Take Me Now or Lose Me Forever, Or: What We Can Learn from Nora Roberts

In which, as promised, I explain to everyone how to monetize content…

You know how it is with the New Yorker. You want to believe you that care about everything in there. Reading all those “reporter at large” pieces and epic sagas of golf and small town shop owners or intricate foreign policy plans makes you feel brilliant! But sometimes, you really just want to read the cartoons. Or the fiction. Or the poetry, so you can observe how 4 out of 5 times, you wrote something better by accident during your last IM conversation. Some days (Saturday, June 20), you cannot read another article about the economy. The timing is just bad. Personally, on Saturday June 20, I decided: F the economy! I’m reading this profile of Nora Roberts, Romance writer extraordinaire.

I’ve never read a Nora Roberts book, or any romance novel, for that matter. But apparently, this Nora person is the only writer left in America who is making profits as though Lehman Brothers still exists. I’m sure there are people who could argue that Romance novels are only a few steps above pornography, so it’s not surprising that they still earn money. But the reality is, romance novels are in fact still books, thus still representative of the book business, and also still require some measure of adeptness in writing.

In Roberts’ case, her writing is actually what make her heaving chests and smoldering kisses stand-out: she is the leader of the pack because her readers love her voice, her wit, and her unconventional angle, Lauren Collins writes. She strays just far enough from the standard formula to foster a bond with her readers: She gives them a way to identify, and a niche they feel is their own.

But that’s not all. In addition to writing books, she goes online and hangs out in Nora Roberts chat rooms to seal the deal. Collins notes that “Roberts mastered viral marketing early.” She plugged herself in chat rooms, and will answer questions about her favorite kind of fish and who takes pictures at family gatherings. By being so available, Roberts has created a scenario where “her readers crave her attention more than she craves theirs.” In a phrase, that kind of relationship is the end goal of every company, brand, and certainly every Web site: Your audience needs you.

The linchpin of this whole scenario is that Roberts’ readers need her because she makes them feel important by listening to them and by being completely, bluntly and saucily herself. Readers think: Here is a real live very special, very honest, very famous person who has taken the time to listen to me and to grace my personal interests with her consideration.

As far as I’m concerned, that dynamic is the key to success for any company operating on the Internet today, and a cornerstone of a successful digital media strategy. You start with an attractive product, but you win devotees by convincing them that they are intrinsic to the current operation and projected developments of that product.

And now for the part where I tie it all in to Yoga….

Tonight at Shri Yoga, the studio where I began my practice over 5 years ago when I was in college, had a summer solstice that also served as a goodbye party for the beautiful Tribeca studio that sadly will no longer be its home. The theme of the class was finding and obeying inner authority. Most of us are constantly turning to the outside to make decisions or find out if we’re doing the right thing. However, this often leads us to lapse into a state of self-doubt, and ultimately, we forget how to lead ourselves.

What was interesting about this practice was that there were probably over 50 people in the studio, all congregated for the same reason, in the same space. And we were constantly reminded that we were there because we part of the Shri community. But to signify this inner authority, we did 11 minutes of sun salutations at our own pace, accompanied by live music from the Brooklyn band Live Footage. (” TOPU LYO .5 String Electric Cello/FX .. + .. MIKE THIES . Drums/Keys .. =.. Live Loops and Electro-acoustic madness!”)

First of all, that 11 minute section of practice was phenomenal, eye-opening and more distinctively expressive than any other experience I’ve had in yoga. But second of all, it got me thinking about the Internet. I realized that what makes a Web site or product really stellar is the ability to be a community hub where every user is asserting his own inner authority. This is actually harder than it seems. Even tonight’s experience took 5 years, two teachers, a lot of inner peace and an electric cello.

And of course, it required capitalizing immediately on a receptive audience. Web users really are saying “take me now or lose me forever.” A company needs to identify the qualities that make their target audience distinct, and very quickly convince them that those qualities will be best appreciated on its Web site. Basically, if you can create a space on the Web where everyone feels contained, protected and connected while simultaneously finding ways to be empowered, individualized and creative, then you’ve got yourself the Web equivalent of the world’s hottest romance novel. Or you work for Google.


4 thoughts on “Take Me Now or Lose Me Forever, Or: What We Can Learn from Nora Roberts

  1. The “take me now or lose me forever” aspect is striking. It's not about short attention spans, at least not entirely. I think it's mostly about a wealth of options and a collective ability to know when one option just isn't worth the time.

  2. Amen. It seems to me that “a space on the Web where everyone feels contained, protected and connected while simultaneously finding ways to be empowered” exactly describes Twitter.

    I can barely walk today and it feels GREAT.

  3. I think you've made excellent points. Other examples that come to mind are the weekly Carolyn Hax advice chats hosted by the Washington Post (which I always read) and J.K. Rowling's site, in which she occasionally answered readers' questions.

  4. Take me now or lose me forever. Love the categorization. it's so true, but I've never thought of it in those terms before.

    It seems these days that a writer has to be more than a writer to be popular and successful. I don't think that's such a bad thing.


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