A Bookseller's Guide to Comp Titles: Hand-Selling Yourself

Welcome to another installment of Lauren Talks About People Talking About Books! Let’s get into hand-selling.

In bookselling, hand-selling is when you tell a customer what book to buy, and then they buy it. Bookstore customers are easily startled by even the gentlest offer of help, so usually hand-selling occurs when the customer has explicitly asked for advice.

Now, customers are notoriously bad at asking for the book they want, which makes sense, because brains are meat labyrinths powered by lightning. It used to be in the window and the cover was blue! It was a history book that was on NPR last week! I can’t think of a single book I’ve ever liked, but I want you to recommend me a book!

But usually it goes like this: they tell me a couple of books or TV shows they really like, I read between the lines to figure out what the common element is, and then I pull about twelve books from the shelf, with a little impromptu pitch for each one. It’s a fun puzzle, and I get huge satisfaction from nudging readers toward books by women, queer and trans authors, authors of color, and books in translation.

Then one day I met my match: a customer who wanted a book just like Ender’s Game and Ready Player One.

Orson Scott Card is notoriously homophobic and Ready Player One has some starkly  transphobic moments. As a queer bookseller, my first reaction was “hell no!” But here’s the thing-- maybe that customer really did like those books because he’s deeply invested in the straight, cis, white male perspective. Or maybe he just likes to read popular space operas! From those two books alone, I don’t actually know.

(Tip: When you query, you want agents to know what you mean by your comps.)

I don’t remember what books I actually gave this customer. But here’s what I’d do now: I’d pretend to assume he just likes splashy space operas, and I’d direct him toward the wealth of queer space operas being published right now. Becky Chambers, Ann Leckie, Alex White, Valerie Valdes. If he seemed immediately resistant to those, I’d fall back to the Expanse series-- it’s still dudely, but not so toxic.

Now let’s run that exercise backwards. Orson Scott Card, Ernest Cline, Becky Chambers, Ann Leckie, Alex White, Valerie Valdes, James S.A. Corey. What do different combinations of those six authors communicate?

  • Orson Scott Card + Ernest Cline: Socially conservative adventure SF, for people who like the 1980s. Pew pew.
  • Ernest Cline + Becky Chambers: This is a fun romp, but the author is probably not queer and not good at parsing subtext. Pew pew.
  • Orson Scott Card + James S.A. Corey: Readable and dudely and probably in space. The author is very interested in fictional politics and can afford to be bored by real-life politics.
  • Ann Leckie + Alex White: This will seem like an ordinary space opera until it turns your brain inside out.
  • Becky Chambers + Valerie Valdes: Zany multi-species adventure-romances in space, will make you speculate about the uses of various alien appendages. Pew pew.

Any of these authors are plausible comps for a space opera! But different combinations of authors send VERY different messages. (And some of them, frankly, are confusing combinations! Beloveds, it will never serve you to pitch a book as Orson Scott Card meets Becky Chambers.) So when you choose your comps, don’t just think about whether they capture what your book does-- think about whether they suggest a type of book that you didn’t write. 

Let’s go back to last week’s fantasy novel with the cane-using heroine. If you pitch it as Tasha Suri meets C.L. Clark, and then I learn that the heroine is white, the setting is Fantasy England, and the romance is straight? That’s a problem. Even if there are real reasons for comping to each of those authors, when you put them next to each other, the people expect revenge lesbians of color!

So once you’ve got your comps mostly settled, ask yourself: if a stranger said these were their two favorite books, are you really sure they’d love your book, too? Or is there a different book that that person is hoping to find?

And ditch the bigots.

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Lastly: you can’t hand-sell someone on a book they don’t want. It doesn’t work. My Ender’s Game/Ready Player One customer was never going to walk out of the store with a Sofia Samatar. 

So don’t worry about your comps being the splashiest or trendiest. Worry about them being recognizable, coherent, and true to your novel. Honesty sells books.


A Bookseller's Guide to Comp Titles: Browsing for Your Book

As a former bookseller and current agent assistant, I am an expert in only one thing: the ways people think about books, and the ways people don’t realize they think about books. I am, weirdly enough, an expert in comp titles.

The reason there are so many “rules” about comp titles is that there are no real rules about comp titles. More than any other part of a query package, comps are where snap judgment comes into play. And snap judgment is still pretty unhackable.

So let’s talk about some of the big stressful “rules,” and what snap judgments are behind them.

You’re not allowed to comp to anything popular: Of course you should comp to popular books! If you comp to an obscure book, then nobody will know what you mean. You should comp to books that lots of people loved, and that almost any genre reader would recognize. 

But imagine this. You’re chatting with a friend of a friend, you mention that you’re into science fiction, and they say, “Oh, I loved The Hunger Games!” What’s your reaction? Probably that they’re not very well-read in genre fiction, right? Not the impression you want to be making in a query letter. In other words-- if the book was turned into a blockbuster, career-launching movie franchise, maybe find another comp. Otherwise, you’re fine. 

Your comps must be between two and five years old: This rule is impossible and ridiculous. If you have really great, really recent comps, by all means use them! If not, let go of this rule and be free. 

However, an agent’s job is to sell your book into the market that exists right now, so your comps need to feel fresh and relevant. It should feel like your comps could be published next year. If you tell someone your book is like Frankenstein, well, we’ve already got a Frankenstein, and the genre is wildly different now. But if you say it’s like Frankenstein meets Annihilation, you have my attention.

Your comps must be books: Nope! But again, an agent’s job is to sell books. So comp to movies and shows and video games all you want, as long as you’re confident that someone will say, “The Americans meets Terminator? Yes, I see how that’s a novel, and I want to read it.” 

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Enough about rules. 

Instead, think about the way you browse for books at the bookstore. Think about the snap judgments you make. Probably you wander around the fiction and SFF sections, scanning for a title that catches your eye. Probably you have a pretty good idea whether you want a doorstopper or a novella or something in between. 

And if a book is stocked with the cover faced out, maybe the cover will grab you.

You might pick it up because it reminds you of eight other books you’ve already loved. (I personally will pick up any book with a cut-paper style cover.) Or maybe because you’ve never seen a cover like that before, and you’re dying to know how the robot and the neon iguana fit together. 

In a query, your comp titles do the job of a book cover. They’re the overture, the mood lighting, the spice mix. Do you want to prepare the agent for a comfort read in a beloved subgenre, or do you want them to be intrigued by a combination of comps they’ve never seen before? Or maybe a little of both? 

And remember, we’re mostly talking about the vibe of the book, not the content. So if your fantasy heroine has muscular dystrophy, her mobility aids will probably be on the cover. But they wouldn’t define the style of the cover. So don’t worry about finding another fantasy heroine with mobility aids-- instead, try and match the feeling of your book: sweeping, immersive, and inclusive.

If you wrote an epic that deserves a gorgeous, moody painted cover featuring a badass brown lesbian and her canes, maybe you pitch it as “for fans of Tasha Suri and C.L. Clark, featuring a disabled protagonist.” Or if it’s a litfic crossover that needs one of those graphic folk art-inspired covers, maybe it’s “Uprooted as written by Madeleine Miller, with the anti-ableist rage of Nicola Griffith.” 

I’d read both of those books! And more importantly, I can immediately feel the difference between them.

(As for the robot/iguana book-- it’s Frankenstein meets Annihilation, of course!)

Next week, I’ll get deeper into bookselling, the arcane art of the hand-sell, and how to use the principles of hand-selling to stress-test your comps. Until then, sweet dreams of a foil-stamped cover with your name on it.


Conducting Professional Interviews for Podcasts and Print

Conducting great interviews is an artform. Regardless of who is being interviewed, if your interview is well crafted, and your questions thought provoking and well prepared, then you will be able to coax interesting answers out of the interviewee. The better prepared you are the more the subject will enjoy the interview, and when the interviewee is comfortable and enjoying themselves the more interesting the interview will turn out.

Research and Preparation

The more you know about your subject the easier it will be to write a great interview. Once you’ve picked the subject of your interview, read their books, read previous interviews with them, and watch videos of their readings, performances, and anything you can get your hands on. The more you know about the interviewee the easier it will be to come up with good questions catered specifically to them. Avoid asking questions that they have answered in previous interviews, and do what you can to get a feel for their personality to help draw great answers out of the subject. 

When writing your interview, avoid questions that will prompt yes/no answers, as these will make for a dull interview that provides the reader/listener with little worthwhile information. It is always worth writing two-part questions that give the interviewee a chance to elaborate and the necessary space to respond in interesting ways. Asking about motivations will also generally coax out more interesting answers and give the audience insights into the behind-the-scenes aspects of the craft and the subject’s thought processes in creating their work.

Once you have written the interview, give the subject an opportunity to see the questions beforehand. This will give them time to think about the questions and come up with great answers without being caught off guard. It is also always worthwhile to give them the opportunity to axe questions that they find irrelevant or inappropriate or to add questions of their own. There’s nothing wrong with writing a challenging interview, but always give them the chance to make any alterations that they may feel are necessary. If the interview is going to appear in print, or there are time limits to your podcast, it is also worth providing the interviewee with a maximum and minimum word count. This last step will keep you from having to do any major editing and ensure that the interview fits the requirements of the venue publishing the interview. 

The Interview Format

It should be decided ahead of time how the interview will be recorded: video call, phone, over email, or in person. If the interview is for a podcast then in person is the best option for a quality recording, however this isn’t always possible. Video calling is the second best option and is easy to use, but you may also want to conduct the interview over the telephone. There are many free phone recording apps, however most of them have poor recording quality and video calls are preferable. If you use video conferencing programs or a phone recording app keep in mind that the sample rate will generally be 32k or less and will need to be changed to 44.1k if you plan on creating .wav files of the audio. If the interview is for print, conducting the interview via email is also an option and will save you the time of transcribing the interview but can also lead to less personable answers.

Conducting the Interview

When it comes to conducting the interview itself, have your questions printed and ready, and let the subject know that you may be asking some impromptu questions that were not previously scripted. This will give you the opportunity to ask questions in response to their answers and give the interview a natural flow. Try to avoid interrupting the subject when they are speaking and refrain from making the interview about you by interjecting personal anecdotes and long-winded backstory. Remember that the interview is about the subject and their work and crowding up the interview with your personal opinions is not what the readers will be looking for. If the subject has not answered a question to your liking you can always reframe a question and ask it again, and oftentimes this will get the subject to elaborate and clarify their answers.

Editing

Sometimes it will be necessary to do some editing to make the interview fit within the word count guidelines of the publishing venue. If you need to make edits or cuts from the subject’s answers, always make sure to let the subject know, and when possible give them the chance to review the edits. This last step will help to avoid the subject being misconstrued. 


Crafting an Anthology

There’s a lot that goes into building an anthology, but let’s start with the basics. An anthology is a collection of works (stories, articles, poems, etc.) by multiple authors while a collection includes work by a single author. Anthologies may have an overarching theme tying the stories together or no theme and can have one editor or multiple editors. 

What’s an anthology theme? This is the topic that links all the stories, to one degree or another. It can run from something very specific, like Clarion Graduates of 2250, to the more general Horses in Fantasy or Cats in Space. Why do anthologies have themes? The usual reasons include ease of marketing, a draw for certain authors and tapping into one or more specific audiences. Do they have to have themes? Nope. It can be helpful, but it can also limit your audience to some extent if a reader likes a given author but isn’t excited about the theme.

Where do anthologies come from? There are two main paths and many side routes:

  1. An editor (or a team) has an idea and pitches that idea to a publisher. The publisher accepts the idea, agrees to figure out some or all of the funding and the editor/team finds the authors and stories.
  2. An editor/team has an idea, assembles authors and stories and either puts the book out themselves or pitches the complete proposal or even the completed book to a publisher.

If you are reading this because you are considering editing an anthology yourself, bear in mind that while it can be very fulfilling, it is also very time and energy consuming. It can also be expensive, depending on how you are handling cover art, copy edits, paying authors, shipping and other factors. Being excited about the project for a lengthy period of time will definitely help so choose wisely.

How are anthologies funded? Generally speaking, one of two ways:

  1. Directly by a publisher, editor(s) or even by the authors themselves as a collaborative project.
  2. Crowd-funded. There are many reasons for this approach, ranging from the painful fact that many anthologies do not earn out or even cover their costs to achieving the kind of lift that a successful crowd-funding campaign can give to a project. 

Whether you are writing for an anthology or planning on editing/publishing one, it is helpful to know how it’s getting paid for. If the authors get paid a percentage of the sales, for example, the book needs to be selling in quantity in order for them to get paid. If it’s dependent on a crowd-funding campaign to pay for everything, then that needs to be successful or nobody gets paid for their time. Anthology costs can include everything from cover art to author royalties, copyediting, book design, ISBNs, mailing books to contributors and more. There may also be additional rewards for a crowd-funding campaign. Factor all this into your budget if you are the one planning the anthology.

How do authors find out about anthologies? They usually fall into the following categories:

  1. Invitation-only. The editor and/or publisher determine which authors will receive an invitation to write for the book. Getting an invite is often a matter of a combination of networking and publication track record. 
  2. Open call. This means that anyone can submit before the deadline if they think their story is a fit.
  3. Mixing things up. The editor might request stories from specific authors and do an open call for the rest, or vice versa if they’re not seeing the kind of stories that they want.

Where do editors find writers for an open call? They generally use a “call for stories/submissions (CFS).” These are the guidelines that an editor puts out on a website, newsletter, online group or writer’s forum that includes the theme (if any), word count, deadlines, what kind of stories they do or don’t want to see, payment information and more. You can find them by joining a Facebook group that posts CFS, following publishers and editors on Twitter or other media, subscribing to newsletters, checking out websites like Ralan.com, etc.

What does the anthology editor do with those submissions? They send out acceptances and rejections, decide on story order and word count, send out author contracts and all the other pieces that go into creating a good anthology. Note for those of you who are authors: anthologies generally sell better when the authors actively promote the book and that usually benefits everyone in the long run. At the end of the day, each anthology is unique and everyone involved has a part to play in that.


Rethinking Success

Success is qualitative not quantitative. In our era, where so much of our activity is based around the internet, it is easy to get bogged down by analytics and the desire for the rapid validation of likes and clicks. These systems of tracking engagement force us to focus on numbers and statistics rather than real life connection with our audiences and what the work actually means to them. Add click farms and bots to this mix and we find ourselves looking at sets of numbers that have little relevance to what’s happening in meatspace. As we let ourselves be driven by these numbers, we tend to forget that each number allegedly has a human being behind it, and it is connection with our fellow humans that is the true measure of success. It is better to have a few “real” fans than it is to have a multitude of clicks that don’t really amount to connection with the work.

When measuring the “success” of our endeavors, whatever they might be, several important factors are often overlooked: does this work make you happy, are you doing / creating the things that you want to see exist in the world, do you enjoy the relationships that you have with the people you work with… These are the truly important questions, because if you are doing what you love, then you are successful, and if you are passionate about what you do others will eventually become interested and begin to share your passions. When we love what we are doing then it does not feel like work. When we enjoy the relationships that we have with the people we work with then we have made meaningful connections, and ultimately connection is the true measure of success. 

Another modern misconception about success is that it is related to celebrity, or that we should strive for fame as an indicator of whether or not we have “made it”. Many of us creative types are introverts, so the prospect of being a public figure is a horrifying one. But success and admiration are not the same thing. Think of the many amazing, important jobs in the fields of the arts that are not public facing: editors, copy editors, casting agents, engineers, graphic designers, videographers, etc. Without behind-the-scenes jobs like these the humanities would not flow, and they don’t have to be tied into celebrity to make them worthwhile or a success. And despite what your work may be you can choose to opt out of the public facing side of the work, it is a choice not a requirement. As long as the work remains satisfying you’re doing fine and people will find the work eventually. It is perfectly acceptable to avoid bohemian notions that the artist must be on display along with the art. The internet has caused this to seem like a requirement, but it is not.

Still, as creators we desire to know how people respond to our work and this is where connection comes in again. It can be difficult to feel like you are operating in a vacuum and the time it takes to earn an audience can feel lonely and long. It is important to remember that fans are earned one at a time, and that each one of these people is important – crowds after all are made up of individuals. The idea of smashing overnight success is propaganda created by companies like YouTube, incredibly rare, and seldom long lasting. In reality, it takes years to build an audience, and this is yet another reason you should use your happiness and love for the work as a barometer for success – it is going to take a while, so you should definitely be enjoying the ride. 

So, when trying to find your success remember that every individual that you encounter in context of your endeavor is important and should be treated with respect. Engage when possible, and only to your comfort level. Request fan mail, start a Discord server to speak with the audience, book a live event where you can meet people, respond to comments, connect in the ways that you feel comfortable with. You may not get along with everybody, but you will make friends along the way, meet interesting people, and hopefully love your life just that much more. Ultimately, how much we love our work is what makes us successful, and when we love our work that love will spread and grow. 


Tips and Resources on Art Submissions

If you read my article on How to Build an Art Portfolio, and you already have your shiny, clean and organized portfolio in hand, you might be wondering what to do next. 

Since you’re on Dream Foundry, I’ll assume you’re an artist who’s interested in illustrating books or short stories. And since I’m an art director for a short story magazine and have experience in comics, my focus here will be on how to get started as building illustrator, and, potentially, comics, since both medias are focused on art with storytelling.

 

Payments

Together with your portfolio, you will need a payment option: most hiring magazines can pay in cheque, but if you’re not based in the United States, it’s important to have a PayPal account, since it’s the most popular payment method for illustrators worldwide.

I also recommend having a separate email for art-related business, and linking said email to your PayPal account.

 

Places to Submit

Paper Cat Press is your new best friend. Paper Cat Press is a weekly curated collection of opportunities for illustrators, comic creators, and even writers, run by fellow comic artist and illustrator Leanna C. Most of my first gigs were found through their weekly round up, neatly organized in categories like Awards and Contests, Animation, Comic & Illustration opportunities, all with their respective deadlines. 

If you’re focused on comics, another great resource is Comic Oportunities, run by S.W. Searle, and Find Anthologies!, run by Stephanie Cooke. Both of them are curated lists on Twitter of comic anthologies. Cooke also maintains Creators Resources, a website providing tools and resources for comic book freelancers.

 

Twitter Art Events

As an art director, I use Twitter a lot to find artists that might fit a specific story or thematic issue, and I use it by browsing specific hashtag-based events. The broadest of those is #PortfolioDay, an event that happens every three months, and where artists can link their email and portfolio and share a sample of four illustrations, in hopes of landing potential freelance work.

There are also specific hashtag events, like #DrawingWhileBlack for Black creators, #ArtMubarak for Muslim creators, #VisibleWomen for woman artists, and so on. 

Those events are like easily-searchable mini-portfolios, so choose your strongest four pieces, and run some tests to see how to properly crop those images, as Twitter’s automatic crop can be rather unkind at times.

After you’re done, you can pin that tweet in your profile, like I did

 

Submission etiquette

A lot of the opportunities you’ll find in curated collections like Paper Cat Press involve submitting a pitch through a form, which means filling a quick questionnaire with your information and idea. They usually things ask for your social media handles, portfolio and/or art samples, email and other professional information, but it’s also common for those questionnaires to ask for a mini bio, so I suggest having a bio of 65-75 words in length about who you are, what’s your experience as an artist, etc. In submissions, those mini bios are usually in first-person, but it’s useful to have a third-person mini bio at hand, too (those are often asked after you’re accepted, which is the fun part).

Others, like magazines—including Strange Horizons, where I work as art director—tend to accept submissions through e-mail. Keep those e-mails short, with a brief greeting and first-person bio, and a link to your portfolio. Don’t send any attachments—links are always preferred. And, of course, pay attention to the guidelines! It’s polite, and you will already be ahead of many other submissions if you do. 

The magazine will contact you back if they’re interested. If they don’t, I’d wait at least a year or so to contact them again with an updated portfolio or such.

 

Submitting art files

If you’re accepted by, say, a print magazine, your artwork needs to be in the right format: 300dpi is the minimum for printing, CMYK, and preferably in single-layer .tif format. 

For online magazines, RGB is preferred. The sizes vary, but work big, since resizing down is easier.

 

Finding an Art Agent

Like writers, artists can have an agent to represent their work. Agents work as the middle-men between the creator and an eventual publisher, handling contract negotiation and payments. They receive a percentage of what you get with each work, but you never pay them.

If you’re interested in working with picture books, art books and graphic novels, you need a literary agent. If you just want to work with art, you can find an artist representative. 

Artist representatives will find art assignments for you, that range from newspaper and magazine work to books, and usually work in the same way as a literary agent—they only get paid when you get paid.

An excellent resource for art representation is Agent for Illustrators, that lists literary agents representing art, and provides several guides, like how to query.

 

With all that being said, you’re ready to go. Good luck!


Words that Sell: Writing Marketing Copy for Your Novel

Let’s begin with the notion that brevity and clarity are the soul of wit. Or, at least, are the basis for what you can use to make your books stand out in a good way and attract a reader’s attention. Do readers automagically buy a book on the first reading of your best and most fabulous copy? Sometimes! In any case, writing good marketing copy helps your work find its people, and that is the name of the game.

What does marketing copy include? 

  • Your book description. This includes the two to three paragraphs that appear on the back of print copies of your book (we’re assuming you’re writing your own here) as well as on the websites that will sell your book. You will need short (a couple of lines) and long descriptions to upload your books onto the various sales platforms. 
  • Blurb – Sometimes used interchangeably with the description, but generally this refers to nice things another author says about your book. You don’t write this kind of review blurb, but you can decide which phrases to quote for the most impact.
  • Taglines. These are short phrases that capture the tone of the book. “Airships. Piracy. Murder. The Occasional Cup of Tea…” is the tagline for one of our steampunk titles, for example. “Winning What You Want May Cost You Everything” is another very popular example. Taglines are used on the back of your book and can be added to the description on sales platforms. 

Common mistakes:

  • The description is too long, detailed and/or dull.
  • The description tells the reader nothing about the book.
  • Blurbs rely on overused words and clichés.
  • Taglines are trite and/or tell the reader nothing about the book.
  • There are typos or grammatical errors.

Think of your description as something akin to an elevator pitch for your book. You’re aiming for something that a potential book buyer can skim quickly. Limit yourself to 3-4 sentences per paragraph and stick to 2. The description should include:

  • A lead in to your central conflict.
  • The name of your main character or characters (assuming a smallish cast).
  • Enough information to tell someone what kind of story they’re looking at.
  • Emotional payoff: what will they get from buying your book?  This can be stated (“Fall in love all over again”) or implied (“X must happen to do Y. But at what cost? The empire is about to find out.”)

There is really only one kind of reader that you’re looking for and that’s the one who that description will speak to, thereby inspiring them to buy and read your book. Not everyone who’s ever read a book or even all fans of your particular genre.  Think about that reader when you write your copy.

Are you writing your copy for the first time?

  • Do some research. Look at what other writers in your genre are writing about their books. Look at the word choices and descriptions and see what works for you, as well as what doesn’t.  
  • Make a list of things that resonate. Does a phrase intrigue you enough to want to learn more about that book? Can you come up with an original description of your own book that works the same way for you?
  • Make a list of other things you’re seeing as well – are some words and phrases overused? Just not working for you?

Look at taglines and ads too: 

  • Do they sound intriguing?
  • Do they sound enthusiastic?
  • Would you considered buying this book based on how they present it?

Some day, when we can have book tables at conventions again, it’s very helpful to watch people when they pick up your books and read the back. That reaction can be magical or disappointing, but either way, it tells you when your copy grabs someone’s attention. In the meantime, look at your reviews, particularly the ones from readers. If they are consistently “expecting something else,” that may be a sign to review your marketing copy and ask writer friends to help you vet it. Look at your click throughs too, if you are running ads, and experiment with those. And finally, bear in mind that mistakes are generally fixable. Marketing copy doesn’t need to be static and can grow with your work.


Recommending Books the Old-Fashioned Way

Recommending Books the Old-Fashioned Way without Keywords or Algorithms

As a bookseller, I am often asked for book recommendations both in the bookstore and online. Connecting someone with the right book can be a great pleasure, but giving an unfit recommendation can leave a bad taste in the reader’s mouth that they’re not likely to forget. It is important to realize that reading a book is a commitment, both in time spent reading, and in emotional investment. Not every book is for everyone, and it is important to keep this in mind for booksellers and authors alike.

When asked to provide a book recommendation having read the book you are recommending is the best preparation. For this reason it is always useful when an author has provided me with an ARC (advance reading copy). I prefer to read hard copies, but many booksellers are also fine with an ebook – a cheaper solution for the author or publisher. Not every bookseller will have the time to read your book, but the gesture, and the sign of professionalism can go a long way.

To connect a reader with the right book can be tricky, especially if they are a new customer and I am unfamiliar with their tastes. Because of this I always ask what was a book they loved, and what was a book that they hated. This information is extremely helpful for narrowing down the selection, both thematically and in the density of the material that they enjoy reading. For instance if someone has enjoyed Vonnegut and Adams, I know they are looking for something light-hearted and humorous. 

Biographical information can also be super useful when connecting a reader with a book. I have found that often just sharing information about the author can be helpful in piquing the interest of the reader. For this reason, I always read the bio in the back of books to prepare me for the customer’s questions. If you are an author releasing a book do not forget to put a bio in the back, as many readers will go to this section first to see if they are interested in pursuing the book. Mention awards, interests, location etc., all of this information may interest the potential reader. Many authors use humorous or caddy bios to try and attract attention. In my experience this is generally a turn off for the reader, after-all you want the reader to take the book seriously (unless perhaps it is a book of humor). 

Genre can sometimes be a factor in purchasing a book, and it is certainly a helpful tool for marketing and where to shelve a book, however in my experience most readers read more broadly than one particular genre. Often a reader can be turned off to a book they may otherwise enjoy because of stereotypes surrounding genre. Because of this, I find it helpful to try and ascertain the more general taste of a reader, and this is why it can be helpful to include interests outside of genre when writing your bio or marketing your book. 

Other factors that may help connect a reader with your book are shelf talkers and signed bookplates. The latter is useful because many readers also collect books and many of us collect signed first editions. Signed bookplates are a great way to open up a conversation with a bookseller and often offer the extra incentive needed for the customer to take a chance on the book. 

Display space is also extremely useful for catching the customer’s eye when browsing. By putting a book on display in the bookshop it is an automatic endorsement of the book and it is more likely to sell. Often authors and publishers request that their books be on display, but I would caution against this, as display space is valuable real estate and highly coveted (some booksellers even charge for the space). If you are lucky enough to get your book featured in the display space, it is important to make sure that you have compelling cover art, and this is not an area of your book you want to skimp on. For self-published authors it is also extremely important that your book has a printed spine because otherwise it will disappear into the shelves and will likely never sell.

Ultimately, when a reader reads your book you are opening up a one way relationship and it is important to treat it like any other relationship. If your book is packaged to look like it delivers a certain type of experience than it had better live up to that expectation. The more points of entry you give the reader the more likely they are to love the book, and the more likely a bookseller is to include your book in their list of recommendations. 


Mailer's Syndrome: The Freelancer's Dilemma

Intriguing right? Never heard of it? That’s fair. The title ‘Mailer’s Syndrome’ is something I came up with in a comical attempt to help you realize what I am about to say has more than a tinge of seriousness attached to it.

As freelance writers, sending pitches and looking for opportunities are a part of our work. Most of this pitching is done via email. Emails to the freelance writer are more than a means to get information, the very livelihood of the writer depends on it. 

Now because I have graced myself with the authority to name this ‘syndrome’, allow me to talk a bit about myself in relation to this topic. 

Naturally I am not a social media person, I have created more than 3 Facebook accounts, 2 Twitter accounts, 3 Instagram accounts with countless “Forgot password’ or ‘username’ requests. However, early on as a writer, I found myself slowly growing obsessed with checking my mails as many as 12-15 times in an hour, in anticipation of responses from editors. I know, that was bad… with a big foot in extreme!

At first, I convinced myself that I was merely being ecstatic about getting a response, and that even if they were rejected, I just wanted to have my ideas acknowledged. But soon I realized that I was unconsciously motivated by a need to ‘just check’ for no specific reason. Even when I was not expecting an email from anyone, I’ll still want to check. I tried to interact with other freelance writers to know if this was normal. Many of these freelancers had either faced the exact same thing at one point or another in their careers or were going through it at the present, and for several reasons as well.

However, what we all had in common was the fact that we recognized that this habit was doing more harm than good. For the sake of this piece, I have listed out some of the consequences that apply the most to freelancers.

  • Checking emails and stress:

According to studies, approximately 92% of employees show elevated blood pressure and heart rate when handling emails at work. The studies proved that there was a spike in anxiety and stress levels when employees wake up to their emails. When employees feel they should check and respond to emails in their spare time, they become emotionally drained. A dilemma arises, as they cannot separate every other part of their lives from their work, and thus could cause negative effects on the individual’s health and well-being.

  • Checking emails and reduced productivity:

Statistics from Business Insider, show that more than a third of Americans check email regularly throughout the day. According to an AOL survey, 47% of respondents said they feel the need to check mail constantly, 25% cannot do without it for more than three days, 60% check mail on vacation, and 59% even in the toilet. During the study, work in the office, scientists found that 70% of e-mails recipients responded within six seconds after receiving, and 85% within 2 minutes.

  • It takes time to recover:

According to a massive study by McKinsey, employees are distracted from work every 10 minutes on an average, this is about 56 times a day. The study also states that it takes about 25 minutes to concentrate on the task again fully. Thus, on average, about 2 hours spent on the recovery of concentration accumulates in a day. 

When I realized that this was a real problem, I did the only reasonable thing I could think of, I took a break from checking my mails. That was by far the hardest thing I have had to do in my journey as a freelancer. However, it was completely ineffective! After 2 weeks, I was right back where I was before I took the break. So here is the first advise for you, stopping isn’t the solution. At best you join the steadily growing pool of extremists on one side of the wall.

Researching further, I tried to find out is there was a way to reduce the amount of time spent checking our mails, yet not reduce our effectiveness. I found a Harvard Business Review about time management quite useful. The methods prescribed include (emphasis are mine):

  • Turn off notifications and schedule time (about 5 to 8 minutes) every hour to check email
  • Move every email out of your inbox the first time you read it
  • Use the search functionality with search operators to re-find emails (manually searching takes longer)
  • Set up just two email folders and use shortcuts to archive emails there
  • Avoid processing irrelevant or less important emails individually

In conclusion, the pathophysiology of ‘Mailer’s Syndrome’ is primarily mental and emotional ending up as a full-blown madness that seems to thrive on a sane logic. However, as writers we must learn to watch out for it as we choose to be better versions of our writing-selves.


Podcast Promotion – Marketing the Old-School Way

There are thousands of articles out there about how to market a podcast, and the majority of them focus on the same things: social media, websites, mailing lists, etc. These are all great ways of promoting, however most of these articles tend to ignore tried and true, old-school, ways of marketing that can be just as effective, if not more so. Some of the ways of promotion covered in this article can cost a little bit of money, others are free, but hitting your promotion from as many angles as you can is the best way to reach the largest audience possible.

Press Releases

When I first started working in the field of PR the main instrument of the press release was the fax machine. Fortunately those days are over, but the power of the press release has outlived that technology and can now be done via email. Whenever you release a new episode, or reach a milestone it is worth sending out a press release. Focus on your local newspaper, radio station, and small press outlets that deal with your subject material. Pay attention to the copy in these press outlets and emulate the style in your press release. You can also write your press release in the form of an article, and in many cases the local newspaper will run the copy verbatim. Typically the press outlet will want the press release about six weeks before the item you are promoting occurs, but the smaller outlets sometimes need less lead time.

Events

Contact a local bookstore, café, bar, or community center and set up a live event (or do an online zoom event). Some venues will want to charge you, others are happy to lend their space for free or in exchange for help bringing people in. If possible, record your podcast live in front of the audience. This way people get the opportunity to feel involved, and as a bonus you get an episode recorded that is unique and has that great live feel. Events are a wonderful way to meet your audience and to open up a dialog, there’s no better engagement than speaking directly with your listeners.

Radio

Often overlooked these days but still one of the most powerful forms of media is the radio. If your podcast is clean (free from swearing and adult content) then you have a good chance of getting it on the radio. If there is cussing, it’s worth doing radio edits of each episode. Contact your local radio station and ask if they would be interested in running your show. Many small radio stations focus on community and you will often find that they are hungry for new content. Beyond your local radio station you can host your podcast on https://www.prx.org/ and http://www.radio4all.net/ to help connect you with radio stations in other areas. Getting your show on even one radio station can bring you thousands of additional listeners, but it won’t show up in your stats - which is fine because success is qualitative not quantitative.

Business Cards, Fliers, Stickers

Make physical promotional materials to hand out and put up on bulletin boards. Fans are always happy to receive a sticker too and will proudly display them, further helping you get the word out. For the fliers, make small tear-aways at the bottom with a QR code or link, that way they don’t forget to check it out later. Put up your fliers at cafes, libraries, your local book and record stores, or anywhere that allows fliers to be posted. You never know where your next listener will come from and the more ways they can find you the better the chances of gaining their interest.

Word of Mouth

When it comes to promotion nothing works better than actually talking to people. Tell people about what you do (without being pushy) and you’ll often find that they are interested in the subject matter, or have been looking for a new podcast to check out. Follow up your conversations with a business card, so that they remember to look it up. Let them know what platforms your podcast is available on and how they can get involved if possible. Remember that listeners are people just like you and there’s probably a thousand people out there who are wanting material just like you provide, don’t be shy, try to connect with them. And there’s no better feeling than finding out that they might already be a fan of your show.

Lastly, keep in mind that it can sometimes take years to develop a large and loyal audience. Stick with it, don’t give up, and be persistent – the right audience will eventually find you if you let them know that you exist.