Monday, April 12, 2010

Nurturing Readers

It's crunch time for your submission! Get your entry in by this Thursday, April 15th! We're so excited to have received a number of entries already, but where is yours? Polish up and submit. We can't wait to read your work!


Today's post comes from our sister blog She Reads. Ariel Allison Lawhon is the author of eye of the god, and co-founder of one of the most innovative book club groups on the web.

Readers are fearless people. Each time they open a book they take a risk. They risk disappointment with our literary offering. They risk being offended. They risk caring for imaginary people who suffer great abuse at our hands. They risk boredom. They risk being changed. They risk – dare I say it – wasting their money. And yet they read. Your novels and mine. There should be a Pulitzer or a Nobel for those courageous souls who venture between the pages time and time again.

Yet I fear that in today’s publishing climate we’re taught to exploit these dear readers rather than nurture them. We’re taught how to collect them on various social media outlets but we’re not educated on how to earn their trust. As both a reader and a writer, here are a few things I’ve observed:

Do No Harm. I am baffled by the things writers post on their blog, Facebook, and Twitter accounts. Things best left in the bathroom, the bedroom, or not said at all. A single inappropriate comment can alienate a reader for life. The same holds true for intense political and religious views. Before clicking “update,” consider whether that comment is worth losing a reader.

Seek Friends, Not Fans. Does this sound familiar: “Author became a fan of Author and suggests that you become a fan as well.” I get several of these e-mails a day. From authors I don’t know. Whose books I’ve never read. Who friended me on Facebook (it seems) for the explicit purpose of spamming me with unwanted updates. One author sends these fan requests repeatedly, though I’ve ignored them each time. What this says to me is, “I think of you as a customer and I want to sell you something.” No one likes to be sold.

Yes, I know that a Facebook profile can only hold 5000 “friends” while a Fan Page is unlimited. So may I offer a few reader-friendly alternatives to this dilemma? Let an actual fan create your fan page. (I hear a horrified gasp from publicists nationwide) Although this option means you have no control over the content, it becomes a legitimate page for fans. Or if that is too unnerving, go ahead and create your own page but let readers find you. Real people who have read your book. And liked it. And want to hang out with you online. Another option is to send the fan request only to people you know. Friends and family readers you’ve communicated with in the past so that there is a context for your request.

Forget the Platform, Build Relationships. May I conjecture that the best use of social media is not to find readers but to keep them? There is an author/blogger who I’ve read for a number of years and truly respect. I found her on Facebook, sent a friend request, and we have slowly built a friendship. While I don’t expect an invitation for Christmas any time soon, she does a great job of maintaining an author/reader relationship. I suspect she treats all her readers with the same respect. And my response to her warm professionalism? I sing her praises online and off.

Write a Great Book. In this age of guerilla marketing seminars, we have lost the most effective way to gain and keep readers: write a breathtaking novel. The kicker is that this takes time. A lot of time. More time than most of us are willing to spend on one project. More time than most multi-book contracts allow. Which reminds of what Anne Lamott says about novel writing:

“Well, novels as you know are a lot harder than stories or essays--it takes close to 3 years, and you never quite know what you're doing. I really try to commit to my characters, and capturing each one's voice and truth, instead of committing to a finished novel. It can be a nightmare for a lot of the process, because you're trying to keep so many plates spinning in the air. So I just try to get a day's work done everyday."

And speaking of Anne Lamott, one of the most loved authors around, she doesn’t even have a website. To the best of my knowledge she doesn’t engage in any social media. She simply writes books, and does that very, very well. Not every writer makes that choice (or should) but she proves that we can make writing the main thing and still keep an audience. I’ve yet to meet an Anne Lamott fan who stopped reading her books because she’s not on Twitter.

So, your turn. Is my take too extreme? Too unrealistic? Must authors – as we’re told – beat down a reader’s door? Or is the better approach to be invited in?

What are the best ways you’ve found to care for your readers?


Cynthia Schuerr said...

I love this post, Ariel. So many times, I feel guilty for not getting out there every day on twitter and fb with my friends. However, I find it hard to do when I am working on a project, and I am SO in the zone and close to the finish line. I have to keep telling myself I am a writer and I need to be writing. Don't get me wrong, I love my social media friends and really enjoy the exchange. Not to mention, I learn so much from them, but it can consume time like a blazing fire can burn down a building. It's just nice to hear you say that writing a great story is still most important. Thank you so much!

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Absolutely agree. I appreciate Lamott's dedication to her characters over finishing. Such a testament to the craft.

And how do I care for my readers? At the risk of sounding simplistic, I authentically care. I take time to respond, treat with respect and engage with them as far as time allows. When I discovered access to so many writers online I felt like I'd stepped into a dream world. I greatly appreciate connecting with others who share the same passion.

And now to find you on twitter so I can retweet this. ;)
~ Wendy

Nicole said...

If you've become Anne Lamott, you can get away with it. Most people can't. The demand for marketing plans in proposals kind of hinder that.

I'm with you on the cramming a sale into every post, every invitation to social media, etc. Many marketing techniques force feed, and it's annoying.

I think a writer still must be him/herself. Most writers don't have "everyone" for their audiences and, if honest, will certainly manage to offend someone with even a harmless post. I don't enjoy doing "bad" book reviews, but I've done a few because I was obligated to review the books and given the instructions to be honest. I wasn't mean-spirited in explaining why I didn't like them and included that the novels would be enjoyed by some, but I didn't care for them. A couple responses to those were mean-spirited. You can't please everyone.

The "write the great book" thing bothers me more than perhaps any other statement. By whose standards? Being published is definitely not the determiner of "great". All of us have read enough books to verify that. It's a wonderful validation and kudos to every author who has managed to attain that status because it takes a lot of hard work and dedication. It just doesn't guarantee "great" writing.

Sarah Forgrave said...

Very interesting thoughts about a fan page on Facebook! And I agree. I've been hesitant to promote myself too much in that medium because I've been turned off by other friends doing so. Whenever I get published some day, I want to connect with my readers as people. What person wants to feel like they're a pawn to put more money in your pocket? :-)

Anonymous said...

Excellent post!

I'm a great believer in building a friend-base as opposed to a fanbase. Aside from being a darn sight easier, it's also a alot more fun.

Thanks for sharing :)

Ariel Allison Lawhon said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts ladies!

Nicole: the "write a great book" point was simply meant as a challenge to write the best book we can instead of rushing for the goal of publication. "Great" is very subjective, but it's obvious when a writer has given their all to a novel.

Unknown said...

Great post Ariel. About the fan page thing -- I've been a lot more comfortable with someone else setting up discussion pages on FB for each of my recent books.

Though some of the discussion has drifted over into talking about me, I'd rather just have people discuss my books. However, I'm not brave enough to go the formspring route yet. Or ever, maybe.

Jan Cline said...

I love what you said about build relationships not platforms. Relationships will take care of a platform if they are sincere and strong. Im going to attend my first writers conference soon and Im excited to form new friendships im the writing world.

Laura S. said...

I like when authors are on twitter, facebook, and have websites or blogs! When I'm waiting for a new release, I can sate my appetite by surfing their website. And when I come across a new author, I like looking them up and finding what else they've written. I'm a proud fan of my favorite writers! Of course, I'd like to be friends, but let's be real...the only chance I'd ever have of that would be if I became as well known as they.

Self-promotion and marketing has never bothered me. I like knowing when something new is coming out. How else are we supposed know about something great if no one promotes it? As for twitter, I keep writers' lives separate from their work, so I don't pay attention to personal comments. If they want to embarrass themselves, that's their prerogative, but I'm more interested in their next book!

Sarah Sundin said...

Ariel, thanks for putting in words the thoughts that have been tumbling in my head lately. I'm trying to find the right balance between the debut novelist's required promotion with God's call for humility and my own desire for relationship with my readers. My publicist set up a fan page lately in order to run a contest, but I only sent invites to people I KNEW were interested in my books. But I don't like the one-sidedness of it - they see my updates but I don't see theirs. I'd rather have my readers as "friends" than "fans."

Megan Willome said...

Yes! I'm posting as avid reader, not as author.

Unknown said...

I love this post, and I'm reading the comments carefully. I LOVE that we are hearing from readers on this issue. Thank you so much, Laura and Megan. Your contributions are vital to this topic.

I'm hearing the need for extraordinary balance and care when it comes to promotion and marketing.

I don't pretend to have any of it figured out, but I am paying close attention and working on it.