I knew Richard Russo was coming to our little neighborhood bookstore in Brewster today to sign copies of his latest novel That Old Cape Magic. But I’d already bought the book and read it, and besides, every time a noteworthy writer shows up at the Brewster book store the lines stretch across the parking lot.
Sure enough, when I passed the tiny shop on a late morning bike ride with my two kids, 100-plus readers stood anxiously peering over the shoulders of those ahead of them as they awaited their turn in line for a brief audience with the author.
I called out, “Love the book,” as I rode by and figured that would be the end of it. But upon returning an hour later, the line was gone and Richard Russo sat alone, beneath an awning in the 90-degree heat, diligently signing copies of his book for future customers.
“Go talk to him,” encouraged my eight-year-old son as we came to a stop at the corner of 6A where we were about to cross. “Come on, Dad, go.” So I did.
With my kids standing patiently nearby, Richard Russo and I chatted about Cape Magic and writing and authors. During our brief conversation he never stopped scribbling his name, half looking up and half making sure his Sharpie stayed in the center of the title pages, one after another. The stack of autographed books already stood as tall as the author himself, who seemed surprisingly shorter than I’d imagined –must be that I assumed physical stature would equal literary stature – but he kept right on signing. It was impressive to see a Pulitzer Prize winning author, humbly sitting in a folding chair behind a portable table, fulfilling his responsibility to readers.
I had time to ask him a few questions. How long had it take to write That Old Cape Magic? He told me that he’d never written a novel as quickly as this one. It took but a year and a half to get it right, a short time for him.
He shared his writing habits: daily, morning, but not early. “Definitely not at the crack of dawn, not even close,” he emphasized with a smile that suggested, “if you think I get up at that early, you have no idea.”
Finally I wanted to know whom he’s been reading. “I recently judged the Hemingway awards for first time authors” he offered without missing a beat. “I can give you four books I read and liked. You won’t be disappointed.”
This is great, I thought, personal recommendations from Richard Russo. As I was about to leave I said, “Richard, the only town you didn’t mention in That Old Cape Magic was Brewster. How come?” He seemed surprised and thought about it for a moment. “I didn’t? Not sure why, it’s one of my favorite towns on the Cape.”
The encounter took all of 10 minutes, but it made me think. Local bookstores, personal appearances by Richard Russo and authors like him would, at first glance, seem like the oldest form of marketing there is. But isn’t this what all of us are trying to do in the age of conversation?
The little Brewster Bookstore and Richard Russo don’t simply talk, they listen. They engage their audience. They create a community. They provide them with useful content. And if this post is an example, they inspire word of mouth. Funny, as marketers we talk about social media as if it’s this new phenomenon. Yet if we pulled our eyes away from the screen for a few minutes we’d realize it’s actually all around us, there to learn from and replicate.
Oh by the way, here’s what Richard suggested I read:
Met any good authors lately? Visited any great bookstores? Noticed any examples of community and conversation worth learning from? Please share.