"Wherever men have lived there is a story to be told." Henry David Thoreau

Saturday, May 25, 2013

What Do Readers & Authors Want From Each Other?

Things have changed a lot in the publishing industry since my first book was published many years ago. In those days, the author wrote a book and sent it off to a publisher (via an old-fashioned mail box). Many publishers, even the big ones, didn’t require an agent. I sold my first three books to Avon without an agent. There were a lot more publishers back then, too, so the odds of getting published were better. Once you got accepted, the publisher bought your book and they handled everything, including the promotion and publicity. They made sure your book was distributed to bookstores around the country. Authors were really only expected to do booksignings and appear (or speak) at conferences. If they were a big name, the publisher financed a book tour. Authors might appear on radio and TV shows if they felt comfortable with it.  Believe it or not, but many publishers wanted authors to coordinate with them on all promotional plans. They didn’t want us “going rogue.”  I guess they didn’t want authors to do something stupid or tacky that would hinder their sales or make them and the publisher look unprofessional. The author did a few weeks of this “face time” with the readers and then he/she went home, wrote another book, and answered fan mail.

Fast forward to 2013. Authors are expected to do ALL their publicity. They are not only expected to have a website but they’re expected to have thousands and thousands of followers on Twitter and Facebook, and they are expected to have an entertaining blog with hundreds of followers. Some agents and editors won’t even consider an author’s work if they don’t see these “built in” readers before they offer a contract. They want to know that the author is going to do a LOT of legwork to sell their book and bring in the bucks. Many serious authors are asking themselves, “When will I ever have time to write another book if I have to keep up all this social networking and do all this promotion?”

So I ask:

What do readers want? Would they just like us to spend our precious time writing another book they can enjoy? Would they be happy meeting us at a conference or a booksigning? Or do readers want to be “friends” with authors on all these social networking sites and know the intimate details of our lives? What does a reader gain or lose from getting to know a great deal about an author?

What do authors want? We all appreciate our readers for we know we’d be nowhere without them. We love hearing from readers who like our books. But how many authors genuinely enjoy spending a good portion of their day social networking? How many would rather spend their time writing another book and leaving the promotion end up to a publisher, interacting with readers only at booksignings, trade shows, and conferences? What does an author gain, or lose, from getting more personal with their readers?

All aspects of the book industry have changed and continue to change. What do you as readers and authors believe are the pros and cons of this new social networking world? Where do you think it will go in the future? What do you want, and expect, from each other now?


Will Edwinson said...

Hi Linda:

Excellent post. Expresses many of my own concerns. I'll go ahead and start the dialogue, unless someone slips in ahead of me while I'm typing this. I'll take each of your questions and address them separately. I'll separate your questions from my answers by putting your questions in quotes.

"What do readers want? Would they want us to spend our precious time writing another book they can all enjoy?" I think the answer to that question is a resounding yes. It evidently was our book that drew them to us as authors in the first place.

To answer your second question, I would say yes to that also. I remember when Western Writers of America held their national convention in Idaho Falls, one of the highlights of that conference for me was when I spent 45 minutes visiting--one on one--with Don Coldsmith in the hotel lobby between workshops.

In answer to your third question, "Do readers want to be friends with authors on all the social networks sharing intimate details of their lives." I suppose some readers would like that, but I doubt many authors would. I know I don't want to spend that much time social networking. That in itself could consume all of an authors time.

"What will a reader gain or lose by getting to know a great deal about an author?" It this day and age with all the identity theft that goes on, it could be dangerous for authors to reveal too much about themselves.

Now, on to what do authors want? Your question was: "How may authors really enjoy social networking." I addressed this question partially in an earlier question, but I'll elaborate a bit more. If the truth were really known, I doubt few authors really enjoy social networking for business purposes. They may enjoy it on a limited basis with a few close friends, but that's all.

Next question, "How many authors would rather spend their time writing another book leaving the promotion up to the publishers, and interacting with readers only at book signings and conferences."
I'd say most authors.

Last question; "What does an author gain or lose by getting more personal with readers?" I believe I addressed that earlier in another question.

As far as where do I think social networking will go in the future. I don't know. It's not my cup of tea. If it weren't for the fact that I'm told it's a necessary tool for marketing our books. I'd probably unsubscribe.

I long for the old days you described in the beginning of your blog post. Not all change is progress in my opinion.

Linda Sandifer said...

Thanks for your comments, Will. It'll be interesting to see if others weigh in.

Will Edwinson said...

Yes, it will be interesting. I hope more people weigh in. If I may, I'd like to add a little more to my previous comments. The days that you mentioned in your post of having a publisher buy our books outright and then do all the work of promoting and marketing, really are gone, in my opinion.

I'm told by those in the know that the first thing a major traditional publisher asks of agents nowadays is, "how big is your client's list?" The list of which they speak is part of the author platform and consists of the client's email list of followers. I'm also told that they prefer the list contain thousands of followers. One way to build that list, I'm told is to give away some sort of "freebie" such as a copy of one of our books, or a chapter or two of the book we are currently pushing in exchange for the potential customer's email address.

Another thing that's apparently changed from the old days is that in the old days,an author wrote his book and then started the process of selling it. Now days, they say we must start the marketing process BEFORE we even write the book, or at least before it's published.

Also, they say the new game in town is not to concentrate on selling the book, but rather we should concentrate on selling our author selves. Establish a relationship with our target audience, and the sale will come as a result of that. That might work well for non-fiction because non-fiction writers usually write about their expertise of a particular subject. I question whether this technique is right for fiction writers, though. Our major product is our story, and that's what we're trying to sell.

Irene Bennett Brown said...

I wish I could contribute more to this thread; I'm afraid it's going to be precious little. I'm not into social media, just no time nor interest. I have a web but I'm not on Facebook or Twitter. I don't have a blog. I do very few presentations or signings.

I am selling books, slow but sure. Not a great deal of money, but checks every month from Amazon, Lightning Source, and B & N.

How do readers find me? I'm not sure. I give blog interviews, endorse books when asked, post a review when I really like a book, and I post comments on a variety of listservs and blogs. Maybe readers find me that way, and then stick around when they've tried one of my books -- to try more of them. I really don't know.

When I've read a book I really like, I often then google their name and book to find out more. I don't need a lot. And I assume readers don't care to know everything about me. The book is what is important, time to write the book is important. My early career was much like yours, Linda. I sold my first books without benefit of an agent. My wonderful publisher, Atheneum, took care of all promotion. They sent from 200 to 400 review copies of my YAs to practically every school district in the country, to libraries and newspapers and most review services. They entered my books in contests.

How could I match all of that, myself? And still have time to write?

Linda Sandifer said...

Thanks for your comment, Irene. I suspect the new and upcoming writers would have a different tale to tell from those of us who knew publishing when it was "traditional."

Ron Scheer said...

Find Seth Godin's TED talks and interviews (on youtube) and subscribe to his blog. He is on the forefront of how to think about marketing today.

According to him, there's no one set of answers for everybody. The objective should be not numbers (i.e. 1000s of followers) but being discovered by people looking for what is remarkable (worth remarking about).

The realities, he would argue, are that consumers these days rely a lot on word of mouth, and to get that kind of advantage, you need to market to the "long tail" of enthusiasts and so-called early adopters. Not the broad middle spectrum of the consumer distribution curve.

He would argue that your prime focus should be on the quality and the integrity of your product, because customers will stick with you and recommend you to others. That builds a customer base that grows as your body of work grows.

Godin would also argue that today consumers like a personal touch in the delivery of products and services (and is a book a product or a service--both I'd argue). That means being perceived as a person. How a writer uses the digital and social media to do that depends on the person. You have your own integrity to consider as well.

Linda Sandifer said...

Ron, your input is much appreciated!

Renaissance Women said...

I am not a published book author, but have have been published. I would speak to the reader side of the equation. I agree with Will that I find knowing a bit about the non-fiction writer is helpful when reading their work. For the fiction writer, I am excited to know about their works in progress and their process of writing.

At the same time Ron has made some valid points about the changing of the process.

For me, the new audience of readers has changed both in what they read and how they access their choice of reading material. I do love holding a book in my hands, but a majority download and read from a reader. This has lead to a new way of trying to reach a target audience.

Our society has for better or worse become more instantaneous. The immediate access to information, while not always wise or useful, has become the norm and in many ways has slaughtered the sacred cow of privacy.

I would love to have the old way of publishing and publicity available, but at this point I believe that it is not longer a viable option.

Linda Sandifer said...

Renaissance Women, thanks for your comments from a reader's perspective. For better or worse, writers will need to figure out a way to balance their writing time with promotion in the ever-changing world of publishing.

Christi Moné Marie said...

Hi Linda!

This was an excellent post! Great topic to discuss these days. I think readers would take it all. I know I like my favorite authors to be accessible, whether through book signings or tv/radio interviews. I like them to take on a physical form. But I never think they'd want that to eclipse being an author. After all, they fell in love with the writing first.

What do authors want? Well, I think that depends on the author. I know for myself, I'm struggling with trying to write/edit and maintain an internet presence. Along with my 40 hour a week job, it just seems there aren't enough hours in the day to do everything. So I'm trying to become more savy at doing the website/blogging thing but since I'm new at it, it's been a steep learning curve for me. I think some authors will just prefer to write and not mix with their readers. Maintain a more distant presence. I think some will eat up all the attention.

I think first and foremost, we have to put our writing first because that's who we are and where our roots stemmed from. But finding the balance is tricky and it'll be interesting to see how well we all adapt. Curious to see what others have to say :)

Eunice Boeve said...

Linda, As an author, I want time to write another book. I don't mind some social media work, but find too much can suddenly find me days away from whatever work I have in progress and that is sooooooooooo frustrating. As a reader, I want the author to get another book written for me to read. I have no interest in getting to know him or her. You can't anyway. You can read about authors, but you can't get to know them without face to face interaction and if I, as a reader, did that, I'd not get any reading done. :-) So I guess some media is good... readers need to know your book is out there. (I base a lot of my reading from new authors on Amazon reviews.) But too much media and you can't get to that other story that is begging you to get busy and write.

Linda Sandifer said...

Christi and Eunice, Thanks for weighing in. I agree that it is becoming ever more difficult for writers to write because of the promotion required of them in this new digital age. We have to find a balance somehow, but I sense that the "frenzy" to be everywhere online might level out at some point. It really has to if writers are to survive. Many good writers might simply give up when faced with the daunting promotional criteria required of them.

Linda Sandifer said...

One question that hasn't been delved into very much is what authors might lose by becoming too personal with readers, or meeting readers face to face. If you have a dynamic personality, you'll gain readers and friends. But I remember an author whose books I loved but when I met her and saw how full of herself she was I never bought another of her books. It just ruined it for me. Has anyone else had a similar experience? Oh, and there's always the "Misery" scenario where an author might be stalked by an obsessed reader. Creepy.