy old bat up the block. That'll work for me.

Louisa Cornell said...

Congrats on landing him, Lime! Back in one of his favorite lady's arms, the cad!

What an interesting post, KJ, who looks FABULOUS in everything she wears. (My two RWA roommates commented when you went by in the gorgeous lime green dress and I said "Oh she looks fab in anything she wears." The girls sighed and said "We hate her." LOL)

We DID miss you, Jo! Especially at the Daphnes!

I don't think I've ever met an author who wasn't at least civil and gracious. Some struck me as more shy than others, but believe it or not I DO understand that.

The people with whom I work think I am a bit of an eccentric hermit and a bookworm to boot - either reading one or writing one. They would NOT have recognized me at RWA! The clothes, the shoes, the makeup, the hair and most of all the loud, gregarious person they seldom get to see.

There are times I prefer to be alone, especially when I am writing, but I LOVE to connect with fellow writers. I love being with people who GET what I am trying to do completely.

When I was singing I had to stand around back stage after a performance and meet people. It was part of the job. Many nights I enjoyed it. Some nights I didn't. But the singer personna was one I could carry off no matter what. We do, however, tend to be a moody lot and even when we traveled together we often went off on our own.

These days I think the author HAS to be something of a promotional person. They don't have to be on all the time, but when doing a book signing or appearance I would imagine you do have to put on a bit of a show. It's business and you ARE hoping to sell your book. The book has to be the product, but you have to be the salesperson!

I will say that the Banditas definitely improve with every meeting and they were already incredible to begin with!

Caren Crane said...

Lime, congrats on the GR!

KJ, I have to say that I think each writer should only be as "out" as her/his temperament allows. I have a friend who is a NYT bestselling author and who is very reclusive. She simply has no energy to spare for putting herself out there.

I have another friend who is a NYT bestselling author who LOVES the spotlight and could sop up an endless supply of adoration. *g*

I guess the lesson is, a writer can only do what s/he can do and no more. I have no trouble being "on" when I'm in a crowd or in front of a group, but I definitely need quiet time to recharge my battery.

I think some authors who are blogging or posting on bulletin boards should not be, because they are hurting themselves. Some people simply don't do well in a 2D forum (despite being writers). Non-fiction is a whole different animal than fiction and an ability to write fiction well doesn't necessarily translate into an ability to blog or post well.

Okay, this writer is going to recharge the battery now. *g* Thanks for a great post, KJ!

Caren Crane said...

Louisa, I'm afraid you're right about authors needing to be promo people these days. Sadly, I think writing is getting as media-intensive as other "entertainment" occupations. We have been able to get away with less-than-stellar looks in the past, but it seems fortune now favors the young, thin and pretty as much as the talented. I suppose I'll have to step up my game to compete! *g*

Pissenlit said...

Ah, I'm a little late but on well. For the most part, I've had very good experiences meeting authors. There was just this one time where I went to a signing with every book in the series(I think it was about 10 books at the time) and yes, the author signed them but not once did the author look up or even acknowledge my presence the entire time(despite my saying hi), not even when I said thank you afterwards. Yes, I was last in line and it was a long line and perhaps the author was tired but well, I was mighty unimpressed and ever since, I've been feeling fairly reluctant to keep buying that author's books.

Louisa Cornell said...

Young, thin and pretty, Caren? I am so screwed!

Cheryl Antier said...

Hi ladies (and gentlemen),

I've just discovered your blog and find it fascinating. I also have a radio program for writers - this summer we're doing a special summer program - called the "Sizzlin' Summer Seminars" - with interviews by experts in different areas to help you "turn up the heat" and build your writing business. (And you're welcome to listen to any of the episodes if you'd like: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/cheryl-antier)... But that's not why I'm posting. I also do book review interviews - and so far, I haven't had any authors who write romance novels. So if you're interested in being interviewed about your book, I'd love to add you to my calendar.

I'm looking forward to talking to you!

Warmly,

Cheryl Antier