Tag Archives: Polly Samson

An open letter to Iain (M) Banks: please give Twitter a try

Dear Iain,

We met this evening at your talk to the Birmingham Science Fiction Group, part of their 40th birthday celebrations. While you were signing my copy of ‘The Spheres’, the limited edition booklet they’ve produced, of your short stories, I asked why you’re not (yet) on Twitter. You said, and I have to paraphrase, that “it’s just like work — I do text entry for a living” and that you “don’t want to be too easily contactable; to be connected all the time” as you like to go walking in the woods.

Well, with the greatest of respect, you’re wrong. Using Twitter is not writing, in the sense of your day-job. It’s more like talking, in that your comments can be instantaneous, requiring no planning or copy-editing, and there’s no plot development or characters to invent. It’s something you do on the fly, in (virtual) company, not to a deadline and locked in a garret. Think of it as being like sending an SMS text message to lots of people at once.

Twitter is all about conversations. And it will let you carry on those conversations as much or as little as you want to, and as often and whenever you want to. There will be no intrusion because you will be in complete control. You can turn off e-mail and mobile phone notifications, and block people who annoy you.

It’s quite clear that you absolutely love talking to your readers. You spent more time on the question and answer part of this evening, than you did giving your talk. You hardly stopped smiling. For each question, your answer was filled with tangential anecdotes and asides. You even ran over time. And the same thing happened on the previous occasion when I saw you speak, as your alter-ego Iain Banks.

John Jarrold‘s article about you in the Novacon 40 programme says you are “garrulous and fast of thought”, “interested in everything” and “love chatting”.

And all that means you’d really, really enjoy Twitter.

Plenty of other authors use Twitter, effectively, and seem to enjoy it. They include Neil Gaiman, Stephen Moffat, Polly Samson, Ben Goldacre, Cory Doctorow and many more. Oh, and me. None of them — apart from me — has anything to prove any more, nor needs to work hard at selling their wares, so they must find some other benefit in tweeting. They all have a mutually-beneficial relationship with their readers, but are not enslaved by them. I’m sure at least one of those is in your address book, so why not call them up, or drop them a line, and ask them what they think?

I make my living by helping people make the best use of online communications, so I’ll make you an offer: I’ll give you an hour or two of my time, on Skype or the phone (or in person the next time you’re in Birmingham), and help you get Twitter set up and running. I’ll find you some good software to use (because Twitter’s own website is pants). I’ll explain the culture (no, not that culture!) of tweeting, and I’ll suggest some accounts to follow, which I think will interest you. You needn’t pay me. If you don’t like it after, say a month or six weeks (I’ll wager that’s not going to be the case), you can say goodbye and kill the account, and tell everyone to mock me. If you do like it, you can mention me in your next book (a credit, or name a character after me). Or you can commission me to do the same job for a charity of your choice.

Why don’t you give it a go?