Thursday, July 18, 2013


This post was originally titled Some Cynical Thoughts About Skyping.

For the last hour, I have been struggling to complete a post on Virtual Author Visits (Skype, blog, chat, etc.).  This is a huge topic right now, the subject of much discussion amongst writers, and amongst the marketing and publicity folks within publishing houses.  There are some amazing things going on in the virtual world and also some frustrations.  I am finding the post I have written to be a bit cynical.  So, to publish or not?  Obviously, I've decided to share these thoughts.  Please realize that I am in fact a very happy person who loves books, authors, the publishing industry, and believes in author visits, in-person, cyber and everything in between.  That said...

At work, I routinely receive requests for authors to Skype or otherwise "virtually visit" with school or library groups.  With school and library budgets shockingly tight, it is not surprising that this is an appealing notion.  However, with no disrespect to the amazing, enthusiastic educational professionals who want to connect their students with favorite writers, I am running into three tricky assumptions about Virtual Visits:

1. Virtual Visits can be arranged quickly and it is hard to imagine an author who could not make time for such an appearance.

2. Virtual Visits should be very cheap, or probably free.

3. Virtual Visits will work with large, assembly-sized groups without particular preparation.

While, as a marketing professional, I always want to maintain happy relationships with educators and librarians, stepping back and taking a look at this from the authors point-of-view, I have these thoughts...

I should note that at this point authors are handling virtual appearance requests in myraid ways. Many offer free short (10-15 minute) Skypes with book groups, etc., and only charge for longer virtual sessions. (If you're doing this, please share your experiences--thanks!). There are authors who Skype for free, those who charge a fee or require minimum book purchase, and every possible permutation and combination in between. Some just find the medium challenging (shy!) and are nervous about charging because they are not sure they are any good at virtual appearances.  Others love the high-tech stuff.  In sum, there is a lot of experimentation going on.

*I think of the old saw about how authors, who work hard at their craft, are asked to give away their time and services in a way that other professionals (think doctors, nurses, lawyers, computer programmers, plumbers, accountants...) are not. Landscapers, for example, are not routinely asked to share funny stories, gardening tips, and give free advice via Skype because it will be "good publicity" for them (maybe you think they should?!).  The internet particularly lends itself to the "free" model.

*If an author's book is on the New York Times Bestseller List, and they are doing Virtual Visits to build goodwill or give back to their readership, free is cool. For writers with a day job who have to use vacation time to fit in Skypes during school hours, or must spend cash to upgrade computers to facilitate virtual promotion, free probably isn't feasible.  Also, there's that whole tricky thing about finding time to write the next book :)

*While Virtual Visits can be arranged quickly, students do not always read works of fiction not-for-a-
grade all that fast. Therefore, while a plan can be made in days, even hours, for an author to Skype with a class, I wonder if there might be a formula correlating the amount of time between scheduling a visit and the author's actual appearance with the amount of preparation teachers and students are doing for the event. In my experience, less tends to correlate to less. (Also, it is hard to keep the attention and interest of a large, semi-prepared group squinting at a stilted video coming through a sub-par internet connection slapped together for the quick occasion.)

So, where to go from here? How can authors build great relationships with schools and libraries, have successful interactions with students, and encourage readers to BUY THEIR BOOKS through Virtual Visits? I would encourage authors to develop a thoughtful, payment-worthy Virtual Visit program and protocol and then to stick to it.
Meanwhile, here are a few interesting third-party sites for those investigating Virtual Visit options.  Not endorsing any of them as yet but it's good to know what's out there.  Please do share your experiences or any other resources you may have found for Virtual Visits, such as Skype an Author and Teaching Books (NOTE: I had two additional sites listed here but they have shut down since I first drafted this post.)
So, was I too cynical?  I will close by reminding you what a happy gal I am.  Finished THE FARWALKER'S QUEST on Tuesday (loved it, especially the notion of "The Forgetting") and am halfway through the KATHERINES (artfully drawn protagonist and hilarious footnotes).

Want to read some posts from 2013? Check out what the Bookanistas are lovin' today!

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