Sunday, 12 December 2010

Tweet Tweet

“Using Twitter is beneath the dignity of the published author.”

Ned Beauman’s provocative statement drew some laughs when he made it at an author event hosted by the Society of Young Publishers, but also a great deal of frustration. Agents complained that he was shooting himself in the foot by refusing to promote himself; no doubt publicists were irked by the author’s later qualification that promoting his books through this medium was acceptable, just as long as he didn’t have to be bothered by it while he was busy doing important, authorly things.

The other authors in attendance disagreed; David Whitehouse stated that he had been advised by his publisher to join Twitter, and could see why it was important, while Evie Wyld argued that Twitter provides an essential means of connection for authors hoping to get their names out. I wondered what the point of a Twitter feed entirely composed by some poor publicist might be, given that Twitter’s appeal is a genuine, real-time connection with other people, even if it does make you realise the famous can be as banal as anyone else.

Beauman’s point, of course, was that the extra obligations publishers often put authors under, which I explored earlier on this blog in “Meeting Your Heroes”, are a bad thing. I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with that. But the way in which he framed his argument betrayed contempt for the people who are working hard to promote his work, and for people who can’t afford such finer feelings as they try to share what they do.

I used to think talent was rare; now I’m not so sure. I know many brilliant people, but I don’t know when or even if their talents will ever be widely recognised. When I’ve just read a fantastic book, I like to tell people about it, and if it’s not a bestseller, people usually haven’t heard of it or of the author. There isn’t time to read all the books that deserve to be read, and that’s just the ones I know about. That’s one of the reasons I am so disappointed by books, because time spent reading one you don’t enjoy and get nothing out of means one less book that will change your life. There are many terrible books out too: anyone can create something. Fewer people can create something worth sharing, and fewer still manage to actually share it. I revised my opinion. Talent isn’t rare, but talent with the means or inclination to develop and promote itself probably is.

This is why I’m so fond of Shakespeare. Yes, he was exceptionally eloquent. Yes, he created some of the most memorable and moving characters in literature. Yes, he handles complex moral dilemmas with a subtlety that has given them power for centuries. But if nobody had seen his plays, that would have been beside the point; I would argue that his shrewd business sense is the most unsung aspect of his genius. Art and money are often imagined to exist in separate realms; mixing the two is deemed somehow unseemly. But writers live in the same world as everyone else; if they didn’t they wouldn’t have anything real to say to us. I bet Shakespeare would have tweeted.