Jan 10, 2011

Developing Trust: Readers, Authors, & Publishers

When offered the chance to host #litchat this week, I jumped at the chance!  I've been dying to talk with smart, creative people about author-reader trust. The discussion possibilities have been burning holes in my little brain, waiting for an opportunity like this.

Why?  Because reader-author trust is at the heart of everything happening in publishing today.  Yeah, I really think so.

Here's a breakdown for the discussion this week.  I doubt I'll be able to get to all these questions, but we'll start with this food for thought.  Feel free to comment here and continue the discussion during the chats!

Monday, January 10, 2010 (4pm ET):  What does it mean when a reader trusts an author?

You're a reader.  Most likely you approach reading a book from a favorite author differently than you approach reading a book from a new author. Why? I submit that it's about trust.  Whether you're a parent choosing an author to provide a religious view of the world for your children or you're a reader of erotica looking for a certain spark in the books you choose--you choose an author you trust to provide the reading experience you expect.

Questions:

  • What expectations do you have of the authors you read?

  • Has your trust ever been violated by an author (examples if you dare)

  • What happens to your relationship with an author if your trust is violated?

  • Have you ever picked up a book because a trusted author recommended it?

  • Do you ever stop reading new authors because you lack trust in the outcome?

  • Have you ever read anything you wish you hadn't read?  How does this influence your need for trust in other authors?

Wednesday, January 12, 2010 (4pm ET):  How does an author establish trust?

As an author, how do you establish trust with your readers?  How do you develop that relationship?  In Readers Are Everything, I suggest that getting someone to buy your book isn't about the money.  It's about the time involved in reading and it's about trust. It's even a bit like dating.  How do you get a reader to give you a chance?

Questions:

  • Do blogs build trust with readers? (Is the experience different for nonfiction vs. fiction?)

  • What is your experience with posting stories, excerpts, or first chapters?  Does giving away writing build trust?

  • Can you use a first book to build trust anymore--or does trust have to be built before the first book comes out?

  • How important is it to stick to reader expectations?  Are you worried about being pigeon-holed? (Dare I mention branding as a means of building trust?)

  • What is the role of reader reviews in building trust?  How does the source of the review influence trust?

  • What is the role of sites like Goodreads in developing trust?

Friday, January 14, 2010 (4pm ET):  What is the role of publishers in the triangle of literary trust?

Ah yes, so here we are.  If it's all about building trust, what is the role of the publisher?  Do traditional publishers have any edge over indie publishing?  Let's discuss, yeah?

Questions:

  • As a reader, is there any publisher you trust to deliver books you will universally enjoy?  Do you have loyalty to a publisher the same way you have loyalty to your favorite authors?  (Example:  as a reader of used books, I have a burning desire to own books from the classic Everyman's Library. Even if I don't like the author much, I enjoy the books and want to own them.  Am I alone? I'm also developing a need to own some of the classics with gorgeous new covers.  But is this about trust or art?  Or are art and trust related?)

  • How does the quality of the final physical product influence trust between reader and author?  Binding?  Cover art?  Spacing inside the book?  What about ebook formatting?  Do readers trust an author more or less based on these details?  How does this relate to the date analogy?  Does the cover need to show up at your door on time and dazzle you with outward charm before you give the contents a chance?  (And does traditional publishing have an advantage here any more, especially with ebooks?)

  • How do traditional and indie publishers compare when matchmaking new authors and readers?  Do established author blurbs from traditional publishers make a difference?  Are traditional publishers going far enough in helping authors to meet their readers (book signings, support for online presence, speaking, etc.)?  What responsibility does the author have in establishing new readers without this matchmaking service? Are indie authors more motivated to make connections with readers?  Do traditionally-published authors expect too much?

  • What is the role of traditional marketing in building reader-author trust?

  • Where do bookstores and libraries fit into this equation of reader-author trust and how do publishing choices influence their role?

I'd love to see comments here, to be developed more during the live chat.  Please join us.  As I post this, the first session is just hours away!

January 10, 12, 14, 4pm ET:    http://tweetchat.com/room/litchat

6 comments:

  1. I completely agree with this...trust is EVERYTHING between an author and their readers. I have long running series that I never hesitate to pick up the next book, because I know I will love it. When I say "established author" below, this is who I'm referring to.

    * What expectations do you have of the authors you read?

    Est. author: That the book will follow the pattern I'm used to, be that in the pace of the writing, the pattern of speech (funny, direct, etc...), the development of characters...that what I've previously seen of this authors writing style will continue in the next book.

    New author: Unless a book has received a great deal of hype (i.e. Hunger Games) I don't usually have any expectations.

    * Has your trust ever been violated by an author (examples if you dare)

    Yes. I've been reading Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series since One for the Money was the only book out. The most recent installments have fallen flat for me. Another instance is with J. R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood series. I've been reading them since the beginning, as well. The outlined path for the next installment violates rules for the society she herself established, and leaves me uncertain that I will purchase the book.

    * What happens to your relationship with an author if your trust is violated?

    I tend to hesitate when the next book is released. If it is an author and series which I truly love and enjoy, I will usually give a second chance. If the next book still leaves me disappointed, I walk away while the good memories are still intact.

    * Have you ever picked up a book because a trusted author recommended it?

    Yes. I found Holly Black's White Cat through an author recommendation. I really enjoyed it!

    * Do you ever stop reading new authors because you lack trust in the outcome?

    Unless I just cannot get into a book, I keep reading. Not knowing the author may be the reason I can't predict the ending. And, really...who wants to read a book if you already know how it ends?

    * Have you ever read anything you wish you hadn’t read? How does this influence your need for trust in other authors?

    No, I haven't. I've read some books that, at the end, I truly didn't enjoy. But, I think every book has an audience. I just may not be it.

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  2. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Johanna Harness, Whiz Buzz. Whiz Buzz said: Developing Trust: Readers, Authors, & Publishers: When offered the chance to host #litchat this week, I... http://dlvr.it/D2ygb #amwriting [...]

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  3. Louise--thanks so much for your response! Great answers.

    And I'm so glad you haven't read anything you wish you hadn't. The last time this happened to me, it was a piece that glorified violence against women. I kept reading, thinking there would be a reversal. I wish I'd never started reading. Not only did it keep me from reading that author again, but it turned me away from a site that contained writing of authors I might have really liked.

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  4. Love what you're doing here Johanna - not feeling enough clarity today to analyze what I do or think much, So I just don't have much worthwhile to contribute that way - more vague feelings kinda day.

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  5. What happens to your relationship with an author if your trust is violated?

    Interesting question that I wrote about (sort of) when reviewing Pat Conroy's latest novel, South of Broad. I was a huge Conroy fan coming into the book so was rather stunned by how disappointing I found SOB to be. While it did showcase the typical lushness & fluidity of his prose, it also featured disturbingly shallow character development. If I have to choose between elegant description of a rose or richness of character development, I go with characters who seem like flesh and blood 11 times out of 10. Knowing how talented Mr. Conroy is I was taken aback by this turn of events. It wasn't as if he rushed the book out to capitalize on the success of a prior book, such as could be said to have been the case when Terry McMillan dashed off Stella Gets her Groove Back after people went crazy over Waiting to Exhale. And age wise, Conroy is in his writing prime. So how did I react to his betrayal of my trust, so to speak? I wrote a rather scathing review of SOB on my blog - http://lineaday.blogspot.com/2010/10/book-review-south-of-broad-by-pat.html But since I know the greatness that Conroy is capable of on the printed page, I'm certainly not writing him off. Any multi-novel author will have a strongest book and a weakest one. South of Broad equates to John Irving's Son of the Circus in my mind, a forgettable link in an otherwise strong literary chain. I wouldn't be surprised at all if Conroy's next book turns out to be fantastic. But if in fact he has jumped the shark and his best is now behind him, his legacy is still an impressive one that most authors would sell their souls to duplicate.

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  6. I was intrigued by your first set of questions. So I'm responding to those:

    What expectations do you have of the authors you read?
    I expect them to stretch my mind, but not to confuse me. If I'm confused, it may be because the author is self-consciously trying to impress me with sentences as complexly twisted as a cirque du Soleil contortionist. Frequently, the author is simply smarter than me, and if I grow from the experience, great. If I only grow frustrated, I'm reading the wrong book. I want to stretch my mind, not pull a muscle.

    Has your trust ever been violated by an author (examples if you dare).
    Michael Ondaatje is one of my favorite authors. Yet when I read "Divisadero," I felt almost betrayed. Not because he confused me, but because I felt that he left a character hanging with no resolution, positive or negative. However, the book was still beautiful, and I'm too in love with Ondaatje's work to stay angry for long.

    What happens to your relationship with an author if your trust is violated?
    It did take me a long time to pick up a book by Ondaatje again. But if I like enough about an author, I'll probably return. In Ondaatje's case, he's such a genius I couldn't resist coming back to check out "In the Skin of a Lion." It was worth it.

    Have you ever picked up a book because a trusted author recommended it?
    I can't say that I have, but I would.

    - Do you ever stop reading new authors because you lack trust in the outcome?
    No. I enjoy reading new authors. However, I usually only try a new author if that person comes recommended by fellow readers whose tastes tend to coincide with mine... or if I've heard something good about them from a trusted interviewer or critic.

    Have you ever read anything you wish you hadn’t read? How does this influence your need for trust in other authors?
    - I don't think I'd keep reading anything that was so bad I couldn't get something out of it. I didn't care for "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo," which I felt would have been a better book at about half it's length. But hey, I got something out of about half the book. I don't really feel that strong a need to trust a new author. Opening any new book is an adventure, it wouldn't be as much fun if my reaction were certain. Sometimes you have to take a risk, if you want to discover something exciting.

    Thanks for the great questions, Johanna!

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