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TGR, Gutenberg, Rubric

March 2015



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TGR, Gutenberg, Rubric

Lessons from @MDoriaRussell

Listening to Mary Doria Russell speak last night at Third Place Books was truly a delight. The organizer was apparently overwhelmed by the turn-out (my rough estimate was maybe 120-140 people crammed into the aisles), but the crowd was evidence of the obvious fan-base that she has drawn over the past 15 years, starting with the phenomenal The Sparrow. Her presentation describing the writing and history behind her new book, Doc: A Novel was mesmerizing, even to those standing in the farthest corners of the store (like me).

Amidst the gems that she dropped (Where do you get your ideas? Walmart, Aisle 5.) she painted a loving portrait of Doc Holliday and the Earp brothers. She revealed more about the history and character of Doc in her first ten sentences than most people ever imagined. I can’t wait for my copy to arrive!

But Mary also had some revealing comments about the industry. “Publishers used to do publicity. Now we have to blog.” (Mary Doria Russell Blog) It was evident that even award-winning novelists like Ms. Russell are the primary promoters of their books. She commented that she liked to think in terms of 450 page novels, but now she was forced to think of 140 character tweets.

That’s a major problem for new authors. Granted, Ms. Russell has to do a lot of self-promotion, but she has a track record, fan-base, and five books to work with. A new author with the first book in the market has to build market presence from the ground up, whether she is with a commercial publisher or is going independent. Having a blog and having a Twitter account and being on Facebook are not guarantees of instant “viral” success; they are simply necessary components in surviving today’s market pressures.

Ms. Russell is on her ninth book promotional tour (5 books). While she may not be approaching this one with the naiveté that she did her first tour—telling everyone at the airport that she was a novelist on a book tour—her presentation is fresh, her stories delightful, and the love she has for her characters and the story she has to tell is obvious in every word she says.