Join me on Facebook, too!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Reaching Readers: Panels and Book Clubs

Sisters in Crime Panel at the Martha Canfield Library in Arlington, Vermont
I'll bet you're reading this post on your phone, tablet, or computer. Take a moment and look around you. See anyone you'd like to strike up a conversation with? No? Then you could be suffering from Digital Isolation Syndrome.

Writers definitely suffer DIS. Hours at the keyboard play havoc on the health of real-life relationships. A little known fact is that readers suffer from the affliction as well. Communication that cannot be distilled into a "like" or six-word comment is too taxing. Besides, what comes after placing a thumbs-up? A conversation? Banish the thought!

Established cures for DIS are author panels and book clubs. Both feature authors talking about their work to an audience that has more than a passing interest in the subject matter. These events are easy even for the shiest of colleagues. Ever meet a parent who doesn't like to talk about her kids? A table filled with books is the author's version of the accordion-pleated picture wallet filled with photos of grandchildren and dogs.

For me, panels are akin to a professional workshop and a great way to connect with readers. A topic is declared and a handful of questions are lobbed by the moderator. Once the conversation starts to roll, the authors usually take it from there by asking follow-on questions to delve deeper into the subject. The panel pictured above shows Nancy Means Wright, Ellen Larson, and me discussing "We're Not Making This Up," a panel of the Sisters in Crime New England. As fiction writers, we base our stories on historical figures, science, or current events, and readers want to know how we concoct. What was better than a full house? Having readers linger and listening to conversations ignited by the discussion. Relationships were formed and no one hid behind an illuminated screen.

The shared experience of reading the same book and meeting to discuss it over a potluck dinner is a surefire antidote to DIS. Think of book clubs as a personalized medicine for isolation, virtual or otherwise.

Kidding aside, I find these events are essential for maintaining the pulse on what readers want. (Yes, that's a cringe-worthy pun.) I'm deeply rewarded when I hear animated conversations about a book, especially when the people are meeting for the first time. "Oh! I read that book, too! What did you think?"

For all of the leveraging the digital world of social media provides us, it is still the connection that propels the relationship.

The next time you see a discussion hosted by your local library, go. Spend an hour listening, then look around you. I'll bet you'll find someone to strike up a conversation with.