Friday, April 10, 2009

Word of mouth . . .

By Lonnie Cruse

Personally I never thought that much about Word Of Mouth until I became a published writer. Yeah, I knew it was there, even participated in it myself, but never thought about it. Then I had a book published.

We all use Word Of Mouth every day, whether we realize it or not. "Oh, how cute, where did you get that dress/purse/hat/whatever?" "Who cuts your hair?" "Who watches your kids?" And the recipient--smiling over the compliment--coughs up the information as to where she shops. In fact, some women, including me, feel compelled to spit out the all-important location of our shopping trips when someone simply says the "How cute" line, without even asking where we got it.

And some of us feel compelled to share our opinions without being complemented or even asked. We get excited about something and start chattering about it, sometimes even to strangers: "Did you see this movie?" "Did you read this book?" "Did you know there's a huge sale at . . .?" And thusly the items that are sold and/or those who manufactured them become popular. Because someone told the rest of us about them.

Authors, having studied marketing strategies and/or learned same from other authors, discovered the power of Word Of Mouth a very long time ago. We know that far beyond a gorgeous cover, a rave review (though that is word of mouth, albeit from someone we don't know and therefore have no reason to trust) and a great price, Word Of Mouth sells more books than anything. So we do our best to get our books into the hands of as many people as possible, above and beyond selling them in stores.

We join book chat lists to chat about books, including ours, we set up blogs and websites, we run contests, we make public appearances to meet and greet readers, and we even give books away, each time crossing our fingers that this reader will love it and tell all her friends about it. (And closing our minds to the possibility that she might not. Let's face it, would you want someone to call YOUR baby ugly?) Then, if we're lucky, word begins to spread. Our books begin to sell.

It goes without saying that the product--the book--must be as excellent as the above mentioned dress/purse/hairdo. (Okay, so I said it.) But Word Of Mouth doesn't just sell our books, it sells US, the authors. And if we, the authors, don't come up to scratch as human beings, if we don't "sell," then likely our books won't either.

An author makes an appearance somewhere, forgets the manners her mother worked so hard to teach her, turns off one or more attendees, and Word Of Mouth spreads. Or she hogs the spotlight and over-sells herself, whether in public or on the book discussion lists or other Internet venues. She's too full of herself, certain sure that her personality and her work are of THE most importance. Word Of Mouth spreads quickly among readers. Book sales drop like an over-ripe peach off a tree.

You, the reader, are one of THE most important aspects of our writing careers. Without you reading our writing and passing the word to others, our books won't sell. Books don't just magically become best-sellers because the author or the publisher wants them to. Yes, some authors get a lot more "assistance" from their large publishers than those with small publishers. But people have to want to read the books no matter who wrote or published them. And want to tell others about them. Consider the rather well-known murder case where the defendant, judged not guilty by the court but found guilty by many fellow countrymen, had a lucritive book deal cancelled when the reading public let it be known that this book would not be on their "must buy" list. You, the reader, have the biggest impact on what becomes a best-seller and what doesn't.

As writers, we see the respect readers have for us when we meet you in person. Trust me, we are just as in awe of you, as you are of us. So please, keep right on chatting to everyone you meet about us and about our books. And if you think our babies are ugly, we'll do our best to overlook it. Really.


Sheila Connolly said...

Yes, yes, yes. Write the best book you can and send it out into the world--and hope that other people see what you did when you wrote it. Respect your readers' intelligence, and always be open and enthusiastic about your work.

We as authors can blog and post and meet and greet and mail things all we want--but a sincere recommendation from someone who has actually read the book carries a lot more weight.

Your comment about being polite to others is right on. No writer, even Janet Evanovich or Nora Roberts, can afford to be arrogant or rude.

And pay it forward, or back, or whatever--if you love someone else's book, tell people!

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

I agree about how important it is for a writer to be courteous to all. I've even changed my behavior some. If a driver cuts me off in traffic, I no longer yell or make rude gestures. Instead, I mutter my mantra: "No enemies! They might buy your book...."

Sandra Parshall said...

I'm still astonished every time somebody says, "I've read your books and loved them!" It's still like a dream to me -- I'm published, people are spending some of their time on this earth reading what I wrote! You bet I'm polite to readers. These are the people I've worked for so many years to reach.

I've never received any nasty e-mails about my books, or been confronted in person by someone who hated them, so I have to wonder how I would react. I hope I would be polite and acknowledge that not every book will please every reader. And I hope readers realize that every book represents the blood, sweat and tears of the writer. I see some unbelievably brutal reader reviews posted on Amazon, and I know they must hurt the writers. If a reader doesn't like a book, he's free to say so, but does he have to act as if the book is an affront to public decency and the author should be burned at the stake?

BTW, Sheila, I've heard that Nora Roberts is one of the most gracious writers around.

Lonnie Cruse said...

Thanks, Ladies! Yep, meeting a rude writer would put me off her/his books faster than anything.