Not long ago, there was a time when records sold (physical ones as in LPs, not digitized), record stores thrived, and record companies were the kinds of places where everyone wanted to work. The disruption, and in some cases the death, of much of this once culturally relevant institution known as the recording industry has been well documented. But what’s since happened to the musicians behind the music? Have their coffers dried up? Have many been forced into (gasp!) day jobs? In the face of declining record sales, have they disbanded only to confront the horrifying prospects of selling off the Ferraris, the yachts and the mansions to make ends meet? Hardly. Sure, bands like Rush, U2, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Rolling Stones and multitudes of others haven’t stopped making a good living for themselves. But instead of the album-tour-break-album-tour-break cycle that once fueled the proverbial rock star excesses, nowadays it’s tour, tour and tour some more.
Inspired by a recent conversation with Bill Falloon from Wiley Publishing, I’ve come to realize what book authors can borrow from today’s seemingly ever-touring rock bands: Get out there and speak to your readers. Build your audience 10, 100, 1,000 “fans” at a time. Engage them directly. Give them a truly memorable experience. And always leave them wanting more. I keep a running list in my head of the best live shows I’ve ever seen (among them, Jimmy Page with The Black Crowes playing mostly Led Zeppelin songs at the Garden State Arts Center; U2 at Giants Stadium during their Achtung Baby tour; and The Smashing Pumpkins at a small warm-up show in New York ahead of their Mellon Collie tour). Book authors have a great opportunity to get on their readers’ “best ever” lists too and have them become fans for a lifetime. Here’s why.
Speaking opportunities represent the most meaningful and lasting way to connect with an audience. For readers of your books, seeing you on the lecture platform is akin to the backstage pass. Your presence eliminates the space that exists between the book and the reader. You distill for them the book’s ideas, themes and concepts into relatable pieces of information that further compel the reader to do what it is you’re recommending they do: innovate more and better; lead like a leader should; strategize more effectively, and so on and so forth. Reading the book is one thing; living it with you through your words is a different experience entirely.
There’s even more at stake if we consider the big-picture realities of how consumer preferences are changing. To come full circle, if people stopped buying records, they can stop buying books too. And unlike an album of songs, you can’t really buy a book one chapter at a time. Track seven might be the only song worth listening to on an album and purchasing through iTunes, but chapter seven isn’t so easily extractable from its surroundings. With this in mind, it might be time to tune-up the tour van and hit the road. There’s an audience waiting.