I’m a big fan of meeting readers. I think it’s important for authors to figure out just who will love their books, and do their best to introduce them to each other. There are a variety of ways to do this, and I’m only barely getting started. However, as I pointed out before, I am here to help the writer who is where I was a few years ago. When I need advice, I look for folks one or two levels up from me. I know that trying to do things like someone five levels up will not work at my level. If you don’t understand levels, think deeply on this subject if you want to get anywhere but where you are. If you deny the existence of levels, or think they aren’t fair to point out, I heartily encourage you to get the hell off my page.
For the rest of us, a good understanding of levels is essential. For authors, a good understanding of their readers is equally important. Some research can be done at home, and it can be done easily once you slap a few labels on your book. Find your genre, and your sub-genre, and then find out what your key demographic is. You can reverse engineer this if you want to write with the reader in mind; pick your audience, and then write what they read. It’s one of the ideas we’ll explore later, when we talk about where authors go for stories. That’s not the kind of writing we’re discussing here, though; we’re talking about that first book, and it is often written for the author more than the reader. It’s also not always the easiest sell.
Don’t get me wrong; many first attempts are great books. Sometimes it’s a curse, to have that first effort do well, in the guise of a blessing that cannot be replicated. An author’s first book comes from a different place, and a different person, than any subsequent efforts. Once you’ve published that first book, you are no longer the person you once were. You’re an author now, and you know what it’s like to answer that question other people never get asked: “What is your book about?”
I did a perfect imitation of a deer caught in someone’s headlights the first few times I was asked that question. One was even captured on video; rather than pull it, like I wanted to the first time I saw it, I asked Dawn to leave it up; it’s a good humbling reminder for me to watch when I’m feeling like a somewhat accomplished author. “My book takes a few hours to read,” I wanted to say; “how could it take less time to explain? Just read it!”
Although that is a compelling argument that many lazy authors would love to get behind, it’s only the first stage in talking about your books. We’re back to discussing levels again, and how the view changes as perspective does. At the summit, it’s easy to see which path is the clearest way to the top. Down at base camp it’s a different view. We can imagine what it’s like to be up there, and we can even visualize it to motivate us; but there’s no way of knowing what it’s actually like until you get there. That’s why setting goals is so important; you’re not much of a mountain climber if all you do is putter around at base camp, and you’re not much of an author if all you do is write books.
Ideally, an author’s books are the perfect bridge between them and their readers. If a book finds its own readers without any effort on the author’s part, that’s wonderful and magical…and very rare. To find that group we’re looking for, most of us need to actually go looking for them. Online is good, but there’s no way to know who you’re actually talking to there; that process and presence is a necessary one, but it’s kind of slow in its own way. You can get to know someone better in a minute of actual interaction than you can through a half dozen e-mails. The internet is a great way to stay in touch with the folks you have met, but a lot of people still see tremendous value in that actual genuine interaction.
For authors, that means getting out there. The traditional route is book festivals, of course, and writers’ conventions. The new possibilities include comic book conventions and local outreach in an economy that is more ‘local artist’ minded than ever before. As much as the internet keeps real people in touch with other real people, it also makes even the most amateur web surfer at least a little jaded. The newest generation of adults have the most developed bullshit meter of any generation previous, and they know that authors are real people. If we try to show them the flash and pizazz that we associated with sales even a decade ago, we’ll come off looking like the people who came up with it in the first place did. That’s not cool, for us or our readers; we won’t bother arguing that perhaps it never should have been considered cool in the first place.
You might be surprised at who is interested in your books. I can honestly say that I have been. The amount of young adults that I talk to at book festivals is the most pleasant of those surprises. I am always quick to tell them (or their parents, if they’re quite young adults) that my books don’t veer away from issues like philosophy and sexuality, a couple of the big no-no’s when writing for young people. I am just as quick to say that it’s not nearly as graphic or smutty as some of the books I read when I was an early teen, and that I think it’s more well written. It’s refreshing how genuine young adults tend to be in their interactions, and in a weird way these events have given me a hope that I didn’t have before. They’ve also resulted in readers that I didn’t have before, more members to count amongst my favorite family.
There is no limit to the number of people you can talk to about your books. There is no limit to the amount of stores you can go into and ask if they’ll carry it. There is no limit to the number of events you can exhibit at. The only limit is time, and talking to people about our books is something today’s author must make the time for. I don’t know about you, but I would love to see ‘Zombie Zero: The First Zombie’ made into a movie. I don’t know how to make that happen, just yet; but I can guarantee you one thing…
I’m going to have to talk to someone about that.
Thanks for reading!