I was feeding the digi-turtles on my iGoogle page the other day when I noted in my daily literary quotations one in which English author Daphne du Maurier states, “Writers should be read, but neither seen nor heard.”

Yikers. Were that the case, my babies would’ve had a few less new pairs of shoes over the last couple years. For it was while listening to Dan Brown speak years ago that I came to the conclusion which inspired me to write about books/novelists: Authors are rock stars whom don’t just want to, but need to be heard. 


When I suggest authors need to be heard, I mean the field of competition for book sales is fierce and publishers’ promotion dollars are limited. So writers take to whatever online stage will have them: blog, live/board chat, twitter, facebook, etc.  This form of cyber-hand selling may not be as effective as massive paid-media blitzes, and it’s ridiculously time consuming. But some of the approaches are paying off bit by bit for many by helping build brand and buzz, especially for new authors.


The fly in the i-ointment is that authors should have something to communicate during their online appearances. And that’s where we get to the “rock stars who want to be heard” portion of my observation.  Because simply knowing how to write a novel that speaks to an audience doesn’t mean one knows how to, well, speak to an audience.  And an aching need to relate the book in one’s heart often is welcomed by an online community more easily than a writer’s burning need to share what’s on her mind about any given topic. 

We readers want to get closer to, and talk books with, our favorite authors; in romance, it’s definitely the way loyalties are developed and books are sold over time. But once an author begins discussing issues at large outside of writing, her genre and book fun facts, things can get pretty boring or wicked ugly in no time for a novelist who hasn’t identified the differences between writing a book and composing a blog post or in real-time comments, tweets, etc.

And there are minefields to traverse. What if folks begin to discuss a book online in ways the author thinks are unfavorable or might perceive as detrimental to sales? Many believe a novel is an author’s voice, and when the piece is presented, she’s been heard. So the decision to take part in these discussions becomes a sticky wicket for authors trying to decide whether they have a place in such a discussion.

The larger question du Maurier’s statement raises would appear to be, “Who cares what authors think?” I can tell you a lot of folks concern themselves with much of what authors think, simply because they see authors – especially those presented online in pop-culture venues -- as celebrities.  Yet more care, as is apt, because they celebrate writers as accomplished, creative individuals worthy of note.


I’m pretty sure du Maurier knew she was being ironical when she wrote her opinion above, knowing clearly it would be heard. So I don't think she's suggesting writers having no valuable ideas to offer humanity.  Rather, I believe she's giving advice for success many of we scribes share regularly, especially apropos in this era of myriad time-sucking, social-media distractions: Shut up and write.


What do you think du Maurier meant?  How much – and about what – do you want to hear from authors?  As an author, what do you want readers to know about you, your opinions, your books, etc. – and how much time do you spend sharing?

by Moderator dhaupt on ‎01-19-2010 05:10 PM

Thank you Michelle, you made my head hurt thinking this one through. But then we are talking about the writer of Hitchcock's The Birds a very feisty lady in her own right.

And your question is a double edged sword both for the readers and the authors. I don't know how authors live through reviews and critics and just Jane Doe on the street talking about their baby, their novel that they gave years of their life and 3 quarts of their blood to. And then on the readers side what do you say to the author you're talking to that you idolize or worse that you can't stand their last work.

Personally I never criticize an author on a forum that they are visiting. If I didn't like a book I won't go to the forum, because I feel that my not liking the book is simply one opinion against the rest of the world.

When I review a book I didn't like, I try to do it with finesse and never derogatory, I don't want the author to feel bad or get on the defensive, if it's editing I don't hold back. In fact I just read a book to judge in a big contest and the editing was the worst I ever saw, I would have been embarrassed to have been the author.

And I know that there are authors who won't do forums because of author-bashing so called experts. 

If you don't like the book don't recommend it and don't pass it on, but you don't have to be mean spirited about it.



by evanbando on ‎01-20-2010 04:52 PM

Since Daphne Du Maurier lived and died before the internet her quote can be forgiven for not knowing how much the game has changed. She did however live through most of the 20th century and was very familiar, and sometimes intimate, with writers and publishers of the era, the details of which did not come out until after her death. She liked to keep a secret. At the same time, post-WWII writers were prone to theatrics and self-promotion, if not through Youtube, then by punching someone in the nose. So, I would think she was, at least in part, referring to them. More generally, I would think she meant that an author's work should speak for itself.


Presently, most readings are the literary equivalent of love-ins for the author, and Deb Haupt astutely points out why above. Unfortunately, it makes for a very boring, unilluminating event. No writer should be shielded from an honest and courteous criticism, in writing or in person. In that way, the novel, an intensely solitary, personal endeavor becomes collaborative, if not during the process, then in the discourse that follows. There's nothing wrong with that. it's what all artwork is subject to.


What would I want someone to know about a book I've written? Nothing that's not on the pages before them. On the other hand, I would want to know very much what the reader has to say about it, good or bad, flattering or otherwise. As a reader, I just want to know how recent the author's pr picture is.

by Blogger Michelle_Buonfiglio on ‎01-20-2010 06:10 PM

Hi, Deb:  The thing that fascinated me about this quote is that du Maurier, as evanbando notes, didn't live in the thick of the digital age.  Yet on its face it relates to the author w/in the cult of celebrity we nurture online.  You go right to the heart of the decorum piece of the issue: how do folks present info online, whether author or reader/community member.  We all know the stories of authors commenting/tweeting/posting stuff they later try to peel down. Alas, UGComments, like diamonds, are forever.


Yet the other piece of this discussion is the very real desire for humans who love books to want to make connections with the folks who write them, and, hence, why authors present posts/interviews/etc. about topics othr than their books/genre.  I think readers want to hear from authors for two reasons. First, we respect the talent, and want to either get close to it, or find out how it works.  And second, we're attracted to folks who appreciate the stuff we appreciate, and want to be around them.

So why should an author talk about stuff other than their books? When an author's in front of an audience online, the way to sell books isn't to sell books.  Sure, we can use the old, stuffy model of 'reading and discussion,' which is fine and even works w/genre fiction.  But hook your audience by connecting with them as humans -- show them how you put your Vickie's Secrets on one strap at a time like they do -- and you've made a loyal cyber friend and, possibly, consumer. Books are sold when an author communicates primarily about topics her audience relates to, and secondarily hawks her wares.


If you think this doesn't work in the world of "legitimate' fiction, you've never been to a reading, lecture or event featuring a big-name scribe, and seen attendees worship, or get crushes on an author -- or watched folks try to become his/her new best friends. Heck, you can see authors do the same to their fave authors. Those folks are just as hungry for the personal stuff. That's why authors are rock stars; we've figured out that even the high-falutinest of authors gotta at least do Oprah.  If she'll have them.



by Blogger Michelle_Buonfiglio on ‎01-20-2010 07:14 PM

I'm laughing, evanbando, at your last comment. We live and die by the air brush, my friend. : )  When I read du Maurier's quote, I thought of the Dixie Chicks, of how some folks expected them not to be anything more than entertainers, and told them to "Shut Up and Sing."  Then I tossed the quote around, thinking it  was as you say, that the work stands for itself.  Yet take that further, and one might see that artists themselves can take away other artists voices in that demand.  Can it be true that a human who creates art can't be allowed to have anything else to say worth hearing?  Spend time w/artists/creatives and you understand how easy subtle/not so subtle ways are found to silence others' voices


I'm not sure I agree that there's such a thing as a post-creative collaborative process. I'd simply call it criticism, whether in its true literary form, or any of the more loosely structured types found online.  Collaborative implies the invitation by the writer/artist to take part in the creative process. i believe the artist owns the work start to finish, that her decisions are the right ones for her start/finish. We may have a lot to say about what we think would make it better/different.  But the process ended when she wrote 'the end.' We're simply the consumer/viewers and our two cents are worth that much -- plus the entertainment it gives us to jingle them around.


I agree with you wholeheartedly that it's great to find the right interactive places online.  Authors should visit venues in which the community responds to writers in a way that makes them comfortable.  And readers can do the same and look for communities that don't make them drink the 'you're my favoritest author ever' kool aid if it makes their gorges rise. 



by evanbando on ‎01-20-2010 08:04 PM

Hi, Michelle, yes, her (the writer's) decisions are the right ones - she wrote the book after all. And as you then say: the process ended when she wrote "the end." But only the writing process has ended. What comes next is out of her hands no matter how 24/7 she thinks she is to answer all interpretations and commentary. And if she is lucky enough to stand the test of time, then, "the novel," her novel will in fact be collaborated on over and over again as to its meaning and significance, often times, (almost always, really), very different than the original intent or spark of inspiration. It's not a matter of the writer being wrong about anything or the reader being right about anything. There is the work and there is the life of the work thereafter. Readers have much more than two cents to offer. As I said, all artwork is subject to this scrutiny and there is a consequence of that scrutiny. Novels, perhaps, especially so.

by Moderator becke_davis on ‎01-21-2010 11:50 AM

Authors are my rock stars! I have no interest in the Oscars or Emmys or any of that stuff. Going to book conferences, though? My palms sweat and I start to hyperventilate when I see so many of my favorite authors, all in the same place. 


Who cares what authors think? I DO!

by Author BearMountainBooks-Maria on ‎01-22-2010 06:08 PM

It would be great if writers could just write and not "be heard" unless they felt like making personal appearances, blog appearances and so on.  But the reality is that the world is a big place...and authors and their books can too easily be lost in the sea of "other" things to read  and "other" things to do...



by on ‎01-24-2010 04:31 AM

Authors are my rock stars! I have no interest in the Oscars or Emmys or any of that stuff. Going to book conferences, though? My palms sweat and I start to hyperventilate when I see so many of my favorite authors, all in the same place. 


Who cares what authors think? I DO!


Oh I'm definitely with you there. There are few actors I'd like to share a drink with. But many authors I'd need to close the bar down with. You get to know the way they think ya know and it's always nice to figure out that your idea of them was right.


by Blogger Michelle_Buonfiglio on ‎01-26-2010 08:01 AM

Hi, BearMountainBooks! Nice to see you here again.  You know, I totally hear what you say, and I think I understand exactly wht you mean.  You aren't saying you don't care what authors think as people. Rather, you're saying it'd be really nice if all books could get the attn they deserve and authors didn't have to do a dog/pony show to get their books seen/recognized. 


I've seen you do just that, becke.  


hi, TiggerBear!  omg, I could just see you and becke at a conference together, hanging out in one of the restaurants or lounges waiting to pounce on unsuspecting authors.  "I'm your biggest fan," says becke!. "No, I'm your biggest fan," cries TiggerBear! 

by Blogger Michelle_Buonfiglio on ‎01-26-2010 08:01 AM

Thanks, evanbando. That's really well said.

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