Digital connections help promote authors, books Print
Written by Staff   
Tuesday, 31 March 2009 09:06 AM America/New_York

Blogs and social networking tools tapped to build ‘a loyal following’ among consumers

Christian authors and publishers are increasingly using new technology to bypass traditional methods of connecting with consumers. While in-store book signings and appearances remain popular for local authors and some big-name writers, many are going online to build a following.

The trend has been highlighted by the growth of author-run blog sites and new social media forms such as Twitter and Facebook.

alt“An author needs to be online somewhere—whether it’s a blog, Facebook page or Web site,” Cheryl Kerwin, senior marketing manager for Tyndale House Publishers, told Christian Retailing. “Digital seems to be the trend, and we recommend this to all of our authors, encouraging their involvement in this ‘cost-free’ communication … (which) builds a loyal following.”

Several authors—including Max Lucado, Donald Miller, Mark Driscoll, Robin Jones Gunn, Brandilyn Collins and Tricia Goyer—have signed up with the micro-blogging site Twitter, which not only reveals a glimpse into their lives, but also spreads the word about their upcoming books and projects.

Earlier this year, Lucado rallied his Twitter followers for a prayer campaign for President Barack Obama, quickly gathering more than 280,000 names on his Web site.

Jana Muntsinger, Lucado’s publicist, said the gratification for the author and his fans was “immediate and real.”

“I am seeing more and more high-profile authors, those with busy pastoral jobs and writing/speaking schedules, making more of a concerted effort to engage with readers,” Muntsinger told Christian Retailing. “Authors are blogging and Twittering to make a connection with their fans. … I can only see this trend continuing.”

Goyer, who estimated that she receives about 20 new Twitter followers daily, told Christian Retailing that the “conversation” was important and the 140-word character messages from the micro-blogging site “go a long way.”

“As a GenXer, I understand that people in this generation love connectivity,” she said. “They love a glimpse into my ‘real’ life, and I think both Twitter and Facebook give them that.”

Sometimes, the author-fan connection impacts directly on a book. After Colleen Coble’s readers expressed lingering questions about the outcome of her 2008 book, Cry in the Night (Thomas Nelson), she drafted an epilogue, and with her publisher’s blessing, posted it along with an interview on her Web site.

Books by Jerry Jenkins and Ted Dekker have also sparked enough interest to prompt the creation of new book-related, online communities.

After the release of Riven last year, Tyndale House Publishers commissioned a Web site where readers could post about how the book impacted them.

Fans of Dekker’s “The Circle Series”—Black, Red, White and the upcoming Green—all published by Thomas Nelson, wear circle pendants to book signings, and more than 40,000 have joined an online community. In June, the third staging of The Gathering will draw Dekker fans to Nashville to take part in several activities, including a Q-and-A with the novelist, drama, dance and multimedia elements.

Kevin Kaiser—brand manager for Creative Trust, Dekker’s management company—told Christian Retailing that the event, which he expected to attract more than 500 participants, was started at the request of readers who first connected online.

“They see it not just as a way to connect with Ted, but it’s also a venue for them to connect with each other,” he said.

At last summer’s event, Dekker fans were shown a preview screening of the movie House, based on his 2006 novel co-authored with Frank Peretti. In addition, attendees of The Gathering were given an advance copy of Dekker’s novel Sinner.

Publishers and authors have also held contests and requested input from readers to help shape the actual plot of a book. Randy Singer’s The Justice Game, to be released in July by Tyndale House, solicited reader votes after a viral video of a mock trial included in the book was posted online. After thousands of views and votes, the final verdict will be rendered with the book’s publication.

“I wanted to do something different and get my readers really involved in the story,” Singer said. “This gives them an opportunity to hear both sides of the national gun debate and gets them thinking. Plus, it adds an element of fun to the book.”

This month on a weekend edition of the FOX & Friends morning TV show, FOX’s news and legal analyst Lis Wiehl was scheduled to announce a recipe contest inspired by her new book Face of Betrayal, to be released this month by Thomas Nelson, with submissions coming through her Web site. The winner will be flown to New York later this year to share the winning recipe on the show.