Professional Distance and Protecting the Reader Experience

I think one of the things I’ve tried to express (often unwell) is that blogs, twitter, facebook, goodreads, etc. have started to cause problems for the author/reader relationship. Before the Internet, there was distance. I think probably on both sides (authors and readers) we didn’t realize the value of that distance until we stopped having it.

Ideally I should read a book and have my own private experience with that book. If I want to talk to some friends about it, that’s totally normal. But traditionally the author and the reader have stayed in their separate corners. (Aside from things like fan mail, but you know what I’m saying… I hope.) Books are magic. Nothing kills magic faster than TMI.

Unfortunately… most authors do NOT get special training in this. We do trial and error until we figure it out. Some authors are able to maintain a sort of social closeness with their readers with no problem because they are never controversial or highly opinionated. (Though how that is possible for a writer, I have no idea. We write because we feel COMPELLED to write. There are some pretty strong emotions fueling that IMO.) It’s not natural for me to not have strong opinions. So, in truth, I’d rather keep a professional distance than be inauthentic. It’s also too much energy to be inauthentic but too much drama and cost to be authentic. At least with strangers on the Internet. Friends both IRL and online are a different matter.

For a long time I’ve largely avoided following anybody whose fiction I read mainly because I want to be able to read and enjoy their fiction untainted by their personal views about anything. I come to them for a story. I don’t care about their politics or their religion or their hobbies or any opinion they have about anything really. I know that sounds mean but I don’t mean it that way. (And by the same token, probably no reader of my fiction cares about my thoughts/views on any of that.)

Our culture has a fascination with celebrity and TMI. So we break down all these sane barriers and instead of just wanting a book, we want a book and to know what our favorite author’s favorite color is. Even while holding this opinion I’ve still been the author who overshares. I don’t know why.

Now I feel like it’s my responsibility to protect the reader experience by not ranting and raving about every subject under the sun because I want a reader to be able to read my work untainted by something they may disagree with me on that has nothing to do with my fiction. Or… who may not like my “tone”. Personality clashes are real. Why should it harm someone’s experience of fiction?

I’ve always been better about this on my other pen name. It’s easier to start out with the right habits or break bad habits early on than it is to live in a pattern for several years and then try to break it. Nevertheless I HAVE succeeded for over a year at not running around to other people’s blogs and commenting/getting into debates. I do lurk on a lot of blogs, but I never comment anymore. If I can do that, I can do this. I think it’s important, because at the end of the day it doesn’t matter if you agree or disagree with my opinions on anything. What matters is the fiction. I want you to be able to read it without ambivalence because one time I stepped on a hot button topic of yours.

I feel I owe the reader a good story, but I also owe the reader the space to be able to read that story without extra crap layered on top of the experience. In the past I believed that if I didn’t “go to them” and bother them in their own spaces that that was enough. But we all have natural curiosity, so people are going to come to my blog or my twitter or my facebook. When they do, it’s still my job to not do anything to interfere with their experience of story.

Zoe Winters is a business and a brand. It’s not “me”. Projecting too much of me into it can only be bad for everyone.

This is a reprint from The Weblog of Zoe Winters.