Saturday, March 9, 2013

Thoughts for my fellow authors on swimming naked

I read this thing in Nylon magazine (March 2013) about an eccentric Scottish baron named Lord Glenconner. He’s this guy who started an elite resort community on the Caribbean island of Mustique back in the 1950’s. If you can get past the imperialist stuff – he actually forced the folks indigenous to the island to move their whole village to make way for a hotel – it’s a fascinating story, because he took this remote land that most people had never heard of and convinced everyone that it was a highly desirable place to be. And how did he do this, you ask? Well, it wasn’t by conventional advertising and salesmanship as we usually know it. For one thing, he gave a prime tract of land away for free to royal Princess Margaret. But when asked how he convinced the likes of Mick Jagger and Robert Mapplethorpe to invest, he said, “We’d drink chilled white wine and maybe I’d sing songs. Then I would undress and plunge into the sea. They’d be swept up in the whole idea of living on Mustique, and that was when I’d sell them land.”

Which got me thinking. Not about moving to the Caribbean (although that would be nice). About selling books.

See, I know from experience that convincing readers to take a chance on an indie book is a lot like trying to talk them into moving to an uncharted island. It’s hard. Like most authors, I spend a crapload of my time on social media with other authors, and I can tell you that it is a Tower of Babel out there. People are constantly trying to sell their books, posting sale prices and giveaways and whatnot, and for the most part it feels to  me like we’re all just shouting into the void, talking to ourselves and each other and somehow missing a chance to really connect with readers.

To remedy this, I think we could all learn something from the crazy Scottish guy’s sales technique. Not the drinking wine part, because I think we’ve got that down. Not even the “giving away a prime tract of land to someone important” part, because I think most of us understand the importance of giving ARC copies to taste-making bloggers and free sample chapters to readers. I think the part we’re missing is the “plunging naked into the sea”. See, Glenconner knew that, if you want to convince someone to join you somewhere, you have to share the complete and utter joy you feel being there yourself. Not just tell them about it, either – you have to live it.  

Too often, we authors finish writing a book and we forget whatever it was that made us obsessed enough to write the book in the first place. We forget to let the reader in on the very real passion that sucked us into these characters, this setting.  We get focused on selling readers a product when what they are craving is the experience of being part of the process – being swept away by the story, yes, but also being swept away by our joy in creating it, the daring skinny dip that is writing a book. The reason readers follow authors on social media – and particularly the reason they follow indie authors, who are generally more accessible than trad published authors – is to catch a glimpse behind the scenes of the story, at the real human who wrote it. They want to see you cry when a character dies, read snippets of that first kiss in progress, listen to the pounding punk music you’re listening to as you write the breakup scene. Most of all, they want to feel the excitement, the pure joy, you feel in this story, the love that lead you to write it in the first place. Sure, it can feel exposed and vulnerable to share process with strangers – what if you share and they don’t like it? What if they walk away? But the fact is, if you don’t share, they may never know how much it matters to you. Find ways to be more open, more honest and exposed, and you may find that readers are willing to leap into the sea along with you, and maybe even build their heart’s new home in your book.   

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