by Gail Z. Martin
Not so very long ago, if you wanted to let an author know how much you enjoyed his/her book, you had to write a letter and mail it to the author in care of his/her publisher, hoping that the author would eventually receive it. You didn’t really expect to hear back, but if a postcard with a few scribbled lines did come your way, it was a rare treasure worthy of framing.
Back in the day, if you were lucky enough to live near a big city, authors might come to a book signing at a local store. You’d only know about the signing if you read about it in the newspaper, saw a sign in the store window or happened to be on the store’s mailing list, but if you did find out in time, you might have a few seconds to talk to the author while he/she signed your book. No one expected more, unless you were a regular at genre conventions, a pastime limited to a very small sub-set of die-hard fans in major cities.
How times have changed! Today, every author who is at all serious about the craft has a web site, a Facebook page, a Twitter feed, an Amazon author page, a blog, often a podcast, and a presence on sites like Shelfari and Goodreads. Authors also have email newsletters, video trailers on YouTube, downloadable excerpts and bonus material, even avatars in Second Life that hold virtual readings for an audience of virtual people.
As I’ve gotten ready for the launch of my new book, Ice Forged, I’ve taken nearly all of those components into consideration, making sure that I’m accessible to readers through a variety of channels, and assuring that readers can sample the book in as many places as possible.
What changed, besides technology? The short answer is: everything.
Digital publishing, print-on-demand and ebooks made it possible the democratization of publishing. Social media meant that anyone with a computer and an Internet connection could have a global reach greater than many cable TV networks. Amazon and other online booksellers made books available to a world-wide audience, and ebooks eliminated the costly issues of advance printings, warehousing and distribution.
The number of new books climbed to approximately one million (counting all forms of publishing) in 2010 by one estimate. How do readers find the next book to read amid all the titles competing for their attention?
Social media enables authors to create relationships with readers that last beyond a casual comment at a signing or a fan letter. Watch a video, and you have an idea of the book that goes beyond the blurb on the back cover. Read the reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, and you can get a sense for what a cross-section of readers think. Participate in the forums and community of sites like Goodreads, and you build relationships with other readers while also getting to have a real, ongoing conversation with the authors who are active on those sites. Read an author’s blog, and not only do you have continuity between book releases, but you also get some insight into the person who creates the works you enjoy, along with the way to comment. Stay tuned to the author’s Facebook page, Twitter feed and web site, and you no longer have to depend on the book store or news media to keep you informed about new books and appearances.
Social media has transformed what were once two solitary and disconnected activities: writing and reading. Sure, you could discuss books with your friends, or with a book club, but even the old-fashioned online bulletin boards don’t compare with the quantity of discussion opportunities available through communities like Goodreads, LibraryThing and ReddIt. Authors who couldn’t afford to do a national tour once had few options for engaging with readers outside of their local area. Now, authors Skype into book club meetings on the other side of the world to make a personal appearance, upload readings to iTunes and add video greetings to their web sites.
All this technology has also opened up new opportunities for writer and readers. Some authors have experimented with crowd-sourcing books, where creative collaboration is part of the fun. Other authors “test drive” ideas and scenes with their Facebook followers. Certainly it’s become not only possible, but desirable for authors to post short stories, deleted scenes, bonus material and out-of-print books, as well as new books on a schedule that fits the needs of the author/reader, outside of the timetable of publishers.
Comments and forum boards mean that readers can get beyond the opinions of professional reviewers and see what other readers think, add their two-cents, and commune with like-minded others. Authors can encourage each other, support each other’s launches, share resources, and collaborate, or just stay in touch between conventions.
Personally, I think it’s great—and I hope that you’ll find me and friend me so that we can begin a conversation that becomes a relationship!
Gail Z. Martin’s newest book, Ice Forged: Book One in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga (Orbit Books), launched in January 2013. Gail is also the author of the Chronicles of the Necromancer series (Solaris Books) and The Fallen Kings Cycle (Orbit Books). For more about Gail’s books and short stories, visit www.AscendantKingdoms.com. Be sure to “like” Gail’s Winter Kingdoms Facebook page, follow her on Twitter @GailZMartin, and join her for frequent discussions on Goodreads.
Read an excerpt from Ice Forged here: http://a.pgtb.me/JvGzTt