If you're an author toiling away on your next opus, how would you feel about coming to a screeching halt to field a question like this:
"I'm on Chapter 6 of 'Stuff Happens' and am confused about what you just said about stuff. I know you published the book back in 2007 but I wondered if you could explain to me what you meant?"
Most authors have been dutifully tending their blogs, their Facebook page(s), LinkedIn profiles and Twitter feeds. Maybe they've even dived into Google+ where they can participate in different social circles without having to leave their comfortable chairs (a writer's dream). It's simply what's expected of authors these days - both by their publishers and their readers.
But the launch of Amazon's new Kindle social media feature @author (now in beta) might just be the straw that breaks the author's back.
With @author, readers can ask questions directly from their Kindles while they are reading a book, and the questions get sent to authors' Twitter accounts as well as to their author pages at Amazon for all to see. Anyone who has purchased items from Amazon.com can reply to an existing question or ask a new one, and all visitors to Amazon.com can read any current question or response.
With digital reading devices it was only a matter of time that a truly social element would be introduced into the reading experience. And it's no surprise that Amazon would lead the way, with its vested interest in growing the community aspect of reading (loyalty, recommendations, more sales of books and more tethers to the Kindle, just as the company is getting ready to release its new full-color Kindle tablet).
Writers who've been dying to interact with their audiences-if only the publisher would get out of the way and if only they could find that audience-should be thrilled at having Amazon connect them so directly to their readers. Right?
At first, it probably will be thrilling to have current readers reaching out to you. They're reading my book! They like it! They want to discuss it! Of course, I'll answer your questions.
But then the social pressure will mount. The questions just stay there, hanging out on my Amazon page for all to read. Hmmm, everyone's seeing how mystified other people are by the doppelgänger motif.
Then the time pressure will escalate. Gad, another tweet from a reader! I was just about to crack that tricky plot twist. Maybe the community will answer her question for me. I'd better go check and see what the community answered. Oh, damn, they got it wrong. Have to write my own answer.
Then the inevitable irritation with your beloved readers. All these questions-it sounds just like my editor! Why don't they just sit back and read the book? It's meant to be an immersive journey. Take the journey. The answers are all there if you would just keep reading.
The majority of authors probably won't have to deal with any of this. How many people are reading their books anyway (and then feeling moved to reach out to the author)? The writers who need to worry most, of course, are the successful ones. Authors with a following. Authors whose readers crave two-way interaction with their literary heroes. Authors who have annual deadlines for delivering books and no spare time.
So, yes, authors' jobs have just become a little less solitary and a little harder.
The first @author post I saw to author Susan Orlean asked her, "How do you keep your momentum going after you've come up with an idea for a story or profile?" The devil in me had her replying, "Certainly not by spending time answering questions like these!" But I'm sure she'll be much nicer than that. At least for now.