Tuesday, July 18, 2006

On Image and Honesty



I heard something the other day that started me thinking about authors, blogs, author promotion, and readers. Seems a writer of vampire chicklit has alienated some of her readers by a remark made on her blog. Her remark—a disparaging comment about readers who frequent used bookstores—has apparently inspired legions of her readers to swear they’ll never read another of her books. Which is rather amusing in a way, since if they’re buying her books in used bookstores, she’s unlikely to notice their boycott.

But the incident illustrates something that’s been niggling at me for a while now. There is a growing trend, particularly among writers of cozies and romances, to reach out to readers at a personal level. The internet didn’t start this; I can remember Dear Reader letters on the backs of romances published twenty years ago. But the internet, with its interactive websites and blogs, has certainly given the trend a huge push. Publishers and writers have been quick to notice that a number of readers like to feel as if they “know” writers. Personal appearances, weblogs, newsletters, etc, all cultivate that feeling of familiarity, almost a virtual friendship. And when these readers feel a writer is their friend, they treat her like a friend: not only will they rush out to buy her next book, but they’ll forgive her for things they’d normally complain about, whether it’s dull characters, clunky prose, or predictable plots.

So what’s wrong with this? The problem, as I see it, is that it’s all too often a mirage, as fake and dishonest as a 1950’s Hollywood star being forced by his handlers into a loveless marriage to disguise the fact that he’s gay. In their newsletters, writers are always nauseatingly perky and upbeat; in their blogs, authors are warned to be careful to steer away from anything that might possibly alienate any reader. It seems many readers will forgive a befriended writer for writing a bad book, but not for holding a political opinion they find inflammatory.

I’m frequently characterized by my family as na├»ve and idealistic, and I guess that tendency is showing here. What does it matter if the image a writer is projecting is false, as long as it sells books?

It matters.

What I’m listening to… I’ve finally finished THE LABYRINTH. Sixteen CD’s! Wanting something both shorter and lighter, I’ve started Lillian Jackson Braun’s THE CAT WHO MOVED A MOUNTAIN. It’s fun. And short.

12 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

I wonder if there are literally some people who don't realize that the author gets no money when you buy their book at a used bookstore?

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