I once wrote:
A book talk places the author in the position of salesperson. He can sell the product or sell himself. I believe the latter to be always preferable.
I have always believed that if I can offer an audience some insight about my life and a few laughs along the way, they will be more likely to read my book and like my book than if I had spent my time touting the book itself.
As a result, my book talks and speaking engagements tend to be storytelling sessions that do not focus so much on my books as they do on my life.
But I’ve often wondered if this is the best way to sell a book. While my choice of strategy is hardly new, I have noted over the years that some of the more prolific and best selling authors spend a great deal of time reading from their books while revealing little about themselves.
As a reader and audience member, I’ve wondered:
Am I the only person who wants to know more about the author than the book he or she is hocking?
NPR reported on a story that seems to support my position.
In an effort to get more attention for their band, record label Luaka Bop asked writer Chuck Klosterman to write a bio for the band Delicate Steve sight unseen.
"I thought, since I'm really tired of bios for bands, wouldn't it be great just to tell Chuck to write whatever the hell he wanted as a bio for the band? So I wrote him an email and I said, 'Chuck, would you do a bio for Delicate Steve? You don't have to talk to the band and you don't even have to hear the record.' He wrote me back: 'I don't do bios.' And then, two minutes later, he wrote back again: 'Wait a minute. Do you mean I don't have to talk to the band or listen to the record? That's AWESOME! OK, I'll do it!'"
It worked. NPR reporter Franne Kelley received the press release, noted the unusual bio of the band, and decided to check out the band.
The result was this story, which garnered Delicate Steve a great deal of free publicity.
“One of the reasons Klosterman was able to pull this off in the first place is that we NEED stories about music, and those stories really do change how we hear the music.”
The research backs up her claim.
Michael Beckerman, chair of the music department at NYU, has done research on this very subject.
From the NPR story:
Five years ago, he invited a group of people to listen to a piece of music in a church in Germany. He gave program notes to half of the audience that told them the piece they were about to hear was written in a concentration camp, by a composer who was sent to Auschwitz only days later, where he died. He told the other half nothing other than the composer's name.
"Afterwards," Beckerman says, "we interviewed everybody. And the people who didn't get program notes thought it was sort of a sweet, lovely, folksy, Eastern European piece. And the people who got program notes almost uniformly tended to understand it at as one of the great tragic statements of the century."
It would seem that knowledge of a piece of music changes the listeners opinion of it.
I would argue that the same holds true for books. Knowing the author changes the way that a reader views a story.
Liking the author as a person will go a long way in helping a reader enjoy a book.
While participating in an online discussion about my first book, Something Missing, a book rep for a major publisher said that while she initially liked it a great deal when it was published in 2009, she admitted that knowing me personally has changed the way she views my work.
But the same has held true for me. Since publishing Something Missing, I have met a great many authors and gotten to know a few very well. In each instance, I have found that the way that I read their work has changed as I have gotten to know them on a more personal level. When I know an author, his or her books tend to take on more subtlety and nuance, and I am better able to detect those connections that the novels make to the real world.
And in every instance, I find myself liking the book more.
But I still wonder if I am in the minority. When I am delivering a book talk, should I be pitching product or person?
If a reader knows me and likes me and becomes interested in my life story, how could he or she not want to read my books?