Once upon a time, a writer would look very much like this. One person, paper, a typewriter (or even just pen and paper) and what they created together. And once upon a time, a reader was like this. One book and a whole world open before her.
No electronic devices. The reader wouldn't follow the writer on Twitter or Facebook, their blog or Amazon pages. The writer would not check their Amazon rating hourly nor pay a reviews to churn out rave reviews or, God forbid, invent various internet personae to rubbish their rivals and big up their own books.
The internet is a wonderful invention but it is open to abuse in the same way a motor car is a convenient way to travel but in the wrong hands it can be a lethal weapon. Call me old-fashioned but don't you wish writers just wrote and readers just read?
Or am I being naive? Many writers, such as the infamous Stephen Leather would think so. He readily and unashamedly admits to creating multiple internet identities to create a 'buzz' about his work. And just in case he thinks I am about to conduct a hate campaign against him (For which he will say is only because I'm jealous) may I assure you that nothing is further to the truth. I wouldn't mind selling loads of books but I know I'm not a good enough writer.) And having recently downloaded and read a 98p short story that had been the subject of furious comments on its Amazon page both for and against...just to see what the fuss was about, I was appalled by its mediocrity and would be ashamed to have written it and laid it before the public. I have noticed that it has since been taken down from Amazon and that the story is no longer available to download. Whether this was by Amazon or Mr Leather himself, I have no idea. But it's no loss to writing.
I am well-aware that publicity and market campaigns have assisted book sales long before the internet was a twinkle in someone's eye and that bad books have always sold unfairly well and good books have often fallen by the wayside. Some editors and agents are brilliant, others not so. But to me, a good book is nothing more than a close connection created between the writer and the reader because of its contents, whether that is an exciting or ground-breaking theme, plot or character or the quality of the words on the page. If I enjoy a book, it's great that others agree with me, but I don't care if most don't. After all, I listen to Radio 3 and wouldn't dream of tuning in to Radio 1 but couldn't care less that I am in a minority.
Today all writers are encouraged to create an internet platform and love everybody. Twitter. Facebook. Blog or Webpage? All of them. If you can't find a publisher to take you on? Who cares? You can go it alone with e-books. Write what you want and how you want. Create your own buzz however which way you like. Sell thousands of downloads, make lots of money...offer it for free or for peanuts because this pennies soon add up if you have thousands of people paying pence. Why should people have to spend pounds on books when they can buy them at rock-bottom prices. Writing is only words and anyone can do it, right?
Please stop me before I burst something delicate...
I've been here before. And go you know what? I am tired of it all. It's like having to listen to someone shouting all the time. It gives me a headache. I now only believe in what I hear from a real person who is prepared to explain quietly why they like or dislike a book or an author. I loathe this mob mentality that is creeping in with writers happily jumping on the bandwagon where they hide behind masks to hurl abuse and generally behave like morons. Who cares? Everyone's doing it.
I know I have my blog and use it to express my opinions and I occasionally pop into the Twitter-sphere and enjoy chatting to like-minded people. But I would never use it to increase my internet platform or to say anything I wouldn't say in public and would never ever post anonymously or built up multiple personae.
To me, it should always be about the writing. I believe in a meritocracy. I believe that on the whole and over time, cream does rise to the top and if my writing doesn't win loads of prizes or gains mega-book deals, guess what? I know I need to write better, not increase the hype, off-load any old thing because I can and at least 'get it out there'. After all, most people couldn't give two hoots about decent prose or limpid imagery but why should I play to the lowest common denominator?
Does an author have to have an internet presence? I think not. A website or blog is fine. Create a Facebook page or a Twitter account if it appeals to you but to feel you have to because otherwise you're not taking your work seriously is utterly ridiculous. There are plenty of fabulous writers who never woo the public either with signing sessions or appearances at festivals, never give interviews and as for chirruping away on-line, perish the thought. Dickens might have done so but can you imagine Emily Bronte or Virginia Woolf? I know. I know. We live in the twenty-first century. But, you know something? The more I'm told I must do something - be there or be square, as they used to say - the more I dig my heels in and refuse.