When I first began to really read, I devoured the books of two authors in particular – Douglas Adams and Harry Harrison. I loved their books, read them until the paperbacks fell to pieces and could’ve won trivia contests on obscure plot points.
I didn’t know a thing about the authors themselves. Much later, I got to read articles about, and interviews with, Douglas Adams. I have a copy of “The Salmon of Doubt”, a book put together after his tragically early death, with interviews, articles and unfinished stories. That fills out a little more of the man that I didn’t know.
But this is the 21st Century. This week, I have had the works of John Scalzi almost exclusively playing on my audio books playlist – he’s releasing his new book “The Human Division” chapter by chapter, and I’m buying the audio versions through Audible.com. I stumbled across his blog/website “Whatever” when googling something else, and as a result of becoming a reader of his posts, I bought one of his books. Then several more. This is proof that blogging can lead to book sales. But as well as learning I liked his work, I learned a lot about Mr Scalzi too (though, having not met him, it seems rude to call him “John”). I know the names of his immediate family and have seen pictures of them (that he released in specific circumstances, not because I’ve broken into his house with a flashlight and a stocking mask…) I know about his lawn-mowing habits and ukulele playing desires. I’ve even seen him fall on his ass while singing the theme tune to one of his novels.
The point of all this is that authors have now really got the option of stepping out of the shadow of their books. One of the things I have always loved about Stephen King’s short story collections is his habit of explaining a little something of them either before or afterwards. He talks about the genesis of the idea, or how the story was changed, or where a character came from. Now he has a website, there’s the chance that a direct query might be answered in person, that those things you might otherwise have wondered about til your dying day could be sorted out in an email.
Much as I liked the image of a Salinger-like hermit, locked away from the world, dropping pearls of books to adoring but distant readers, this idea of accessible authors is much more exciting. I’m sure they’re occasionally ticked off with the number of wannabes who press them for the secret of their success, or where they get their ideas from, but they also get the positive feedback, the letters and emails that say how much their work is admired. Today, anyone can write a book and get it published. You can have your own work available for sale through Amazon, the most popular method of book purchasing in the modern world. This being the case, publishing your work isn’t the prize it once was. What’s more important to a lot of writers (and I know this is true of myself) is hearing that other people have been affected by the stories, that they have been touched by the tale in the same way the author was. That they’re glad it was written down and sent out into the world.
Writers write because they have to, because the stories demand to be told. But we publish because we want to share those stories.*
So take advantage of this amazing new world we live in. Reach out and meet the authors you admire. And not in a “Here’s my underwear, please sign it and send me some of yours” kind of way. Read their blogs, add your review of their books to Amazon and Goodreads and other review sites. Link to their blogs from yours so other people can find them too.
I know, from what other people have said, that meeting Douglas Adams could be a joyous thing, and I’m sorry I never had the chance. But I have had reply tweets and emails from Neil Gaiman, from James Moran, and John Scalzi, and Chuck Wendig. People whose words have moved me, have changed the way I see the world. People who, ten years ago, would have been as distant to me as the stars they write about.
Which authors have you contacted and heard back from? Which blogs do you recommend? Which author (living or dead) would you most like to converse with? Bearing in mind the dead ones won’t be much for conversation…..
* receiving a large sum of money in return is often looked upon as a bonus, however.