Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Book Clubs

Barbara here.  Time is flying, and as fall arrives, with one book just being released and the next one due in to the publisher this weekend, it seems to be hitting supersonic speeds. Which is why I thought I had just posted a blog last week, but when I double-checked, I discovered that my last post was three weeks ago! I had entirely missed my last date, but luckily for me, my Wednesday partner Sybil had posted two Wednesdays in a row. Possibly by accident, caught up in then same maelstrom as me, but thank you, Sybil!

But enough about flying time. I have more important things on my mind. Various posts on Type M recently have talked about the challenges of getting the word out about a new book, with close to a million books being released every year and most of them, apparently, selling a dismal 250. Not a great career choice, for sure. There have been posts about social media and niche marketing, about book launches, and about the ups and downs of bookstore signings. All these strategies sell books, especially as part of a "cast your bread upon the waters" approach that authors hope will trigger a ripple effect. Retweets, Facebook shares, hand selling by bookstore owners, word of mouth among like-minded readers.

But social media is at its core a solitary pursuit, pursued from your office or living room couch while wearing your pyjamas. And we writers already spend far too much time in the living room in our pyjamas. Twitter and Facebook connections are virtual, and no matter how real and intimate they are, they can't take the place of talking to someone. And as for bookstore signings, they are mostly shame and humiliation interspersed with occasional delight.

If you really enjoy connecting with readers and want to talk to real people, there is another approach rarely mentioned among book promotion strategies - book clubs. A largely untapped treasure trove of avid readers who not only read books but love to talk about them. Too labour intensive, you think? Consider this. At bookstore signings, after two hours of sales pitches and questions about the latest vampire book (or the location of the washrooms), I may sell anywhere from four books (a really bad day) to 40 books (just before Christmas). Book clubs typically have ten to fifteen members, who not only read that one book but often go on to read several others. And they buy more from me on the day of the meeting, either for themselves or as gifts. Easily matching my best bookstore records.

But there's much more to a book club evening than simply sales numbers. Indeed, those are far down the list. For that evening, I am invited to share in the camaraderie, laughter, and enthusiasm, not to mention excellent food, of a friendship circle who love books and are all eager to talk about my book. They gain insight into my processes and inspiration, and I gain invaluable insight into how my books are viewed. What worked for them and what didn't. What characters they cared about. All incredibly valuable for a writer. By my sharing with them, they share with me, and I suspect I come out the winner. A connection is made, many come out to subsequent launches, and buy the later books. They also tell their book loving friends.

Book clubs are warm, fuzzy places. I have never been eviscerated (perhaps they wait until I have left!) and they seem to enjoy an informal dialogue and Q&A that requires no formal presentation or preparation at all, beyond arriving in a cheerful, talkative frame of mine. I have lost count of the number of book clubs I have attended over the sixteen years since my first Inspector Green came out. Most of them have been in the Ottawa or Eastern Ontario area, so an easy drive, but some have been via Skype to places farther away. I have a note on my website that I welcome book club invitations, but I think many of the invitations come from word of mouth as well. "You spoke to my sister's book club..." or "Another author suggested you..."

That is a ripple effect well worth pursuing. I am betting that few kinds of promotion are more effective, especially when you consider the pleasure experienced and the friendships that are formed.


Anonymous said...

The Sleuth of Baker Street does an excellent job of getting the word out about newly-issued crime fiction, both through its monthly newsletter and in-store events. And next month, I see that Marian is to give a presentation at the annual meeting of the Ex Libris Association, a group of (mostly) retired librarians to which I belong. I gather writing and book selling can both be precarious ways to make a living but with any luck, you can expect a renewed surge of interest thanks to events like these!

Barbara Fradkin said...

Yes, they are great supporters of crime writers, and much appreciated!