Thursday, May 01, 2008

"Where do people find the time?" and The Art of Marketing Without Marketing

Making Light links to a fascinating (and short) lecture on, among other things, the "cognitive surplus" (i.e. available brainpower) that's been eaten up by TV and that's now being freed up, if you know how:

Transcript here. But it's funnier and more engaging on video.

One of the questions I get asked a lot is "where do you find time to write, what with a full time job and a family?" Part of my answer is always "I don't watch a lot of TV." I've never seen "24." I've never seen "Heroes". I've never seen "Survivor," "The Biggest Loser," Or "Deal or No Deal." I've never seen "The Unit." I watch the first 2 episodes of "American Idol," the ones where the really untalented ones crash and burn in comical ways. I usually don't miss "My Name is Earl," "The Office" or "The Daily Show," but that's about it.

You'd be amazed at how much time and "cognitive surplus" that frees up.

But there's more to the piece. Lots more. It's also about how, while 20th century media was about "we produce, you consume," media in the 21st century is more about "three different events. People like to consume, but they also like to produce, and they like to share." And this is the part that intrigues me as as a writer trying to carve a niche for himself in a competitive market.

We spend a lot of hours and blog-time--a lot of our own cognitive surplus-- talking about how to connect with and reach potential readers. We talk newsletters, websites, appearances, etc. But more and more, I'm thinking, the way to do it is to engage readers and to bring them into the discussion, sometimes even into the creative process itself.

Am I suggesting that readers tell authors how to write the books? No. If a reader feels strongly about how books need to be written, they need to write a book themselves. Hell, that's why I got into the game.

But there are lots of ways to make getting the word out about your books more of an interactive process, to make the potential reader a participant rather than a passive recipient of news and information. To give just one example, I recently did an experiment on the blog and on my Facebook group, JD. Rhoades' Gang of Hellions. My current WIP is about people trapped on an island in a hurricane. I was Googling like mad, looking for hurricane stories and information, when it occurred to me: I've got a lot of friends out there on the Internet who I'll bet have stories to tell about their own hurricane experiences. I put the word out, and they came, with fascinating stories that added to my knowledge and understanding about what it's like to go through a hurricane and its aftermath. (Thanks again, y'all.)

Now, will these people buy STORM SURGE when (and if) it comes out? Will they buy BREAKING COVER when it releases in July? Maybe, maybe not. But you know what? They'll definitely know about it and about me. I realized, after the survey was done, that it could be considered marketing, because it got my name and the knowledge of the book out. But that wasn't the purpose. It didn't feel like marketing. It felt like a conversation.

And it was fun.

My good friend Stacey Cochran has recently been running a highly successful series of panel discussions at various North Carolina bookstores featuring a number of writers, including Alex Sokoloff and Yours Truly. One of the things that's worked very well about these events is that we're not reading at the audience or giving them a formal lecture. Once Stacey primes the pump with a few interview questions, the audience can't wait to jump in and ask their own. Once they do, we're off to the races. The hour (or more) flies by. I've met some new and interesting people, I've had fun, and I've sold quite a few books (thanks again for the opportunity, Stacey). back to me. Writers, let's kick around ideas about how we can get away from the idea of 'marketing' as it's been done, i.e., talking at readers, and instead make this more of an interactive event. Readers, chime in. What do you want to say to writers you read in terms of interaction? What do you want to see more of? What would you just as well do without? And not just people you're already a fan of, but people who you might be interested in?


becky h said...

This response won't fully answer your question, but I do feel more connected to authors through their blogs...particularly blogs like yours that encourage thinking outside the box. And that connection does influence my book buying habits.

I frequently share blogs with my family and friends when the topics are pertinent or when I think they need a jolt of reality. On occasion they forward the blogs to their friends and other family. This information sharing then increases the community of potential readers and buyers of the blogger's books.

Like you, I don't waste a lot of time watching TV either. Life's too short to waste time vegging in front of a TV.

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