Mystery or Opportunity?

Earlier this evening, a couple of my Tweeps (yeah, I like using that word, even though I swore I would never become a twit myself) tweeted and retweeted comments on the topic of authors and social media.  The basic conversation had to do with whether or not participating in websites like Twitter and/or Facebook ruined an author’s mystique or helped keep contact with fans and readers.  I couldn’t condense my response into 140 characters, so I’m having a go in a slightly longer format.

I think the answer is “yes.”

Yes, it does diminish an author’s “mystique,” at least to the extent the word means the mystery associated with Writer-As-Archetype, the wizard who stays behind the curtain so nobody knows that masterful Oz is a balding gnome in curl-toed shoes.  A famous author (my memory is that it’s Anne McCaffrey, but my memory is about as reliable as the Titanic 2 hours post-iceberg, so be warned) tells a story about dining in a restaurant and having the server treat her just like everyone else until the bill came, at which point she handed over a credit card and the server’s eyes just about fell out when she recognized the name.  In telling the story, the author reflects on the fact that we, the people behind the words, have the luxury of invisibility when we want it – at least most of the time.

But that world is changing, and despite the success of thrillers and mysteries in the bookstore, the more familiar author may find more success in the new(ish) digital world.

Before the Internet put everything at everyone’s fingertips and social networking brought us all into each other’s living rooms on a nightly basis (ignore the socks in the corner), authors lived in relative obscurity.  But now that everyone is only a click away, blogs and social networking give authors the option to enter the public square much more visibly than before.

Should we take it?  I think so – at least when talking to those who have the time and ability to do it regularly.

To the extent blogs and social media sites enable us to connect with the people who enjoy our work, a little lost mystique probably does us all good.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked with people in my “other profession” (which remains nameless here) who can’t believe I answer my own phone and email.  They appreciate the fact that they can get hold of me when they want to, and that I take the time to interact with them rather than just treating them like another notch on the ol’ professional belt.  Writing is no different.

Connecting with people doesn’t just given them the chance to know you, either – it gives you the opportunity to gain feedback (not just in the form of praise) from the people who buy and read the words you put on the page.  Inspiration and improvement come from not shutting eyes and ears to the world around you – including the world inside the screen.

If the choice is mystique vs. opportunity, I’ll take opportunity every time that doesn’t involve a stalker.

So welcome to my living room. But be warned: I’m still not picking up my socks.