A long time ago I owned a tiny coffee shop. Café Biscotti was in a quaint little town south of Pittsburgh, PA. At the time, I was also consulting several clients for their marketing efforts and working on a novel or two, but during my stints behind the counter I learned a lot about marketing and writing that no one in the “biz” ever really talks about.
Café Biscotti was the quintessential social networking site of our little community. Every morning before I opened, wrinkled old Italian ladies waited at the door for their espresso and melodic rants (which never started until they had a demitasse cup in their gnarled hands). Not speaking Italian, I can only assume they were talking about their husbands, their kids, or the rising cost of prosciuto at Pennsylvania Macaroni in the Strip District. A bit later, moms walking home after accompanying their children to the nearby schools stopped in for coffee and a sweet. Most of their conversations revolved around their teenage kids’ issues or whether the new carpeting should be brown or blue. Lunch time was an eclectic collection of road workers and local business owners. Evenings belonged to the young people. Yup, social networking at it’s best, 1990’s style.
Here are two powerful lessons I learned from the café-owner experience. Take notes kids, this is important.
LESSON NUMBER ONE …
Never, ever, EVER lose touch with your prospective customer. Whether you sell widgets, give advice, or write novels, you simply can’t let yourself disconnect from your target.
Writers tend to close themselves off to concentrate and focus on the writing. Granted, this may be a productive practice, but is it effective?
If creative thinkers don’t pop their heads out of the hole every now and then, dramatic things may have happened while they aren’t looking. The people we want to eventually communicate with may have mutated into a different breed altogether. We’ve seen it happen a hundred times. Attitudes change, emotions change and points of view alter into unpredictable landscapes. Sometimes it comes with disasters like 9/11 or Katrina. Sometimes it comes fast after the November elections, a stock market dip or seasonal weather shifts. Sometimes it’s been building a long time, slowly and silently like rising bread dough.
There’s only one way to keep in touch with the world, and that’s to BE IN THE WORLD. Many writers delve into their fantasy world, imagining that everyone will adore what they’re writing about. Guess what? Your future reader is changing as we speak. Come out little ostrich. If you take a good look around, your future readers are telling you exactly what they’re interested in reading. You just have to observe. I’m not talking about thinking outside the box here, I’m talking about jumping into the box with your prospective readers and mingling a little.
As a writer, the information I gained making lattes was astounding. Observing the huddled coffee drinkers I discovered what makes people laugh and what makes them cry, what makes them happy and what ticks them off, what they think of other people and how they react to new and old ideas. Finding out how to touch people is what writing is all about. Reach out and do some touching. Leave the computer dark for a little while. Consider it research because truthfully, most writers surround themselves with other writers, talk about style and technique and getting published. It’s far too easy to forget who we’re really writing these books for.
LESSON NUMBER TWO …
This one I never really learned until recently. There’s a huge difference between putting on a pair of shoes and going out to observe my prospective readers and the dynamics of social networking today. Back then, pouring imported espresso beans into the cone like grinder was just that … watching the beans disappear each time I hit the button. Today, I imagine those beans as my precious time grinding away.
In today’s social networking, emails, blogs, websites, Yuku boards, Facebook and Twitter have become simultaneously the boon and bane of a writer’s existence. It’s way too easy to again surround ourselves with other writers, especially on Twitter. I follow writers, authors, publishers, publicists and literary agents. I use the TweetDeck, so all I see is communications from those particular people. Yes, great tool … but occasionally I need a little stimulation from other sources. So, I also follow chefs and wine experts, artists and friends with interests outside of my own.
Hee ha, I’ve created a world without ever leaving the house! Right? Wrong. I may never leave my computer chair, but I may also never get any writing done either.
To tweet or not to Tweet? Or better yet, how much to Tweet?
Twitter has been a great resource for people and information, but there comes a time when too much of a good thing is bad. Lately, I’ve been trying to control and limit my Tweet time. Three times a day in brief 20 minute spurts seems to be working, but unfortunately, many have begun to use Twitter as a communications tool packed into 140 characters. (If you follow me, please DM or email because I just may miss you in the flow of the TweetDeck.)
Tweeting in spurts has served my writing time and focus, but is it serving the reason for social networking? I’ve personally met several amazing Tweeters face to face and I’d hate for that expansion of my life to slow to a crawl. Originally I tweeted whole days away (and don’t deny it, you’ve done it too I bet). Now I find myself suffering a kind of withdrawal. I don’t want to stop, I just want to control this … addiction.
This is a desperate request for your suggestions and opinions. How are you controlling your social networking time expenditure? Any and all ideas are appreciated. Let’s just call it a Twitter Support Group.
Oh, and remember to socialize in person more often. I hear the weather’s nice outside and the readers are waiting to tell you what they want.