I notice as I comb through the self-published e-books on Amazon that a good number of the offerings are autobiographies. Non-fiction. People writing about their own lives and experiences. About their own adventures, misfortunes, and triumphs.
It occurs to me that perhaps the meteoric rise in self-published works has turned the Kindle into the modern campfire.
Only, instead of sitting together, elbows and knees touching, with firelight twinkling upon eager faces as those gathered wait for the storyteller to begin, we now tell our own, deeply personal stories to a computer screen.
As wonderful as it is to a reach a larger audience than would be possible without the Internet, I can’t help but wonder what is being lost, sacrificed, in return.
When eye-to-eye with other humans, it is possible to gage how well a story is being received: the lack of restless noises; the involuntary spurts of laughter at just the right moments; the tangible feel of breathless excitement as he or she pauses a second or two longer than necessary before revealing a shocking twist, or a longed-for happy ending.
But those days are gone. Will they come back?
We now live in a world teeming with electronic options designed to provide an instant release for whatever is on your mind: a nagging thought, a major life event, even a past hardship. But unless you plan on hogging the “news feed” or “stream,” there is simply not enough room on Twitter or FB or G+ to get into the myriad, tiny details that turn simple words into a reading experience.
And turns readers into fans.
A blog, in spite of the amount work that often goes into maintaining one, does not receive the same social acknowledgement, or credit, as does a published novel.
The true beauty of the self-published autobiography is revealed in its near-therapeutic assembly, whereby a person wishing to share his or her life history has both the room and the time to delve deep into the entire spectrum of past actions, present consequences, and future hopes.
For fiction writers, delivering a story becomes cathartic in a different way. It can ease pains we didn’t know were linked to one another, simply by pulling all the unrelated dots scattered across our subconscious and connecting them into a story, one that makes reasonable sense of items that shouldn’t actually add up to anything.
Non-fiction books, especially autobiographical works, seem to me to carry a greater expectation of healing, release, and renewal. And that’s for both the writer and the readers. For an author, especially one whose primary source of support is through the individual reader reviews and ratings posted on retail sites, that electronic feedback becomes the modern-day equivalent of a community.
You may have a lived a unique life and you may have written your history in a compelling manner, but without a community of dedicated fans, how will your message travel beyond the boundaries of your own circle of family, friends, and social media followers?
I wonder how things would change if, suddenly, publishers began hosting campfire readings for their authors? The warmth of a dancing fire, the sounds of nature providing an impromptu musical score, the readers crowded together in a circle several layers deep.
Maybe on a beach. Maybe on a hillside.
Remember: It isn’t just about connecting with more readers, it’s about finding fans.
This campfire scenario certainly would be a departure from the florescent sky and plastic and metal chairs of conference centers and retail spaces. But would it change how readers connect with a book? And with its author?
I love books. I love to see them stacked neatly on shelves, and piled high on desks and tables, and spilled in random patterns on the floor. But one thing a book cannot replace – that nothing can replace – is the volume of unspoken words expressed in a firm hug, or a gentle squeeze of the hand, or a shouted Hooray! from a true fan.
When I think of these acts of caring, demonstrated, I get the same warm feeling as I do when thinking back to my youth, sitting around a campfire, listening to stories. The word community comes to mind, something I would define as “people who come together by choice.”
The very same definition could apply to fans, and to the books they gather around, sharing their reactions to the story though glowing reviews posted online, instead of through whispered praise passed around a campfire on a fine summer’s night.
I suppose it is the romantic in me who feels a tug of the heartstrings, and more than a touch of nostalgia, at the idea of reuniting the ages-old combination of storyteller and campfire.
If you, fellow author, or you, dear reader, decide to host a night of storytelling beneath the stars next summer, please invite me to be a part of the fun! I hope I’ll be but one of many who arrive filled with anticipation and excitement, and who depart true fans of the stories told around that campfire.
Do you have an “outside the box” marketing idea for authors? Share it!