Category: Books


Dark clouds (with a silver lining): Predicting the year ahead in publishing

By John Yunker,

When the CEO of one of the world’s largest publishing houses says he sees dark clouds ahead in 2012, this is big news.

It’s big news not so much because there are dark clouds on the horizon, but because a CEO is saying so.

That is, I believe he is preparing his employees for major structural changes in 2012.

And I’m not just talking about staff reductions, though I’m sure those are coming as well. Cost cutting alone is never the solution when an industry is being disrupted.

Reinvention is the only solution in times like these.

So what does all this reinvention mean?

I have a few thoughts, which I’ll translate into predictions for 2012:

1. Big publishers will stop accepting free returns from booksellers

For years, booksellers have been free to return any unsold books to the publisher, often for a full refund (or full credit). This is a practice that’s unheard of in almost all other retail businesses, and it really hurts publishers. Shipping books back and forth alone is expensive, and small publishers (like us) have been forced to not take returns (except for special circumstances, such as author readings). This industry-wide no-return policy has hurt us because booksellers are used to the no-risk policy supported by larger publishers. Yet I believe that even the large publishers are going to start testing the waters with booksellers in 2012, trying to move away from this practice. This is just not a sustainable practice for either party. Booksellers will naturally be forced to order fewer books and to only order those books they truly believe in, but I think this will ultimately be a good thing; hand-selling books that an employee believes in is what good bookselling is all about. Naturally, I’m a little biased as both an author and publisher: Changing these policies will give authors a more realistic view of sales (i.e., no more huge sales numbers, only to be reduced once the returns come in), and it will level the playing field for all of the small presses.

2. Booksellers will reinvent themselves as cultural curators, publishers, community centers, and gift shops (or all of the above).

I don’t want to live in a world with no local bookstores. And I do not believe that Amazon will win and all local bookstores will lose. I don’t believe this because I’ve already seen signs of bookstores reinventing themselves. Many already sell a mix of new and used books, as well as gifts and locally curated art. A few small stores are also becoming local publishers (many indie bookstores with Espresso Book Machines, such as Vermont’s Northshire Bookstore, run small publishing imprints). And a few others are becoming non-profit cooperatives. I’m also optimistic that we’ll see bookstores begin to embrace books from small publishers again. Booksellers need to embrace their role as cultural curators, separating the great books from the awful books instead of just taking co-op funds from large publishers and promoting the same books as Costco. To survive and thrive, booksellers need to stand apart.

3. Big publishers will take fewer chances on new authors.

Based on what we’re hearing from authors who submit to us, it’s brutal out there. Big publishers are cutting back on new authors and putting more money behind fewer authors — and this is great news for us: The quality of the work we’re seeing is amazing. Truly. And, honestly, it makes sense for the large publishers to put more resources behind their established authors. After all, bestselling authors are now being tempted into self-publishing, and the large publishers need to create compelling reasons for them not to jump ship.

4. Small publishers will take a lead in publishing books that matter

This is hardly much of a prediction, as it has already happened. Look at the nominees and winners of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award. We’re talking small presses. But the bad news is the university presses are being hit hard as universities cut budgets.

As a small publisher, we’re well positioned for 2012 because we’re small and we’re focused. We’re building a brand centered around “books with a world view” and “eco-lit,” and we’re embracing technology. That doesn’t mean we won’t be in for a bumpy ride as well. But where others see dark clouds, we see a silver lining.

PS:  Publishing guru Mike Shatskin has a great blog post on this as well.

Tips for authors: On getting (or not getting) reviews

By Midge Raymond,

When Forgetting English was first published by Eastern Washington University Press in 2009, I learned — after the fact and much to my dismay — that it had never been sent out for reviews. It wasn’t long before I also learned that half of the press’s staff had been laid off and that the press would close within the year, which answered the question of why — but I still had to deal with the fact that I had a short story collection to promote without a single review.

And that was a little depressing.

Authors (rightly) expect their publishers to send out review copies (if there’s ever any doubt, they should ask), but of course this doesn’t guarantee that their books will actually be reviewed. With some 200,000 books being published in the U.S. annually, it’s a challenge, particularly for new and emerging authors, to get reviewed by the major media outlets that can get your book the attention you want and need. So what can an author do to help create some publication buzz when the reviews aren’t coming in?

Among the best advice I got from authors when Forgetting English was published was to use my author copies for promotion purposes. I’d been planning to give them all away — what could be more fun than to shower friends and family with free books? — but then I realized that my fellow authors had very good reasons behind their advice.

First, if anyone’s going to buy your book with great joy and pride, it’ll be your friends and family — so let them. It doesn’t cost them all that much, and it’ll support either their indie bookstores or your Amazon ranking, and that’s nice, too. Second, you’ll need to send complimentary copies to those who were instrumental in the writing or publishing process, from those who helped you with research to those who offered blurbs; anyone who donated time and energy to you without asking anything in return certainly deserves a signed copy of your book. And, finally, whatever copies you have left are best used to help promote it — given today’s challenges, from the economy to dwindling attention spans, we authors need all the help we can get.  And I don’t mean this in a pessimistic way, just a realistic one: As anyone who’s published a book will tell you, promotion makes writing look like the easy part.

Whether you’ve gotten those PW and NYT reviews or not, you’ll still want to take advantage of the myriad options for generating buzz and/or keeping it going. So here are a few tips for getting reviews and making the most of them…

– About six months before your book comes out, research book review blogs to see which ones might be a good fit for your book as well as receptive to reviewing it. You’ll want to approach bloggers with a good number of followers (these are your potential readers) as well as comments (which shows that the reviews are being read and responded to). Also be sure they read and review in your genre and that the reviews are of the quality and sensibility you hope for in a review. It’s best to query first so that you don’t send a copy that may end up in recycling; if a blogger is interested, he or she will get back to you. Because publishers often offer advance copies to book bloggers as well as more traditional media, check your list against the review list of your publisher so that you don’t send duplicates.

– If for any reason your book doesn’t get sent out for reviews, don’t give up: Send copies out yourself. You won’t get anywhere with Publishers Weekly, which requires copies months in advance, but your local newspaper will probably pay attention, and may even do a feature article along with a review. Target any publication you think would be receptive and a good fit. Alumni magazines and newsletters are a great resource, as are literary magazines, especially if they’ve published your work in the past.

Think outside the box: Don’t limit yourself to traditional book review sections of publications but also look at other possibilities, from travel columns to cooking editions. Target radio stations, university publications, community newsletters — any venue or publication that might offer a good audience for your book and/or topic.

– If you are fortunate enough to get good press, add reviews to your web site, your Facebook page, etc. — get the good news out there. At the same time, avoid becoming tediously self-promotional; if you get several reviews at once, you might space them out a bit. I often link to reviews on Facebook by expressing gratitude toward the reviewer or publication, which always seems a bit softer than shamelessly showing off my book (even if that really is the point). It truly is a tough job … but someone’s got to do it.

– Remember that every day is book promotion day: Don’t give up on getting reviews  six months past your publication date. When Forgetting English was reissued by Press 53, I reached out to new bloggers and even did another book tour — all of which led to many new readers, even though the book by then was two years old. Always keep an eye out for publications that might be a good fit, or for a local news story that you may be able to contribute to. There’s never any reason to stop promoting your book; there will always be someone out there for whom it’s brand-new.

– If readers tell you how much they love your book, ask for an Amazon/Goodreads/LibraryThing/Barnes & Noble reader review. Having good reviews on these sites will get the attention of online shoppers, and though it feels awkward to ask, you’ll get over it once you see a few nice reviews up there. You don’t have to beg or plead; simply let people know how much a nice review will help get the word out about your book and how much you’d appreciate it.

– And, finally, if you do happen to get a bad review, try to remember how subjective the process of reviewing is. This is especially true with book blogs, many of which are very informal — yet even professional book reviewers are human beings with personal tastes that may not align with what you’ve written. Recognize that no writer or book can satisfy every reader, and, because the book is out there and there’s nothing you can do to change it anyway, do your best to ignore anything negative. And don’t attempt to respond to bad reviews, even if you feel the reviewer was sloppy or missed the whole point of the book; this approach never goes anywhere good. Just let it go.

And keep in mind that, in the end, while reviews are wonderful and helpful, they won’t necessarily make or break your book. Many bestsellers have been made by word of mouth alone, so always remember what you can do for your book, focusing on what is in your power to accomplish rather than what’s not.

Tips for authors: How to set up a book tour

By Midge Raymond,

Thanks to the release of a new edition of Forgetting English this spring, I’ve spent many weeks this year traveling to venues on both coasts and through the Midwest promoting the book. Among the best things I’ve learned, not only from this tour but from the events I did when the book was first released in 2009, is that The Book Tour comes in so many different shapes and forms. And the most important thing for any author to know is which type of tour will work best, for both the writer and the book.

The old days of publisher-sponsored, multi-city book tours are, for the most part, long gone. These days, authors must plan, pay for, and promote their own book tours — which is no small task. And for writers who don’t have a background in publishing, publicity, or marketing, it can seem even more intimidating; I’ve heard countless authors say that their book promotion turned out to be even more challenging than writing the book. (And I’m inclined to agree.)

But the challenges are well worth it, as the rewards can be great. Keeping in mind the nature of your book, your schedule, and your budget, here are a few tips to help you plan a tour that will best fit your needs:

Team up with a fellow writer. For my 2011 tour, I teamed up for many events with my friend and colleague Wendy Call, author of No Word for Welcome. Because our books have similar themes (both are about foreign locales, though mine is fiction and Wendy’s is nonfiction), we thought it would be great to offer joint events, with something for all readers, and we received enthusiastic responses from booksellers, community writing centers, and libraries. Best of all, we shared the workload (all the cold calls, follow-ups, and creation of marketing materials) as well as the fun stuff (great events, great people, lots of wine). Even better, we could commiserate over the not-so-fun stuff (the rejections, the small crowds, the low book sales). In all, it was a wonderful experience and one I’m so glad to have shared with Wendy. So if your book is a good fit with another writer’s, joint events are a great way to share the experience as well as broaden your audience.

Think outside the bookstore. Certain times of year (holidays, for example, or summer in the Pacific Northwest) can be impossible for scheduling bookstore events. And sometimes, no matter what the time of year, a bookstore may be booked already, or your schedules won’t align. So think beyond the bookstore, and you’re likely not only to find gems but a whole new audience. Libraries are very open to author events, particularly if there’s an educational component; also think of community centers or literary centers such as Grub Street, Richard Hugo House, or San Diego Writers Ink. Among the places I’ve read or attended readings are museums and galleries, cafes, universities and colleges, book clubs and other clubs, historical societies…the list is endless if you think about it, so get a little creative.

Offer a little something more. Unless you’re a writer whose mere presence in a bookstore will guarantee a line out the door, think about offering a little more than a traditional reading/signing. You want the event to be a win-win (so you’ll be invited back enthusiastically when you publish your next book), so think beyond your book to what else you can offer. Often when I do an event for Forgetting English, I offer a travel-writing workshop, which brings in not only readers but writers and travelers as well. So even if no one’s ever heard of me or my writing (which is, in fact, most people), those who love to travel or write will show up to learn something … and one of the things they learn is what my book is all about. Wendy and I held several mini-workshops during our New England book tour this fall, and we received terrific feedback from these events. Even if an event isn’t specifically about your book, you’re giving participants an opportunity to get to know you, which in turn will build interest in your work.

Be creative. Again, a book tour needn’t be limited to bookstores or libraries. In this New York Times article, Stephen Elliott writes about his D.I.Y. book tour for The Adderall Diaries, in which he bravely embarks on a different kind of book tour. Not wanting to “travel thousands of miles to read to 10 people, sell four books, then spend the night in a cheap hotel room before flying home,” Elliott decided to let his readers host his events. His salon-style events would take place in readers’ homes, have at least 20 attendees, and Elliott would sleep on the host’s couch. Check out the article for details, including what the author learned in the process.

Host (or ask someone to host) a literary salon. This is a version of what Stephen Elliott did, but with friends, not strangers. Literary salons are a great way to find new readers and talk about your book in a more private setting. Ask a friend (even better if it’s someone in another city/state, where you’ll be reaching out to new readers) to host a salon for you at his/her home. Bring copies of the book to sell; provide whatever food/wine/etc. you’d like at the event. Then simply plan a casual gathering around your book, which might include a brief reading, discussion, Q&A, etc.

Learn from each event, and from others. Susan Rich returned from her book tour for The Alchemist’s Kitchen with new wisdom and some great tips, which she offers in this blog post. And I’ve written a few notes on my book tour with Wendy as well.

– If you don’t have the time or budget to do a traditional book tour, try a Virtual Book Tour. You do many of the same things — create buzz for your book, find new readers, and chat about your book — on a Virtual Book Tour. Keep in mind that, while virtual, this type of book tour still takes a lot of planning: you need to connect with host bloggers, come up with original topics to write about, and promote your tour. See my original post on virtual book tours, and search virtual book tour on the blog if you’d like to see examples of where my tour took me.

Plan in advance! Bookstores usually schedule events 4-6 months in advance, and libraries schedule 3-5 months in advance. There’s always a chance you can get in at a later date, especially if you’re a local author, but I definitely recommend advance planning, especially if you have certain venues in mind.

Promote, promote, promote. Once your events are set up, the real work begins! Again, a happy experience for all is when you have a nice crowd, and when you sell books. Use social media to promote your events; create postcards, bookmarks, and/or flyers to offer to the venue so that they can promote it as well. List your events on your web site, and ask venues for a local media list so that you can send press releases and/or calendar announcements (never rely on the venue to do all the heavy lifting when it comes to promoting events). This excellent post by Randy Susan Meyers offers advice for how to be self-promote with dignity.

Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy. Remember that this is fun. (Really, it is.) The process of setting up all these events is exhilarating but also exhausting — and running around to all of them can be even more so. So this is when it’s important to remember why you’re doing it all: You’ve published your book. You’re getting it out there in the world. And you’re meeting your readers. For a writer, what could be better than that?

Give thanks to all. Don’t forget to thank everyone who made your tour possible, from the independent bookstores to your salon hosts to the readers who showed up to support your book. (In fact, these notecards are perfect for writerly thank-you notes.) And even more important, hold on to this spirit of gratitude — it’ll make your entire book tour lots of fun, even in the challenging moments.

Happy Halloween – and welcome to the party!

By Midge Raymond,

Today we are thrilled to be celebrating the official book launch of Out of Breath, and to celebrate we’re hosting a day-long, virtual Halloween bash right here, on this blog.

The nice thing about an online party is that it begins when you show up, and it goes all day — and all evening. To join us, simply scroll down to the comment box and leave your comment, recipe, question, etc. 

We will, however, end our giveaways at midnight Pacific time — so if you’re interested in winning a copy of Out of Breath (we’re giving away both print and e-editions today), stay tuned for the myriad ways you’ll be able to enter. And for all you Kindle users out there: Out of Breath will be $2.99 for one last day, i.e., today.

Throughout the day, we’ll also be posting new reviews, recipes for Halloween treats, and Blair Richmond’s answers to your questions about Out of Breath as well as the sequel, THE GHOST RUNNER, which she is working on right now.

This psychotically happy pumpkin reflects how I feel about Halloween: I love it. And first I’d like to chat about one of the most fun aspects of Halloween: candy. (When it comes to eating candy, I must admit that for me, every day is Halloween.) And as we go about celebrating all the joys of a good sugar high, why not celebrate it in a cruelty-free way?

Here’s a list I’ve compiled, from various sources, of vegan candy:

  • Airheads taffy
  • Chick-o-Sticks
  • Cracker Jack
  • Dots
  • DumDums
  • Hubba Bubba bubblegum
  • Jolly Ranchers (lollipops and hard candy)
  • Jujubees & Jujyfruits
  • Lemonheads, Mambas
  • Mike and Ike
  • Newman’s Own Licorice Twists
  • Now and Later
  • Pez
  • Sour Patch Kids
  • Swedish Fish
  • Sweet Tarts
  • Twizzlers
  • Zotz

And let’s not forget about the chocolate! Two chocolate makers that I love both pride themselves on sustainable practices, fair trade, and giving back to the communities that provide their ingredients.

Theo Chocolate makes a few delicious vegan varieties (and I can add with authority that they are divine), including: Cherry & Almond, Mint, Dark Chocolate, Toasted Coconut, and Peppermint Stick.

Endangered Species also makes delicious vegan chocolate — and better yet, the company donates 10% of net profits to fund species and habitat conservation efforts. Among my favorites: All-Natural Dark Chocolate with Mint, All-Natural Extreme Dark Chocolate, All-Natural Dark Chocolate with Cranberries and Almonds, and All-Natural Supreme Dark Chocolate.

And if you’re anywhere near a Trader Joe’s, try one of their vegan chocolates: the 70% and 72% dark chocolate bars, and the 73% Belgian dark chocolate non-pareils. Yum.

Okay, now that you’re armed with all the candy you’ll need, we look forward to your questions, your recipes — and we’ll soon be posting info on the first giveaway!

UPDATE: For our first giveaway (for a paperback copy of Out of Breath), here’s all you need to do: Tweet about the virtual book launch party using the hashtags #Halloween and #OOB_party. You’ll be automatically entered in the giveaway, and a winner will be randomly selected sometime after midnight.

UPDATE: Many thanks to Alex at Electrifying Reviews, who is generously giving away an advance review copy of Out of Breath — and this giveaway lasts another two weeks! Enter now at Electrifying Reviews. 

UPDATE: Wondering what you’ll do with all those pumpkin seeds once the carving’s done? The Vegan Version has just stopped by with a few amazing recipes for savory and sweet pumpkin seeds! (See comment below.) And a recipe for cute and delicious mummies, too.

UPDATE: Q&A with Blair Richmond:

Q: What inspired you to write about vampires, and how did you come up with the idea of a vegan vampire?

A: Living in the Northwest, hiking in the fog and ancient forests, it’s hard to not have creepy thoughts from time to time. After all, there are still Bigfoot sightings in these parts from time to time! I’ve always loved Bram Stoker’s novel and I’ve followed the evolution of vampires through the eyes of contemporary writers. But when I saw the vampires in Twilight referred to as “vegetarian” because they “only” killed animals, I felt inspired to help vampires evolve a bit further. So I decided to come up with a green version. I’m a bit of a birder, and we have a bird here called a “sapsucker,” which lives symbiotically off the trees, and that’s what first gave me the idea.

 Q: What has been the feedback from more mainstream young people? Are they receptive to the healthy lifestyle (i.e. running, veganism/vegetarianism)?

A: People love that it’s set in a place where nature is a big part of life. And I’ve been happily surprised that mainstream readers are curious and supportive about the veggie themes of the book. This is great, because I wanted to have a heroine who’s healthy and vibrant to show that veganism is compatible with an athletic lifestyle. I was unhappily surprised to get some negative reviews from vegan bloggers, which was interesting. I think there’s a perception with some people that if you love animals you have to be a perfect vegan. I love animals and don’t eat them, but I’m not a perfect vegan. I’m like Kat, in the book – I do my best but I still eat dairy on occasion. I don’t think we should apologize for it because we’re still doing a lot of good by not eating animals. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t aim to be 100 percent vegan – that is always my goal – but it means we should forgive ourselves and each other for not being perfect. No human is. I wanted to write a character that is imperfect because she is more real that way. Most readers seem to focus on the romance and the running and the mystery of Kat’s past, and so the fact that Kat and some of the vampires are vegan isn’t really a huge part of the story, just one aspect of it.

UPDATE: …another Q, another A:

Q: I would like to know what running means to Blair, assuming she is a runner: Is it an escape? Is it an endorphin rush? And is it difficult (or, perhaps, easier) to be a vegan runner as opposed to a meat-eating, flexitarian, or vegetarian one?

A: Running, for me, is both an escape and an adventure. Kat is clearly a much better runner than I’ll ever be and many of my runs often end up as hikes. But I love to get out of the house and escape into the woods. I don’t wear a watch. I don’t worry about my time. And I don’t particularly care for marathons or any of those types of races that Kat likes. I just like to be alone with the trees and my thoughts. Much of Out of Breath came from my time meandering through the forests. And as for diet, I haven’t really noticed any change of energy level since I gave up meat. I think I’m actually healthier, though I have a policy against weighing myself!

UPDATE, November 1: Thanks to all who joined us to celebrate Halloween here yesterday! Special thanks to those who sent questions and brought recipes! And congratulations to Carol, who won a copy of Out of Breath — and don’t forget that Electrifying Reviews is hosting a giveaway that ends on November 14, so you’ve still got a couple weeks to enter.

Discovering Tree House Books

By Midge Raymond,

Tree House Books in Ashland, Oregon, is one of the town’s many treasures.  I first visited this sweet little children’s bookstore last year, around the holidays, while shopping for the little readers in my life. And I’m glad I did — it’s one of the most charming bookstores I’ve ever seen, and it’s fun to wander around inside even if you are a grown-up. There really is something for everyone here.

Tree House Books has been on the Plaza in Ashland since 1978 but has relatively new owners who curate a hand-picked selection of books for infants to young adults, as well as a small selection of their favorite books for grown-ups as well. The space is welcoming and inviting, and in addition to books there’s a wonderful selection of gifts, toys, and seasonal items that makes it worthwhile to stop in for a look whenever you’re walking by.

Tree House also has a book club for kids age 11 and older (if there’s anything better than a book club, it’s a book club for young readers) as well as many other events, including local author appearances. And be sure to check out Tree House’s October calendar, coming soon, for upcoming Halloweeny events.