Connecting Authors and Readers: Writer Q&A
This month, our Writer Q&A is focused on how writers can or do connect with their readers. I personally believe this is very relevant to Christian Fantasy writers. And I thought it would be fun to ask both pre-published and published writers to share their thoughts on the matter. My guests today are Evan Atwood, Traci Bonney, Tony Breeden, and R.M. Strong.
What venues do you use to get your book/s out to the audience (e-book, print, other)? Do you have a preference?
Atwood: I am planning on using CreateSpace, an economic option for a first self-published book. Of the different options available for first time publishers, I have found CreateSpace to be comprehensive, helpful with FAQs and breakdowns of the way that different aspects of the publishing process works, and very affordable. It puts the process in the hands of the author/self-publisher, while guiding one in the areas that will matter when it comes to selling the book. They also offer an e-book version of the published book for an added but reasonable price.
Bonney: My books are available as e-books through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords, and as paperbacks through Amazon, CreateSpace, and directly from me. I prefer direct sales of the paperbacks because I can sign them and meet the readers.
Breeden: Right now, my books are available in ebook and paperback at Amazon.com. My preferred venues are sci-fi conventions. Cons are a great way to connect with readers of the genre. It also gives me the opportunity to get my geek on. ;]
Strong: I utilize both print and electronic methods to get my story out to the audience. By far, however, most of my sales are eBooks.
How do you connect with your readers? Author Q&As, personal website, Facebook, twitter, etc.?
Atwood: I am working to connect with potential readers through Twitter, offering interesting tidbits related to the main subject of my book. My story is about a superhero in the real world, where faith in God, physics, and psychological drama all have an effect on the very mortal super. With these different pieces of the story in mind, I tweet about real-life (or nearly believable) feats of strength or athletic ability, words of wisdom on how to strengthen one’s faith in the living God, etc. It’s very exciting to be able to relate to readers over topics of mutual interest, and to introduce my story in an authentic way.
This way, I can see that they are interested in the story, I can see why that is (via their topic of interest), and they can feel out my interests before jumping into the bigger adventure that I want to take them on. I am especially excited to start connecting with readers by blogging, which I hope to start doing on a website after completing my first manuscript/publishing my first book.
Bonney: I have a Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/TraciLBonneyWriter), Twitter account (@TraciBonney), and blog (Tracings, http://tracibonney.com). My best connections with readers have come from in-person encounters at book signings and speaking engagements (only one so far, but I’m optimistic there will be more).
Breeden: Facebook, twitter and my blog[s] are my mainstays for connecting with my readers. Most of it is just me getting my geek on and talking about the writing craft, but my readers appear to be kindred spirits. I’ve tried email lists like MailChimp; they simply don’t reach and impact people the way they used to. I mean, do you read all of the stuff that dumps into your Inbox? I don’t think anyone does. I’ve also tried Pinterest; my Casting Wishlist seemed to generate a lot of interest. Yet by and large, it is things like Reviews, Author Interviews and Character Interest that help me to best connect with new readers.
Strong: I have a website, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, author interviews, and I try to participate in at least one or two blog hops a year.
What is the most exciting part of being able to interact with your readers?
Atwood: When a reader tells me that they “loved it,” or it was “awesome,” I don’t know exactly what they mean, exactly how it affected them, but just knowing that they were emotionally struck by the story is very satisfying as an author. Knowing that readers are impressed is nice, but knowing that they were inspired or impacted in some way is very reassuring and fulfilling.
Bonney: I enjoy being able to talk to the readers about the aspects of the stories they like and the things that captured their attention the most. That kind of feedback is wonderful for helping me refine my writing.
Breeden: The most exciting part of being able to interact with readers is hearing their thoughts and opinions on the books. I remember getting a PM out of the blue where a reader told me she loved my book and got her husband hooked on them too. Another let me know that she enjoyed Johnny Came Home so much that she was re-reading it. I set out to write the sort of books I’d like to read myself; it’s always great to find kindred spirits.
Strong: The most exciting thing about being able to interact with readers is meeting new people. It’s one thing to interact with people you know who have read the books—friends, family, old acquaintances, etc. It’s an entirely different thing to get an email or Facebook post out of the blue from somewhere across the country saying they loved what you have written.
Do you keep the readers involved when you’re writing the next book? How?
Atwood: In my case, I will have a series of books to release one by one, and I plan to utilize the idea of the series in inspiring interest for readers. I plan to release a teaser chapter from the second book at the end of the first book, whether the hard copy or the e-book, so that readers will get a taste of what the second story in the series will be like. I also look forward to writing posts about the second and third books, as I am still writing them, because I will be able to share the ideas behind my books without going into details that will give away the plot. I can share my ideas about life that are represented in the book, while surrounding the context of the topic in mystery over how this subject (i.e. the ethical debate over euthanasia and why I believe that there is absolute truth concerning that topic) relates to the story that they will soon get to read. If I get to hire an illustrator for future books, I would have fun sharing an illustration or two ahead of time.
Bonney: I must admit I haven’t been as diligent with that as I could be, but I do take into account the feedback I’ve been given on the previous novels as I’m writing the current one. I’m still fairly new to all of this, so I’m learning as I go.
Breeden: I try to keep readers involved by giving the occasional update, giving them a sneak peek at the cover art…that sort of thing. I also throw in the occasional short story or character interview. Character interviews are a lot of fun. You can never quite be sure what will come out of your character’s mouth, but their personalities sort of flow if you’ve bothered to develop them at all. I’ve even had them influence the plot of my next book!
Strong: For my My Life as a Superhero series (the final book is being released on November 15), I am posting short “chapters” of the backstories for my heroes and villains (about 1000 words a piece) to round out the characters a little.
What is one thing you recommend to writers who are starting out and wondering if they should try to connect with readers beyond “Here’s my book, buy it, and review?”
Atwood: For first time authors, and I am one, I would highly recommend telling your story to as many people as you can. Don’t make it a sales pitch—make it something that’s important to you that you want to share with this person. It doesn’t have to be only for people that you know really well either (I know there are some shy personalities out there in the writing business, and I am one). I’ve started to share the premise of my story and the gist of the plot with anyone and everyone who I meet. It’s easy now, because when social media comes up, I bring up my social media efforts for my book. When people ask me about my hobbies outside of the norm (job, church, family), the book is the coolest thing to talk about. And when people ask me about myself, I like to talk about movies that I really like to describe my personality—talking about the book that I’m writing is an even more fun way to tell people what I’m like!
Bonney: Definitely make the effort to connect, even if it’s uncomfortable at first. Many writers (including me) are innately introverted, so it’s sometimes a challenge to interact with people about your work. But I have found that most people, especially readers, are encouraging, supportive, and interested in what you’re doing. By connecting with the readers, not only are you engaging them emotionally and intellectually, you’re receiving the validation that we writers need to help us battle the doubts that inevitably surface.
Breeden: You’re truly missing out if you see readers as simply someone to market to. Of course, I want folks to buy my books and we all know that reviews drive new sales, but no one wants to hear you chant, “Buy my book & Review” all the time. Let your readers get to know the man [or woman] behind the curtain. Tell them why you crafted a certain scene or a character the way you did. Tell them what inspires or worries you. You’ll be surprised at the connections you make if you just take the time to do a bit more than spam them.
Strong: On social media, post things on your fan page or tweet things that are not even marketing related. On Facebook, utilize the trending stories. If there is something that interests you, then post it. Your social media walls should not be one long series of posts that all end in “Buy my book!”
Finally, as a fantasy writer, do you think it is more or less important for fellow fantasy writers to connect with their readers than say the writers who stick to Christian Romance?
Atwood: I think there is a significant disconnect in the church between imagination and faith. It may be lessening with the younger generations, but that just goes to show how important it is for the future of communicating the Gospel in new ways, to those who believe Christianity to be a failed attempt from the past. With fantasy, there is a need for an author to have surety about what she or he is writing, looking to the examples of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, as well as modern-day examples like Ted Dekker. Boldness, built on solid faith in God, through prayer over our writing, and with experience as well as with humility, can help us to reach out to the church in ways that can inspire faith and build others up in following Jesus. So I think it is very important for writers of fantasy to connect with their readers.
Bonney: My fantasy novels haven’t been released to the public yet, so my readers don’t really know me as a fantasy writer at this point. However, I do have two books in a four-novel contemporary series in print. The books that are out have strong romantic subplots and are very clearly Christian in their worldview, so I suppose that qualifies me to speak as a Christian romance writer. In my opinion, it’s vital for the author to connect with the readers regardless of genre, although I think I understand the reasoning behind the question. Christian romance has been accepted as a genre for far longer than Christian-based fantasy has, so perhaps fantasy writers do feel the need to connect to, and perhaps even educate, potential readers more than writers in other genres might. Still, in today’s highly competitive marketplace, connecting with the readers is a must-do for any writer hoping to sell to folks other than family, friends, and church members.
Breeden: There is a built-in community of sci-fi and fantasy readers out there, but the moment someone hears the term Christian sci-fi or Christian fantasy, they start getting skeptical. We have to really earn our place in that overall speculative fiction marketplace, so connecting with readers isn’t just important – it’s essential to your survival!
Strong: Personally, I believe it’s much more important. Christian Romance is well-known and somewhat predictable. Girl and Boy meet, they have some kind of adventure, they have a fight, they seek forgiveness from each other, they live happily ever after with Jesus at the center of their “cord of three strands.” Christian fantasy, however, is hardly predictable. It’s also, sometimes, depending on the author, hard to find the “Jesus” in the story. Being proactive about interacting with fans can also help bring the religious aspects of your book into greater focus. If your work is an allegory, for example, you can state it clearly on your site to help the readers understand the meaning behind the story.
I’d like to once again thank the writers for taking time out of their busy weeks to answer these questions. I think it’s clear that writers must step up and interact with readers in some way, shape, or form (although I don’t personally recommend responding to Amazon or Goodreads reviews given the bad rap several high-profile and very public writer meltdowns have given that venue of interaction). I also agree with the writers that Christian Fantasy in general requires more effort on part of the writer due to having a smaller audience than the more well-known offerings of Christian Romance, Christian Historical, etc. Our audience can’t grow if we don’t help plant the seeds and spread the word.
Note: Writer Q&A Thursday is currently experimental and will occur once a month. If you have specific questions you’d like to see answered, please submit them in the comments below or via my contact page. Fantasy authors, if you would like to have your name added to the list for future contributors to Writer Q&A, please let me know via my contact page or in the comments below.
Evan Atwood is a storyteller, who likes to use cameras and computers to tell interesting and compelling, true-to-life stories. He loves to focus the lens of the camera on someone to illuminate their great worth. Evan is the author of The Chosen Series, a story about a young veteran who returns from war in Afghanistan to find that he has been given a super power, one that he has been called to use for good, and not for evil, to save his city from an incurable disease that has crippled its infrastructure and its people’s souls. www.TheChosenStory.com
Traci Bonney is a writer, blogger, hoop dancer, jewelry maker, amateur photographer, yard sale stalker, fledgling entrepreneur and single Christian gal living in the hot and humid South. Her comedic fantasy series, The Portals Trilogy, explores what happens when a hula hoop and a wish shake up one Mississippi girl’s quiet college world. The first book, Step-Through, is tentatively scheduled for release in the spring of 2015.
Tony Breeden – I’m from West Virginia, home of the Mothman, the Flatwoods Monster and Gray Barker, who likely invented the Men in Black. I’ve been an avid sci-fi/fantasy/steampunk/monster/comic book fan all my life and I have a wonderful wife and four adventurous boys who share my geek fandom. My latest book is called Luckbane. Basically, it’s about what happens when a corporation offers players a chance to play their favorite sword, steam and sorcery game live and in-person on a terraformed alien world. I basically write the movies that play out in my head, so it’s an action-packed, genre-bending ride.
R.M. Strong has been writing for fun and profit (but mostly just for fun) since fifth grade. She has four books currently out, and a baby book due on November 15. Currently, she is working on an historical fiction of the biblical story of Exodus. She lives in Oregon with her husband, son, cat, dog, and 4-H guinea pigs. You can find out more on her website, http://rmstrongbooks.weebly.com