“Who wouldn’t like doing a book talk while still being able to hang out in your living room?” says A.J. Jacobs, author of Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection—a man who knows how to work a crowd without interrupting a daily routine. He once answered fans’ questions while walking on a treadmill. “Sitting is terrible for you,” he says. “Sitting is the new smoking.”
Shindig, a New York City-based startup that produces video chat events augmented by cross-media content, enabled Jacobs to remain a stand-up guy in his readers’ eyes. And at BookExpo America 2013, the publishing industry’s major annual convention, he and 50 fellow bestselling authors, including Chuck Palahniuk, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, Mary Higgins Clark, Michael Showalter and Sylvia Day, digitally connected with thousands. Stationed at laptops across from professional interviewers, the authors presided over their online events from a small cylindrical booth. They read aloud and fielded direct questions from audience members. Fans with webcams connected one-on-one with their hosts and with one another in private video chats. Audiences ranged from 50 to 1,000—many events required RSVPs and were kept smaller so viewers had a reasonable expectation of participation.
“Authors have tremendous communities who are incredibly passionate, but it’s very difficult for them to reach beyond their book,” says Shindig CEO and founder Steve Gottlieb. “Fans expect for ideas and media to be available, more than just words on the page—they want to discuss issues, know what inspired the work, know about the author and the process.” With Shindig, authors can appear in front of 50 books clubs at once; set up special events for targeted groups, like bookstore chains or alma maters; show video clips of works adapted into movies or televisions shows; and give away book swag to lucky fans. Events are recorded and can subsequently be used as promotional video content.
It’s no coincidence that Shindig creates a collective experience for authors and fans that’s not unlike a rock concert: Gottlieb is a former record executive. “It’s all about sharing something unique, being able to say ‘I was there when,’” he says.
For a list of Shindig video chat events or more information, visit Shindig.com.
Megan Labrise is a freelance writer and columnist based in New York. Follow her on Twitter @mlabrise.