Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Socialization of Books

It's funny how an old idea can suddenly make books appealing again.

But it's more than the old idea of sharing a good read -- be it a novel, some short fiction or non-fiction, or what have you -- because what we're seeing is a phenomenon (that may not come as a surprise to some people, who were doing this all along) that's incorporating an old idea with a new medium in a way that could bring the old idea of reading a good book into the social media era.

First, though, you have to get past the notion that people won't read long bits of anything on the Internet. I've always held that people will, if it's well-written enough and presented in a way that is easy on the eyes gazing into the liquid crystal of today's books rather than the pulp of yesterday's. Lois Beckett at the Nieman Journalism lab has this nice little piece on the Twitter #longreads movement, which is a growing knot of people willing to read long-form journalism, shorter fiction, et cetera, on their mobile devices, breaking the Web 1.0 norm that you have to chunk everything and boil it down to its basic bits before anyone will read it online.

Then there's this bit by Mathew Ingram at, which seems as natural as picking up a paperback book to read, though I'm sure there are a lot of heads being thumped by people saying, "Yeah, that's a wonderful idea." I'm not necessarily talking about the Twitter book club, which is just the same old book club retreaded for the web (and people have been doing that kind of thing at Goodreads, and on their own, for years before the twits at Twitter stumbled into it), but this instead:
As the book industry continues to evolve, it seems almost inevitable that books and writing will become more social (whether authors like it or not). Amazon has taken some steps in this area by adding the ability to share the passages that you highlight while reading books on the Kindle. And there have been many other moves toward “socializing” the reader experience — including some involving things that are not specifically books, such as the addition of social-sharing features to #longreads, which started as a Twitter hashtag and has become a full-fledged service.
The short of it is that authors who refuse to be social are going to be pushed to the margins, while those who are out there promoting their books relentlessly are going to be the ones who keep selling books. And that, again, isn't necessarily new to the book industry. Robert Newton Peck, in his book "Secrets of Successful Fiction," says that he kept his books continually in print in the ancient, pre-Internet times of the 1970s and 80s by socializing as much as he could with groups ranging from high-falutin book readers who paid him to come to fans at the ladies' auxiliary hall who invited him and paid him with plates of cookies. In other words, socializing your books -- whether the medium is Twitter or traveling the midwest talking to your fans and selling them books -- is a major part of getting your books sold. Look at any successful book, from those published traditionally to those published independently, and while the writing quality may vary, what you're going to see in common is lots and lots and lots of energetic marketing.

So will I do.

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