Friday, February 22, 2013

My Workshop at Northwestern & Sabotaging Potential Readers

So two days ago, I helped run this workshop at Northwestern University for a class that is about developing programs for social justice issues. Basically, the Voices & Faces Project team goes in and discusses how we founded our organization and then charges the students with the task of coming up with their own creative initiatives to benefit the program and reshape how people look at rape.
Prof Danny Cohen & V&F founder Anne Ream

V&F project member Katie Hnida
 What was amazing about this particular workshop is that the professor decided to focus his students on something more specific. Namely: how to promote my book and develop a program for creating new dialogues about rape based off the themes in my book. I KNOW. It was HUGE.

The interesting thing is that it went a little differently than I expected because I talked so much (Oh Christa) that the students weren't given as long as they needed to come up with ideas for it.

But, several REALLY interesting things came up (please note my sample size was a class of 30):

1. None of these students went to book stores when they were in high school. (I know, saddest panda EVER). When they got books, their parents either bought them for them or they got them online. They bought books based on recommendations of friends/family members only. None read reviews, went on GR, or bought anything based on what "Amazon recommends".

2. When they talked about where teens spent their time online these days, most of them said Tumblr and Twitter. FB is considered a little old even though all of them are on it. (This is evidently what we get for letting our parents post pictures of their cats on FB. Teens are bailing:))

3. They all felt libraries and schools were the most effective way of getting books into the hands of teens besides word of mouth. And they actually had some REALLY interesting ideas for how to get my book into schools despite the plethora of F-words. (love college brains!)

Now, the really interesting thing:

4. One of the guys in the class said something like, "Maybe if you want guys to read this, you shouldn't make your alliance to the Voices and Faces Project so prominent. Like you shouldn't tell them about the program and then the book, because then they'll feel like they're being preached to and we get that ALL the time."

This actually caused me to pause and really have to think. In allying myself with a project that I care deeply for, am I sabotaging myself from potential readers picking up my book? Is my voice less effective in reaching people because I'm a survivor? Or because I was an advocate for so many years? Should I be placing less emphasis on my cause and more emphasis on the fact that the book is short and has lots of provocative scenes in it?

I called Jolene shortly after this class in a bit of a panic. And ever helpful, she said, "Maybe it just gets marketed differently for different people. It's not like it actually IS preaching, so maybe with boys, you mention there's a lot of swearing. And maybe with girls, you mention that it's sort of a love story. And maybe with librarians you mention the potential dialogue that can come out of it. And maybe with parents, you mention that you're donating half your money to a good cause. I'm generalizing, but you get the point. The nice thing about your book is that it does in fact do all those things. It just depends on who you talk to about it."

I don't know. I don't think one book can do/be ALL the things. But I'm a little lost about what to say about it now. I'm proud of my work with the Voices and Faces Project. I'm proud that this book came out of that writing workshop. But should I make less of a deal about it? Am I setting up the book to not be read because people think it's going to be preachy?

Would that impact your purchase one way or another?


Jody Casella said...

Your thought about trying to market in different ways to reach different groups may be the key. Do you know Beth Revis's books? When Across the Universe first came out it had a reversible cover. On one side, a couple kissing, ala Sleeping Beauty--obviously to appeal to girls. On the other side--an intricate diagram of a space ship. Both of my teens--boy and girl--read the book and loved it. Your cover, by the way, seems like it would catch the attention of either sex.

Mandie Baxter said...

I don't think it's going to be that way with everyone. Books lovers will buy based on taste and recs. but non book lovers may need a push. I don't think he's saying not to leave out the group info, but to some make it second. I love reading, but in HS I never read a single book for school. I'd skim enough to writer a report or take a test. But I'm one that doesn't like to be told what to read or what to get out of a book. That guy might have been one or knows some who are like/similar to that. I like the Across the Universe example above. Let your book wear many hats (but mot covers bc your cover is gorgeous and does appeal to both sexes in my opinion).

Suzi said...

Sometimes you have the most intriguing post titles.

Boy, Jo is so super smart. I gotta get her number on my speed dial. :) (I suppose that shows my age, huh.)

So yes, nobody likes books that 'preach' to you. But was that guy talking about in general, or about rape specifically? If he was talking about being preached to about rape, does that mean that the issue is being talked about more in school? That's gotta be a good thing.

To me, it has a bigger (better) impact that you are involved with this stuff. I will admit, I've gotten to the end of issue books, skimmed through the website and phone-numbers-to-call-if-you-need-help list. And I wonder if it's something that was stuck in there... just because. Or if they really have a deep passion about it, or a reason behind it.

And it sounds like in your case, you'll have the the 'why' this is so important to you. And maybe that'll come off as preachy to some, but to most others they'll have that deeper understanding of why this story means so much to you. And that's more important than losing the few people who'll feel it's preachy.

K. I'll shut up now. :)

Matthew MacNish said...

Personally, I must admit I would be turned off by a book that I knew was preachy, but I don't see how the author being affiliated with an advocacy group like Voices and Faces makes the book preachy.

Besides, not knowing a whole lot of what it's about, I would pick it up based on the cover alone. It reminds me a lot of Brooklyn, Burning, which was a killer book.

That said, mentioning that it has a lot of swearing, and is a gritty tale definitely couldn't hurt, from this dude's perspective.

Jessica Silva said...

I don't think you should worry about his comment. how many people are you personally going to preach to about the book? if it's word-of-mouth that sells, then people will do their own marketing. when I tell people about your book, I tell them usually what I remember from your blurb ("he doesn't go to a party, and his girlfriend gets raped. he's trying to find out what happened, but it's hard to find the truth. he wants to help her."). to me, the book is ALWAYS about the story and how it impacts the reader. the cause behind it and you in general are just bonus.

Jessie Humphries said...

No, I don't think you should worry about being preachy unless you ARE being preachy in the actual book. And my guess is that your agent and editor felt strongly hat you weren't or else they probably would have wanted you to fix it. My two cents!

Elodie said...

First WOW and WOW and WOW WOW WOW WOW (and I don´t mean World of Warcraft!) :P

Let´s step back for a second: Your book was the topic in a college course...that is great!


When it comes to this particular comment, I think Jolene has a point. Not all people will buy your book for the same reason in the first place. The marketing may be a bit different according to the segment you want to reach. BUT your involvement as an advocate and survivor will not play against you.

Each person goes into a book looking for something different, with their different experience and background.

And...your blurb already talks to all those segments, I think!