The Books Behind the 2024 Academy Award Nominations

From Publishers Weekly:

It’s Oscar season! And while the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences makes no bones about its foremost love being for the cinematic arts, each year’s Oscar nods clearly indicate how deeply beholden the film business is to the business of books. To illustrate the point, we’ve rounded up our reviews of the books adapted into, or inspiring, this year’s Academy Award–nominated films, from Oppenheimer and Nyad to American Fiction and The Boy and the Heron.

American Prometheus

Though many recognize Oppenheimer (1904–1967) as the father of the atomic bomb, few are as familiar with his career before and after Los Alamos. Sherwin (A World Destroyed ) has spent 25 years researching every facet of Oppenheimer’s life, from his childhood on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and his prewar years as a Berkeley physicist to his public humiliation when he was branded a security risk at the height of anticommunist hysteria in 1954. Teaming up with Bird, an acclaimed Cold War historian (The Color of Truth ), Sherwin examines the evidence surrounding Oppenheimer’s “hazy and vague” connections to the Communist Party in the 1930s—loose interactions consistent with the activities of contemporary progressives. But those politics, in combination with Oppenheimer’s abrasive personality, were enough for conservatives, from fellow scientist Edward Teller to FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, to work at destroying Oppenheimer’s postwar reputation and prevent him from swaying public opinion against the development of a hydrogen bomb. Bird and Sherwin identify Atomic Energy Commission head Lewis Strauss as the ringleader of a “conspiracy” that culminated in a security clearance hearing designed as a “show trial.” Strauss’s tactics included illegal wiretaps of Oppenheimer’s attorney; those transcripts and other government documents are invaluable in debunking the charges against Oppenheimer. The political drama is enhanced by the close attention to Oppenheimer’s personal life, and Bird and Sherwin do not conceal their occasional frustration with his arrogant stonewalling and panicky blunders, even as they shed light on the psychological roots for those failures, restoring human complexity to a man who had been both elevated and demonized.

Poor Things

Winner of the 1992 Whitbread Prize, Scottish writer Gray’s ( Something Leather ) black comedy uses a science-fiction-like premise to satirize Victorian morals. Ostensibly the memoirs of late-19th-century Glasgow physician Archibald McCandless, the narrative follows the bizarre life of oversexed, volatile Bella Baxter, an emancipated woman and a female Frankenstein. Bella is not her real name; as Victorian Blessington, she drowned herself to escape her abusive husband, but a surgeon removed the brain from the fetus she was carrying and placed it in her skull, resucitating her. The revived Bella has the mental age of a child. Engaged to marry McCandless, she chloroforms him and runs off with a shady lawyer who takes her on a whirlwind adventure, hopping from Alexandria to Odessa to a Parisian brothel. As her brain matures, Bella develops a social conscience, but her rescheduled nuptials to Archie are cut short when she is recognized as Victoria by her lawful husband, Gen. Sir Aubrey Blessington. In an epilogue dated 1914, cranky idealist Victoria McCandless, M.D., a suffragette, Fabian socialist, pacifist and advocate of birthing stools, pokes holes in her late husband Archie’s narrative. Illustrated with Gray’s suitably macabre drawings, this work of inspired lunacy effectively skewers class snobbery, British imperialism, prudishness and the tenets of received wisdom

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI

New Yorker staff writer Grann (The Lost City of Z) burnishes his reputation as a brilliant storyteller in this gripping true-crime narrative, which revisits a baffling and frightening—and relatively unknown—spree of murders occurring mostly in Oklahoma during the 1920s. From 1921 to 1926, at least two dozen people were murdered by a killer or killers apparently targeting members of the Osage Indian Nation, who at the time were considered “the wealthiest people per capita in the world” thanks to the discovery of oil beneath their lands. The violent campaign of terror is believed to have begun with the 1921 disappearance of two Osage Indians, Charles Whitehorn and Anna Brown, and the discovery of their corpses soon afterwards, followed by many other murders in the next five years. The outcry over the killings led to the involvement in 1925 of an “obscure” branch of the Justice Department, J. Edgar Hoover’s Bureau of Investigation, which eventually charged some surprising figures with the murders. Grann demonstrates how the Osage Murders inquiry helped Hoover to make the case for a “national, more professional, scientifically skilled” police force. Grann’s own dogged detective work reveals another layer to the case that Hoover’s men had never exposed.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

The EU’s Digital Services Act goes into effect today

From The Verge:

The European Union’s Digital Services Act (DSA) has officially gone into effect. Starting on August 25th, 2023, tech giants like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and more must comply with sweeping legislation that holds online platforms legally accountable for the content posted to them.

. . . .

What is the Digital Services Act?

The overarching goal of the DSA is to foster safer online environments. Under the new rules, online platforms must implement ways to prevent and remove posts containing illegal goods, services, or content while simultaneously giving users the means to report this type of content.

Additionally, the DSA bans targeted advertising based on a person’s sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, or political beliefs and puts restrictions on targeting ads to children. It also requires online platforms to provide more transparency on how their algorithms work.

The DSA carves out additional rules for what it considers “very large online platforms,” forcing them to give users the right to opt out of recommendation systems and profiling, share key data with researchers and authorities, cooperate with crisis response requirements, and perform external and independent auditing.

Which online platforms are affected?

The EU considers very large online platforms (or very large online search engines) as those with over 45 million monthly users in the EU. So far, the EU has designed 19 platforms and search engines that fall into that category, including the following:

  • Alibaba AliExpress
  • Amazon Store
  • Apple App Store
  • Booking.com
  • Facebook
  • Google Play
  • Google Maps
  • Google Shopping
  • Instagram
  • LinkedIn
  • Pinterest
  • Snapchat
  • TikTok
  • Twitter
  • Wikipedia
  • YouTube
  • Zalando
  • Bing
  • Google Search

The EU will require each of these platforms to update their user numbers at least every six months. If a platform has less than 45 million monthly users for an entire year, they’ll be removed from the list.

What are online platforms doing to comply?

Many of these companies have already outlined the ways in which they’re going to comply with the DSA. Here’s a brief overview of the most notable ones.

Google

While Google says it already complies with some of the policies envisioned by the DSA, including the ability to give YouTube creators to appeal video removals and restrictions, Google announced that it’s expanding its Ads Transparency Center to meet the requirements outlined by the legislation.

The company also committed to expanding data access to researchers to provide more information about “how Google Search, YouTube, Google Maps, Google Play and Shopping work in practice.” It will also improve its transparency reporting and analyze potential “risks of illegal content dissemination, or risks to fundamental rights, public health or civic discourse.”

Meta

Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, is working to expand its Ad Library, which currently compiles the ads shown on its platforms. The company will soon start displaying and archiving all the ads that target users in the EU while also including the parameters used to target the ads, as well as who was served the ad.

In June, Meta released a lengthy report about how its algorithm works across Facebook and Instagram as part of its push toward transparency. It will also start allowing European users to view content chronologically on Reels, Stories, and Search on both Facebook and Instagram — without being subject to its personalization engine.

TikTok

Similar to the measures Meta is rolling out, TikTok has also announced that it’s making its algorithm optional for users in the EU. When the algorithm is disabled, users will see videos from “both the places where they live and around the world” in their For You and Live feeds instead of videos based on personal interests.

It will also enable users to view content chronologically on their Following and Friends feeds. TikTok is making some changes to its advertising policies as well. For European users aged 13 to 17, TikTok will stop showing personalized ads based on their activity in the app.

Link to the rest at The Verge

6 Important Lessons from Covers of Critically Acclaimed Books

From The Book Designer:

A book cover is one of the biggest marketing tools a book has—especially in libraries and bookstores. While many readers like to judge a book by its contents, we often consider reading a book if its cover catches our eye. 

Now, what catches the eye of a reader is purely subjective; it depends largely on the aesthetic biases of the reader—whether that is illustrations, photographs, stark covers, busy covers, montages, heavily colored lettering, monotone typography, etc.

Despite this, you, as an author or book cover designer, can still attract your readers by using good art and/or striking colors on your book cover. In this article, we analyze six covers from critically acclaimed books and pinpoint what makes them so visually appealing.

. . . .

The Centre by Ayesha Manazir Siddiqi 

Cover design by Jonathan Bust, Art direction by Evan Gaffney 

Flowers are some of my favorite things to look at because they come in different colors and shapes (and scents, too, if you’re handling them in real life). So it’s no wonder the book cover of The Centre, caught my eye. 

The dark background made the reds, oranges, yellows, and pinks of the bouquet pop and catch my eye (and the eyes of thousands of readers worldwide). But the longer you look at the cover, you start to notice weird and disturbing details that slowly take center stage: the skull-shaped planter, the carnivorous Venus flytraps, the spilled coffee, and the thorny vines circling the cabinet on which the bouquet stands. 

Once you see these things, you know immediately that the contents of the book won’t be all roses and sunshine; there’ll be dark secrets lurking underneath all the beauty. And suddenly, you feel the urge to find out what those secrets are. 

Lesson: Putting a bright image or object against a dark background is a great way to make your book cover visually alluring. If it aligns with your book’s contents, you can also add some semi-concealed elements that keep people’s attention and awaken their curiosity.

. . . .

Every Drop is a Man’s Nightmare by Megan Kamalei Kakimoto

When I first saw this book cover, I was reminded of The Birth of Venus—a 15th-century painting by Italian artist, Sandro Botticelli, depicting the Roman goddess Venus arriving at the shore after her birth, standing on a giant scallop shell. The painting is stunning, much like this book cover depicting a woman emerging from a corpse flower growing in what looks like a body of iridescent blue water. 

The book itself is a collection of short stories with interesting, yet varied, Hawaiian characters whose lives and emotions burst through the pages and find their way into the hearts of readers. 

Lesson: While it might not be the case with this specific book cover, taking inspiration from popular paintings and cultural artwork to make your book cover art is a great way to make people go, “Oh wow—this reminds me of something I know!” 

The Thick and the Lean by Chana Porter

If you love fruits, this book cover will draw your attention like a magnet. It’ll do the same if you love interesting-looking art, too. The orange of the background blends well with the orange tones used to depict the contours of the woman’s body. The pears, however, interpose with this orange hue, allowing readers to separate the rich background from the center figure and the pomegranate that accentuates her curves.

If you think this book cover, coupled with the title, teases a tale about food, you’d be on the right track. The main characters of this book, Beatrice and Reiko, were born into a dystopian world governed by corporate greed where it’s taboo to enjoy food or have an appetite. This cover encapsulates the women’s fight against an oppressive system that glorifies undue fasting and thinness.

Lesson: While you want to make your book cover stand out from the stacks of books on the shelves, it’s okay to include familiar elements, even if those elements are food. You should, however, employ striking colors, adequate contrast, and a unique concept to make the cover art look interesting.

Link to the rest at The Book Designer

The Thing About Self-Promotion is That Self-Promotion Sucks (But You Have to Do It Anyway)

From Nathan Bransford:

Here’s the thing about self-promotion: It sucks. It really sucks.

If self-promotion were an insect, I would squash it with the world’s biggest fly swatter. If self-promotion were a field I would burn it and salt the earth so it could never live again.

It doesn’t feel right to stand in front of a crowd and shout, “Me!” and no matter how much you try and cloak the self-promotion in elaborate disguises, it can still feel kind of icky. And if you don’t enjoy the spotlight, self-promotion in all its forms can be downright terrifying.

This is one of the hugest drawbacks about an era of publishing where publishers expect authors to shoulder the lion’s share of the promotional activities. No one I know enjoys self-promotion, and no one out there particularly likes being promoted to either. People usually want to hear about new things from enthusiastic and neutral third parties, not the hugely biased person who created the thing.

And when it comes to social media, the Internet dislikes it when something they are accustomed to getting for free suddenly comes with strings attached, even if those strings are only of the heartstring nature. It’s such a fine line between reminding people about your book and hoping they buy it while not alienating your audience and turning into a shill.

So basically: Self-promotion = not fun!

And yet I know what I would tell someone else who has a new book out: You have to do it. No matter how much you might dislike it, no matter how much negative feedback you get about it, no matter how much it makes you cringe, you gotta do it. You have to give your book a boost, you have to make your network aware of it, you have to do everything you can to help it sell. The era of being just an author, if it ever existed, is over.

Do it as non-annoyingly as possible, but do it.

Sure, it would be fantastic if you had an army of rabid fans or a fabulously wealthy and dedicated publisher to do all the promotion for you. But unless you win the publishing lottery, that first boost has to come from you. You have to build your own army and hope they start evangelizing and creating new converts. You have to get that first bit of momentum going. Otherwise your book will quietly disappear into the great unknown.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

PG notes that Nathan’s post is from 2011, but, although many other things have changed, this one hasn’t.

Author = self-promoting author

Traditionally-published Author = self-promoting author

Indie Author = self-promoting author

You don’t have to be a jerk. You don’t have to be obnoxious. But you do need to get the word about your book out to people you know and people you don’t know.

As a general proposition, most people don’t know any authors. So even if you were working the counter at a fast-food place yesterday, once your book is up on Amazon, you’re an author. You can order an author’s copy and bring it into the fast food place and show it to your boss and co-workers.

Send several author’s copies to your mom so she can give them away to her friends.

When you see your friends, you’ll mention that your book is on sale on Amazon. They can pull it up on their smartphones and see the cover.

If you’re a student, take a few of your author’s copies to school with you and carry it so everybody sees the cover with your name on it.

Go to Zazzle or someplace like it and get a t-shirt with your book cover on the front to wear on all occasions along with some postcards of with a picture of your cover to mail out or hand out. If you do anything that’s printed, include a free QR code like this to make sure people can find your book page on Amazon or anywhere else you want to send them to follow up:

If you’re rich, you may decide to drop a bundle on advertising, but you will almost certainly spend more money than you make, but, of course, that’s your privilege if you’re rich. And buying ads doesn’t necessarily guarantee sales if you haven’t done a lot of other things right.

7 Texas Novels About Mother-Daughter Relationships

From Electric Lit:

I’m going to admit something to all y’all: the best thing that has ever happened to me—becoming a mother—is also the absolute worst. When my daughter was born, I was unprepared for the overwhelming scope of motherhood, the endless fulfilling of needs, the simultaneous busy-ness and boredom, the crushing psychic pressure of being responsible for a new human being, and the stretch-marks that blessed my ever-expanding heart. I resented her and I adored her. My precious girl.

Undoubtedly, mother-daughter relationships are as varied in the Lone Star state as anywhere else on the planet, but in my experience, Texas moms are tough. Maybe because we have to be; a recent survey ranked Texas as one of the worst states for women in terms of economy and well-being, which is certainly nothing new. 

Texas mothers—like the land itself—can be flinty and intense, tempestuous and severe, even as we protect, nurture, and defend our babies. I’m fascinated by the varied ways the women in my life have approached motherhood, and how rarely they match the idealized depictions we grew up with on TV. Perhaps that’s why I prefer to write—and read—about strong women and their complicated, imperfect familial relationships. My latest, The Young of Other Animals, tells the story of Mayree and her daughter, Paula, whose tense proximity has grown more fraught following the death of Mayree’s husband. When Paula narrowly survives a violent assault, the two confront the shared traumas of their pasts, and attempt to save the relationship they hadn’t realized they’d lost.

Here are seven books about mothers and daughters in Texas that illuminate how we’re more likely to be one person’s shot of whiskey than everybody’s cup of tea.

. . . .

Terms of Endearment by Larry McMurtry

This 1975 novel set in Houston is full of crisp prose and fascinatingly flawed characters. The story is centered on Aurora Greenway, an acerbic, eccentric Houstonian widow navigating life and a complicated relationship with her imminently practical daughter, Emma. For those readers who need their characters to be likable, this one—like most of the books on this list—might not be for you. Aurora is indeed often unlikeable, but at least she isn’t uninteresting. She is the sun of her own solar system, around which other characters—her daughter, her housekeeper, her string of male suitors—orbit. But it is her daughter who understands her the best, which seems to contrast the way Aurora feels about Emma, until at the most crucial moment, it doesn’t. 

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

This light-hearted Bildungsroman tackles some heavy themes: inhabiting a human body that a mother is compelled to criticize, wanting to love and be loved, and living unabashedly alongside profound insecurities. Willowdean is a plus-sized, 16-year-old, Dolly Parton-loving Texan living with her former beauty queen mother who calls her, not insignificantly, Dumplin’. This is a positive coming-of-self story that taps right into one of Dolly’s famous quotes: “Find out who you are. And do it on purpose.”

Daughter of a Queen by Sarah Bird

Set against the backdrop of the American Civil War, this historical fiction is absolutely spellbinding. It tells the fictionalized story of the real Cathy Williams, a former slave and the only woman to ever serve with the legendary Buffalo Soldiers. Though she was born into servitude in America, her maternal grandmother had been an African warrior queen, and, in her words, “my mama never let me forget it.” When Cathy is taken from her plantation—and her mother—by Philip Sheridan of the Union Army and recruited to work as a cook’s assistant, she recalls what her mother told her: that she was never a slave but a captive whose warrior blood destined her escape from the enemy. To survive, Cathy poses as a man, becoming an outspoken, hardworking, unbreakable soldier posted at Fort Davis in West Texas. Although Cathy and her mother are separated for most of the book, I was compelled by the strength Cathy draws from her maternal heritage and her unwavering determination to someday be reunited with her mother.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Author Platform Is Not a Requirement to Sell Your Novel or Children’s Book

From Jane Friedman:

Recently an article was published at Vox titled “Everyone’s a sellout now.” The subtitle: “So you want to be an artist. Do you have to start a TikTok?”

The dour conclusion, probably the writer’s predetermined conclusion when she began her research: more or less.

This article makes the classic mistake of conflating all kinds of artists and creative industries and painting them all with the same brush. But specifically, for writers and book publishing, it spreads so many myths and misconceptions about the business of authorship that I’ll be undoing the damage for years. (My inbox last week: Did you see this article!) However, I hope this post helps reduce the length of that battle. So let’s get straight to it.

Vox: With any book, but especially nonfiction ones, publishers want a guarantee that a writer comes with a built-in audience of people who already read and support their work…

Agents and big publishers seek authors with platform for adult nonfiction work.

If a debut novelist or debut children’s author seeks a book deal with a big New York publisher, then agents and editors make their decision based on the story premise, the manuscript, and/or whether the project fits with their theory of what sells in today’s market. That theory may be driven by pop culture, by what else is selling well among their clients or at their publishing house, by trends on TikTok—you get the idea.

If you’re a debut novelist with a platform, great! But it’s not going to make up for a lackluster story or premise that’s unappealing to today’s readers. The agent or publisher has to have genuine enthusiasm for the story or writing itself. They tend to trust their instincts on story quality or story marketability, and if they don’t love it, they’ll have trouble convincing anyone else of the same. The general hope is that word of mouth and consistent recommendations by readers and influencers will fuel the book’s success—not the debut author’s platform/following. Most bestsellers occur because of readers saying to their friends and family: you must read this.

Let me be absolutely clear: Agents and publishers don’t read a novel or children’s manuscript, fall in love with it and/or think it will sell in today’s market, then check to see if it’s safe to represent or acquire based on the author’s online following. (However, I have seen such a thing happen with nonfiction. I’ve also seen it happen when an author has a poor sales track record.)

Side note: I’m adding children’s authors into the mix here because, I hope for obvious reasons, it can be problematic to expect children’s writers to build an online following among children (their readers), although some children’s writers do have strong connections in the children’s community—with librarians, educators, teachers, and so on. Children’s books often must meet considerable requirements related to format, word count, education level, curriculum expectations or standards, etc—and platform is usually low on the list of concerns even for nonfiction.

Having an online presence or following is mostly a bonus for the agent or publisher if you’re an unpublished or untested fiction writer. Think it through: if you’re an unpublished novelist who’s building a following, why are others following you exactly? It’s not for your novel, because that’s not published yet. Is it for your short fiction in literary journals? Congratulations! You have a rarefied audience of people who actually read short fiction in literary journals.

Certainly publishing credentials that impress or show you’ve been selected/vetted or validated can help you get the consideration you deserve, or make you more visible to agents or decision makers at publishing houses. And social media will do wonders for building relationships with others in the writing and publishing community. To the extent that being on social media helps you be seen by gatekeepers, sure—this is part of platform, and it can lower some barriers and lead to more connections that help you get published. But we’re not talking about a following of existing readers on social media. We’re talking about relationships and visibility to specific, influential people. You can be visible to such people with a tiny following.

None of this is to say social media doesn’t sell books—it can and it does—but it’s rarely in the way that any writer thinks. It’s not going to sell a novel that readers aren’t motivated to go and tell all their friends about, whether that’s online or offline. And that’s the quality that agents/publishers are looking for when they receive your submission. Authors will find it challenging to support word of mouth on social without having readers’ own enthusiasm for their work present at the same time.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Why You Need a Press Release in the Digital Age

From Jane Friedman:

If you’re wondering whether press releases are still relevant or important, I’m here to convince you that they are.

Why send out a press release?

Media relations departments from all types of companies—Fortune 500 to startups—use press releases to communicate with the media. Why do billion-dollar businesses bother to send them out? Because this is still how you send information to the media. A press release is a tool that is considered “approved” copy for any media organization, online or traditional, to use to discuss an outside entity.

Here is a simple example in the book world: It is very likely that someone will review or feature your book and lift copy straight from your release, which is exactly what you want. If a media outlet decides to run a story about your book with a price or on-sale date that’s inaccurate, you can cite information in the press release and ask to have it corrected. If there are factual errors in coverage tied to your release, you can easily point to the problem and ask for a change. 

If you want to include a blurb or endorsement, or include a quote from an expert cited in your nonfiction book, a media outlet understands they can use it. If Michelle Obama endorses your book, wouldn’t you want to have her name and her words in your press release? This is an extreme situation, but it illustrates my point. 

However, before you email one sentence to a journalist, there are direct benefits you get from writing your own release.

Why am I writing press materials?

You are writing this document because it will help you figure out what your core message is.

The core message is the newsworthy or unique aspect(s) you, your book, and your ideas can offer to a target audience—an audience that is most likely to spread word of mouth and/or purchase your book or services. The core message is ultimately part of your elevator pitch. 

Creating a release also forces you to think about your competition and how you are offering something different than what every other mystery, romance, literary fiction, self-help guru, history buff, academic author, etc. is writing about. In an online world, this is incredibly important, because most likely, the first place you are going to make your mark is online and with search engines.

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) for press releases

Having the release available on your website, your publicist’s website, publisher’s website, etc., will help with you or your book appearing in response to search queries. If you Google your book title, you will probably notice Amazon and other big retailers first; your publisher and your own website can appear later. Having a press release can boost this rank in search queries.

Because the competition for ranking is much more competitive these days, you should do some extra work to enhance your release: include keywords or keyword phrases in the text. You can research which ones to use by using Google to search for terms related to your work such as “books about WWII,” “self-help divorce books,” “books about good habits”, “books about joining the circus,” etc. See what comes up in the search window and consider what phrases or keywords will help your press materials rank better in results.

I don’t think paid services like PR Newswire (that publish and distribute your press release) are worthwhile for most books. If you have an amazing news peg, that could be one reason to invest, but there are thousands of releases posted at such PR websites.

Press release structure

This structure is based on how much interesting or provocative information you can share, without overhyping your message. When you introduce the book in the opening paragraphs, you will need to identify it using the entire title with the subtitle; in parentheses include the publication date, imprint, format, price, and ISBN, like this:

The Great Book: A Novel by Bobbie Bobs (imprint name, publication date, format, ISBN, price).

The first paragraph should tell the reader of the release why your story is compelling and what its relevance is to the audience. You will also want to explain why you wrote the book and how your personal story is connected to it.

The next one or two paragraphs should be a short synopsis of the plot if you are promoting a novel, and a list of the main facts or talking points if you are working on nonfiction. You can also include a more in-depth section on yourself and your story as it relates to the content if you believe it will enhance the core message.

Within the release, you will want to mention the book’s title at least two times. In the final paragraph, you need to develop an action statement “Call to Action” (CTA) that will tie up everything and encourage the reader to pick up the book and open it.

Add your short bio under “About the Author” and the specs of the book (the ISBN, etc) below that. Finish it off with the traditional # # # centered on the bottom, which indicates to the media person that all the words preceding the hashtags are approved for the press.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

PG is ambivalent about press releases (well, actually not very ambivalent) about old-fashioned press releases(and thinks ISBNs are worthless for indie authors).

If you have a publisher or publicist, they should be the ones writing and distributing the press release (if they think it’s worth the effort).

Ultimately, it’s a matter of the bang for the buck for an author (the buck may represent money or time).

A serious public relations agency charges serious money because their people have longstanding relationships with all manner of people working for all manner of publications, print, online, TV/radio, etc.

A good PR person knows who should be contacted because she/he is interested in stories about books like yours. The PR person won’t make a call or send an email to the sports editor about your regency romance.

Most large places where you would like to have a story about your book to appear have someone or several someones whose job is to spend time every day screening incoming emails, letters and voicemails and delete/destroy 90% of them because their boss has more important things to do. Or they may just rely on their spam filters.

Release the ghosts

From The Bookseller:

When I worked at a library as a teenager, one of my duties was to unbox and process newly released novels, and I noticed something that has stuck with me.There were some authors who had a book out every couple of months. When I skimmed them, they were well-written, with tight plots and exciting characters. But even then, I knew there was no way an author could churn out a full-length novel at this rate, especially at this level of quality. And to do that while touring the country, giving book readings, interviews, and writing guest columns for various news outlets?

Having written novels myself and worked as a professional ghostwriter, I’ve realised what I guessed back then: these authors aren’t writing the books themselves.

It’s something of a dirty secret in the publishing industry. Some authors — especially big-name writers working in genre fiction — rely on a ghostwriter or a team of writers to help them churn out books regularly. Occasionally, hints of this will come out, and the press will react with feigned horror. The British actress Millie Bobby Brown was criticised for working with a ghostwriter on her novel. Prolific Swedish mystery writer Camilla Läckberg faced her own criticism when a journalist claimed she’d relied on a ghostwriter for some of her novels.

But while these stories make a big splash, and authors and publishers live in fear of them, there’s little evidence that the public cares. Each time the media raised the question of whether the author acknowledged it or issued a terse denial, the book kept selling. Like me working in the library, readers have learned that authors are getting some help, and they don’t seem to care. 

In the United States, ghostwriters have become more public about their work, and it’s accepted that any celebrity — whether they are an actress or a politician or even the second in line to the throne — did not actually write their memoir. Sometimes, they are even upfront about which ghostwriter they worked with. But novels remain a separate class. Perhaps because novels are considered more creatively prestigious than a mere memoir or non-fiction advice book, authors and publishing houses are more reticent to acknowledge the use of a ghostwriter.

There’s no real reason for this, however. While readers often think of a novel as the product of a lone genius working in their study, they are usually much more collaborative than this, as The Bookseller’s readers well know. An author may have a first draft or a few chapters of a novel before working with an agent, but once they have a contract, an experienced editor will jump in. In some cases, editors may suggest considerable changes to the storyline, cuts to entire chapters, or minor but consequential shifts in writing style, cutting unnecessary words or asides that slow down the action. If you want to see how this works most clearly, put the Harry Potter books in a row and see if you can guess when J K Rowling’s first editor stopped working with her. You can tell from across a room because the books are physically thicker as she adds more digressions to the main plot.

Beyond that, publicists and marketing teams will weigh in on the book cover, the title, and how it’s marketed — valuable feedback that will be in the author’s head when they sit down to write their next book. And there’s the audience, who will respond more to certain novels, leading some authors to churn sequels or write similar books while abandoning other ideas.

A team of ghostwriters adds more manual labor to the mix, but the book is still the author’s. An established author, especially one working in a genre, will have created the formula — the type of setting, the tone, the main character — which the ghostwriters then use. Often, the author will set out an overall plot and ask the ghostwriters to flesh it out, or they may do some writing and then hand it off to someone else to finish up.

The author, then, is more like a brand. You buy a Ralph Lauren suit not because Ralph Lauren personally tailored it for you but because you trust the name behind it. The same goes for a thriller writer, mystery novelist, or romance author. You know when you pick it up that it will meet your expectations. The fact that the author didn’t personally write every sentence of the novel doesn’t matter. Does it sound like their other books? Is it a good read? Is it the type of novel you like reading? Those are the questions the reader really cares about.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller and thanks to C. for the tip.

PG says the author’s name is a brand name. It’s not exactly like Cambell’s Soup, but there are more similarities than differences.

Without denigrating authors’ creative talents in any way, a great many people look for books from authors they have enjoyed previously. Agatha Christie is one prime example. James Patterson is another.

PG is highly confident that Agatha did not use any ghostwriter. James Patterson readily admits to using a great many ghostwriters.

——-Content Warning – Major PG Diversion Follows——-

After starting as a copywriter in a large New York City advertising agency, Patterson worked his way up to CEO while writing in his spare time. After he retired. he devoted all his energy to his writing. He supervised copywriters both before and after his retirement.

Undoubtedly, his expertise in advertising and promotion has played a role in Patteerson’s success. PG is not privy to Patterson’s relationship with his publisher, but an intelligent publisher would understand that Patterson knows far more about advertising and publishing than anyone employed by the publisher.

As further examples of Patterson’s marketing and promotion smarts, he has coauthored #1 bestselling novels with Bill Clinton (note that Patterson got top billing on both book covers) and Dolly Parton (Dolly got top billing).

PG isn’t certain whether it was Patterson or Parton’s idea, but in 2022, the year their book was released, she released a CD with the same title. Dolly knows how to market and promote herself very effectively, but that’s another story.

Cancel Culture Dominates Children’s Literature

From The Wall Street Journal:

In 2016 Scholastic canceled the children’s book “A Birthday Cake for George Washington” two weeks after publishing it. The book’s images of smiling enslaved people set off a social-media tsunami and a petition demanding cancellation. It didn’t matter that the illustrator was black, or that the editor, Andrea Pinkney, was black and also a towering figure in the children’s book world.

What mattered was that a social-media mob could force a major publisher to stop distributing a book. When the news broke, one of my editors phoned. I had a contract with him for a children’s book about slavery, and though he’d approved the final draft, he was nervous. It didn’t matter that my manuscript did the opposite of sugarcoating slavery. It didn’t matter that I had won awards for “Lillian’s Right to Vote,” one of many books I’d written on racial justice. My editor worried about public perception of a book “by a white male author, edited by a white male editor, about a white male slave owner.” Seventeen months later, after many pointless revisions, the contract was canceled. No book.

Scholastic’s cancellation marked the beginning of a brave new children’s book world, as detailed in PEN America’s 2023 report, “Booklash.” So-called progressive activists discovered they had power through social media, and they wielded it, assailing book after book with charges of offensiveness and demands for cancellation. Children’s publishers now live in fear of these activists, terrified of showing up on their radar with a book or author that could be deemed “problematic”—meaning out of alignment with the activists’ puritanical code.

According to that code, an author’s identity must match a book’s subject matter. Further, certain books can harm children, the activists believe, and books they deem harmful must be removed. If that sounds eerily similar to the right-wing activists’ mission, it’s because it is. The only difference is that while right-wing activists merely want certain books removed from particular schools, left-wing activists want the books they target annihilated.

In 2017 an initially much-praised book of mine about the atom bomb was attacked with the inaccurate charge of having “erased” American Indians. The social-media mob weighed in and the book went from getting rave reviews and being predicted as a Caldecott Medalist to fading into obscurity. I wrote an essay describing my experience, which was published in February 2019. Two months later, Debbie Reese, the blogger who had led the campaign, attacked me again—in her Arbuthnot Lecture, awarded to her by the powerful American Library Association—for not withdrawing my book after what she called her “criticism” of it.

One month later, I wound up on a sort of blacklist on a blog called Reading While White. The contributors—liberal white people who call out other liberal white people for racism—accused me and some other white authors, with no evidence, of “racism—in words, works, and deeds.”

That same year, Time Magazine named one of my books, “The Sad Little Fact,” a Best Book. The Washington Post named my biography of Justice Thurgood Marshall a Best Book. Yet since then I’ve amassed a pile of rejections on a wide range of topics. Editors tell me they can’t publish anything by me about “people of color or women”—the subjects of my most popular works. Editors say publishers mainly want books about “marginalized people,” but the authors’ identities must match the subject matter. My former main editor praised my writing but suggested that if he gave me a contract he would be taking away a “slot” from “previously underrepresented minorities.”

It is mind-blowing that this happened to me—an author who devoted his career to promoting diversity long before it became publishers’ singular focus. And it’s ironic that most of the people behind the pile-ons, petitions and cancellations are white—and privileged. Even more ironic: Many victims of cancel culture are “previously underrepresented minorities”—nonwhite, gay or lesbian authors, who have tended to self-cancel after being targeted by social-media pile-ons. Among them are Kosoko Jackson, E.E. Charlton-Trujillo and Amélie Wen Zhao.

This isn’t progress. The campaign to bring diversity to children’s books must be separated from cancel culture, from social-media mobs, from the vitriolic intolerance toward any dissenting opinions that veer at all from the new orthodoxy.

I say this as a lifelong liberal, whose books have been removed from library shelves in right-wing school districts.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

The author of the WSJ piece is Jonah Winter, an author of very popular children’s books.

Here’s a link to Mr. Winter’s books.

Following are some of Mr. Winter’s most popular books. PG is going to buy some of them for his grandchildren.

So you want to be an artist. Do you have to start a TikTok?

From Vox:

When Rachael Kay Albers was shopping around her book proposal, the editors at a Big Five publishing house loved the idea. The problem came from the marketing department, which had an issue: She didn’t have a big enough following. With any book, but especially nonfiction ones, publishers want a guarantee that a writer comes with a built-in audience of people who already read and support their work and, crucially, will fork over $27 — a typical price for a new hardcover book — when it debuts.

It was ironic, considering her proposal was about what the age of the “personal brand” is doing to our humanity. Albers, 39, is an expert in what she calls the “online business industrial complex,” the network of hucksters vying for your attention and money by selling you courses and coaching on how to get rich online. She’s talking about the hustle bro “gurus” flaunting rented Lamborghinis and promoting shady “passive income” schemes, yes, but she’s also talking about the bizarre fact that her “65-year-old mom, who’s an accountant, is being encouraged by her company to post on LinkedIn to ‘build [her] brand.’”

The internet has made it so that no matter who you are or what you do — from nine-to-five middle managers to astronauts to house cleaners — you cannot escape the tyranny of the personal brand. For some, it looks like updating your LinkedIn connections whenever you get promoted; for others, it’s asking customers to give you five stars on Google Reviews; for still more, it’s crafting an engaging-but-authentic persona on Instagram. And for people who hope to publish a bestseller or release a hit record, it’s “building a platform” so that execs can use your existing audience to justify the costs of signing a new artist.

Corporate consolidation and streaming services have depleted artists’ traditional sources of revenue and decimated cultural industries. While Big Tech sites like Spotify claim they’re “democratizing” culture, they instead demand artists engage in double the labor to make a fraction of what they would have made under the old model. That labor amounts to constant self-promotion in the form of cheap trend-following, ever-changing posting strategies, and the nagging feeling that what you are really doing with your time is marketing, not art. Under the tyranny of algorithmic media distribution, artists, authors — anyone whose work concerns itself with what it means to be human — now have to be entrepreneurs, too.

“Authors are writing these incredible books, and yet when they ask me questions, the thing that keeps them up at night is, ‘How do I create this brand?’” says literary agent Carly Watters. It’s not that they want to be spending their time doing it, it’s that they feel they have to. “I think that millennials and Gen Xers really feel like sellouts. It’s not what they imagined their career to look like. It inherently feels wrong with their value system.”

Because self-promotion sucks. It is actually very boring and not that fun to produce TikTok videos or to learn email marketing for this purpose. Hardly anyone wants to “build a platform;” we want to just have one. This is what people sign up for now when they go for the American dream — working for yourself and making money doing what you love. The labor of self-promotion or platform-building or audience-growing or whatever our tech overlords want us to call it is uncomfortable; it is by no means guaranteed to be effective; and it is inescapable unless you are very, very lucky.

. . . .

Take publishing, where there are only five major companies who control roughly 80 percent of the book trade. Fewer publishers means heavier competition for well-paying advances, and fewer booksellers thanks to consolidation by Amazon and big box stores means that authors aren’t making what they used to on royalties, despite the fact that book sales are relatively strong. The problem isn’t that people aren’t buying books, it’s that less of the money is going to writers.

. . . .

Even when corporations did enter the picture, artists working with publishing houses or record companies, for example, had little contact with the business side of things. “Before the internet came along, artists not only could let their companies worry about the money, but they actually didn’t have a choice. The companies didn’t let them,” says Deresiewicz. That was until social media, where every single person with an account plays both author and publisher. Under the model of “artist as business manager,” the people who can do both well are the ones who end up succeeding.

You can see this tension play out in the rise of “day in my life” videos, where authors and artists film themselves throughout their days and edit them into short TikToks or Reels. Despite the fact that for most people, the act of writing looks very boring, author-content creators succeed by making the visually uninteresting labor of typing on a laptop worthwhile to watch. You’ll see a lot of cottagecore-esque videos where the writer will sip tea by the fireplace against the soundtrack of Wes Anderson, or wake up in a forest cabin and read by a river, or women like this Oxford University student who dresses up like literary characters and films herself working on her novel. Videos like these emulate the Romantic ideal of “solitary genius” artistry, evoking a time when writing was seen as a more “pure” or quaint profession. Yet what they best represent is the current state of art, where artists must skillfully package themselves as products for buyers to consume.

It’s precisely the kind of work that is uncomfortable for most artists, who by definition concern themselves with what it means to be a person in the world, not what it means to be a brand.

Link to the rest at Vox

Outsiders Book Covers: Design Tips and Inspiration

From The Book Designer:

If someone asks you to name some popular young adult fiction writers today, you’d probably mention authors like John Green, Cassandra Clare, J.K. Rowling, and maybe even Louisa May Alcott. But back in the day, S.E. Hinton, author of The Outsiders, was—and still is, in my opinion—one of the best YA fiction authors around, known for her novels set in Oklahoma, where she was born. 

Hinton attended Will Rogers High School and graduated in 1966. While still a student, she wrote her first (and most popular) book, The Outsiders, which was published in 1967. The coming-of-age novel revolves around the Greasers, a group of working-class boys, and their rivalry with the wealthier Socs (Socials). The protagonist, Ponyboy Curtis, is a Greaser who struggles with societal expectations and class conflicts. 

Because this novel explores evergreen themes of friendship, loyalty, identity, and the impact of social class on individuals, especially teens, it has become a classic among readers who are reminded of the prejudicial systems that existed in their own schools and neighborhoods. In 1983, the novel was adapted into a movie starring Tom Cruise, Ralph Macchio, and Patric Swayze. 

It’s been nearly six decades since The Outsiders was first published, and there have been many reprints and book cover designs since then. In this article, we’ll cover the various The Outsiders book covers that have been released.  

The Outsider’s Paperback Covers

The paperback covers for The Outsiders are some of my favorite covers because they all depict the central theme of the novel: youth. The first three follow a similar concept: bright and dull orange hues, the landscape of a small town, and young (school)boys taking center stage. While you might not guess that the story is set in a school, you’ll know almost instantly that the plot revolves around teenagers or young adults trying to navigate life in their town. 

The colors of the first three covers themselves are striking to the eye—especially the first one that depicts a rising sun shining over the town and exposing the contours on the faces of the people illustrated atop it. In contrast, the bottom-left cover shows only the silhouettes of young people, which can trigger curiosity and a closer look from readers who happen upon the book cover for the first time. 

Unlike the first three covers, the bottom-right cover is in greyscale and only features a muted image of a young man seemingly looking at the floor. While there’s only a single person on the cover—rather than many people, as in the other three covers—you’re still able to decipher the theme of “youth” that S. E. Hinton based her work upon.

Link to the rest at The Book Designer

Want to Improve Your Amazon Ranking? Improve or Update All of Your Book Descriptions

From Jane Friedman:

Let’s say you’re running some Facebook ads and you’re getting lots of clicks, but no sales. This tells Amazon your book isn’t relevant to the search, and that will impact your search rank on Amazon.

Really?

Yes, really.

Amazon’s goal is to serve up things its consumers want to buy; the site isn’t there for window shoppers, and the website is quite intelligent. If someone lands on your book page and immediately clicks off without engaging with your page at all (expanding your book description to reach more, scrolling down to read the reviews), that tells Amazon your book isn’t right for the market; consequently, it becomes harder to rank. So if you’re thinking about your own Facebook ads (or even your Amazon ads) that are getting lots of clicks but no buys, you may want to consider how it’s impacting your relevancy score and your overall visibility on Amazon.

So, how far back does Amazon go when considering your overall relevancy score?

Remember that first book you published that didn’t do well? The cover wasn’t great—you knew it could have or should have been better—but it was your first book, so you took it in stride. You learned from your mistakes and you moved on.

The thing is, Amazon never moves on. Somewhere, lurking in the back end of Amazon is a black mark beside your name, and that mark means, This author once published a book no one seemed to like = low relevancy.

Amazon cares about relevancy. It’s how the entire site—with all of its millions of products—manages to find exactly the thing you’re looking for when you need it. Plug in a few keywords and, boom, the exact widget, lotion, or book you were looking for appears. This is why relevancy is so important and why making sure everything connected to your Amazon account (even the older books you’ve published) is in tiptop shape. This point can’t be overemphasized.

The other element of this as it relates to Amazon ads is that the less conversion you have on your Amazon book page (i.e., the lower your relevancy score), the more your ads will cost you. And if your ads never seem to do well across the board, Amazon will ding your relevancy score as well. If you have an ad set that’s not doing well, kill it.

Is there any hope for that older book that didn’t do well? Fortunately, there are some options. Often, it means revisiting an older title, maybe republishing it, revamping the cover, or in extreme cases, taking it down entirely. But that’s pretty much a last resort.

A few years ago I noticed that our website wasn’t ranking as well as it should for the term “book marketing.” Considering that that’s the work we do, it’s a pretty important term to rank for. Upon investigation, I discovered that a page on our website was broken. By “broken,” I mean it had no keywords, no title tags; it was basically a mess. I fixed it and within about three months, our website was back and ranking again.

You can use the same method for an older book: fix what needs fixing and show Amazon that you mean business. The algorithm keeps a close eye on fixes, updates, and any polishing you do to your book or book page. It’s easier than ever to get back on track, and small changes and enhancements can help build your status in the Amazon ecosystem and grow your presence for both your author page and your book pages.

A great way to get back on track: improve your book descriptions

Whether we’re talking about Amazon or any other online retailer, book descriptions are more important than most authors realize. Too often I see simple details overlooked that can make or break an author’s ability to turn an Amazon browser into the next book buyer.

Dumb down the description

Most people bristle at the saying “dumb it down,” but dumbing it down doesn’t mean your audience is stupid; it means you’re making your content easier to absorb. Brains are meant to conserve energy, and reading long, complex text exhausts the brain and consequently your target reader. Fewer words, shorter sentences. Using eighth-grade writing doesn’t mean you sound like an eighth grader; it reduces the amount of mental energy a consumer needs to use to absorb what you’re telling them.

Make the description easy to scan

If you have huge blocks of text without any consideration for spacing, boldface type, bulleted lists, short paragraphs, or other forms of highlighting that help the reader scan and zero in on the best of the best you have to offer, that’s unlikely to attract readers. When your description is visually and psychologically appealing, it invites the reader to keep going, instead of clicking to a different page.

Our minds are image processors, not text processors, so huge pieces of text that fill a page overwhelm the mind and in fact slow down the processing time considerably.

When we’re looking at websites, our attention span is even shorter than it is when we’re reading a book. Even on sites like Amazon—where consumers go to buy, and often spend a lot of time comparing products and reading reviews—it’s important to keep in mind that most potential readers will move on if your description is too cumbersome.

The first sentence in the description should be a grabber. Often, this is where authors use their elevator pitches. This text could also be an excerpt of an enthusiastic review or some other endorsement; regardless, it should be bolded, and your elevator pitch should always follow this format.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

How Womb House Became the Internet’s Favorite ‘Women-Driven’ Bookstore

From Publishers Weekly:

When Jessica Ferri launched her online bookstore, Womb House Books, in August 2021, her expectations were modest, if not nonexistent. Having just published her second book, Ferri, an author and book critic for the Los Angeles Times, had extra time on her hands and was unsure how she should use it.

She had always dreamed of owning a bookstore—“since I was a little girl,” she said—but was daunted by the idea of opening a brick-and-mortar operation. And with the pandemic still raging, compounded with Ferri’s recent cross-country relocation from Brooklyn to Berkeley, Calif., the timing felt wrong.

Then she discovered a pair of feminist bookstores—Toronto–based Bellwood Books and London–based the Second Shelf—which modeled precisely the kind of store Ferri could envision herself running: one primarily operated online and specializing in rare books by women.

“That was a big influence,” said Ferri of Bellwood, owned by Julie Malian, and Second Shelf, owned by A.N. Devers. With these blueprints in hand, Ferri made her first foray into bookselling with the “women-driven” Womb House Books.

Womb House focuses on books by and about women, as well as literature that Ferri calls “women-adjacent.” Its stock comes largely from local library book sales. She attributes her success at these sales to living in the “vibrant academic community” of Berkeley. “The sourcing is excellent here,” she said, because donations tend to come from professors, artists, and other “literarily-inclined, highly-cultured people.” She also frequents library sales all over Northern California and occasionally out of state, as well as estate sales. She estimates that she purchases between 200 and 400 books per sale.

Ferri’s buying practice is guided by her own unique but hard-to-pin-down sensibility; to paraphrase that most famous of Supreme Court opinions, Ferri simply knows a Womb House book when she sees it. As of this writing, the shop has made 3,743 sales and has 270 books on sale, including first edition of books by Isabel Allende, Maya Angelou, Marguerite Duras, Louise Erdrich, Jamaica Kincaid, Doris Lessing, Iris Murdoch, and Ntozake Shange.

Ferri posts three to five new listings on Instagram, Twitter, and Etsy each day at 6pm PST. There’s a pleasing aesthetic consistency across the listings, with each book positioned symmetrically on an ornately patterned rug. She chose to sell through Etsy, she said, for its user-friendliness and because it streamlines the process of listing and shipping.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG suggests that the interesting backgrounds will be both eye-catching and an excellent example of brand-building on social media. He thinks the unique backgrounds will catch the eye in an ocean of look-alike naked book covers on social media.

Great Print Ads

Has anybody seen an advertisement for a traditionally-published book as eye-catching and memorable as these?

BMW – Women Drivers

Land Rover

Staedtler pencils

WMF Grand Gourmet knife

Marmite

Keloptic, an online retailer selling prescription eyeglasses and sunglasses

French Ministry of Health – Childhood Obesity

 Chupa Chips – Sugar-Free

5 Reasons Marketing Is Hard for Writers

From Helping Writers Become Authors:

Say the word “marketing” to a group of writers, and you’re likely to elicit a groan. Almost anyone with dreams of seeing a book in print can relate to the deflation experienced when it becomes clear that simply writing an excellent book isn’t enough to sell any notable number of copies. Sooner or later, any writer committed to publishing and selling a book will have to accept that learning how to market the book is just as important, if not more, to the book’s success than the book itself. This is often a frustrating experience since, in general, marketing is hard for writers.

Why is this? After posting last month about how my own approach to marketing has evolved over the last sixteen years, I started thinking about why it is that marketing is almost universally deplored by writers. Although some writers are, of course, exceptions, most writers hate the idea of marketing.

Here you’ve just done this incredibly monumental thing of learning all the complex and high-level skills involved in writing a book, only to be told you’re basically back to ground zero. Now you have to start all over and learn the equally complex and high-level skills of marketing a book. The difference is that most of us learned the art of fiction because we loved the process; few of us are equally attracted to learning the art of marketing.

Now, some writers may be perfectly clear that they are writing for reasons that do not require marketing. Perhaps they are writing a story for their grandchildren or a memoir for purely personal reasons, and it doesn’t matter much if they sell more than ten copies, if any. That approach is 100% legit. I am always a stand for getting clear with yourself about your own motives for writing and your own personal definition of success.

But most writers want to be published. More than that, most writers dream of making good money off their books, maybe even writing full-time. That’s also legit. But the dash of cold water is that this dream will not happen without the ability to market your book. Doesn’t matter if your intention is to publish traditionally or independently. Either way, more than half the job of being a successful writer is marketing.

I’m sometimes asked if I think a writer needs to go to college to get a degree in Literature or an MFA. My response (as someone for whom college wasn’t an option, so take this in light of its obvious bias) has always been, “No, you can learn everything you need to know about writing a book via the multitude of resources that are available online.” However, in recent years, I would amend that answer to suggest that, instead, if a person is serious about a writing career, they would do well to pursue a degree, or at least classes, in marketing or business. If I had it to do over again, that’s what I would do.

I say that to emphasize the sheer importance of marketing and business savvy as the leverage point to transforming writing into a viable and profitable career. If it sounds sobering, that’s because it is. However, it is also important to know that, just as the incredibly complex skill of writing a book can be learned by anyone with the initiative and discipline to study and practice, so too can the equally complex skill of marketing a book or creating a business around your writing be learned by anyone. The resources are literally at our fingertips. All that is required is the willingness to move past the initial (and often substantial) resistance that many of us feel and to begin putting in the work. After a while, marketing can turn out to be just as much a creative pursuit as writing.

. . . .

One of the most effective ways to move past limiting beliefs—such as “marketing is too hard” or “I’m a writer, not a marketer”—is to recognize those beliefs as such. In today’s post, I want to explore some of the reasons I believe marketing is hard for writers (at least in the beginning), and how writers need to flip their mindsets in order to embrace marketing and business as tremendous opportunities.

To my mind, the reasons marketing is hard for writers generally come down to two factors:

1. Writers don’t usually start out with any marketing skills.

The belief that “I’m a writer, not a marketer” is 100% true in the beginning. And in the immortal words of Carmine Falcone, “Ya always fear what ya don’t understand.”

2. Writers fail to recognize that writing full-time is a business and has to be run as such.

The idea that being a writer means you spend the majority of your time writing is a largely antiquated notion. Being a writer these days isn’t so different from being an entrepreneur.

All of this can seem scary and overwhelming to writers who are already nervous about marketing. The first thing to realize is that’s okay. You feel that way because you’re facing a challenge to expand your growth on a number of levels. Feeling this way is a sign you’re on a positive track that will transform your life.

The second thing to realize is you won’t always feel this way. If you’re truly committed to becoming a successful writer, there is no reason you can’t learn everything you need to know about how to market and sell your books. All it takes is the willingness to learn, put in the time and the effort, make mistakes, try again, and nurture your own experience as you go.

To get you started, here are five mindsets to balance out the fear that marketing is hard for writers. Just being able to recognize and acknowledge underlying reasons for those fears can help you move through them to the tremendous opportunities and rewards available on the other side.

1. Realize Writing and Marketing Are Different Areas of Expertise

Marketing is a field all its own. One of the reasons writers initially struggle with marketing is simply that writing and marketing are entirely different experiences. Being a writer is an entirely different identity from being a marketer. In many ways, the two can seem completely opposite. If nothing else, writing is a personal and introverted task, while marketing is a public and extroverted task.

Completing the feat of learning how to write a book is a mountaintop experience that can often lead writers to exhale in relief. You’ve done it! You’ve reached completion. But the journey isn’t over. No one will ever read a book unless they know about it. The simple fact that a great book exists will not draw readers. The only way to attract readers (and sales) is to embrace the next mountain. Beliefs that you shouldn’t have to learn both skills or that simply writing a book should be “enough” are counter-productive and will only hold you back.

All of that said, it’s also useful to recognize that despite all their differences, writing and marketing also share common ground. Both are, in fact, deeply creative and inventive acts, requiring keen awareness of self and others and an instinctive sensitivity and intuition about what works. Viewing marketing as an expression of creativity can help bridge what sometimes seems an insurmountable wall between marketing and writing.

2. Embrace Marketing as a High-Level Set of Skills

Marketing is an art form. It’s not just the fries added on to your burger combo meal. Just like writing, marketing is a full ten-course meal all unto itself. To truly thrive at marketing—and to truly appreciate the experience of marketing—writers must recognize that marketing represents a high-level skillset. Successful marketing requires respect for those skills.

It’s no different from writing a book: although formulae can be followed (and often are in the beginning when the person is still learning), the true magic doesn’t happen until the person grasps the deeper theory and applies those principles in a way that arises from their own unique creativity and intuition.

By all means, learn the marketing formulae. Pay attention when marketing gurus tell you to start a mailing list, run promos, buy ads, etc. But don’t treat it as a checklist. Like writing itself, marketing requires more respect and love than that. It requires not just a commitment to learning what to do but also to understanding why.

It’s true marketing is not easy. This is often what trips writers up. But just remember this: writing isn’t easy either. If one is worth mastering, so is the other.

Link to the rest at Helping Writers Become Authors

PG adds that most publishers are terrible marketers as well. They use the same recipe over and over again. How many great advertisements have you seen for a traditionally-published book?

A great advertisement is one people remember for years.

Why a bestselling author’s email to book influencers is sparking controversy

From MSN:

Bestselling author J.D. Barker is facing scrutiny for a Jan. 23 email campaign sent to book influencers, asking them to take risqué videos with his latest book in exchange for payment.

“I cannot believe this is an actual email that I received this week from an author about making a promo video for one of their books,” TikToker Marissa Bologna said in a video, teeing up the latest controversy to take over BookTok, the bookish corner of the social media platform TikTok.

BookTok is known as a space for book influencers, enthusiasts and commentators to share their opinions on their latest reads and occasionally uncover controversy, like author Cait Corrain’s involvement in a Goodreads review bombing campaign in December 2023.
“BookTokers hold each other and authors accountable. We’re aware that it reflects the whole community,” 28-year-old BookToker Amanda Zarb says of the community’s reputation for making news.

However, Amanda Zarb distinguishes this from other instances of BookTok drama by classifying the email as “a safety concern.”

“At this point it’s the safety of the whole community,” Amanda Zarb, who received the email, says of the outpouring of videos. “The whole point was to make sure the community was aware this was happening.”

TODAY.com has reached out to Barker and publisher Hampton Creek Press for comment and has not heard back at the time of publication.

Barker apologized to recipients in an email reviewed by TODAY.com sent two days after the initial message. Barker said the first email “was not issued by me nor was it approved by me” but was “sent by one of the many PR firms I hired to promote my latest title.”

. . . .

Barker is a New York Times bestselling author of thrillers. The email, which has been reviewed by TODAY.com, was sent as part of a publicity campaign for Barker’s upcoming book “Behind A Closed Door,” about an “app craze” that sends couple Abby and Brendan Hollander “down a dangerous game of life and death.”

“When the app assigns them a series of increasingly taboo tasks, they soon find themselves caught up in a twisted web of seduction and violence in this sexually charged dark thriller from the New York Times bestselling author of ‘The Fourth Monkey’ — master of suspense, J.D. Barker,” the email reads.

The email was sent to BookTokers who could receive a free copy of the book and possibly payment, should they submit a video personally accepted by Barker.

. . . .

The controversy arose from the sexual nature of the email’s four video prompts, which appear to be inspired by the book’s content.

“This book is SPICY! Here are few video ideas currently in the works by other influencers,” the email read.

One prompt encourages BookTokers to post a video with the text, “Who doesn’t like to relax with a good book?” The accompanying video would be a “a camera pan up or down the body using only the book to cover up your naughty bits.”

Another prompt had the text, “What is the most taboo place you’ve ever had sex?”

“These are questions I’ve never received from a publisher, and never thought I would ever receive,” Amanda Zarb says of her reaction to the email. “That’s when it started and I was like, Hm. This is uncomfortable.”

. . . .

The campaign offered payment for videos that were selected via a submission process, the rationale being that Barker “understands how much work goes into those videos,” according to the email.

The payment scale ranged from $100 for accounts with 3,000 to 5,000 followers through $2,400 for those with upwards of 700,000 followers.

. . . .

In order to receive payment, users — after receiving a free book — had to upload a video for review.

“Barker will personally review each video and either approve it (triggering payment) or offer suggestions to get it approved. Once approved, you’re free to post,” the email read.

Book influencers are often given free books in exchange for a review, Liz Zarb confirms. She has also worked with publishers in exchange for compensation. In those cases, she submits the video to the publisher first.

“In those cases, it’s more an advertisement than an honest review,” she says. What made this ask a “gray area” is that in addition to the prompts, the videos weren’t called advertisements in the email.

One BookToker summarized the prompts and the payment scale as follows: “It blows my mind that they’re offering to pay BookTok creators for sexual content.”

TikToker @jerseybookguy equated it to “asking women to take their clothes off” to promote his book.

The email didn’t indicate what Barker or the publishing house planned to do with the videos. “The concern becomes, well, if my video isn’t approved, what are you going to do with it?” Liz Zarb says.

. . . .

Barker apologized “for the inconvenience this may have caused” in an email sent Jan. 25, two days after the first email.

In the three paragraph-long message, he explained the origin of the prompts and said he had “not approved” the email.

“The message you received from my account was not issued by me nor was it approved by me. It was sent by one of the many PR firms I hired to promote my latest title,” the email read.

“We are working with influencers on multiple social media campaigns and while some of those influencers have suggested racier posts to tie in with the theme of the book, that is not the heart of the campaign. The individual who edited this message chose to include these racier suggestions while editing out the others. Again, that was not the intent of the campaign. Had I seen this message before it went out, I would have stopped it.

“Ultimately, this is on me. I should not have allowed an outside firm access to my email account. That has been corrected,” he continued, before concluding, “I apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you.”

Link to the rest at MSN and thanks to F. for the tip.

PG recalls that one of the services provided by PR firms and advertising agencies is to accept blame for a stupid decision by a client.

PG also notes that the author did not mention which PR firm was to blame for a message that “was not issued by me nor was it approved by me.”

Suspicious PG wonders why the author didn’t say that he had fired the PR firm for its terrible judgment nor did he say he insisted that the PR firm fire the nameless employee for her/his egregious decision-making that harmed a client of the firm.

PG was reminded of the old Sherlock Holmes short story titled “The Adventure of Silver Blaze” which featured “the dog that did not bark.”

Scotland Yard Detective Gregory: Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?
Holmes: To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.
Gregory: The dog did nothing in the night-time.
Holmes: That was the curious incident.

Who Wrote This? The World’s Most Surprising Fiction Writers

From Book Riot:

While authors often work in different genres or mediums, sometimes moving between novels and poetry or screenwriting, the majority of fiction writers are, first and foremost, exactly that — writers. Authors can become famous in their field, but, unsurprisingly, they are usually known for their stories. However, there are several well-known figures who you may be surprised to learn have also dabbled in writing, despite becoming famous — or infamous — for very different work.

Celebrity authors have been part of the publishing world for many years, most often working with ghostwriters to produce their novels. Some, like chef and baker Nadiya Hussein, have published contemporary adult fiction, while others, such as Madonna and Tom Fletcher, have branched into children’s literature. While the rise of celebrity authors adding a published novel or two to their brand has caused controversy, in part because of the impact on traditional authors, there are some celebrity writers who are unusual even within their particular field.

Most celebrity authors write novels that connect to the field that made them famous. Dolly Parton and James Patterson’s Run, Rose, Run is set in the world of country music, and “supervet” Noel Fitzpatrick’s Vetman is an animal-saving superhero

Hugh Laurie

One of the major criticisms of celebrity authors is that, rather than being a labour of love or a chosen career, their publishing a book seems to be part of creating a brand; a celebrity might release a book to have another product connected to their name, like a line of clothing or perfume. Even if we dismiss this view as cynical, we can see that many celebrity authors bypass the traditional hurdles of publishing by using their famous names — it’s obvious that Madonna’s manuscript wouldn’t have languished in the slush pile before being picked out by an editor ready to take a punt on this first-time author. However, actor Hugh Laurie took the hard route to publication with his satirical novel The Gun Seller. He submitted the manuscript under a pseudonym, and didn’t reveal his true identity until it had been accepted by his publishing house.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

Book Cover Redesigns for Indies

PG hadn’t thought about book cover design providers for indies. He suspects a great many indie authors use a friend or acquaintance who has the requisite graphic design tools and talents.

The folks at MIBL.Art reached out to PG to ask about a guest post (he doesn’t do those). However, PG checked out the company’s website and found some interesting information.

From MIBL Art:

How Miblart Redesigns Your Book Cover

  1. Research We analyse your current book cover, your genre, target audience, and plot.
  2. Suggestions Come up with suggestions on how to improve your book cover to make it fit your genre and evoke the right emotions
  3. First draft Provide you with the first draft.
  4. Improvements Polish and improve your book cover (we offer an unlimited number of revisions)
  5. Payment You pay only when you love the final result.

. . . .

Ebook

$150

  • Licensed stock photos
  • Concept delivered within 7 b/d
  • Unlimited revisions / no upfront payment
  • Cover file in .jpg format
  • Source file in .psd format

FREE OF CHARGE

  • 3D book image
  • Title page
  • Bonus image for marketing

Link to the rest at MIBL Art

Undoubtedly, PG’s lack of attention to cover design services for indies is evidence of yet another of his many shortcomings. He’ll keep his eyes open for interesting items on this topic in the future.

He invites visitors to TPV to share their own solutions/experiences/opinions regarding cover design in the comments.

PG requests that cover design professionals or their representatives not spam the comments with sales pitches.

PG would be happy to receive information from cover design experts via the Contact PG link at the top of the blog. Feel free to send PG studies, links or information you believe might be of interest to visitors to The Passive Voice. If he sees something beyond pricing information he believes will be of interest to visitors to TPV, he’ll put it in a post.

Avoid Random Acts of Content

From Jane Friedman:

One way to attract and cultivate a loyal audience is by sharing compelling content. The goal is to build a relationship that not only leads to book sales but creates fans that stay with you for the long-term. Content marketing should ideally begin before the launch of your book and continue for as long as you want to grow your author business. This is how influencers are born—by marketing content that serves their audiences.

You’ve probably heard the advice to leverage social media, blogging, podcasting, and other content marketing strategies as a tool for growing your author business. However, when you do this without getting clear about the needs, challenges, and interests of your target audience, these efforts usually fall flat.

Let’s take for example Joe Schmoe (not a real person) who authored a book and blogs about backyard farming. Joe is passionate about his topic. He converted his modest backyard into a thriving source of food for his family, and he aims to help others do the same. Despite his passion and enthusiasm, his audience isn’t growing.

To date, Joe’s blog contains several dozen posts. Here are some examples of his titles and topics:

  • Check out my tomato harvest
  • Memories made on our family vacation
  • Why I like backyard gardening
  • See all the salads I made this week
  • Where are the helpers at the hardware store?

Now, imagine you’re interested in backyard gardening. Would the above titles appeal to you? Would they make you want to click on these posts? Or subscribe and visit again and again?

The biggest mistake Joe is making—and one that so many others make with content marketing—is that he’s not considering what his audience cares about. If I’m getting ready to convert my backyard into a mini-farm and I stumble on Joe’s site, seeing photos of his tomatoes or reading about his family vacation offers no value to me. It doesn’t address my challenges or improve my life in any way. So, I will move on, and find one of the many other blogs that can meet my needs.

Here are some better blog post titles that Joe could use:

  • 10 Steps to Getting Started with Backyard Farming
  • How to Create a No-Fail Watering Schedule for Your Backyard Farm
  • 5 Tips for a Hearty Lettuce Harvest
  • How to Select Tomato Plants and When to Plant Them
  • 3 Reasons Why Your Backyard Garden is Attracting Bugs and How to Get Rid of Them

Can you see the difference here? When Joe puts himself in the shoes of his readers, he will realize they are seeking guidance. As the expert, his readers rely on him to help them get started with gardening and overcome their backyard gardening challenges. If he simply meets these needs, his blog will begin to gain readership momentum.

Identify content ideas

After determining what your audience cares about, you can begin to develop content that meets their needs. Following are some types of content you can create.

How-to/prescriptive

Prescriptive content is some of the easiest to promote because millions of people turn to the internet to seek answers to their challenges every day. When you consider what types of questions your audience is typing into search boxes each day, you can begin to address those needs and develop content they are seeking. Your mission here is to solve their challenges and show them ways to make life easier.

Themes related to book

For narrative nonfiction and memoir, children’s books, fiction, and poetry, you will need to choose a theme and stick with it. Your theme might come directly from your book—or not. You could focus on the location where the book is set and share history of the city or travel tips for visitors. Or, if your book discusses an illness you overcame, sharing helpful information for others battling the illness can be a powerful strategy.

Donna Hartley has authored a series of memoirs based on events from her life, including surviving a collapsed heart valve. Today she earns a full-time living as a professional speaker covering women’s health issues.

Your theme might also be totally unrelated to your book. Charmaine Hammond is a business consultant who wrote a book of lessons from her dog called On Toby’s Terms. She reached out to her business contacts and organized a cross-country tour to promote the book by speaking at dozens of locations. Charmaine picked up the phone and acquired sponsors for the entire trip, covering everything from the borrowed RV she traveled in and a custom promotional wrap placed around the RV, to the coffee she brewed along the way and treats she shared with Toby. Her efforts led to selling tens of thousands of copies of the book and helped her further cultivate loyal fans in her business community—which is her target audience because she offers consulting and educational services for business professionals.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Into the Unknown: Stuck in a Writing Rut? It Might Be Time to Expand Your Comfort Zone

From Writers Unboxed:

Like many writers, I’m an introvert. I’m perfectly content sitting in my office alone, in complete silence, for hours on end doing nothing but reading and writing. Crowds make me anxious. Having to make small talk with strangers at parties and business events exhausts me beyond words. If given a choice between talking to someone on the phone and sending them an email, I always choose the latter.

For the most part, this isn’t a problem. Or at least I didn’t think it was until recently.

At the end of December, my publisher emailed me a report detailing my book sales for the previous quarter. I noticed that every time I attended an in-person event or did an author talk, there was a bump in sales. This is great news, and very useful information. The only problem is that I’d rather get a cavity filled than speak in front of group of people. I don’t do it nearly as often as I should.

About a week after I received the report from my publisher, I was thumbing through a self-help book while waiting for my husband to check out at a local book store. Opening the book to a random page, I stumbled upon this: If you want to grow personally and/or professionally you first have to expand your comfort zone.

The author went on to say that our comfort zones are often cozy traps that prevent us from challenging ourselves in ways that allow us to learn new skills, expand our social circles, and grow our careers.

According to the book, the best way to increase the number and variety of things you feel confident about is to do things that make you feel prickly and awkward—like public speaking—often enough that they begin to feel normal. If you keep it up, the thinking goes, activities that make you anxious will eventually become part of a new, more inclusive comfort zone.

This makes sense if you think about things you’ve likely done in the past, such as learning how to ride a bike or drive a car. With repetition and practice, even the most intimidating activities begin to feel like second nature. Your worldview expands, making it possible to see situations and people from different perspectives. Having an expanded view of the world, or at least a small part of it, can also help foster creativity, help make your writing more engaging, and perhaps even motivate you to give other difficult things a try.

Link to the rest at Writers Unboxed

PG says, it’s the old, old, old story.

Most writers are introverts. That’s one of the reasons they enjoy spending a day — writing.

A spouse or children are usually not terribly stressful so long as they give the author her space, her time, which is not to be violated unless someone is bleeding or the fire alarm sounds.

While not true for all writers, a great many get rejuvenated when they’re writing

Literary Alchemy: The Essence of Eye-Catching Book Covers

From Nessgraphica:

Picture this: a bookstore with shelves lined with books, each vying for attention. What makes one stand out from the rest? The initial magnetism that draws a reader in is undoubtedly the book cover. It’s the handshake, the introduction, the first date with a story yet untold. A book’s cover is its emissary, conveying the essence of its narrative in a single visual breath.

Imagine investing months, if not years, in crafting the perfect story, only to have it veiled in a lackluster cover. The unfortunate reality is that readers do judge a book by its cover, and that initial judgment can dictate whether they embark on the journey within or continue their search elsewhere.

Design: The Silent Narrator

A well-designed book cover serves as a silent narrator, offering a glimpse into the world of characters and landscapes that lie within the pages. It sets the tone, hints at the genre, and sparks curiosity. In essence, it’s the gateway to the story’s soul.

Consider the choice of color—a subtle dance that evokes emotions and sets the mood. Typography becomes the voice, conveying the narrative’s tempo and style. Imagery, carefully selected, whispers promises of adventure, love, mystery, or whatever the tale may hold.

. . . .

When seeking the perfect designer, the portfolio becomes a window into their artistry. A great portfolio showcases versatility, creativity, and an ability to adapt to diverse genres. It’s a visual journey through their past collaborations, revealing the depth of their understanding and their capacity to breathe life into a variety of narratives.

Authors are urged to scrutinize a designer’s portfolio with a discerning eye. Look for covers that resonate with your genre, but also examine their ability to infuse fresh perspectives into each project. An exceptional designer can capture the essence of a thriller as deftly as they can evoke the whimsy of a romance.

. . . .

The magic happens when authors and designers embark on a collaborative journey, each contributing their expertise to create a masterpiece. It’s a partnership where communication flows seamlessly, ideas dance in harmony, and the shared goal is to birth a cover that not only attracts but resonates with the intended audience.

. . . .

The beauty of literary alchemy lies in the synergy between words and visuals. A compelling book cover is not a mere accessory but a profound expression of the narrative it guards. It captures attention, stirs emotions, and becomes an ambassador for the story within.

Link to the rest at Nessgraphica

8 Easy Ways To Use Book Mockups To Market Your Books

From The Book Designer:

Contrary to the popular axiom, many in the book community do judge books by their covers. Book covers are the first, and often most lasting impression of a book. 

Beyond simply conveying the title and author, a well-designed book cover captures the essence of the story, establishes the book’s genre, and entices potential readers. This makes it a powerful tool for branding and marketing, influencing readers’ perceptions and sparking interest on bookstore shelves and/or online platforms.

However, authors and designers alike have taken book covers a step further. Instead of using a simple image of a book cover, they now use book mockups — a realistic representation of how a cover design will appear in various formats, including paperback, hardcover, and digital versions. 

. . . .

What Are Book Mockups?

A book mockup is a visual representation of your book’s cover and spine design, presented in a realistic manner. It’s used to give your target audience an idea of what the final printed or digital book will look like in a three-dimensional context. 

Book mockups give you (an author, publisher, or designer) the opportunity to assess the design’s aesthetics and make any necessary adjustments. They also allow you to showcase and promote your book cover before the actual printing or publication. They invoke excitement among potential readers, reminding them to keep an eye out for your publication date so they can buy your book.

1. Social Media Teasers

With billions of users worldwide, social media platforms are a great channel to promote your book. However, it can be hard to stand out among all the other content posted by authors who are also trying to market their books. 

Book mockups can help you grab (and keep) the attention of potential readers, building anticipation and generating interest in your book. To use them effectively, share high-quality and visually appealing mockups of your book cover and spine on Instagram, Facebook, and X (formerly Twitter). Include captivating captions, quotes, or snippets from the book to give more context and encourage audience engagement.

2. Website and Blog Graphics

If you own a website or blog, you can incorporate your book mockups into the homepage, banners, sidebars, or dedicated sections — preferably with a short summary of what the book is about. This will draw your site visitors’ attention and entice them to explore further. 

. . . .

5. Book Launch Announcements

During your book launch, you can use your book mockup to create stunning visuals for your announcement on your website, social media profiles, and other relevant platforms. Use the book mockup as the central visual element, accompanied by details about the launch event, promotions, or other special offers. 

Sharing the news with an attractive representation of your book cover helps build excitement and encourages potential readers to attend the launch and buy your book.

6. Author Interviews and Features

When participating in interviews or features you can provide journalists, bloggers, and influencers with high-quality mockups of your book to accompany videos, posts, or articles. This ensures a cohesive and recognizable visual representation of your book across various media outlets. 

Link to the rest at The Book Designer

The best book covers of 2023 are the ones you’ll never see

From Fast Company:

Charlotte Strick was on a high.

She’d been tasked with designing the book covers for the English translations of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s six-part autobiographical novel, My Struggle—and she’d landed on a concept to tie the volumes together. Perhaps surprisingly, everyone else had, too. The collaged, Easter egg–laden set was an immediate hit in cover meetings at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and the first book had hit shelves, but then Strick says a literary agent intervened. The books looked too artsy, and he wanted something more straightforward to reach the masses. So with only one installment on the market, the line got scrapped for a more traditional look—author photo with big, clean type, and a solid blurb.

“There’s nothing scarier than [someone saying], ‘this book is not going to sell with that cover,’” Strick says. “So any initial love kind of gets pushed aside.”

She was crushed (as are the people who still reach out to her to this day to ask where they can get the complete set). But the whole episode underscores a larger fact that I’ve come to believe after writing about book covers for years—killed covers are often where you can find the really great stuff. The surprising work. The refreshingly genre-breaking, exciting, unfiltered output that nudges the field toward its next evolution. 

. . . .

Ultimately, when you see a book cover in a store or online, you’re really just seeing the tip of the iceberg. Because at most of the really big imprints, that cover probably went through the ringer.

Strick says that in general, the process begins with a designer receiving the manuscript and a jacket brief outlining the mandatory elements (e.g., title, author name, maybe a blurb), and comparison titles for reference. The timeline is usually tight, and when it comes down to it, the creative stakes are high: You’re essentially tasked with creating a single image to brand thousands of words that could have been years in the making.

“It’s tough, because to the author, it’s their baby,” Strick says. “And in some cases, they’ve been working on this for a decade. And you have two weeks to come up with an idea.”

From there, designers create comps, or a series of proposed designs for the team to weigh. The reasons why some comps meet untimely ends are many, from an editor or marketing lead’s personal preferences to genre conventions to performance metrics of similar approaches to the author’s best friend’s opinion or, maybe, the sheer fact that an exec has a cold that day. Of course, this isn’t to say that what hits the market is bad—in fact, I’d contend we’re in a golden age of book cover design, with each publishing season bringing a deluge of insanely great jackets. But at the end of the day, a lot of fantastic and fascinating work hits the cutting room floor.

So as “Best Book Covers of the Year” lists pop off this month, let’s celebrate the work that didn’t win the day. Here are some of the best book covers of 2023 that you did not see—with insight directly from the designers who created them. The version that ended up being scrapped is on left, the final version is on the right.

Link to the rest at Fast Company

PG is somewhat conflicted in his response to the OP.

1. The principal purpose of a book cover is to sell the book. Regardless of how many plaudits the cover artist receives from the designing community for a cover, if the cover doesn’t sell the book, it’s failed in its principal purpose.

2. Typical publishing executives, English majors all, are almost certainly not experts on the design of marketing and promotional pieces. PG doubts that there is a “golden gut”, someone who is brilliant at selecting an image out of many possibilities that will sell a million books, that will stop someone browsing through Amazon books from just clicking past a book instantly.

3. In one of his ancient past lives, before personal computers and computerized design tools, PG worked for a large advertising agency.

While developing an ad campaign for a new product, a lot of smart people, usually including at least one person with a “golden gut” and a long track record of successful new product launches (and often more than one), looked at multiple mock-ups of print advertisements, television commercials, etc., before sending the creatives back to the drawing board for a new iteration of mock-ups based on the feedback from the first ads showing.

It was not unusual for a campaign to go through several more such meetings before a preliminary approval was agreed upon. Then, a series of more polished mockups based on the selected theme were created. Preliminary television commercials might be created.

The winners of the earlier rounds were then presented to groups of consumers that constituted the target market for the product to learn which messaging approach gained the most positive response and what the consumers thought about the product after seeing the various messaging. It was not unusual to go through this exercise with several groups of consumers.

At this point, a presentation was made to the client that was launching the new product, summarizing the research process results and the consumers’ reactions. Sometimes, proposed mocked-up versions of print, television, etc., based on consumer research, were shown to the client.

End of past lives.

PG’s disquisition concerning how serious marketing decisions involving millions of dollars were made was to contrast how unsophisticated the development and adoption of cover design at a typical traditional publisher, as depicted in the OP, is. Professionals do things much differently than publishing executives do.

How TikTok’s BookTok craze is ‘making reading cool again’

From Big Issue:

Welcome to BookTok. TikTok’s book recommendations, reviews and releases have amassed 185 billion views, making it one of the platform’s most active communities. According to the Publisher’s Association, 59% of 16- 25-year-olds have rekindled their love for reading thanks to the trend.

This is true for BookToker Nicole Murphy, who has 42,000 followers on the app.

“I stopped reading as I got older. But when I stumbled upon BookTok, it seemed like a positive space and I started reading more. I wasn’t part of a specific community and thought it’d be nice to be part of,” she tells The Big Issue.

“It’s made reading cool again,” Murphy continues. Addressing BookTok’s reputation for competitiveness she says, “Someone might say ‘I’ve read 30 books this month’, but they haven’t said ‘I’m better than you because of that’. It’s internal pressure people get from seeing this, like with anything online.”

There are hundreds of articles dismissing the platform for the competitiveness it allegedly fuels by promoting unattainable reading quotas and goals. GQ complains BookTok is “shallow” and has made being a reader more important than actually reading. Dazed speculates it has “sucked the joy out of reading”.

Signs are there. Some videos suggest “listening to audiobooks at 1.5x speed and skimming long passages of text”, while others show TBR piles (stacks of books that have yet To Be Read) taller than most people’s whole collections. But Murphy is quick to defend BookTok against criticism: “I urge people to spend more time on BookTok and look for what they’re genuinely interested in, not what they want to bash.”

. . . .

Another unexpected benefit of this renewed enthusiasm for reading is that it’s providing a boost for bookshops.

“So many books become bestsellers after going viral,” say Leah Caffrey and Alice Treadwell, from House of Books & Friends, an independent bookstore in Manchester. “You can see when certain backlist titles are having a moment online and many trending books have stayed consistent in our weekly sales; sales which were certainly boosted by TikTok for some titles.

“BookTok has encouraged younger generations to read more and find an online community to share their enthusiasm with. This can only be a good thing. It is creating generations of future readers.”

Link to the rest at Big Issue

PG picked a BookTok video at random. The following video had more than 17,000 views when PG embedded it.

All Dolled Up

From The American Scholar:

“Since the beginning of time—since the first little girl ever existed—there have been dolls.” So proclaims Helen Mirren in the opening scene of Greta Gerwig’s summer blockbuster, Barbie. “But the dolls were always and forever baby dolls,” she says—that is, until Barbie came along. “Yes,” Mirren says, “Barbie changed everything.”

Twenty-seven years after Ruth Handler brought that iconic blonde into the world, another woman found herself fed up with baby dolls and Barbies. Pleasant Rowland, a newscaster turned educational product developer, thought girls deserved dolls that nurtured their interests beyond fashion and motherhood. In 1986, she created American Girl: a line of meticulously researched dolls, clothes, accessories, and books inspired by pivotal moments in American history. The brand was a hit. In its first four years, Rowland’s Pleasant Company turned a profit of $30 million.

American Girl is as much a phenomenon today as it was in the ’80s—and not just among children. Adult collectors, cosplayers, and meme creators abound. The dolls crop up in pop culture juggernauts from Saturday Night Live to The Last of Us. It’s no secret why: according to Mary Mahoney and Allison Horrocks, authors of Dolls of Our Lives, Rowland’s “genius lay in articulating a vision of girlhood she could shape through her company, a vision that would influence how girls saw themselves, the kind of play that helped them create themselves and memories along the way.”

Mahoney and Horrocks are historians whose childhood love for American Girl brought them together in graduate school. Dolls of Our Lives began in 2019 as a podcast originally titled American Girls, and the two were floored by the response it received. “Lots of listeners who didn’t grow up to pursue history as a career wanted to be part of this burgeoning community,” they write. “What bound us together was the fact that these stories still seemed to have a lot to teach us.”

As Mahoney and Horrocks tell it, American Girl’s runaway success was grounded not only in its innovative combination of dolls and tie-in educational products, but also in its commitment to take young girls seriously. Inspired by a childhood visit to Colonial Williamsburg, Rowland recognized the appeal and power of placing girls in an imagined version of the past. She and her team of designers created nine-year-old characters at once relatable and aspirational, beginning with Kirsten (a hard-working 19th-century Swedish immigrant adjusting to her new home in Minnesota), Samantha (a bookish Victorian orphan with a gift for public speaking), and Molly (a World War II–era Scottish American who tries constantly to reinvent herself). These initial dolls and their successors represent an ideal sort of girlhood, facing hardships large and small with just the right amount of loyalty and courage.

As American Girl’s revenues increased, so did its output. By the ’90s, it had become a “full-blown lifestyle brand.” Pleasant Company released cookbooks, craft books, and other supplements to its historical character lines, plus contemporary growing-up guides like the much-beloved The Care and Keeping of You, a sort of Puberty 101 for pre-adolescent girls. (It was recently revamped to be more inclusive.) American Girl magazine launched in 1992, a “space [for girls] to talk about the anxieties and triumphs of growing up in their own words … without making them the subject of a joke or shaming them.” In 1995, the company introduced a doll line called “Girl of Today,” allowing girls to select a doll that looked like them (or, in many cases, a friend or sister they longed to have). “She’s just like you, you’re a part of history, too!” declared one catalogue snippet.

For women of a certain age, the print catalogue has become the stuff of legend. “The only thing better than owning something from American Girl was dreaming about buying something from the American Girl catalogue,” write Mahoney and Horrocks. Doll owners and their hopeful counterparts drooled over the catalogue’s expensive offerings and tantalizing descriptions, some even pushing their parents to read from it “as if it were a Dickens novel.”

Link to the rest at The American Scholar

For any male visitors who might be tempted to make sexist comments about females and dolls, PG notes:

The 25 Most Iconic Book Covers of All Time

From Book Riot:

When it comes to lists of the most iconic book covers of all time, I am not always impressed with what titles turn up again and again. And I’m ready to take the heat for leaving some of your faves off this list. Here’s my first question for others compiling these lists. Are the covers of books like To Kill a Mockingbird or The Catcher in the Rye really that iconic? Or are they stuck in your mind because you’ve seen them a million times thanks to their status as school curriculum standards? Let’s not peak in high school, folks.

Moreover, why do we seem to celebrate only the covers for books considered literary masterpieces of the 20th century, with a focus on midcentury design? Certainly there are iconic book covers from that era, and you’ll see some below. But there’s more to lionize in the history of design than this singular period and genre. I want to take a wider view.

I’m also not afraid to assert that some of the most iconic book covers have just come out. Because if we don’t believe that at least some of the best things ever to be made are being made right now, be they book covers, movies, music, or literature, then what is the point of making anything? I’d rather take a brave stance here and be proven wrong in the future than go with the same old choices everyone makes. Believe me, there are still plenty of safe choices on this list. So without any further ado, and in no particular order, the most iconic book covers of all time.

. . . .

How recognizable is this cover design by S. Neil Fujita, with illustration by John Kashiwabara? So iconic that you can buy any number of T-shirts that spoof its design. To name a few, you can acquire a shirt to claim you are: The Rodfather (with a fisherman casting instead of marionette strings), The Dogfather (bones as marionette sticks), The Gabagool (for the fans of cured meats), or The Godmother (it’s pink).


Talk about iconic! Milton Charles designed the paperback, whose silver foil-embossed cover has a die-cut hole representing the house’s attic. When the cover is opened, a full page painting called a stepback reveals the creepy family, illustrated by Gillian Hills. It’s lurid and voyeuristic in the best possible way. The rest of the Dollanganger series received a similarly iconic treatment. If you come across an old copy that has the cutout and the stepback — later printings don’t have the hole in the cover — you’re a lucky duck.


You know a book cover is iconic when it can be ported from book to movie franchise to theme park rides with ease. This cover by renowned designer Chip Kidd is a quintessential example of this.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

X remains primary social media platform for publishers

From The Bookseller:

Publishers say most of their social engagement still comes through X, formerly known as Twitter, though they are now actively engaging with alternatives such as Threads, BlueSky and Mastodon.  

Since business magnate Elon Musk completed his buyout of the networking site in 2022, there have been a number of changes, notably to the platform’s verification policies, stripping verified blue ticks from accounts which hadn’t signed up for its paid-for subscription service. Links to articles also changed to only show the associated image without the headline, making it difficult to share news. This has prompted the book community’s use of the platform to dissipate, but most publishers still see X as their main social media platform as it still has the largest number of active users and newer alternatives are not yet set up for scheduling. 

Jack Birch, senior digital marketing manager at Bloomsbury, told The Bookseller: “The users that have left Twitter/X since Musk’s takeover have not gone to a specific destination; they have fragmented across different platforms such as Blue Sky, Mastodon and Threads, as well as other platforms. As a company, we felt that Threads had the potential to be the biggest competitor to X, given Meta’s history of running successful social media apps and an existing audience that they could convert (cleverly linking Instagram followers to Threads at the click of a button). We hoped Instagram and Facebook users could pivot to a text-based social network, as well as pick up people leaving Musk’s X. However, after initial enthusiasm, interactions and impressions have dropped off a cliff.” 

He believes that despite the press for dwindling numbers on Twitter/X, it remains the place for “influential media figures” such as journalists and celebrities and is still where “news breaks first”. Birch also cited how two of the more recent campaigns, Ghosts: The Button House Archives and The Rest is History, “performed exceptionally well on X, partly due to pre-existing, established fandoms, as well as each book’s content suiting the platform”.

He said that Bloomsbury believes Mastodon and Blue Sky are “currently too complicated for the general user to have wider popular appeal at least at the moment”. He added: “Our social media management platform, Sprout Social, does not currently allow us to schedule posts on these two platforms. With all of this in mind, we have put more energy into our Instagram and TikTok channels. Though content usually takes longer to produce, we are seeing excellent returns on engagements and impressions. As a company, we also have direct relationships with Meta and TikTok, and are able to solve any issues that may affect our accounts.”   

“The social media landscape has always changed very quickly, but, since Musk’s takeover of X, it is even more unstable than it ever has been before. We have a large, and engaged, social media following on Meta, TikTok and X; it is still there where we see our key audience.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Typography

PG has always liked interesting Typography.

First a definition:

Typography is the art of arranging letters and text in a way that makes the copy legible, clear, and visually appealing to the reader.

It involves font style, appearance, and structure, which aims to elicit certain emotions and convey specific messages. In short, typography is what brings the text to life.

From Typographic Design:

Link to the rest at Typographic Design

What’s the Future of Books?

From Esquire:

The publishing industry is in flux. One major publisher has been acquired by a private equity firm, editors are departing (and getting laid off) from others, there are fewer book media outlets than ever, and most literary discourse is happening online. But what does it all mean for the books themselves, and the ways that readers are discovering them? Here, we make some predictions about the future of books.

It’ll be even harder to launch debut fiction.

“Celebrities and tastemakers are becoming the new medium for discovery,” says Ariele Fredman, a literary agent at United Talent Agency who previously launched eight #1 New York Times bestsellers as a publicist. As a result, it will be more important than ever for debut novels to land on book club rosters.

A Reese Witherspoon, Oprah, or Jenna Bush endorsement can be enough to not only secure a spot on the bestseller list, but anoint an author with a fanbase that lasts. “If you don’t get one of those coveted spots, it becomes even harder to break a new voice,” Fredman adds.

Outside of those chosen debuts, “we’re going to see a continued investment in bigger-name authors” from publishers, says former editor Molly McGhee, the author of Jonathan Abernathy You Are Kind, “because they have guaranteed returns on investment.”

Literary genre fiction and autofiction will still be the most popular modes of storytelling.

According to Dan Sinykinthe author of Big Fiction: How Conglomeration Changed the Publishing Industry and American Literaturethe biggest trend on the page—also thanks to celebrity book clubs—will continue to be “literary genre fiction,” where “writers who are more artistic than they are entertaining” riff on genre tropes like dystopias, apocalypse tales, detective novels, and space operas. Think

It’ll be even harder to launch debut fiction.
“Celebrities and tastemakers are becoming the new medium for discovery,” says Ariele Fredman, a literary agent at United Talent Agency who previously launched eight #1 New York Times bestsellers as a publicist. As a result, it will be more important than ever for debut novels to land on book club rosters.

A Reese Witherspoon, Oprah, or Jenna Bush endorsement can be enough to not only secure a spot on the bestseller list, but anoint an author with a fanbase that lasts. “If you don’t get one of those coveted spots, it becomes even harder to break a new voice,” Fredman adds.

Outside of those chosen debuts, “we’re going to see a continued investment in bigger-name authors” from publishers, says former editor Molly McGhee, the author of Jonathan Abernathy You Are Kind, “because they have guaranteed returns on investment.”

Literary genre fiction and autofiction will still be the most popular modes of storytelling.
According to Dan Sinykin, the author of Big Fiction: How Conglomeration Changed the Publishing Industry and American Literature, the biggest trend on the page—also thanks to celebrity book clubs—will continue to be “literary genre fiction,” where “writers who are more artistic than they are entertaining” riff on genre tropes like dystopias, apocalypse tales, detective novels, and space operas. Think Colson Whitehead, Marlon James, Emily St. John Mandel, and Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyeh.

. . . .

Book clubs and indie publishers will continue investing in multiplatform storytelling—especially audio.

“Stories are commodities now,” says Julie Grau, editor and publisher of Spiegel & Grau. “They’re not tied to a specific format.” These days, a story can take shape across print, audio, ebooks, film, and live events, which means readers who may not connect with a book might love it as an audio project. For this reason, “it’s actually never been a better time to be a creator,” says Michelle Weiner, co-head of the books department at Creative Artists Agency. Plus, she adds, there has been a surge in live book events since the pandemic. She foresees a new wave of “bespoke” book programming, with more interactive events like Channing Tatum’s live art launch party at Brooklyn’s Books Are Magic.

. . . .

People will pick up books not because of the plot, but because they want to *feel* a certain way (i.e. hopeful).

BookTok “prioritizes emotional release, storytelling, and romance,” McGhee says. As a result, TikTok has created a new way of talking about books. If you watch Today Show book segments, you might see Isaac Fitzgerald or Qian Julie Wang say that a book made them laugh! or cry! or feel alllllll the feelings. Influencer Zibby Owens has organized her Santa Monica bookstore around the feelings that books are intended to elicit, rather than topic or genre.

Publishers are thinking this way, too. In marketing language and jacket copy, One World senior editor Nicole Counts says, “what we have to communicate to the reader is how they’re going to feel.”

Link to the rest at Esquire

Why People Read Books? Statistics on Consumer Behavior of Readers

From WordsRated:

This report will focus on the consumer behavior of book buyers and avid readers in the United States. We will cover the process of book discovery, factors readers consider when choosing the next book, as well as why people like to read and engage with books across all formats.

Why do people like to read books?

Reading has multiple benefits for people’s overall well-being, development, and knowledge generation. However, the single most important reason why adult readers (over 18 years of age) decide to engage with books is pure entertainment and leisure:

  • 50.10% of readers (people who engage with at least one book per year) say that the most important reason why they engage with books is for entertainment and leisure. Also, 82.90% of readers stated this as one of the reasons why they read books.
  • For 25.00% of readers, self-improvement is the most important reason why they read books, and 41.40% of them say this is one of the reasons why they engage with reading.
  • 12.80% of people who engage with books do so for the purpose of buying gifts for their friends, family, and colleagues, and 21.20% of people say this is one of the reasons why they engage with books.
  • 11.10% of readers engage with this activity for the sake of education and work, while 18.40% of them state work and school as one of the factors of engaging with books.
Why people buy booksAll reasonsMain reason
Entertainment/leisure82.90%50.10%
Self-improvemnt41.40%25.00%
Gifts21.20%12.80%
Work or school18.40%11.10%
Other2.00%1.00%

Factors readers consider when buying books

  • The most important factor for readers when choosing their next book is the category/genre of the book – 39.80% of readers consider it to be the most important factor, and over 66.50% of readers consider it to be one of the factors.
  • 23.20% of readers primarily choose the book based on its author, while 61.50% of them consider the book’s author as one of the factors when picking the next read.
  • 15.00% of readers lean on book reviews as the most important factor for the next read, with 43.00% of them having this as one of the factors they consider.
  • Price is the most important factor for 9.20% of readers when it comes to choosing the next book, and 44.00% consider price, among other things.
  • It’s interesting that 3.90% of readers think that the book’s front cover is the most important thing for them to choose the next book, while 23.50% of readers consider the front cover design among other things.
Factors when buying booksThe most important factorAll factors readers consider
Category/genre39.80%66.50%
Author23.20%61.50%
Reviews15.00%43.00%
Price9.20%44.00%
Front cover3.90%23.50%
Publisher3.80%14.50%
Back cover2.60%13.80%
Other1.60%7.70%
Publication date0.80%2.30%

There are differences among genders when it comes to factors considered when choosing the next book to read. Men find a book’s genre/category and price more important in the process, while women value their favorite authors and publishers more than men:

Factors when buying booksMenWomen
Category/genre42.00%37.00%
Author20.00%27.00%
Reviews15.20%14.80%
Price11.00%7.00%
Front cover4.00%3.00%
Publisher2.00%6.00%
Back cover3.00%2.00%
Other2.00%2.00%
Publication date0.80%1.20%

Link to the rest at WordsRated

SEO Killed The Internet

From Medium:

Keywords! Keywords! Keywords! Make sure your article is 2 pages long. Make sure to write a readable SEO friendly way. Don’t mess with the format too much because we won’t rank, son! Don’t use too many fancy words that people don’t google. Lists! Lists! Lists! Pad it out, boy! Keywords!

SEO has killed the internet. SEO has killed creativity. I am not even joking here. How many times in the last 5 years have you googled something and actually found what you were looking for without appending “Reddit” to the end of the query? The worst part is, even when you do find something, you have to sift through a boring, long article about something completely different until you find what you were looking for. If you ever do, that is.

Google is basically a search engine for finding Reddit posts nowadays. Intellectual writing is gone, there is a template for everything now. Writers end up horribly depressed or worse, give up writing altogether. Writing in today’s day and age is less about engaging in intellectual discourse, birthing a new world, and telling a story. Now it is all about selling a narrative, product, or service.

Think about it. Even fantasy writers have to write out an SEO-friendly blog post in order to sell their book.

Now, I can already see the comment: “You’re just angry because you don’t know how to write good SEO.” To you dear commenter, all I have to say is that it’s not about the SEO it’s the fact that all we read is SEO. There is a science to it and as always formulas ruin creativity. Sure, you can play around in the bounds of the template, but is that really what you want from an artform? It’s like Picasso using a coloring book and just choosing the colors.

Link to the rest at Medium

PG thought he was the only one seeing Reddit in all his online search results.

The Burden and Necessity of Genre

From The Millions:

When you write a book, there are certain questions you can expect: How long did it take you? Will you write a sequel? And—the inevitable—what is it?

What it is: thousands of hours tapping away on a keyboard between swiping student IDs at the Sarah Lawrence gym, months of crippling doubt, dozens of rewrites, maddening rounds of edits, the culmination of years of dreaming and plotting condensed into a 300-page manuscript with which I’ve imbued the emotional vulnerability of a pubescent diary.

No, they will persist. What is it?

I rehearsed this answer in my query letter, tweaked depending on the interest and need of the agent addressed: Complete at 80,000 words, this

Sometimes it was a literary novel. Sometimes a literary commercial novel. Sometimes a literary novel with commercial appeal. Once, upmarket women’s fiction.

It’s adult literary fiction, I tell people. I think of the many times I’ve been prompted to make such unambiguous designations, usually without issue: I am Female. I am White. But something doesn’t feel right about defining my novel, about giving it a genre (a word that has always conjured for me cover images of bursting corsets and rippled abdominals). Something doesn’t feel right about defining novels at all.

As a bookseller, I compartmentalize novels everyday. If it’s not Science Fiction, Mystery, or Romance, then it falls under the catch-all umbrella of Literature. I watch our erudite Upper West Side clientele squint warily at the shelves. The other day, a man held up a novel with a beach on the cover—a cartoon woman sunning herself on a striped towel pictured—and sniffed distastefully. As though a thought bubble appeared above his head, he tossed the novel back on its stack of identical copies in a way that said, You call this literature?

If prompted, I couldn’t say with any tact what distinguishes literary from commercial fiction. Literary fiction values prose over plot, I might say. Commercial fiction is about the story, whereas literary fiction is about the characters. Like an indie flick verses a Hollywood blockbuster, one novel wears a pair of horn-rimmed spectacles and the other mirrored Ray-Ban Aviators. A literary agent I once interned for cut to the chase: “We’re looking for new literary voices,” she told me. “Try to find submissions with a mention of an MFA.”

As reluctant as I am to call my novel commercial, to call it “literary” can feel snobbish in its insistence. Who am I to say that I am more Mary Gaitskill than Mary Kay Andrews? Who am I to say what my novel is at all?

That’s the thing I’ve learned: once you release a novel into the world, you relinquish your control over how it is defined. What my “adult literary fiction” novel has become: Coming of Age. Contemporary Women. Romance. Suspense. Genre Fiction. My novel is amorphous, ready to be whatever it needs to be given the audience. What I can’t decide is whether this ability to sit on many different shelves is a benefit or a hindrance.

Claiming multiple genres feels akin to presenting a business card with the title Artist/Writer/Dancer/Freelance DJ—a worse offense, perhaps, than asserting literary value. But in working in a bookstore, in placing books onto their various shelves and thinking, This doesn’t belong here, I’ve come to appreciate what a misnomer and a crutch a genre can be. When I pressed a copy of Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Book of Joan into a customer’s hand and told her, “It’s a sort of literary science fiction novel,” she stopped me there. “I don’t read science fiction,” she insisted, and I realized not even the modifier of “literary” could combat the negative connotation of genre fiction.

Few books are what they initially appear. I almost didn’t pick up Ben Dolick’s The Ghost Notebooks, put off by the word “supernatural” on its back cover and its placement on the Sci-Fi shelf. When a friend gave me the ARC of Tara Isabella Burton’s Social Creature that the bookstore had received, he said, “You read thrillers, right? This sounds like a thriller,” and I almost felt insulted. I put off reading the copy of Paullina Simons’s The Bronze Horseman that my coworker lent me, its promise of a “historical romance “ enough to raise my skepticism. “I promise, it has literary merit,” she told me. It took me a while to admit what I always knew: that to me, “literary” is synonymous with “well-written.”

. . . .

The question is whether genres need to be abandoned, or if our definitions of genres need to be expanded. Few novels fit snuggly into one category, though there are no doubt novels that do: Science Fiction, Mystery, Romance. It was Octavia Butler and Junot Díaz who allowed me to start to question those classifications in college with Kindred and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, respectively. I hadn’t known that literary novels could have time travel and magic and, knowing this, it didn’t seem fair or even possible that Kindred and Keith Roberts’s The Furies could occupy the same shelf. It only occurred to me then that I’d always thought “literary” also meant taking place in the real world. The Furies is science fiction. Kindred is more complicated than that.

Link to the rest at The Millions

PG says genre is a marketing tool. If prospective customers don’t understand what the title of a genre means, it’s a less effective marketing tool than it could be.

Genre in a physical bookstore is more difficult because if a book is placed in the wrong genre section, customers who would otherwise be interested in reading it may never see it.

PG doesn’t want to be too geeky, but compared with a search engine, discovery in a bookstore is bronze-age.

Ultimate Guide to Creating a Chatbot Persona for Your Brand

From Userlike:

Generic bots are out, unique bots are in. Finding the right chatbot persona for your brand takes effort, but it’ll help make the rest of the design process flow.

Chatbots often give a first impression of your company. Whether it’s greeting your website visitors or helping customers with their orders or inquiries, chatbots communicate with your customers in a direct, personal way.

Coming up with a unique persona will not only help you build stronger personal connections with your customers, but it will add fun and clarity to your development process. This post will cover why a chatbot persona is so necessary and steps for getting started.

. . . .

Why chatbots need a persona

Chatbots are for humans, by humans.

People naturally project human traits onto everything. If you cut corners on your bot’s persona, chances are users will assign it one anyway. But the results could be unfavorable.

A rich persona is memorable and can make your bot feel more like an extension of your team. In return, this could help reduce workload for your human employees because users will feel more comfortable speaking to it instead of asking to be forwarded.

Personas make script writing easier

When creating your chatbot conversation flow, a backstory and persona will make it easier to find its voice. It’s an approach often used by screenwriters and authors to help drive their character’s dialogue and actions.

A chatbot persona doesn’t need a whole family tree and fabricated trauma to perform well, but a motive, experience and possibly even age will add character.

Take Cleverbot as an example. We don’t know how old it is (I asked and all I got was a “Good. How are you”) nor its background, but we do know that it’s clever in every dry sense of the word. This fuels its interactions. If you try to ask anything personal, it deflects with some witty remark. Its persona is simple but clearly defines its conversation style.

. . . .

Promote your brand’s identity

Technology can’t replace the human need for personal connections. Intelligent AI may be your solution to pain-free chatbot service interactions, but people want more than that.

Without a persona, a chatbot can seem empty and cold. Creating an identity modeled after your brand builds empathy with users and mirrors the personalized engagement they receive from your team.

If your business is online or rarely ever customer-facing, then a likable chatbot person may help your brand stick in a customer’s memory. They likely won’t remember the exact conversation they had with your bot, but they will remember how pleasant — or irritating — it was.

The industry demands it

We’re surrounded by Conversational UI. Chances are one of the devices you own has a digital assistant built into it, likely with a pre-determined persona like Siri or Bixby.

It’s no real surprise, especially once you consider that consumers prefer text communication over phone calls and face-to-face service.

But it’s not easy to write for Conversational UI. That’s why more and more companies are putting out job ads in search for conversation designers to do the tedious creative work for them. Every chatbot writer and creator needs a jumping point though, which is where personas come in handy.

Link to the rest at Userlike

PG understands that some existing chatbots are so engaging that some individuals (undoubtedly possessing closely-related personality types) have been spending more and more time with their chatbots and less and less time with human beings.

Of course, some individuals possessing an authoritarian temperament want one or more government agencies to regulate videogames and chatbots and everything else so modernity never causes uneasiness in their minds. These are the same people who wanted to regulate the Internet for the same reason a couple of decades ago. PG suggests they’re no match for even a moderately intelligent AI.

Most of us already know one or more individuals who have become addicted to playing one or more videogames (teenage boys, of course, but also an increasing number of other groups of people) and spend a great deal of their spare time playing videogames. To the point that the virtual world seems more engaging than the actual world (“meatspace”).

PG doesn’t regard himself as a member of this cohort, but will admit to interacting with Alexa on a regular basis for the purpose of giving her the task of reminding him of things like an appointment with one of the small fleet of physicians who minister to PG’s aging physical self.

Or even more important, Alexa reminds PG about birthdays, to-do lists and when he needs to pick up Mrs. PG from one of her outside-of-Casa-PG pursuits.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Parade

From Jane Friedman:

All hail the newly published author. Or not.

A few weeks ago my new book came out, a collection of literary humor essays. You would think given this is my seventh book (from six different publishers), I would be well prepared for this momentous occasion. And in some ways I was.

In the month or two before my book’s release I bought new eyeglasses that make me look more writerly. I also gave the Whole 30 diet a try and, yes, I modified it to the Whole 5 because I cannot not enjoy a glass or two of wine on weekends, but the point remained the same. I wanted to be well prepared for my upcoming author events and I knew from past experience that presenting is a lot more enjoyable if I can not only wear my favorite nice jeans, but also manage to zip them.

I also did a few other things, like update my author website, refine my talking points for book-group discussions, contact regional bookstores and libraries that might want to host a reading or talk, and query writing conferences about teaching workshops on the craft of essays. Last, but hardly least, I sacrificed hours of binge-watching all the TV shows I had missed while writing this new book so that I could research niche publicity opportunities (blogs, podcasts, Facebook writing groups, etc.). My understanding was that I would need to pitch these places myself, knowing that my publicist at the publishing house was already overworked and sick of me.

All this to say, as my pub date neared, I felt ready for the launch of my book. I felt confident. I felt, dare I say, full of myself, and rightly so! The pre-publication buzz (at least in my small circles) had energized me. The head of marketing at my press had actually used the word “commercial” to describe the book. (A first among my various titles.) And the back cover of the book glowed with positive blurbs from highly respected authors, some of whom I didn’t even know, and who didn’t owe me any favors.

What could possibly go wrong? I just hoped when the accolades poured in and the sales figures soared, all this success wouldn’t go to my head.

Then the book’s pub date arrived and… No marching bands. No floats. Some nice bunches of balloons.

For context, I should share that I am not what you would call a “big-name” author, though I am a seasoned author who has been described as a “writer’s writer.” On a related note, while I love my current publishing house for its commitment to quality and diversity, it’s not one of the Big Five, not like, say, Penguin Random House where the lovely (truly) publicist Bianca regularly emails me the nicest queries to see if I would like to interview any of her authors on my podcast—“Sending you big hopes and wishes that you will consider [insert big-name author] as a guest on your show. And just let me know if you’d like a finished hardcover copy!” (Yes, Bianca! I would love a hardcover copy!)

All this to say, if I am being honest about the whole parade thing for my own new release, I knew I’d probably set my expectations way too high, though a midlist author can dream. But what did take me by surprise were several other things that happened (or didn’t happen) in the weeks following the book’s release.

Below are seven lessons I have learned (or relearned in some cases) about what to really expect when a new book is published.

1. Expect to be vigilant. My gosh, the number of little screw-ups I kept encountering in the first weeks after my pub date. In the editorial reviews on my book’s Amazon page, for example, the name of one of my reviewers was misspelled (though it was correct on the book cover). Amazon also failed to include a link to the Kindle edition, an oversight which was finally corrected a month and four days after the book’s release.

Other snafus? Reviewers who had agreed to do write-ups about the book are still waiting for their “advance” copies. Closer to home, one of the bookstores where I have an upcoming event ordered my book two weeks after the pub date, which (briefly) made me rethink my call for buyers to “shop local.” (After checking in with two different sales clerks, I got a nice note from the owner explaining the oversight—“For some reason, the order was coded as backorder cancel, and since it was not yet released it did indeed cancel.”) Whatever the hell that means.

These snags and others—none of them big deals, but still—reinforced that it was up to me to pay attention and be proactive in helping to address any problems.

2. Expect crickets. A bazillion new books come out every day, and the day after that, and after that, all of them clamoring for their own parade. So when I didn’t receive congratulatory notes about my new book from some of my closest friends, or those writing students whom I have taught and nurtured, sometimes for years, well, of course I understood. People are busy with their own lives, their own writing projects. You can’t just stop everything to, say, dash off an email, no matter how much it would mean to that friend or teacher. That’s why I’d like to tell all those people in my life who have yet to acknowledge my new book the same thing my mother often said to me, which always had the desired effect: “I’m not mad…just disappointed.”

3. Expect to fall back in infatuation. By the time I’d finessed every sentence of my manuscript, then reviewed the copyeditor’s notes, then proofed the page proofs, then made a few more tweaks (a no-no after page proofs but you can’t just unsee a word you don’t like), then re-proofed the page proofs (a necessity, thanks to all my last-minute changes), there was one thing I knew for sure. I was sick to death of my book! But then it went to print and a couple months passed and the actual book arrived in stores. Tentatively, I opened a copy to a random essay and started reading. Who wrote this? I thought. My gosh, I like this writer!

4. Expect to find a typo. Miraculously, I have not found a typo in my new book…yet. (Refer back to my comment about proofing and reproofing.) But of course just putting this brag in writing means that now the cosmos is going to plant a typo somewhere in the collection, and one thing I know I can expect is that I will hear about it from some punctilious, well-meaning reader.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

The Back Cover of a Book: Just as Important as the Front Cover?

From The Book Designer:

Does the design of the back cover of a book really matter?

Since the front cover of a book is usually the first thing a reader sees, there’s often a heavy focus on making sure that the front cover stands out, “pops,” does cartwheels, and jumps through as many hoops as necessary to get noticed. 

Unfortunately, book back covers often get the short end of the stick with only a focus on the essentials:

  • the tagline
  • blurb
  • author bio
  • testimonials
  • publisher details
  • barcode information

This information is useful and essential, but there’s some flexibility in how and where these details are placed, and depending on how creative your back book cover design is.

. . . .

Why Does the Back Cover of a Book Matter?

The back cover of a book is the extension of the front cover and spine, but the three are sometimes disjointed as if the front cover is one book and the back cover is another. When a potential reader picks up your book and flips it over to read the summary, there’s only a single opportunity to pull them in: with words. But, when the book’s back cover design creates an atmosphere that pulls the reader in, the odds begin to stack in your favor that they’ll make it to page one. 

With over 4 million books published in 2022, authors are facing a new set of challenges in a flooded book market. 

Quality and creativity, not to mention a great story, are the most important differentiators from the sea of sameness that plagues virtual and brick-and-mortar bookshelves everywhere. 

What Are the Parts of a Book’s Back Cover?

The Tagline and Blurb

Similar to a company tagline, a book’s tagline is a sentence or two that piques your interest and gets you to continue reading. It’s the statement that tells you to prepare yourself for what is to come. It is designed to get you to keep reading. The tagline is usually in a larger, bold font above the blurb. 

The blurb, on the other hand, is the teaser that sets the stage for what’s on the inside of the book. It can be a plot summary, dialogue between characters, or a conversation with the reader.

Fiction vs. Nonfiction

In fiction, taglines and blurbs are centered around the characters and the book’s plot. In nonfiction, the tagline and blurb focus on what problem the book provides a solution to or what new or interesting information will be gleaned from the content.

Author Bio

Author bios are third-person accounts of an author’s background. Bios are a great way to share pertinent information that will endear readers to the author by establishing trust. 

Fiction vs. Nonfiction

Whether fiction or nonfiction, an author’s bio offers details about the author that the author wants to share. This can include biographical information, honors and awards, education, work history, the names of books written, or a combination of them all. Many bios will include website details and a photo. 

Testimonials

Testimonials are book reviews from first readers that are added to the cover for social proof. Only the best reviews or reviews from prominent sources are placed on the cover.

Fiction vs. Nonfiction

In fiction, testimonials are usually about the story, the characters, and the feelings the book evoked. Nonfiction testimonials center around the quality of the information shared and in what ways it helped the reader.

Link to the rest at The Book Designer

Unlocking Amazon A+ Content for Books: The Ultimate Handbook

From The Book Designer:

Advantages of A+ Content for Books

Now, let’s dive into the irresistible advantages of Amazon A+ Content for your books. First and foremost, picture this: enhanced discoverability. In a digital sea teeming with books, A+ Content acts as your lighthouse, guiding potential readers toward your literary treasure. By showcasing your book’s unique features, be it stunning cover art or gripping excerpts, you make it more enticing and stand out among the vast competition. Think of it as your book’s red carpet moment, where readers can’t help but stop and take notice.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. A+ Content goes beyond mere visibility; it’s your key to higher conversion rates. When potential readers click on your listing, they’re not just met with a wall of text – they’re greeted with an immersive experience. This engagement factor can turn curious browsers into enthusiastic buyers. Furthermore, A+ Content lets you tell your book’s story like never before. You can weave in narratives about the inspiration behind your masterpiece or share behind-the-scenes glimpses of your creative journey. This personal touch establishes a deeper connection with your audience, turning readers into loyal fans. In this section, we’ll explore these advantages in detail, showcasing how A+ Content can be your secret weapon in the world of book publishing.

How to Access Amazon A+ Content in KDP

Accessing Amazon A+ Content in KDP is your ticket to transforming ordinary book listings into captivating showcases. Here’s a step-by-step guide to get you started:

1. Log into Your Amazon KDP Account: Begin by logging into your Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) account. If you’re an author or publisher, you’re likely familiar with this platform.

2. Select Your Book: Once logged in, navigate to your bookshelf, where all your published titles are listed. Choose the book for which you want to create A+ Content.

3. Click on “Promote and Advertise”: Under your selected book, you’ll find the “Promote and Advertise” tab. Click on it to access the marketing and promotional options for your book.

4. Choose “A+ Content Manager”: In the “Promote and Advertise” section, you’ll find various promotional tools. Select “A+ Content Manager” to begin creating your A+ Content.

5. Start Creating Your A+ Content: Follow the on-screen prompts and templates to build your A+ Content. You can add images, descriptions, and other engaging elements to enhance your book listing. You can use tools like Canva to create graphics for your A+ Content.

6. Submit for Review: Once your A+ Content is ready, review it, and make any necessary adjustments. After ensuring everything looks perfect, submit it for Amazon’s review and approval.

7. Monitor Performance: Once approved, your A+ Content will go live on your book’s listing. Monitor its performance through Amazon’s analytics tools to gauge its impact on engagement and sales.

In just a few simple steps, you’ll have unlocked the potential of Amazon KDP A+ Content to transform your book listings into compelling showcases that captivate readers.

Link to the rest at The Book Designer

How to Design a Book Cover that Grabs Readers’ Attention in 7 Steps

From The Book Designer:

What makes a great book cover? It depends on who you ask but most will agree that you just know a great cover when you see it. Love them or hate them, every great book cover design evokes a feeling.

Learning how to design a book cover that sells is more than a skill set or good taste. It’s also developing a listening ear to the needs of your reader. 

The standout qualities of an engaging book cover include:

  • Attention to detail
  • Cohesiveness of elements
  • The feeling it evokes
  • The ability to tell a great story visually
  • Piques curiosity

When it comes to book design, as the author, your opinion matters but it’s not the most important one. 

Book buyers have cover expectations and will bypass your book if it doesn’t fit into their framework or grab their attention in some other way.

You can have the best content in the world inside of your book. But if your book cover doesn’t attract the right audience, or your ideal customer, then it’s not going to get the sales that it deserves.

In the following 7 steps, we’ll look at how to design a book cover that gets buy-in from potential readers:

  • 1. Do the Unexpected
  • 2. Select the Right Fonts
  • 3. Select the Right Imagery
  • 4. Create a Hierarchy of Elements
  • 5. Colors Matter
  • 6. Tell a story
  • 7. Show Sensitivity to the Subject Matter

1. Do the Unexpected

Playing it safe means blending into the crowd. Before you publish your book, you have an opportunity to explore all of the possibilities of great cover design (regardless of budget) to uncover what could make your book a bit more special than the next.

In this article, we touched on how and when to break the rules of genre-based cover design to create something engaging and unexpected. It’s possible to honor the expectations of the genre and still engage your reader in a surprising way. This can be done by reinterpreting the conventions of the genre by putting a creative spin on it. 

. . .

Stay within the basic genre guidelines, whether fantasy, romance, business, or historical. Be open to breaking the rules when you have a good grasp of the whys behind them. 

2. Select the Right Fonts

In most cases, you’ll want to use a maximum of two or three fonts. The right typography can be the difference between a cover that looks sharp and professional and one that looks cheap and homemade, so choose wisely. 

. . . .

3. Select the Right Imagery

When adding imagery to your cover, you can choose between original photography, illustrations, stock photos, or AI-generated artwork. The key is to find an image that reflects the theme of your book and fits the genre.

. . . .

4. Create a Hierarchy of Elements

Move the reader’s eye to where you want it to go by increasing the size of the element you want to stand out the most (e.g., author name, book title, or imagery). Alternative elements to utilize for creating visual hierarchy include contrast and color.

Link to the rest at The Book Designer

PG notes that the OP has many more illustrations than PG has used here as well as several more steps.

He also notes that, contra the old saying, online or in a physical bookstore, everyone makes preliminary judgments about what books they’re going to examine based in large part on the cover. As a general proposition, the human gaze notes images more than text when looking at a wide range of potential choices.

Why Do Writers Use Different Pen Names for Genres?

From BookRiot:

Pen names are nothing new in the world of publishing. Charlotte Bronte of Jane Eyre fame published under Currer Bell; Charles Lutwidge Dodgson published Alice in Wonderland as Lewis Carroll. There are plenty of reasons why someone may elect to use a pen name in lieu of one’s legal name, such as a legitimate fear that the book wouldn’t publish or sell well under a woman’s name; or to protect the writer from retribution for what they wrote.

What I found interesting as a lover of mysteries, especially cozies, is the proliferation of pen names for genre fiction authors. I’ve interviewed several people who have several, if not many, pen names for their books. Sometimes, it seems the pen name was associated with a single series, or sometimes, it may be associated with different genres, from cozy mystery to romance. I decided to talk directly to a few authors to understand their reasons for using pen names with different series.

When I first started working on this article, it seemed like the easy answer was that the multiple names were all due to branding. Ellen Byron, television writer and author of the award-winning Vintage Cookbook series, summed it up best, “If you’re writing erotica and cozy mysteries, you may not want your readers getting those mixed up.”

Several authors noted that the request came from the publishers and editors. Ellen Byron’s publisher asked her to use a pen name for her first series, Catering Hall Mysteries. Olivia Matthews, the cozy writer behind the Spice Isle Bakery series, had written romance suspense and contemporary romances under different names but was advised with her cozy mysteries to use another pseudonym since mystery readers may not want to read anything written by a romance writer.

With Anastasia Hastings, author of the recently published Of Manners and Murder, her pen names were used with different types of genre fiction. For instance, she wrote the Pepper Martin series under the name Casey Daniels, where Pepper Martin sees ghosts. But when she had the idea for a cozy series that took place around antique buttons, Hastings said, “For the same publisher, the publisher was worried if it had the Casey Daniels name on it, people would expect ghosts, so that’s how I became Kylie Logan.”

Some authors make their pen name part of the brand in fun and unusual ways. Hastings has at least 11 pseudonyms. Byron noted that one author has really leaned into her multiple pen names; her website is J.H. Authors (Julianne Holmes, J.A. Hennrikus, and Julia Henry) with the tagline: One Woman. Three Names. Many Books.

Link to the rest at BookRiot

Google sunsets Domains business and shovels it off to Squarespace

From The Verge:

Google Domains has been a quick and easy place to buy a dot com (or dot net, or dot studio, even) for your cottage bakery — but the company is now giving up on the registrar business and selling the assets to Squarespace. The deal includes handing off 10 million domains owned by Google customers to the popular website builder.

In a press statement, Google’s VP and GM of merchant shopping, Matt Madrigal, says the sale is an effort to “sharpen our focus” and that the company plans on “supporting a smooth transition” for its customers being handed off to Squarespace. Madrigal then assures customers that Squarespace, which already has its own domain management plus web building tools, would be the perfect home for customers’ websites. Google Domains first became available as a beta in 2014 and finally came out of beta just last year.

The “definitive agreement” between Google and Squarespace includes assurances that customers will get the same renewal prices available to them for the next 12 months. Plus, Squarespace agrees to provide “incentives” for customers to build their website with the company’s platform.

For some users, especially those who only hold their domain at Google for convenience’s sake (and point it to their hosted website elsewhere), Squarespace may not be adding any value. And as it stands: Squarespace’s domain purchasing process, by design, assumes you’re also building a website from scratch on the company’s platform.

Additionally, customers planning to subscribe to Google’s Workspace enterprise platform and who want to easily buy a domain within that process, too, will now be registering it through Squarespace by default. But if the customer would like to buy the domain elsewhere, they can do that and then link it back to Workspace later.

The deal makes Squarespace the exclusive domain provider for Workspace customers buying domains directly through Google, at least for the next three years. For those who already subscribe to Workspace, and have purchased domains through Google, Squarespace will also be taking over those customers’ domain billing and support services.

. . . .

Google Domains is yet another service the company is sending to the graveyard, at least internally. The company recently shut down Currents, which was a Google Plus offshoot for enterprise. And Google’s cloud gaming platform, Stadia, was also a recent loss.

Link to the rest at The Verge

4 Things Google Domains Customers Need to Know About the Sale to Squarespace

From Tech Republic:

You’ll have a different domain registration vendor

Former Google Domains customers will become Squarespace customers; these customers will need to sign in to Squarespace to modify, add or otherwise manage registered domain name system records. All future domain name renewals will be done through Squarespace.

Domain registration pricing will likely change in the long-run

One significant shift in the longer-run will be the possibility of domain name registration price changes. In the initial announcement, Squarespace asserted it would honor renewal pricing for at least a year, which is helpful because Google Domains tended to offer an excellent value for the price.

Expect fewer partnerships and more promotions

Google Domains made it easy to add and configure Google properties such as Google Workspace, Sites, Blogger or Firebase and also offered streamlined setup with partners that included Squarespace, Shopify, Bluehost, Wix and Weebly. Once Google Domains’ domain registrations are transferred to Squarespace, few of these partner promotions will likely remain; however, per the announcements, streamlined setup of Google Workspace from Squarespace domains will continue. Customers of Squarespace domains might anticipate more promotion of Squarespace website creation tools.

You may want to explore alternatives

The prudent action might be to do nothing: Wait for the transfer, monitor the situation and evaluate any future price changes when they occur. From what is known now, if Google Domains customers do nothing, then all registrations will transfer to Squarespace and pricing will remain stable for a year.

. . . .

[S]ome Google Domains customers may prefer to go ahead and switch to a different registrar proactively. You would need to select an appropriate registrar and then initiate the domain registration transfer process.

For example, a strong candidate might be a domain name registrar that offers Whois privacy, reasonable pricing, published names/profiles of key leadership and organizational experience as a Google Workspace reseller. Published profiles indicate a certain level of willingness from people to accept responsibility for their business actions, while experience with Workspace reselling increases the chance that support teams are familiar with Google’s systems. To that, you might also prefer an easy-to-configure DNSSEC option, as mentioned above. Namecheap.com meets all of these criteria and is worth a look for alternatives.

Link to the rest at Tech Republic

PG suspects he’s not the only person who bought some domains through Google figuring that he wouldn’t have to go through the hassle he had when he had to transfer domains from other internet service providers/domain parking places that went out of business or looked like they might have become a little shady or short on cash. It’s been so long that PG can’t remember the details of the domain transfer hassles, just that he experienced more than a few.

PG has already come across promotions from other website hosting providers targeted at those who have purchased domains through Google.

Over The Decades (Niche Marketing Part 9)

From Kristine Kathryne Rusch:

I’m obsessed with all things Barbie right now. Not because I loved the movie. I haven’t seen it, and am not sure I will. My relationship with the doll is fraught due to some bad childhood moments, and I’m not sure I want to open that memory box all the way in the blues and pinks of Barbie World, no matter how much I like Greta Gerwig, and how subversive and feminist the movie is supposed to be.

Actually, the doll was always meant to be subversive and feminist. Created by Mattel’s co-founder, Ruth Handler, because she noted that dolls for her daughter either encouraged her to be a wife or a mother, Barbie is eternally single, someone who lives her own life.

Experts aren’t sure if Handler’s choice of a risqué German doll as the basis for Barbie was deliberate or not. Barbie certainly didn’t look like the other dolls of that era at all, which always caused controversy.

Barbie was only one small part of Mattel’s company, though. There was the Magic 8 Ball and toys for toddlers (most of which are part of Fisher Price now, and still exist) and other dolls like Chatty Cathy (which gives me the shudders just thinking about it. Dolls and I do not get along, based on long-ago childhood trauma). Hot Wheels and Major Matt Mason and other toys were all in the Mattel lines.

They were all advertised on television, and changed marketing for kids toys forever.

But Barbie, she was a part of the company. Not the whole company. And she was the original niche, something for girls that wasn’t (cough) Chatty Cathy. (God, I hated that doll.)

Barbie always changed with the times. She got a cool house and a nifty if bland boyfriend and her own car and she had her own friends. I only noticed these changes because my own friends had Barbies.

Then Barbie changed. She became representative, not just with friends of color, but Barbie herself was Black or Latina or Asian. She had real careers. I remember walking into Toys R Us back when it still existed and actually walking through the Barbie aisle, looking at all the different dolls.

It wasn’t until the movie came out that I realized how many fashion designers partnered with Mattel to create limited edition Barbies. And how many celebrities asked for their own Barbie. I didn’t realize that Barbie’s promotions had changed over the years, including  a campaign in 1985 titled “We Girls Can Do Anything” with this little tagline:

We can dream dreams and make them come true because nothing’s worth doing that we girls can’t do, your moms know it too. We girls can do anything, right Barbie?

All of these changes made an impact on the doll and on the consumer. I was listening to the NPR Politics Podcast on July 7 and I heard something that brought all of the Barbie stuff to my attention.

NPR’s Politics Podcast ends the week with a segment called “Can’t Let It Go,” which focuses on issues of the week that the reporters can’t stop thinking about. Maura Liasson mentioned that she couldn’t let go of the backlash to the Barbie movie in Vietnam.

The hosts discussed this for a moment, then host Miles Parks asked the others if they were going to see the movie. Liasson said, with disdain, that she was not going to go because “my daughter is now 22 years old and I don’t have to.”

To which host Sarah McCammon responded—not defensively, but strongly—like this: “I don’t have a daughter. I’m going to see it anyway.”

That caught my ear. I knew that Maura Liasson was close to my age. (Actually, she’s older.) She responded with the same tone and forcefulness that I would have used if anyone had asked me. It’s essentially, Barbie? Hell, no.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryne Rusch

PG isn’t certain whether it’s good marketing or nostalgia for girlhood or something more profound, but a lot of people have been writing about Barbie.

Of course, PG is on the wrong side of the gender divide to be in a position to speculate on the true meaning of Barbie, but he’s interested by how much writing by women of all sorts who might not have much in common with each other are being moved to write about the movie and the zeitgeist of Barbie.

#BookTok Helped Book Sales Soar. How Long Will That Last?

From Publishers Weekly:

Adult fiction has been publishing’s steadiest-selling category for the past 18 months. Unit sales of print adult fiction books were up 8.5% in 2022 over 2021 at outlets that report to Circana BookScan, making it the only category to post an increase last year. In the first six months of 2023, adult fiction was once again the only category to register an increase, with sales up 4.2%. The biggest driver of those gains, of course, has been books that have the backing of BookTok.

But a new analysis by BookScan shows that BookTok’s effect on sales is diminishing. The most notable sign of that softening came in July, when, for the first time, sales from the roughly 180 BookTok authors BookScan follows fell compared to the prior year. The 4.5% July sales dip means that year-to-date sales, which had been up by as much as 38% through May, were up 23% through July. (Total adult fiction unit sales have fallen every week since late June and are now up only 1.4% through August 12.)

BookScan analyst Kristen McLean estimates that monthly BookTok author sales comps for the rest of 2023 will be at or below 2022 levels, and that final sales will be close to the 2022 totals, when the BookTok authors tracked by BookScan sold about 47 million copies. In 2020, the first year BookScan tracked BookTok authors, sales for the group totaled 13 million copies, which then skyrocketed in 2021 to 27 million copies.

BookScan also took a look at how BookTok author sales were faring by examining trends within a July 2021 to July 2023 window. In that comparison, sales of adult authors, after increasing 9% between July 2021 and July 2022, were flat in July 2023 compared to July 2022, while sales of young adult authors were down 1% in July 2023 after increasing 4% between July 2021 and 2022.

McLean explained that BookTok author sales couldn’t continue to increase at the rate they had when the platform started to become a major discovery engine in 2020. She noted that books by BookTok authors are facing some of the same headwinds that the industry in general is, including consumers reading less in the period since Covid restrictions were lifted.

Even if BookTok sales are softening, McLean said, it remains the industry’s most important platform for discovering new writers. “BookTok is really, really important for book discovery,” she emphasized, noting that in today’s social media–driven world BookTok is especially important as a place to find books for younger readers. There is one caveat, however: McLean said not as many new authors are making the type of splash that new authors did in 2021 and 2022.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Series vs Standalone: Cage Match

From Chuck Wendig:

No, this is not about Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg MMA-fighting one another in some kind of Douchebag Octagon, though I am certainly sending my prayers to an unforgiving universe that both of them kick each other at the exact same time and in that moment they each explode in a rain of money that catches on the wind and is spread to the four corners of the earth, finding the hands of the needy and not the mitts of the rich.

This is about a conversation that kicked off on Bluesky (god I really want to capitalize the S in BlueSky) by author pals like CL Polk, Max Gladstone, Marshall Ryan Maresca, Elizabeth Bear, Ryan Van Loan, and ultimately perhaps by Delilah S. Dawson, who lamented about those books of ours that have fallen to obscurity despite being loved by us, their wayward creators. (I’ll offer briefly my own lamentation: I wish more people read Atlanta Burns. I really liked that one. Anyway.)

I thought I’d offer some brief thoughts on why I’m largely only going to write standalones from here on out, despite really loving the big meaty toothy goodness of writing a series. This is not meant to be a commandment to you, or marching orders of any kind. It’s just my thinking. Why Em Em Vee.

a) Writing a series is depressing. It just is. By the time you’re writing books two and three (or beyond), you’ve seen the diminishing returns, the reduced support, the general “farty slow leak of the balloon as it orbits the room” vibe. And that’s a bummer. This is not the most important reason, but also, in many ways, it absolutely is.

b) Publishers, in my experience, have a rule that sequels/series releases do not get the same level of support as the initial book that leads that series. It was, I think, initially for publishers a way to “buy in” for a number of books that they can then — in theory, not in practice — coast on. Like, oh yay, we supported the first book, that energy will cascade through the next releases. This isn’t true, of course, and I’d argue they should support the later releases more than the earliest one, because you cannot Magical Thinking your way into discoverability or momentum. But generally that’s the rule: they don’t support the followup releases the same, if at all.

c) Every standalone has a new shot at ancillary rights like film/TV, foreign, or other weirder ones (comics, game, etc.). Sequels/series releases, not so much. If you’ve already sold film/TV to the first, you can’t resell on subsequent releases. Foreign sales will not come for later releases if they haven’t bought into the first. That’s not to say there couldn’t be a build-up from series releases. There could be, for international rights! But in practice, not often.

d) Every standalone is a new shot at discoverability. Discoverability remains, in my mind, one of the greatest challenges for writers. It’s just hard to get seen. It’s hard even as a seasoned writer to tell people, hey I have a book out. The Internet is noise, and increasingly messy and loud (and worthless in its integrity of information). With a series, generally that first book is the one that gets the attention — media reviews, trade reviews, that sort of thing. Followups are just less likely to ping that radar. But every standalone has a shot at finding reach. Not to say it’ll get it, but it does have a relatively equal shot at the goal. But it feels troubling when you release, say, Book Three of a Thing, and people say, “oh I didn’t know there was a Book Two.” That is definitely scream-into-a-pillow time.

Link to the rest at terribleminds

The rise of BookTok titles has meant less visibility for other titles, whether they’re longstanding authors or debuts.

From The New Publishing Standard:

“The rise of BookTok titles has meant less visibility for other titles, whether they’re longstanding authors or debuts.”

That’s per a post in The Guardian this weekend that takes yet another look at the BookTok phenomenon, happy to report easy-come quotes, but as ever short on analysis for what it means for the industry.

. . . .

“Groups of teenage girls regularly gather (in Waterstones Piccadilly, London) to buy new books and meet new friends, both discovered on the social media app TikTok.”

. . . .

Caroline Hardman, literary agent at the Hardman & Swainson agency: “It’s driving the appetite for romance and ‘romantasy’ in a really big way, so it’s having a strong effect on what publishers look for too.”

“When traditional publishers try to muscle in on the BookTok market, it never seems to work out quite the same way as an organic, viral recommendation.”

“BookTok is overwhelmingly a factor in Gen Z reading habits. In a poll of more than 2,000 16- to 25-year-olds, almost 59% said that BookTok had helped them discover a passion for reading. BookTok and book influencers significantly influence what choices this audience make about what they read, with 55% of respondents saying they turn to the platform for book recommendations.”

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

Stop the world, I want to get off!

Boo Hoo. Publishers can’t figure out BookTok, so authors who are under contract with clueless publishers have next to zero visibility for the most likely purchasers of the latest .

It’s social media. TikTok will be old news some day, but social media is an important fact of life for this quarter’s revenues if you’re trying to sell to demographic groups who spend a lot of their time and get a lot of information, including information about what books are cool from social media.

BookTok sells way more books than The New York Times does, so all the times various publishers have taken the NYT book review editor to an expensive lunch don’t mean anything anymore. Besides, 95% of teenage girls have never read the New York Times or any other newspaper. They also don’t read print magazines targeted toward teenage girls.

When your readers have moved online, you better get online savvy or hire online savvy in a big hurry. That Mount Holyoke freshman who is an unpaid summer intern probably knows more about social media than the rest of the marketing department combined.

Some of the influencers on TikTok make money by promoting various products. Have your intern find out who they are and what they would charge to hype your next romantasy release and hire a few.

See what happens to sales on Amazon (because the outdated and weird publishing supply chain to book stores will take far too long to report how many books are being sold in bookstores and not returned and BookToker viewers are unlikely to spend a lot of time in bookstores anyway).

If a BookToker sells some books, send more books and more money and repeat. See, social media can be your friend after all.

What it like to be a Disabled Writer?

From Book Riot:

As a writer who lives with chronic illness, I can confirm first-hand that there are many advantages in writing as a career for disabled writers. Working from home has been a huge help in managing my fibromyalgia — being in front of my laptop in my own environment, instead of commuting to an office, means I’m much less tired and helps me avoid triggers for my chronic pain. Removing the stress of a commute (and the inbuilt possibility of train delays or cancellations, as well as the inevitability of being squashed in the middle of a crowd) means that one of the major triggers for my anxiety is no longer a factor in my daily life. Writing allows you to choose the environment you work in, set your own hours, and take breaks when you need to.

There are a huge number of writing programmes that make writing more accessible, such as speech to text software, or assistive technology for people with dyslexia. Looking at the historical literary landscape, there are many famous disabled writers who have had a huge impact on the world of books. Lord Byron had a limb difference, while Rosemary Sutcliff was a wheelchair user as a result of juvenile-onset arthritis. Dostoevsky lived with epilepsy, Octavia E. Butler was dyslexic, and George Bernard Shaw had ADHD. In the modern day, we have writers like wheelchair users Alice Wong and Frances Ryan, Sara Nović, who is Deaf, and Holly Smale, who is autistic. All of these writers, working in a variety of different genres and eras, have changed the landscape of writing and have done so as disabled writers.

But is being a disabled writer easy? Far from it. Even though writing has the advantage of being more accessible than many other kinds of work for people with mobility issues, and the ability to work from home in one’s own space can be a huge advantage for anyone who doesn’t fit the neurotypical mould, this doesn’t mean that there are fewer barriers for disabled people in writing than there are in other fields. While there are many disabled authors, they are still underrepresented, and the writing world still contains a huge number of barriers that affect accessibility. As noted by Claire Wade, the founder of the Society of Authors’ Authors with Disabilities and Chronic Illnesses Network, ‘Being an author can be a lonely and isolating experience. Being an author with a disability or chronic illness is doubly isolating’. Financial barriers also exist — setting up a disability-friendly home office takes cash that many disabled writers may not have, and self-employed writing doesn’t come with the health insurance or job protections that some disabled writers need. However, writing can certainly be a great career path for disabled creatives who want to tell stories, as I learned not only from my own experience, but from talking to several other disabled writers.

….

While some things about writing make it a great career for disabled people, there are many aspects of the publishing world that are just as inaccessible as other fields. In her article ‘The reality of trying to get your book published as a disabled author’, disabled author Rosemary Richings talks about receiving rejections describing her work, which centres disability, as ‘Not compelling enough for mainstream audiences.’ A survey published in Publishers Weekly showed that 89% of publishing professionals are abled, something that is bound to impact the experience of disabled authors. As with other kinds of marginalisation, the presence of disabled authors can only go so far in ensuring that disability is represented accurately and fairly in literature. If very few publishing professionals have comparable experiences, then there can be an impact not only on the accuracy of how disability is portrayed in books, but also in the experience of the authors working with those publishers.

….

There is still more work to be done, and publishing would benefit from listening to suggestions from disabled authors on how to improve accessibility. For example, the anonymous author I spoke to had a simple, easy-to-implement suggestion that would end the literal sidelining of people with mobility issues at events: “Arrange 10 minutes for each of the celebrities, editors, agents and ‘people everyone wants to talk to’ to sit in the corners and let everyone come to them…That way the disabled  contingent get to feel part of the party and not on the periphery.” However, despite the ease of making this kind of change, many publishing events are reluctant to change the setups they’ve always had.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

Another Example (Niche Marketing Part 7)

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

So, this week, I settled into the trusty writing chair, reviewed what I had on the Grayson novella…and found myself looking up restaurant menus in search of soup (teeth, remember?). I figured I was just distracted, so I went back…and found myself peering at the weather for the next month.

I shut off the wireless, went back to the novella…and found myself organizing the papers on the desk to my left.

Okay, that’s a sign.

I opened a new file, and asked myself what was going on—and my muse had a fist-pounding, tear-streaked, screaming fit about not meeting my July schedule and how she wasn’t feeling like writing a romance since she has no teeth (I have teeth) and how much she admires hardboiled noir fiction and why weren’t we working on finishing the big Fey project?????

I boiled it down further and figured out that what was really going on was that I had planned the Grayson project as a palate cleanser between the third Fey book and the fourth.

Well, that palate has been cleansed, drilled, stitched, and sanitized, thank you. I had promised my muse the Fey in August, and she expected me to deliver.

What does that mean for this post in the blog series? Well, I had thought I would deal with the Santa series. Then I figured maybe I’d poke at Winston & Ruby. (Cat dishes as merch, anyone?)

I had said I would do things that float to the top, and what has floated to the top? The Fey, which is just too big, and frankly, if I make it small as an example here, this post will be filled with spoilers.

So I think I’m going to use this post as an unplanned example of when to leave well enough alone.

My scheduling brain—which comes mostly from my critical voice—had slotted in the Santa Series. I was ready to do the Grayson, if it was short, so that it wouldn’t mess with the Fey.

But, life intervened, the Fey got messed with, and while I know (and love) the new topic for the new Grayson, it’s not what I’m going to write.

I could force myself here to fill out all of the categories that I did in the previous post. I could pretend that I’m going to do the niche marketing on the Santa series.

But I’m not. And I don’t want to confuse the folks at WMG. I probably won’t finish the novella until next year, and by then there will be new things to try and think of, as well as new items that we’ve tested that might be perfect for this series.

I considered using the Holiday Spectacular itself as an example of niche marketing, but we’re not there yet. We’re putting this year’s together, planning the Kickstarter, and figuring out what we want to do there. That won’t hit until October.

It hasn’t floated to the top of my brain yet.

….

I don’t want to be a full time marketer. I’ll wager you don’t either. If I wanted to figure out how to market all of the product that I have, the effort would take me until January, if not longer. And the staff at WMG would work on nothing else.

If I thought my muse was cranky this past week, I’d hate to see her after six months of no writing and just marketing. Oh, I’m not sure this condo building would still be standing…

So this has turned into a different kind of example than the one I expected. This is how you decide to hold your fire on some marketing project because you already have too much on your plate.

It takes some self-examination (and maybe some soup and a glance at the weather for the next month). It takes scheduling. It takes a realistic look at what you can do in the time you have available to you.

It all sounds well and good to do everything all at once, but none of us can do that. Big corporations can. I was overwhelmed by the amount of promotion I saw on the Barbie movie. One of our casinos was bright pink for the release week and had a Barbie theme throughout.

But that was the tip of the iceberg, or the Malibu Dreamhouse or whatever. For the last half of July, everything was Barbie…on TV, in magazines, online, on Facebook…

And since I was thinking about niche marketing, I wondered how someone could do all of this.

Until I remembered that Mattel and Warner Bros. have been working on this for more than a year—and to them, it’s a niche.

Seriously.

Barbie is but one of Mattel’s toys, and the Barbie movie is but one of Warner Bros. offerings this summer.

All of this Barbie stuff went live in June/July and will slowly disappear. The casino looks like itself again, after the promotion.

That’s niche marketing on a grand scale, with dozens of advertising agencies and maybe hundreds (?) of in-house staff working on all of it.

But I’m a single writer with a small company that I share with my husband. The staff we have works on both of our promotions and WMG’s stuff individually.

We couldn’t do a Barbie-sized niche promotion if we tried.

But we can do promotions like the ones I outlined last week.

I think more important than that, though, is learning how to say no. How to figure out what’s important in August of 2023. What we can reasonably do to augment our various enterprises, rather than harm them.

That’s the discussion I had with my very angry muse this past week. My planning brain told me I had enough time to finish that novella and get to all the cool marketing stuff before the Holiday Spectacular Kickstarter. My muse wanted to finish a big project that I had promised her.

The big project won.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Niche Marketing Part One

From Kristine Katherine Rusch:

Niche marketing has existed since the beginning of marketing. Back in the day, though, companies didn’t call it “niche” marketing. These places marketed to their category or their type.

The idea that something could be marketed to everyone was a mid-20th century idea, bolstered by television. When programs went out to 120 million viewers or more every week, the way that Norman Lear’s shows  did in 1976, the idea of placing an ad on those programs was less niche marketing than trying to reach a percentage of that huge audience.

It wasn’t quite marketing to everyone, because advertisers were targeting Norman Lear shows like Sanford & Son and All in the Family, shows that were known for their liberal points of view. But still, the advertisers were trying to appeal to a broad swath of consumers rather than a select group of people who might fall in love with the product.

Now, appealing to a broad swath of consumers is almost impossible. We don’t have many venues—anywhere in the world—where we can advertise to hundreds of millions on a weekly basis. Here in the United States, the only programming that consistently brings in what’s now considered to be a large viewership are sporting events, and even that’s niche.

Most people here watch American football’s Superbowl, not because of who is playing, but to see the ads. Now, the ads play on YouTube and other venues before the big event, so people don’t even have to watch it.

This past week, I watched a lot of hockey, because the Las Vegas Golden Knights made it to the Stanley Cup Finals. The ads were different than they had been during the regular season. Less Vegas centric, and more product centric—anything from certain types of beer to…well…certain types of beer. The Vegas centric ads were less about local products and casinos and more about online sports betting.

Advertisers were aware that they were appealing to a wider audience, one that now included people in Florida, because Vegas was competing against the Florida Panthers. As a result, we also saw a lot of Disney vacation ads and even Disney movie ads.

It’s the job of many people at advertising agencies to make the decisions about how to market to a wide group of consumers and how to target consumers.

Social media created a frenzy for a certain kind of marketing, particularly by using influencers to target a very well known kind of consumer.

I had to laugh, though, as I went deep into the definitions of niche marketing for this blog series—and it will be a series, as I promised last week.  

Niche marketing is what traditional publishing is doing, and doing wrong.

Now, for that statement to make sense, you have to look at the history post that I put free for everyone on my Patreon page two weeks ago.

Here’s some information from that post that’s relevant to this one:

Sixty years ago, traditional publishing’s marketing was 100% niche marketing, geared at bookstores and book distributors. Eventually, the markets expanded outward to include department and grocery stores. But that was still niche—or in those days, targeted—marketing to a specific subset of businesses.

As I mentioned two weeks ago, traditional publishing is built on a Business to Business model (B2B). You’ll note that the targets above are all other businesses, not consumers. Up until the 1990s, it was the job of regional distributors to know what each bookstore and each grocery store needed for their racks.

I distinctly remember a regional distributor tell me that a certain Canadian fantasy writer was a bestseller in the America South, but that they couldn’t give his books away in Oregon.

That’s niche marketing on a B2B level.

It matters a lot less now to have B2B marketing in books. There are very few brick-and-mortar bookstores left. The online stores have infinite shelf space.

Writers have been relying on the algorithms of those online bookstores to target readers for their books, but the writers don’t know how to go about it. As Amazon and Google ads lose their effectiveness because the European Union (and other places) have policed them for privacy violations, writers have to figure out their own way to market to consumers.

The problem is writers in particular are stuck in the old traditional ways of doing things. Even the pioneers in modern book marketing are relying on the old traditional model.

When you see the gurus talk about marketing, they’re talking about marketing to a large swath of readers, rather than finding the right readers. Even when they’re discussing things like drilling down in Amazon ads to the also-boughts or a reader who might like a different book similar to yours, these gurus are still thinking like traditional publishers.

Ten years ago, I started up a series of newsletters. That was back in the day when writers were gathering 50,000 names on their newsletters with free promotions and giveaways and other gimmicks that would bring in names.

Those gimmicks died down, particularly when writers realized they had to pay for those names of people who signed up for free. Those people wanted the free book or the chance to win an iPad. They didn’t give a rat’s stinky behind about what book that writer promoted two months later, just like I didn’t care about the various kinds of beer pitched to me during the fifth game of the Stanley Cup finals, as Vegas dominated its way to victory. Those ads were wasted on me.

. . . .

Since I designed marketing ten years ago with my reader self in mind, I created different newsletter lists for my different pen names. I also created newsletter lists for my various series. I did the same with websites, although I let some go fallow. (That will change in the next six months as well.)

The gurus jumped all over me, telling me that I was wasting my time and energy and I should combine all of those lists into one giant list.

Well, I have one giant list. It’s for people who like all of my work. That’s the Kristine Kathryn Rusch list. It’s about three times bigger than my biggest list for a series. But if you take all of the pen names and all of the series and combine them, then I have way more names than I do on the Rusch list.

I don’t do that. I’ve promised readers that if they subscribe to, say, the list for my Diving series, they’ll only get news about my Diving series. I don’t bother them with information about any of the other series.

If I look at the weekly stats for my newsletters, I find it’s not uncommon to see someone unsubscribe from the Rusch newsletter and then turn around and subscribe to one of the series newsletters. Why? Because about every third Rusch newsletter, I remind people that they can get information targeted to the series that they’re interested in.

That, my friends, is niche marketing. To consumers. Who are self-selected.

A lot of those gurus who yelled at me are out of business now. They had 50,000 names on their newsletters, but only about 50 of those names were from people who liked their work.

Growing a readership is painstaking work. You tell good stories, let your readers know where they can get more stories like that from you, and ask them to join your newsletter so you can keep them informed about what you do.

You don’t goose the numbers. You let the readers come to you—after they’ve sampled your work.

The definition of niche marketing is this: You promote your products to a specific, well-defined audience. That audience is usually small, but it can be very loyal.

That loyalty will help you build your brand.

Link to the rest at Kristine Katherine Rusch

The Merch-ification of Book Publishing

From Esquire:

to your local bookstore, hitting the library, or logging on to Amazon. For others, however, it involves opening up a thoughtfully designed box that includes a copy of the book, alongside gifted items like a custom tote bag, a scented candle, beauty products, and maybe even a box of tea. If you’re a book influencer, the latter is often the case.

One might say that Sally Rooney started it all when it comes to covetable book merchandise that takes over the internet, though she’d likely reject that attribution. I anxiously awaited the release of Rooney’s latest novel, Beautiful World, Where Are You back in September 2021. I placed my pre-order at my local bookstore because, at the time, I thought that this was all a reader could do. Oh, how wrong I was! Leading up to publication day, I started seeing authors, journalists, and generally cool internet people post about the Beautiful World tote bag and the Beautiful World bucket hat and even the Beautiful World umbrella. Although sometimes, as a writer, I receive an ARC or a promotional bookmark (for these, I am grateful), I knew there was no way I was getting my hands on any of that premium merch. Instead, I showed up at a coffee cart pop-up in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, (sponsored by AirMail and Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, Rooney’s publisher) and won myself a tote bag the old fashioned way—by answering a Rooney-themed trivia question correctly. (“What’s the most commonly consumed beverage in the world?” Tea, of course).

In the months after the book’s release, the tote was often a conversation starter around New York City. When I stopped by a bookstore, sometimes I’d get a comment from a bookseller about the merch frenzy. A few writer friends asked how I managed to get my hands on one, while strangers who didn’t know about the book even commented on its beautiful design. It was a noticeable reaction for a simple canvas bag. In the year and a half since Beautiful World and the merch-induced frenzy of its release, the promotion of books via social media marketing and influencer relations has become even more elaborate. Now, many publicity and marketing campaigns are created with influencers in mind, with TikTok video-worthy PR boxes and branded swag that’s designed to create a social media moment upon a book’s publication. The question, then, isn’t if influencer culture is changing book marketing and publicity, but how.

mma Cline’s latest novel, The Guest, published on May 9. In preparation, Cline’s publisher, Random House Books, distributed advanced reader copies (ARCs) to book influencers, packaged alongside a tube of Supergoop sunscreen, a box of Tate’s Bake Shop cookies, a pair of sunglasses color-coordinated to the book’s cover, and a handful of other goodies, all aptly themed around the novel, which takes place at the end of summer on the East End of Long Island. The influencer mailing also came with a coveted Random House Books tote bag. Marisa Gates, the content creator behind the TikTok account “smallcasualbooktok,” posted a 15-second-long video displaying the contents of the box in February, remarking that The Guest is her most anticipated book of the year. The views, and the enthralled readers in the comments, quickly followed.

“I wish all books came like this,” read one comment. “I have never been more jealous of anyone ever,” read another. Gates, who later posted a full review of the novel in a separate video, never anticipated that her platform would grow to this size, or that she’d receive these types of responses. In fact, she told me that, “as someone who is anti-capitalism and [anti-]overconsumption,” her goal when starting her account was to show how one can build their book collection by using the public library and buying books secondhand. After nearly two years on TikTok, she now has nearly 6,000 followers on the platform. Book publishers frequently pitch her on forthcoming titles to review, which are often sent with accompanying swag, including items customized to reflect a book’s title or cover art, as well as related products from other brands that fit with a book’s theme, e.g. the Tate’s cookies, a brand founded in Southampton, N.Y.

Link to the rest at Esquire

PG has his doubts about how effective videos are for selling books, but is happy to hear/see information that shows videos, separate and apart from other advertising/promotion activities do move the sales needle.

There’s also the platform issue. If ten people view the video, creating it was a waste of time.

Should an author spend substantial time and effort to develop and grow a large online presence as opposed to working on another book? What about paying a successful BookToK influencer to advertise/plug the book?

https://www.tiktok.com/@smallcasualbooktok/video/7195303551206280494?lang=en

8 Mistakes You’re Making on Your Author Website

From Writers in the Storm:

The best author websites are often the most simple. You don’t need flashy fonts or expensive designs.

Overcomplicating your website with these pricey add-ons can often lead to the opposite of what you’re expecting: fewer sales.

Here are eight common mistakes authors make on their websites and how to avoid them to get better sales on your book.

1. Your Home Page Doesn’t Have a Goal

Yes, you want to sell books, but is that all?

Speaking events, media attention, online courses you’ve created, an upcoming second book, are all things you might wish to promote on a website.

Consider the toothpaste aisle at your local grocery store. Lots of options, lots of different tubes of toothpaste and you know what? It’s overwhelming.

This is decision paralysis, and it can cost you sales.

If you’ve written non-fiction that’s tethered to you or your business, then your primary goal for the homepage likely won’t be selling your book. The goal is probably to get people to use your company, sign up for your consulting, or book you for speaking.

If your book is fiction, then yes you want to have your book on the homepage, but selling your book from the homepage isn’t the top priority either.

Honestly, when was the last time you bought a book off an author website? Probably not recently unless you personally knew the author or are an extremely avid fan. For this reason, I’m going to suggest having a mailing list sign up front and center on your website.

You’ll convert more consumers into fans, followers, and newsletter subscribers and yes, this will also help convert buyers.

2. Your Text is Too Wordy

I’ve evaluated hundreds of sites and in almost 90% of the cases the reason a site isn’t converting a visitor to a customer is because of the copy.

How do you know if your copy isn’t working? Well, let’s look at some of the biggest issues.

Too much copy: Try to keep your copy between 250 to 100 words, or less if possible.. Make your pages, and your paragraphs, easily digestible and skimmable.

Unfocused copy: Cut right to it and tell your visitors what you have to offer. Be up front about it. Don’t waste precious webpage space on a full paragraph about your dog (maybe unless your book is about your dog). This is your first impression, and those matter.

Requiring the consumer to scroll: Consumers need a really good reason to scroll and even then, it’s pretty iffy. Maybe you have a big banner at the top of your website, and all the books you’ve written scroll along that banner – it’s so pretty, right? Well, sure it is, but now you’re asking potential readers to scroll to get to the good stuff. Sadly, most won’t.

3. Your Site Doesn’t Mimic Retail Sites

Notice how your eye scans the page on popular retail sites like Amazon

If you’re like 99.9% of consumers, you scan websites in a Z fashion. This means that your eye starts in the upper left-hand quadrant (so where your book cover is) then scans the book title and finally lands on the price, before the eye wanders down the page.

So what does this mean for your website?

Well, consider what’s in your upper left-hand quadrant, what’s across the top, and what’s on the right side. If there are no calls to action and nothing incentivizing your consumer to stay longer, learn more or sign up for something that benefits them in some way, then you’ve wasted a very valuable opportunity.

4. Your Site Isn’t Mobile Ready

Your last online purchase was probably made on your phone, right?

Google has even updated its SEO triggers to include mobile optimization. This essentially means if you don’t have a mobile version of your website, you likely won’t come up in search.

Keep in mind that even if you don’t care about being found on Google, non-mobile websites are much harder to read and navigate on a small screen. While it’s important to appease Google, it’s also important to make sure your consumer isn’t sent to something they can’t read or navigate through.

So I always pull up author websites on my phone when I’m doing evaluations, and I encourage you to do the same.

5. You Give Too Many Options

Ideally, you should have only 4-5 choices in your main navigation, and then drop downs under each if you really have a lot to offer people.

Author websites that give consumers too many options at the jump drive away sales. Visitors don’t want options, they want answers.

If you want them to spend time on your site, make your navigation easy, clear, and prioritize their time in smart ways. Don’t give irrelevant options that get them off track or drive them away entirely.

This goes back to decision paralysis. Don’t just promote everything equally and let your buyer choose, tell your buyer what they need.

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

Microsoft Designer

From Microsoft:

Creativity is more important to individuals than ever before. This reflects a trend that has added more than 165 million creators to the global creator economy in just the last three years.1 As a result, people demand tools that help them to be both productive and creative. Microsoft 365 strives to empower individuals to achieve great things by constantly evolving our products to meet their changing needs. We continue to demonstrate this commitment with new tools that help unleash creativity and imagination by enabling any type of digital ideation and creation—no professional skills required. Today, we’re excited to announce we’re removing the waitlist and adding an expanded set of features to the Microsoft Designer preview. With new AI technology at the core, Microsoft Designer simplifies the creative journey by helping you get started quickly, augment creative workflows, and overcome creative roadblocks.

From ideation to creation, Microsoft Designer is built to assist you at each stage of the creative process. As we originally announced in October 2022, Microsoft Designer can help quickly create stunning visuals, social media posts, invitations, and more using cutting-edge generative AI technology. Since October, the AI models have steadily improved, and we’ve worked to weave these powerful capabilities throughout the Designer canvas in even more delightful ways while keeping you in control. Moreover, for those moments of inspiration that strike while browsing the web, Designer is one click away within the Microsoft Edge sidebar. The seamless integration of Designer in Edge marks the first step in this journey. We’re excited for future integrations to come.

Spark new ideas and unleash creativity in less time with Microsoft Designer

Designer leverages cutting-edge generative AI technology to assist and empower every person to get started on new ideas, create unique and high-quality graphics in less time, and uplevel content, with or without a background in design.

. . . .

Get started with your ideas in Designer by simply describing what you want. Powered by generative AI technology, get one-of-a-kind images, including accompanying text and visuals, and design suggestions to meet your needs.

Link to the rest at Microsoft and thanks to F. for the tip.

PG generated a video Instagram post for Mrs. PG’s latest book below. PG didn’t try to persuade MS Designer to create its version of the F.O., however, and he didn’t find out how to insert a link to her Amazon book page or make the video run automatically.

After the first video, a series of other spinoffs based on the first one appeared. PG copied and pasted one below.

And another variation.

And another:

And one last Instagram Post: