The Drive to Sell Books vs. Building Relationships, by Misa/Melissa

Sometimes you meet an author that just makes you scratch your head and go, “Huh. Glad she thinks she’s all that, because her attitude and people skills sure leave a lot to be desired.”

Then you meet an author who is the complete opposite. She’s friendly, gracious, enthusiastic, approachable, and seems to *get* that writing books, like so many other things, is about building relationships.

Okay, here’s the story. I run Books on the House, as many of you know. The site is going amazingly well. 10,000+ total visitors per week. 24,000+ total page views per week. Fantastic authors have signed on to be featured and to promote their books. These include the phenomenal Sarah Addison Allen, Lori Wilde, Ridley Pearson (who often writes with Dave Barry), Allison Brennan, our own Susan McBride, Jane Yolen (children’s book superstar), and so many more. They come on, their books are featured, they are featured, and at the end of the week, they give away a few copies of their book to the lucky winners for the week (all randomly chosen). Readers find new-to-them authors and books. Authors find potential new readership. Exposure is huge. It’s win-win.

Well, a while back, I happened to be talking with a writer who happens to share my agent. I’ll call her Writer A. I mentioned to Writer A that she should think about coming on Books on the House. I’d do a big splash for her and give her some upgrades (camaraderie and all that, right? Same agent! Mutual friend! Just reaching out to her…).

Her response was immediate and so dismissive that I was honestly stunned. She said, curtly, I might add, “Thanks, but no thanks.” She’s made it a policy, she said, to never, ever give away free books.

This shocked me on a couple of levels. First, whether you’re a debut author or a multiple bestseller, I just think it’s a good idea to be friendly to other people. Life is all about building relationships. Without the people around us, the things in our life and what we go through cease to have meaning.

Being nice = good karma.

I didn’t care if this author came on Books on the House. I was simply offering her the opportunity, along with some freebies, because of our shared agent and a mutual friend. I know how hard it is to let readers know about your book which is why I created the site. I thought she might like exposure for her debut novel. She could have politely declined. Like I said, I didn’t care if she came on, I was just reaching out.

She could have handled it more professionally. She didn’t, and that rubbed me wrong.

The other issue I had with her response was her ‘policy’ to never give away a free book. SHOCKING!!! This business, now more than ever, is built on word of mouth. Authors receive FREE COPIES of their books for just this purpose. We should be giving them away to the press, to reviewers, and to avid readers in our target audience who will then spread the word. Again, good karma. This author’s philosophy is so vastly different from mine, I wanted to get other opinions. Your opinions Maybe I’m WAY off the mark.

I don’t think so, though. I come now to example 2. Hank Phillippi Ryan. Now, I admit, I haven’t read Hank’s books yet. I’ve had them on my ‘to buy’ list, but, shoot, there are, like 500 books on that list, and I don’t own a digital reading device yet, btw, so 500 books would take up WAY too much space.

But I digress.

Hank is on Books on the House right now. Her fourth book, Drive Time, just came out. When she contacted me, she was super enthusiastic, not about coming on my site to promote, but just about her books, about people discovering her books, and about making connections with readers. We talked on the phone and I liked her right off. She has that infectious personality that just makes you want to smile and spend time with her. I wish I could go visit Boston just to drop in on Hank!

Anyway, we worked together to come up with something different to really get people to interact on the site this week and boy has it been successful. First, we did a Skype interview (which is where I also discovered I REALLY respect Hank Phillippi Ryan). She’s smart, successful, driven, accomplished, caring, empathetic… I could go on, but I’ll leave you to watch the interview yourselves (Interview with Hank Phillippi Ryan Part 1 and Interview with Hank Phillippi Ryan Part 2). Did I mention she’s won, like, a boatload of Emmies for her investigative reporting? Warrior woman. I like it.

Hank wanted to do something fun for readers and to give many people the opportunity to win copies of her books. It wasn’t just about getting people to buy Drive Time. (On a side note, I’ve seen authors practically begging people to buy their books so they can keep writing. I cringe when I see this because, again, we have to build relationships FIRST and sell books SECOND.) Hank wants people to know about Charlotte McNally, her sleuth. She has something to say to her readers through her character and how better to introduce her character and books to people than by talking about them, loving them, and graciously giving away a few copies to avid readers? Actually, she’s giving away more than a few. One a day, plus a grand prize of the whole set. And she’s giving away a prize to commenters, something no one has done before on Books on the House. She’s interacting with the commenters, she’s talking to readers, and she’s building connections.

Her policy is to spread her books around, and I like that approach!

I tell you what, I was so enamored with Charlotte McNally (being of a certain age and trying to figure out what her future will be given her choice of career over romance) that I immediately went out and bought Prime Time, the first book Hank’s series.

Have I bought Writer A’s book? Nope. It sounds like it is a fun read, but I’ve not heard her talk about it, haven’t felt her love for her story or characters, and haven’t felt her love and respect for readers. All I’ve seen is her drive to sell books. Her ‘policy’ turned me off, quite frankly. She’s all about selling books, not building relationships.

Will I buy books from the other type of author I mentioned? Doubt it. I get that people want to write for a living. So do I. But when an author spends his or her time focusing on that, assuming that readers care whether or not he or she continues to write, I think they’re missing the point. How can they care when they’ve not read the author’s first book? And why will they read the first book if they know nothing about it, don’t feel his or her passion for the characters, their journey, or the themes he or she is compelled to write about? Again, all I’ve seen is a stifling drive to sell books, not build relationships with readers. I guess it can be a fine line, but it’s one I think authors need to be aware of.

I want to hear your thoughts. Should authors care more about building relationships with readers? As a reader, are you more drawn to an author who does this? As an author, how do you find balance between the drive to sell books and the desire to build relationships with readers?

Am I just plain loca?

Misa Ramirez/Melissa Bourbon

20 replies
  1. Author Guy
    Author Guy says:

    You are completely right. All authors are readers, of their own work at least, and for the book to be any good they have to want to read it themselves. They should be ready, day or night, to try to get other people to feel the same way, and it shouldn't be too hard. I am, and it isn't.

    Marc Vun Kannon

  2. Zita
    Zita says:

    Absolutely right! You may have heard that Jennifer Rardin died on Monday. I was a very loyal follower of hers, and that was due in large part to her interaction with us, her readers. she wrote interactive short stories about the characters in her books on her blog and she let us help choose the circumstances and outcomes of those stories. Brilliant! She made us feel like we were part of her fictional world and I would have bought her books even if every other word was misspelled or all her sentences were grammatically incorrect. Well, you know what i mean. She respected us and included us and therefore we knew that we meant something to her. More than just dollars in her pocket. So, yes. You are very right, Misa. Building relationships is vital for a writer. If you're not writing for your readership, then just who are you writing for? And frankly, why should we care if you don't?

  3. Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith
    Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith says:

    Oh, my goodness, I love my readers and many have become friends. I give lots of books away as part of my promotion. When I do book festivals if someone buys a book I have a first book in my Tempe series that the person gets as a gift.

    I have run into authors though who are so self-important and look down their noses at authors they think aren't published by a prestigious house as they are who I'd never buy a book from.

    I love making new friends from among my readers.


  4. Janet
    Janet says:

    I've purchased books that I might not have after reading about them and reading the author interview at Books in the House. It seems silly to me not to try to reach out to readers. By the way, I love the site.

  5. Susan McBride
    Susan McBride says:

    Wow, I can't imagine not giving away any books. It's just part of what we do (and, heck, it's fun!). My publishers are great about helping out, too. I never have any left from my author's copies…and I always order more to keep on hand. Hmm, I guess each to his own; but, I'm all about spreading the book love around! And Books on the House does a brilliant job of bringing authors & books to readers. So you go, girl!

  6. Anajli Kapoor-Davis
    Anajli Kapoor-Davis says:

    Relationships are very important and I think your forum of Books on the House is a fabulous way for readers and authors to connect.

    Perhaps Writer A is more interested in attaining fame and money and therefore no free books. She has definately missed the boat though, building readership and fostering interest in the stories she creates is the first step. It's just like anything in our lives that are of importance, we take the time to cultivate, tend and grow it.

  7. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    I love all the thoughtful comments here. Time is precious and none of us have enough of it, but slowing down and appreciating others, interacting, even just on FB, and fostering friendships is important for all of us. I'm guilty of not staying connected enough. It's hard to balance it all, but I keep trying and know how important it is and I think that's essential and an element some people don't seem to understand.


  8. Dea, Kia, Jake
    Dea, Kia, Jake says:

    I think I've given away more books than I've sold, frankly. 🙂 I LOVE meeting people–be they other authors, people who have read my books, or people to whom I might like to introduce Alison Bergeron. Connecting with new people has been a lovely by product of writing the books, and I wasn't counting on that originally. I thought I'd write my books and hide in my attic, hoping that they'd get bought. I didn't take into account how much making connections with people would help me and just be fulfilling, on a personal level. Besides being a writer, I'm a fan, too, so whenever I'm too shy to introduce myself to someone at a convention, I remind myself that they are just like me and go ahead. I haven't been disappointed yet. (PS–Hank is one of the most generous and wonderful people you'll ever meet. I'm not surprised by your experience with her, Misa. PPS, any time you want to give away some Murder 101 books on BOTH, let me know!) Great post, Misa! Maggie

  9. Hank Phillippi Ryan
    Hank Phillippi Ryan says:

    Well, whoa. So I'm sitting here at Channel 7, having not a terible day, but not a fabulous day, working on a big undercover story about texting truckers. (It's on tonight, as soon as I get the okay from the news director.)

    So I think, okay, let's see what's going on with the Stilettos. I wish you could have seen my face! My jaw dropped in delight and surprise.

    Thank you thank you thank you, Misa! Oh, my goodness. You are too amazing. And so gracious to be so kind to me! Whoa.

    Congratulations on the wild success of BOTH! It's a brilliant brilliant idea, and I can't wait to see you on the cover of Newsweek. (Highly, highly recommended, gang.)

    ANd did I say thank you? See you soon, I hope–we should definitely catch up in person.

    love to all..And hey, come over to BOTH–free books!

  10. Dru
    Dru says:

    I'm a reader and I LOVE when author interact with me.

    When readers are asked their opinions or for suggestions, it makes us feel like we're a part of your story/book process and let me tell you when the book hits the shelves, I'm there waiting for the bookstore to open their doors so I can get my copy.

    BTW, I've discovered a lot of new-to-me authors when I've received *free* books.

  11. Marian Pearson Stevens
    Marian Pearson Stevens says:

    Misa–I'm totally with you! Placing a book in a reader's hand that might not otherwise have it welcomes possibilities. The reader might love it, pass it on to others, who knows? It's a goodwill offering in hopes to form a relationship between reader and author. Sometimes I find a new favorite author by having a book passed to me or winning one through blogs. The day I have a release out I'd feel it an honor to come here and offer free books and maybe connect with new readers or old friends. Thanks for a great blog and all you do for other writers!

  12. Ingrid King
    Ingrid King says:

    Building relationships *is* how you sell books! And Hank is a class act. I recently met her at a writer's workshop, and she was gracious and inspirational. As a result, I bought one of her books right there, and I'm now reading the entire series.

  13. Misa
    Misa says:

    Readers are why we write. I want them to read my stories, not hoard my free copies, never to give them away! So glad I'm not alone with this philosophy.

    Hank is the bomb!!!

  14. Lee Lopez
    Lee Lopez says:

    Misa absolutely, an author should care about every aspect of the business, including giving away freebies, and relationships. I 'use' to read a author, (who will remain unnamed', loved her books, and I e-mailed her, and we went back and forth a couple of times. She loved hats, which I make, so I sent her a tag to my website, and she sent me this nasty gram about sending it to her. I was stunned. Absolutely stunned, and it was nasty. She's not a best seller, but had this holier than thou attitude. So I've never bought a book by her sense. I won't even consider it, when I hear how good the last one was. Never…Ever…So relationships do count, and building them. If I'm with someone and they pick her book I tell my story, and guess what they put it back.

  15. Gayle Carline
    Gayle Carline says:

    You say LOCA like it's a bad thing… I agree with you! Free books can lead to sold books. I've given books to indy booksellers and had them buy more copies for their shelves. Unless Writer A is also Famous Celebrity Writer A, I don't know how she is going to rise above the 200,000 books published this year to prove her worth to her publisher and get a contract for Book 2. You've got to market, and part of marketing is giving free samples of your product.

    Gayle Carline, author of Freezer Burn

  16. Misa
    Misa says:

    Wow, Lee, that's a crazy story! Unbelievable. Goes to show you that acting professionally (and just nicely) matters!

  17. Misa
    Misa says:

    Jennifer Rardin sounds like an amazing person, Zita.

    Marc, thanks for stopping by and weighing in. We should be able to talk about our own books, right?!

    Janet, SO glad you've discovered some new authors on Book on the House!!

  18. Misa
    Misa says:

    Anjali, so great seeing you here!

    Marian, good luck to you with your book. I hope to see you on Books on the House one day really soon!

    Dru, your love of books is SO awesome. I love hearing your thoughts.

  19. Rochelle Staab
    Rochelle Staab says:

    Not loca! So right on! Connecting with readers is part of the job of being a published writer. Freebies show good faith and confidence. Good will goes a long way as you've just brilliantly showed us.
    Hank is a class act, a great example to all of us.
    Thanks for this thoughtful post.

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