The Last Word : Word of mouth, facing out
The build-up to the release of "One Good Dog" has me going in a vastly different direction than any of my previously published books ever did. In the olden days - "Beauty" was published, gasp, 16 years ago - I had little or nothing to do with marketing or publicizing the book other than making contact with my friendly local press. Since the publication of "Summer Harbor" in 2003, the world of marketing has changed in remarkable ways. Back then, print advertising was the key to the mint. Publishers allocated a certain amount of money for advertising, and the more they would do in the print media the better because that's where people saw your book. This print advertising meant that you had a product the publisher was willing to back. A book only has a six- to eight-week "shelf life" before being yesterday's news. Back in the day, an expensive print advertising campaign could determine an author's make-or-break.
Even then, it wasn't all about the paid ad. Word of mouth, also called hand-selling, is perhaps a more important determinant in a book's success. Readers are the best salesmen. If the book grabs the attention of those readers who love nothing better than to recommend, who tell their friends, who then tell their friends that "Moby-Dick" is a fun read, Melville is suddenly on everyone's lips. "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Pie Society" is one of those books, now enjoying residence on the bestseller list, long after initial publication.
Today the Internet is the marketing tool of choice. It harnesses both the visual impact of print advertising and, best of all, is the electronic version of word of mouth. The "buzz" travels greater distances and with greater speed than ever possible before the advent of social networking. However, an author's make-or-break chance of success is dependent upon his or her willingness to use this tool. The Internet is an interactive medium, and it is up to the author to use it. I've already written in this column about my reluctance to join Facebook, pooh-poohing its relevance. In order to write that column, I had to walk the walk, and thus set up a Facebook page with every intention of canceling it once the column was published. I didn't. I found that it was kind of fun to reach out to people, check out their baby pictures and get a heads-up about upcoming events in the community. Even so, I rarely visited it, or paid it too close attention except on the rare occasion I'd get a notice of someone "writing on my wall." That's all changed. I'm "friending" and being "friended" every day. My marketing maven, Monica, sent me a laundry list (do people still write laundry lists?) of Internet sites I must join. So, being the responsible and obedient author that I am, I've now got accounts on Twitter (dear God, help me), BookArmy, GoodReads, IndieBound, and other book-centric social networks, plus my blog.
Relentless self-promotion is a very difficult thing for me. When we visit bookstores elsewhere, it's always painful for me to sidle up to the main desk and offer to sign any of my books that might be on their shelves, it feels too self-serving, requiring a chutzpah not native to me. (And I've learned to make sure they have copies before I really embarrass myself.) But, as I have been reminded time and again, it's critical to make contact. On the other hand, there are writers who go into a bookstore and blatantly "face out" their books. Isn't Facebook essentially the same thing: putting my book - "One Good Dog," in case you can't remember its title - face out on your shelf?
Is all this tweeting and Facebooking, chatting, blogging, crying out in the wilderness going to help? Yes. Better than all the paid ads in the world, this social networking gives my audience the opportunity to connect with me about the book, to ask questions, make comments. And it gives me something that the authors of a bygone era had in only the limited way of fan letters forwarded on by publishers - immediate, direct, two-way personal communication with readers. And that's very exciting.
So, if you've a mind to, visit me. www.susanwilsonwrites .com. Friend me on Facebook; follow my tweets. I promise I won't write drivel.
Just one last word. It's been a long time since the last book came out. A long road of distraction and failed attempts. Finally, 20 months or so ago, the right idea came to me, I got the right advice and direction; and, best of all, the right editor at the right publishing house. All along the way people have been patient, kind, understanding, supportive, and not once did anyone suggest I give up. I thank you all.
"One Good Dog" will be on shelves on March 2.