Blogger: Wendy Lawton
Curated books. That’s how we discover books we love. Let me explain.
In this day, discoverability of books is the issue everyone in the publishing community is discussing. With the avalanche of books available today from the vanity pub to self-pub to do-it-yourself publishing to small indie presses to traditional independent publishers, all the way to the Big Five Publishers— there are more more books coming to market than any army of readers can ever discover.
So how do books get discovered, let alone become bestsellers?
The simple answer we always give you is word-of-mouth. We buy a book because someone recommended it. If we love the book we keep buying from that author. But in this changing climate it’s a little more complicated. I think book curators are rising to the top. Just as in a museum or a zoo, the curator is the person in charge– the person who decides what makes it in and what is outside the collection.
Traditionally the publisher has been considered the curator of books. I’ve already blogged about the publisher as a prestige brand. With so many unedited, uncurated books coming to market, my prediction is that readers will eventually begin to realize that a publisher’s name on the spine stands for quality. Having a traditional publisher is an important indicator of curation. When I submit a client’s book proposal to an acquiring editor, the level of scrutiny given to that book sets the bar high. A book that comes from a publisher has gone through an army of dedicated book curators before it ever reaches the shelf.
Bookstore owners and personnel are also curators. The bookstore buyer is very selective in choosing which books go on the store shelves— his very survival depends on it. The bookstore sales staff are also curators. Just ask them to recommend a book and you’ll see. I used to love the way our independent bookstore put tags above a book, saying which staff member highly recommended that book.
Another form of curation is a book club. I just saw a Facebook post by one of the Zondervan editors, announcing which nine books her hometown book club selected for the coming year. The comments were interesting. Several commenters decided to read the same books. After all, they were curated books by a group of book-loving readers.
Reviews have always been another source of curation. With shrinking print media it’s harder and harder to find professional review vehicles but a positive review is a valuable boost to a book. Amazon, Goodreads and Christian Book Distributors reviews are still more forums for book curation. I find I often go these places even after I finished a book to see what others think of the book.
And my favorite curators? My reading friends. I have several friends who have very similar tastes and I’ll often ask them what they are reading. Some of my best recommendations have come from fellow reader, Roxanne Henke, or the editors up at Harvest House, or my good buddy, Janet Grant. And many of my clients are the perfect book curators for me because, after all, I loved their writing enough to offer representation. It stands to reason that we often have similar tastes.
So how about you? Who curates books for you? Are you a curator? Where? And how do you choose which books to read?
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Interesting topic, and I think you’ve hit the circles of curatorial winnowing very accurately.
There is one more circle that might be added – and that is the overarching question of “why we read”; it determines the curatorial circles in which gyres we travel, and the literary “islands” whose shores we ultimately choose to explore.
Richard Bach, in “Illusions”, held that our actions are governed by learning, or the search for entertainment, or both. Not a bad analysis, really, but I’ve lately learned that it’s an oversimplification.
I read to live. (And here, please forgive the personal point of view of the following – I don’t know how else to tell this, and I can see no other POV now. And please excuse the length of the comment.)
Personal circumstance has made fun and learning luxuries that I can no longer afford. I am writing this at 0300, not by choice, but because it hurts too much to sleep. They say I’m going to die, and it won’t be pretty. My doctor’s surprised I’m still here. He’s thinking of writing a paper on it.
I have to find a way to deal with tomorrow, and to find an excuse to keep going, because it is so tempting to stop. Not a suicidal stop, certainly, but a stop that is effectively the first step onto that slippery slope. A stop that gives up on obligations, let alone dreams, because the physical cost is too high.
It would be silly to say that suicide of the soul is equivalent to physical suicide. It’s not, but it is still serious, and there is a point of no return. I’ve seen it, and it’s closer than I would like it to be.
“All the world will be your enemy, and when they catch you, they will kill you.”
So I read for courage.
“But first they must catch you.”
I read to find the paths on which one’s body may be expendable, but which lead to a place where the soul is inextinguishable.
El Deguello is on the breeze. There is no succor anywhere, so these books, these authors that become my friends, are the giants on whose shoulders I stand to fully see the enemy coming over the wall.
These books that come to me give me the high ground.
And they will turn despair and discouragement into Agincourt.
I would think myself accurs’d were I not here. Yes, really…because I know now that however far I fall…like Tigger, I’ll bounce. (Shakespeare and Milne in one paragraph. Either inspired, or nuts.)
My body may break, but from the wreckage – look! – a Phoenix will rise, which will never know defeat.
And that’s why I read.
A short book list…Jason Redman’s “The Trident”, David Bellavia’s “House to House”, James Rowe’s “Five Years to Freedom”, E.B. Sledge’s “With the Old Breed”, Saburo Sakai’s “Samurai!”.
Some poetry, as well, if you like – King Henry’s speech on the eve of Agincourt from “Henry V”, Tennyson’s “Ulysses”, Housman’s “Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries”, and most of all…
Henry Lee’s “Fighting On”. He wrote this in a Japanese POW camp in the Philippines, before he was sent on to the Home Islands…a trip he did not survive. He buried his writings, in the hope that they would later be found, and live on.
“I see no gleam of vict’ry alluring,
no hope of splendid booty or of gain.
If I endure, I must go on enduring
and my only reward for bearing pain – is pain.
Yet though the thrill, the zest, and the hope are gone
something within me keeps me fighting on.”
On the shoulders of giants, indeed!
Thank you for sharing another piece of your heart, Andrew.
You played a role in the decision to write this, Shelli. I have read here, in your comments, that you have the courage and faith to speak on hardship.
I wanted to be honest in putting down something that was hard to say, if it might help others – and to be worthy of standing among the strong and shining people whose word enrich this forum.
People like Wendy, and Janet, and Rachelle, and Mary, and Rachel, and Michelle…and people like you.
Andrew, you always make me cry. 🙂
Lately, when I comment, I try to refrain. You write too much personal, I tell myself.
You bless me.
“We thank God for you and always mention you in our prayers. Each time we pray, we tell God our Father about your faith and loving work and about your firm hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Thessalonians 1:2,3
Praying God’s Grace and Healing over your life, Andrew.
Jim, thank you. With God, and with the care of Christian brothers and sisters – I may lose, but I’m never lost.
My way is well-lit, and my footing is secure.
You speak for all of us, Jim. Amen and amen.
Powerful reason to read, Andrew. How I wish it were not so. Praying for relief for you.
Wendy, thank you – the prayers of people I may never meet are the wind beneath my wings.
It’s a bad place, but it’s not the worst place, because I’ve learned that Jesus’ offer – “I have come that you may have joy, and that your joy may be full” – is, as the use of ‘may’ implies, is truly a choice.
Outward circumstance affects our internal ‘weather’ and emotions, but it’s will and fidelity and honor that control what we choose. I choose life, and I choose joy.
This choice is important in reading, too, and in the choice of our curatorial circles. What we do – all of it – it MATTERS. What we read informs how we live, and what we write informs our legacy.
Even if we never influence another with our reading choices, and even if we’re never published – it’s still our legacy to God, our gift that shows Him what we thought of Him.
And He cares.
I feel, through your vulnerability and passion, that we’ve come to know you in this space, and we are grateful.
Being here is a privilege, Jenni, and a blessing.
With illness, I thought the world would narrow. Instead it’s widened.
I thought I’d be isolated. But I have more friends now than I have ever counted.
I thought the burdens would be more than I could bear.
They are, but others have stepped in to carry them.
Life isn’t good. It’s glorious, and lit by Grace.
I couldn’t stop and comment earlier (getting kids out the door on the first day of school provides an immediate deadline….), but as has already been said, your words inspire me, Andrew. The thoughts and perspectives you add to conversations here and elsewhere uplift, challenge and press me (and I suspect others) to action. Please know you are daily in my prayers.
jeanne, thank you so much. I wish there were words to express the simple gratitude I feel, in being uplifted by good people.
I hope a heartfelt “Thank you!” does the job.
Kathy Boyd Fellure
I learn so much when you share truth from the depth of your heart and soul, Andrew.
In my prayers I ask God for healing and more time for you, and I watch for his answers with praises.
Your courage encourages me. Your intellect far exceeds mine but I feel a closeness as I take your words and thoughts into my heart and soul. I never had a brother but if I did, I would desire him to be like you.
Truth is rare and precious.
Courage is lived moment by moment and touches the lives of more than the warrior ever knows.
I have copied your reading and poetry list to relish.
I will share just a few with you too, in friendship and brotherhood.
I Dared to Call Him Father by Bilquis Sheikh,
No Easy Road by Dick Eastman,
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jaime Ford,
The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay
Bitter – Sweet. A Poem
by J. G. Holland 1858
May you find relief from pain and joy in the simple moments of a day and a night. And many dog licks of pure and unconditional love.
Kathy, you brought tears to my eyes. I’m going to print out what you wrote, for the hard days – and for the good ones.
And for the reading list!
To Wendy, Janet, and everyone at B&S…I hope y’all realize the magic that you’ve created in this forum.
In providing a place where writing knowledge can be put forward and discussed, you’ve made so much more. Perhaps it began as something of an agora, but it’s become a community in which values, hopes dreams, and, yes, fears can be safely shared.
It may simply be a confluence of your personalities and circumstance, but I suspect that the Almighty is rolling on the Golden Streets, clutching His sides and laughing at my lack of vision in saying that.
I think He’s here…because you invited Him in.
I am so glad you are here on this forum, Andrew. It may or may not true that our thoughts and wishes and prayers can actually help heal someone, but know that you have them.
Janet Ann Collins
Andrew, I always get these posts a day late so I seldom post anything, but I want you to know I’m adding my prayers for you to those of everyone else. Thank you for your courage in sharing with us.
Carol McAdams Moore
Teens are definitely curators for their peers. A book might be suggested by word of mouth. It could also be promoted when a popular or respected peer is reading it, a positive form of peer influence.
Right. Nothing is quite as strong during teen years as peer influence.
Your subject is intriguing today, Mrs. Lawton, in that the words curator and curate have a common root.
A curate is responsible for a parish; specifically and fundamentally for the souls in his charge.
Perhaps we should look for curators in the same sense, choosing them with great care since books can so profoundly affect our hearts and indeed our souls?
Wow, Surpreet! Excellent point.
Interesting. . .
I think Andrew hit it … the “why” we read. In my younger years, that was why I read … it was usually a non-fiction that would encourage and grow my faith. After being encouraged to do a Beth Moore Bible study in my 20s, I was hooked. She could make me laugh and cry in one sentence. I told everyone I met about her studies.
And friends … the girls usually hear from friends at church which books are good.
I love reading my fellow writers’ works, whether they are well known or just beginning. That is pure joy.
I have a stack of books going right now … one of middle grade … and one of fellow writers. They both help me in my writing/learning process, as well.
These days with social media, word-of-mouth can be overwhelming, can’t it?
Yes, it can, Wendy! There are so many great books to read. We can’t get to them all …
I finally read The Shop on Blossom Street by your friend. First chapter, I was certain I would not like it … but on the last page, I didn’t want it to end. 🙂
Shelli, I completely agree with you about the thrill of reading my fellow writers’ works.
I just finished Sarah Thomas’ book, which was outstanding, and I recalled how we celebrated on this blog when she became a B&S client.
That’s so sweet, Jenni. You are such a sweet, fun group … I may need to switch gears in writing … I want to be a B&S client!! 🙂 I don’t know if I’ll ever be good/creative enough … but I press on! I’ve learned a tremendous amount on this middle grade work. But I have far to go.
Shelli, I hadn’t thought to ask my guys who their curators are and what they’re hearing are the “good” books to read. I think this needs to become part of our conversations……You got me thinking. 🙂
What an interesting topic, Wendy. I share books I’ve loved with friends. And my front line of curators would be reading friends.
I’ve never thought to read others’ reviews of books I’ve read.
I choose which books to read through friends’ recommendations primarily, but I’ll also pick up a book I hear good things about on blogs. 🙂
One of the reasons I read reviews of a just-read book is to see if some element that bugged me was noticed by others. Ot if others thought this book was as amazing as I found it.
On Goodreads, if I add a book to my read or to read list, I can easily see which of my friends has read it, and their rating or opinion. It’s also easy to send recommendations to friends on Goodreads. Too much fun.
Good points, Wendy. 🙂 I think this will become a new practice for me.
Jenni, this is the second place TODAY I’ve been hearing such good about Goodreads. I think it’s time I seriously check it out. 🙂
I definitely need to take the time to master Goodreads. . .
I keep index cards by my computers at work and at home, and I jot down books that interest me: work-related, about writing and spiritual growth or just for fun. Ideas come from conversations, blogs (especially this one!), emails, articles, websites and webinars. When I’m ready for my next book, I pick one off the list. I do much less browsing at the library, online or in stores, because my list is sooooo long–so many great books, so little time. [sigh]
I keep a running list as well, Shirlee, but then the book has to pass the next test — is it still interesting to me after that time has passed?
Time is another good curator, Meghan.
I hear you, Shirlee. Plus with me when I start to read a book there’s the guilt of all the manuscripts that call for my reading.
I think you’re spot-on with these, Wendy.
I started reviewing books on my blog this year. In the process, I’ve met many other book reviewers. I’ve come to trust the judgment of some of them, and it’s opened up a whole new world of books to me. Before, I tended to read the same authors over and over. This year I’ve found tons of great new authors. 🙂 Fun, fun!
A reviewer becomes known for the quality of his/her reviews as well. When you find a reviewer with your own sensibilities you’ve found the perfect personal curator.
What an interesting thing to ponder! I love all that’s been said here. Similar to Meghan’s comment about time being a curator, I’d add that history is, too. Which books have stood the test of time, or even (as in George MacDonald’s case), which stories were once widely popular, even if relatively little-known now.
For younger readers and their parents, I think the curators can also take the form of teachers, librarians, trusted curriculum sources, and books like “Honey for the Child’s Heart”. During my teaching days, one of my favorite challenges was to help a reluctant reader find a book that piqued their interest and captivated them.
Thanks for the wonderful discussion, Wendy!
How true! History. Yes.
Just yesterday I was talking about this in terms of television and movies, too. I hardly watch broadcast TV at all, so all my Netflix recommendations come from friends. “Oh, you liked Sherlock? You’ve got to watch ____.” If I find I enjoy their suggestions, I go back and ask for more. The same is true with books.
Is that why so many publishers have moved away from book trailers and magazine advertisements? It seems like most fiction is sold via word-of-mouth (book bloggers) these days.
Yes, there’s so much out there we need a recommendation to commit the time to a book (or a television series).
Librarians are curators. 🙂 One of our key roles is that of matchmakers for books and readers.
Mea Culpa, Judy! Of course. My very first curators, the librarians at the San Francisco Library. Without them I never would have come to know Babar and the beauteous Celeste.
Word of mouth and Goodreads deliver a bounty of options. When I was younger, with more time on my hands, I visited the library once a week and perused each shelf of the fiction section. A list-maker and book lovers dream.
My years as a curator at a used bookstore were full of delight. The demure looking older ladies inevitability bought the bodice ripper romances. 🙂
You really do get to know someone through their reading habits.
and you were at an epic bookstore.
Kathy Boyd Fellure
That is so true, Jenni. You do get to know someone through their reading habits.
What an interesting job to be a curator at a used book store. I love used books ~ they already have been tested, treasured, and traveled a journey that tells another story.
Rachel Leigh Smith
Friend recommendations is a HUGE part of it for me. I discovered–and got hooked on–Sherrilyn Kenyon this way when my CP threatened to fly down here and beat me over the head if I didn’t read Born of Night. Twenty-eight purchased books later……… One of my cousins told me about Paullina Simons and the Tatiana and Alexander series. Which I inhaled in two weeks. And then bought the memoir she wrote about her research trip for the series.
I also enjoy going to Goodreads and looking for stuff by subject matter or setting. One of my favorite things about Goodreads is the “because you read this you might like this.” I’ve found a lot of books going through those and I check the recommendations about once a month.
My good friends know me well, and when they come across one of the things I love to read (SEAL’s, hero-centric romance/adventure/suspense) they tell me about it. I have yet to be disappointed with one of their recommendations.
I know. I’ve had some of my best recommendations off this blog community.
Andrew – “I may lose, but I’m never lost.” Thank you for sharing and for this. JJ
Andrew, It’s been a while since reading this blog & my heart leaped when I read it today. I wish you would read my book, Love, Life, and the Shadow of Death. It’s an inspirational memoir that will cause you to ride the heights through your trial. I will mail you a free book if you think you’ll read it. Let me know where to send it? I’m a new author (7/21/14) & I’m already getting incredible reviews of how it is inspiring people. Should you decide to read it, I pray it blesses you beyond measure.
Kim, I’d love to read your book. If you’d click on my name it should take you to my blog, and we can exchange contact information there, rather than here.
Thank you! Inspiration is always needed!
Kathy Boyd Fellure
Love this blog, Wendy. It illuminates your passion and heart.
Word of mouth is my favorite venue. New and used books. My book club is another great source. They have many times guided me in a direction I may not have otherwise ventured.
And I have to agree with Amanda ~ history!
My history teacher father passed down his numerous volumes to the delight of this
I just finished a delightful book by Erin Taylor Young ~ Surviving Henry. I will be writing a delightful review and highly recommending this humorous canine romp.
And now on to read the next book…
I tell you. . . book lovers are the very best curators.
I’m another book reviewer – I review on my blog, on Amazon, Goodreads, Novel Crossing and a couple of other sites. It’s always a buzz to read a new-to-me author and find a new favourite to recommend to others.
Bless you. We love dedicated reviewers.
When I love a book, I can’t stop talking about it. It will resurface many years later.
True, isn’t it. Books become the very language of our lives.
Heidi Kneale (Her Grace)
As a reader, I’ve always been a recommender of books I’ve loved to others. I still give my honest opinion on GoodReads, and for books that really wow me, I also mention them on my blog, and to friends who I know would enjoy the book.
As an author, I’m having a hard time getting my books in front of the eyes of curators–for good, bad or ugly.
My books have made it to the eyes of hundreds of readers and I’ve sent out countless copies to reviewers, but nobody posts any reviews on GoodReads, Amazon or wherever. If there’s been any word-of-mouth, I know nothing of it. I have had a few people tell me, unprompted to my face, they’ve enjoyed my book, but that’s all I’ve heard.
This leads me to three possible conclusions:
1. My books are really terrible and everyone is too polite to say so.
2. My books are so-so and are easily forgotten.
3. My books are brilliant but I’ve put them in front of silent eyes.
It doesn’t help that I have to compete with millions of other books for readers’ attention.
One method of success I know is this: Write good books. Get them in front of the right eyes.
I’m working hard on the first one. The second one continues to baffle me.
Heidi, you are dealing with a universal problem– discoverability. I was talking to a publisher today (one of the big five companies) and she cited the absolute glut of titles as the biggest challenge to publishing.
Your silent eyes are probably overwhelmed by books. Be sure to go outside our publishing community. Too many authors only seem to connect with other writers (overwhelmed with books already) not with readers.
Heidi Kneale (Her Grace)
Exactly. I figured that one a little while ago when I was trying to decide the direction of my blog. It’s so tempting, being so wrapped up in the writing craft, to want to talk about the craft. After all, that is what occupies so much of our days.
But then we must stop and remember why we are writing, the many whys, and what we want to accomplish. In the end, we do it because we want to touch other people. If it was just about getting the stories down, we’d write for ourselves and our works would not see the light of day.
But we want to touch other people. We want to brighten Andrew’s life, and the lives of others who need to read, for whatever reason.
I read to escape Reality. I blog for the benefit of readers (I hope).
So yes, after spending so many years reading writing blogs and networking with fellow authors and taking workshops and good old BIC slogging away, I find myself a little bit at a loss for connecting with readers.
It’s been so long since I was simply “A Reader”, that I don’t know if I can go back to my roots. The world has changed too much.
When I was simply “A Reader”, there was no Internet as we know it. One’s reader network was one’s fellow students, or one’s book club of five readers, or one’s little local library.
But then, maybe that’s where I should go back. Maybe I should offer to be the Author in Residence at my local library, simply to be visible while I write in public, but also be available to answer questions.
Maybe I should find little book clubs who might enjoy giving my books a read. (That’s been difficult, I confess. Most book clubs don’t advertise themselves. And those few that do, either don’t accept the genres/length I write, or aren’t taking any new recommendations. And I’m not going to spend $300 to be listed among thousands of other authors in the hopes that someone *might* wish to pick up my book.)
It’s hard to put the grassroots word-of-mouth campaign to work on my own behalf: “You gotta read this book I wrote. It’s really good.” After all, I am biased. 🙂
Thanks for this excellent post and all the thoughtful comments. Discoverability is indeed critical for those of us trying to promote books these days.
I too write about books on my blog (Monday Morning Books). My posts are often less a review and more what I learned as a writer from the book.
To select books to read, I rely mostly on friends, librarians, and the wonderful people at my local indie bookstore. I belong to a couple of book clubs; they often get me to read books I otherwise wouldn’t and usually end up loving.