Previous reviews are at Mack Pitches Up

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Authors, Social Media, and a Confluence of Interests

This post starts a series describing the effect of social media on readers and how authors use social media to promote their work. It is somewhat of a prelude to Mack's Grand Study of Social Media. It is personal, anecdotal, and a way to get started while I think about a methodology to conduct a serious study. I also have a professional librarian interest in social media but here I'm looking at how they effect me, a user, a consumer of these services.

I can start with one definite conclusion: social media can close the gap between author and reader and can open rather remarkable opportunities to communicate - if that is what the author wants. I'm sure it is a tricky balance for authors to put themselves out there on the Internet without letting it get in the way of actually writing.

Several years ago I became serious about crime fiction. I not only wanted to read crime fiction but I wanted to read about it. I began looking for people who write about crime fiction and discovered a community of bloggers as interested in the subject as am I (actually more so). The blogger community, and other social media communities I will discuss later, have affected what I read and how I read. Without these communities, for example, I doubt I would have begun to explore Scandinavian crime fiction. And there are members of the communities that I now consider friends regardless that we are not likely to ever meet in person.

The idea for this series originated with the Two Rogers. Roger Smith and Roger Morris are authors whose books I recently read who I would not know about were it not for social media. From that start I have become interested in how social media is affecting my reading and how authors are using social media to promote their work and what that might mean to readers.

This rest of this post will focus on Roger Smith.

I own a copy of Roger's book because of Twitter. I never did much with my Twitter account (Max46) before the past four months. One day I received a notice that Roger Smith (rog_smith) was now following me. I checked his profile to make sure he wasn't a spammer/pornographer/crazed stalker, noted that he lives in Cape Town, South Africa, writes thrillers, and started following him in return. His profile includes a link to his web site which has a video trailer to his book, Mixed Blood, as well as a slide show of photographs from the areas of Cape Town about which he writes. Additionally, he posted teaser tweets from his pre-publication book. If the hook wasn't set at this point, I was eying the lure appreciatively. Roger then offered friend status on Crimespace, a social networking community where authors and readers can mingle.

Here is why I added "confluence of interests" to the title of this post. I dropped Roger a note thanking him for looking me up on Crimespace then later asked him if he would mind looking at a short video to identify the location. We (mother, father, brother, me) lived in South Africa for four years ('52-'56). My mother and father went on a vacation to Cape Town where my father took movies. A couple of years ago the movies were digitized as part of the Lost in Light project and I have been documenting the the places and events. There was a spot in Cape Town I wasn't sure about and wondered if he could identify it. He obliged and we began a casual correspondence. He told me more about Cape Town and the background of his book. I found I was very interested reading Mixed Blood - hook set and book pre-ordered from Amazon.

This next bit might be interesting or seem weirdly obsessive but as Roger and I discussed the probable location of the vacation scene I turned to Google Earth. In Google Earth I examined the area Roger identified - Rocklands Bay - then moved out to look at Cape Town. From locations mentioned in the tweets from Mixed Blood, clues from Roger, and scenes from the trailer and slide show I had a detailed mental image of the setting before I read the book. I also used Wikipedia and Google Images to fill out the picture.

Did this sense of a personal relationship contribute to my purchase of Roger's book? It certainly tipped me over into placing an Amazon pre-order rather than hoping that the public library would buy it.

Here are the social media where I follow Roger. At the end of the list is a link to the vacation video Roger helped me with.

My Review of Mixed Blood
Roger Smith Books
Roger on Crimespace
Roger Smith on Facebook
Mixed Blood Group on Facebook
Trailer for Mixed blood on You Tube
Cape Town Home Movie the bit I was interested in starts at 1:12.


Kerrie said...

I've been thinking along similar lines Mack. My recent experience at Left CoastCrime meeting with people I had known only "virtually", and with authors whose blogs I have read, was mind blowing.

Roger Smith said...

There has been much on the Internet recently from authors doubting the value of social networking, saying that readers find books by browsing bookstores or through reviews in the established media. I disagree.

Mack said...

Roger, I emphatically disagree as well. I suppose, though, it depends on the type of reader - general, mall bookstore readers or specialized readers. I focus on crime, mystery, thriller, suspense books.

I'm a librarian and have access to all the established media but I seldom use those sources when deciding on a book.

I find that the social networking sites, both amateur reviewer and author managed, much more useful. Without them I would be at the mercy of the big box bookstores who seem to think there are only 5 authors people want to read. It would be different if there was a local indie mystery bookstore but there isn't and these indie shops are going out of business at an alarming rate.

Most of the blogs I follow are of the amateur reviewer sort but there are essential author blogs as well. Take Declan Burke's Crime Always Pays. He started his blog to promote his work but he is very respected as a keen observer of the crime genre. I purchased his book, The Big O, because of his blog and I most certainly wouldn't have browsed it on the shelves of a "spine-on" big box store. Declan's blog led me to Adrian McKinty's wonderful ..Dead trilogy and to McKinty's blog which led me to pre-order his latest book, Fifty Grand.

I've already documented in this post how I came to own your book, Mixed Blood. The power of Twitter.

Speaking of Twitter, I read a comment by an author who said that he gets a substantial number of hits on his blog that originated on Twitter.

I believe that an author can develop a substantial and loyal fan base through the use of social media outlets. Keeping up with social media can be a major time-suck and I empathize with authors. I have a hard enough time posting regularly to my modest blog much less writing a novel at the same time.

Sometime this week I am going to profile Seth Harwood, a crime fiction author/podcaster who is breaking into print. Podcasters really know how to work social media.

maxine said...

Fascinating story, Mack! I too am a keen consumer of social media for many of the reasons you say. I have also experienced several downsides of it, too. As you imply in your post, like everything else it can (and does) lead to opportunities, expanding the mind and so on, but also needs to be used cautiously with a view to what each person wants to get out of it - and of course, what he or she minds the whole world reading and knowing!