By Mary SanGiovanni
With the growing popularity of social media, users have easy access to people all over the world. In creative communities, this has fostered more intimate connections between readers and writers. Fans can get to know a writer’s thoughts, feelings, passions, likes and dislikes, political and spiritual beliefs, pets, favorite forms of entertainment, relationships, social engagements, and even what the writer had for lunch. There is weekly if not daily interaction that humanizes a name on a book cover, and I believe this creates an investment on the part of the reader to see his or her favorite writer do well, both personally and professionally.
Conjointly, with the evolution of publishing over the last 20 years or so, much of the responsibility of promotion falls on the writer, to sell oneself as well as one’s work. In the ’70s and ’80s, promotion of books was primarily the job of the marketing departments of publishing houses, aided by the media outlets, reviewers, booksellers, and librarians who believed in a writer’s work. While we’re still fortunate enough to have those people on our side, the responsibility for getting and keeping those promotional gears turning is largely on the writer. Readers, I think, have seen this change and want to get involved.
In fact, readers frequently ask what they can do to help their favorite writers, aside from buying their books. Keep in mind that writers never expect or even hope for readers to do more than simply buy their books, so every step made above and beyond that is a kindness, a generosity which we appreciate from the bottoms of our hearts. The responsibility for promotion lies with the writer, of course. But because readers have asked, and because we know some of the inside info on how the industry ranks us, and because that bond exists, I’ve given their question some thought, considering both online and offline possibilities, and here’s what I’ve come up with.
The street team was an old concept from when I first started writing. I imagine it somewhat like the KISS Army, for those who may recall the reference. The idea was that readers would form a kind of fan group that would keep discussion of and interest in a writer’s books going. They would wear the promotional T-shirts and buy the merchandise to display on their desks and shelves. They’d use the promotional pens at work and hang up the signed posters. Basically, they were the men and women on the street billboarding a writer’s work by displaying to their social circles and spheres of influence their interest. They were the word of mouth of the populace.
It’s not a bad idea, even in our Internet-heavy society. Almost everyone has social media profiles across different platforms. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat – these are the new streets, and people are sharing, teaching, learning, working, playing, and living a good portion of their lives through them. Readers can talk about favorite books, share links, display cover art, make videos, and Like, Favorite, and Retweet posts from authors to their online social community.
Offline, many of those old tried and true methods are still appreciated as well. Readers can still ask for writers’ books at brick and mortar bookstores. They can attend conventions and events where writers are doing readings or signings and pick up the new book. They can still wear the t-shirts, sport the bumper stickers on their cars, use the bookmarks and pens. We as writers are trying to find better promotional swag, stuff readers will want and use that are still cost effective. It makes us feel good to see those things out in the world, so readers should feel free to post pictures.
Which reminds me – one thing I’ve seen authors do to great effect is encourage their readers to post pictures of their books “out in the wild.” I love this idea. Not only does it boost the confidence of the writer, but it reminds everyone following the exchange that the books exist and are popular enough to be on racks and stands all over the place.
A new thing I’ve noticed readers doing is podcasts on books they love. Some interview writers and get them excited to talk about their favorites in their own catalogues. Some are formatted like book clubs, where discussions of the book’s themes, style, characters, and atmosphere can be accessed by the greater subscribed book-clubbers at large. If readers don’t have the resources to start podcasts, then subscribing and listening to them and joining in book discussions where possible is a great help.
Nearly all book reviews are online now, aside from the NYT, Publishers Weekly, and USA Today (which have corresponding online counterparts anyway to their print bestseller lists and reviews). Reviews really do make a difference. If readers like or even love a book, reviewing it on Amazon affects the algorithms for everything from ranking in a genre/subgenre to Amazon’s suggestions for books a customer may also like. Association – buying a writer’s book with, say, one of Stephen King’s or Dean Koontz’s – also affects those algorithms in terms of their suggesting “Books Like.” However, a major impact on Amazon’s noticing a writer exists, enough so to suggest that writer to other readers, is through the number of reviews.
Goodreads is another important tool in this. My understanding, although I don’t know the specifics as to how, is that Goodreads information about reading habits, bookclub discussions, message board posts, author profiles, reviews, frequency of mentions, etc. is aggregated at least in part by Amazon and factors into their algorithms. Goodreads has, as I mentioned, its own system for reviewing books, not unlike Amazon’s stars-commentary. Because Goodreads is a social media platform specifically for readers by readers, it is naturally a place to go to find out what they should read next. Efforts made on this platform to bring awareness to a particular writer’s work are always appreciated.
Writers Need Readers
Ultimately, without readers, writers would be shouting into a void, telling stories that drift away unheard and unremembered. Writers NEED readers. We thrive on the joy they get from something we created, their excitement for what we have yet to create, and their faith in us that we are making an artistic difference in the world. Readers are the lifeblood of commercial writing, and anything they do for us, from simply buying a book to anything I mentioned above, is absolutely treasured. And I’d love to hear other ideas from writers and readers, and add to this list for the future.