I'm posting an email that arrived in my inbox, with the writer's permission.
Hi Mr. Scanlan,
I'm a regular reader of your blog and frequent browser of the Poynter Web site. I'm just wondering everything is OK with you and your wife. I haven't seen an update in more than a week. Send us an e-mail or a little post telling us you're OK. I don't know why, exactly, that I'm feeling uneasy, I've never met you in person except for shaking your hand at a writer's conference in Portland last year, but I'm worrying like a parent does for his child who's off at boot camp. Haha. Sorry:)
Kingman Daily Miner
I appreciate the subject line of your email, but I think I'd be happier with the mechanic tag. I have enough trouble inspiring myself. Thanks so much for your interest and concern. I'm going to answer this personally and then post it, if that's okay with you.
Things are fine; just got swallowed up by life. The Delaware trip went very well, providing a chance to visit Kathy's family and the opportunity to get confirmation of my earlier post about the value of providing stories free, in our case, in the newspaper and podcasts, generates interest in a book.
We had two signings and a combined reading/signing. At every one, people came up and said they had read our Christmans novel, "The Holly Wreath Man," in the Wilmington News Journal where it appeared last year or listened to it online; in two cases, people said they had printed the newspaper or web version out and stapled them together in a collection. They still wanted the book.
We returned home just for the last Institute week of the year--monthly gatherings of Poynter's remarkable faculty and staff,some from around the country, most of us from the Tampa Bay area for meetings, presentations and in this case, culminating with a Wellness Day. Coupled with my birthday, holiday card penning, shopping (man, even I think is too much information), I haven't been at the computer much.
Even so, Nick, it's striking how your email has kick-started me into blogging. Maybe writers dreamed up a Muse because it made them feel less alone, especially when writers wonder if anyone will ever read their work, will it sink like a stone in a pond, whether all the effort is worth it. I certainly feel this way about the textbook I'm revising. In any case, thanks so much for asking.
Okay, now here's a dilemma. Should a blog post end with the sentence above, which feels like a natural conclusion? Or can a blogger keep thinking out loud?
At the risk of losing folks, let me return to the subject of the second graf: developing an audience.
At a Barnes and Noble in Tampa for "The Holly Wreath Man" last Saturday, I asked Julie, one many generous staffers, what sold books. "Titles? Genre?"
"Word of mouth," she said.
"Hmm," I wonder, "how do you generate word of mouth?" It may be time to get out my copy of Malcolm Gladwell's "Tipping Point," which explores the sociological phenomenon "when something unique becomes something common." (Gladwell's web site provides a Q&A and excerpts from his book as well as the original 1996 New Yorker piece.
What works, as I described in a recent column for writer and blogger Cory Doctorow ,doesn't cut it for every author, as another sci-fi novelist describes his experience with freebie versions of his book.
"The Holly Wreath Man" experienced a similar fate as Peter Watts, who discovered, "One of the two major book chains in the US (either Barnes & Noble or Borders, don't know which) didn't order any copies of Blindsight at all. Nada."
Our publisher told us that Borders passed on our book last year. But we keep reminding ourselves that getting that story into print was the dream and anything that follows is icing. And there's another plus for writing a seasonal book; even though it only sells once a year, there's no reason it can't be out there for many years to come.
So how do you generate word of mouth? Can you cite instances where you've done so or when you've been influenced by same?