In an age of handheld mind magnets, competing for reading attention can be daunting for authors. People texting each other while sitting at the same table reinforces our fear that no one will be interested in hearing about our books, so we acquiesce rather than mentioning that we’ve just published the novel it took us five years to write. Interrupting the solipsism of strangers takes moxie our self-criticism tends to mislabel as selfishness, but getting noticed in a self-absorbed environment may require the lobbing of a little gift.
All of us are a bit techno-stranded these days. Too much distraction lures us to hide behind the Do Not Disturb signals of blank expression and no eye contact. Yet we’ve all seen how a stranger’s friendly word can spark a human moment. The Internet’s Everywhere Earth presence can induce a passive response to our immediate surroundings, and that reaction might be viewed as disinterest. Yet therein lies the gifting opportunity.
Offering a ping of connection to a stranger (or perhaps to the blank remoteness introverted at your table) presents a strategic challenge. That other person may be visualizing Fibonacci equations or plotting a response to her divorce lawyer. We might assume they’re surfing TikTok, so reaching out carries the risk of intrusion if not of full out rebuff. One engagement technique might be to comment on events occurring in real time, i.e. a stranger tripping on a curb or a child pleading to be noticed. Any event affords a potential bridge to mentioning your book, and those select syllables may release the unexpected presence of human gravity.
Your ping may go unacknowledged, but maybe not; a smile may rush forward to wash away the ache that old friend left by ghosting you today. But if we as authors are fearless enough to write a book and dauntless enough to confront a publishing industry exuberant with disinterest, then we’re strong enough for our little voice to come out and play.
Consider this: that stranger coddling his flashing rectangle probably feels just as bewildered about life as we writers do, though about a whole other set of doubts. So metaphorically tapping him on the shoulder to mention how this particular moment reminds you of something that happened in your new book may in fact help assuage the rawness of living. Think of it as a gift and in a way a reward to yourself because after exiting our writing caves, who doesn’t need a little casual normal.
It's tough to open oneself; we’re conditioned these days to social insensitivity, but humans are social creatures even if we’ve forgotten holding a device isn’t required. Yes, friends and family will continue winking at each other after we’ve advanced our gaudy utterances to random individuals, but in an age of deepening remoteness, even the chance of discovering a little human gravity is worth the gamble. So offer a stranger a few syllables and reward yourself with the reluctant gift we wish someone had offered to us. Who knows, your outreach might even get re-gifted. And would that be so bad? Arthur