Hardly anything in this universe is for certain and sure—but there’s one thing that might be. Every author started out as a reader. Isn’t that true? Every single one of us who writes began our writing life buried in a book. Or two or three or hundreds or more.
So when authors ask—how do I connect with readers? That’s such an easy answer. Because all I’m doing is connecting with people just like me. Exactly like me. And you. And you. Who love the same things we do, and are annoyed by the same things. Of course we don’t all love exactly the same books, and that’s part of the fun.
But I just gave a class to Sisters in Crime New England called Perfecting Your Presentation, where we talked about (and practiced) how to read your work out loud, and how to be interviewed. I’ve also taught classes in public speaking. And what’s so important when you are in front of a group of readers is not only eye contact, but ear contact and brain contact. That’s connection.
Think of what makes you the reader connect. When I say in my library presentations something like: “How many of you used to read Nancy Drew? Because I did!” And when the hands go up, and we all realize, Oh! There’s a light in each of our hearts that is exactly the same. And when I say “I started writing at 55, 11 years ago. What is it that you would love to do in this half of your life?” I see the thoughtfulness in people’s faces, and the realization that they, too, can follow their dreams.
And how about reading out loud? How many times, when you go to a bookstore or library event, and the author says, “Now I’ll read a little bit from my book…” How many times do you cringe, thinking: I hope this is good.
But when the author is enthusiastic, and reads dramatically, and chooses a compelling section—and by compelling I mean interesting, and short, and with an irresistibly teasing ending—aren’t you thrilled?
Because that very wise author has put him or herself in the audience’s shoes, and in their minds. On Facebook, and Twitter, when someone posts about Me Me Me…How much fun is that for you to read?
If you truly and genuinely are interested in other people, and care about how they feel, and what they’re interested in, that comes through. You can’t fake it! Because you care about someone else, they care about you.
Sometimes it’s difficult, in the relentless pressure of writing and promoting, to forget that. Just between us, I can’t believe there aren’t more authors running out onto the streets, simply yelling: “PLEASE please please buy my book!” I know I’ve felt that way. (Like, every day.)
But aside from being pretty funny, you know that would not be successful, right?
So the key, darling writers, is to put yourself in your audience’s hearts. When I was a beginning reporter, and still incredibly nervous about being on TV, a very wise advisor said to me: “Do your job out of passion. Out of love.”
And I can give you no better advice than that.
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN is the on-air investigative reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate, winning 33 EMMYs and dozens more journalism honors. The bestselling author of nine mysteries, Ryan’s also an award-winner in her second profession—with five Agathas, two Anthonys, two Macavitys, the Daphne, and Mary Higgins Clark Award. Critics call her “a superb and gifted story-teller.” Her WHAT YOU SEE is an Agatha and Anthony nominee and Library Journal Best of 2015. Ryan’s newest novel is SAY NO MORE — Jeffery Deaver says “Superb!” and a Library Journal starred review says “Ryan does it again.” Hank is a founder of MWA University and 2013 president of National Sisters in Crime.