I read an article in Time magazine yesterday about Charles Dickens, and why he was and is such a popular author. Interesting: he was one of the earliest authors who really wrote for his audience, who understood what it took to make a connection with readers and who tailored his stories and his characters to what he thought people wanted (and later in his career, messages he wanted to send about the world he was living in). Really interesting stuff. Of course, he was the master of serialized fiction, and he made a career out of writing stories with chapters that end in cliff-hangers, with plotlines that continually move forward and characters we always want to know more about.
I can't say I have a favorite by him (I did take a Dickens seminar in college, where we had to read a book a week by him...yikes...), though I do like the very traditional A Christmas Carol and the less-traditional Bleak House (great characters, and great commentary on society getting caught up in business at the expense of the individual).
But Dickens knew what to do as a writer - connecting with readers is so valuable, and yet some authors definitely do it better than others. Social media does help in this respect, I think. Even those writers who aren't particularly comfortable talking with people in person, face to face, can do so on the safety of the computer in arenas like Facebook and blogs and chat groups and such. I think readers like the sense that an author listens to their opinions and cares about what they have to say about the world.
Charles Dickens. Huh. Never pegged him as a visionary, but guess what? Maybe we can all take a cue from him. Can you picture his Facebook page? Status update: Wrote 500 words today. Time for a new quill pen...