Sunday

Do Authors Obsess Too Much About Book Reviews?



by Anne R. Allen

Whether we're newbies or superstars, traditional or self-publishers, pretty much all authors stress about reviews: getting them…and surviving them.

Getting Reviews is Tough  


From the time our first book launches, we're told our number one job is to get reviewed. We send out ARCs, desperately query book bloggers and give away as many books as possible in hopes that some kind soul will write a few lines saying how they liked the book.

Some authors also use the new pricey book review sites—the ones where you have to pay $30 a month to be listed on a site that gives away free copies to people who probably won't review anyway.

Or they pay to get reviewed at Kirkus ($400-$550) or Publisher's Weekly($149). (These are not illegal like paid online "customer reviews," but many experts, like Joel Friedlander, consider them a bad idea.)

For a report from the review-chasing front, here's a great post from Molly Greene that includes her experiences with one paid review site. (Spoiler alert: it wasn't all Kumbaya and rainbows.)

We start out hoping for a bunch of rave reviews from big name book blogs or prestigious print journals, but after 100s of rejections from overwhelmed sites, we're grateful for a lukewarm mention on a blog with a readership of two people and a parakeet.

And then there's the biggie: getting reviews on the all-important retail and reader sites.

Nothing looks sadder than a naked, unreviewed book on Amazon or Goodreads. So we plead for people to accept free copies of our pricey, expensive-to-mail paper books on Goodreads and give away as many ebooks as we can on Amazon and Smashwords.

Some desperate authors even cross ethical lines. This is dumb and can get you kicked off Amazon permanently, so don't succumb to temptation to do stuff like:
  • Paying review mills or somebody at Fivrr to churn out generic one-line 5-stars. 
  • Trading reviews. 
  • Establishing "sock puppet" accounts for ourselves so we can review our own books and/or trash other people's. 
People do these things because they're told they gotta, gotta, gotta get those reviews. They've probably heard that they need a certain number of Amazon raves—maybe it's fifty, or a hundred, nobody's quite sure—to make the bestseller lists and get promoted by the algorithms. (A myth: more on that below.)

But we all try to reel in as many reader reviews as possible, begging everyone we meet to read the book and write something. Anything. Preferably something nice.

Only mostly they don't.

Most sales and giveaways generate very few reviews. Lots of scammers use Goodreads and other sites to get free hard copies they can sell on EBay. And the few who do write reviews can be downright nasty.

There's a bizarre reviewer subculture in the Amazon-Goodreads jungle that revels in giving nasty reviews to books they haven't read. It's a game for them. They'll glance at a few lines in the free "look inside" sample or simply reword other negative reviews. They often buy and return an ebook within minutes so they can get a "verified review" stamp on their one-word one-star.

The motivation of these people isn't entirely clear to me, but apparently some are competing to rack up a lot of review numbers—some write dozens per day—which can make them eligible to get free products to review. Others are playing Amazon like a videogame. The rest are just mean people who must be having terrible lives.

But the thing is, none of this stuff is helpful to readers looking for their next read. The abuse also hurts the reputation of genuine reviewers and sends authors into despair.

Surviving Bad Reviews is Tougher


Keep reading here....

-CYM

Friday

14 Amazing Bookish Halloween Costumes for Children

BY BECKY COLE

Halloween approaches, fellow book nerds. Do you know what you’re going to wear? Neither do I! Let’s get our creative juices flowing by cooing over some photos of adorable little nuggets in bookish Halloween costumes.
I may not have a baby of my own to play dress up with, but I’m fully amenable to appreciating the wee bookish Halloween costume efforts of others.
(Also: beware, friends and relatives who have recently reproduced. I am scheming.)
I cannot contain my glee when I look at this little hobbit. He’s ready for second breakfast. Look at his furry feet!

Thursday

Book Club Books: 12 Fabulous Titles Everyone Can Agree On


 | By  

Selecting a book club book can seem as harrowing as the plot of a page-turner. Should you opt for the true story of a valiant trek across the Pacific Northwest, or the underrated, lesser-known classic? Should you ignore your 400-page limit for the sake of discussing The GoldfinchShould you cancel your book club altogether?
Lest your wine-soaked discourse on what to read eclipse a more engaging conversation about books and life in general, consider these 12 fool-proof book club picks:

The Story of Land and Sea by Katy Simpson Smith
With a PhD in History and an MFA in creative writing, who better to pen a Revolutionary War-era novel than debut author Katy Simpson Smith? Her first book follows a single father and his ailing daughter Tabitha, as he attempts to cure her of yellow fever by taking her to sea. Embellished with flashbacks from the time before Tab's mother died in childbirth, this story is both painstakingly accurate to its era and pleasantly relatable to a contemporary audience. Read our review here.


Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Another stunning debut, Everything I Never Told Youfollows the pain and trauma a family must cope with after the loss of its eldest and most-praised daughter. Ng examines parental pressures, Asian-American stereotypes and various means of coping with grief in her story of a biracial family's gradual unraveling. Read our review here.



-CYM


Tuesday

10 Tips to Organizing a Kick Ass Online Book Event




Today, one of our WANA instructors is here to talk about a topic that makes most of us want to throw ourselves in traffic. BUT Angela Ackerman, our marketing maven is here to demystify Sasquatch the book launch party….
The Book Launch—WTH? What AM I THINKING?
The book launch. The discoverability blog hop. The big Christmas sale. You know you need to do it, that it will be good for your book, but the MOUNTAIN of work looming makes you want to run for Netflix and Big Bang Theory reruns.
After hosting many successful online events, I’ve learned a few tricks to making it through them alive. It involves a lot of coffee, frozen pizza for the family, and these ten steps.
1) Pick a Theme
Every event needs something jazzy to make it stand out. Pick a theme for your event that makes it fun and different. Think about your audience, and what they might find entertaining or valuable, and then pair it with a unique element from your book.
Is your book about pirates? Create an online treasure hunt. Is your hero a safe-cracking thief? Host a bank vault break in (Becca and I did something similar HERE.) The goal is to attract YOUR IDEAL AUDIENCE by tailoring your event to something they specifically will enjoy.
2) Marshall Your Forces
-CYM

Sunday

The Chemistry Behind the Smell of Old Books: Explained with a Free Infographic




What gives old books that ever-so-distinctive smell? Andy Brunning, a chemistry teacher in the UK, gives us all a quick primer with this infographic posted on his web site, Compound Interest. The visual comes accompanied by this textual explanation. Writes Brunning:
Generally, it is the chemical breakdown of compounds within paper that leads to the production of ‘old book smell’. Paper contains, amongst other chemicals, cellulose, and smaller amounts of lignin – much less in more modern books than in books from more than one hundred years ago. Both of these originate from the trees the paper is made from; finer papers will contain much less lignin than, for example, newsprint. In trees, lignin helps bind cellulose fibres together, keeping the wood stiff; it’s also responsible for old paper’s yellowing with age, as oxidation reactions cause it to break down into acids, which then help break down cellulose.
‘Old book smell’ is derived from this chemical degradation. Modern, high quality papers will undergo chemical processing to remove lignin, but breakdown of cellulose in the paper can still occur (albeit at a much slower rate) due to the presence of acids in the surroundings. These reactions, referred to generally as ‘acid hydrolysis’, produce a wide range of volatile organic compounds, many of which are likely to contribute to the smell of old books. A selected number of compounds have had their contributions pinpointed: benzaldehyde adds an almond-like scent; vanillin adds a vanilla-like scent; ethyl benzene and toluene impart sweet odours; and 2-ethyl hexanol has a ‘slightly floral’ contribution. Other aldehydes and alcohols produced by these reactions have low odour thresholds and also contribute.
The Aroma of Books infographic can be viewed in a larger format here. And because it has been released under a Creative Commons license, it can be downloaded for free. For another explanation of this phenomenon — this one in video — see this previous post in our archive:  The Birth and Decline of a Book: Two Videos for Bibliophiles

Originally posted here: Open Culture

Wednesday

What a College Football Star Did With a Group of 50-Year-Old Women Will SHOCK You




Re-post from MadWorld by Sean Brown

A wide receiver from the University of Georgia did something with a group of 40 to 50-year-old women that will undoubtedly leave you in shock.
Malcolm Mitchell met Kathy Rackley at a local Barnes and Noble one day, where she proceeded to tell him about her book club. Malcolm, who only had a junior high reading level when he entered college, asked her if he could join Kathy and her friends for their meetings once a month.
Kathy had no idea that a few years back Malcolm was the number one rated wide receiver in college football, and she told him that he probably wouldn’t be interested since it was a group of older women. Malcolm didn’t care, however, and he told her he would like to join them anyways.
Ever since, Malcolm has been attending the monthly meetings with the women, discussing books and enjoying the company of the group of woman who are all a generation older than him.
Perhaps the greatest part of Malcolm’s story is when he was asked by CBS reporter Steven Hartman what his greatest accomplishment in his life has been. After years of playing football and being in the national spotlight, he told Hartman it was when he finished reading the Hunger Games series in about two days.
His reason? Football comes naturally to him and he says it’s a “gift,” whereas improving his reading was a challenge that took hard work to accomplish.
Hats off to Malcolm for setting a good example for black youth across America. Such a story is inspirational and shows that friends can be made between the most unlikely people.
Make sure you share this story if Malcolm’s unusual friendships are inspirational to you as well.

-CYM

Monday

Fictitious Dishes: Elegant and Imaginative Photographs of Meals from Famous Literature


Repost from Maria Popova


From James Joyce to Maurice Sendak, by way of weep-worthy jelly and gifted chickens.

Food and literature have a long and arduous relationship, from the Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook to Jane Austen reimagined in recipes to Alice B. Toklas’sliterary memoir disguised as a cookbookto those delicious dishes inspired byAlice in Wonderland. But nowhere does that relationship come alive more vividly and enchantingly than in Fictitious Dishes: An Album of Literature’s Most Memorable Meals (public library) — an ingenious project by designer and writer Dinah Fried, who cooks, art-directs, and photographs meals from nearly two centuries of famous fiction. Each photograph is accompanied by the particular passage in which the recipe appeared, as well as a few quick and curious factlets about the respective author, novel, or food.


The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, 1963
'Then I tackled the avocado and crabmeat salad...Every Sunday my grandfather used to bring me an avocado pear hidden at the bottom of his briefcase under six soiled shirts and the Sunday comic.'

 
by J.D. Salinger, 1951
'When I’m out somewhere, I generally just eat a Swiss cheese sandwich and a malted milk. It isn’t much, but you get quite a lot of vitamins in the malted milk. H. V. Caulfield. Holden Vitamin Caulfield.'
The project began as a modest design exercise while Fried was attending the Rhode Island School of Design a couple of years ago, but the concept quickly gripped her with greater allure that transcended her original short-term deadline. As she continued to read and cook, a different sort of self-transcendence took place (after all, isn’t that the greatest gift of literature?): A near-vegetarian, she found herself wrestling with pig kidney for Ulysses and cooking bananas eleven ways for Gravity’s Rainbow.


Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, 1865
'Have some wine,’ the March Hare said in an encouraging tone. Alice looked all round the table, but there was nothing on it but tea.'


The book begins with a beautiful quote from Ray Bradbury’s 1953 classic Fahrenheit 451:
I ate them like salad, books were my sandwich for lunch, my tiffin and dinner and midnight munch. I tore out the pages, ate them with salt, doused them with relish, gnawed on the bindings, turned the chapters with my tongue! Books by the dozen, the score and the billion. I carried so many home I was hunchbacked for years. Philosophy, art history, politics, social science, the poem, the essay, the grandiose play, you name ’em, I ate ’em.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925
'On buffet tables, garnished with glistening hors-d’oeuvre, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold.'

Fried, whom I had the pleasure of advising briefly during her graduate thesis at RISD, reflects on her long-term love affair with the culinary details of famous fiction, which possess a unique multi-sensory capacity to transport the reader into a specific world and thus grant the singular gift of exceptionally vivid memories:


Many of my most vivid memories from books are of the meals the characters eat. I read Heidi more than twenty years ago, but I can still taste the golden, cheesy toast that her grandfather serves her, and I can still feel the anticipation and comfort she experiences as she watches him prepare it over the open fire. I remember some meals for the moment they signify within a story: the minty cupcakes that Melissa gives to Chip in The Corrections — a marker of their love affair, which causes Chip’s professional downfall and general unraveling. Other meals have stayed with me for the atmosphere they help convey. Recently, a friend told me that after reading Lolita, he began to drink gin and pineapple juice, a favorite combination of the novel’s narrator, Humbert Humbert. I read Lolita when I was barely older than Lolita herself and was amazed that my friend’s description of the cocktail catapulted me back to the distinct world that Nabokov had created: a sticky New England summer when an intoxicated, lust-lorn Humbert Humbert mows the unruly lawn in the hot sun, pining for Dolores, who is away at camp. Likewise, Melville’s description of steaming chowder in Moby-Dick evokes a vision of Ishmael’s seafaring life: salty, damp ocean air on a dark evening; finding solace in a cozy, warmly lit inn with a toasty dining room filled with good cheer and the rich smell of fresh seafood.

All of Fried’s photographs are immensely thoughtful (Ishmael’s austere dinner from Moby-Dick is not only a nautically appropriate serving of clam chowder, but also appears lit by candlelight), and some bear a distinct undertone of cultural meta-satire (representing A Confederacy of Dunces is the ultimate edible Americana, a hot dog on a classic All-American diner tablecloth).


Moby-Dick by Herman Melville, 1851
'Our appetites being sharpened by the frosty voyage, and in particular, Queequeg seeing his favorite fishing food before him, and the chowder being surpassingly excellent, we despatched it with great expedition…'


In a sentiment reminiscent of Lewis Carroll’s parallel between food and intellectual consumption, Fried writes:
Reading and eating are natural companions, and they’ve got a lot in common. Reading is consumption. Eating is consumption. Both are comforting, nourishing, restorative, relaxing, and mostly enjoyable. They can energize you or put you to sleep. Heavy books and heavy meals both require a period of intense digestion. Just as reading great novels can transport you to another time and place, meals — good and bad ones alike — can conjure scenes very far away from your kitchen table. Some of my favorite meals convey stories of origin and tradition; as a voracious reader, I devour my favorite books. 


The final pages of Fictitious Dishes, which is an absolute delight in its entirety, also feature one of the loveliest dedications I’ve ever laid heart on:
Thank you and love to my father, for teaching me to read carefully, and to my mother, for teaching me to look closely.
For a side order of literary deliciousness, see Alexandre Dumas’s rules of dining etiquette and some scrumptious recipes inspired by Jane Austen’s novels.

CYM