Influence and Power of Readers

As an avid reader, I never realized the impact I could have on the book industry.  I’d go to the bookstore or the library and see what was there, what someone decided to write and put out there for me to read.

Now, as a writer, I realize the power that readers have. It’s like the tree falling in the forest question – if there’s no one to read your book, are you still an author?

A panel of authors discussed this very topic at the Black Authors & Readers Rock Weekend, hosted by the Reading Divas, October 2014 – Readers as Influencers in the book industry.  The panel included authors Austin Camacho, Nina Foxx, and Donna Hill who were asked how could readers support the authors they like?

  • Send the author a note about what you liked – or didn’t like – about the book.  Will it change the book in your hand? No, but it may influence the next one. And who doesn’t just love getting a personal note?
  • Tell 10 people that you read the book and liked it.  Word of mouth sells books.  How did you pick the last 5 books you read? For me, either someone suggested it (in person or a review) or someone gave it to me. Other than that – I found it on the library or bookstore shelf and was intrigued by the cover (I do judge books by their cover.)
  • Invite an author to your bookclub.  Having the author join you is a unique opportunity to ask all those questions you wondered about while reading the book, while giving the author feedback on the story.  This might make you nervous, thinking that surely an author wouldn’t come to your little bookclub, but you might be surprised. In my own book club, we’ve had a number of authors join us for discussion, including Pulitzer Prize winner, Edward P. Jones when we read The Known World.  What’s the worst could happen – he’d say “no.” As it turned out, he was local and available.  We’ve also had an author call in, since she was out of the country when we met.   Now, on the other side, as an author, I can say that sitting around with a group of readers, sipping coffee or wine, munching on cupcakes (there’s always cupcakes!), and hearing what people thought of Life in Spades is a wonderful experience. I’m often been surprised by different opinions of situations, readers’ favorite characters, and whether everybody ended up the way the reader hoped.  Plus, I’m amused by all the rules book clubs have!

Have fun with a theme in the book for your book club meeting.

  • Buy books – don’t share with all your friends. We all do it – we read a book and then give it to a friend to read. Individually, this isn’t too bad. But think on a large scale – sales are reduced, the market for books appears smaller. I know this sounds like a plea from authors to buy books so that we’ll make more money, and it is, but on a larger scale, it’s about more than just the individual author. This is particularly important for diverse authors, who are already battling the industry impression that minorities don’t buy books and there’s no market out there.  Consider it the same difference between you and all your friends buying a ticket to the newest Best Man or Denzel movie vs. one of you going in, videotaping it, and passing it on to everyone else. Not as illegal, but same effect.
  • Give books as gifts – especially for young people.  Our children need to be encouraged to read more than a screen-full of words at a time. Their attention span is so short and getting shorter with each tap of the screen. Give the young people in your life books and encourage them to read. And I like the Kindles & Nooks, but I really do like real pages for little people. There’s some tactile learning and understanding of how a book works for a little person to actually turn the pages.  Instead of the newest gadget that beeps or another set of pajamas – give the kids in your life a book.
  • Post Reviews for the books you read on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, and other book blogs, your own or others.  Make your review informative and constructive, if you have a critique (this goes for book club discussions, too.)  “I hated this book” doesn’t help anybody. Not the author as they prepare to write their next book, especially if it’s a sequel, and not for other readers. Did you not like a character, did you want more details or less, did you want the boy to not get the girl?  Sometimes the thing we don’t like has nothing to do with the author’s technique, but what we wanted to happen – explaining the difference is more helpful for everyone.  Also, and I emphasize this –  don’t give away any spoilers.  You’re read those book reviews that tell you the end – “and then Dorothy left everybody in Oz.” What? Now I don’t even need to read the book.  Write good reviews, give another reader an indication of what you liked or didn’t, but still leave the book for their own experience.
  • Ask your favorite authors for early release copies (galleys or Advanced Reader Copies) for their books, read it, and then write a review.  Authors, publicists, and publishers send these out to get a buzz going about the new book. Your accepting it and then sticking it on your nightstand doesn’t help. At the least, post it on your Facebook page and say “hey, look – a great new book is out.”  But really help get the word out about the new book by writing a review and posting it online.
  • Lastly – read. Keep reading! We need you to read.  And thank you for reading.

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(Read my notes on inspiration for authors from the weekend in my previous post, Black Authors & Readers Rock!)

Black Authors & Readers Rock

Authors and readers – we have a symbiotic relationship, don’t we?  We’re not much one without the other.  And as a relatively new author, I definitely appreciate every reader who has picked up Life in Spades.

Since releasing Life in Spades, I’ve been fortunate to have a number of bookclubs read about Gina, Cookie, Laura, and Sherry and invite us all to their meetings.  We’ve enjoyed great discussions about sisterhood, friendship, and romance over mimosas, sangria and wine, and of course, cupcakes.  It’s really been a pleasure hearing from readers what they thought of these ladies and their lives – and what they thought they should have done.  Thank you to all my readers for inviting Spades into your life.

Frances Frost with NYT Best-selling Author, Kimberla Lawson Roby

Frances Frost with NYT Best-selling Author, Kimberla Lawson Roby

Last weekend, I participated in a book weekend that celebrated the relationship between the writer and the reader, especially those readers in book clubs.  The Black Authors & Readers Rock Weekend, held in Bowie, MD by the Reading Divas, is a unique event which I think may be as enjoyed by the exhibiting authors, as the reader guests.  The weekend included a bookclub discussion of “Open Door Marriage”, by Naleighna Kai, a number of panel discussions with authors and publishers, and a keynote speaker, along with the opportunity to shop for books from the authors and Mahogany Books, sip drinks at the bar, and enjoy lunch.  The book club attendees came dressed in their matching t-shirts and outfits, lead by the Reading Divas who donned cute pink cheetah print scarves and their “Divas” bling-y pins.

I sat on the Movers & Shakers panel with a well-published group of authors, moderated by J’Son Lee author and publisher of Sweet Georgia Press.  At the table with me were: Shelly Ellis, Electa Rome Parks, KL Grady, Earl Sewell, and Nanette Buchanan. As each author read from or spoke about their novels – covering everything from romance, espionage, mystery, and of course, the girlfriend novel – it was quite evident that there is a wide berth of African-American books out on the market, and that, in fact, there is a market for diverse books, despite what some may say.

Black Authors & Readers Rock Weekend - Movers & Shakers Panel Moderator, J'son Lee

Black Authors & Readers Rock Weekend – Movers & Shakers Panel Moderator, J’son Lee

The second panel, Literary Trailblazers, was moderated by WHUR’s Harold T. Fisher. In this round, we heard from Rochelle Alers, Nina Foxx, Donna Hill, Kimberla Lawson Roby and Pat G’orge Walker. The authors talked about some of their own truths and “what no-one knows about me,” creating a new genre as Pat did with Christian comedy, the difference between romance and eroticism, and why the movie is never as good as the book (short answer: because the author rarely writes the movie script.)  Kimberla, asked if she ever thought of quitting, said that she does with every book, doubtful that it will be as good as the last.  This may seem odd, but that statement made me feel better about my own choice in pursuing this career of writing, knowing that that little wiggle of self-doubt is not uniquely my own.

Black Authors & Readers Rock Weekend - Literary Trailblazers

Black Authors & Readers Rock Weekend – Literary Trailblazers

Kimberla Lawson Roby was also the lunch Keynote speaker for Saturday.  Starting out in June 1996, she put together her debut novel after-hours while working her regular government job.  Once faced with selling her first shipment of 3000 copies of Behind Closed Doors, her husband encouraged her to make the big leap of faith from part-time self-published writer to full-time, then traditionally published, writer. She said she was nervous turning in her two-weeks notice and asked her husband what would they do if this writing career didn’t work? His message to her was one that’s crucial for anyone ready to step out on a dream – then you do something else, what have you go to lose?  Her upcoming novel, A Christmas Prayer, will be her 21st book.

As a new writer, stepping out onto this journey, it was exciting and inspiring to be included with this group of accomplished writers, as well as interact with bookclub readers.  This weekend really proved that Black Writers and Readers Rock!

 

 More on how readers can be influencers in my next post.