A musing about what future literary historians, biographers and researchers might rely upon to study the authors of today. 9 July 2017

Today, authors are leaving behind a digital imprint whether they think they are or not. They already have an online presence due to the ubiquity of the internet in everyday life. As an example, rather than penning letters, the timesaving and immediacy of emails is appealing e.g. no need to visit a post office for a stamp or a post box to post a letter, no wait time for a letter to be delivered or a reply received. Further, hand-written diaries are no longer kept in preference to recording events on social media.


However, emails leave no trace long term. Instead, an author’s webpage and blog are two of the few places online where an author can control information and how it is presented, and therefore provide a resource to historians, biographers and researchers. On a website those interested can find information about an author’s books, about events and tour dates, a contact place for enquiries, an author’s literary tastes and links to other social media accounts such as Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and Instagram. From a blog, can be gleaned such things as an author’s news or other author’s good news and interviews or experiences as a published or soon-to-be-published author providing insights about publishing for the less experienced or as a diary/journal or an analysis of the literary world and world of publishing on topics for which they have a passion.


And this raises the question - what do writers’ social media pages say about who they are? 


Some websites become static and stale over time and some authors start a blog enthusiastically but either abandon the blog or don’t blog often (mea culpa). I wish I had a dollar for every time an author has told me they don’t really want to keep up with the administrative stuff that goes with being a writer, including updating their webpage, blogging, Twitter and Goodreads. It doesn’t come naturally for some authors to be so left-brained tech-savvy and disciplined with what they perceive as administration. Authors do want “to write” instead – the Pareto principle applies. (Named after the economist Pareto, this principle describes the unequal relationship between inputs (20%) and outputs (80%) e.g. applied to the business of writing, an author will spend 20% on writing and 80% on administration).


We know what Google and others say:

-       Facebook establishes a timeline, allows connections and communications with friends, is a place to share thoughts, pictures, events and self-and-other promotions;

-       Twitter is a place to find out what’s happening in the world right now, to broadcast and have conversations;

-       Goodreads, a free website for book lovers, has an Author Program that allows the community to perceive the author as a public figure, and

-       Instagram is a social networking app made for sharing photos and videos from a smartphone.


This digital world is a courageous place to be, I think. It “brands” us and for an author it ought to reflect how she or he wants the world to perceive them (activities through words and pictures) and their thinking, belief system, feelings etc. Also, most telling, though not always obvious, are an author’s connections. Who a person connects to via social media can be easily traced and it is these connections together with what a person says on these platforms that will define who an author is and in turn what comments are made by historians, biographers and researchers.


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