A virtual but real community

Posted May 25, 2012 | New Media Project


By Sherri Wood Emmons, guest blogger

A few months before my first novel was published, my editor suggested I set up a website where readers could find out where I’d be doing signings, read a sample chapter and reviews, and leave messages. He also suggested a “fan page” on Facebook.

I felt hugely silly about the whole endeavor. It seemed pretentious that anyone would Google me or become a fan. But I did what he told me and launched sherriwoodemmons.com and a Facebook page.

In January 2011, Prayers and Lies was released (Kensington Books). Within weeks, I had a couple hundred fans on Facebook. I was blown away. And then people began leaving notes on my website. I was amazed.

But the kicker for me was when I started receiving emails via the website. These were not just “Loved the book” kinds of messages. They were personal and often moved me to tears.

Prayers and Lies explores the trifecta of mental illness, incest, and child abuse. Many of the emails I received were from people who had experienced abuse, sexual abuse, or mental illness. They wanted to tell their own stories. They wanted to be heard. Sometimes, they just wanted to say “Thank you.”

I wrote back to every person who emailed. I encouraged people to write their own stories and sometimes to seek professional counseling. I have stayed in touch with several people and email with them on a regular basis. We have long email conversations about faith and suffering, childhood trauma, and recovery. Some of these folks have become online friends.

I also discovered a whole network of bloggers who write about books. I’ve done online interviews with some of them and have received some very nice reviews in their blogs. And again, some of them have become real friends.

Maybe the funniest part of the experience has been receiving requests for recipes. In the first book, the characters sit down to a huge, traditional Thanksgiving meal. In my second book, The Sometimes Daughter (Kensington, 2012), one of the characters cooks exotic and vegetarian meals. (I don’t know why I end up writing about food so much!) I received so many requests for Aunt Helen’s sugar cream pie and Cassie’s lentils and rice recipes, I actually added a page of recipes on my website. Now I get emails from people who have tried the recipes and like them. And I’ve received several recipes from readers.

My Facebook page has become a wonderful sounding board for ideas and a great source of encouragement. I use it to let people know when I’m doing a signing and to update them on my progress on my third book, The Weight of Small Things (Kensington, 2013). But perhaps most importantly, I go to that page when I’m struggling. And I receive wonderful, encouraging messages from readers who tell me I can do it.

I’m thinking of new ways to use social media to promote the books and to foster conversations around them. A friend who is also an author used her Facebook fan page to solicit title ideas for her second book. I know there is a huge potential there. But sometimes it feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day to keep up with it all!

It is wonderful, humbling, and sometimes scary to know that my characters have touched real people. And it’s amazing to be able to interact with so many readers through social media.

Sherri Wood Emmons is a freelance writer and editor, and the former managing editor of DisciplesWorld magazine. Prayers and Lies is her first work of fiction. She is a graduate of Earlham College and the University of Denver Publishing Institute. A mother of three, she lives in Indiana with her husband, two fat beagles, and four spoiled cats.

The New Media Project is a research project helping religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology. To request permission to repost this content, please contact newmediaproject@cts.edu.

1 Comment

  1. 1 santosh kumar 31 Jan
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