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A Literary & Poetry Column
By Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Connecting to the Author Counts
Carolyn Rants About How to Make Reading Feel Real

Something new is afoot.

Publishers are trying to draw authors and readers together. What a wonderful concept! And, yes, I'm being facetious.

This new program from HarperCollins was reported in the LA Times. The giant publisher offered up their big name authors for an "Invite the Author" program. Authors like Ann Patchett (author of Bel Canto) and Wally Lamb (author of This Much I Know is True) will speak by phone to the members of a very few book clubs--chosen by lottery, no less!

This is a PR ploy to attract more book clubs to the HarperCollins site, which is OK by me. HC publishes lots of excellent titles including books that can be classified as literary. What T'd me off is that these ladies from one of the chosen clubs, the Digressing Divas Book Club in Michigan, were so excited because they "had never met an author or talked to one before." That made me wonder if there are a whole lot of readers out there who think that authors are hard to come by. It made me think that many of our most famous authors may be responsible for this misunderstanding.

I am here to tell you that many authors of literary works (and other genres, too) do not keep themselves cloistered. They have websites. They have e-mail addresses. They have bared their very souls to their readers in their writing, for heaven's sakes!

It's easy to find an author. Look up her name on Once found, visit her site and sign her guest book. She should be pleased to send you a signed bookplate if you ask. Most authors will answer your note.

Lacking an e-mail address or website, authors can also be reached by writing to her publisher; the publisher will pass these letters on to the author. This is not a new process. It has been going on for decades. What a concept! A personal letter with the distinct possibility that a reader will get a personal note back complete with a valued signature!

Oh, and book signings. Well, granted some of the big chains get awfully uppity about who they will allow to appear on their premises, but most towns, large and small have the potential for an author to visit and chat with book lovers. So, if "Digressing Divas"everywhere are all that excited about chatting with authors, maybe they should be telling their bookstore proprietors about their needs. What would happen if B&N invited an author from a small press so their customers could get copy of an autographed first novel, maybe even a honest-to-goodness first edition? And what if they actually promoted this new author? And what if the people who came actually found a new voice, a new author to adore?

"Digressing Divas" could also hound their libraries a bit. A former Nobel prize nominee, Dr. Alicia Ghiragossian, Stephen Veres, author of A Light in the Distance, and I spoke on "The Three Faces of Tolerance" at our local library recently. Other authors like Pat Morrison, Vincent Bugliosi and poet Bart Edelman have spoken to those in our not-so-large community as part of this same series. None of us said "No." If invited, most mid list-to-newby authors would travel reasonable distances to meet fans or make new ones. Some of these authors may someday be the Oateses or Faulkners or Roths of our nation.

Here's more proof: Authors came out of the woodwork to appear at hundreds of Wal-Marts (maybe thousands) for Literacy Day on April 12th. They didn't have to be begged. Oh, the "Divas" might not have found the world's most famous authors at every single store, but it was an opportunity to meet people who write, people with opinions and people with talent.

Maybe these book-clubbers could invite authors to come talk to their clubs. I know several authors who have spoken to as few as 12 avid readers cozied around the fireplace at a club member's home. One of those is Leora G. Krygier, author of First the Raven.

Some authors even teach at colleges in your area. Take a class from Eve LaSalle Caram at UCLA or from Aimee Bender at USC. For heaven's sake, Beverly J. Scott even took a road tour in one of her collectible Edsels so she could meet people in small towns!

So, to polish off this rant, what ticks me is that this new program of HarperCollins is being treated as if it is a huge opportunity. Well, how huge can it be? Lottery indeed. Telephone conversations rather than face to face? Besides that, HC wouldn't even give reporter Renee Tawa the number of book clubs that have registered on their site, but they would say they're drawing the names of only two book clubs a month. Every little bit helps but let's also hear it for the programs that have been putting readers in touch with authors for years. It's one way to make reading real and you can be sure that you are getting in on the fun.

Real Ideas for Making Readers Feel More Connected

  • Write to an author when you've read his book.
  • Look up an author on She may even have a link to a special biography page and/or an e-mail address.
  • Check out Wow! What an array of writers!
  • Attend book signings. Occasionally attend even if you don't know the author.
  • Join groups like the Women of Washington or the Women of Pasadena that invite authors to speak.
  • Attend your local library's events.
  • Let your bookstore know when you have read something you enjoy, especially if you had to go to to buy it. Ask them to invite that author to visit their store.
  • Read your paper's Book Review section; use some of the website addresses you find there to contact publishers and authors.
  • Most of all, just ask for your bookish little heart's desire. You might get it.
  • If you find an author who isn't receptive, find yourself another.

Tips and Tidbits

Each month in this box, Carolyn lists a writing or promotion tidbit that will help authors and a tip to help readers find a treasure among long-neglected books or a sapphire among the newly-published.

Writers' Tidbit: "Ask Roberta" is part of Roberta Allen's website. She has taught a writing program at Columbia University's School of the Arts so you'll be getting first-rate advice! She's a coach and can give you help with "living a life of free artistic expression" to "anything relating to the writing process." Go to: and click on the "Ask Roberta" link.

Readers' Tip: Go to and click on "books" at the left side of the page. You'll find news releases, announcements, etc. about new books that the New York Times can't find the space (or the will) to cover.

2003 Past Columns

How to Make Reading Feel Real

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