Writing in the Digital Age: Connecting with Readers: The Stephen King Problem

This post, by Kelly McClymer, originally appeared on the Book View Cafe blog on 2/10/12.

I’ve been a writer for a long time. In high school, I was co-editor of our newspaper, but even before that I wrote plays for my sisters and me to perform. I’ve been an avid reader for even longer (does it bother anyone else that the Verso survey defines avid readers as reading 10 books a year…a YEAR?…I used to read 10 books a week when I was a kid). I love readers because they are my first tribe, outside of the immediate family (which did not include a lot of avid readers, to be honest). Readers are my peeps. I like to hang with them in the book hood…okay, that’s sounds creepy and wrong, but if you are an avid reader, you know what I mean. Libraries rule, bookstores smell like Heaven, and bookshelves hold the nectar of the gods.

As any writer knows, however, when you begin to be published, your relationship to readers changes. It is similar to when someone begins to sell Tupperware or Avon or Mary Kay and her friends start warding off sales attempts with fake smiles and glazed eyes. Readers learn to be wary of the writer’s pitch. I tried to get around this by never making a pitch. But it doesn’t work. Readers know that all writers are neurotic about their work. A casual, “Not my favorite,” by a reader translates in a writer’s brain to “I hate her and and her books and will immediately commence a write-in campaign to destroy her chance to ever sell a book again.”

A decade ago, writers did not cross paths with readers on a regular basis. The reader-writer connection was made through a library talk, a book signing, a class at a university or adult ed program. The readers self-selected to attend those events, and thus tended to be in the group we call fans. You know, people who like a certain writer’s style, genre, and back cover headshot. Avid readers, in other words. You could go to the grocery store and be fairly sure that your checkout clerk had no idea that you’d just spent two hours murdering someone in Chapter 2. Unless you were Stephen King (he is a beloved and well-recognized figure in Maine).

When my husband was interviewed for his job, one of the tours of the area included a trip to see King’s home. He has an interesting fence around his beautiful Victorian paper baron home. And he is (still) the most famous resident of the area — one that is rife with writers I may add. Can’t swing a stick without hitting a writer around here. But King had a problem, even back 25 years ago, when we moved to the area. People knew him by sight. Most, of course, said nice things to him (he and his wife Tabitha — she is also a writer — have been very generous to the local communities, especially the libraries). But his avid readers? They offered their opinions on his latest work. As you may imagine, those opinions were not always complimentary. Some may even have been termed complaints (why did you kill her? do you hate dogs? what do you have against vampires? etc.).

 

Read the rest of the post on the Book View Cafe blog.

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