Monday, August 27, 2012

An Interview with Lawrence Block

One of my favorite authors is Lawrence Block. He’s famous for his mystery novel series about Matthew Scudder and Bernie Rhodenbarr among others. He’s been an acclaimed writer for decades now, and I’ve been particularly excited to see some of his characters given new life in 99 cent Kindle Ebooks. His blog is also particularly interesting to me. Going there is a pleasure as he always seems to be focused on his readers, giving them what they want.

Amazon's Lawrence Block Page

Anyway, as someone interested in book promotion in the 21st century, I’m excited to ask the master how his experience promoting online has been. Here is our conversation:

Mr. Block, thank you very much for taking time to answer my questions. I have been a fan for years, and this is an honor for me. My blog focuses on new ways for writers to market their work, and a simple google search reveals how much you have done. I’d like to talk first about the changes you’ve seen in the promotion of your books.

Me: To what degree do you think it’s important to establish and sustain personal relationships with readers through email and social media?

Block: Hard to say. Thomas Pyncheon seems to get along fine without it, doesn't he? I think it's useful, but only if the writer in question is so inclined. The folks at publishing houses, of course, think it's essential—because they always want the writer to do things that won't require any work on the publishers' part, or cost them anything.

Me: I have been reading a number of your 99 cent Kindle Ebooks lately, and I love them. It’s great to get another short story from Bernie Rhodenbarr and especially Keller since I was afraid that series was over. From a promotional point of view, however, I’m wondering what you think the largest benefits of these stories are. Have you noticed a renewed interest in the older titles? Or do you simply want to get more of your stories out there?

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Block: I don't know that I've thought it through that far. I've got the stories, and figure I might as well make them available. 99¢ stories are a slow way to get rich, but I’ve never found a fast way, so I'm happy to ePublish them.

Me: Readers can get a good sense of who you are as a person from your blog, and I wonder if that’s what you see as its great advantage. Is that personal connection with your readers the primary reason you’ve established the blog?

Block: Yes, that's probably it.

Me: What do you see as the main disadvantages of marketing online?

Block: The time and energy it requires.

Me: Has reaching your audience online affected you and the way that you work?

Block: Possibly, but not in any way I've noticed.

Me: How do you choose new books to read?

Block: I read less these days, and mostly read books by authors I already enjoy. In fact, I'm more apt to reread a book than pick up something new.

Me: Do you have any marketing or promotional advice for new writers?

Block: Just as I advise people to write first and foremost to please themselves, I'd recommend that they do such marketing and promotional activity as seems natural and appropriate to them. And don't push too hard, or expect too much.

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So, what is the advice of the master?

The last answer seems to be the key to his philosophy, and in general that’s the key to writing well. Of course, the writer must push, and there is a level of dedication necessary, but in the end, it has to be pleasurable for the author. Otherwise, what was once joy will become tedium, and the readers will sense that frustration.

So, I generally finish these posts with a question. I will be doing more interviews with authors and fans like Mr. Matetsky of the last post. Cathy Day will be next. My question is, who would you like me to interview? Whose insights on book promotion do you think would be interesting and relevant?

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19 comments:

  1. John,
    I agree with Lawrence. "Don't expect too much." That sounds negative but it really isn't. Having goals is healthy; having expectations isn't. As a matter of fact, it's the key to disappointment. Working toward and hoping for is good; expecting, not so much.

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    1. Yeah, absolutely. 100%. The goal shouldn't be some kind of monitary number but that we are able to touch people with what we have done!

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  2. DAWG! You nailed a great interview. I'm jealous, and it seems that you may have made it happen by just approaching him through his blog. Is that correct?

    I like his attitude-- so truthful, if somewhat jaded.

    We need to reincarnate ourselves into older, possibly already dead, and beloved authors. It seems to be a reoccurring theme.

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    1. That part is making me sad. Both of my interviews so far have said they read older books. What that means is that we need to be good at sales and to reach them and to convince them that we have good ideas too.

      Yeah, I simply emailed him. I'd done it before -- but only to send him fan letters. I'm a total nerd that way.

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    2. This is why I had to miss the reading the other day, by the way!

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    3. I find myself re-reading older books that I already know I love, too. I've been disappointed or even angered so many times by the "free reads" that I've downloaded or the books I've bought new. The stumbling block is that if you write like these beloved older authors, you'll be told your work is "too slow" and "boring." So it's a vicious Catch-22 (way to reference a classic). I followed Mr. Block's columns in WD back when WD was relevant, and I have his books abour writing. I think my favorite book of his is the one that got made into the Whoopi Goldberg vehicle "Burglar." I like that film, as well.

      I do think Mr. Block has a point when he says not to expect too much. He sees what has happened to publishing, and until it sorts itself out (which it may never be able to do--look at music publishing), we're stuck with a mess. He might be a little jaded from all these years battling the windmills, but he does have the advantage of name recognition, and we don't. Sigh!!

      It was a good interview. Thanks, John!

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    4. Thank you, and that is the problem with new books. I generally give them a few pages before stopping. A new discovery is a beautiful thing though!

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  3. Lawrence Block once had a tape (not video) the kind you could listen to in your car. It was totally motivational and really helped me to be brave enough to step out and submit my books and keep submitting them until I found a publisher. (And yes, I loved his books too.)

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    1. I love his books about writing. He's absolutely the best, and I'm glad he helped such a talented writer start to send things out.

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  4. John, thanks for this thoughtful interview. And thanks to Mr. Block for sharing his wisdom. I've been thinking about not pushing too hard and not expecting too much. That is sobering advice.

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    1. Yeah, I think if you're going to do it for the long term, you have to kind of float with it.

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  5. Block is a master and we can all learn from him. Thank you, John, and Lawrence for agreeing to be interviewed. I followed his WD column religiously in the old days and have always been a fan of his work.

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  6. Block is right on when he says not to expect too much and to do what seems appropriate and natural to the author promoting the work on line.

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  7. I have to admit I also lean towards the familiar--I rewatch my favorite old movies/TV shows instead of watching newer material. Perhaps readers who prefer older, more established and better known books are not our target audience. We should be marketing towards readers willing to take a chance on new authors. The Internet may be our saving grace here as younger readers are more likely to connect through social media. Older readers are more likely to look for novels at bookstores than Amazon or blogs.

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    1. I think that's a start, but we want to hit hub personalities, people who other readers trust. Once we get that word of mouth going, then we'll have more and more readers.

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  8. I also read Lawrence Block back in his WD days. I recall feeling happy for him when he left that column for the world of publishing his series of books. A very thoughtful review, John. It was a pleasure to read some of Lawrence's opinions; we can all learn from them.

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