Friday, September 27, 2013

Lessons from the Cheap Seats

Last weekend my hometown hosted a Word on the Street event downtown. I’ve never attended, being the shy, socially reserved type that I am. Then, my long-time friend, Lesley Livingston called and said, “I’m coming to town for Word on the Street!” Thus, I attended her reading/signing event. (FYI: Lesley will be interviewed on our blog October 28. She’s brilliant, funny, and short.)


Much shenanigans occurred during her all to brief sojourn, but I’ll restrict myself to the relevant bits. Okay, just this one irrelevant bit: writers, dinner, a near sword fight over mimes—had we but possessed swords, and I used the Force to cause Arthur Slade to change his dinner order. (Art will also be on Novel Matters later in October. Just know he’s sensitive about mimes.) Oh, oh, just one more: I’m still geeking out because Guy Gavriel Kay and I split dessert (he paid)! Oh, and Lesley is hysterical and short. And we used to call her Fluffy in high school.
Back to the relevant bits.

Lesley writes YA novels. (She has a MG book coming out soon, but that will not preoccupy us at this juncture. But it’s called How to Curse in Hieroglyphics and it’s smart and funny and smart and funny.) For her reading, she chose to read from the opening of the second book of her Starling trilogy, Descendant.

My family and I sat near the front. In front of us were two girls I’d peg at around sixteen years old. They clutched a stack of Lesley’s books, whispered fervently to each other, and had—very much—the look of two girls about ready to burst from excitement. Like Rock Star excited.

Lesley took the microphone, cracked wise and funny, then read from Descendant. She’s also an actress, so her reading was stellar. (Word to writers who do readings or hope to do readings—study acting.) I was fascinated to watch the two girls in front of me. Every time Lesley mentioned a character’s name the girls would—and this is the only way I can describe it—squeeze together in a fit of restrained hysteria. Put their heads together and mime a frantic concert scream. (One character in particular had this effect: handsome half-dead fellow named Fennrys.)

What happened next is the bit that matters.

Finished with the reading, Lesley took questions. There were several, and the two girls had their hands up immediately. They couldn’t have cared less about Lesley’s writing process, how she came up with ideas, or what inspired her. All the cared about were the characters in her books.

They loved Lesley inasmuch as she was the only conduit to which they could gain additional access to the characters they loved.

I talked to Lesley about this at dinner that evening and she agreed, the people who love her books couldn’t care less about her—the author—they care only about the books. (Except, of course, they care about her. Because she writes the books.)
It’s all about the book.

In redesigning my website recently, I put this knowledge to good use. The home page features my novel—not me. Sure, you can read my bio by clicking on a link, but the part that matters, the novel, is front and center. I chopped out all the extra stuff. When a new book hits shelves (are you listening, God?) that cover will be on the home page.

Because when someone has heard great things about you, they go to your website and look for the book they heard about. When they see the book on the front page, they know they are in the right place.

This feels particularly freeing to me after years and years of believing I had to market myself as a sort of uber-product. It’s not about me. It’s about my books. Put them front and center.

Do I still have to be fabulous?

Yes. I have to be online. I have to give stellar book readings, and be nice at book signings. But I also have to remember: it’s not about me. It’s about the book.


I learned a great deal more from my weekend with these gobsmacking writers. I'll share more in future posts.


Latayne C. Scott said...

My dear, you are and have always been fabulous! We are so proud of you!

Megan Sayer said...

This was interesting. For years, probably from early adolescence on through my twenties I was torn between wanting to meet my favourite authors (in a general, if you could invite anyone, living or dead, to dinner kind of sense) and being terribly aware that I had nothing to say to them and nothing to ask them. It made me sad.
I don't feel that way these days. I could talk writing for hours. But this helped me understand that feeling, and myself, better. Thanks.
I'm very much looking forward to hearing more too.

Henrietta Frankensee said...

I sat around a lunch table with Christian writers at the Inscribe conference yesterday. We were talking self promotion on social media. When I repeated the essence of your post here it was like a curtain lifted and revealed beautiful relief and assurance all over their faces. One suggested that a character from our books should put up the facebook page/twitter/etc. and interact with his or her public. We all liked this idea. Do you know of any examples of this happening?

Bonnie Grove said...

Henrietta: I think Susan Meissner did that with characters from her novel Shape of Mercy. Not sure if she's keeping them going or not. She's published several books since that time. Google and see what you find.

There may be others--but I'm drawing a blank.