This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.
Shoppers looking to pick up Meg Wolitzer's latest novel, "The Position," on Amazon.com last week found the usual readers' comments and excerpts from reviews. They also found something unexpected: posts on the subject of literature from Wolitzer herself.
The entries were part of a new program called Amazon Connect, begun late last month to enhance the connections between writers and their fans and to sell more books with author blogs and extended personal profile pages on the company's online bookstore site.
So far, Amazon has recruited a group of about a dozen authors, including novelists, writers of child care manuals and experts on subjects as diverse as real estate investing, science, fishing and the lyrics of the Grateful Dead.
"The program gives people who are interested in a particular author a way to get new insights into them, and gives the authors a way to develop more of a one-on-one relationship with readers," said Jani Strand, a spokeswoman for Amazon.
The authors write on "anything they'd like their readers to know about them," Strand said, including what inspired their books and details about their experiences. Authors are free to update their blogs as often or as little as they like, and a linked profile page has information about other books, reading recommendations, personal information and, in some cases, e-mail addresses.
Wolitzer, in an interview, said she welcomed the blog as an opportunity to address readers more often than she usually might that is, every two or three years, when a new book comes out. "Anything that can get fiction on people's radar is good," she said.
Amazon is one of the many players in the publishing business trying to find ways to increase the visibility of authors at a time when book sales are flat and other forms of entertainment are commanding ever-greater portions of the public's wallet. Most publishers have extensive author information on their Web sites, and a number of authors maintain their own sites, some quite elaborate.
HarperCollins recently started a speakers bureau, and Random House announced an agreement with a lecture agency to promote public appearances by its authors. Barnes & Noble operates an online book club that enables authors to discuss their works and to answer questions from readers online.
The authors blogging on Amazon vary widely in their approaches. In the days before Christmas, Mike Jeffress, a religious author and senior minister at Providence Road Church in Chesapeake, Virginia, used his Amazon blog both to raise an alarm about the persecution of Evangelical Christians and to offer shopping tips.
"It must be that at the root of the current war against Christmas is spiritual warfare in which Satan and his demons are seeking to gain control of the most powerful free nation in the world in order to persecute Jesus Christ and his followers," Jeffress wrote. "All the more reason why I believe my latest book, 'The Prayer of Jehoshaphat for America: The Power of Repentance in a Time of Crisis,' would make a great Christmas gift this year."
Aimee Friedman, an author of teenage "chick lit," was sparer in her first posting, which basically says, "Stay tuned."
The Amazon blogs are, at least for now, intended as one-way communication, with writers talking to readers. But some authors have already found a way around that: Anita Diamant, the author of "The Last Days of Dogtown" and other novels, guides readers from her Amazon blog to her own Web site, where they can write to her directly.
Other authors post their e-mail addresses on their profile pages.
David Dodd, the author of "The Complete Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics," used his Amazon blog to respond to comments from a reader who, in an online review of the book, raised questions about its completeness. The book includes 170 songs written by and for the Dead and 14 other songs of major importance to the band's performances over the years, but not all of the more than 400 songs in the band's repertory.
And Pete Hautman, who won the National Book Award for young people's literature in 2004 for "Godless," blogged about the vagaries of reader response after some people commented online that his more recent novel, "Invisible," was a dark and disturbing tragedy.
"But when I wrote 'Invisible' I thought it was hilarious," he wrote. "All this just goes to show that an author never knows how his or her literary works will be received or perceived."
Carolyn Reidy, president of the adult publishing group at Simon & Schuster, which has already signed up at least 10 authors for Amazon Connect, said that when Amazon approached her company this year with the idea of author blogs, she quickly embraced it.
"It enables the author to have a conversation with readers on an ongoing basis, easily and in an ongoing place," she said. "We hope that somebody who reads one of an author's books will go back and discover one of the rest."
She noted that much of the information about Simon & Schuster authors on the Amazon blogs is offered on the publisher's Web site as well. But, she said, "We know consumers are not necessarily going to the publishers' sites."
Wolitzer said she still felt somewhat uncertain as a blogger. "I come from a sort of butter churn and scrimshaw background," she said. "I feel ironic even using the word blog as a verb."
Nevertheless, she said, she intends to write about writing in a way similar to how she often talks to friends about the subject. "I think so much about writing books," she said, "so if I just put something like that down, I think it will be a good thing."
(C) 2005 International Herald Tribune. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved