Friday, September 16, 2011

Getting Reviewed – II

Last time I talked about the sources of book reviews I consider the most valuable.  I started with the most prestigious publications that do prepublication reviews.  However they aren’t the only good places to get reviewed.

A few years ago the holy grail for getting your book reviewed was the separate newspaper book sections.  But those sections have been disappearing rapidly.  In fact the only stand alone book section I know is still being printed (please correct me if you know of another) is the section in the New York Times.

The New York Times Book Review gets in front of nearly a million readers, and until recently it had another million readers on line.  Now that you have to pay to read the paper on line that’s no longer true.  Still, the New York Times Book Review is a hundred year old tradition and still offers informed criticism of a diverse selection of books.  The staff  is generally reviewing a couple hundred books at a time, with a half dozen “preview editors” looking at 15 or 20 books a week.  They’ve added a podcast, online video interviews, a blog and even slideshows. 

I’d also love to have my books reviewed by the San Francisco Chronicle.   That paper still includes a weekly eight-page pull-out section with 6 to 8 reviews plus a list of first sentences from new books.  I’d love to get one of my opening lines in there!  They also have local celebrities write about their most cherished book.  

Also valuable is the Los Angeles Times book section.  It’s tucked into the Arts section now but it still has more than 100,000 Twitter followers.  The Washington Post has a very cool book review video series on it’s website.  And the Wall Street Journal has a print section simply called Books.  It’s kinda hidden in the Weekend’s Review section, but it still reaches two million readers. 

A few other sources are highly trusted by readers.   The American Book Review, the American Scholar , the Believer; Bookforum, Entertainment Weekly, the New York Review of Books; O, The Oprah Magazine, and Rain Taxi all have faithful readers who decide what to read based on their recommendations. 

Also, more than a million readers visit the online book section posted by National Public Radio (NPR) every month.  They mostly focus on new-related nonfiction and literary fiction, but at least they cover the small presses.  They run 3 online-only book reviews per week and do reviews on All Things Considered and Fresh Air.   

I know this is pretty subjective, but next time I’ll list more of what I consider the best places to get reviewed – the next tier to aim for if your book gets overlooked by those I’ve already mentioned. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The challenge of getting reviewed

When we authors build our promotion plan for a new book, reviews are always a part of that strategy.  With a new novel (The Piranha Assignment) coming out October 1 I have been chasing reviews for months.  Getting a book reviewed not only helps to raise awareness of your work, it also legitimizes you as a published author.  In some ways it doesn’t seem like a real book until some objective outsider comments on it.

At one time you could gather some reviews by simply mailing copies of your book to several newspapers around the country.  However, in the last five or six years book reviews have been fading from the news stands.  Financially weak newspapers have been eliminating their book review sections.  In some cases book review space shrank and got tucked into the culture or entertainment section.  Book editors and critics have also been cut from the payroll.  And hundreds of newspapers folded completely. 

“The key word for the changes afoot is proliferation. The number of books being published has ballooned from some fifty thousand books published annually in the 1970s to more than three million in 2010 and climbing."

The good news is that reading hasn’t gone away.  I see a lot of book discussion on the internet and I have visited several reading groups.  People in both camps complain that they have few guides leading them to the best reading.  A lot of bloggers are reviewing books, and many of them have large followings.  So reviews haven’t disappeared, we just have to look in different places.

On the other hand, thanks to print-on-demand and the rise of self-publishing, there are about 60 times as many books going into print every year than there were 40 years ago.  Books do still get reviewed in newspapers, magazines, radio and television shows, but now you are just as likely to find reviews on social media sites like Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter and Library-Thing, on and a variety of podcasts.  However, most of these reviews are written by fellow readers, not literary professionals.  Writers wanting to promote their work want it reviewed by people readers trust.  I thought I’d list those I think have the most clout.

At the top of the list, in my opinion, are those well established publications that do prepublication reviews.  Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Library Journal and Kirkus Reviews are examples of magazines that preview books in advance.  Their target audience includes librarians, editors and broadcast producers – the people you most want to know that your book is coming out.  Booklist covers about 8,000 books a year.  Kirkus Reviews is broader in scope and reviews some self-published books. Library Journal publishes more than 6,000 reviews a year.  They sift through thousands of galleys every week and write about books 6 months in advance of publication. And before you decide that librarians are old fashioned, note that Library Journal 18,000 subscribers but about a 150,000 Twitter followers.

Publisher’s Weekly sends a daily newsletter to about 37,000 people, and about 100,000 follow them on Twitter.  So while their target group is publishers, editors, publicists, booksellers, and authors, lots of readers read them too.  Every week PW’s reviewers editors consider between 300 and 600 books.  They publish 150 reviews in the magazine, and another 20 or so on line.  They are focusing more and more on small presses.

I’ve got more to say about places to get reviewed, but I’ll save it for next time.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

What if they Google you?

It should not surprise you that for many people, research starts with Google.  That means that if someone hears your name or one of your book titles and they’re curious, they will likely check Google for details.  If your web site is on the first page of results, odds are pretty good they’ll click to your site.  If it’s not quickly visible, well, maybe they’ll get bored and move to the next writer of interest. 

So how do you make your site turn up fast in a search for your work?  I don’t think there’s a quick or easy way, because we can’t know for sure what the Google system looks for.  According to some references, Google changes their algorithms more than once every day!  But there are some things you can do that should reliably you’re your web site closer to the front of the line.

First, keep your web site focused on your reader.  It seems that Google’s focus is on web sites that stay focused on the users.  It can be hard to take yourself out of the equation but you have to try to make your web site all about the people you want to visit it.

It helps to have links from other good web sites, and sites that get a lot of traffic.  I've found two techniques that are almost sure-fire.  Many sites, blogs and even Facebook pages review books.  When I’ve gotten people to review my books they almost always post a link to my website.  Also, when I comment on posts at other people’s blogs I add my URL at the bottom.  Each time you do that you’ve created a link to your site from a site you chose.

You should also Google yourself and see what comes up.  When you see your web site, check out what it shows.  Usually there will be two or three lines from your home page.  That little bit should not be about you.  It should be about your readers.  This really will affect you ranking, so go back and make some changes to that first paragraph on your web site.

There are also some purely mechanical things you can do.  Make sure the right key words are on your home page so people know what your site is all about.  You should also remember your title tags, what your page name says at the very top of your search bar.  Getting your key words there helps your search engine ranking.

Don’t let your page stay static.  Search engines love fresh content, so every time you update your website it helps raise your ranking.  Perhaps the most important thing is to keep your web site current and your content relevant.  If you do that, and follow the other tips above, you are almost sure to move your web site to the first page of any relevant search.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Writing from a Different Gender’s Perspective

Mariana Ashley is a freelance writer who particularly enjoys writing about online colleges.  However, today she has some excellent tips for fiction authors.

For many fiction writers, especially those just starting out, the first piece of advice we hear is “write what you know.” Of course, as our writing develops, we understand this adage to mean that we should write honestly. A writer can become, through her fiction, many things that she is not, as long as she portrays emotions and situations accurately. That being said, one common writing dilemma that all writers run into at one point or another is writing from a different gender perspective. After all, you can avoid writing from the perspective of, say, a physicist, but you cannot avoid writing fiction that has both males and females, unless every narrative you write is set in an all-boys or –girls Catholic school. Here are some tips if you find gender-bending in your fiction is particularly difficult.
1.      Don’t overshoot it by incorporating gender stereotypes.
When you are writing from the opposite gender’s perspective, your first impulse may be to obsess over what you think a “boy” or a “girl” would think. This is an easy way to fall into gender stereotypes, which in turn will make your narrative surprisingly unrealistic.
2.      Make someone of the opposite sex read your work to check for believability.
The best way to improve your ability to write from the opposite gender’s viewpoint is to ask someone of that gender to read your work, then have a discussion on whether or not it sounds believable. Of course, you’ll have different opinions about what a male or female should sound like, but ideally getting several people of different age groups, cultures, and socioeconomic backgrounds who share the same gender, then taking all their opinions into consideration makes for a good plan.
3.      Read other books in which a male author focalizes a female character, and vice versa.
Although it is true that most male authors focalize male protagonists, and most female authors focalize female protagonists, there are some authors who have very successfully portrayed the opposite sex. One prime example is Flaubert in his classic Madame Bovary. Another wonderful example of a male author very accurately channeling a female character’s thoughts and emotions is James Joyce, whose last episode of his novel Ulysses is told completely from Molly Bloom’s perspective.
4.      Practice a lot and don’t doubt yourself too much.
Perhaps the most difficult thing about writing (as well as about life, generally speaking) is being able to walk a mile (or a write a novel) in another’s shoes. When this “other” is extremely different from you, then the task becomes doubly difficult. At the same time, however, we are all humans, and if, as you write, you remember that we all share the same range of emotions, you’ll find that tapping into these universal emotions is the most important thing. Once you practice creating different characters and you stop over-thinking considerations like gender, you’ll be sure to write something poignant and believable. 

Mariana loves receiving reader feedback, which can be directed to