Thursday, January 29, 2009

Meet Fellow Violet - Susan Wiggs!

One of the great things about being involved in a blog like this is discovering who your readers are. Imagine my surprise (and thrill) to learn that best selling author Susan Wiggs reads our blog!! This 30 year publishing veteran, winner of multiple RITA awards, a recipient of an entire galaxy full of starred reviews is a fellow Shrinking Violet! So of course I begged her to see if she had some words of wisdom she could share with us and, goddess that she is, she took some time away from the launch of FIRESIDE (something like her 45th published book) to chat with us.

RL: How have the marketing and promotional expectations of authors changed since you first began publishing?

SW: When my first book came out in 1987, there were very few promotional expectations of the author. We were encouraged to do booksignings (aka slow death by being ignored or being asked to point out the way to the restrooms), answer fan mail and maybe send out a bookmark. Now, in 2009, I have a new book out (FIRESIDE from Mira Books) and it's being promoted on my web site, my blog, on networking sites and all over the internet. There's everything from a YouTube video I made (be gentle--it's my first effort) to a playlist of music I listened to while writing the book.

These days, the front line of promo is the author web site. There's a timely essay in the NYT about it here. I think most commercial publishers expect the author to have a web site. We're also encouraged to promote our books via social networking sites like Facebook, which is great for introverts, since you can have 900 friends without actually having to speak to any of them. The downside is, you have "friend" people, and using friend as a verb is so difficult for us.

RL: How did an introvert like yourself manage to get acclimated to the promotional demands of your career? Have you found it gets easier with practice?

SW: Keeping the focus on the book itself is key for me. I love telling stories, and I love winning over readers. So If I keep that goal in mind--telling readers about my books--it's easy to have a positive attitude about promo.

RL: What are your favorite marketing tools and activities? Your least favorite?

SW: Most favorite--the book itself. I think the most direct way to win over a reader is to give her a book. If she loves it, she'll look for more, tell her friends, pass the book around to friends, family and co-workers. I always ask my publisher for lots and lots of author copies, and I never stockpile them. I give them away like party favors. Meeting booksellers and librarians is always fun, because we're all booklovers. Just today, I did an on-camera interview with uber-librarian Nancy Pearl and it was painless, because all we did was talk about the books we love. I also like going to a publisher's sales conference. The sales force people are such extroverts that they make your forget you're an introvert. I enjoy radio interviews from my home. I have the perfect wardrobe for radio--a bathrobe.

Least favorite--for me, it's probably having to come up with biographical material. It's tricky to sound interesting but not boastful. I'm not a huge fan of booksignings--for me, anyway. Some authors are dynamic and draw a crowd--authors like Sherman Alexie, Debbie Macomber, Janet Evanovich and Nora Roberts come to mind. Alas, I'm not a member of that group; my readers would rather stay home, curled up with a good book. This is fine with me, but I always feel bad for booksellers who go to a lot of trouble to set up a signing, only to have a light turnout.

RL: Are there any marketing or promotional disasters you’d be willing to share with us here at SVP? (We so love learning from other people’s mistakes!)

SW: Read your itinerary! I was once scheduled to do a signing in Sheffield, and I went to Springfield, driving all over the place until I'd missed the event entirely. And don't pack chocolate in your suitcase in the summer. I had 3 dozen Seattle Chocolate Truffle bars in my suitcase to give out at a sales conference. The airline lost the luggage, and by the time it was found, everything in the suitcase, including my clothes for the conference, was a hot mess.

RL: How much of your time do you spend on promotion versus writing? Has this changed over the years?

SW: It's hard to quantify on a day-to-day basis. When there's a new book out, I spend plenty of time on promotion. But when I'm deep into writing a book, everything else is pushed to the back burner and I get to it when I can. The majority of my time is still with the book. I love that! One thing that helps me is having a laptop in the TV room. I'm able to catch up on e-mail and update the blog while watching Project Runway or Prison Break.

RL: And lastly, if you had one piece of advice for fellow introverts, what would it be?

SW: Don't fight who you are. Readers want the stories you have to tell, and it's fine to stay out of the limelight. On the other hand, don't be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. Sometimes, amazing things happen when you dare to do something bold, like give a keynote address or write a controversial blog post.

Thank you so much, Susan, for taking the time to share your great insights with us! (And didn't that last answer give you goosebumps?)

We will be giving away a signed copy of Susan's latest book, FIRESIDE, to the first person who can tell me what Susan likes to do with butter! (Hint: You can find it on her website.) Or if that's too hard, which book won her first RITA. Ready, Set, GO!


Shelli (srjohannes) said...

thanks for the great interview

Mary Hershey said...

Ditto from me, Susan and Robin! Great reassuring and inspiring stuff. So vitally important to remember that our writing is the biggest hammer in our promotional kit-- we need to put the bulk of our effort into nailing the best piece of work we have within us.

Thank you for a most generous interview!
Wishing you great success with Fireside--
Mary Hershey

Elizabeth Loupas said...

She sculpts with butter!

Thanks, Shrinking Violets, for a great blog, and thanks to Susan for a thoughtful and funny interview. One day I hope to have a chance to follow some of your advice.


R.L. LaFevers said...

And we have a winner! You're exactly right Elizabeth! (And wasn't that a fun, different quirk to announce in one's bio!) E., email me offlist at shriningviolet {at}, and we'll make arrangements to get that book out to you.

Robin L

R.L. LaFevers said...

Er, shrinKingviolets, not shrining. Typing too fast this morning. ;-)

CJ Lyons said...

Susan, Hi!!! It's so good to see you here!

I have to share a Susan story--when I sold my first book to Berkley, Susan not only gave me the most outstandingly wonderful cover quote, she also shared LIFELINES with her mother and local bookseller, and then she (this is the part that tells you what a wonderful person she is!) sent me dark chocolate from Seattle to congratulate me on my debut!!!

We've still have yet to meet in person, but I can't wait until our paths cross--and I tell everyone to buy her books.

How's that for the ultimate in nice people finish first stories?

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

Great interview!

Elizabeth Loupas said...

This is so cool! I've emailed you, Robin. And thanks to Susan Wiggs!

Anonymous said...

Hooray for Elizabeth Loupas! I will get your prize out to you ASAP. Thanks for posting.

Anonymous said...

PS - Live chat tonight! The perfect party for get to stay in your bathrobe:
Join me tonight at 8 pm ET (5 Pacific) in the Writerspace Readers Chat Room. Anything goes, and I'm giving away prizes.