Ellen Ullman, author of the new novel By Blood (one of our manager’s favorites of 2012 so far) was awesome enough to answer a few questions for us. If you missed the first part of our Q&A, about her book, you can read it here. Here’s the second part, which is more about technology and writing.

WORD: What do you think about the expectation that writers now need to be technologically involved, primarily on social media, in order to promote a book?

Ullman: Writers today have no choice but to be involved in social media. As my editor, Sean McDonald, said: Books are sold by word of mouth. And the web is the new word of mouth.

I particularly enjoy the blog-site Q&As like yours. It gives writers a chance to discuss their works and those by writers they admire. The blogs are usually read by people interested in books, so there isn’t this need to reach 200 million “friends.” In short: appearing on blogs is the new book tour.

Facebook is another matter altogether.  I don’t mean to criticize it as a social phenomenon so much as a piece of software. Facebook keeps piling on “features” without integrating well new parts with old. The interface is clunky. Users should be able to search and manipulate their own entries, and those of their friends, in much more extensive ways. The film “Social Network” portrayed the programmers as geniuses creating intricate new algorithms, but I don’t see much evidence of that. Finding overlaps in “friends” is a matching algorithm, pretty well defined before Facebook got there; it requires a lot of brute force (resources like storage and memory), but that exists aplenty these days. The same for the “like” effect: it’s a propagation algorithm, again requiring more brute force than genius.

WORD: Recently we’ve been hearing more about authors creating apps around their books, or even creating separate work specifically for the app platform. Does that appeal to you at all?

Ullman: Here I cannot go. First of all, I can’t imagine what sort of app would be a good partner for By Blood. Find the birth mother? Take the creepy narrator test?

My aversion to something like apps has mostly to do with revisiting your own material. At one point, a director was interested in optioning my previous novel, The Bug, and he asked me if I wanted to write the script. I have some background in video, and I noodled around with it.  I came up with what I thought would be good images for opening credits. But when I got to the story and the characters and the dialog, I groaned. I had spent years working on the book; I couldn’t see myself reworking it; I wanted to move on to something new.

I really loved By Blood. And I also read Close To The Machine before sending these questions and loved it too. Ellen Ullman is one of my new favorites, for sure.


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