The recent kerfuffle over MPs supposedly being hounded online over the Syria vote had me weighing up the pros and cons of instant online availability. As far as politicians go, sending an email is much less of a big deal than writing a letter or calling in at a constituency office, so more people are likely to do it (me, for instance) and the MP or at least their staff might hear from a wider range of voters than they otherwise would. On the other hand Twitter might be a bit too immediate, a bit too tempting for the instant reaction outburst (from disgruntled voter or tired and emotional MP). If I tweeted half the stuff I shout at the radio during Any Questions I’d probably get myself into a lot of trouble.
Authors online, however, seems like a safer prospect. Back in the days when snail mail was all there was, even if I’d had the faintest idea how to get a letter to my favourite authors, I wouldn’t have done so (though I did once almost write a letter about Cerebus to Dave Sim). Aside from the perception that I was taking up a fair amount of both my time and theirs, the nagging feeling that the closest it would get to them would be the cursory glance it was given by their secretary/wife/obliging neighbour, put me off. Then came email – still not necessarily read personally by the big names, but less work on both parts and somehow less weighty.
Next came blogs by writers – like this one, but sometimes written by someone more than a dozen people have heard of. The crime writer Martin Edwards has been writing posts regularly for years, imparting fascinating insights into his own writing and publishing process, discussing Golden Age (and other) crime with readers and generally seeming like a nice chap. The connection formed by not only reading his own thoughts, but personal responses to comments on the blog, has made me more keen to read his books than I otherwise would have been.
Twitter has been a revelation (possibly similar is true of Facebook and the like, but not being massively social I don’t have much social media experience). As mentioned above it’s perfect for the impulse comment (like an impulse purchase but possibly with greater ramifications) and because the wordcount is so tiny you can’t be accused (even by yourself) of wasting an author’s time by attempting to communicate with them. Even some of the big names are known to handle their own Twitter accounts, like JK Rowling and Stephen King. Not to mention Stephen Fry. The chances of you standing out among the 17,000 other responses they got to that last tweet are slim, but there is the faint possibility of a brief dialogue, and certainly the feeling that they may personally have read your view on their latest work (or hairstyle, love affair, breakfast etc).
So, if the big guns are now a little less ‘other’, the less stratospheric writers like comedic genius (and engaging Twitterite) John Finnemore are positively reach-out-and-touchable. If you’ve read about (and commented on) the new work-in-progress you’ve already got a connection to it by the time it comes out. Which is where we reach the emerging writers. While Stephen King may or may not notice you as an individual say how much you loved his new novel, the midlist authors probably will and they may well take your comments on board. The emerging writers will not only notice but you may well have the power to steer their mood for the day. For some, your comment might be the only one they’ve received.
Next time you’re considering getting in touch with a stranger, pause. Is the person a politician you have an urge to remonstrate with? If so, remember Theresa May is listening, and they’re probably not worth it. However, if the person in question is a writer, artist, musician, poet (and what you have in mind isn’t abusive) go for it. You won’t bother the busy ones, and the rest will probably be glad of the connection.