What Are You Reading?

I love the emails I get from Amazon that, based on what I’ve bought in the past, suggest books I might like in the future. So far I haven’t clicked through to the check-out lane on any of them. Maybe it’s because of my background as an advertising copywriter, I know what it takes to write sales copy and I know when I’m being “sold.” Sometimes I get a mental image of the copywriter knocking out copy for the day before lunch: “Hey, Beth, we need some sexy copy for these five new thrillers.” “Great. Are they any good?” “Who knows? Just give us a couple of lines.”
Exactly.
Last summer, I had a conversation with my brother that set me on a literary journey that lasted—without a whole lot of time for housecleaning, eating, drinking or sleeping—a full five months. He clued me in to George RR Martin’s “Game of Thrones” series. My ensuing summer was a bloody cornucopia of slaughter, haints and “shape-changers.”

Great rip-roaring tale to help guarantee you get nothing done until you finish the whole series. (Not unlike The Hunger Games in this way.)

During my extended time in Westeros, I would occasionally notice a book flit by on the New York Times Bestseller’s list—or in one of the above-mentioned Amazon emails—and mentally earmark it for when my time with Mr. Martin was done. But honestly, without an honest-to-God recommendation from someone you trust to know a good story, what good is a pretty cover and a snappy title? I’ve read plenty of cover blurb promises which the content within did NOT deliver. When I’d finished reading the “Game of Throne” series, a Facebook friend of mine was in the process of adoring “The Help.” It was nice that she actually talked about it while she was reading it. Mind you, I had heard of “The Help” before she mentioned it. Everyone in North America had heard of it. It had received an amazing publicity splash that was relentless that year. And yet? Somehow I got the idea that “The Help” was a self-help book along the lines of “The Secret.” Every time I saw the bright yellow book cover, I mentally tuned it out because I’d already decided

I was a one-woman word-of-mouth machine for this book!

I wasn’t interested in that kind of self-improvement.
When my friend gushed all over the place about it, I picked it up (or loaded it down, whatever) and loved it, and turned around and Amazon-gifted it to three other friends I knew would love it, too.
Recently, I’ve been reading Indie books to try to support the movement but it does take forever to find something good on the Internet. Not that authors aren’t doing a fairly good job of pushing their books in my face—at nearly every juncture on Facebook or Twitter—but like I said before, sales copy and I are intimately related. I know what bullshit looks like. I wrote it for years.
The size and shape of the literary world is changing out there, not just for writers but for readers, too. So how do you find the books you like to read? Do you count on word-of-mouth or is there a book review publication you depend on?

 

Does What We Do as Authors Really Matter?

Today’s post is another contributing chapter in the Social Media saga as it pertains to authors trying to flog books to the millions of as-yet unaware readers “out there.” If you will direct your attention to Exhibit A—the chart you see here was pinched from a recent Romance Writers of America article. (The article had a whole bunch of other interesting facts and stats you might want to check out.) While it’s true that Romance readers are different from other genre readers, there’s an argument to be made that how they decide on what book to read next is not terribly different from how other readers decide.

As you can see, if this chart is correct, a whole lot of effort is being made by myself and my fellow-authors in areas that prospective readers are not very interested. In fact, the only area with a remote interest shown is that of our websites and even then it’s less than 50%. Personally, after you wince your way through the big long blue bars, you have to discount the red bars, too. Because let’s face it, if you have to convince people first to do whatever the thing is over and above looking at your book, it might as well be a blue bar. For example, on the one that says “saw a promotional book trailer and bought the full book,” if 23% said “not done but some interest,” what does “some interest” mean? I think it means now you have to convince them or interest them in watching the damn trailer before you can lure them into your web to peek inside the book. That’s a lot of hoops to jump through before they start to consider whether or not they want to read your book. In fact, the only portion of this chart that we need to be looking at is the purple part and, except for the author’s website (even so, barely 40%) the rest of these activities look like, if not a waste of time then at the very least something that takes you away from writing.

Again, that’s just me and if you know me at all, you know I lean in the direction of lazy. So what do you think? Is the chart shocking? Do you still believe? Are dreams really not about ROI? Love to hear your take…

The Top 3 Reasons Why Book Trailers are Worthless

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure book trailers have been done before. And they weren’t successful then either. We all remember the thirty-second television ads that you’d see from time to time for a book. There was always a disconnect—watching a visual medium trying to excite you about a nonvisual medium. First, books are SO personal and the images we create in our heads of the stories and settings of books are so unique to our own personal world construct, that it’s hard to see what would work in a mass media presentation. Has a video ever succeeded in selling a book? Ever? It’s one thing to see a movie of a book you’ve already read. Most of us can switch gears pretty quickly to align our vision of what Hogwarts looked like with that of Director Chris Columbus’. And ever after that, of course, it’s his vision we see in our heads as we read the rest of the series.

I was watching a BBC time travel show last winter called “The Outcasts,” (really good BTW but cancelled after one season) and at one point the camera focused on the main character’s face as she opened up a chest that held an alien creature germane to the survival of the colony. The camera hesitated a tad too long on the woman’s face and I found myself thinking: “If you do a cut away to the next scene without showing us what it looked like (presumably to save on the production cost of creating the alien thing), I’m going to be pissed. If I wanted to use my imagination, I’d read a book.”

The point is, we have certain expectations from each of our mediums. Trying to pretend that a book is a movie and that we are excited and teased by it in the same way as a movie is silly. For one thing, our experience with a book will typically be more invested than with a movie. A movie may cost the same but it’s only about 90 minutes of your time. A book will likely go with you on your daily round and fall asleep with you at night. You will access the book on your own schedule, and dip into it or read it straight through based on your mood and timing—not your neighborhood Cineplex’s. It’s a relationship. Whatever actress or animation you see in the book trailer is not who you would have created in your own mind. The book trailer actually succeeds in making the world created in the book less real.

Top three reasons not to waste your time producing a book trailer:

  1. If the production is decent, you—as the author—will come off looking a little smarmy and slick. And not-so-deep down we all know it just means you spent money for a professional video editor. It has nothing to do with the promise of the quality of the book.
  2. If the production is lame, and indie book trailers often are with their sappy music, indecipherable text fonts, and amateurish slides, most people—used to very sophisticated video productions—will run like hell from you and your book.
  3. Finally, not only is the medium of video inadequate to sell the complex, detailed world expected from a book, but so is the time allotment. Sixty seconds—the recommended length for a book trailer—just isn’t long enough to do the job. Wrong medium, wrong message. Books aren’t movies. They can’t be advertised like movies.

Also, my brief visit to Wikipedia today informed me that book trailers were originally created to get nonreaders interested in picking up a book. That makes sense. If someone doesn’t read, he likely gets his stories from TV or movies, so a movie would be a good way to try to reach him.  But, unless you’re trying to talk your audience into reading, rather than specifically reading your book, it’s probably a better use of your time to let the indie filmmakers keep their trailers and you do other things to promote your book!

Having said that, I’ve got a book trailer for my book Toujours Dead that was loads of fun to do, (I’m an amateur film editor) though I won’t be repeating the experience anytime soon. Anyone else have a feeling one way or the other about the benefits of book trailers? Or proof of how a book trailer helped to sell books? Love to hear from you!

Is it the end of bookstores or the sound of one hand clapping?

I didn’t rejoice when Borders announced last fall that they were going belly up, but, at the time, I didn’t really care, either. I’d long since stopped buying even paperbacks there although it was still nice on an unhurried lunch hour to browse through their magazine shelves to flip through periodicals I never knew existed. Except for the odd gift here and there, I can’t remember buying a hardback book at any of the big box bookstores for at least five years. And since the advent of the affordable e-reader, I haven’t even bothered picking up a paperback book from Wal-Mart—not when it’s so much more convenient, not to mention cheaper, to download it to my Kindle. (Brick and mortar bookstores require climbing out of your bunny slippers and driving. Real-place bookstores require parking and standing in line. When I want the third book in the Hunger Games series, I want it NOW.)

So why does it feel, with the closing of this once warm and happy place (and oh! it always smelled so good inside!) like the world has turned its back on reading and literature—not just the method by which it was delivered to us? If anything, thanks to e-readers and smartphones, we’re all reading much more than before. We’re reading in line at movie theaters, in doctors’ offices, and even while waiting for traffic lights (well, maybe that’s just me).  Plus, now that there is no tell-tale cover of heaving bosoms or pre-teen sci-fi fantasy, no one can see what we’re reading either.

The sad, bare shelves aside, it wasn’t reading we were turning our backs on, even though that’s how it felt last fall when my husband and I picked over the rumble sale that was our neighborhood Borders store. What we really lost was the pleasure of browsing that the big bookstore afforded. Anchoring an outdoor string of Pottery Barns and Gaps, the Borders in our neighborhood was the only way we could turn a “trip to the mall” into a joint affair. Neither of us can manage to wander around Williams and Sonoma for an hour (as much as we like the place) but we could always get happily lost, coffee cup in hand, at Borders for much longer. (Plus, I could even leave him and go to J Crew and come back and he was still happy to be “out shopping” with me. Win-win.)

Reading is, by its nature, a solitary pleasure but the big box bookstores gave us a steady stream of coffee and plush chairs and brought other bibliophiles together. They surrounded us with all the lush colors of one magnificent book cover after another—in fact rows and rows and stacks and stacks of them—the objects of our mutual desire. It was such a lovely little world. And for awhile it didn’t matter that we weren’t actually buying anything. In fact, for years I stubbornly refused to pay $25 for a hardback book. I picked  them up, read the blurb copy, and photographed the gorgeous covers with my cellphone so that I could find them later either at the library or as an e-book. For me, the big bookstores—and the mom and pops for that matter—were about everything except actually purchasing the book. They were about fellowship, good coffee, relaxed browsing, and discovering new books.

I wonder, amid all the wondering of what the future of bookstores will be, if there might someday once again be a place to congregate—with coffee and plush chairs and other book lovers. Oh, that’s right…that’d be the Internet Book Clubs. And the coffee is chez vous and the plush chair is your living room couch. It’s just that, it seems to me, especially on top of the worry that my Boomer generation often confesses to about our children’s generation possibly having difficulty “connecting” in person, might this be another nail in the coffin of personal interaction?