Writers Who Click


Chris artRecently the Times ran an amusing article on people who remain disinterested in IT, pointing out that 4.8m people in the UK are Neo-Luddites, with no smart phone or access to the internet. Not a very large proportion, and certainly lower than in the US, where 14% of the population doesn’t go online. But as Rosie Millard points out, if you say ‘net’ to her sisters you get the reply ‘curtains’. Her 86 year-old mother says her husband is the designated internet user in their household. ‘While he’s alive I’m all right.’

There’s a gender disparity, with fewer male users. And an age disparity, of course, with above fifties less likely to engage, despite the ubiquity of ‘silver surfers’. I asked my friend Maggie how she constantly crashes her tech and found out she unplugs everything at night, never updating apps. Plus, she treats texts like letters, thinking nothing of writing five pages of text in a stream-of-consciousness outpouring.

But isn’t it just a matter of time and access before everyone signs up? No, because those who won’t follow the pack are unpersuadable and have made a conscious choice not to join the now-not-so-new revolution. What’s more, we’ve started deciding just how much tech we want in our homes. My front door, heating, TV, computer and music are all controlled online. I can let in a delivery from the other side of the world via my phone, but do I need a fridge that tells me when food if past its sell-by date? Hell no.

Writers often have longevity in their careers, so there’s a surprisingly large percentage of non-users. ‘I suppose you’re one of these people who do The Twitter,’ said one elderly lady novelist, looking at me disparagingly and making it sound like a 1920s dance. But while she may be right – no writer needs to be distracted by photos of meals, cats and people falling off skateboards – she misses out in her career advancement.

Increasingly, we run our own publicity campaigns, to the point that have made traditional publicists redundant. The only advantage PR agents (and travel agents) have is time. It takes many working hours to source and book tours or holidays, and each hour we lose is an hour where we could have been writing.

There’s also a taboo subject publishers don’t like readers to know; because the internet is image-heavy, the better-looking authors are promoted, and those who know their way around a blog tour have a distinct advantage over those who don’t. In Hollywood writers are known to employ younger, more attractive avatars to take their meetings.

I don’t get to physically tour like I used to because now blog tours are organised online. But most publishers still don’t fully grasp the nettle when it comes to tech, and only just manage a few tweets when they’re publicising authors. Because reading is a passive and private pastime, it’s perfectly suited got a better wedding with technology. I work for several publishing houses, some of whom I think of as analogue, others who are digitally-oriented. Those with in-depth tech knowledge know how to work their writers much harder.

What readers don’t want, it seems clear now, is any form of interactivity in reading. Various friends have written interactive multiple-ending books that have failed, and video games make lousy film adaptations, because in writing, plot and character remain crucially important. The answer is to embrace tech cautiously, but don’t frighten anyone with drastic moves.


11 comments on “Writers Who Click”

  1. Matt says:

    I held out quite a long time before joining the millions of other users of the internet. I have only had my own connection 4 years. I went online because I found everyone else had better prices for renewals on all sorts of insurance. Then there were the prices of everyday physical objects that were also lower, it made financial sense to sign up.

    I am still only a home user though and don’t have a ‘Smart’ phone or other hand held device to make connections everywhere outside the home. I am happy to stay that way. I too feel the level of tech I want is down to me and I won’t be dictated to about stepping up the ladder to home automation from elsewhere in the world.

    I am very cautious about inviting tech into my life.

  2. Andrew says:

    Good article. Howver, I don’t know what I would do without my phone.

  3. Peter Dixon says:

    I think we’re going to discover that a lot of ‘social marketing’ is total hype and wishful thinking.
    The fact that you have 20,000 followers doesn’t mean that they are all purchasers. I recall a cartoon of four people standing at a funeral and one saying “I’m surprised at the low turnout, he had 5000 Facebook friends”.
    There isn’t an advertising agency or marketing company in the world that can predict with any accuracy a result on money spent and the same goes for social media – its just that you do the work yourself and get excited that you get a response.
    People can tweet me until they run out of budgie seed but it wouldn’t make me rush 100 miles to watch their band in the back room of a pub.
    By the way, lots of people still have a black and white TV licence.

  4. Helen Martin says:

    I resisted on line access because there were a lot of tales about viruses and other damage you could suffer. Since joining the internet (here is the advocacy bit) I’ve learned a great deal, been insulted a few times, and connected with groups like the frequenters of this site. The network that supported my phone told me they weren’t going to do that any more so would I please send them mine. I did and received back a nice new non-foldable phone which I use, as the previous one, to make phone calls. No texting, no searching, nada. I don’t have a reading device but I bought an Ipad before we went to Europe the last time. My husband said I didn’t need it, then every day he checked the news from home, checked for hotel rooms and restaurants and museum opening times and fees. Perhaps I didn’t, but it seems he did. I haven’t powered it up for a while but a group I meet with all have smart phones and questions do not sit unanswered as they used to so I think I’ll take it next time.
    It’s a slow process for some of us and it isn’t age determinated, either.

  5. Vivienne says:

    It becomes quite necessary, if you are to live a life where you are not just camping in a field or something. My father, who died two years ago at 95, was contemplating getting a computer as he was finding it difficult otherwise to book his holidays in exotic parts. I have an iPad but keep my Old Nokia phone – the one they’ve just reissued as a joke.

    I don’t think I will ever be drawn into Twitter, but…. if that became the only means of communication – no postcards or real mail – then of course.

    As for interactivity, I think most people feel it’s the author’s job to round things off. Or you are left with Poirot saying,Well so did it? Bought many Ian Livingstone game books for my son, though, as he found it almost impossible to make choices, and to progress at all in those books, you had to choose something, so we thought it might help him generally.

  6. Helen Martin says:

    Choose your own adventure, Vivienne? I kept dieing whenever I tried one. I could die within the second choice, or even first if I was feeling reckless.

    Totally off topic. I was just looking at the blog files for 2014 and found some lovely conversations I’d forgotten about. (the whole discussion about It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, and the “Big W” for example) We’ve had a lot of fun here.

  7. Peter Tromans says:

    The adoption of technology is a big subject that goes back a long time, well before anyone dreamt of IT or the internet or, more precisely here, the web. The Luddites were just over two centuries ago. Much of ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ was concerned with it, though the book was probably written with pencil and paper. Reading that was supposed to change your life. I don’t believe it changed mine, but IT has certainly changed it since then. Three years after ‘Zen and …’ was published, my mother typed my dissertation on an old typewriter. My supervisor said it didn’t seem long enough, so she had to re-type it all with more space. I wrote in the equations by hand and made the graphs and drawings with pen and ink. Within a year or so, word processing became available and, within 20, almost anyone who wanted it had easy access to a PC, word processing software and the internet. My thesis has now come full circle: recently, I had my thesis digitised and made into pdf and word files that were sent to me by the internet.

    Even Chris’s ‘analogue publishers’ expect an electronic file with content that will never have to suffer being processed* by either a typist or compositor.

    *processed = destroyed, ‘improved’, and generally treated to an ‘I thought that he meant … ‘. I used to have a brilliant technical editor and her response to a draughtsman, who ‘thought’, was ‘leave thinking to the people with the necessary equipment.’

  8. chazza says:

    What is the difference between an ipad, tablet and smart phone? I really need to know!

  9. Helen Martin says:

    Chazza, if I’m not incorrect (as I often am) the difference is mostly size. An Ipad is about the area of a hard covered book and a tablet is about half that. Both are self contained with built in keyboard and web access – a portable computer. A smart phone was originally just a phone, but once texting was added so people could leave messages the way was opened for numerous apps, icons that enabled many of the functions of a real computer, maps, location, web search, and so on. Open to correction from our IT people.

  10. Steveb says:

    An ipad is a kind of tablet
    You’ve basically got phone/tablet/laptop/desktop as the main device categories

  11. chazza says:

    Thank you Helen and Steveb for the information. Too exhausting and my eyesight is fading… To misquote Villiers de l ‘Isle Adam, “As for living, our servants can do that for us”.

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