The copious comments and suggestions that greeted my post, “Visionary Fiction for Readers” of December 2, 2018, shows that the suggested sea change of emphasis from authors to readers on the our website is both necessary and welcome at this point in our genre’s evolution.
I apologize that I did not follow up with the speed appropriate to your interest, but a family emergency, now resolved, and the holidays intervened. However, our Steering Committee resumed discussion and planning on this project in our meeting of 1/16/19, and we resolved to proceed posthaste.
Member Comments of Note
The consensus is that both Visionary Fiction itself and our presentation (promotion) of it must be relevant to readers. The VFA must show that it fulfills a perceived need, this according to Hal Zina Bennett (more from him later).
M. Franck concurs: “What is of interest to readers? Sex, love, war, violence, biographies, etc. One can think of these interests and focus the blog entries to show the ways that visionary fiction stories address these issues. In other words, visionary fiction is not just zoning out and getting spiritual.”
Focusing too much on writers, according to Michelle Frost, puts us “in danger of being a club for kindred spirits instead of a platform to reach the masses.”
Apart from the content of our books, we must account for the public’s perception of the stuff we write, as Jodine Turner observes: “Many of our novels delve deep into issues relevant to today’s world. Some dark and painful issues, both culturally and personally, and we want our readers to know about that.”
In an email of 1/11/19 to Margaret Duarte, excerpted here with her permission, one of VF’s early developers, Hal Zina Bennett ruminates on the site and makes this incisive critique:
Having just viewed VFA website, I have some thoughts. The POV [point of view] of the website for VFA pretty much misses the mark in terms of selling books. The message that gets across to the viewer, is a kind of plea to be recognized—an argument for why VF should be better recognized. If you try to get in touch with the average reader, I think they are not going to be interested since the message doesn’t appear to be aimed at them. It’s not really even aimed at readers of VF. It’s something else. What I’m getting at is that the message should certainly not be a plea or a complaint that the genre is underappreciated. It should just be more along the lines of “Here are some great books that speak to a particular part of us beyond the NYT bestseller lists or the mega-online booksellers.”… It’s sort of coming at it from addressing the “perceived needs” of the person who already knows about VF and who is maybe disappointed by the usual book lists because there’s a part of them (spirit/soul?) that isn’t getting reached with other book genres.
[Hal then makes some suggestions for a bookstore, an action we are already taking, which I will cover below.]
…That quest to understand our experiences beyond ordinary, everyday consensual reality is what the VF readership is about. Promise this in the website. Don’t make a lot about the fact that it’s under-recognized as a genre. Nobody cares except maybe you and me.…The first questions publishers and agents ask is, “What does the book deliver to the reader?” What’s the perceived need it promises to fulfill?…This is a big conversation. Not easy to really nail it. Publishers spend millions for promotion that identifies the perceived need of a book to properly target its market.This perceived need thing is absolutely the key for unlocking your book’s readership and putting together strategies for reaching the readers the book is intended for. When we get that, it’s like waving a magic wand.
From the comments on my earlier article and the discussion of all this among the members of the VFA Steering Committee, Hal’s comments further focus us, and rightly, on the perceived needs of our readers.
Details, Details, Details
To meet this need, we will take some immediate and short-term actions. Besides the blog and page content changes suggested in my previous post, the site is being reorganized to better invite and accommodate readers. A work in progress, this will be done by creating a tab on the main menu “For Readers” with sub-menu items that point to materials suited to VF consumers. (For example, “Blog Posts for Readers.” And sub-items linked to pages of basic orientation to VF.)
While a small percentage of current members have designated themselves as “Reader,” readers should outnumber authors. We will revise the “Join the VFA” page to include “Reader Benefits” as well as “Author Benefits.” Gulp! that we did not notice this omission earlier.
Then, among the comments to my previous post were the following suggestions worthy of consideration:
Michelle Frost: Adding a section for VF movies to draw interest towards the books for those who have never read much before.
Amber Foxx: When the bookstore is up and running again, could it link to Barnes and Noble, Kobo and Apple as well as Amazon? [Bookstore does currently link automatically to B&N and Kobo as well as Amazon. There is field for Apple iBook, but that link has to be added manually.]
Robin Gregory: Is there a way to generate more readership through the Goodreads connection as well? [Vic Smith: Using Goodreads is a great idea. A couple of years ago, we posted there regularly. We should get back to that.]
Deepak Menon: Offer readers a choice of about 30 books by the member authors free for reviewing. Once any reader selects the book, the author can receive a notice from the coordinator or perhaps an automatic info alert from the software itself and can send the reader an electronic copy of the book – maybe Kindle, Nook or whatever – even PDF. The reader can then review it to be eligible for another book to read and review. [There are a couple of other models under consideration to get a review system in place. Margaret Duarte is heading up that effort.]
Elizabeth Beckett: I have another suggestion … [about] Trade Fairs. I contacted the Bay Area (San Francisco) Book Festival this year about gaining exposure without actually being there in person and it is not possible. There are many such events in California that are a good audience for Visionary Fiction. Perhaps a shared VFA stand or presence might work? [Vic Smith: We’ve considered book fairs before. A very valid idea. There is a big one here in Tucson in the spring (Google Tucson Festival of Books). Likely too late to get in this year, but its site might serve as an example. At the moment, a cost and manpower issue, but I can see a joint effort (a group of authors donating front money for having their books represented, and then a few in the show area donating time) succeeding.]
VFA Bookstore Reopens
In a previous version of the site, we had a bookstore that featured the titles of members and other popular VF writers so that they could be sampled and easily purchased from Amazon. This has now (1/17/19) been replaced with a spiffy new plugin called WP Booklist. The starter collection, largely culled by the hard work of Margaret Duarte, is composed of a mix of active VFA authors (those who have contributed posts in the past, and/or regularly comment on the site, and/or contribute to the VFA otherwise) and some well-known authors whose works can be considered VF. Since the site is produced and maintained through the volunteer efforts of our members, we are exploring ways to make listings in the Bookstore function as a productive award for members who actively contribute to the site and the Facebook page.
A tab for “Bookstore” has been added to the main menu and most of the pages have a widget at the top of the right sidebar with a link to the Bookstore. A future page/post will further cover the basic operation of and procedure for the Bookstore. For a sneak peek, click HERE.
Since the Bookstore is a work in progress, not aIl titles have been loaded yet. If your books do not appear there and you feel they ought to be there, please let Margaret know via the Contact tab. And if you have VF favorites other than your own that you feel ought to be in our library, let Margaret know that also.
Yes, with “baby steps,” we have covered considerable territory. As individual authors we may not be best-sellers yet, but in the interim the VFA has become a strong team with a powerful purpose. Now, we have a united voice with which to get the word out. Let’s shout it!
Having pursued several careers in various locations, Vic Smith lived his earlier life as a generalist. From childhood on a communal Pennsylvania farm, to adolescence in a Catholic seminary, then into an adulthood with occupations that ranged from school teacher to entrepreneur to computer trainer, Vic’s continuing awe over the wonders and terrors of human existence has always compelled him to write: poetry, journaling, drama, lots of utilitarian stuff, and, in the last several decades his favorite, the historical visionary novel genre, in which, to showcase the cause of human spiritual evolution, he focuses on paranormal phenomena, especially reincarnation. He finds researching and travelling to the worldwide sites about which he writes as intriguing as the writing itself.
His works include THE ANATHEMAS, A Novel of Reincarnation and Restitution (2010) and CHANNEL OF THE GRAIL, A Novel of Cathars, Templars and a Nazi Grail Hunter (2016). He is now working on a third novel, tentatively titled THE ELECT and an accompanying non-fiction work, both centered on the origins of Christianity in Alexandria, Egypt.