Leave it to Guy Gavriel Kay to talk some sense. In a recent article published by The Globe and Mail, Kay addresses the subject of book delays, but more importantly he tackles on the idea of what a blog means to the relationship between author and reader; and where those fans with a bloodthirsty sense of entitlement that haunt folk like George R.R. Martin and Patrick Rothfuss come from.

From The Globe and Mail:

It is at least worth debating whether an author engaged in a multivolume work that readers have bought into has some sort of implied contract with his readers to conduct his life in such as way as to ensure the book gets done. But surely readers who insist that means “do nothing else” are betraying a pretty shaky sense of how the creative process works, especially when spread over what might be two decades and more.

Martin wasn’t happy. “Maybe it’s okay if I take a leak once in a while?” he wrote. His blog response was accompanied by a flashing “angry” icon face.

It is all too easy for another writer to sympathize, and I do, hugely, but I can’t help but note that the only reason readers know about holidays and football games (and his favourite team) is that Martin has told them. On his blog.

This is close to a point I made in my article in defense of Martin:

The Internet is a powerful tool for authors. Some use it wisely, like the wise cracking Joe Abercrombie and Patrick Rothfuss; some don’t use it at all, like Greg Keyes or Scott Lynch; and then some use it poorly, like George R.R. Martin.

Here’s a tip, George, if you’re listening: if you’re years late on a book that people are slavering over don’t make constant posts about Football, don’t make posts about little beautifully painted figurines, don’t make posts about politics. Now, I’m not qualified to judge how hard you’re working (probably very, you seem like a busy man), and I don’t begrudge you being a Football fan (Hockey fan here!), or your other hobbies, nor to I think they should be put aside in the face of writing. But, and there’s always a but, every one of those posts just reaffirms fans fears that you’re just not working hard enough on your novel. Blog lots, but make sure that each and every one of those posts ensures fans that A Dance with Dragons is on track to be the best damn novel you’ve ever written.

Martin could use his blog better, certainly, but fans need to remember that being able to associate with their favourite author so easily is a concept that didn’t even exist three or four years ago. On the other hand, authors need to remember that blogs are a double edge sword – an incredibly powerful marketing tool (see Joe Abercrombie, whose success can be attributed to his strong, charismatic presence on the web), but they also open the door to fans, lifting back the curtain a bit and you’d better be ready to reveal what’s behind there.

Kay expands on this:

These days, writers invite personal involvement and intensity from their readers. In direct proportion to the way in which they share their personalities (or for-consumption personalities), their everyday lives, their football teams and word counts, their partners and children and cats, it encourages in readers a sense of personal connection and access, and thus an entitlement to comment, complain, recommend cat food, feel betrayed, shriek invective, issue demands: “George, lose weight, dammit!”

Disturbing as this is, in some ways, I find it difficult to come down hard on readers of a writer who has steadily made himself or herself “available” to them. A feeling of being part of an inner circle, or even the writing process, has to flow from that.

The most interesting quote comes near the end:

Writers are on shaky ground if they want to be upset by readers feeling angry and posting their anger when authors are widely inviting that sense of pseudo-intimacy and intensity – and sometimes even employing their reader base as a weapon. “Release the fans!” seems to be the phrase that applies.

Putting anything out there, anything, leaves it open to interpretation and criticism by fans. Unfortunately, not all of those ‘fans’ fall into the ‘supportive’ category and that’s going to bleed into a lot of angry comments. If an author wants to blog, they need to be very aware that what they publish is out there to be consume by anybody, critic or supporter alike.

So, should young writers stay out of the blogging biz? Some will, but in general, I don’t think it is going to happen. The process is addictive, it offers lots of warm-and-fuzzy, and it is embedded by now in the culture. There is an expectation that writers will be available.

There’s another aspect. Imagine a young novelist querying his or her publisher’s marketing director: “So, what are the marketing plans for my book? What’s the, well, campaign going to focus on?” That marketing director (or junior publicist, more likely) is going to laugh. They are eventually going to recover from laughing and say, “Are you kidding me? With today’s budgets? Go blog! Get out there and blog yourself to flog your book!”

And they will.

The heart of Kay’s article touches again on the double-edge nature of blogs and the power they hold over an authors marketing campaign and public perception. It’s a powerful tool, but just like anything of power, it must be wielded with full understanding of the consequences.

I’ve only touched on a bit of Kay’s article, and he goes much deeper into the debate and it is certainly worth reading. The whole article can be read HERE. I also wrote a similar article early in the life of A Dribble of Ink which can be found HERE.

  • David March 12, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    I came across Kay’s article yesterday, and I also find it very insightful. I agree with what you say here (and in your earlier article “An Author’s Best Friend”). It seems to me, though, that the “consequences” of writers having blogs and so on are still in flux, and a “full understanding” of them may not yet be possible.

  • Seth March 13, 2009 at 9:44 am

    I agree that this is a new dynamic and that both readers and authors are experiencing some “growing pains” as we grow accustomed to it. Mostly I stand in support of Martin on this one, and do feel that readers need to be a little more understanding. Still, I can see how Martin’s constant blogging about football and other tangents can lead to the perception, whether accurate or not, that he’s not working as hard as he should be.

    As Kay points out, this is ultimately a marketing issue, and there are no clear or easy “right” answers in that realm.