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Anne Rice on being an Author in an Internet World

Anne Rice
Anne Rice
www.annerice.com

As much as I hate to admit it, I can remember a time before the Internet and social-media. A time when big publishing houses were a fledgling writer’s only hope of getting published and getting to know your audience meant tracking the demographics of those who bought your book.

Now, these amazing resources are practically taken for granted by a new generation that has grown up texting, posting, linking, blogging and tweeting.

But, being a writer who dreams of one day becoming a published author, I often wonder what kind of lasting affect this new online atmosphere has had on the world of publishing and the individual author.

And who better to ask than best-selling author of over 30 novels including The Vampire Chronicles, The Lives of the Mayfair Witches and The Wolf Gift Chronicles, Anne Rice.

With her latest book, Prince Lestat, scheduled for release October 28th, 2014, she has, personally, experienced both the pros and cons of everyday life as a published author in these Internet days.

Here with her thoughts and opinions on the fairly new phenomenon of being an author in the age of self-publishing, online reviewers and unprecedented contact with your own audience, Anne Rice.

1 - When Interview with the Vampire was first published the Internet was not yet heard of, what do you think is the biggest influence that the Internet and social media has had on authors?

Let me speak for myself. It ended my isolation. I've always loved my readers but usually saw them only at crowded signings, for a few seconds or minutes each, and otherwise lived in isolation. Even though I received phone calls and letters, there was not a whole lot of real communication. But when I went on line in 2004 or thereabouts, I discovered I could talk to my readers in a new and satisfying way. I could receive and write emails. And it was a stimulating and exciting experience. I enjoyed it and still enjoy it very much. Then came the days of FB and my emails died to a trickle, but the FB page opened up an entire new world to me. I absolutely love hearing from my readers every day --- their questions, their responses to my questions, their thoughts on my books, their comments on films and books and music we love. I've made lasting friendships as the result of the internet and enjoy daily interaction on FB. It's great. Being able to go on Amazon and read reviews is also helpful to me. I love it. But I don't recommend this for authors in general. With an author who has been writing for years, who has received thousands of reviews on Amazon, well, there is plenty there to learn from. There is an entire spectrum of response. I'd say my internet experience as an author has been 99% positive. And it has been a joy to see old out of print books kept alive and available through Amazon. I enjoy reviewing books on Amazon myself.

2 - How has it changed how established authors market their books?

I can't speak for other authors. I certainly enjoy talking about my books with my readers on Facebook. I really do. And I'm pleased to see NY publishers sending review copies to bloggers and internet reviewers, acknowledging their influence. Frankly, I think New York publishing has been rather slow at understanding or adapting to the internet. But we're talking now about my world, the world of establish and traditional publishing.

3 - Do you believe it has succeeded in bringing an author and their audience closer together or can being that open with ones readers create a backlash or resentment among some of them?

Certainly the internet has brought me closer to my audience, but then I love my audience. I always have. Some authors don't feel that way about their readers. I identify with my readers. For writers who are fearful of readers, the internet might prove upsetting to them. I've certainly never seen any backlash amongst my readers as the result of my openness and availability. Not at all. There is skepticism. To this day people come on my FB page and insist that I'm NOT the one posting there, or they send an angry email to me and then express shock that I actually read it, because they didn't believe I ever would. But no backlash. ---- I’d say the skepticism in the main problem. I'm probably one of the most accessible writers in the world. ------- I can't judge how all this works with other writers. Some certainly use the internet very effectively to market their books but are the random comments they receive helpful? You would have to ask them. Again, I've been writing for forty years. There is a huge body of reviews out there on my work. And the great thing about that is that when I read something discouraging there is almost always something else positive to balance it. But for beginning writers, writers who have received very few reviews, writers who are blocked by random comments and reviews, the internet might be a challenging experience.

4 - Do you believe, in some ways, it has greatly damaged the way people perceive authors or has, in fact, humanized people once exalted above normal folk?

That is a very good question. Certainly the internet has opened up authors to a lot of personal criticism, hostility and nastiness. There is no doubt about that. I think you can find utter contempt for authors online and sometimes you can't really avoid finding it. And it does seem to me that the contempt reserved for authors today in some quarters is wholly different from the criticism received by other creative people --- film directors, actors, dancers, musicians, etc. I'm still pondering the reason for this contempt and the rise of the anti-author gangster bully on Goodreads and Amazon. Perhaps because authors are accessible celebrities, or the accessible producers of creative material, we have somehow unwittingly invited this disdain and contempt on the part of some. Let's put it this way. There is a dark culture of author abuse online. The malice is sometimes breathtaking. It seems to involve readers of books who have discovered that preying on authors, lecturing them, bullying them, trying to destroy them is as much fun as reading ever was. It a new kind of dark and sinister fandom if you will --- being obsessed with an author you despise and posting incessantly about how awful he is etc. ---- Before the internet this just didn't exist. You might get very critical letters. But there was no framework --- like Amazon or Goodreads where these people could club together and organize and support one another in their abuse of authors. ----- So this is part of what writers today must face. The internet is lawless. Amazon really doesn't enforce its own guidelines on abusive attacks and gossip in its forums, so authors have to be aware of this dark vicious underbelly and avoid it. BUT...and this is a very important BUT: this dark side of things is small in comparison to all the wonderful positive things provided for authors by the internet. Yes, there are gangs of callous, vulgar bullies on Amazon, true. But the system itself is huge and every day thousands of authentic customers go on to share their thoughts generously about the books they read with others. I marvel at the care these people to take to offer negative and positive reviews based on their honest experience of a book. It's pretty terrific, really. The bullies are a real problem for the young authors, the indie authors, the vulnerable authors they target, yes. But they are a small part of the scheme of things. ------ I focus largely on the positive experience. I love reading reviews on Amazon when I'm shopping. I love posting reviews of books, including mine, on my FB page for comment. I love supporting reviewing in general. And I myself love reviewing on Amazon though I do focus entirely on what I recommend. ----- It’s always taken courage to be an author. We are the epitome of the romantic artist, whether we like that or not --- the person of sensibility who believes in the interior vision and the worth of sharing it. And this will always be offensive to some. "What makes you think you can be a writer!" You hear that in one form or another as you're growing up, as you're struggling through school, as you're making your first submissions to publishers, as you're sharing manuscripts with friends. . When online you hear it a whole lot. And unlike the dancer or the singer, you don't have a community or organization to defend you generally. You're on your own. Well, the anti-author bullies do see writers as offensive, suspect people ---- as bad people, undesirables, racketeers. They love to hurt authors because they feel they deserve it just for daring to be what they are and caring about what they do. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say this. I've had quite a long experience with these thugs and gangsters. They've lectured me ad nauseum on what authors should feel about their work, and how writers ought to behave I have found is astonishing actually --- the degree of power and expertise these bullies claim in dictating to me and others as to how we should approach our vocation, our life's work. ----- And I would like to say unequivocally, the world does NOT need these people or what they do. They aren't reviewers in the main. (And they certainly don't represent the honest decent reviewers both negative or positive who contribute well written and sincere reviews to Amazon and other sites every day.) They're people who want a place at the table in the book world, and they want power. But they have no real right to what they want. ------ Again, this is a small dark part of the landscape now for all writers. And all writers must learn to know where not to venture. But I also think that those of us who have been around for a while should stand up to these thugs on the part of those who cannot. Frankly, I love the world of internet reviewing. Again, I love the honest reviewers, both negative and positive, who take time to go online and share their experience with a book. I love it. I welcome it. And most of it is really terrific.

5 - Most major publishers have departments that strictly handle Internet marketing. Do you believe this has helped sales of books?

I'm not aware of my publisher having such a department. Maybe they do. I love my FB page and I handle it entirely myself. My website is my own baby as well. It's my general impression that New York publishing is behind on the power of the internet. But I must confess it was a publicist at my publisher who introduced me to Facebook. And for that I am eternally grateful. I love my publisher and always have. I've been there for forty years or thereabouts. If they are doing more work with the internet, that's great.

6 - We have heard the stories of self-published authors becoming hugely successful due to the Internet. Do you think a new author should still submit to big publishing houses or take their chances on the net?

It really depends on what you want. I'm in favor of authors doing what they feel they need to do to be who they want to be. If you value the old guard New York publishers, if it means something to you to be "accepted" by them, well, by all means submit your work, and keep submitting and never take a rejection as a failing grade. But if it hurts you to do this, if it blocks you, if you find you are liberated by indie publishing online, then take that route. And as it stands now, you can do both. You can publish online and keep submitting to New York. New York welcome successful indie published writers. Again, do what works for you creatively, what helps you to be the best author you can be on your terms. I do think we are really just at the beginning of the Indie author revolution. We will see more and more success stories, more and more great authors rise. Who knows what classics of tomorrow are being published right now online? It takes time to understand the revolutions that are going on right now. ----- Writing is such a wonderful field! Every few years somebody comes out of nowhere and makes it big. It's really marvelous how few rules there are and how wide open the frontier really is.

7 - Do you believe a great book can still be a success these days even if there were no Internet or social media?

Since we do have both the internet and social media, I'm not sure I understand the question. I do think great books become successes for a variety of reasons. Again, there are no rules. Did the internet help Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch become a great bestseller? I'm not sure it did. Donna received great reviews in conventional media. Her book caught. It's hung on the Best seller’s lists right up there with the thrillers and the detective novels. What did the internet have to do with this? ------- People are always looking for great books. We need to remind ourselves of this when the negative voices become too raucous. People really do want to find great reads, great literature, great entertainment. And they want to spread the word on what they find. They want to be blown away. They're actively looking. ------ There is no excuse for us writers not simply doing our very best every day. We have a world hoping for us to succeed. ------ The negative nasty voices of discouragement really don't ultimately matter. There are more books published today than ever before in history. There are more readers of all ages than ever before in history. This is a great time to be a writer, to be a reader ---- to be alive.