“The distance between writers and readers has vanished.”
By Aga Maksimowska
When I was a kid growing up in communist Poland, my mother used to read Astrid Lindgren’s The Bullerbyn Children books to me. I was obsessed with the brothers Lasse and Bosse from the time I could say little more than their names to the time I invented my own stories set in the tiny Swedish village.
Imagine if I had had a computer, and if the Internet existed. And if my literary hero had a Facebook account, or her own web site. Imagine also that the eight-year-old me, in my Gdańsk apartment, sent a personal message outlining my love and appreciation of Lindgren’s work, and that very e-mail was opened moments later by the 78-year-old in her Stockholm apartment: well, that would be unreal.
Writers used to be a mystery to readers. They were revered, as many are nowadays, but revered from afar. Today, the distance between writers and readers has vanished. Writers are available to their devotees for closer inspection on social media pages, open for e-mail exchanges or book club discussions via Skype.
Is this virtual closeness better, or worse? Would Astrid Lindgren hold the same firm place in my imagination if I were able to follow her on Twitter?
I don’t know whether I’ve arrived at an answer. I’m not sure I want to.
In my experience, both as a reader and a writer, this virtual closeness has thrilled me, but it has also disappointed me. Literary idols have replied to e-mails and made my day; others have ignored compliments and declined requests to visit my classroom. I’ve cringed over comments about my own writing, and cherished feedback from readers who were moved by my work.
When my debut novel, Giant, came out, I reluctantly started a blog. Shouldn’t I be writing flash fiction, I lamented to my husband, instead of flash journalism? I was apprehensive of using social media to promote the book. It feels icky, I told him. Shouldn’t someone else be doing this? Isn’t this a publicist’s job?
As it turns out, my ever-encouraging husband said, it’s this writer’s job.
He was right. In this ever-changing publishing landscape, with the modest resources of an independent publisher behind me, promoting my book on the Internet and social media is my job. If I don’t believe in Giant, why should others?
I can’t lie: the icky feeling hasn’t completely gone away. Sometimes I long to trade the time I spend doing publicity work with writing my next book.
I look forward to discussing our new reality with my fellow debut novelists at the IFOA roundtable entitled Novelists for a New Age. When that job is done, I will listen to some of my literary idols read from their works. I will gush as they autograph my copies of their novels before returning home to place the books on the shelf beside Astrid Lindgren’s stories.