February 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

KidLitCon 2012: The Changing Relationship Between Reader and Writer

Alyssa Sheinmel, Adele Griffin, and other young adult authors came together September 29 at the sixth annual KidLitCon in New York City to discuss social media, the obligations authors have to their fans, and the challenges of interacting with an audience.

Held at the at the New York Public Library, the speakers on the “The Changing Relationship Between Reader and Writer” panel discussed how much of their personal lives they share with readers. Moderator Karen Halpenny, vice president of Children’s Media Association, a nonprofit organization dedicated to distributing quality media to kids and young adults, brought up author John Green’s relationship to his audience as an example of the problems that can arise from a strong online presence. Although Green is famous for his enthusiastic interaction with his readers, he includes a page on his Tumblr site in which he urges fans to observe appropriate behavior when contacting him—and asks them not to come to his house or locate his address.

Adele Griffin prefers to maintain a healthy distance from her fans. She talked about her respect for Newbery-winning author and National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Katherine Paterson, and her approach to meeting fans. While Griffin feels a strong connection with the beloved children’s book author and appreciates her books, she found Paterson much more reserved in person. Similarly, Griffin strives to establish a sense of intimacy with her readers through her written work rather than through real life encounters.

Sheinmel addressed how her fans perceive her, as well as her sense of obligation toward them. Because her upcoming novel, Stone Girl (Knopf, 2012), about a teenager coping with anorexia and bulimia, is based on personal experience, she feels a duty to handle body image issues responsibly when talking to readers. While the advanced reader copy of Stone Girl included a note detailing her own history with these disorders, Sheinmel ultimately decided to remove it, saying that she didn’t want it to affect the way fans viewed either her or her work.

Michael Northrop discussed interactions with adult fans. Because writers usually show a carefully crafted, optimal persona when communicating with fans online, he believes that some fans mistake these positive interactions for real friendship. However, he acknowledged that this response is simply part of being a writer with an online presence.

The authors also described the most effective ways of using social media to connect to fans. Gayle Forman devotes much time and energy into blogging, usually taking an entire day to compose a post. Though she finds blogging time-consuming, she prefers it to Twitter because she enjoys the opportunity to have longer, more drawn out conversations with her readers through the comments section.

While the writers feel that establishing an online identity can be challenging, they all remain committed to their fans.


For more coverage of KidLitCon 2012, please see our article on Critical Reviewing in the Age of Twitter.

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Mahnaz Dar About Mahnaz Dar

Mahnaz Dar (mdar@mediasourceinc.com) is Assistant Managing Editor for Library Journal and School Library Journal and can be found on Twitter @DibblyFresh.

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  1. Good piece. YA writers, in particular, have to think this through when establishing their on and offline personae. Teen readers, particularly those facing significant issues and who find comfort in YA books, often come to view authors as more than “the person who wrote this book”. They’re also “people who understand my problems” and “people who I connect with”.

    Those are powerful feelings, and ones that are both an honor and maybe something of a burden for authors to carry. One thing that we’ve suggested for YA authors — especially those who write “issues” books — is to develop a relationship with advocacy and support organizations relating to the issues addressed, and provide connection points to those groups on author websites and blogs. If, for example, a young fan contacts an author to discuss deeply personal issues, the author can kindly guide them to a contact at the nonprofit who can help.

    Thanks for letting us know about this discussion — it’s one that we need to keep having.

    Jon Bard
    Children’s Book Insider, the Newsletter for Children’s Writers