Category Archives: reading

How will readers ever find your book?

It may well be that you don’t have enough time for a career as a book author, and writing is really just a hobby, a side gig, or a form of therapy for you. No problem. In that case, you don’t need a literary agent, or more correctly, the literary agent doesn’t need you. If you want to make money as an author, on the other hand, then your books must be discoverable. Readers won’t come to you. You’ll need to find ways to get on their radar. You’ll need to become an author whose books are recommended by one reader to another. That’s how books and their authors become bestsellers.

Let’s say your book was published in 2013. More than 300,000 new titles were traditionally published in the U.S. in 2013. In the same year in the U.S., more than 1,000,000 new titles were non-traditionally published, a figure that includes self-published books. How many of those books did you read? How many can you name? How many of the authors can you name? How would a stranger have ever found your book among the 1,300,000?

browsing books

( Manning)

When you’re browsing in a bookstore, how many books do you leaf through before selecting one to buy? What attracts you? What makes you put a book down and choose another? Do you typically search for new titles from authors who are known to you? Do you like to read what your friends are reading? Your book is evaluated in the same ways.

If your book’s page on Amazon lacks a compelling description and any customer reviews, and the Amazon customer who happens to come across it has never heard of you, and you have no online presence to give the prospective buyer any information, then why would you expect the person to pay for your book instead of the latest from Clive Cussler or one of the titles longlisted for the Man Booker or the novel everyone at the hair salon is discussing?

If you know anything about online booksellers and social media, then you know it requires effort to capitalize on the exposure they can offer books and authors. It takes time and technical ability to maintain multiple online profiles and learn to write compelling sales copy. Working at it every day for three years might get you up to speed, provided you already possess some basic social skills. There are no shortcuts. Thousands of writers are there ahead of you.

Don’t know where to start with self-promotion? You can join the crowd of writers who remained clueless. You’ll know them. They’re the ones you’ve never heard of.

Everything you want and need to know about book marketing and self-promotion has been debated at length online, where you can find vast amounts of information on author platforms. Start with Jane Friedman’s excellent blog. I’ve gathered links to “Publicity tips for book authors.” Good advice comes from Joel Friedlander, Joanna Penn, and Penny Sansevieri. Self-published authors are generous with recommendations. Don’t assume that marketing strategies for traditionally published authors should differ from strategies for self-published authors. The main addition is the need to coordinate marketing and publicity efforts with a publisher or publicist, if there is one.

Learning about the business of selling books is doable if you want a career as an author and are willing to work hard for it. No one will mind if you prefer to remain a hobbyist. Just don’t make the mistake of asking me or a book publisher to donate time and money to support your hobby.

Litmags: the new breeds

Three years ago, I posted a list of ten literary magazines with good-looking websites. Only four of them are still in business. Maybe it’s time for a new list, but now that every other litmag is using the free Arcade Basic blog theme from WordPress, or something similar, there are lots of attractive clones.

365 tomorrowsBeauty’s only skin deep anyway. A better list might be based on popularity, except that the big magazines with the very largest circulations tend to maintain their show-dog status for years or even decades at a time. Zzzzzzzz.

More interesting are the Silken Windhounds, Dandie Dinmont Terriers, and Catahoula Leopard Dogs in my database of literary publications. Some already are being fetishized by readers. Have you heard of them?

365 tomorrows – speculative flash fiction

The Awl – longform essays, humor, and some fiction

Bust – erotic fiction and female perspectives on pop culture

The Bygone Bureau – personal essays, cultural criticism, humor, and comics

The Collagist – progressive short fiction, poetry, essays, and novel excerpts

Conduit – poetry, fiction, and nonfictionEscape Into Life

Escape Into Life – poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and comics

Esopus – short plays, essays, poetry, and fiction

Guernica – essays, poetry, and fiction

Hobart – short fiction, nonfiction, and poetry

Joyland – fiction and essays

The Morning News – essays, humor, and cultural criticism

n+1 – fiction, essays, criticism, and translation

NOWNESS – digital storytelling

[out of nothing] – digital textBust

The Rumpus – essays that intersect culture

Strange Horizons – speculative fiction

Teen Ink – poetry, fiction, and nonfiction

Thought Catalog – literary journalism

Untoward Magazine – humorous fiction

Given that this list is twice as long as the previous one, maybe a handful of these publications will exist three years from now. Submit or subscribe or take them for a walk if you want to keep them healthy.

Paloma Negra, where have you flown?

PALOMA NEGRA by Miha MazziniNot until the English-language edition of Miha Mazzini’s novel Paloma Negra was scheduled for publication by Open Books did I give much thought to the music that plays through the story. I had never explored Mariachi music, which is said to have originated in the Mexican states of Jalisco and Nayarit. Paloma Negra is set in Yugoslavia in a subsequent century, during a Mexican music craze that lasted there for about a decade. El Financiero cites Mazzini’s documentary film about the phenomenon of Yu-Mex music, explaining that Yugoslavia “broke off relations with the Soviet Union and turned to Mexico to provide entertainment productions containing music and action, in addition to messages such as ‘Long live the revolution.’ ”

When I discovered, I wanted to test the selection of available recordings, so I assembled a shareable playlist of songs that seemed to fit the mood of this extraordinary novel. I let several websites recommend potentially relevant music and performers. A musicologist’s playlist would be much more informative, but instead, this multicultural sampler is Robin-filtered. I’d love to listen to your musical interpretation of this book. If you create a playlist for Paloma Negra, I’ll be delighted to add yours to this post.

Track listing for Paloma Negra

1. Paloma Negra
I concentrated first on the ranchera “Paloma Negra,” composed by Tomás Méndez and performed best by the late Chavela Vargas, who was born in Costa Rica but lived most of her life in Mexico. If you listen to only one of the five songs on the playlist, it should be this one, which was used in the soundtrack for the 2002 film Frida.

2. Ljubimac Zena
Ljubimac Zena” is one of the popular Yugoslav-Mexican songs performed by the Serbian singer Ljubomir Milić’s trio, Paloma, in the 1960s.

3. Luz de Luna
My favorite version of “Luz de Luna,” which translates as moonlight or light of the moon, comes from U.S.-born Araceli Collazo and Paloma Negra, lately of Monterrey, Mexico. The song was written by the Mexican composer and songwriter Álvaro Carrillo, who performs it on this track.

4. Love Sick
Mariachi El Bronx’s cover of Bob Dylan’s “Love Sick” is the only Mariachi tune I own. It’s jaw-dropping. (Of course, you might prefer the version used in the Victoria’s Secret commercial.)

5. Paris, Texas
I watched Wim Wenders’ 1984 film Paris, Texas recently. The soundtrack suited it perfectly. The Paris-based trio Gotan Project, whose members are Argentine, French, and Swiss, recorded Ry Cooder’s music for the movie’s bleak title track, which was influenced by Blind Willie Johnson’s gospel blues “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground,” another of the songs featured. Parallels in the tragic lives of the characters in the film Paris, Texas and the novel Paloma Negra made this stark, moody instrumental my selection for the concluding track. I hope you enjoy listening.

mourning doveImage adapted from Bird Studies: An Account of the Land Birds of Eastern North America by William E.D. Scott (1898)

Can’t remember the title of an obscure book? Ask a bookseller in Shaker Heights, Ohio

Books at Hein & Co. Bookstore

(Photograph: “Books at Hein & Co. Bookstore” by Sarah Stierch is licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Sometimes all you can recall are a character’s name and the book’s genre, the decade when you read it, or maybe the basic plot or the setting. Especially when a book is out of print and hasn’t been digitized, the search for it can be frustrating.

Stump the Bookseller can help. It’s a fee-based online information exchange hosted by Loganberry Books in Shaker Heights, Ohio. What a cool place Harriett Logan’s used bookstore must be—home to a bindery and an art gallery.

In Loganberry’s free question-and-answer archives I found the title of a middle-grade novel I borrowed from a public library in the 1960s. For $150 I can buy Hilary’s Island on eBay now. I almost wish I didn’t know.

The one I have reread revisited most often: The Great Gatsby

THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald (OUP)Day 29: Aside from manuscripts, I don’t reread entire books. However, since reading The Great Gatsby when I was a high school junior I’ve seen two of four existing movie adaptations. Does that count? (Baz Luhrmann’s was the better of the two.) The first adaptation, a 1926 silent film, would make a total of five, but there are no surviving copies.

THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Scribner)Contrary to popular opinion that the first design was the best, I think the most effective cover for the novel is the 1930 painting by Tamara de Lempicka, which is used for the Oxford World’s Classics paperback edition. My old copy is a red Scribner paperback. You can see some of the other variations in T: The New York Times Style Magazine.

Near the last page of the novel is this paragraph:

I spent my Saturday nights in New York because those gleaming, dazzling parties of his were with me so vividly that I could still hear the music and the laughter, faint and incessant, from his garden, and the cars going up and down his drive. One night I did hear a material car there, and saw its lights stop at his front steps. But I didn’t investigate. Probably it was some final guest who had been away at the ends of the earth and didn’t know that the party was over.

BookADay-The Borough Press

Bought at my fave independent bookshop: Poems: New and Collected, 1957—1997, by Wisława Szymborska

Day 28: My go-to bookshop for three decades was the Book Loft of German Village at 631 South Third Street in Columbus, Ohio. I’m sure it’s still filled to the high ceilings with remainders and new books. In the old shop, a room (32 of them) or sometimes a hallway or closet was devoted to every literary category. Browsing through the entire store was a little like being digested; it might take twelve hours. The bookseller transacted sales behind a tiny counter under the stairs, in a space the size of a tollbooth. I could find a beautiful monthly or weekly planner among the Book Loft’s selection, instead of scavenging all over town the way I do now.

Poems New and Collected 1958—1997 by Wisława SzymborskaWisława Szymborska‘s Poems: New and Collected, 1957-1997, translated by Stanisław Baránczak and Clare Cavanagh, likely was purchased from the Book Loft. The pretty first edition, published by Harcourt Brace, has a caramel-colored ribbon marker that matches the dust jacket and the binding. Do many new books, other than Bibles, have bound page markers today?

When it was published in the U.S., Frances Padorr Brent covered the book in the Boston Review:

In Szymborska’s work there is hesitancy and modesty—perhaps a matter of personality—an emphasis on the difficulty of telling the truth, to get it right, to thread one’s way through a maze of official half-truths. In post-war Poland, which had lost more than 6,000,000 people to the Germans, it was not permissible to speak directly about the 2,000,000 Jews who died at Auschwitz or the indifference of certain segments of Polish society. The encounter with communism, which the Polish critic Jan Kott calls the “serpent’s sting,” insinuated itself into Polish art, leaving behind a hole of silence, representing what was sometimes compromised, sometimes excised.

Readers of all ages find Szymborska’s poetry approachable. You can see one of the poems reproduced in the form of a printable notice to pin on a bulletin board.

BookADay-The Borough Press

Never finished it: The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner


(Photograph courtesy of Stefania Bonacasa)

Day 25: I picked up Alan Sillitoe’s The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner in the 1970s and then never read it. Books I’ve wanted to read but haven’t finished gnaw at me with the Zeigarnik effect, the influence of fretting about unfinished business, which causes whatever was interrupted to stay in long-term memory.

THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG-DISTANCE RUNNER by Alan SillitoeLess plausible but more intriguing is the possibility of some mystical reason I should remain receptive to this particular book, because its description still appeals. I should have read it.

The story is about a teenage juvenile delinquent who is confined to a reform school in Essex, where he concentrates his energy on long-distance running. He’s offered an incentive for winning a race against the arch-rival school, but he intentionally loses instead, as a defiant demonstration of free will.

This passage is near the beginning of the book:

So as soon as I tell myself I’m the first man ever to be dropped into the world, and as soon as I take that first flying leap out into the frosty grass of an early morning when even birds haven’t the heart to whistle, I get to thinking, and that’s what I like. I go my rounds in a dream, turning at lane or footpath corners without knowing I’m turning, leaping brooks without knowing they’re there, and shouting good morning to the early cow-milker without seeing him. It’s a treat, being a long-distance runner, out in the world by yourself with not a soul to make you bad-tempered or tell you what to do or that there’s a shop to break and enter a bit back from the next street.

I’d never heard of the Angry Young Men, a tag for several celebrated dissenting writers of the 1950s, including Sillitoe. Every decade has its angry young men, after all. I’ve paid more attention to the angry young women writers of subsequent generations. The anger is exhausting.

Also surprising to me was the number of songs inspired by the book, including, in 1986, Iron Maiden’s “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner.” Of course, there’s a screen adaptation of the story as well, currently up on YouTube, possibly in violation of copyright, so I won’t link.

BookADay-The Borough Press

Hooked me in to reading: A Wrinkle in Time

A WRINKLE IN TIME by Madeleine L'EngleDay 24: Who can recall the first book that served as a gateway drug? I don’t, because surely it was a book that was read to me when I was a toddler. My memory’s not that good.

By age nine, I was making many solitary trips to the public library in search of all the juvenile reading material I could lug home. Around that time, one of my teachers read to our class in daily installments A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle’s science fantasy novel for children. The coincidence makes me think the book might have been a significant catalyst.

Madeleine L’Engle wrote more than fifty other books, a few of which I read as the years passed. It’s nice to know there are plenty to enjoy.

BookADay-The Borough Press