“Entirely driven by ego”? No, JK Rowling just knows how to engage modern-day fans

Joanna Trollope reckons Rowling has "this insatiable need and desire to be out there all the time". Susanna Lazarus thinks she's wrong...

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“I have no interest in people I will never meet, though I know that’s quite old-fashioned.” Those are the words of author Joanna Trollope who this week lambasted Harry Potter writer JK Rowling for her use of Twitter.

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“Some writers like JK Rowling have this insatiable need and desire to be out there all the time, and that’s entirely driven by ego,” Trollope told the Daily Mail. “Creating this mass following and tweeting several times a day is like wanting to be Cheryl Cole or Kim Kardashian. It’s a ludicrous aspiration.”

The words of the 73-year-old author have been reprinted by numerous websites and newspapers, many perhaps hoping to stir up the sort of Twitter contest for which Rowling has latterly become known. The woman who created Hogwarts has recently taken on – and triumphed over – the likes of Piers Morgan, Nadine Dorries and Katie Hopkins with her punchy one-liners on the social networking site. 

But while she frequently demonstrates her literary agility in 140 characters – on topics from Trump to Scottish independence to charitable giving – it’s her tweets to Harry Potter fans for which she is best known.

You see, Rowling gets what it means to be a modern author. Yes, she’s sold millions upon millions of books but it’s her ability to diversify onto different platforms that has cemented her enduring popularity. And barbed comments from authors like Trollope suggest they don’t fully understand the value of appealing to today’s younger generations.

Rowling has it down to an art form. In addition to her books, she’s produced nine films and – more recently – critically acclaimed stage plays and a new movie franchise. But it’s on the internet that she has truly discovered how to make her newest content sing.

Her website Pottermore regularly adds updates to the Harry Potter canon, written both by Rowling herself and her team of staff, providing extra details on the likes of the Dursleys and the Potter family and quizzes for users to take. Each time a new story is released, there’s an online buzz as fans pore over any scraps of new information on their favourite characters. And once again Rowling becomes the talk of the internet.

But to suggest her motivation is pure narcissism is misguided. Unlike Kim Kardashian, Rowling is not promoting her own personal brand. Her tweets aren’t inane selfies or promotions for her clothing lines. The Harry Potter books have done important work – they’ve encouraged young children to read, they’ve helped die-hard fans through dark times, and they’ve inspired a whole new generation of writers who now won’t take no for an answer. 

Through Twitter, Rowling reaches those fans over and over. She tweets about rejection, about what got her through tough times and offers nuggets of encouragement to young and old users seeking her advice. She settles debates and ensures Hogwarts remains relevant to the world we live in.

And, crucially, she understands that her books are no longer static – not if she doesn’t want them to be. With the advent of the internet and social media, literature and the fictional universes created by authors have the ability to constantly shift and evolve. Details can be added and retracted; stories can be updated and refreshed. The rules are changing and Rowling’s ability to adapt has meant that the millions of twenty-somethings, like myself, who devoured Harry Potter as kids, remain just as excited by the Potterverse now as they were then. It remains current and relevant – not something consigned to the bookshelf of our pasts. 

And that’s because the woman behind it all understands what it means to sustain an on-going dialogue with her audience. Even if Trollope is right and Rowling’s motivation is her ego (and for the record, I think not), the outcome is still a Twitter feed that engages and excites fans of the imaginative world she has created.

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Narcissism or not, I can’t see much wrong with that.