I’ve been thinking a lot about Harper Lee these days. With news that her newly discovered book, Go Set a Watchmen, is suddenly about to be published, it had me thinking about how social media has changed the experience of readers connecting with authors.
Harper Lee’s story has been a fascinating one for me. There is a part of me that longs for the time in which she wrote, where time seemed to stand still while a book was written, where people seemed to wait more patiently for a soon-to-be published book, nurturing the author to develop the best book possible.
Things are fast today. Perhaps too much. So fast that books are planned and marketed even before they are written. As a writer I wonder what my life would be like if an editor would spend time pouring over my pieces, years and years’ worth of pondering on word choice and story arcs that would make a book become an instant classic.
But that’s when I stop myself. Because for all the nostalgia that the writer’s days of old seems to hold, there is value in today’s world as well. It is a different time. Our books mean different things. I believe that we’re all on this individual path with writing, not just within our own words but in the words of our entire generation.
Harper Lee’s book changed our world and made us look at justice and racism a different way. We discuss her words with each other and there is value in that, but she herself is far away. The daily closeness of social media and blog writing that gives us a more intimate look at our writers is a benefit of today’s writing world.
We don’t have the editors or publishers who will give us weeks and months and years to work with us on manuscripts. We are given tips and advice and must go back alone and rework our words in our own time. We can use beta readers and critique groups, of course, but the main responsibility falls on us in a way it didn’t with the writers that were coming up a generation ago.
Our books will not perhaps have the same singular impact that Lee’s book has had, but we will discover that our own writing destinies have a meaning all their own.
There is value in the closeness of readers and writers today. Of people who tell you what a book meant to you by a tweet, an email, a comment on a blog post. There is value in the casual closeness we have with writers and readers. In having our books reach, not millions, but the exact people they were meant to reach.
There is value in growing a platform step by step, conversation by conversation… we’re able to hear instantly what people think, how our work touched them, or what didn’t resonate with them. This helps us find the right readers, the people meant to read our work. It helps us remain grounded, with a pulse on what our readers want and what they detest.
We are no longer looked at perhaps as hallowed writers, untouchable and mysterious, but as creative people doing creative jobs. The allure and mystery that writers once had has faded but that’s okay. In fact, it’s more than okay.
Harper Lee had a place in history with her book and we have one with our writing. No one can sit in the exact same chair in the theater of history, but we all have a place.
While publishing has changed so has our ability to connect with readers. And perhaps that’s the way it was meant all along.