The Kindle Fire is a great deal as tablets go, but I’m sticking with the old Kindle

By John Yunker,

I like the Kindle Fire.

Though many tech gurus have criticized it for not living up to the Apple iPad (and it doesn’t), the Kindle Fire is an incredible deal at $199.

I played around with the Fire for a bit. And despite the name (Fire? Really?) the device didn’t feel cheap at all, as many said. Though it’s not as user friendly as the iPad, I had no trouble figuring out how to use it. The color screen is a welcome sight if you love full-color books. And the fact that you can start watching movies right away thanks to a one-month free trial of Amazon Prime is no trivial feature. And within a minute of starting up the device, I had all my previous Kindle purchases synced over to this device. Very nifty.

That said, I’m happy to stick with the old-fashioned black-and-white Kindle.

The reason for this is that I already have an iPad.

Right now, the original Kindle and iPad complement one another nicely. The Kindle is lightweight and does one thing extremely well. The iPad is heavy but does everything else extremely well.

And the old Kindle has buttons. I got used to the buttons for zipping through books, and I’m not ready to give them up for an all-touch screen just yet.

The Kindle Fire falls somewhere in between the old Kindle and the iPad, which appears to be a nice place to be given that the the device is projected to sell 5 million units this year and is outselling the iPad at Best Buy.

 

 

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.

Celebrating wild turkeys on Thanksgiving

By John Yunker,

For the last several months, I’ve been watching a family of wild turkeys as they meander around the hills and trails of Ashland — which makes the Thanksgiving holiday bittersweet in that so many of these beautiful animals end up on people’s plates rather than remain out in the wilderness where they belong.

In the wild, turkeys are a beautiful sight. Here are two short clips of turkeys that live on the outskirts of town:

I’m looking forward to watching this turkey family grow up — and also looking forward to a future in which all turkeys are able to live out their lives this way.

 

 

  Category: On animals, On nature
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A music blog that every writer should read

By John Yunker,

I’ve recently become acquainted with The Lefsetz Letter, a blog by — who else? — Bob Lefsetz.

It’s a blog about the music industry.

And yet there are so many parallels between the music industry and the publishing industry that I recommend this blog to any writer out there who wants to get a feel for where we’re all headed.

There are differences, to be sure, between the two industries. There’s no American Idol for writers, for example (which is not necessarily a bad thing).

Both industries are undergoing massive change, both due primarily to the digitization of content.

And as Bob wrote, the music industry can’t get away with overcharging for music any longer. The same might be said for the publishing industry, which sowed the seeds for its own disruption when hardcovers began costing north of $25 (and giving people a very good reason to migrate to the Kindle).

But what I most appreciate about Bob’s writing (and boy, is he prolific) is that he always comes back around to the importance of the art itself. Because despite all the Kindles and iPads and Nooks that are making headlines these days, despite all social networking success stories, it is the art itself that matters most.

A Kindle is worthless without a great book.

And I would argue that there is still a dearth of great books out there.

Here’s what Bob wrote recently:

No one wants to hear this. Especially a generation brought up getting trophies for last place. Music is more cutthroat and competitive than ever before. The public is right there, on the other side of the computer, but it’s almost impossible to get people to care.

If you’re a great marketer, good at Facebook and Twitter, hire yourself out as such. Just because you can promote a product, that does not mean it’s going to sell. Social media only works if the music is great.

Good is not good enough.

We’re talking great. One listen great. Fifteen seconds great. Or something so left field that our friends tell us to give it five times through and we think it’s the new “Dark Side Of The Moon”.

Music is like America at large. There’s the 1% and everybody else. You may think you can make it, but you can’t. You’re part of the 99%. You’re a fan.

You could swap out “music” and insert “publishing” and “book” and this excerpt would be just as relevant to writers.

There are more books being published today than ever before, more books competing for reviews and for “follows” and “likes.”  It’s the natural evolution of an industry that no longer has gatekeepers. It’s chaotic. It’s noisy. And now the focus is on how many friends you have, how many followers. Writers are all expected to have a “platform” so they can guarantee a certain number of sales, a certain amount of publicity.

But I agree with what Bob notes: Social media only works if the music [book] is great.

I’ve been thinking a lot about social media lately. I wonder how a writer who has been toiling for years (usually nights and weekends) writing his or her Great American Novel is also expected to have a few thousand followers and friends?

My advice echoes Bob’s: You’re far better off worrying less about how many friends you have and focusing more on writing the best book possible. A book that people tell their friends and family about not because you asked them to — because they want to.

Far too often, publishers make acquisitions based on how many friends or likes or Twitter followers an author has. And that is a mistake. Yet it’s a mistake that will ultimately benefits smaller presses — those of us still focused on the work itself. In a world with no gatekeepers at the top, it is the gatekeepers at the bottom who matter most — the readers. Write for them and them only, and the rest will fall into place.

And don’t forget to check out Bob’s blog.

 

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.