First off, thanks to Marta and the crew here at Murder by 4 for inviting me to sit in. I appreciate the opportunity to speak with y'all.
When they find out you have a new book out, one of the first things people ask is, “Are you going to do a book tour?” Well, no. The traditional “fly into town, get driven to the bookstore, read a little, talk a little, then sit n’ sign,” doesn’t work all that well for an author who’s not already a brand name. In fact, more often than not when you do that as an author trying to break out, you end up with what I call a “Hare Krishna Signing.” A HKS is one where people pass by the strange guy reading out loud to a bunch of empty chairs, walking very fast with their eyes averted, as if you were dancing in a robe asking for spare change. It’s an experience that teaches you humility, you betcha. Besides, if you're an author trying to break out, there's likely no money from the publisher for that sort of thing.
So what do we do? We spend a lot of hours and blog-time talking about how to market to potential readers. We talk newsletters, websites, conferences, etc.
Recently, though, I saw a fascinating and short talk by a professor named Clay Shirky, who had a lot of interesting things to say about changes in the way people react to media. Shirky asserts that while 20th century media was about "we produce, you consume," media in the 21st century is more about "three different events. People like to consume, but they also like to produce, and they like to share."
He tells the story of a friend who had just brought home a new big screen TV. The friend's four year old daughter sat and watched for a moment, then hopped up, ran over to the TV and started poking around in back of it. They asked what she was doing, and she said "I'm looking for the mouse." The lesson, Shirky said, is that to the current generation, "a screen that ships without a mouse ships broken."
That sentence--"a screen that ships without a mouse ships broken"--jolted me. It made me realize something that has always been lurking in the back of my mind, something that always made me vaguely uncomfortable when doing traditional "marketing": Most people don't like being marketed to. But they don't mind interacting.
This point also came home to me when I did an experiment on my blog and on my Facebook group, JD. Rhoades' Gang of Hellions. I've been writing a book about people trapped on an island in a hurricane. Never having been through one myself, I wanted to know what it was like. So I put the word out: tell me your hurricane stories. And I got dozens of them, some of which found their way into the book.
Now, will these people buy STORM SURGE (the working title of the WIP) when it comes out? Will they buy BREAKING COVER, my current release? Maybe, maybe not. But they know about it and they know my name. I realized, after the survey was done, that it could be considered marketing, because it got my name and the names of my books out.
But that wasn't the purpose. It didn't feel like marketing. It felt like a conversation. It was connecting with readers. And it was fun.
A friend of mine, Raleigh, NC writer Stacey Cochran , has been running a series of talks on "How to Publish a Book, How to Get a Literary Agent." I've had the honor of appearing at several of these with another good friend, paranormal suspense writer Alex Sokoloff. People, especially aspiring writers, pack the house for these things. I'm talking not just standing room only, I'm talking out the door and straining to hear from the next room. And they're an eager, motivated audience; we barely get started before the Q & A begins. And when it's over, we sell books, more, in many cases, than I've sold at traditional signings. Because we're not marketing to people, we're connecting with them. And it's fun.
Blogs are another way to interact, because most of them give readers a chance to respond in the comments. The best blogs, I've found, capitalize on that interactivity by making sure that posts end with a topic for discussion. The best example I can think of is Laura Lippman' s excellent blog The Memory Project , which also invites people to tell their stories and share their reminiscences.
So....let's get interactive. Writers, let's kick around ideas about how we can get away from the idea of 'marketing' as it's been done, i.e., talking at readers, and instead think of it as connecting with people. Readers, chime in. What do you want to say to writers you read (or in whom you're interested) about interaction? What do you want to see more of? What would you just as well do without?
Talk to me.
Talk to me.
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Bio: J.D. Rhoades is the author of BREAKING COVER, published in July 2008 by St. Martin's/Minotaur, and the Jack Keller series of thriller novels: THE DEVIL'S RIGHT HAND, GOOD DAY IN HELL, and SAFE AND SOUND, also from St. Martin 's. He was born and raised in North Carolina and has worked as a radio news reporter, club DJ, television cameraman, ad salesman, waiter, trial attorney, and newspaper columnist. His weekly column in the Southern Pines, North Carolina Pilot was named best column of the year in its division for 2005. He currently lives, writes, and practices law in the small town of Carthage, North Carolina.