The book industry is in upheaval. The recent news that Borders will liquidate and shutter all of its 399 stores is the latest sign of print’s unstable market.
In many ways, tech advancements have forced the industry’s deterioration. While print struggles to catch a foothold, tech-savvy authors are managing to bridge the gap. Therefore, I’d like to introduce four tech-savvy authors whose statuses range from rookie to bestseller. Thanks to social media, they’re writing their own rules about branding and fan engagement.
1. John Green – The Fault in Our Stars
Author: John Green
Facebook: John Green
John Green’s latest book, The Fault in Our Stars, is riding high on the charts. It recently landed the number-one spots on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. But here’s the thing – his story won’t be published until 2012.
Green promoted the book to his 1.1 million Twitter followers, according to The Wall Street Journal:
On (a) Tuesday afternoon, he posted the title of his new book on Twitter, Tumblr and the community forum YourPants.org. An hour later, he upped the stakes by promising to sign all pre-orders and the entire first-print run, while also launching a YouTube live show. Mr. Green discussed his plans for signing the book and also read a section to give viewers a sense of what The Fault in Our Stars would be about.
On the same day of the WSJ article, Green responded by tweeting, “I am genuinely uninterested in marketing, but I am VERY interested in being part of awesome communities.”
Publisher @penguinusa also tweeted the news: “did you hear? @realjohngreen’s new #ya novel THE FAULT IN OUR STARS is #1. One catch, he’s still writing!”
To which Green could not resist shooting back: “@penguinusa HAHAHAHAHA Don’t make fun of me corporate overlord or I will refused to finish it! ;)”
2. Laura Hillenbrand – Unbroken
Author: Laura Hillenbrand
Facebook: Laura Hillenbrand
Earlier this year New York Times bestseller Laura Hillenbrand – the author of Seabiscuit – participated in a new media experiment to promote her new book Unbroken, which follows a WWII pilot who was shot down, only to survive a Japanese prison camp.
NPR produced what it described as a “book club-meets-social media experiment” across its Facebook, Twitter and web presences — places where Unbroken was widely discussed. On the NPR Books Facebook Page Hillenbrand also contributed to the discussion.
By achieving direct access to the author, readers like Robin Politowicz became inspired to write back:
Was there a moment in your research that just stopped you in your tracks? A particular incident or injustice or cruel twist of fate (of which there were so many) that gave you pause?
Wonderful book – listened to the audio version on a long vacation drive, and had to think of errands to run once we got home so that we could finish listening
Good question! There were so many breathtaking moments in Louie’s story. I think the one that was most striking to me was the one when he was on the raft, and the Japanese bomber began strafing him and his raftmates. This was incredible enough, but in seeking cover under the raft, Louie ended up having to fight off sharks, striking them in their noses while the bullets showered down. I can’t imagine that there’s been another man in history who has been simultaneously fired upon and attacked by sharks. That he survived it continues to amaze me.
3. Blake Northcott – Vs. Reality
Author: Blake Northcott
Facebook: Vs. Reality
If you’re a new writer who’s looking ahead to a seemingly daunting publishing task, take a tip from Toronto writer Blake Northcott.
She recently self-published Vs. Reality, a work she’s calling a “comic book-inspired urban fantasy novel.” The Kindle version is now available through Amazon.com.
During the nine months spent writing her comic and movie blog, she amassed a 16,000-strong Twitter following, and collected more than 1,700 personal Facebook friends. Furthermore, in the space of one week earlier this month, her re-launched blog got 4,500 page views.
To put the numbers in perspective, her Twitter tribe is roughly the same size as that of publisher Image Comics. And a few days ago, Goodreads.com notified Northcott that she is the tenth most-followed Canadian on the site.
Northcott’s social media presence includes what she describes as an “instant feedback mechanism that tells me people are listening.”
“People are so passionate about books, comics and movies,” says Northcott. “When you connect with them on their level, and they know you’re legitimate, they respect you a lot more. Social media facilitates the ‘secret handshake’ where you get into the club, and people know you’re one of them.”
4. Duane Swierczynski – Fun and Games
Author: Duane Swierczynski
Facebook: Duane Swierczynski
Website/Blog: Secret Dead Blog
If Quentin Tarantino ever decided to put down his camera and pick up a novelist’s pen, the result might read like the action-packed work of Duane Swierczynski. He writes hard-boiled thrillers that have the inventiveness, colorful characters and crackling dialogue of comic books.
His latest book, Fun and Games, was released a few weeks ago. To coincide with the release, Swierczynski devised a promotional contest that met with great fan approval.
To boost his pre-order numbers, Swierczynski invited fans to send him a confirmation once they had pre-ordered the book. In return, he randomly picked winners to which he sent personally chosen prizes – for example, signed copies of his five previous novels, a copy of Rockstar Games’ recent title L.A. Noire, and even the right to name a minor character in the third book of his current trilogy. Additionally, he sent everyone who pre-ordered his book an offbeat postcard he picked up from the road, complete with a handwritten note of thanks.
“I was just talking to a friend the same age as me [late 30s] about how much harder it was to find like-minded people back in the early ’90s,” says Swierczynski. “Sure, there was ‘zine culture, but other than that, you couldn’t help but feel kind of all alone in the universe … Social media makes it so much easier, and so many people I’ve met online have turned out to be good friends in real life. So [social media] is not really a ‘strategy’ – it’s a matter of craving that hive-mind experience. And as part of that hive-mind, you should give as much as you take.”
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