GUEST BLOG Jonathan Strouds Networking Epiphany

Bartimaeus author Jonathan Stroud has seen the light when it comes to social networking

When I started reading fantasy/SF back in the mists of time (cue long white beard scrolling down from my chin) everything I knew about the authors of the books I loved came from whatever the publisher chose to plonk in the blurb. This information was often somewhat random. I knew, for instance, that Jack Vance liked blue-water fishing and early jazz. Did this have any relevance to my enjoyment of The Dying Earth ? No. But in general – aside from birthdates, nationalities and lists of major works – the lives of these writers remained utterly opaque. And frankly, this wasn’t a problem. Their books were the thing and you got to know them through their voice.

These days nothing’s changed, and everything’s changed. The books are still the thing, or ought to be, but there’s now a broad and spreading electronic hinterland where authors and their readers meet, interact, and exchange opinion on every topic under the sun. Before waltzing out to take part myself, I was sceptical of the value of this. Why? Mainly because I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time.

Let’s face it, an author’s life is not blindingly exciting. 90% of it boils down to sitting in a scruffy room, scratching your armpits and gazing at a computer screen or piece of paper with an unappetising, slightly vacant expression on your face. You may be writing a bona fide masterpiece, but your day-to-day existence is not hugely tweet-worthy. And I still don’t think that many people are going to be thrilled to learn what I had for dinner last night, or my opinions on Kate’s dress.

Yet I’ve quickly realised that neither Facebook nor Twitter is really about endless micro-blogging. It’s about having a conversation, about sharing a bit of joy. And as with all good conversations, information flows both ways. For my part I can chat about the Bartimaeus books, discuss my characters or reveal the way new projects are developing. In turn, my readers can tell me what they think too, casually and without fuss – which (provided you retain a certain necessary detachment), is interesting and useful for any author to hear. Best of all, I get nice surprises, like the tweet from my Indonesian editor, which gave me (and everyone I retweeted it to) a sneak preview of their fantastic art for Heroes of the Valley . Or the time I saw the cracking Hungarian cover of Buried Fire posted up on Facebook – which slightly startled me, as it was an edition I hadn’t previously known existed.

I guess the main danger about all this is that writers can get too easily distracted from the thing which is the point of the whole exercise – the books themselves. On a drowsy afternoon, there’s nothing easier than to abandon a knotty plot problem and find your hand straying towards the iPhone, just to see if anyone’s been in touch. (If not, you can happily spend five minutes describing your inertia in 140 characters or less.) But this is a minor peril. We live in a world where authors and fans are closer than ever before, and knowledge, enthusiasm and insight is instantaneously shared. What’s not to like about that?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve a tweet to write.

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