Wednesday, June 13, 2007

BEA: Care & Feeding of Fans

Lee Child & Debbie Macomber

On Friday, June 1, I attended "Care & Feeding of Fans: Author Remedies & Recipes," moderated by Carol Fitzgerald, empress of Bookreporter.com and its many ancillary sites and services. Panelists, seated from left to right, were:
I came in a little late and the room was SRO. For good reason: This was one of the best panels I've seen anywhere, and I've seen plenty. Fitzgerald was an excellent moderator and the panelists were fantastic--warm, witty and brutally honest. Though they'd never met before, they played off each other like seasoned pros and often had the audience cracked up.

I scribbled as fast as I could, but still didn't catch everything--such as what Fitzgerald's first question was, Patrick's disquisition on big hair, and the time Trigiani called into a Florida book club and they left her hanging while they got drunk (and didn't discuss the book). Now that I reread my notes, I see that they're rather telegrammatic. Oh well, here goes...

Kathy Patrick & Adriana Trigiani

Lee Child: The hard-core posters on my site forum are big-mouths--word of mouth has grown enormously. They hang out together, go on vacation together, travel all over the world together. They identify with the character Harry Reacher. It's a lot more socially acceptable to love a fictional character than a real person. [laffs] A British accent is the single most valuable thing for me in the U.S. People think I'm intelligent and refined, whereas when I open my mouth in the U.K., they know I'm a scumbag from Birmingham. [guffaws]

Debbie Macomber: I started with a mailing list of 350 people who'd written to me care of my publisher. I sent them a direct [postal] mailing of family Christmas recipes and got 300 letters back. Now my mailing list is 75,000. Every year I send a special pattern to the 25,000 knitters on my list. [No mention of what her postage costs must be!]

Fitzgerald: What's different now?

Adriana Trigiani: Online stuff helps; I answer 300 emails a day. I talk to 4 to 5 book clubs a week--at night, so it doesn't cut into the day. Have to have time to make the product. [laffs] People who read books are pretty smart. I made a DVD talking about books. Sometimes I take book clubs to lunch in New York, sometimes I meet them for lunch in other cities. [Macomber takes book clubs to lunch too; no wonder they both have adoring fans.]

Child: People are used to reading books with the idea of critical discussion. I talk about other books I like. I don't want to favor anyone, it's safer to talk about other people. [laffs]

Kathy Patrick: I kicked off the "Read This Book" campaign on the Diane Sawyer show. I wear clip-on hair for travel. [Tosses head; big laffs.] I run the largest book club in the world--it's in the U.S. and 8 foreign countries. I feature first-time authors. There are so many wonderful authors writing books that aren't seen. I run 3 book festivals: Christian [Books Alive!], Girlfriend Weekend, International Book Club Author Extravaganza. I can read and chew gum at the same time--the Southern Blonde. [guffaws]

Trigiani: The world is moving so fast now, it's insane. Every day you have to learn how to open something new...with pictures. [laffs] What hasn't changed is the commitment to our readers. Thank God I was an office temp! I knew how to put a mailing list together. It's a huge job. Reader loyalty has to do with access to you.

Macomber: When I'm going out on tour, I send postcards to everyone on my list within a 50-mile radius of the bookstore. I have a staff of three...Trigiani: THREE?!?!?! [guffaws]...for my mailing list.

Trigiani: People that read are on a journey.

Fitzgerald: Reading is one of the two most personal experiences.

Trigiani: I can't blog and answer emails. You've gotta pick what's most comfortable to you. Nothing interesting happens to me that belongs to be put on a blog. [laffs] You gotta have help, or there's no time to write. I call book clubs, take them to lunch.

Macomber: It's important to keep in touch with readers. Keep them updated on what's available. I send chatty newsletters from Cedar Cove with recipes.

Trigiani: I tracked down the girl that was kicked off "Project Runway." I got her tulle skirt and had a contest for it. That was huge.

Patrick: It's a better discussion if the book club has read the book. [laffs]

Fitzgerald: How about autographs?

Macomber: I send them a book plate. I'm not in the business of selling books, I'm in the business of writing books. I send readers to booksellers.

Trigiani: I offered a special holiday book plate. I signed 8,000 of them!

Fitzgerald: On your web site, you should have a nav bar item "For Book Clubs" and a form with time, date and place.

Fitzgerald: What's the biggest mistake authors make?

Trigiani: An author who won't speak to any readers, or look up. It's just rude.

Fitzgerald: I tell people to "lock and load": Lock eyes with the person and talk only to them.

Macomber: People come from great distances to come to a signing. Make it an event, develop a relationship with them. I used to pay my kids a quarter to bring someone to the signing table. [laffs]

Patrick: Be nice and charming. It makes all the difference in the world to be accessible. Some authors are terrible speakers and great writers.

Fitzgerald: At the Virginia Festival of the Book, someone in the audience asked an author on a panel what other work they liked. The author said, "I wouldn't recommend anyone coming up." [huge gasps] The room gasped just like you.

Fitzgerald: How do you deal with difficult fans?

Patrick: Answer everyone seriously. Tell them you're in the middle of doing a color [she's a hairdresser] and you have to get off the phone. [laffs]

Fitzgerald: What about hate mail?

Patrick: That was my first phone call after I appeared on "Good Morning America." I told her, "Let's talk," and she hung up.

Fitzgerald: How about events--do you do a reading, a spiel or Q&A?

Macomber:
I never read. I talk about myself and tell stories.

All: People don't want to be read to; they want to connect with the author. [I say this in my workshops ALL the time!]

Macomber: The best fan letter I ever got was from a guy in prison: "You can be my woman and I don't even care if you're fat." [mass hysteria]

Trigiani: Don't read Amazon reviews!

Audience member: I was looking for book groups for my book. I researched Newcomers Clubs (they're all over the country), and they all have book groups.

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