The Crime Readers' Association

Susan Wilkins -Do you mind?

10th October 2014

I read about new technology in the newspapers, I try to keep up. I have a phone that is so smart I have no real idea of what it can do. I have a car that talks. In the last couple of months I’ve dipped my toe into the bottomless ocean of social media and people ‘follow’ me from across the globe.

I don’t want to be a Luddite – my guess is you have to be a certain age and have had quite an old-fashioned education to even known what one of those is.

As a writer I do want to connect with my readers and indeed other writers. Publishers are convinced that social media sells books. So here I am, getting out there, sniffing the electronic ether.

There are folks trying to flog things, there’s more news than you’ll ever want to hear, there’s gossip, there are trolls – though I haven’t encountered one yet. And at first the randomness of it all baffled me. Networks of connection shooting in all directions – but to what end?

It’s just how we communicate – that’s what my kids told me. Fair enough. But I feel as if I’m wandering down the aisle of an endless train as it hurtles forward and I pick up snippets of the passengers’ conversations along the way.

Still that can be an intriguing pastime and gradually I find I’m beginning to enjoy it.

Recently in my endless finger-numbing scrolling I came across a quote – tweeters like a good quote – and I just had to retweet it. (Thanks to Bruce Rubenstein @rubensteinbooks)

“Literature is strewn with the wreckage of those who have minded beyond reason the opinion of others.” Virginia Woolf.

This struck me as very apposite. Here we all are, out there in cyberspace, gathering followers, connecting, madly favoriting in the hope someone will return the compliment.

Opinions are the currency we trade in this modern marketplace. Now everyone has an opinion. Everyone is a book reviewer, just as everyone is a photojournalist. Whip out your phone and video the disaster as it happens then stick it on the net.

This summer I visited Monk’s House, the Woolfs’ former home in Sussex. It’s not much more than a small village house, with a lovely English cottage garden, all kept in impeccable order by the National Trust.

Woolf worked in a very ordinary room, but she had her connections. She belonged to a small circle, who wrote and published and reviewed one another’s work – the world of English letters as it used to be. These were the people whose opinions she had to contend with and presumably who she had in mind when she came up with that quote.

What would she have made of twitter? Would the democracy, the populism of it all, have simply overwhelmed her?

People who’ve read your book or who’ve just skimmed your book, people who don’t want to upset your publisher or who want to support you because you’re self-published like them, those who get hassled into a review by Amazon, they’ve all got an opinion.

And you want those reviews and stars, you need those recommendations. In an overcrowded market we’re all desperate to get noticed.

But what do you feel? All these judgements – do you mind? Is it too easy to get obsessed with the noise of the net? Do we need Woolf’s warning? Or is it all just a game to be played and enjoyed, a welcome distraction from the blank screen and that next book that you really should be writing?

Read more about Susan on her CRA Profile 

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