By Antonia Senior
Reluctantly, moodily and finally enthusiastically; I have embraced my inner tweeter. I once dismissed Twitter as a collection of inane ravings. It is that; but it is also the place of a wondrous new balance between reader and writer. There is magic amid the dross.
Consider the problem facing reader and writer in this new digital age: finding each other. Bookshops are on the retreat, review space in newspapers is squeezed and dominated by established writers and non-fiction. The algorithms on e-book retailers do the opposite of an old-fashioned browse: they force you into narrower niches. Just because I bought one Tudor mystery does not mean I only want to buy Tudor mysteries.
To break free of the algorithms you have to know what you are looking for; but the joy of being a voracious reader is not knowing what you want until it slaps you round the chops with a fabulous hook or an exquisite phrase.
The answer, at least for now, lies in social media. The sci-fi fans are there already, talking to each other and to the writers they like. They buzz in the ether, collectively sharing the dream of a story which won’t let you sleep.
Other genres are slowly but surely building their hashtags. Book bloggers are becoming hugely influential. My debut novel Treason’s Daughter received a lovely review from the book blog, http://forwinternights.wordpress.com/. The blogger tweeted as she was reading; this led to a very strange sensation of following someone reading my work in real time.
This was my first experience of the strange shift in balance between reader and writer. I am used to reader feedback – my time as a journalist coincided with the rise of the web, and reader comments under articles. You need a thick skin to read the mad, the angry and the contemptuous comments which appear beneath comment pieces. A vehemently pro-choice comment I once wrote produced some breath-taking vitriol, for example; although not quite as vicious as the time I accidentally implied that sci-fi was a non-literary guilty pleasure. Sorry, guys. Really.
But the writer of fiction is more vulnerable, in some ways. I don’t have a newspaper masthead to cower behind. It’s just me and my story, venturing out into a harsh world, looking for – and fearing - your opinion.
What tone do I strike, out there in cyber-space? I want to flog my book, but not irritate people. I want readers to like it, and to be kind to it – but I can’t ask for kindness. As the blogger tweeted each night about her experience of reading Treason’s Daughter that day, I wanted to thank her for reading, but worried that I would look desperate. So I watched her tweets, imagined her curled up with my book, and dreamt up wry but self-deprecating replies which I never sent.
When she posted her review, the other new facet of this hanging world became clearer. Blog reviews can be more personal, more visceral – and thus more powerful for those of us who are passionate readers. I review on my blog antoniasenior.com and for The Times. In The Times, I might say: “A powerful compelling read.” On my blog, I might say. “I was up until midnight, falling in love with this book again and again.”
Now, as I wait for Treason’s Daughter to gather readers, I hope that someone, somewhere, is being kept up at night by it. And that they will tweet me to let me know.