Blog: In Real Life

Book reviews, marketing observations and advice, and general commentary…

You’re Not Just a Reader

Posted by on Aug 21, 2015 in Commentary | 0 comments

I find few phrases more distressing than, “just a reader.” You, my friend, are not just a reader. You are the arbiter of great stories. You are the fuel that runs engine of publishing. You are the only reason any book ever sees the light of day. You are the best source of book recommendations for everyone you know, even if you never write a review or participate in social media. You are the reason I got up this morning; when people ask me what I do for a living, I say, “I connect books and readers.” You might be one of those folks who feels the need to complain to an author because you don’t like the font used in her book or object to her English characters speaking like Brits. Perhaps you feel the need to tell everyone the ending of the last book you read because, clearly, you could have written it so much better. Doesn’t matter. You’re still not just. You’re a reader. And if nobody has said it recently (or even if someone has), thank you....

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Report from a Mad World

Posted by on Aug 7, 2015 in Commentary, Marketing | 0 comments

If the headline above immediately made you think of this movie or this song, then you’re old enough to have experienced the vast and fundamental changes in publishing over the last few decades. But you know what? Sometimes they still make me shake my head… This week, a Publisher cancelled the release of a book only a few weeks before the drop date. The Author was very public about his reasons for leaving (his long-time) Publisher. Then another Publisher announced a contract with the Author, and on we go. I’m sure things like this happened in the 1930s and 40s, but we sure didn’t see them play out right in front of us, blow-by-blow and play-by-play. Some of the commentary has been quite…passionate, and therein lies an important marketing lesson: If you don’t have something nice (or productive) to say, don’t say anything at all. Or if you must, say is privately (like, on the phone…email is so not private, dude). While I was still getting my head around how the above played out, the GOP debate happened. I didn’t watch it, but I have watched the commentary. Again, passion reigns, and some folks are saying some stuff that, marketing-wise, they really shouldn’t. Which leads to another marketing lesson: Nobody should change who she or he is, but try not to offend readers unless it’s absolutely necessary. Or is part and parcel of your brand. I’m not saying to never discuss art or politics, just that when doing so, taking a considered and respectful tone is advisable. Speaking of respecting readers, that store that’s giving refunds for GO SET A WATCHMAN? It’s undertaken a good publicity stunt. But make no mistake, a publicity stunt is exactly what it is and all that it is. It’s not a moral stance. So those who were horrified at the publisher for publishing an unedited and questionable manuscript as a stunt but are cheering for this are being hypocritical. I just don’t see how a bookstore encouraging people to return a book and publicizing this effort is good for reading. Or readers. I’d be much more impressed to see a store hosting, say, a discussion group to talk about Harper Lee’s books (both of them or either of them…you know what I mean). That’s a story I would click. Then, as if the world wasn’t mad enough, I installed Windows 10. I mention this only because I’ve seen a lot of folks skeptical about installing it. I was too, but I like it. No problems so far. Finally, I leave you with this: Real Genius is 30 years old this week. Like I said…mad world....

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Posted by on Jun 26, 2015 in Commentary | 0 comments

This is an important day. And while I understand that not all Americans are celebrating, I think we can all agree that we are living through history. Things change…laws change, attitudes change, even publishing changes. And we’re all part of it. I believe it is important to acknowledge this. So here you...

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THE FALL by John Lescroart

Posted by on May 5, 2015 in Books, Reviews | 0 comments

This ran as part of the Nerdy Special List at Pop Culture Nerd. You should read all the recommendations; click here to do so! The Fall begins quite literally when a young woman plunges to her death from an overpass in San Francisco. The expected questions abound—was she pushed? Did she jump?—but that’s where this story stops being predictable. The woman in question,  Tanya, had a difficult, tragic life, but she had begun to persevere in the face of great adversity. As we meet the people in her life, the answer to who might have wanted to do her harm is anything but clear. Hidden agendas and muddy motivations abound, and they make for a fascinating journey. John Lescroart is one of those rare series authors who brings fresh eyes to each of his legal thrillers. This time, Dismas Hardy’s daughter, Rebecca, takes the lead in the case arising from Tanya’s death. But this book is much more than a courtroom tale; it includes insightful social commentary as it explores a number of timely social issues, and it lets readers spend time with characters who are a pleasure to know, whether they’re old friends or new acquaintances....

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An Open Letter to Authors

Posted by on May 1, 2015 in Marketing | 0 comments

Having recently completed the re-vamp of the Bouchercon 2015 website (please check it out!), I’m motivated to make this plea… Dear Authors: Yes, my day job is marketing books. When people ask me what I do, I say, “I connect books and readers.” Much of what I do is online, and my goal is always the same: To make it as easy as possible for readers to find books (and authors) whether they’re searching in a store, a library, or online. Last week, I talked about Mobilegeddon, and the importance of your website being responsive (mobile-friendly). But that’s altogether irrelevant if you don’t have a website. It’s been said before, but bears repeating: There is no reason—none—for an author to not have a website. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Heck, it doesn’t even necessarily need to be pretty (although that’s certainly preferable), but to not have one at all? That’s inexcusable. But I don’t have the money for a website! Really? My guess, then, is that you don’t know how much a website costs. Let’s break it down… A URL—an address—costs about $10, and that’s assuming GoDaddy isn’t having a sale on URLs for $3.99 (as they often are). If you want to go the do-it-yourself route (which I can’t, in good conscience, recommend), you have of options: Google, Blogger, and are probably the most popular free ones. If you prefer to work from a template and can pay $8-20 per month, Squarespace or Wix might be worth a look. Or you can employ a professional, someone who knows what they’re doing and can help you with design, implementation, and maintenance. Pricing for this varies dramatically and can be anywhere from $500-$5,000 or more. But the point is that even is your budget is modest, you can have a professional website. You haven’t convinced me. Ok, fine. You want to be harder for readers to find? That’s your call. But if you’ve ruled out a website, at least consider having a Facebook page and/or Twitter account. Because, really…you’ve gone to the trouble of writing a book and getting it published…don’t you want readers to be able to find it? Love,...

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Mobilegeddon 2015

Posted by on Apr 24, 2015 in Marketing | 0 comments

Last Tuesday, Google released substantial changes to its search algorithm. In a nutshell, these changes mean that websites that are responsive (mobile-friendly) are now (most of the time; there are exceptions to every algorithmic rule) getting (much) higher placement in search results. But…will the book industry notice? Should authors and publishers care? You can find as many answers to this as Nancy Drew had pairs of nylons. My answer? Is yes, you should care. Why? Numbers. Specifically: 64% of American adults own a smartphone. 42% own a tablet computer. (If you want more detail on these stats, click here and/or here.) And we already know that a lot of people browse for books and look up authors online. So being easy to find from mobile devices has value. Why would you want to hide from as much as half of your audience? So, some facts… Google’s actions this week weren’t a surprise. They announced this change in February. And it makes sense. After all, their customers are everyone who uses Google to search, regardless of screen size. A website can look good on a small screen without being responsive. Google’s mobile-friendly test doesn’t assess how a site looks, but rather whether the functionality adjusts to different screen sizes. If your site is not responsive—doesn’t pass the above-linked test—you should assume that your ranking in search results will suffer. Whether it actually does or not will be determined by how people search and the intricacies of the damned algorithm. But the thing is, there’s no reason to have a site that’s not responsive. Because it’s not as if this mobile thing is a new phenomenon. And why would you want to be anything but as easy to find as possible? The good news here is that making a site responsive is not hard. If your site is built in WordPress, your theme is probably already responsive. If not, chances are good you have Jetpack installed, and it has a module that will make your site responsive with only a few clicks (and it’s free). Most (if not, at this stage, all) of the other platforms have a tool to easily make your site responsive, too; Google has a guide to them here. If you’d like to read more about Mobilegeddon, The Guardian had a good article, and CNN has a decent overview report. Now that I have you good and panicked, I’ll leave you with this: While Google is now prioritizing mobile-friendly sites in their search results, they also took care to note that sites with high-quality content that aren’t mobile-friendly could still rank high, providing it has results for any given query. So having a website is still, as it has always been, about content. So above all else, keep writing great books....

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Random Observations

Posted by on Apr 17, 2015 in Commentary, Marketing | 0 comments

Wow…it’s been a crazy few weeks. Lots going on, and so it seems like a good time to round up some observations… Book Expo America BEA. The Rumble in the Javits. Book Nerds Unite. However you look at it, BEA is a big deal if for no other reason than there are a ton of people there, each of whom has some connection to book world. While I’m far from a fan of the locale (the combination of pigeons flying around the show floor at $6 for a Diet Coke doesn’t blow my skirt up), I love the energy. I say it every year: if someone tells you books or reading or stories are dead or dying, suggest she or he come to BEA. If you are a member of Mystery Writers of America (and if you’re not, why not?), be sure to familiarize yourself with the fantastic member benefits around BEA. It’s a fantastic place to meet librarians, book bloggers, media, and booksellers…and if you buy me a Diet Coke, I’ll be your friend for life.   Help-An-Author Lists If you have been so lucky as to avoid these lists, here’s one…they’re basically all the same. How I hate these lists. You know why? As a reader, I find both their tone and content offensive. But they keep showing up…on blogs, in Facebook posts…they’re hard to avoid. The thing is, I have no problem with authors asking readers for their help in spreading the word about their books. You can and should do this. But to do so in a way that implies some kind of obligation on the part of readers? That’s not cool. Assuming a reader has purchased your book (that is, not shoplifted it or stolen it electronically), she or he has no obligation to the author. None. Nada. If said gentle reader enjoys the book and wants to go write a review somewhere? Wonderful. If you want to remind them that so doing is helpful? That’s great too. Authors who make lists, though, veer into the territory of obnoxious—this is entirely different from a specific request—and always come across like they have no respect whatsoever for their readers. Please cut that shit out.   Justified Don’t worry…if you haven’t seen it, I’m not going to spoil it for you. In my less-than-humble opinion, Justified is one of the finest television series ever produced, in no small part because it was always true to the Elmore Leonard short story on which it was based and also the history of Harlan County. I wasn’t gaga about the finale, if I’m honest, but it sure was classy. I think Mr. Leonard would have been proud. That last scene was one for the ages, and gave us a new phrase to put on the shelf next to GitOffMyLawn: We dug coal together....

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Open for Service

Posted by on Mar 30, 2015 in Marketing | 0 comments

While I’m not pleased that we need an organization like Open for Service in this day and age, I’m glad they exist, and I’m happy to support them. Here’s how they describe themselves: We are a non-partisan, nonjudgmental group looking to provide a grassroots network for people to support businesses that open their doors for everyone – Black, White, Gay, Straight, Christian, Atheist, Disabled . . . well, you get our drift. Anyone who knows me at all knows that this will always apply to my business:   Please click here to learn more about and offer your support to Open for Service....

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Clean Reader: Who’s behind it and what’s next?

Posted by on Mar 27, 2015 in Commentary | 0 comments

In March, 2010, my friend and YA author Marley Gibson received an email from a school librarian in Riceville, Tennessee. The librarian, Cheryl, explained to Marley that while her students loved her Ghost Huntress series, she was distressed because she had to go through each with a Sharpie (she was specific about this) before shelving them to “mark out bad words.” In other words, she censored them. Marley was furious. She responded to Cheryl and contacted her publisher. As a reader, I was horrified, and I contacted a number of reporters. Marley’s publisher didn’t want to pursue it. The only response I got was from a Washington Post education columnist, who contacted the county school board, but didn’t write anything when she got no response. In other words, nobody gave much of a shit. When I was growing up, my dad took the attitude that anything I read wouldn’t harm me, and as a result, he didn’t censor nor regulate what I chose to read. Thankfully, the good folks at the Greenlake library in Seattle didn’t censor books. I read a lot of books that were age-inappropriate, and boy, I’m glad that I did. (So if we ever meet in person and you’re offended by my language, feel free to blame Ed McBain, Lawrence Block, Thomas Hardy, Judy Blume, Colleen McCullough, and Stephen King, among others.) Which brings me to Clean Reader. Clean Reader is a reading app that “prevents swear words in books from being displayed on your screen.” The app is free for Apple and Android devices. The app has four settings—Off, Clean, Cleaner, or Squeaky Clean—that affect which words (if any) are hidden. Until yesterday, the app had an integrated bookstore. As of right now, it does not. In response to (strong) objections from authors, Inktera removed their store from the Clean Reader app. This means that as of this morning, the store page in the app is empty. Inktera still shows up on the app’s “More” tab, but I expect this will change, too. Clean Reader is an ebook reader, and as such it can still be used to read ePub and PDF books, such as those purchased from “open” stores like Google and Smashwords. So…how can authors prevent readers from using this app to read their books? The short answer is that unless an author holds their ebook rights and chooses only to publish on Kindle and iBooks with DRM, she or he can’t. Think of it this way: With paper books, you can’t stop anyone with access to a pen from redacting or replacing words in their paper copy of your book…this is the same principle. Authors can raise the issue with their publishers, but I’d bet money doing so won’t get you anywhere. The above leaves aside the discussion around DRM as a whole and closed vs. open ebook systems. I do, however, think that’s a discussion worth having. When it comes to reading, I have always been an advocate of choice and opponent of censorship. As Terri pointed out yesterday, if a reader prefers books without certain words, there are more than enough to choose from. If a parent wants to control which words their kids read, again, they have more options than a dog has fleas. Which brings me back...

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Goodbye, Lisa

Posted by on Mar 13, 2015 in Commentary | 1 comment

In December, 2013, I used this space to tell you about my friend, Lisa Adams. I got so many wonderful notes about this post, and I’m grateful that so many of you took the time to have a read of Lisa’s blog. One week ago, Lisa died. I saw the news on Saturday morning, and while she prepared us all for it as well as anyone could, it has left me with an even greater sense of loss than I had anticipated. One of the conversations (via instant message) with Lisa that I will always remember was about our shared experience of someone close to us dying but remaining an intricate part of our makeup. I told her about the picture of my mother, who died when I was a child, that watches over my desk. She shared memories of her mother-in-law. Lisa touched so many people deeply, and she will remain with us all too. Lisa also left us a powerful legacy through her writing. I would encourage you to read some or all of it. I’ll leave you with the message she repeated often recently, and which I’ll never forget: “Find a bit of beauty in the world today. Share it. If you can’t find it, create it. Some days this may be hard to do. Persevere.”...

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