Rowena has very kindly invited me to discuss how reviewers find an author via their web presence, what they look for on author web sites and finally, what they look for in a book.
Good question. I am a teacher, a book blogger, interviewer and a reviewer. I have been focussing on speculative fiction for the past year but I have had a life long interest in reading and authors. I review for traditional publishers, small press and conduct audio interviews for Galactic Chat. Now I’m wary of self proclaimed experts so I won’t pretend to be one. I can only let you know how I get to know of authors and their works.
Cory Doctorow is fond of quoting Tim O’Reilly, “the big problem [for Authors] isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity”. I think it’s always been an issue for authors. It’s just been compounded with the ease of self publishing.
So what follows are some tips for getting someone like me to notice you as a writer and become an honest advocate of your work. I say advocate here because I don’ see myself fitting into that role of an academic, critical reviewer (which isn’t to say I won’t offer constructive criticism). I like finding good talent and letting likeminded people know about it.
Traditional publishers generally do a good job of getting you reviewed, or setting up interviews etcetera. In my experience though, social media and the use of the blogging/internet community is something they are just starting to come to grips with, often trying to seize it as a marketing opportunity, which runs against the grain of the egalitarian book blogging community. In my opinion social media outreach and community engagement with your readers is probably best done by the author. So without further ado here are my information conduits:
Podcasts – Book people talking about the books they love. I owe most of my recent purchases to listening to shows like The Coode Street Podcast, Galactic Suburbia and The Writer and The Critic. If there’s not a podcast that services your genre, consider starting one. If you can, get a mention or even a guest appearance on podcasts by engaging in some of the activities below.
Twitter – is probably my best source of information on what authors are doing and saying. A note here though, Twitter is a social media platform – engage with people. Don’t market your book at them (or do so with subtlety). These are people not customers (yet).
Websites and Blogs – have a web presence, a free blog or a self hosted site with an RSS feed. Have a place where you can talk about your book, yourself and your interests. If I like hanging out discussing things on your blog, I’ll tell others and I’ll link to your blog when you have news.
Goodreads- Get on Goodreads at least as a reader but preferably as an author as well. I have other readers who I respect and who I know have similar tastes to me. I’m informed of what books they are reading and what they think about these books. Make it easy for us to find you there.
Combine this approach with the works and networks of others and you have a web of mutually supportive connections that will nourish you.
Excellent examples of this approach are the ROR blog, and the various web incarnations of Marianne de Pierres. Watch how authors like Rowena, Marianne and publishers like Alisa Krasnostein contribute to a “rising tide that floats all boats”.
It’s not all work either. I promote my writing on twitter (it’s my biggest source of site visits) but I also spend time just conversing with people socially. All of the above activities require some effort but they also provide something in return.
But, “protect the work”. No good having a web presence without work to promote.
What you can do to help?
Everyone is busy. I know you have just spent the better part of two years getting a book to print, not to mention the carcases of other works abandoned on the journey, but here some things you can do to make it easy for people to sing your praises.
- Have a Press Kit, a page including a bio and jpegs of you and your works that bloggers can use in their posts.
- Collect links to interviews written and audio on your blog/website in one central location. When I research an author for an interview I listen and read all the other interviews they have done so that I don’t end up going over old ground. I want to ask the author engaging questions that make the experience a new one for them as well as the listener.
- Social media buttons, Twitter, Facebook, and Google + make it easy for people to keep track of your pronouncements. I don’t use browser bookmarks any more, I ‘m hooked up to RSS feeds & social media updates.
- Use commenting systems that allow users to be notified of new comments – anything that contributes to a community building up around your blog (my recommendation is Intense Debate).
So now that I have noticed you? What do I look for in a book?
Book reviewers, whether we are semi professional bloggers or newspaper columnists are grizzled veterans. We have seen it all before and we can be a hard crowd to please. The craft side of the equation is up to you, it’s something you develop only by doing, but here are some things that I look out for when reading.
Characters: You get me interested and caring about the characters and the premise of you novel/story almost doesn’t matter. Stephen King did this for me in 11.22.63. I couldn’t have cared less about the plan to save President Kennedy, I wanted the guy and the girl to get together and live happily ever after. As a reviewer I’m looking for “real” characters, whether they are orbiting Titan or defending Helms Deep. I want drama and tension and a little romance.
Originality or a new angle: reading lots of work within a genre really opens your eyes to how crowded with ideas it is. So to get yourself noticed, you have to come up with a fresh angle or something original. Trent Jamieson’s Death Works series is a good example of a fresh take on a number of horror/fantasy staples. You have a world that blends mythology, both Classical and Christian, an Australian location, demon possessed zombies, the Grim Reaper and a garnish of self deprecating Aussie humour.
Pacing: for genre fiction you need the novel to be well paced. This can be a steady rhythm or a white knuckle ride. You don’t want to give the reader a chance to put it down because, let’s face it, you are competing against visual mediums and other less taxing forms of entertainment.
An example of excellent pacing in a fantasy setting is Rowena’s King Rolen’s Kin; I’ve mentioned a couple of times that she should try her hand at a techno-thriller. A well paced novel helps the words disappear, immerses us in the story, page count ceases to matter. If you can make me as a reviewer forget that there’s another 300 pages to go I will be eternally thankful.
Emotional engagement: I have a rule that I generally only give five stars to books that get under my skin to the point where I have an emotional experience. To some extent this last point arises out of a combination of those above. Without well developed, believable characters you can’t form an emotional tie, and a book that languishes in the minutiae of a relationship never moving forward will bore the reader.
I read and reviewed Quentin Jardine’s The Loner early this year, presented as a faux biography – the pacing was steady, and the characters interesting and real. It was outside my reading preferences, a tale of a sportsman turned journalist. In the last 30 pages though, it gutted me emotionally, I felt physically ill due to empathy with the main character. Jardine had made those characters so believable and real that I experienced physical symptoms.
It’s rare to get all of these, or all of them in equal measure. And there’s some I am probably missing. But that’s not necessary for entertainment. And truth be told, reviewers aren’t all cut from the same cloth so even a couple of these will get your work talked about.
If you can make a book blogger or a reviewer a fan, then you have a genuine and honest promoter of your work. You may have noticed that I have mentioned writers associated with ROR, it’s not some cosy little in group referencing. I sing their praises when I blog and when I teach because they stick in my head.
It’s fairly easy to tell when someone is promoting for the sake of getting a reward. You want honest advocates of your work and if you can manage to do that you have an honest and organic support team at your disposal that you don’t have to pay.
I have given you some insight into my approach to reviewing and book blogging. Hopefully you can take something away from it. Perhaps, in the spirit of community you’d like to discus your own experiences and opinions in the comments.
For instance what has been your experience with reviewers? Do you have some you trust to recommend books? Has your book been reviewed in such a way that left you gnashing your teeth?
Follow Sean on Twitter: @SeandBlogonaut
See the Austral-Asian Spec Fic. Daily
(Look out for the article next week on this site and how useful it is for writers).