The following is syndicated from tobyneal.net and is posted here with permission.
Getting to know readers is one of the joys of being an author.
The Lei Crime Series seems to strike a chord in people, and they respond to it—they find me on Facebook, they wait for me to appear at the gym after spotting my name on the roster, they come to my husband’s art events, books in hand. They surface in Costco, Foodland, and at the school where I worked. One intrepid fan brought a book for me to sign at my clinic, interrupting my counseling session with a client—embarrassing!
And they are a vocal lot, unhesitant of letting me know their recommendations: more sex! Less sex! Here’s an idea for a crime! You got the name of that town on Big Island wrong! *head smack* and, never to be forgotten, “The Great Malasada Mistake” in Blood Orchids. (I attributed malasadas, delicious deep-fried sugar-coated doughballs, to Filipino culture. Neither the Filipinos nor the Portuguese took that lying down!)
It’s been a great experience, but it also feels vulnerable. I’m writing books faster than anyone I know, pumping them out as fast as my spongy little brain can generate them, and still I get the emails saying, “I read them all, where’s the next one?” Augh!
I know these are good problems to have, and I’m grateful—but I wonder how the real big names handle it: George RR Martin isn’t on Facebook, I’m betting, reading posts to WRITE FASTER AND FEED US DAMMIT! (commentary in an actual blog post I saw directed at Martin.) Patricia Cornwell is, but if she’s smart she lets her publicist handle her page—not all her books are beloved. I started following Joss Whedon on FB (I’m a fan!) and just felt bad for the nonstop pelting he gets “Bring back Firefly!” like it was his fault that awesome show got cancelled.
It’s enough to make a writer want to go hide in an ivory tower with his or her computer.
But that won’t work in this day of social media and transparent relationships if you want to really sell books—and I do. My mom asked me a year ago, “are you ready to be famous?” and my answer was an unequivocal, “hell yes!” I know I want to write for a living, and you have to sell hundreds of thousands of books at $3.99 to make a living. That has to equal some degree of well known, and that’s definitely what I want. But it turns out, even the degree of “fame” that’s come my way is a big adjustment.
We are all just out there, big as a barn, for people to poke and prod, and that’s the new normal.
In getting to know readers, I’m trying to learn how to take the good (encouragement) and let go of the parts that aren’t helpful– the reviews that sting, the errors I make, the demands for more when I’m doing all I can. Here are some things I’ve learned that work:
- Respond to readers. I almost always do. I take the scripture, “a gentle answer turns away wrath” and apply it to complaints. I acknowledge mistakes I’m called on, I thank readers for their feedback. Anyone who takes the time to hunt down my email or FB and write me deserves to be acknowledged, and I’ve never found my readers (so far) to abuse this accessibility.
- Save those encouraging emails, messages, and reviews. On bad days when you hear something like “sophomoric drivel” you need to re-read them and remember how many people loved the book (art piece, etc)
- Take time away from social media periodically. Especially the week after a new release. It’s hard to put a new book out there and not obsessively check sales numbers and reviews. Just turn it all off and give yourself a break for a day or two. You’ll come back to it fresh and ready to interact.
- Develop a clear persona online and stick with it. I’m known for my “therapeutic thoughts” and Hawaii pictures on FB and Twitter, and I tweet a lot about writing and psychology. When I’m tempted to go on a wild hair I remember I’ve got a certain “brand” people have come to expect, and posting that shot of the dude’s abs isn’t consistent. The “brand” persona is a way to sort of coast through social media while still maintaining a highly visible presence.
- Spend time in the “real world.” My counseling practice is great for this. Every time I’m tempted to get all grandiose I have to just go to work, and be fully present and witness clients’ traumas and problems (clients who don’t know or care about my books!) and I’m securely grounded. Service to others quickly cures a swollen head and puts bad book reviews in perspective.
- Keep some privacy. My husband called me on this regarding a recent blog post, and I just took it down without arguing. It was good, and funny—and it was “oversharing.”
I love my readers and appreciate them. Without them, Lei would just be a character in an anonymous blog. Readers’ encouragement brought me on this journey, and I’m forever grateful.
I have a 3X5 card on my desk right under my monitor that lists who I think my readers are: people who love justice, love puzzles and mysteries, root for a good love story, are interested in crime and psychology, are interested in Hawaii, and enjoy stories of overcoming. They probably have a lot more characteristics, but keeping this yellowing card in front of my eyes reminds me how much we all have in common—because those are my interests too.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s a great time in history to be a writer, but it’s no ivory tower. Get out and get to know your readers. You might just find them influencing you more than you expect.
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