Monday, April 18, 2011

Anatomy of a Tweet

It's yet another night when I'm tired and uninspired, yet still feel I should write something here. (Fred Pohl writes four or five pages of a novel every single day, and has for fifty years or so -- the least I can do is a crappy little blog post.) So this is something different: the long version of a tweet I made this afternoon when I learned that Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad had just won the Pulitzer Prize.

I tweeted:
So I guess I really do have to read VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD now, don't I?
A few years ago, before I was tweeting, that might have been a "real" blog post instead, going something like this:

It feels oddly echoing to be proven right, some of the time. I spend my days trying to get people to buy books, which means thinking about why people want books, how they come across those books, and how to get their useful attention. One thing I find myself telling authors a lot -- because it's a plausible explanation, and because it makes as much sense as anything else -- is that, a lot of the time, a potential buyer has to see a book several times before he [1] decides to buy it.  There are ways to short-circuit that, by making a product as ubiquitous as possible, so that you can get five impressions on one person in as many minutes -- and, in my space, I do recommend authors do things to increase those impressions, like going to and speaking at conferences, sending out useful messages to their professional contacts, and using social media effectively -- but that usually means that it happens over a longer period of time.

Consequently, a reader who picks up a new book -- new to that reader, I mean: completely new, and not the latest book by someone she's already reading -- generally won't remember that first impression, or even the second or third. I don't remember the first time I heard about Goon Squad, but it was probably last summer, around the time it was published. Maybe I read a review, maybe people I follow on Twitter talked about it, maybe a dozen maybes. But I didn't know Jennifer Egan, so the book -- a contemporary "mainstream" novel, as far as I can tell, primarily about two people in the music business but extending out through people they know -- got slotted into the "could be interesting, if you have time" category. (And there's never time for a book I don't have; there isn't time for 90% of the books I have on hand -- just from across the room, I can see The Corrections and Tigana and Up in the Old Hotel and Patriots and Liberators, all of which I've had for years and haven't come anywhere near next-book-to-read status.)

The same for the next few times I heard about it -- it sounded like a good novel, it sounded like fun, it sounded like the kind of thing I'd really like. But I've already got at least a thousand novels that I suspect I'll really like, from He Knew He Was Right to Mr. American to Silverlock, and I haven't managed to read them. So Goon Squad stayed in the back of my head, which kept wondering if the title was an Elvis Costello reference. (I hope it is.)

And then today it won the Pulitzer Prize. And that was the pebble, I suppose, that finally got that avalanche moving. I checked the library website from work, found that my local had it, and picked it up on the way home. It'll be the next thing I read, as soon as I finish Fuzzy Nation.

As a reader, I hope it's worth it. As a book marketer, I wonder how many other people like me had a similar reaction today, and how many copies of Goon Squad are popping off library and bookstore shelves today. (It's #4 on Amazon's Movers & Shakers right this moment, so that's probably "a lot.") And I wish I could figure out ways to make similar things happen to the books I'm responsible for -- that, as always, is the rub.

[1] I usually do say "he" here, since I'm mostly talking about books for CPAs and CFOs and other still-pretty-male-dominated financial jobs that start with "c".

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