Breaking Out of the Vacuum
by Kasey Shoemaker
As writers, we primarily function independently, quietly, and quite frankly, in our own worlds while working. Even when typing away on our laptops in a crowded Starbucks, we see no one and hear no one. We like it better that way. Occasionally, we share our pages with trusted friends or significant others, and if we’re really lucky, a writer’s group. However, the bulk of our work is done in our head, which makes for a great product but a poor connection with our audience. Audiences are anything but static. Their tastes, desires, and habits change as quickly as literary trends. The readers we had in mind three years ago for book one of a series may have completely different expectations for our genre by the time we begin plotting out book four. Following trends made by the publishing companies won’t give us the insight we need. Many readers are disgusted by what the publishing companies continue to stubbornly feed the public. We, as writers, need to actually connect with our potential readers to understand them better. After all, without readers, our books are merely attractive decoration for the bookshelf. We write for them.
So, how do we get away from our keyboards and actually meet the people for whom we write our stories? In a world where bookstores are closing and Kindles are gaining in popularity, most sales transactions are done electronically, and writers are even further removed from readers than before. So, when the New England Horror Writers participates in events that put writers in front of potential readers, it makes for a great opportunity to bridge that ever-widening gap.
As a new member, I really didn’t know what to expect. And, honestly, after participating in two public events thus far, I still don’t know what future ones would hold. Because my novel is a genre crosser, ranging from urban fantasy to paranormal fiction, I was thrilled to be at the Southcoast Toy and Comic Book show in Massachusetts. As someone who used to frequent these types of events many years ago, I felt I, along with everyone else at the table, was smack in the middle of my target audience. Without dwelling too long on unmet expectations, I will say that we were honestly surprised by the general lack of interest from those present. Sales were made, but people for the most part, seemed nonplussed by our presence. However, getting out there as a writer isn’t always about making books sales. Sometimes, it’s about making contacts. A man whose group does book reviews and features science fiction and fantasy books on his weekly podcasts approached our table. As each of us smiled and optimistically took his business card, I’m sure we silently thought that this one contact was worth the two-hour drive. I know I did, and thus far following up with that one contact has been rather positive.
Two weeks prior to that event, the New England Horror Writers participated in the Wadsworth Open Air Market in Connecticut. Expectations were far surpassed at this event. Many sales were made, and most of us spent the entire afternoon talking to people about books, writing, and the horror genre. Even people who said that horror was not for them seemed pleased to see us and were eager for conversation. We felt enthusiastic and pleasantly surprised by our experience afterwards.
Therefore, while both of the events provided drastically different results, the writers who participated gained something from the experience whether it was multiple books sales or a meaningful contact. However, the most important aspect of these events is that it forces us writers to pull ourselves away from the blue-white glow of our computers and talk to our potential audience. We simply don’t get that chance often enough. And, we’re better writers for it. My only expectation from these events is that anything could happen. We could meet someone who says, “I do book reviews and feature writers on my weekly podcasts. Here’s my card.” Or we could have a fifteen minute conversation with someone who asks, “So, why the horror genre?” We may sell all the books we brought. We may give out postcards and business cards to prospective readers, or we may get a hand cramp from autographing copies of our books. However, I do know that we’ll be outside the writer bubble, the vacuum that can sometimes consume us. And, that opportunity in and of itself is worth it.