Friday, July 25, 2008

Marketing vs. Connecting

© JD Rhoades 2008 all rights reserved

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.

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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.


Aaron Paul Lazar said...

JD: first of all, welcome to Murder by 4. It’s a pleasure to have you on our site today.

Boy, did I ever relate to your article. In all respects! Most of all, though, I’ve seen and been through the barrage of disappointments that come with traditional marketing of a new author. I have memories of my first book signings at Borders and Barnes and Noble --- where folks avert their eyes because they already KNOW what book they’re at the store to purchase, or at least they are already heading for their favorite section, and they don’t wanna be caught by you. Especially if they haven’t heard of you yet. So they scurry on past and duck their heads while you try to catch their eyes. LOL.

Of course I’ve had successful days at books stores. But they–by far–are not my best venues. Library events have been fun. I get to read aloud to a captive audience and most folks actually look forward to supporting their local authors and libraries. I often have a good-sized audience (if it’s well advertised in advance), and I sell some books. The best part, though, as it always is… is connecting with the people.

This connecting part. It’s SO important, and frankly, besides the pure thrill of writing, it has to be my next favorite aspect of being an author. I’ve had so much fun with my existing base of readers and newfound friends with contests and surveys/polls. They love being a part of the cover designs and title searches, and I cherish their input. We did some pretty amazing cover polls for Double Forte’ in the beginning. I must’ve had ten designs that I loved and wanted feedback on. My readers, friends, and family all participated. I even had Pareto diagrams to keep them informed of which design was in the lead. Okay, so I’m an engineering nerd on the day job. ;o)

I wasn’t manipulating folks to buy my work – although that was a welcome result – it was more about connecting, getting to know these wonderful people, and sharing my literary world with them. It can be humbling, and a learning experience, too.

You hit the nail on the head, JD. Squarely.

Thank you!

Kim Smith said...

Thanks for joining us, JD. This is a great post, and one, that while I sit on the outside of this book thing, I am a step from being on the other side, the one where you are. It's a bit like sitting in a chair. One moment you are sitting, watching the world go by, the next you are walking and in the midst of it.

I can only tell you from the reader's perspective, and my take on it. To connect with me as a reader, as a "consumer" if you will, a writer has to make me love the book so darn much that I want to meet the author. I want to shake his/her hand and say, your writing changed me in some way.

So in order to get the connection, the writing has to do that. Write a book that makes me want to know YOU, the author. If it is funny, I want to meet you and hear your big belly laugh. If it is scary, I want to meet you and see if you are as normal as I. If you write romance, I want to know more about you as a person, and how the greatest emotion has changed your life.

... Lol, okay long enough post. Thanks for asking!

Jude Hardin said...

Great post, Dusty!

JD Rhoades said...

Thanks, all! Aaron, I will say one thing in defense of the traditional signing: even the most lonely and deserted ones give me a chance to hang out and connect with some of my favorite people, namely booksellers. With almost no exceptions, they're fun people who love books, so we usually hit it off right away.

Kim: I hear what you say abut writing the book that makes you want to meet the author. I try, lord knows, to write the best ones I can. But the question for me is how to let people know the book exists and get them interested enough to read it. After that, of course, everyone wants to meet me ;-).

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Good point, JD. Booksellers are splendid people! Hey, looks like you know Jude. Small world. ;o)

angie said...

When I interviewed Kris Neri ages ago (mystery writer and owner of Sedona, AZ indie bookstore The Well Red Coyote), she said something really interesting. Basically, she won't book a relatively new author for a straight book signing event. Instead, she asks them to conduct some sort of workshop or seminar. Evidently, a lot more folks want to come out and learn about writing than attend a signing. Kris sees it as a win-win kinda deal - customers get info AND are more likely to buy an author's book after a workshop. Smart lady...

Marta Stephens said...

Before I started writing the word “author” conjured up a picture of someone locked in a smoke-filled room, papers wadded up and scattered across the floor. He/she would type all hours of the day and night without any contact with the outside world except through their agent or publisher who were eagerly waiting, salivating on the other side of that locked door for the author’s next best seller. Weeks later, the book was an instant hit. JD, what was that ratio I read on your blog? :)

When I read JD’s article before posting it, I couldn’t help but cheer him on for showing how marketing and communications can be merged into something that doesn’t make your feel like a Fuller brush salesperson. It’s as if he had read my mind.

I conducted a virtual book tour last August and mentioned in one or two of my articles that my goal for the tour was not sales, but to gain name recognition and a following for the series. I added that if I succeeded to meet those two first goals, sales would follow. Several people questioned that statement. Who ever heard of an author not wanting sales? Well, I do, but the real question is, how can an unknown author expect to compete with generations of established writers? I believed then as I do now, that giving readers and inside look at who I am will lead them to wanting to read what I write. The proof is, whenever I post a "writer's journey" type article, I receive a tremendous response. So for me, to say that networking and connecting with readers is important is a vast understatement.

I love meeting people and talking with them about my books so book signings and talks are tremendously enjoyable for me, but I don’t depend solely on them to reach a target audience. I’ll never look down my nose at book signings, but in a global environment where we can communication with countless readers with a click of the mouse, book signings for me are icing on the cake.

Gad, another long-winded post. Oh well. JD, I’m thrilled that you agreed to post on MB4. Thanks SO much for you candid and thought provoking article.

JD Rhoades said...

A pleasure to be here, Marta.

Patry Francis said...

Great article. I've tried everything, but the only effective "marketing" I've ever done came through my blog--where I never advertise myself or anything else. I just talk to friends.

P.S. I laughed out loud about the hare Krishna signings. Spot on!

P.P.S. Thanks to Aaron for letting me know you were here--and for his good friendship.

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Patry, I'm so glad you stopped by. And I must agree - the connecting you do through your blog is heartfelt and enticing. Of course, I'd already fallen in love with The Liar's Diary long before I knew about the blog, but I'm sure it attracted a lot of potential new readers. How can they help but love you? ;o)

JD Rhoades said...

Thanks Patry!

And I'm kicking myself for failing to mention a blog that's also high in interactivity:, where I blog every other Wednesday. Also contributing are Louise Ure, Rob Gregory Browne, Tess Gerritsen, Brett Battles, Alex Sokoloff, Pari Noskin Taichert, Zoe Sharp, Toni McGee Causey, and JT Ellsion. something for everyone!

Anonymous said...

Interesting article. I'm not yet published, but I'm always looking for ways to get my name out there for when I finally break into print. Thank you for the advice.

Marta Stephens said...

Hey JD, thanks for the link. I'm going there now!

Kerry Dexter said...

have any of you come across the work of marketing guru keith ferazzi? an idea he had, which has stuck with me, is viewing networking as a quilt, emphasizing, as you all are, the idea of making connections. I'm sure he has a web site. I really like that idea of authors giving workshops, too -- many of my friends are musicians and they do this as well as give concerts.