One article I've just read on The Futurist website is called The 21st Century Writer. It talks about all the usual stuff, but instead of predicting writers will become extinct, it makes a few interesting suggestions. One is about what readers want now:
the key to book publishing in the future is recognizing that readers are after more than information. They’re seeking an intellectual connection with an author and a community experience organized around an idea. Publishers have to look at what is still scarce, says Rushkoff. “While the book isn’t scarce, I’m scarce. I can only be in so many places. So there are a lot of different experiences that attend the book that [readers] should be participating in, to think about the book as a way to promote a set of ideas. How to work with those ideas is limited.” Those attendant experiences can include lectures, classes, even parties. The more personal the experience, the more people are willing to pay for it.This got me thinking about writers' festivals - most of which are really readers' festivals - and the reasons why people go to them. I think what Rushkoff says is right. Readers want to see their favourite authors, hear what they have to say, and listen to new ideas. Many times I have heard disappointed audience members talk about writers who gave boring, academic papers instead of relating directly to the audience and being more open and engaging. Reading a paper puts you behind a podium, at a distance. Some readers are interested in the story behind the story, some just want to see the author talk about their books and writing. But again, an author who talks only about their latest book, like a walking advertisement, is disliked intensely.
Authors also make the mistake of assuming the audience have all read their books. I will often go to a session with an author who I may never heard of, but who sounds interesting. If all they do is spruik their latest offering, it's really boring. I don't know what they are referring to! But if they talk about the ideas in the book, or the research, or about their work as a writer generally, the interest and engagement level rises. They are sharing something I can't get from the book.
I attended a session at the crime writing festival last weekend, one with Michael Robotham and Peter Temple. Because this really was a festival that seemed to focus more on writing, both of them talked at length about their processes. That included things like how being a journalist led to or influenced their fiction writing, and how they learned to write dialogue, among other fascinating topics. I was happy to get a book signed by MR afterwards (and permission to use one of his openings in my workshops next week) and came home even more intrigued to see how the rest of the book I was reading of his turned out.
As the Futurist article also says, an author can only be in one place at a time. That kind of festival experience is limited to how many days there are in a year! But it may be that video podcasts, interactive websites and short films will help to broaden the experience of "invoking the author" and exploring ideas. I'm signed up for a couple of Virtual School Visits in early September, and I am looking forward to seeing how it all works.