Reaching Out

A year and a half ago, I wrote the following as part of my Writing Rookie series at A Motley Vision website:

I’m a socially motivated person. I like spending time with people, talking to people (face-to-face or at a distance), getting to know people. Part of what I’ve always liked about literature is the feeling of truly getting to know the people I’m reading about. Characters are my friends.

Writing stories, I find, is the same kind of activity—taken to another octave of intensity. The horrible vulnerability that comes in story-writing is the flipside of this desire to reach out and connect to other people on the kind of personal level that comes with creating something that touches your readers.

As it turned out, reaching out to people has been my chief method for publicizing No Going Back, as well as one of my major reasons for writing it. Most of the book’s reviews are ones that I’ve individually recruited via email and/or telephone call. Heck, a goodly percentage of the book’s sales so far are the direct result of personal contacts I’ve made. Which is somewhat disappointing, in a way, but there you are…

So anyway, this past week I’ve been following up on some personal contacts from a while back: emailing people I’d sent electronic review copies and the like. Part of me is a bit apprehensive, because I’m guessing that in some cases the reason I never heard back from them may have been because they read the book and didn’t like it. Even if that’s the case, though, I figure it’s better for me to know than not.

Back when No Going Back was first published, I contacted some friends in the LDS same-gender attracted community asking for suggestions for people who might enjoy reading a free electronic review copy. I got about 20 names, and wound up sending out electronic copies to most of them. Some responded with posted reviews, others with private comments. Still others I haven’t heard from at all. I don’t want to nag — okay, I suppose I do want to nag, but not unpleasantly — but I also can’t help but be curious what they thought of the book, assuming they read it. Considering that these also were intended to act as “seed” copies for the LDS SGA community, I also feel like I ought to know what the reaction has been, just so I can know what’s being said about my book. And talking about my book helps to satisfy that desire to reach out to other people as well.

If there’s one thing that has surprised me, it’s that there hasn’t been more discussion about the book in general. I’d love to see people writing and exchanging opinions about some of the issues and questions that have been raised in people’s individual reviews and in emails and comments to me. I’d thought that maybe this blog and my website might be a place where some of that could happen, but clearly I overestimated just how much interest and discussion the book (and this blog) would generate. Still, it was certainly worth doing. And I would have felt guilty if I hadn’t at least made the effort.

Meanwhile, I keep trying to think about more ways to reach out to people who might have an interest in the book, who haven’t heard about it yet (or not in the right context), and how I might get the word out to them. Just a few weeks ago, the publisher and I put out a mailing to LDS institutes of religion on the west coast and a few other places, on the theory that working with college-age students might give them a greater interest in this contemporary topic. (Some of our best responses have been from people in the Church who work with young single adults, such as bishops of student wards.) So far, there doesn’t seem to have been any response to our mailing, so I guess it’s time to put on our thinking caps again. Suggestions are more than welcome…

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7 Responses to “Reaching Out”

  1. Rex says:

    For a lot of reasons, I think that one thing at work is the lack of controversy. I know there were nuts who thought you were trying to poison the youth of the Church, but I doubt a lot of people paid attention to that. Nothing I say here is a criticism of the book on its own, but it does lack a fighting spirit and you yourself have not been embroiled in anything sensational.

    So here’s my less-than-serious marketing suggestion. Go to a gay bar. Have someone take your picture and post it on one of those sites where they like to dance on the graves of people who have killed their reputations.

    Author of Mormon Gay Teen Novel Seen in Gay Bar With a Rent Boy

    • Jonathan says:

      Rex,

      I don’t take it as a criticism, and I think you may be right. People who don’t want the controversy avoid the book to begin with, while those who do want controversy read it and are disappointed. I had a fairly militant radio program person who wanted to interview me, who was clearly prepared to be offended on behalf of gays… but then I never heard back from them after someone (presumably) actually read the novel. I’ve had several contacts with a prominent newspaper in Utah that often runs articles critical of the LDS Church, but nothing has come of any of it. It may be that it’s simply because the book just isn’t controversial enough.

      This, I suppose, is the downside of writing a novel that most readers (from all perspectives) say is mostly fair and balanced. I’m actually pretty proud of that, but it doesn’t help in attracting attention.

      I’ve thought of trying to push the controversy angle more by talking up things like the decision by a BYU administrator not to carry No Going Back in the BYU Bookstore, or the decision of the editors not to include a review in BYU Magazine. Honestly, though, while discouraging, I don’t see those as signs of any vast conspiracy. More likely just bureaucratic nervousness. And positioning this as something “banned at BYU” (not actually the case) might attract attention, but it wouldn’t be the kind of attention or readership I’m hoping for.

      From what I see on various LDS blogs and the like, in order to attract attention I’d have to do something a lot more controversial than simply showing up at a gay bar with a rent boy. Like maybe supporting Obama, or interpreting the condemnation of idlers wearing the garment of the laborer as being aimed primarily at investment capitalism rather than welfare deadbeats, or arguing that the Book of Mormon’s admonition that all who come to America will be led by the hand of God suggests a somewhat more charitable view toward illegal aliens than we sometimes show. Wait, I’ve done all those things…

  2. Rex says:

    But have you done all those things in a silver lame dress?

  3. Katya says:

    For some reason, this is reminding me of chain reactions in nuclear material. You have to have enough of the right material (and in the right shape) to sustain a reaction, otherwise, the reaction dies out. In the world of social media, it’s the same way. If something is popular enough (or presented in the right way), then a critical mass of people will pass it along, it can go viral. Otherwise, the reaction will keep dying out, locally.

    I don’t really have any advice for you, I just find it interesting how information spreads (or doesn’t) in social media.

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