Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Readers – the Bane or the Bountiful?

There’s an old British sitcom TV series I never get tired of watching. It’s pure genius. I refer to ‘Fawlty Towers’ of course. John Cleese (of Monty Python fame) created and played the character of Basil Fawlty, owner and manager of a small seaside hotel in Torquay, Devon. He considers himself the epitome of flawless hotel management, a consummate professional in every aspect of running his hotel. Everything would be perfect, for Basil …if it weren't for the Guests!


Now at this juncture you may be wondering why I’m rambling on about a comedy show on a writing blog… and with good reason too. ‘Patience, and shuffle the cards’ as my mate Sancho Panza once uttered. You see, in the years I’ve been running this blog, inviting writers of all genres to expound upon some aspect of their craft for the delight and instruction of many, I have contacted many a scribe far and wide. If you glance at my Bio, not the pithy two-liner on Twitter (but while you’re there, don’t forget to follow too), but the one on, say, Amazon, or my website, you might suspect me of being rather an analytical animal. And something has fired up my little grey cells.

Major revelation! (Drumroll).

There are two distinct camps out there when it comes to the relationship between authors and readers!
(No this is not a rant – you may continue reading, rant-free.)

Let me explain. It would appear, in my humble brain, as though the more successful (definition please, someone) you are as an author, the less ‘available’ you have to become to your readers. Now I’m not talking about book-signings or other marketing in-person promotions, rather the mundane day-to-day.

Yes, there are authors who strive to better their craft, improve their skills, and are consummate professionals in every aspect of writing their novels. Everything would be perfect, for them …if it weren't for the Readers!

It’s easy to see what I mean. Choose your favourite big-name author. Now try to find a means of contacting them directly (i.e. not via their publishers, agents, marketing staff etc). Just to send a simple email saying how much you love their work, perhaps, or invite them to Guest post on your writer blog. Yes, it’s the proverbial blood from a stone analogy.

(Oh, you might have noticed something else too.)

Now, repeat the exercise with your favourite Indie author. Whoa! Not only was there a direct email, but they wrote back too! (And not a standard auto-response at that!).

Now, you might argue the sheer volume of fans precludes the big-names from spending time listening to their readers – yet, if it were not for them, the big-names wouldn't be … well… big.


Is it bad to be in contact with the readers of your books?

I can only speak for myself with any authority on this subject. What has my contact with my readers brought to my writing life?

First and foremost, I've made numerous friends and acquaintances through corresponding with those readers who take the time to drop me an email. No, I don’t respond for ‘marketing’ reasons (ugly word that; covers all manner of sins), nor do I need the ego-trip associated with talking about my novels (I am far too confident an author for that). No, it’s simply the enjoyment of listening to these people and taking note of what they have to say.

Amazon Link - it's FREE
A number of years ago I wrote a stand-alone novel entitled ‘the CULL’ as a birthday gift for a relative. When it hit the Amazon shelves, it created quite a stir. It was different; a vampire novel that broke with the memes of the genre. It had female (how dare he?) protagonists, and not dumb chicks waiting for the male hulk to rescue them, but mature, self-reliant women capable of kicking-butt whenever needed and exceptionally good at what they did (Federal Agents). My inbox exploded with missives. Almost all said “more please”. Fortunately for me most also told me why they liked the books, and particularly the protagonists, so much. Result: a series (currently four books) was born. A series which has remained faithful to what the readers want from these characters without being mere templates that repeat a pattern.



Amazon Link

Then a couple of years ago I wrote ‘Outsourced’, an idea that’s been germinating since forever, and intended it to be a stand-alone too. Guess what happened? Now ‘Primed’, the sequel, has popped onto Amazon where the protagonists (one female DIA agent, two male writers), who generated so much email, have another mystery (again based on fact) to solve. This time instead of scouring the dark corners of preternatural Tibetan folklore, it’s a modern meme, just for a change.

Amazon Link











In both cases, if it hadn't been for the readers, these books might never have happened. Now try provoking a similar response from J. P., L. C., S. K. etc. Oh, sure, if the sales numbers are good, they will do a sequel or seven (this is known by the technical term ‘cashing-in’), but where is the contact with their readers other than through filthy lucre? (Not that I'm averse to earning money from my craft, but there are much more important rewards for me too).


Then there is the Source.

You can’t imagine how many of my readers recount snippets from their own experiences, some of which easily inspire a tale or two. And no, should I decide to write these, I will always seek permission first AND credit the source in the novel, often with a character named after them too. Having had ‘certain people who shall remain unnamed’ steal from me, I would never contemplate doing that to anyone.

Is my emailing with readers just one-sided? I’d like to think it isn't. I often email them with complimentary copies of my novels, a small thank you for their interest, and have consulted many who have expertise in myriad exotic topics when I'm crafting new thrillers, (always with the appropriate acknowledgement in the books). I may have even help a few become writers themselves with comments and advice when they ask for it.


Now I've gone as far as to include the readers in my latest novel, 'Primed'.


Eh?

When you read the sequel to 'Outsourced' you will see the three protagonists trying to resolve a couple of puzzles. So far nothing out of the ordinary, right? But I don't let them do this on the pages of the novel!!! That's for the readers to do! And there's a PRIZE too!!! (instructions follow the ending of the story in both the paperback and e-book editions. No, it isn't a competition - if you get the answers right you win - one person or one million people! Everyone wins!!!)

Am I special in doing these things for my readers?

Good Heavens, no!

I’m an Indie who cares… about my writing and my Readers!
(Yes, YOU can write to me here: eric@ericjgates.com)



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