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Instant communication

USA Today did a piece on authors using Twitter to communicate with their readers, something I have been doing for quite some time, and while the 140-character limit can be frustrating for someone who normally tells a story in about 100,000 words, Twitter has clearly done an effective job of bringing me into contact with readers and booksellers.

I dare say that I have even made friends through Twitter.

This got me thinking about what a different world it must be for someone like me, who is just starting his writing career, and a more established author like Richard Russo. Based on Russo’s comments at a reading I recently attended, I am certain he does not use Twitter or read or write a blog. He probably receives letters from readers and fans through the mail, and perhaps there is an email address for him somewhere. However, my search for one proved to be fruitless. Otherwise, he has no immediate or direct pipeline to his readers except through his appearances.

In contrast, I receive about two emails daily from readers who have accessed my blog and found my email address, and I am often contacted through Twitter or Facebook by readers who have questions about me or the book. Thanks to my participation on the internet, readers can contact me immediately and directly, and they often do.

Yesterday, for example, I received three emails from readers I have never met, an email from a magazine looking to do an interview, and two messages via Twitter (one from a reader and one from a bookseller). All had questions about the novel and words of congratulation for me about the book and its review in the Times, and all were hoping for relatively immediate responses.

And as I was responding to these readers, answering their questions and thanking them for their kind words, I wondered what an author like Russo might think of all this. How many emails or tweets might someone as famous and well-known as he receive if he had a more substantial online presence? Would he enjoy the immediate feedback that the internet can provide, or would he lament the days when he could focus solely on his books, absent the online chatter, while occasionally sorting through a stack of fan mail?

Would he consider all this proliferation of author-reader communication a waste of his time, or would he see it as a means of reaching out to the people who allow him to make a living by writing stories?

I often wonder about this myself.

Would my time be better served working on my book, or is the hour or so a day I spend communicating with readers worth it? Does it make a difference in terms of book sales? Do readers really appreciate the time spent writing back to them? Am I establishing a precedent that I might someday regret?

I’m not sure. But I’m no Richard Russo, either, so I think I’ll keep answering my reader’s questions, tweeting my thoughts, and blogging my opinions on topics like this. It takes some time to do so, but it’s not like it’s not fun.