Sunday, August 20, 2006

Skype Me at Seven: The Future of Book Signings

In addition to being the President of Sisters in Crime for another month (btw, you can find a recent article about the current status of female mystery authors at the the Christian Science Monitor*, I am also a member of the International Thriller Writers.

A few weeks ago ITW proposed a new feature for their website, called “TalkBack.” It will be a repository of author interviews on their website, available for anyone to hear. ITW's David Hewson recommended getting Skype and experimenting with it to get the project off the ground.

First, you need to understand that I’m no techie. All I know how to do is push buttons. (I do that well, I’m told.) But I am a former radio-TV-film person, and any new toy that enhances communication between people fascinates me. As a kid, for example, I desperately wanted a way to talk to my cousin, who lived next door (the phone was for amateurs). We tried the old string and tin can arrangement. We stretched string from her window to mine. We attached tin cans. Didn’t work. Our fathers drilled holes in the bottoms of the cans. Still didn’t work. We finally abandoned the idea, settling on walkie-talkies, which we paid for, in part, by returning glass soda bottles to the grocery store. For the next month – until we got bored – we ran around the neighborhood radioing each other from dawn to dusk. We were cool. Cutting edge. High tech for our times.

So…given that I’m still a kid who’s simply aged a few years, and given that Skype is free, I downloaded it right away. And I was just as excited as when I was a kid! For those of you who don’t know about it, it’s a program that allows you to call anyone, anywhere in the world from your computer-- for free-- if they are a Skype member. If they aren’t, you can still call them for a less than a penny a minute, and if you’re in the US, you can call them for free, at least till the end of the year. I immediately called everyone I knew and recommended they get Skype. A few actually did, including author Zoe Sharp, who lives in Britain. She and I have been in touch regularly since. All you need is a headset and a microphone, which you can pick up for less than twenty dollars. The connection is marvelous. No hiss, no static, nothing, in fact, except your voice.

You may be wondering what any of this has to do with writing. Here it is. Pretty May is a companion program to Skype that, among other things, records your conversation digitally. It’s new, and it has a few bugs, but it does work, and it’s easy to use. And, like Skype, it’s free. Zoe and I have already interviewed each other, recorded the interviews, and saved them as MP3 files. We will submit them to “Talkback”, but in the meantime mine is up on my website for anyone who wants a listen. Do check out the quality of the audio – it’s a far cry from tin cans and walkie-talkies.

But that started me thinking. Skype has or will shortly have a video component, and cameras for computers are pretty cheap. What’s to keep an author from contacting a library, or better yet, a book club, to arrange a live video event via Skype?

Think about it. You, the author, settle in with a glass of wine for the evening. You're at home in Chicago; the book club members you will be talking to are gathered ‘round the computer with your book in Seattle. Or Florida. Or England. You talk, maybe read a passage from your novel, answer questions about your work. The conversation lasts half an hour, forty-five minutes. Maybe it’s recorded. Maybe not. Then you’re done. Without ever leaving the comfort of home. True, you can’t sign books personally (or even Margaret Atwood style) but what about sending personalized bookplates after the fact?

Video conversations are already being tested for online dating services (it beats meeting at Starbucks)… why not apply it to author events? Especially since authors and publishers are always questioning the cost and worth of book tours. (There’s been a brisk discussion of this on one of the MWA lists). Here is a marketing tool that requires only a minimal investment. Couldn’t this be a worthwhile alternative for authors who don’t want to -- or can't -- travel?

I’m not suggesting these events would replace bookstore signings – it probably wouldn’t work well in a store environment, and one of the objectives of an author tour is to meet booksellers personally, anyway. It might not work in libraries, either, unless they have a huge monitor or screen. But there are thousands of book clubs all over the country. Seems like it would be wonderful way to reach and interact with them.

There is one drawback: most book clubs fly under the radar, and there’s no directory or index of them. But there could be. All it would take is someone to ferret out those clubs, create a database, and start booking authors. Yes, it does takes time. But not money.

I thought of moving this to the next step myself, but I don’t have the time or energy. I’ll wager someone out there does, though. And I know there must be even better ideas on how to use the technology.

If you have any thoughts, let me know. I’ll be there with my headphones and mike.




*And yes, I did make a mistake in that interview. I said Chandler and Hammett wrote 40 years ago. It was more like 60 years ago. I knew that. Really.

34 comments:

Sara Paretsky said...

Libby, you've come up with some thought-provoking ideas. Thanks for putting energy into this. I will look into Skype when I have enough time to understand it better--I went to the site and decided it was more than a bear of very little brain could take on in one sitting.

ab said...

Then Christoffer Robin must have more than one little teddy bear, because I didn't get it either – or rather, my ancient Explorer won't download Skype. Nevertheless, I agree too that it's a great idea, making communication so much easier. There can be too much travelling sometimes. Even for me, living in a small country and still a beginner and hence overjoyed whenever anybody wants me at all, a reading out of town will still take a day out of my life. So I definitely think you are right, Libby, something like this is certainly interesting!

(Can't help smiling though at the thought of absent-minded writers forgetting they are in their jammies in front of the computer, or bringing a stiff whisky along, getting more and more talkative!)

shadowpuppy said...

Ijust wanted to mention that there is a directory of book discussion groups, or at least a good attempt at one...Reader's Circle.
They have a "Meet the Author" feature where book groups can connect with authors.
BTW, I've loved your blog since day-1!

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