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In my reflections on two years as an author-entrepreneur, I noted that relationships continue to be one of the most important things as an author.
Many of the friends I have now, I met first on Twitter and then our relationships progressed into the physical world. I have found events and conventions incredibly important for the serendipity that occurs when you actually make a physical connection.
In today's article, YA author Natalie Wright talks about how you can do the same with readers.
You are a regular here at The Creative Penn, so you know how valuable social media is when it comes to marketing your work. You Tweet, you post to Facebook and you socialize on Goodreads. You pin your heart out on Pinterest, tumble on Tumblr, and plus this and that on Google+.
But is it enough?
If all of your interactions with readers are virtual ones, are you missing out on a powerful, “old-fashioned” marketing interaction?
Are in-person engagements with readers, fans and potential readers worth the time and effort?
I began my adventures in social media about three years ago. When my first book, Emily’s House, launched, I had a small gathering of friends and family. It was the one and only in-person interaction I had with readers until March 2013. Instead of pursuing speaking engagements, I spent my time focusing on writing books and interacting on social media.
But I began to ask the above questions after I had a vendor booth at the 2013 Tucson Festival of Books (TFOB). It was the first time I had the opportunity to meet, in-person, my actual target audience of girls ages 11-18. Two significant things happened.
First, I sold out of books, thus making the event financially successful.
Second, and more importantly, I got to talk story and hang out with readers for two whole days. I saw the eyes of tween girls light up when I told them what my story was about, and I watched as they walked away from my booth, hugging the book to them.
There is not a single virtual interaction that has come even close to energizing me – thrilling me – as much as the “real” world interaction I had with readers over those two days.
And it got me thinking that maybe we authors should not be so quick to ignore the old-fashioned “dog and pony show” that authors have used for years to build their audience.
Having a grand total of two author meet-and-greets under my belt, I'm a novice in the author appearance category. In order to get a better handle on my questions, I reached out to a few authors with far more experience than myself.
First I spoke with Kevin Hearne, author of The Iron Druid Chronicles (and a heck of a nice guy).
Why did I reach out to Kevin?
Although I'd heard of Kevin through my meanderings around the Internet, I didn’t become a fan of his until I heard him speak at a fantasy world-building panel at the TFOB in 2012. I was an insta-fan. He was funny, smart and down-to-Earth. I left the meeting room, bought his book and found him on social media. Meeting Kevin in person moved me to make a connection (and buy his book) when I had not been so moved merely by seeing covers of his books or hearing mention of him on the Internet. Who better to talk to than someone that I had discovered because of an author appearance?
Kevin was generous with his time as we chatted about the topics of in-person interactions with readers and how to get the word about your work out to readers. Here are two tips that I distilled from my conversations with Kevin:
1. With In-Person Appearances, It’s About Quality, not Quantity
“My first three books came out bam-bam-bam in 2011, and the biggest event I did that year was San Diego Comic Con. I paid my own travel and hotel…. My publisher gave out free copies of the first book and put me in front of a lot of readers. That grew my readership significantly …” Kevin added, “Something that hasn’t worked for me (but may work for others) is small cons, less than 2000 people. I’ve found very few people interested in trying new authors at such events, and the youth is almost entirely absent.”
Kevin’s experience comports with my own experience at the TFOB 2013. Despite cold, rainy weather, the outdoor event was attended by over 70,000 people of all ages. That’s a huge number of potential readers. Kevin adds, “Large events have thus far produced better return on my investment of time and money, so that might be something new authors should consider.”
Is there a well-attended book festival, book fair or comic con near you?
If so, you may be able to pay to have a vendor booth or table. Better yet, look into the application process to be a speaker on a panel or submit a proposal for a topic you'd like to present. Perhaps start with your local area so that you can leverage your personal connections to get family, friends, co-workers and acquaintances to attend the event. If you are new to speaking, it may help you to have a few friendly faces in the audience.
2. Social Media Bridges the Gaps
Personal appearances are more time-consuming and costly for authors than social media. Kevin noted that most readers get a kick out of meeting authors in person and would prefer it, but it’s just not feasible. Kevin thus uses social media to keep the connections forged through his in-person appearances going. He mainly uses his blog, Facebook page and Twitter. (Kevin opines that his fictional Irish wolfhounds character Oberon (@IrishWolfhound) is more popular with Twitter followers than he is!)
As Kevin says,
“I personally enjoy both kinds of interaction – it’s all good for me because heck, I’m overjoyed anybody wants to say howdy, you know?”
I also had a discussion with veteran author Dan Gutman. Dan is most known for his books for elementary school children, and he currently has over 100 books in print. I heard Dan speak at a writer's conference in 2012 and remembered being impressed by how hard Dan had worked to build his considerable audience. Dan and I spoke and he shared these tips for writers:
1. If you want to succeed in the writer business, don’t give up.
“I had received hundreds of rejection letters before my first book was published,” Dan said (emphasis added).
From hundreds of rejections to over a hundred books in print, Dan is an example of staying the course and never giving up.
2. Authors should make an effort to meet readers, in person, when they can.
“[T]here’s something special about meeting an author in person, hearing him or her speak, getting a book signed, a high five, or whatever. You form a connection, and there’s a good chance that a kid who meets you will become a fan, buy your future books, and tell their friends about the experience. Meeting readers virtually is also good, but nothing compares to the real thing. It’s sort of like the difference between hearing a live album and actually being at the same concert.”
But Dan also points out, “There are only so many personal appearances we can make. Travel is no fun at all.”
Sounds like Dan would agree with Kevin’s tips above. Meet as many readers as you can, but stay connected through social media.
3. Write the best books you possibly can then work hard to promote them.
“[W]rite the best books you possibly can…. If your books are lousy, you’re probably not going to build an audience no matter what else you do.”
After you’ve focused on your craft and have a product you’re proud of, Dan has further tips for making the most of your in-person and other promotional efforts:
- Create a fantastic presentation and deliver it at every school and library you can handle. Do it for free in the beginning. If you’re good, eventually, you’ll be able to do it for money.
- Visit every bookstore you can. Introduce yourself to the owner and manager. Sign your books there. Send them information when your new books come out. And when you go on vacation, pop into every bookstore nearby.
- Post all of your personal appearance in advance on your Facebook page, website, blog and any other place you reach your audience.
- At book signings, be the nicest guy (or gal) in the world. Shake hands. Thank everybody for coming. Make eye contact. Never let ‘em know that you’re exhausted. Sign stock. Never complain. Make everyone happy.
- Lastly, Dan said, “Bust your ass. Every day. Nobody ever got successful by sitting around doing nothing.”
Create a plan for this year that includes at least three in-person appearances where you can interact with your target audience. Continue to consistently use social media for daily interaction with readers.
What speaking engagements or author events can you set up for yourself this year? Get creative. Consider what value you bring to the table then deliver. Reach out.
If you're worried about physical appearances or need more help on the mechanics of speaking, Joanna has a book out that may help, “Public Speaking for Authors, Creatives and Other Introverts.”
I’ll be doing an author appearance at a library this month, a book signing at a local indie bookstore next month, and I'll be in the Author’s Pavilion at the TFOB in March. This is what I've lined up so far. I’m taking Dan Gutman’s advice and I'll reach out to schools and libraries this year as well as other bookstores.
And I have a new mantra to print out and post prominently where I can see it every day:
Bust Your Ass Every Day
Have you had experience with meeting readers in-person? If so, do you think it was worthwhile? Do you plan to reach out to readers through in-person appearances this year? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.
Natalie Wright is the author of The Akasha Chronicles, a middle-grade through young adult paranormal fantasy trilogy. Her newest release, Emily's Heart, released February 1, 2014.
Formerly a divorce attorney, Natalie now focuses her working-day time on writing fiction, being a paid beta reader, blogging, interacting with readers through social media, and writing guest post articles for a variety of blogs. You can connect with Natalie on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Wattpad
Top image: Flickr Creative Commons handshake by AK Rockefeller