Franzen: writers 'coerced' into social media

Jonathan Franzen has told BBC Radio 4 that writers are being 'coerced' into using social media in an attempt to get a book deal.

The novelist, who won the National Book Award for his 2001 novel The Corrections (Fourth Estate), appeared on Radio 4's "Today" programme this morning (3rd October) to promote his non-fiction book on Austrian satirist Karl Kraus, The Kraus Project (Fourth Estate).

Speaking about changing technology and the rise of social media, Franzen said: "What I find particularly alarming, again, from the point of view I care about, American fiction, is that it's a coercive development. Agents will now tell young writers: 'I won't even look at your manuscript if you don't have 250 followers on Twitter'. I see people who ought to be spending their time developing their craft and people who used to be able to make their living as freelance writers. I see them making nothing, and I see them feeling absolutely coerced into this constant self-promotion."

He also said the changes in technology were damaging the book industry, saying that the impact could be seen directly: "You see the demolition of the independent book business, and really the demolition of the brick and mortar book business by Amazon."

This is not the first time Franzen has criticised new technologies. Speaking at an event at Tulane University in 2012, Franzen said Twitter was "unspeakably irritating", and "the ultimate irresponsible medium". He has also criticised e-books, calling them "not permanent enough". The writer has claimed he denies himself internet access when writing his own books, saying: "It's doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction."

Last month, Franzen wrote an essay for the Guardian about Kraus, and attacked Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, saying: "In my own little corner of the world, which is to say American fiction, Jeff Bezos of Amazon may not be the antichrist, but he surely looks like one of the four horsemen. Amazon wants a world in which books are either self-published or published by Amazon itself, with readers dependent on Amazon reviews in choosing books, and with authors responsible for their own promotion."