For years, I lived in a “holler” in the Ozark mountains, rarely saw anyone except at Wal-Mart, and had no social life beyond my Sunday appearance at church. I come from generations of women whose default setting is suspicion. I was insecure myself and never knew what to say/do in social situations. Every party gave me a migraine. I also had a disdain for chatty women who seized innocent bystanders—often me—and drove us to the point of murder by twittering about whatever topic seemed to pop at random into their heads.

With all that in play, there was no way I would ever strike up a conversation with a stranger.

However, through the years I have discovered that when I tell people I am writing a book, their eyes light up. Maybe they love to read. Maybe they would love to write themselves. Maybe they can’t imagine how anyone does it.

I have learned that you can begin to find readers even if you are not yet published, don’t have a “platform,” are not on every social media channel, have a blog/newsletter, or any of the other things we are constantly told are essential. You don’t have to be a world traveler, a marketing expert, or a media maven.

There are people around us all the time, and we are all waiting. Waiting for the line to move, waiting for the game to begin, waiting for our name to be called at the dentist. Just before I left Rogers, I was in a restaurant with a writer friend who struck up a conversation with the lady whose booth backed up to hers. They both were waiting for their food and had turned sideways to stretch out their legs. Then they began chatting about the peanuts on the floor. Next thing I knew, the writer was talking about her book and the woman was sharing her own related experiences.

I am not suggesting that you “sell.” I am giving you permission to talk about something that is very close to your heart. How real is that?

You need three things:

#1 A Filtered Opening Conversation
Open with a friendly comment. If the whole thing falls flat, no worries. You haven’t lost a thing. If the person responds and you kick off a conversation, don’t launch into a long story. Lob the conversation ball back rather than grabbing it and running full speed away like Prose does. Use some judgment to talk about what might be of interest. Gauge how much time you have. A line at the post office won’t take as long as a flight to Chicago—hopefully.

Say you are a writer. If you haven’t started your book yet, own the dream. “I’m beginning a novel about ___.” “I’m about to start my memoir about ____.”

Figure out a way to describe your project in one or two sentences. DON’T TELL THE WHOLE STORY. You have to learn to be succinct. But let your passion show. Why do you want to write this story?

Listen. Maybe they have some thoughts on your topic. Maybe they used to live in your setting. Maybe they had a cousin who had a similar experience as yours or your character’s. Maybe they also dream of writing a story. BUT LEAVE THEM WANTING MORE. Even if you have all night on a plane to London, don’t go on and on. Leave a little mystery.

#2 A Vehicle to Keep the Dialogue Going
No, you don’t have to be on every social media channel. But you should have at least one online location out of which to connect.

This should be a curated channel. By that I mean a social medium, such as Facebook, or a blog or something online in which you speak to the themes of your book or your writing life. On this channel, you are the same interesting person speaking about your passion as the person they just met waiting for a table at Olive Garden. You do not suddenly become Ms. Political Rant or Mr. Off-Color Jokester unless that’s your book.

Ask directly. “Are you on Facebook? I post about my [research, story, journey].”

#3 Have Amazing Contact Cards.
I resisted having my picture on my cards until it was pointed out to me how this helps people remember who the heck you are. It doesn’t have to be a head shot. It can be you doing something related to your book or its setting. On the back, have your email and all your online links. You don’t have to have your phone number if that makes you uneasy, though I do. Don’t have your address or agree to meet a stranger in a dark alley. Do have a little byline if you can think of one that sums up your writing.

Finally, don’t work like a politician. It’s not about passing out your cards to everyone. It’s about finding those people—and they will be the minority—who are interested in your book and providing them a way to stay connected.

This is not only about selling a book. It’s about relating to people who are drawn to your story. You will know them when you meet them, but you have to open the door to your writing and invite them in. If you do, they will bring you assistance, connections, knowledge, insights, encouragement, and a sense that you are not alone on this very isolated journey. They will enrich your life in ways that you can’t imagine as you, and your ongoing story, enrich theirs.

Have you had an interaction with a stranger who impacted your writing? I’d love to hear about it. Reply and let me know.

– Alison