When one of the first internet review sites started, The Romance Reader, it was a revelation to me. I never before had a central source that I could go to, for free, to get buy suggestions. The Romance Reader was followed by All About Romance. I think that AAR changed part of the romance landscape by allowing reader interaction. Reader interaction was closely followed by author interaction.
With the rise of romance readership presence on the internet came the author website which can be invaluable to the reader. There were email addresses for authors so that we readers could instantly contact them and say how much we loved their work. (and I guess, hate their work). There were message groups, mailing lists, online newsletters. The authors began to interact with readers and fans in a way they never could before. Up until a couple of years ago, I belonged to several yahoo groups with authors. I participated in chats hosted at their website or at places like Writerspace. The increased internet coverage, however, had a downside.
With the individual reader blog came the ability of anybody with the inclination (like us) to talk incessantly about an author in the negative. Stories of bad behavior refuse to die. Readers pledged vocally and perhaps, not so vocally, to refuse to buy certain authors. Personal details become fodder for mocking fans and bloggers (think LKH) or angering fans (Suzanne Brockmann’s in praise of gay men book). Author’s comments are parsed and reparsed. Motives are dissected. There is the reader backlash: How dare you question price, motive, or even plot.
I ran into a problem when I participated heavily with authors through chats and message boards. Those authors I followed closely and interacted with often began to have a distinct voices to the extent that I could not separate their voice with the characters in the book. The characters all started sound exactly like the author which ruined my ability to suspend my disbelief. It was either stop interacting with the authors or stop reading their books. I choose to unsubscribe from listservs and message boards.
I love author websites. I love blogs. While I was still participating in listservs and message boards, I loved the authorial interaction. And part of me can’t resist when an author does put her foot in her mouth as the fall out is like a bad accident. But I do remember those authors whose behavior has been questionable when I am at the bookstore.
For some of my long time romance reading friends, romance novels are not engaging them like they used to. Is it because of the ability to talk about the books in great detail leads to disinterest? To dissect them until they are nothing but nouns, verbs and adjectives? In the end, is all this interaction, this false intimacy created by the internet a good thing for either readers or authors? Is it bringing us together or driving us apart? Is the romance community better for it or do we suffer romance reader burn out sooner?