Books & Such Literary Management http://www.booksandsuch.com Fri, 31 Jul 2015 07:21:38 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Summer Reading Report http://www.booksandsuch.com/blog/summer-reading-report/ http://www.booksandsuch.com/blog/summer-reading-report/#comments Fri, 31 Jul 2015 07:21:38 +0000 http://www.booksandsuch.com/?p=25129 Blogger: Rachel Kent

I’m off on my camping trip this weekend and I’ll be digging in to Lizzy & Jane by Katherine Reay. Finally! I’ve done a lot of reading already this summer, but most of the books have been …

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Blogger: Rachel Kent

I’m off on my camping trip this weekend and I’ll be digging in to Lizzy & Jane by Katherine Reay. Finally! I’ve done a lot of reading already this summer, but most of the books have been pre-published. There are so many good ones and I can’t wait to see them in print.

That is one of the interesting parts of my job as an agent. It’s hard to find time to read published books! I have a gigantic stack of them and I move through them, but much more slowly than I’d like to.

What have you been reading this summer? What is the best book so far?

How many books have you read this summer?

Please post the number of books you have read below (along with any other summer reading updates) and I will send a copy of Karen Barnett’s Beyond the Ashes to a randomly-selected reader when I get back from my camping trip.

bta

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Test Your Reflexes http://www.booksandsuch.com/blog/test-your-reflexes/ http://www.booksandsuch.com/blog/test-your-reflexes/#comments Thu, 30 Jul 2015 07:01:34 +0000 http://www.booksandsuch.com/?p=25121 Blogger: Mary Keeley

I have a theory. People’s reactions to a novel or Christian living book, movies, and to what we hear are as individual as the people themselves. Small details in what you watch or read may strike a …

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Blogger: Mary Keeley

I have a theory. People’s reactions to a novel or Christian living book, movies, and to what we hear are as individual as the people themselves. Small details in what you watch or read may strike a chord for you but go unnoticed by others. My theory is that these nuanced differences, if appropriated effectively and consistently, help writers to find their unique voice, their passions, and even to lend clarity to their brand. Whether you’ve never thought about doing this exercise or haven’t done so in years, today is your opportunity to test your reflexes and analyze them.goalkeeper-reflexes

We spend many days overwhelmed with work and life. I look forward to reading after I shut down my laptop for the night. I have a stack of books on my nightstand that I’m reading, but so often my brain does not shut down. Tomorrow’s schedule and to-do list scroll—march—across the back of my mind. Can you relate? It’s no wonder we miss registering subtle details of our reflex reactions that are unique to us.

Here is the way the exercise will work. Think about two movies and two books, TV or radio programs, or social media posts that have stuck with you because you either liked or disliked something about them. I’ll start us off with an example.

The movies Hunt for Red October and Seabiscuit endure as two of my favorites. I choked inwardly when Jack Ryan jumped from the helicopter into the ocean to get aboard the submarine, because I share his dread of turbulence and I’m not a great swimmer. And my stomach turned at the abuse Red Pollard suffered without his family during depression-era survival. But what resonated with me in both movies was the intelligence of the characters, the way they comported themselves, and their dialogue. The scene in which Ramius and Bart Mancuso debate how to respond to the torpedo coming at them was sublime. The way Red Pollard found pleasure in his books amid the depravation of the Great Depression, the understated instincts of Tom Smith, the horse trainer, and the quiet dignity of both of them were particularly appealing. A common thread in those movies is that the characters learned from each other. I love learning, and I love dignity. Those details are what resonated with me. That’s just me. You might have had little reaction or completely different reactions to these movies. That’s okay. It points to our unique values.

Now it’s your turn. Answer the following questions and then share with us what you discover. Be sensitive to nuances you haven’t noticed up to now.

What kind of reaction did you have to each of them?

  • Emotional (compassion, joy, admiration, sympathy, anger, impatience, disrespect, distrust, negative reaction to something about the setting, and so on)
  • Thoughtful (logical, agreement, appreciation of a new perspective, truth-doubting, disagreement, distrust).

Most of us recognize these readily, but the next question delves deeper.

Why did you react this way to each of them? Go below the surface to identify specific details triggering your reaction.

  • An additional detail you didn’t pick up on until you delved deeper
  • Something relating to your personal experience

What are the common threads? Here is where you’ll find insights that set you apart as an author and should be applied to refine your brand.

Share what you discovered or confirmed about your unique values. Have you been applying them in your writing already? I look forward to your comments.

TWEETABLES:

Busy with work and life, writers overlook insightful reflex reactions that define their uniqueness. Click to Tweet.

Test your reflexes to what you see, read and hear, and discover nuances that set your writing apart. Click to Tweet.

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Never Self Promote http://www.booksandsuch.com/blog/never-self-promote/ http://www.booksandsuch.com/blog/never-self-promote/#comments Wed, 29 Jul 2015 05:01:23 +0000 http://www.booksandsuch.com/?p=25109 Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

In my experience, most authors dislike the idea of self-promotion. Also in my experience, people (including authors) don’t enjoy the constant barrage of promotion surrounding us at all times. People don’t want to be sold to. People …

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Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

In my experience, most authors dislike the idea of self-promotion. Also in my experience, people (including authors) don’t enjoy the constant barrage of promotion surrounding us at all times. People don’t want to be sold to. People are tired of marketers trying to change their minds, and advertisers hyping products.

You already know this, and it’s why self-promotion feels wrong. And I imagine this is why you don’t like it.

I think there are other reasons we dislike self-promotion. Maybe we just want to write, and anything else feels like it’s outside our gifting and our interests. Maybe we find it confusing and frustrating because nothing we do seems to make a difference or get any kind of noticeable results.

megaphoneIt could be that the idea of “self promotion” is simply distasteful to us—as Christians, and as humble, (slightly) introverted writers. Self-promotion doesn’t feel like an honorable thing. We’re not supposed to be braggy. We’re not supposed to speak highly of ourselves.

Self-promotion doesn’t feel right. And it doesn’t work.

Perhaps we need to look at marketing our books differently. What if we let go of the notion of self-promotion, and understood that what we’re doing is not so much marketing or promotion or selling

—but sharing something valuable with the world.

We, as writers and marketers, are offering people something they want, or something they need.

Marketing isn’t about shouting “look at me” or even, “buy my book!” but rather it’s about adding value—to your readers’ lives, and to your life. We don’t need to tell people what they want or what they need, but simply share our offerings, and know that the people who want it, will come.

It makes sense that promoting your books would be much more difficult if, deep down, you believe it’s an activity that is a waste of your time and talent, or not an honorable activity. But when you promote your books, you’re doing what is necessary in order for your message to spread in the world. You’re making a contribution to the world.

And when you’re able to see what you do as inherently good, and you feel the goodness of it, you’ll avoid hype and creepy self-promotion tactics, and your genuine enthusiasm will draw others in.

You have something valuable to offer. Maybe it’s a story that will entertain and inspire. Maybe it’s a work of nonfiction that will improve someone’s habits, or enhance their faith, or change their very life.

Promoting your books is all part of the same goal – sharing something valuable with people who would enjoy it and benefit from it.

There’s a book by Rabbi Daniel Lapin called Thou Shall Prosper, and in the foreword, Dave Ramsey discusses the idea that money is so much more than we think it is. He says “money connects two dreamers.” And you know, a book connects two dreamers, too. The author and the reader, both dreamers, get to share the dream in the form of a book. This is something amazing you’re offering the world! The chance to share a dream!

Isn’t it much more fun to look at promoting your books as “sharing a dream” instead of simply checking a box – doing a necessary evil?

I suspect that if you can develop the mindset of sharing a dream, along with mastering some tools of book promotion, you’ll be able to move from the idea of “self promotion” to the idea of offering something valuable to the world, making it much more palatable to promote your books.

What do you think? Could it be possible to embrace book promotion through a simple change of mindset?

 

TWEETABLES

Dislike self-promotion? This post is for you. Click to Tweet.

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Image copyright: BDS / 123RF Stock Photo

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Author Tour http://www.booksandsuch.com/blog/author-tour/ http://www.booksandsuch.com/blog/author-tour/#comments Tue, 28 Jul 2015 08:00:10 +0000 http://www.booksandsuch.com/?p=25084 Blogger: Wendy Lawton

Last week I promised I’d write more about the multi-stop author tour. It sounds like a dream come true to those just embarking on a writing career, right? A whistle stop trip through the countryside, stopping at …

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Blogger: Wendy Lawton

Last week I promised I’d write more about the multi-stop author tour. It sounds like a dream come true to those just embarking on a writing career, right? A whistle stop trip through the countryside, stopping at stores, book clubs, libraries and literary venues along the way. Rooms crowded with readers all hoping to get their books signed and listen to their favorite author.  Food, laughs, fascinating people to meet along the way. What could be better?

Reality Check #1: I’ve been on a number of tours with clients and friends. All those things can be true but there is a far different side to the author tour as well. Debbie Macomber undertook a twenty-day, twenty-city tour to celebrate the release of her book, Twenty Wishes. I talked to her near the end of the tour. She was exhausted. Each day would find her signing books long after the store should have closed for the night. Trying to find something to eat at 11:00 P.M. Falling into bed after midnight only to have the alarm go off at 4:00 A.M. in order to catch the flight to the next city. Doing rounds of drive-time media first thing in the morning. As Debbie said with her trademark humor, “If I knew how grueling this would be, I’d have called the book Five Wishes.”

dreamstime_xs_40439628Lauraine Snelling’s ten-day, twelve-event Someday Home tour was equally challenging even though it was a road trip– no airports  thankfully. One particular day we had three events. The first session was a forty participant writer’s workshop sponsored by a bookstore. The next event was a talk and signing at the bookstore adjacent to the writers’ event. Then driving to a new city a couple of hours away, followed by dinner, a talk and book signing at a Sons of Norway lodge.  That’s a lot of people to talk to in one day. And don’t forget, packing, changing hotels and unpacking more times than one cares to count.

Reality Check #2. Both Debbie and Lauraine invariably have successful tours– standing room only crowds at most stops and book signings that last long past the allotted hours. Will that be the case for most authors? No. In fact, few authors can even get a respectable crowd at a local book signing. So what does it take to have a successful author tour?

  • An outgoing author who loves meeting readers and considers this more fun than anything else he or she can imagine. If the author is just going through the motions, it shows. Readers are simply not willing to drop everything in their busy lives to come meet an author who is not as interested in them as they are in her. Most successful author tours see many loyal readers who’ve attended other events in the past.
  • An experienced venue. The store, library or literary gathering needs to understand how to host a successful event. It takes work and planning. We’ve observed that it is nearly impossible to hold a successful appearance in a big city. Chicago, San Francisco, New York– there’s just too much going on to allow for the kind of crowd that builds synergy. Small towns are the best. Lauraine visited Ulen, Minnesota. The tiny town of 549 souls combined Lauraine’s talk and book signing with a silent auction and wine tasting fundraiser for their historical society. (The wine tasting offered two different wines to try– Sutter Home Red and Sutter Home White.) 105 townspeople came. That’s 20% of the whole town. One of Lauraine’s readers couldn’t believe the success of the event. I scribbled down her words so I wouldn’t forget them. She shook her head in wonder, saying, “This is the biggest thing to happen to Ulen. Authors don’t come to Ulen. And a wine tasting! We’ve never had wine.” I love small towns. An author event in a small town can generate excitement.
  • An author with enough books published to have made a blip on the screen of the reading public. Debbie has written more than a hundred books with 170 million books in print. Lauraine has eighty-nine books under her belt and also tallies copies in the millions. This is a big country. Too few books spread out over too large an area and it will be impossible to gather enough potential readers in any one area to create the crowd that is needed for an exciting event.
  • A regional or special interest following. One of the reasons Lauraine has been so successful with tours and events is that she knows who her readers are. Most of her books are set in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin. A good portion of her novels are about Norwegian immigrants. Lauraine’s readers are easy to find in large numbers. Give her a Sons of Norway lodge or a Scandinavian festival, and she will pack a room. Every year at North Dakota’s famous Norsk Høstfest, Lauraine sets up a whole bookstore and sells and signs more than a thousand books. Julie Klassen, who writes hugely popular historical regencies, has long been involved in all things Jane Austen. Fellow Jane-ites support her and flock to her events. Julie always packs out a Barnes & Noble Store for the launch of a new book. I accompanied her on her author tour to Utah, and we were delighted with the fellow regency aficionados who came to see her– a great special interest following.
  • Something to say. Both Lauraine Snelling and Julie Klassen speak at each event. Julie has done some interesting behind-the-scenes presentations on things like how the covers came to be. At her launch last year she even brought the cover models with her. Lauraine speaks for about an hour at each event, telling the stories behind the books. She generally has her readers laughing and connecting with the antics of her Norwegian characters. Book sales are always brisk for the books highlighted in a talk.

Reality Check #3: Unless the author has a significant mailing list that can be separated regionally, there is no way to easily connect the author’s readers to the specific events. This is one of the reasons we stress that our clients religiously maintain their reader database. If this is the kind of career you hope to build, a vigorous reader database is a must.

Reality Check #4: Few publishers are sending authors on tour these days unless they meet the criteria above. It’s just too expensive and uses up way too much of the marketing budget. Unless there is a significant return on that investment, it’s not a good use of resources. On this last Lauraine Snelling tour, just the airfare and car rental with gas came close to $3000.00. Then add in food and ten hotel nights. Happily, when it’s a success, the lift it gives the book and the author’s career is more than worth the expense.

I’ve only scratched the surface. It’s your turn to chime in. What have you observed in successful author events you’ve attended? Do you have other questions? Got any ideas for the perfect event?

TWEETABLES:

So what makes a successful author tour? Lit agent @wendylawton breaks it down. Click to Tweet

Road trip! Who wouldn’t like to take a multi-city author tour? Click to Tweet

 

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Why I Don’t Want to Read Go Set a Watchman http://www.booksandsuch.com/blog/why-i-dont-want-to-read-go-set-a-watchman/ http://www.booksandsuch.com/blog/why-i-dont-want-to-read-go-set-a-watchman/#comments Mon, 27 Jul 2015 02:21:40 +0000 http://www.booksandsuch.com/?p=25083 Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

What a fuss has been made about the discovery of Harper Lee’s manuscript Go Set a Watchman and its publication!  I’m not eager to read it. Clearly, more than 1.1 million people don’t feel the same …

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Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

What a fuss has been made about the discovery of Harper Lee’s manuscript Go Set a Watchman and its publication!  I’m not eager to read it. Clearly, more than 1.1 million people don’t feel the same about it as I do because they’ve rushed out to buy it as soon as it became available.

What’s my problem?

It isn’t that I haven’t embraced the same warm feelings for To Kill a Mockingbird as has the majority of the U.S. population. The school requirement to read Mockingbird is akin to a rite of passage in America, but unlike so many of the other novels we’re required to read, this one is easily digested–and many find it downright enjoyable.

That was my experience as well. So three years ago, when the book club I belong to decided to read To Kill a Mockingbird, I was pleased. I hadn’t read it since high school, but I had seen the film a couple of times as well as the play version and found both entertaining and touching.Watchman books

Imagine my dismay, then, as I plunged into the book to find it has some significant writing flaws. Reading it after years of being an editor, I saw cracks in it that never would have stood out to me before. I won’t go into all the messy details but point out the two biggest ones.

The first is Scout. We all love her smart-yet-naive view of the world, right? And I suspect every writer today who sets out to create a young girl as a novel’s main character, instinctively turns to Scout for inspiration. But Scout actually is portrayed as a child with an adult voice, a Scout who is looking back at the little kid she used to be. Which, now that we know that’s how Jean Louise Finch was initially conceived by Harper Lee, makes complete sense to me. Lee didn’t manage to rewrite Scout totally from the child’s POV.

The second is Atticus Finch, who is wise, courageous, kind, and fatherly to all of us–and also impossibly perfect. One critic described him as a plaster saint. Could we have a little shading of gray added to his person, please? (For a smart–and uplifting–critique of the book, read this article.)

Okay, so I didn’t love Mockingbird on my second reading of it. Shouldn’t I give Watchman a fair shot at winning me over?

Here’s my problem: I keep thinking about Watchman’s ignominious resume. The manuscript garnered Lee an agent and a publishing contract. But apparently the editor who bought it wasn’t offering a contract because the manuscript was so astounding, but because she spied a gold nugget–the story that became Mockingbird. The best of the book was mined out and created into a work that has become iconic. You can read about the editor, Tay Hohoff, and her work on the manuscript here.

Consider the immense pressure on Lee, Hohoff, and Lee’s agent to come up with a second manuscript after Mockingbird released to astounding success from the get-go. Yet none ever publicly mentioned the possibility of that second novel being Watchman. As the years slipped by, it became apparent that Lee would not provide us with a second novel–but instead insisted there would be no additional novels. Still neither her editor nor her agent seemed to consider Watchman a worthy manuscript to publish, or even to attempt to rework so it could be published.

We’ll probably never know what shenanigans transpired to bring us Watchman, but I’m pretty confident that Hohoff never would have agreed to its publication. And certainly not to its being published with only a light edit. (Every author’s nightmare!)

These factors make it clear that Watchman is not the finest Lee had to offer us–that was Mockingbird.

Having said all that as the genesis for my hesitancy to read Watchman, I confess that I know I’ll eventually tuck away my regrets and hesitancy and dip into the book. Here’s why: The editor in me is eager to examine the work. And that editor is glad the publisher didn’t fuss over the manuscript; I want to see it in as rough a state as possible. And writers of fiction should want to read it for the same reason; I suspect there’s much to be gained in studying how Watchman was transformed into Mockingbird.

When I do settle in to read it, I’m also going to keep in mind Billy Coffey’s perspective on the book. Coffey, whose own writing is really fine, responded to the unrealistically heroic nature of Atticus Finch in a beautiful way that I intend to mirror. With relief that, at last, we can meet an imperfect Atticus. You can read Coffey’s article here.

Now, tell us, will you (have you) read Go Set a Watchman? Why?

TWEETABLE

Why you should/shouldn’t read Go Set a Watchman. Click to tweet.

Why novelists should read Go Set a Watchman. Click to tweet.

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Two Types of Writers http://www.booksandsuch.com/blog/two-types-of-writers/ http://www.booksandsuch.com/blog/two-types-of-writers/#comments Fri, 24 Jul 2015 07:01:36 +0000 http://www.booksandsuch.com/?p=25074 Blogger: Rachel Kent

At Books & Such, we love all types of writers. But today, I’d like to tell you about two specific types. Each one has its pros and cons.

The first is The Flexible Writer.

The Flexible …

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Blogger: Rachel Kent

At Books & Such, we love all types of writers. But today, I’d like to tell you about two specific types. Each one has its pros and cons.

The first is The Flexible Writer.

The Flexible Writer is the writer we can go to when opportunity knocks. If an editor contacts us with a request or if they are looking for a certain type of project, we know we can go to The Flexible Writer and he/she will be able to do the job well and get it done on time. The Flexible Writer can often take on work-for-hire projects and/or collaborations in addition to their own writing.

The big concern with The Flexible Writer is that he/she might fall into the unbranded trap. Sales figures and even reputation can be hurt by this. Publishing houses might refuse to work with The Flexible Writer if he/she is stretched in too many directions. And The Flexible Writer can hurt sales by marketing too many completely different projects to one audience.

The second type of writer is The Focused Writer.

The Focused Writer knows what he/she writes. He/She will always write in a single genre and does very well with it. This type of writer is very branded and can easily market to his/her audience because the audience is following the writer because they are interested in a specific type of book. Everything should be smooth sailing for this type of author, except for the fact that…

Genre interest waxes and wanes.

The Focused Writer could be in trouble if the interest for his/her genre disappears for a time. A lot in publishing tends to be cyclical, so the interest in the genre most likely will return, but no one knows how long it could take.

I have both flexible and focused writers as clients, and I am very happy to represent both types. I love ’em!

Do you see yourself as one of these types? Or are you a mix of the two or something completely different?

How could a Flexible or Focused writer work to overcome the downside of their type?

Are there any downsides I missed?

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4 Tips for Recovering from a Poor First Impression http://www.booksandsuch.com/blog/4-tips-for-recovering-from-a-poor-first-impression/ http://www.booksandsuch.com/blog/4-tips-for-recovering-from-a-poor-first-impression/#comments Thu, 23 Jul 2015 07:01:20 +0000 http://www.booksandsuch.com/?p=25064 Blogger: Mary Keeley

We’ve all done it. We say or do something that comes across all wrong, confirmed by the comments or expressions we get in response. Don’t be too hard on yourself because it won’t be the end of …

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Blogger: Mary Keeley

We’ve all done it. We say or do something that comes across all wrong, confirmed by the comments or expressions we get in response. Don’t be too hard on yourself because it won’t be the end of the world, and only in extreme cases would a single faux pas mean the end of a writing career. I have 4 tips for recovering from a poor first impression, focused on your interactions with agents and editors.

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Decide if it’s worth worrying about.

Maybe you’re imagining your gaffe was more serious than it really was. Talk to your agent or a writer friend you trust to be honest with you if you’re in doubt. And when they, in true supportive fashion, bring an issue to your attention, take it to heart and talk about possible ways to remedy the situation. The next tips will help.

Apologize right away.

A simple apology shows honesty and willingness to own your blunder, rather than trying to cover it up. Feel free to stop and apologize in the middle of your pitch if you started off on the wrong foot. Take a deep breath, explain your nervousness and excitement, and then pick up where you left off. When I see a writer do this well, it impresses me and I remember it.

Project confidence next time, and be yourself.

With every misstep there’s opportunity for a lesson learned. Take this positive approach in order to be more confident in the future, secure in who you were created to be. Be assertive without being aggressive. Recognize when you are nervous and avoid the tendency to talk a mile a minute because you’re uncomfortable with lulls in the conversation. You end up breathless and rattled. I appreciate a momentary lull in a 15-minute pitch conversation because it allows me time to process your information.

A primary consideration going through an agent’s or editor’s mind during a pitch meeting—other than hearing about the writer’s WIP—is weighing the first impression that is forming: This writer looks nervous and is trying to be something he or she is not. I wish I could see the real person. Or, this writer is comfortable and prepared. Most agents and editors will try to put you at ease by asking you an icebreaker question to help diffuse your stress. Inwardly we’re rooting for you and want to help you do your best. After all, we’ve been there too. Agents are the ones pitching clients’ proposals to publishers, and editors are the ones pitching authors’ projects to their pub board, which means we understand what it’s like on your side of the table. This brings me to my number one tip for today:

RELAX.

Many lapses can be avoided when you’re at ease. Your thinking is clearer, and you can process better what the agent or editor is saying to you. Doing these things will help you to be relaxed in your meetings:

  • Craft your 30-second elevator pitch and practice it in a mirror until you can say it naturally with direct eye contact and an easy smile.
  • Practice your pitch out loud until you can say it in your normal conversational tone. Pitch meetings are business meetings so don’t try to be too casual, but don’t be too formal either. You’ll be amazed how hearing yourself speak this way in your meeting will help you to relax.
  • Be prepared with the strong hook for your book (and make sure your book delivers it!). It’s what will get an agent’s or editor’s attention for both fiction and nonfiction projects.
  • Go to the conference prepared with separate files containing the specific materials required by each agent and editor with whom you hope to have an appointment or run into at the conference. It will alleviate cause to get rattled while searching for the right documents in your bag during the meeting.

When did you make a blunder, and what did you do to recover? What do you do to relax before an important meeting? Do you have a tip to add to the list?

TWEETABLES:

Ever have a misstep in a pitch meeting? Here are 4 tips for recovering from a poor first impression. Click to Tweet.

First impressions stick. Here are 4 tips that help when you mess up in a pitch meeting. Click to Tweet.

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The Uproar Over Amazon Customer Reviews http://www.booksandsuch.com/blog/amazon-customer-reviews/ http://www.booksandsuch.com/blog/amazon-customer-reviews/#comments Wed, 22 Jul 2015 05:57:01 +0000 http://www.booksandsuch.com/?p=25058 Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

Go ahead and leave reviews on Amazon for books you haven’t read—no problem! Give a scathing 1-star review because an author dared to include Christian content, that’s okay too.

Just don’t leave a 1- or 2-star review …

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Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

Go ahead and leave reviews on Amazon for books you haven’t read—no problem! Give a scathing 1-star review because an author dared to include Christian content, that’s okay too.

Just don’t leave a 1- or 2-star review for another book in the same genre in which you write. That’s clearly biased and motivated by your competitive nature! And don’t dare write a positive review for any book written by an author whom you’ve ever met online, heard of through the grapevine, or shared a planet with. Amazon frowns on that.

Yes, things are a little wacky over at Amazon, and several Books & Such authors had a lively online discussion about it yesterday.

What’s going on?

About a year ago, the publishing industry erupted when it came to light that online book retailers, particularly Amazon, were riddled with “fake reviews.” Some authors were creating false online personas and giving their own books multiple positive reviews. Others were purchasing positive reviews in bulk from enterprising entrepreneurs willing to write them. Add this to the well-known practice of systematically sabotaging an author by posting negative 1-star reviews, and you can see that the review system was becoming highly unreliable.

Amazon-LogoAmazon cracks down.

Eventually Amazon began removing book reviews it deemed somehow suspect. But this is where the controversy comes in. They’re using algorithms to determine if a review was posted by someone who “knows the author,” and if so, they’re removing the review from the site and sending the reviewer a note explaining they’ve removed it “because your account activity indicates that you know the author.”

What’s wrong with this picture?

In many cases, the reviewer didn’t, in fact, “know the author.” But when the reviewers appealed to Amazon to reverse the decision, Amazon didn’t change their mind and didn’t reinstate the review.  Several people report that further correspondence with Amazon elicited a threat that any further violations of the reviewing policy would result in the book in question being removed from the site.

Can they do this?

Amazon’s Customer Review Guidelines outline a number of things that are not allowed. They specifically disallow reviews “by or on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product.” Using this guideline, Amazon is within its rights to remove certain reviews.

Houston, we have a problem.

Using that guideline from Amazon, every single author writing in the same genre (say… Christian fiction. Or Christian non-fiction…) could be considered “competitors” writing “directly competing products” and therefore, be ineligible to review each other’s books.

Another problem: Amazon is removing reviews with the stated reasoning of, “you know the author.” But I can’t find anything in the Customer Review Guidelines that spells out, “You may not review a book if you know the author.”

An additional problem: Amazon is removing reviews claiming “you know the author,” when in fact, the author and reviewer are complete strangers. And Amazon is not listening to any challenges to their protocols.

And one more: Amazon is removing suspicious reviews, but still leaving plenty of fake and/or damaging reviews all across the site.

Hold on, there might be another way to look at this.

Amazon’s crackdown is certainly not “all bad.” There’s a real need to bring integrity back to the reviewing process. When I’m considering a book on Amazon, I’d like a measure of confidence that those reviews are real—not purchased, not written by the author’s best friend, not written by a jealous competitor. So I do appreciate Amazon’s taking action. However, the uproar is happening because fake and purchased and pernicious reviews remain all across Amazon, while many legitimate reviews are being removed. Many online articles have addressed this, but Amazon doesn’t seem to be responding.

So what should we do?

First, I think it’s a good idea to remind ourselves not to waste energy worrying about the things over which we have no control. So let’s not stress out too much over Amazon as a whole. Let’s concentrate on the areas in which we have some control.

Second, when reviewing fellow authors’ books, always begin your review with a disclosure. For example, “Disclosure: I received this book free of charge from the publisher, but this review consists of my honest opinions, not influenced in any way by the author or publisher.” Or you could say, “Disclosure: I have met this author [or I am represented by the same literary agency as this author], but this review consists of my honest opinions, not influenced in any way by the author or publisher.”

Third, when asking your friends and acquaintances to review your books on Amazon, ask them to use a similar disclosure.

There is some evidence that the reviews containing a disclosure are less likely to be removed than the ones with no disclosure.

Fourth, if you believe your review was wrongly removed by Amazon, write to them and appeal their decision. I think it’s important that Amazon hear from us as much as possible, so that they can work to refine their process.

Want to read more?

Here are a couple of articles: Forbes and New York Times.

What are your thoughts? Have you noticed the lack of integrity in the reviewing system? What are your ideas on how we should respond to this whole situation?

 

TWEETABLES

Let’s take a look at the Amazon customer review controversy. Click to Tweet.

Have you tried to post a review on Amazon of a book written by your friend? Beware! Click to Tweet

 

 

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The Listening Tour http://www.booksandsuch.com/blog/the-listening-tour/ http://www.booksandsuch.com/blog/the-listening-tour/#comments Tue, 21 Jul 2015 08:05:45 +0000 http://www.booksandsuch.com/?p=25046 Blogger: Wendy Lawton

I’m just back from a ten-day, twelve-event Lauraine Snelling Book Tour. We drove 1585 miles, made hundreds of connections and listened to just as many stories. As I posted several of the events on Facebook many commented …

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Blogger: Wendy Lawton

I’m just back from a ten-day, twelve-event Lauraine Snelling Book Tour. We drove 1585 miles, made hundreds of connections and listened to just as many stories. As I posted several of the events on Facebook many commented that it seemed above and beyond for an agent to accompany a client on an extensive tour. It’s not unusual for me– I went with Julie Klassen on tour just six months earlier.

So why do I go, aside from the fun of road trips and the connection with my clients? Why that many days out of the office? And does it take away from my other clients? Absolutely not. It’s one of the most important things I can do. It is The Listening Tour. An agent needs to know what is happening at retail— what struggles the stores are facing. What is working? What can we do to help? What trends do they see on the horizon? As my clients are autographing books and visiting with readers I’m talking to the store owners, studying the shelves, questioning the frontliners– the sales staff. I jot notes so I can remember everything to bring back to our agent meetings. I’m listening. Hard.

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Library patrons, listening to Lauraine Snelling in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota.

The library events are equally important. We’ve met some of the most savvy book lovers among librarians. They know books and they know their patrons. They are pros at answering questions. And they are generous in sharing their expertise. All the time my writer is at work, I’m asking and listening.

The third population I listen to are the readers themselves. I need to know what they are reading, thinking, buying. This is the fun part. Those of us in the industry are many layers removed from the end user. Nothing is more important for an industry professional to get out there and listen. To soak it up.

Next Tuesday– my weekly blog day– I’m going to talk more about author tours. Which authors can be successful at them and which cannot. I’m also going to talk about what makes an outstanding tour. So stay tuned.

Meeting with the Harvest House publisher and editorial team. Listening.

Meeting with the Harvest House publisher and editorial team at ICRS.

The crazy part of this story is that Lauraine’s tour came just a few days after I got home from ICRS– our grueling annual trade show, The International Christian Retail Show. All the agents from our agency attended. Before we ever stepped foot on our airplanes we dubbed this year The Listening Tour. We had projects to pitch and issues to discuss but our primary purpose this year was to sit down with the editors and publishers and listen. What are their challenges this year? What do they need? What trends are they spotting? What’s working and what’s not. We came away a whole lot smarter, equipped to guide our clients to meet the needs of the market and the publishers. It’s all about listening.

Meeting with the Worthy Publishing team.

Meeting with the Worthy Publishing team.

So was it worth it? I’ve slept in six or seven different hotels over the last month, packed and unpacked dozens of times, schlepped half a ton of bookmarks and gifts, driven hours each day, walked miles on convention floors, rushed to and from meetings, grabbed Dairy Queen at 10:00 PM because it was the first chance we had to stop and the only restaurant open, come home to over 500 emails and dozens of phone messages. Was it worth it? Yes! A resounding yes. I’m so much smarter now than I was a month ago– well, at least so much more well informed. I have valuable information to pass on to my clients. Things that can only be known when one sets out to listen. I highly recommend The Listening Tour.

But I’m preaching to the choir, right? If you didn’t believe in listening you wouldn’t be one of our blog followers. Tell us about your own listening tours.

TWEETABLES:

Listening. Lit agent @wendylawton says it’s the most important thing your agent does. Click to Tweet

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When Marketing Goes Too Far http://www.booksandsuch.com/blog/when-marketing-goes-too-far/ http://www.booksandsuch.com/blog/when-marketing-goes-too-far/#comments Mon, 20 Jul 2015 01:00:44 +0000 http://www.booksandsuch.com/?p=25004 Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

I recently saw two marketing ideas that generated a lot of online noise. They did so because they crossed an invisible line–the line that causes potential customers to be repelled.

Both marketing ploys were contests.

The …

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Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

I recently saw two marketing ideas that generated a lot of online noise. They did so because they crossed an invisible line–the line that causes potential customers to be repelled.

Both marketing ploys were contests.

The first one drew such negative publicity that the contest was canceled. Publisher Hachette’s Australian division ran a “tatvertising” campaign for the release of Stieg Larsson’s book, The Girl in the Spider Web. The plan was to select an individual who would have a large image of a dragon tattooed to cover his or her entire back. The “tat” would be used in the advertising campaign. You can read the details here.dragon

But other media panned the idea, as did enough individuals that the publisher decided the campaign was being viewed as “tacky” or worse, as taking advantage of the “winner.” So the tattoo portion of the campaign disappeared, even though the publisher stated the contest had generated a lot of interest from potential tattoo-ees.

The second contest involves the name you bequeath on your baby. BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse, which has 169 restaurants around the country, is offering one lucky couple a $10,000 gift certificate to BJ’s if they are the first to name their baby Quinoa.

“We are so excited to introduce these amazing new Quinoa Bowls that we wanted to do something big, maybe even a little crazy,” Chief Marketing Officer Kevin Maye said in a statement.

Yeah, “crazy” would be the operative word. The contest’s rules specify that Quinoa must be the child’s first name and that a birth certificate must be shown before the gift certificate is bestowed. And if you aren’t the first to do so, well, you’ve just done your child no favors, as that cute little one moves through life as Quinoa.

The writer of The Huffington Post article says, “Personally, we think any sap desperate enough to name their child Quinoa just for a gift card should be rewarded/punished with an endless supply of BJ’s.”

In my online search for articles about the Quinoa contest, I found some favorable to the idea, some neutral, and others, like The Huffington Post, unhesitatingly against.

These two instances are extreme examples of marketing. They beg the questions: What makes marketing effective? What pushes it over the top?

To counterbalance those marketing kerfuffles, in the last month, two of my clients were each asked by their publisher to participate in a specific marketing idea. Both clients said no. One was being asked to do something outside her comfort zone; the other was being asked to step outside his convenience zone–the time of the event required him to rise really early.

Both decisions had a chilling effect on the marketing/publicity team. It’s hard work to find significant marketing opportunities. Hearing “No thanks” rather than “Thank you!” tends to discourage marketing folks. (By the way, one client decided to move beyond her comfort zone and let her publisher know she would eagerly participate after all.)

Authors regularly face the question, Is this important enough for me to do regardless of my hesitancy? (Not that most of them realize that is the question they should be asking.) Fortunately, few authors are faced with whether to have their book campaign include tatvertising.

What do you think Hachette and BJ’s goals were in their contests?

Do you think they succeeded?

What makes a marketing idea distasteful or brilliant?

How do you decide whether to pursue a marketing idea that either you came up or that your publisher suggested?

 TWEETABLES

Two marketing campaigns that crossed the line between savvy and tacky. Click to tweet.

What makes a marketing idea distasteful or brilliant? Click to tweet.

 

Image courtesy of AKARAKINGDOMS at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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