Monday, June 3, 2013

How Do You Get Someone To Read Your Book? by Michael Gettel-Gilmartin


Doesn't it sometimes feel that there's a gazillion books published each year? (Actual sources say it's closer to 3 million, but who's counting?) And--not to cause mayhem with statistics, or anything--but only 75% of Americans even read and/or listened to a book last year, with the mean number of books being read turning out to be 15. (Thank god for the bookworms among us, right?)

So, there's a vast ocean of published material, and not enough swimmers in the sea. What can you do to improve your chances that someone will read your book? Here are some ideas:

Know Who You're Writing For:

If you want to connect with a middle grade reader, don't write in the style of War and Peace. There are certain things that middle graders care about, and certain ways they see the world. Aim for that.

Use Social Media, but be Authentic:

I'm sure everyone writing for publication has had the idea of "platform" drilled into them. In droves, they've turned to Facebook and Twitter as a marketing tool. But greater minds than I agree: as a marketing tool, social media isn't too effective. How many of you have been turned off by an author tweeting incessantly about their book? A much better strategy is to get on social media and show other facets of your life. Two people who do this very well are David Lubar, whose Facebook statuses are a mix of excruciating puns, and insights about what interests him (he's a gamer, and has been taking a class in stand-up comedy.) He's also not afraid to get political. In short, he comes across as a real person. You betcha I'm going to grab one of his books to read.

The other guy who does things well is our own Matthew MacNish. With Matt, you'll find out about sports teams he roots for, and what's working (and what's not) on The Game of Thrones. Again, he's for real.

Write a Book That Makes an Emotional Connection:

Here I'll tell you a story which will explain the photo at the beginning of this blog post. The Orchardist by Northwest writer, Amanda Coplin, was published last year. It is set in eastern Washington state, near a town called Wenatchee, and tells the story of a man named Talmadge who has an apple orchard. One day two runaway girls appear on his land and he protects them against brutal, armed men. (I'm brutally paraphrasing Goodreads here.)

The Orchardist received good reviews in the press. It won the 2012 Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers award. Was I going to read it? Nope. I read mostly middle grade, and it takes a lot of cajoling for me to stray.

My local book store prominently placed it. One of the staff raved about it as a "staff pick." Still no sale.

Then, a few Sundays ago, I sat at a table to drink coffee with a few seniors from my church. One of them asked me how my writing was going (yay, I got to talk about me!), and then the topic moved on to books we'd been reading. One of the men, a gruff-looking guy with wrinkles chiseled into his face, said "I just finished a great book. The Orchardist." (Surprise here. He doesn't look like a guy who reads much fiction.) "My wife was reading it for her book group, and I picked it up. It... it moved me deeply." He started crying.

Right then and there, I decided I was going to read The Orchardist. The author didn't tweet me. The reviewers (whom I don't know) hadn't moved me. But my church friend's emotion got to me. If a book can touch a reader so deeply that he can cry--or conversely, she can laugh till the tears come--then I am a potential reader of that book myself. Who knows, you might see another grown man cry.


What gets you to read a book? Tweets, newspaper reviews, word of mouth? Or something else I haven't thought of? Thanks for stopping by the Mayhem today--and if you haven't yet done so, check out our splendiferous 700 follower giveaway.

30 comments:

  1. Great post today, Micheal, and a great conversation starter among readers and/or writers.

    I finally got bitten by the social media bug in May (After not being as confident in my making online connections before), and really got into the fun things you can contribute and be part of, but I do my best to avoid being "THAT writer" who only talks about himself.

    Since part of my brand is to bring to light the depth and variety of animal fantasy across mediums, but particularly books, I get to highlight my passion without it being only about me.


    That said, there are some reviews that convinced me to buy and read books I otherwise wouldn't.

    A recent example is when I read some reviews for the memoir "Why be Happy When you Can be Normal?" by Jeanette Winterson.

    I've never read her previous books, but I could relate to having a difficult mother to love (Though my mother's also schizophrenic, but at least she's not homicidal, my grandmother raised me in any event), but I felt empathy and pain for the author telling this story, and made me feel better about my less traumatic situation by comparison, there are still hard days for me to deal with, though, this book just helped me better put it in perspective.

    My only warning is NOT to read it on or too near either Mother's Day, you mother's birthday, her wedding anniversary, or anniversary of your mother's death if she's not longer on the mortal side of existence.

    All that said, I bought the book in late 2011, read it 2012, and had to turn to the audiobook version when it became too emotional to read on the page alone, and it's often easier for me to listen to an emotionally dense book than read it on the page at times.

    I'm a way easier cry than the guy from your church you cited, but good for him in being willing to share his vulnerability, we do too many boys and men today a disservice here, but I'll curb myself from ranting today and stop there...(LOL)

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    1. I friend sent me a quote from Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal about poetry. It ends with "Poetry isn't a hiding place. It's a finding place." It's hanging on my bulletin board. Must get to the rest of the book!

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    2. Taurean, now that both you and Caroline have mentioned Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal, my interest is definitely piqued. Who k nows, I may have a summer of reading outside of middle grade fiction ahead of me?!

      Thanks for the comment, Taurean. I enjoyed getting to know a little more about you.

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  2. Word of mouth is HUGE in getting people to read your books. Yes, the cover attracts people (even for e-books). Buzz on book blogs catches our attention, but there are SO MANY books being toured on the blogs! Spam Tweets -- they just turn me off.

    But when people say, over and over, READ THIS BOOK. That means something.

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    1. Covers are important, I agree. But a beautiful cover without a recommendation from someone I know and trust probably won't make me take the plunge to read a book. (I love to read, but hope I'm not reaching saturation point. Yesterday I stared at my TBR pile--which admittedly is off-puttingly huge--for several minutes. Ended up reading the newspaper instead.)

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  3. Great post, Michael. I agree with Dianne on what gets me to read books. I read a lot of book blogs and author reviews of books. That's how I decide what books to read. Also, I search out authors for my interviews and find a lot of my books that way.

    I agree with you that Twittering or blogging about your book all the time is a turn off. But some well thought out social networking about it is good.

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    1. I agree, Natalie. I think social media about your book should follow the old 80/20 rule. 80 percent about interesting things; 20 percent about your book. Sometimes writers get carried away and EVERY tweet is an exhortation to buy their book. This definitely has the opposite effect they intend--at least for me.

      I am in awe how much you read for your blog. You inspire me!

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  4. I would have picked up The Orchardist on the cover alone. If that didn't convince me, the initial description you gave would have.

    To each his own! ;)

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  5. That is how I find books, by personal recommendation.

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  6. Oh geez. Thanks for the shout-out, Mike! Of course I haven't been blogging for a week or two. LOL.

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    1. What?! Well at least I get to hear interesting things from and about you on Facebook!!

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  7. It takes a lot for me to stray from MG too, but...man! If someone recommends a book and starts tearing up while they talk about it, I'd read that one too. Word of mouth (or blog) is usually what draws me to a book, that personal connection with the story.

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  8. Oh, yeah, definitely word of mouth gets my attention, recs from writer friends. But I probably read more books from awards lists (like the Children's Choice Book Awards). I like to read what the age group I write for gobbles up!

    And I ALWAYS read books by my writer friends, whether they're friends from my regional SCBWI or virtual friends I've only met through blogs. So yes, I think social media's important (and effective) for writers--and I love your point about being authentic. You've got to have that relationship!

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    1. Thanks for pointing out the awards lists, c-c. I pay attention to them too.

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  9. Social media is ineffective at book promotion because reading a book isn't social. You can't take anyone with you on the journey. Seeing a movie is social. So that makes it perfect because the experience can be shared. So yeah...I've no idea why people turn to social media to market. It totally has never made sense to me. It'd be like saying, "Here's an assignment for you to do and when you're done, you can come back and talk about it. Go on now. Shoo." Successful marketing of books should be aimed at loners. People who shun social media and are looking to stimulate their minds.

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    1. I love the idea of marketing being aimed at loners, Michael! Thanks for stopping by.

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  10. I'm a believer in the power of 3. It takes 3 times to hear about a book (or 2 powerful references) to earn someone's interest. Usually if I see or hear about a book 2 times, it is planted in my mind for a possible read. I also believe that is the power of blog tours, etc, as opposed to using Facebook/Twitter to earn readers. Yes, I say "earn" because just like students earn grades, we must earn readers.

    I was pumping up my first book on Twitter, but I don't think it helped. It only helps if a difference maker (someone with a million followers, etc.) tweets about your book. Otherwise, there is little use for self promotion on those sites.

    I agree with you... being yourself and being real is the best advice to writers.

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    1. You're right, Tracy. Three is a powerful number.

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  11. I can't imagine only reading 15 books a year. Or none. That's sad. In high school, one of my English teachers told us if we wanted to be considered literate adults we needed to read at least 25 books a year. I read far more, but most of them are, um, shorter than War and Peace.

    A great cover and recommendations from other bookish friends are important to me now. Especially if they get teary-eyed. Used to be recs from sales reps were important, but I no longer work in a bookstore. :)

    And I still don't really understand Twitter. Other than occasional fun conversations with procrastinating MG writers... I do hate when authors constantly tweet about themselves and their books.

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    1. The mdian number, Joanne, was 6. Which means that of the only 75% of Americans who cotton to reading even one book, half of that bunch read less than 6 books and half read more. Given these statistics, it's hard not to say we are in a parlous state as far as reading is concerned. (I was on a crowded bus this morning, and apart from me only one other person was reading--and a hardback book at that! Everyone else was tapping away on their phones.)

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    2. Eek! It's even worse than I thought.

      All those phone tappers were sending text messages, then, I suppose? Or were they playing games? Cell phone novels are big in Japan, and more recently, Twitter novels. Maybe we need to adapt to a new way of writing and reading. Michael Rudin called it Fiction 2.0.

      But I won't be an early adapter there.

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  12. What gets me to read a book? When my 17-year-old son continues to thrust a novel under my nose, saying: "Mom, you've GOT to read this!" Great post, Michael!

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    1. When a kid thrusts a novel under my nose, I rejoice! You've got a great son there, Lee.

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  13. CRAP! I just finished writing WAR AND PEACE AND FIVE OTHER ANNOYING DILEMMAS--totally capturing Tolstoy's voice but sticking him in 6th grade--I thought that was good!
    No?
    Starting over...;)

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    1. Kristen, thanks for the laugh!

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  14. Great post, Michael! Like most of us, I am first grabbed by a cover. Beyond that, word of mouth and online promotions. :)

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  15. This is so true! Word of mouth is still, or perhaps increasingly, the way that books are found. I just read an analysis of that last week with graphs and charts and everything :). And a heart-pounding plot, a twist ending, whatever, those are great, but they don't necessarily lead to the recommendation from one friend to another. The emotional connection, the book that touches us deeply, that changes us in some way, those books are the ones we become evangelical about. When I read a great book, I want to shake it in people's faces and say, YOU'VE GOT TO READ THIS! Wait, I do that. Ooops. I wish I had the chops to write a book like that! Like everyone else, I'm working on it. :)

    Thanks for the insight, Michael!

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Thanks for adding to the mayhem!