Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Rise up, readers!

 Writers depend absolutely on readers - but reading activism can't be left to writers!

Reading is only half the story...!
"Reader activism" may not be a term familiar to you all. But this Universal Heart Book Club is certainly part of a much-needed trend towards greater engagement with writers and writing by readers. Without such activism - more on that below - we risk serious writers becoming an endangered species. Not only that, publishing houses, on which writers must at least partly depend, will become more conservative, more guarded and even more under threat than they currently are. That's because it's the original, adventurous writing, or writing that speaks to the soul and heart, or writing that brings academic diligence to wider audiences that will fall away. Few committed readers want to face a future in which the greatest book excitement is generated by a ghosted memoir of a sports star, a new vampire title or another 150 shades of grey.

When this Book Club was in the planning stages I (Stephanie Dowrick) was particularly keen to work with Walter Mason on it for a range of reasons. In the forefront was my confidence that Walter - with his fast mind and generous heart - is a true reader activist: he supports the writing he cares about; he blogs and tweets in support of it - more than any other writer I know; he turns up to talks; he gives talks; he names his enthusiasms; he generates enthusiasm. This is no small thing. All too few writers apparently see the benefits in supporting other writers' work. And this is a loss for us all.

But while writers depend absolutely on readers, reading activism can't be left to writers. Readers who want to be able to luxuriate in a genuine sense of choice, and who care about writing that is neither pop nor predictable, need to make sure that their enthusiasm translates into action.

The marketing budget for most writers - even when published by mainstream publishing houses - is virtually non-existent. "Marketing" has to happen on the ground - by readers who care. So! Write reviews on your favourite bookstore websites or those most often visited. On Amazon, for example, this makes a difference in the way a writer's books appear as "recommendeds". Use GoodReads like the passionate publicist you can now be. Let authors know that you are supporting them - as reader activist Peta Kelly does. Send out links to friends, sharing news of book blogs such as this one - or a particular review or article that's inspired you. Send them far and wide. Buy new, not second hand (no royalty for the author). Don't lend too generously; buy books for others - and for yourself. Most of all, value your vital part in any writer's success - or survival. Time matters as much as money. Use social media. Make your views known, and make them count.

The problem is not whether people are buying books via e-readers, rather than as traditional books: royalties come to writers from both directions. Problems come when people stop making books a genuine priority - and lose the sustained depth and pleasure that only books can bring.

Two writer-reader activists will further inspire you: Virginia Lloyd and Walter Mason.

 And please don't hesitate to add your comments. We want to hear them!

Virginia Lloyd, writer and reader activist
Australian-born, New York-dwelling Virginia Lloyd writes:

The best tool for spreading your enthusiasm for a book or a particular writer is an old one. It was with us long before the Internet. But it’s the principle on which Facebook, Twitter and GoodReads are based. It is word of mouth. Authors and publishers know that word of mouth is the Holy Grail of selling books. No amount of advertising and publicity can equal the value of a personal recommendation. Here are a few suggestions to ensure that your “word of mouth” activism as a reader will help the authors you love.

--If somebody lends you a copy of a book she loved, buy a copy to give to another friend.
--If you can’t afford to buy a new book, borrow it from your library. If a book you want to read is constantly on hold, ask your library to order another copy. Australian authors receive a small annual payment related to the number of copies of their books held in libraries, so every copy does help.
--If an author you enjoy asks you to join her email list, don’t hesitate. Email lists are the best way authors have of communicating with their readers and letting them know of events, media interviews and that next book. You can also let your own friends know there’s a new book coming, making yourself look very knowledgeable in the process!
--Attend literary events featuring authors you’ve enjoyed reading. Invite a friend along. Ask the author a question. She won’t bite – she will be relieved that someone has asked a question.
--If you’ve just finished a book you loved, let your online community know about it. Sometimes a passing reference in a Facebook post is all it takes to convince a reader to finally buy that book she keeps hearing about.

These days word of mouth can spread faster with social media tools, but it’s the way we share our enthusiasms that will really support an author’s efforts to be noticed. Be bold in sharing your informed opinion. Be specific in saying what you liked about a book. Be generous in taking an extra minute to post a link to the author’s website or a photo of the book.

We all know that wonderful feeling when we’re reading a book we can’t put down, or that pang of grief when we reach the end of a story that moves or delights us.  These experiences are what readers hunger for, so I encourage you to use word of mouth in familiar and new ways to help authors and share your reading passions.

You can find Virginia Lloyd via her blog, or on Twitter: @vlloyd. You will also find details there of her quite exceptional memoir: The Young Widow's Book of Home Improvement - which can of course be purchased via the bookstore links on this website.

And now, writer, reader activist and Universal Heart Book Club co-host, Walter Mason

Reader activist Walter Mason
I always think that readers should be more like fans of pop music or sports teams – or even video games. Bookish types seem too bound by their own shyness, introversion and sense of propriety to really make a fuss of their enthusiasms, but the time has come to wave your literary flag and let the world know that you like books and think that reading is important.

Here are some things I’d like to see readers do more of:
·         Cultivate heroes: So often a particular author or book – or sometimes even a whole genre – has had a tremendous impact on our lives. But, perhaps because of the quiet nature of the reading act, we rarely publicise the level of this impact. There are very few posters of authors on teenage bedroom walls, though mine should have been adorned with Oscar Wilde, Hermann Hesse and Nancy Mitford. Cultivate literary heroes, join literary societies and spread the word in cyberspace. I find people’s literary obsessions fascinating and wish people could be more forthcoming about them.
·         Tweet, facebook, pinterest, tumblr and blog books: It is heartening that the social media space does seem to be observably literary in nature. But I’d still love to see more people writing about the books and authors that excite them. The key here is amateur reviews – they are remarkably rare, but are enormously important. May they blossom.
·         Go to book and author-related events: libraries, bookshops and other community spaces often host events where authors speak and read and people can meet and talk about books. Gatherings like these represent an immense contribution to the cultural capital of any community, and are well worth supporting. Go out of your way to attend these whenever possible and show the world you’re interested.
·         Make the effort: doing any of these things requires that little bit of extra effort. Until now reading has been a reasonably passive pastime, but I would like to see readers make a more conscientious and intentional effort to share their passions and to help build and strengthen a culture of literacy. Joining a reading group, using your local library, tweeting about your favourite author or blogs, including this one, sending links in emails to friends, making your favourite writers' success very much "YOUR business" – all of these things require action,  but the effort pays off in fun, the sense of belonging to a community and the very real elevation of the collective wisdom of humanity.

This is your Book Club. Join the Universal Heart Network! Try out as much reader activism as you wish here! Comment, write, share your views. Buy books through our links - that supports us with a small % of book sales. Tweet, email or use Facebook to promote writers and writing that you believe matters.  You are hearing from us; we would love to hear from you.

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