I have just finished reading Michael Crichton's Next, a brilliant techno-thriller. This is the fifth of Crichton's books I have read. Knowing that he passed away in 2008, I think the book gives us much to think about regarding what writers can do to give back to society.
Next, published in 2006, explores all aspects of genetic engineering, some of which are well known, others beyond belief, and still others utterly terrifying. The book is a collection of stories about the rapidly evolving genetic technologies and their impact on human life. Major players, from industry leaders and academics to lawmakers, media professionals and even artists, have confronted or evaded the many legal and ethical issues involved in the continuing advancement of this science.
While Next is a fascinating work of fiction, its function is more than entertaining the readers. This is particularly evident as one finishes the story and arrives at the "Author's Note" and "Bibliography" sections. It is in these sections that Crichton explained why and how he wrote this book, as well as the kind of impact he hoped it would have on society. In other words, this is where he left his "footprints on the sand".
Crichton pointed out in his "Author's Note" that, based on his research for this book, he arrived at a series of conclusions regarding the future directions of genetic R&D. He explained why we should stop patenting genes, establish clear guidelines for the use of human tissues, pass laws to ensure that data about gene testing is made public, avoid bans on research, etc. He presented a strong argument on how academics and scientists should focus more on respecting human life and dignity than making profits. He proposed various measures for governments worldwide to take, not only to encourage scientific R&D, but also to protect those who are involved in and affected by the process.
In the meantime, Crichton chose not to directly attack the dark side of human nature, as his story itself has well served this purpose. Instead, he focused on the many ways in which interested readers could further explore the nature and significance of generic engineering. In the "Bibliography" section, he listed the many books, news reports, journal articles and Internet resources he had used in researching Next. Particularly with the books, he commented on their strengths in deciphering the complex legal, ethical and religious issues involved in genetic research, with an emphasis on the contributions their authors have made to the whole humanity. Indeed, while the whole bibliography is valuable, it is Crichton's remarks and recommendations of these books that make us want to read them.
Therefore, I would suggest that it is important for all writers, especially us self-proclaimed "authorpreneurs", to leave our "footprints on the sand", i.e. to show the existence of "I" in our books, in the same or a similar way that Crichton did. I can think of five important reasons why we should do so:
1. Show we care -- We write because we have something to say, so it is useful to have our voices heard, both within and outside of a story. "Author's Note" at the end of a book is a good place to detail our personal journey of research and writing -- to explain why and how we write, as well as our beliefs and hopes.
2. Establish our authority -- We have done the research, which is as difficult as writing itself, if not more. This has strengthened our voice and provided us with a unique insight into the issues explored in our book, so we may as well let the readers know about it. Either "Author's Note" or "Bibliography" is enough to cover this, but writers are increasingly using social media platforms such as Pinterest to showcase their research experiences and results.
3. Reach out to readers -- We have had our say, so now it is time to invite readers to participate in our discussion of various issues, to further explore and understand, to embark on their own adventures. It shows we fully respect their existence. By involving them, we demonstrate how similar we all are, as ordinary human caring about the extraordinary parts of human life.
4. Optimize the benefits of self-publishing -- As authorpreneurs take further control of the publishing process, we can include everything important in our book, in our own way, without worrying about any addition, omission and/or alteration by publishers for reasons such as formatting, limited budget or even self-censorship. By doing so, we also demonstrate our willingness to be responsible for what we have said in our book.
5. Preserve the contributions of our books -- Books come and go, and we are lucky to have even 15 minutes of fame across this fast-evolving, multi-faceted publishing landscape. The stronger an impression we can create for readers, with our show of care, expertise and willingness to stand by their side, the longer our achievements and contributions will be appreciated. In print or digital format, we will be remembered.