The world of the writer has always been one of great inequalities: for every hundred slaving waiters who write furtively by night, there’s a best-selling author commanding seven figure advances on his or her next great work. With the advent of e-readers there was a flurry of panic that the digital age would threaten the written word, but recently it seems the excitement and fervour for writing has returned with some blockbuster books causing as much of a stir as multi-million dollar movies. The world of the writer continues to hold the same sense of romanticism and potential opportunity it always has – and even more, perhaps, with digital literary content growing exponentially. Certainly, mobile devices have changed the way we engage with the written word. Yet, in many ways the digital age has revolutionised the process of reading – and creating literature – as much as did the advent of the printing press.
The result of the fusion of online and offline reading is that writers are becoming less reclusive burrowers and more influential public figures, carrying on a dialogue with their readers. Many writers have healthy public speaking careers running in tandem with their careers in writing, maximising sales and profitability of their work. Indeed even academics, once generally considered the most inaccessible and – dare we say it – dullest of writers are now entering this sphere, with history heavyweights filming documentaries for the likes of the BBC to coincide with a book release. Book sales themselves may have become less profitable but, as such, writers are being pushed to be more creative and interactive. The digitalisation of literature has also made the world of authors more democratic – a novel need no longer endure the seemingly endless bureaucracy of the publishing house before it becomes accessible to the public. The infamous ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, now a worldwide phenomenon, was self-published online – likely too controversial to make it out of the pile on the editors’ desks.
Our top 5 list is an interesting look at the most renowned and influential writers of our time, the writers who’ve endured the literary turn of the tide and have defined an era. Their subject matter covers both fiction and non-fiction and their sales figures enter the million each. What’s more, each of those wordsmiths on the list knows how to expand their message and influence beyond the page and well into the real world. Blogging, public speaking, shorter form writing as well as a strong social media presence ensures that each author remains current, even if they don’t have a new book in the pipeline. Twitter gives fans a chance to see a broader and even more playful side to their favourite authors, even to chat with them directly, creating an intimacy that would never have been possible before. These days, Twitter has become a way of measuring a celebrity’s reach and popularity and – indeed – their influence. There’s more to life than Twitter, of course, and so while we give a nod to those who balance the power of the hashtag with their literary missions – we’ve arranged the five authors by popularity on Twitter – we should note that these aren’t necessarily the 5 most-followed authors on the social networking site. Rather, these are 5 of today’s authors who have had, arguably, the most significant impact on the literary and cultural landscape of their generation.
5. Malcolm Gladwell: 196,909 Followers
Canadian journalist and author Malcolm Gladwell is arguably out of place as the lowest ranked member of our list because – while his Twitter following might pale in comparison to the others on our list – his numerous books and articles have in many ways paved the way for non-fiction writing today. Gladwell began his career at the Washington Post, covering topics as diverse as health, business and technology but his big break came when he was hired as a staff writer for the New Yorker magazine in 1996. What followed for the author was a leap from long-form journalism- with a distinctive, playful style of discourse – to an author with a cult following. From his first book, ‘The Tipping Point’, to his recent publication, ‘David and Goliath’, every one of Gladwell’s books has hit The New York Times’ bestsellers list. His latest book – currently ranked number two in the non-fiction category- has been on the best-seller list since its release in October 2013. Gladwell has forged a second successful – and lucrative – career as a public speaker, lecturing at just about every high-flying conference from TED to the New Yorker magazine’s own annual festival. His speeches, on everything from underdogs to spaghetti sauce, have seen him become something of a viral phenomenon. With an estimated net worth of around $30 million, not to mention the $40,000 he gets for speaking engagements, it’s fair to say Gladwell is a highly sought after left-wing journalist. Which may beg the question, why so few followers on Twitter? Proportionally, his 196,000 followers are huge; Gladwell has tweeted only 52 times, clearly keeping his best material for his other arenas.