Thursday, May 30, 2013

Fortitude, Bird Style

There's been a sweet married birdie couple living in my backyard for a while. Mr. and Mrs. California Towhee, ground-hopping birds who have a nest in a tree on the side of my yard. They've been there a while, and they often come hopping right up to the sliding glass door to peek in and see what we're up to. (My cat does not like this and has bruised his forehead lunging into the glass like an idiot.)

A sweet little brown California towhee. He has a high chip-chip sound.

They've also raised a nest of little baby towhees, and although I suspected they had babies nearby -- the grabbing of an earwig and then flying off with it was a sure sign -- I didn't know where they were.

Last week, I heard a bout of mad cheeping, baby-style cheeping, and I got to the window just in time to see two large shapes falling from the tree, and a marauding scrub jay fluttering in the branches, and mama and papa towhee screaming and flapping at him. Twice they chased him off; twice he returned. Finally, from across the yard streamed a third towhee, and he aided his friends in chasing off the scrub jay. I ran out and did my best to chase off the jay too but I thought my presence stressed the towhees so I went back inside. (Also I did not want my head pecked.) The scrub jay, if you haven't guessed, had pushed the two babies out of the nest in an attempt to have a snack. I'm not a birder, so this was all high drama for me.

The babies sought cover under leaves, and they had feathers although they couldn't fly. I let them all be, not knowing what would happen to the babies.

A pretty, but very evil, scrub jay.

Four days later, we arrived home from Memorial Day weekend up at my mom's house, and again I heard a mad bout of cheeping. In a different corner of my yard, probably the same evil scrub jay was hopping around and he flushed out a towhee baby. The parents were again beside themselves. But this time, the jay managed to push the baby into the creek that runs through our backyard (really a glorified storm drain). I ran out, screaming, and the jay flew off. I got a shovel to get the baby out, but it was too late. Mr. Sierra put him on the grass so the parents would see him.

The awful jay came back and to my horror at the baby. The mama and papa towhee had to stand nearby and watch, and their soft chipping as they watched broke my heart.

It's a good thing I'm not a towhee.

I was pretty upset, but Mr. Sierra reminded me that this is nature. The towhee parents saw the dead baby before the jay returned to feast, and there was nothing they could do. They displayed an admirable amount of love and sorrow and protective instinct, but in the end, they understand that as birds, you've got to move on. Wikipedia tells me that towhees can lay eggs and they'll hatch pretty quickly; babies leave the nest in 8 days or so. That seems like a pretty quick turnaround and I don't know how often they lay eggs, but maybe they'll move on and lay more. They appear to live in my tree year-round.

After watching this awful drama, I had to think what it must be like as a bird to watch your baby survive being kicked out of the nest only to be drowned and then eaten by a mean scrub jay. Do they move on? Can they? Certainly humans would have a horrid time doing so, but do birds?

I don't know, but my guess is that Mr. Sierra was right. They have to move on and lay more eggs if you want anything in the world.

Naturally, I'm going to compare this kind of fortitude to how it is to write a book and see it through to publishing, either traditional or self. This is not to belittle the poor birds or to suggest that losing a baby to a nasty scrub jay is at all the same, but certainly if you want to make it, fortitude is in order. You get rejected, you've just got to go on. You get a nasty review, you've just got to go on. You've just got to keep doing what's important. And pray that the scrub jay gets his.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Brand Ambassadors

Years ago, I worked with a guy who had worked for Apple, or so it said on his resume. His position was "brand evangelist." I remember thinking, an evangelist is a real title? WTF is that?

I don't know if he got paid for it, or if it was just an arrangement with Apple. But it was smart on Apple's part. What is was is someone who recommends Apple products--and not just recommends, but enthuses, and loves, and sings the praises of.

These days, we use the term "brand ambassador," which sounds much nicer than the religious overtone of evangelist. You might be wondering why I'm writing about this here. It's because anyone who is selling books needs to know about it.

We are told that blogging and blog interviews and blog tours and even book signings don't sell books long term. That is, they don't grow your readership. We are told it's really all about word of mouth. But how on earth do you get your book to be spread by word of mouth?

A story: at my local farmer's market there's this wonderful Afghani food vendor called Bolani. Bolani makes really delicious sauces and breads. Healthy, low fat, and drool-inducing. I've been a fan for a long time. A few weeks ago, I was at the farmer's market and stopped by the Bolani booth. The guy there offered me a sample, which of course I took (I'm not an idiot) and he asked me if I'd had it before. I launched into an enthusiastic account of how I've been buying their stuff since last summer and how much I love them, blah blah blah. I mean, I'm a brand ambassador for them. I tell everyone how good they are.

What does the guy do?

He turns, in the middle of me talking, to someone else, and starts speaking to them. He shut me off.

I closed my mouth with a snap. Wow, I thought. What a way to treat a customer standing right in front of you, telling you how much they love you. It was like telling me to go $#@%& myself.

Because now I had a bad feeling. I was made to feel like an idiot and that he didn't care at all that I spent money on his products. There was no way I'd be a) telling other people about them now, or b) buying their stuff when I had the choice.  Notice how I'm blogging about it, too. Now everyone gets to know how they treat their customers.

I was no longer a brand ambassador for them. Which was too bad, because their sauce is tasty.

This has happened before at book or CD signings when I've met authors or musicians. The experience has been so disappointing that I haven't bought further books or music from them. Pet Shop Boys are famous for being utter dickheads (Chris Lowe, at least), but it's different when he's a dick to you. I went off them after meeting them. Two authors at a signing couldn't care less that I was there--and I can't say I ever read another word of theirs. It's why I no longer go to book signings--invariably, the author will turn away just as I get there or scribble in my book and shove it aside like it's on an assembly line. I don't want that. I've read their work and I want to see the person who's behind it all. I don't want to be treated like cattle.

I think authors are really missing the boat on readers as brand ambassadors. If you have published a book and a reader contacts you and enthuses and gushes and says "I adore you!" then you know you have a future reader in them. Don't ignore them. Don't turn them off. Make it a priority to answer them. (I am not speaking of anyone I know here.) Don't take my word for it. Social media expert Scott Stratten has harped about this for a long time.

So, what are you going to do about it if you have a book and  enthusiastic readers? There are endless possibilities. Next week I'll do a post giving some ideas.