When I was a kid my favourite authors were distant entities, the idea of talking to them or even meeting them didn’t even cross my mind. I don’t remember one author visit to my school or even seeing them on TV very much.
The one time I saw something close to an interview was a Blue Peter special featuring Roald Dahl in his writing hut (I’ve written a little about how much the idea of writing huts affected me previously).
However, a children’s author is a very different creature now. The chances of talking to a favourite author are increased massively by social media. Along with this grows a sense of accessibility that simply didn’t exist when I was a kid.
J K Rowling is commonly in the news for her twitter activities (my favourite being her twitter-inspired spontaneous trip to a library on Orkney). It’s easy to see that the next few years are set to see changes to the way authors behave and the way the public feels about them.
Another huge change is the increase in the respectability of self-published authors. We don’t call it ‘vanity publishing’ any more (or at least less people use the term). ‘The Martian’, ‘Legally Blonde’, and the children’s/teen fantasy book ‘Eragon’ all started life as self-published works. Overall, people seem more willing to try out books published in non-traditional ways.
So what does this mean for the next five years? From my own experience, I have to admit that interacting with readers has an undeniable effect on my writing. We’re not talking ‘choose your own adventure’ but there’s certainly a level of reader influence that I hadn’t expected when I started writing. If this is the same for other authors I think we’re likely to see books change significantly over the next few years.
If we combine this with authors who blog (as many of us do) this could develop into serial-style writing becoming a more common approach to getting a story out. We could see books shaped in (almost) real time by the responses of readers. This might take the form of pandering, as authors draw attention to characters with more of a following. However, it could just as easily go the other way, as authors take a slightly sadistic delight in drawing out plot lines, leaving questions achingly unanswered in ways that would put the writers of ‘Lost’ to shame. (George R. R. Martin anyone?)
Add to this equation a touch of fan fiction and we might even see the emergence of a completely new form of fictional world. If authors decide to nominate some fan-fiction writers as ‘cannon’ writers, then the in-universe exploits could grow exponentially; further blurring the lines between traditional books and role-play.
To be honest author ego would probably get in the way of this becoming a reality but it’s easy to see how this could transform things for writers and readers alike.
Rather than having to wait a year for the next book, we could have a new in-universe book to read every week. Children’s fiction has been doing this for years with ghost writers. One of the most obvious examples being the ‘Beast Quest’ series of books. However, even these struggle to release more than one a month.
As an avid reader (and someone who tends to get absolutely hooked on certain fictional worlds, ehem…geek!) I have to say that the prospect of getting access to weekly books is like a dream come true.
Writing styles would no doubt differ but if it’s put together well this might not be too much of a problem. Imagine subscribing to a weekly Harry Potter book and you get a rough idea of what we could see.
Alongside all of this, traditional publishing will no doubt continue along on it’s merry way. However, the prospect of regular updates will have a marked effect on the way avid readers will interact with books.
I’ll predict that in the next five years (for readers at least) we’ll see less TV consumption (it’s becoming more disappointing every year any way) and more readers turning to regular updates in their favourite universe.
What do you think? Is the world of reading about to change for good? Is social media and self-publishing poised to provide a literary revolution? or am I being too optimistic?
As always, responses are welcome in the comments below. Thanks for reading, all the best, John