Book Clubs

Hey all knowing one, is there a way to find book clubs? I'm thinking of trying to market my book that way.

Uhmmm. Well, you could submit it to Oprah. That woman single-handedly started the book club phenomena. But since this is her last season for her show, I'm guessing she's already got most of the books chosen for that. Also, she's sort of picky.

But if Oprah's not interested, you might try some local talk shows. Some of them interview authors. If your book has a timely social message or you've got a humanitarian tie-in, they're more likely to spotlight you.

There's an LDS womens online book club, but I can't remember the name of it. If any readers know what it is—or you know of another website or blog that specializes in book club books, please post links in comments.

Then there's word of mouth—book clubs are always asking each other for ideas. And you can contact your local library and ask them to put your book on their book club suggestion list. If your publisher discounts group orders, that's also a good incentive. You can talk about it on your website or blog, with a link or code for the discount.

Another way to help get it noticed by book clubbers is to put a short list of discussion questions for book clubs at the end of the book (if your publisher is receptive to this idea). I've seen this pop up in several titles lately.

Readers, other ideas?


Literary vs Commercial Fiction

I know this is going to make me seem clueless, but what the heck is literary fiction? Or Commercial fiction? Admittedly a dork.

Literary fiction is generally more serious in tone and message. It makes you think. The content is more about thought and feeling than plot and action (although there is plot and action in it). It is character driven and deals with emotions and experiences that are universal to the human condition. The writing style is also elegant, picturesque, descriptive.

Examples of literary fiction are: To Kill a Mockingbird, The Poisonwood Bible, and a lot of the titles you read in high school English classes. Or books that win The Pulitzer Prize for fiction and other literary awards.

Commercial fiction (also called mainstream or genre fiction) is generally more plot driven, faster paced, often deals with current social problems. Look at any fiction best-seller list to find examples of commercial fiction.

Nathan Bransford talks about it HERE.

Great article HERE.


Why Is Non-Fiction an Easier Sale?

Thank you so much for writing such an informative blog. I love it and visit your site at least once a week.

In an old post, you stated that nonfiction sells better than fiction. Can you elaborate as to why that is?

It's consumer psychology.

For most people, a fiction book is generally a one-time read. Then it's over. Done. Never to be picked up again. It's a dose of feel good by escaping from reality fix. Some people feel guilty when they read fiction—like they're wasting time that could be better used for saving the world or something. It's hard to plunk down $24.95 for a hardback that you're only going to read once, and then feel guilty about. Kind of like chocolate, but more expensive.

Non-fiction is like whole foods. It is enlightening, uplifting and healthy for the brain and the psyche. It is often read, re-read, highlighted with personal annotations in the margins, used as a reference for years—plus it impresses your friends when they see it on your bookshelf. Also, when it comes to self-help books, that same $24.95 might just change your life—making you prettier, thinner, healthier, richer, whatever.

Of course, IMHO, this is all total nonsense. Good fiction is like air—necessary for life. You should buy as many good fiction books as your budget allows. In fact, if you have to trim your budget, cut out cable or go on a diet.

And don't feel guilty! Look at it this way: Life is stressful; everyone needs an escape.* Books are healthier than drugs and alcohol, and are much cheaper than therapy and Prozac! In fact, books should be tax deductible as a medical expense.

Hey, that would be a great addition to Obama's Health Plan. I'm calling him right now. Who's with me?

*P.S. Note my use of the semi-colon?


Plan Ahead for Awards

Last year, one of my favorite LDS authors was published the end of December. She should have won a Whitney (or at least been a finalist) but no one knew about her book until too late. Now, I'm facing the same issue. My debut novel is scheduled for release in December. I don't know if it will be considered Whitney worthy, but I'd sure like it to have a chance. Any ideas for that?

That happened last year to an author I quite liked. I would have nominated The Dark Divine by Bree Despain for Whitney consideration, but it was released just before Christmas and I didn't find out about it until January. Her second book, The Lost Saint is scheduled for release on December 28th.

Why do publishers do that? I don't get it. It doesn't make marketing sense to me. Maybe they don't want it lost in the glut of pre-Christmas releases, but December releases often gets lost in the post-Christmas/January doldrums. My advice is to save it for the next year.

But whatever.

As an author, you have to work with your publisher and plan ahead. If there's a specific award you're interested in, such as the Whitneys, you have to come up with a placement strategy.

To be considered for a Whitney, you have to have five nominations (minimum) during the calendar year of your release. That means you have to have enough advance readers to ensure that five of them will nominate you.

Of course, you could have your mother and 14 sisters nominate you. Even if it's a bad book and they're the only ones that like it, it will get you on the list for consideration.

However, I recommend judicious use of ARCs and/or ebooks (pdf files). Make a list of LDS readers and book bloggers. Contact your top 20 favs. Let them know that your late release means you may be overlooked for Whitney consideration. Ask them if they'd be willing to read the book and nominate you if they like it. If at least five out of the twenty don't nominate you, then you probably wouldn't have made the final list anyway.

IMHO, asking for nominations and/or online reviews is a good idea for all books, not just end of year releases. Authors, if you do a virtual book tour or give away freebies from your blog, send a note with the book asking the bloggers/winners to nominate you for awards or to leave positive reviews at online bookstores, if they feel you warrant it. If they liked your book, I'm sure most would be willing to help you out—you just need to remind them. Make it easy for them by including a list with URLs of 4 or 5 places you'd like them to nominate or leave reviews.


Semi-colons in Fiction

How do you feel about the use of semi-colons in fiction, and how and when do you think they should be used?

I like semi-colons. They work better in literary, historical or more serious and formal fiction than they do in, say, Middle Grade, YA or very trendy fiction.

Like all punctuation, they should be used when the situation calls for them, not just for show.

CLICK HERE for some great, easy-to-understand rules for using a semi-colon.


Clean YA Fantasy

Please forgive me if my question is not typical for your blog.

It was recommended to me that because I am LDS, I might have more success in finding someone who will publish or represent my YA fantasy novel if I submit my manuscript to LDS publishers.

My understanding of LDS publishers is that they prefer their material to appeal to members of the LDS faith.

The only elements in the novel that I think would make it more desirable (not necessarily marketable) to an LDS YA audience over a non-LDS market, is the lack of profanity/suggestive themes/ gratuitous violence etc... (which is inherent in my writing because I am LDS). My question is if this is grounds enough to query my MS to an LDS publisher, of if I should stick with seeking a traditional agent/publisher. I imagine the worst that can happen if I did, is that my query won’t garner any reply. However, I should hate to waste the editor’s time if I should have known in advance they won’t consider my work since there’s nothing that would really make it specific to the LDS market.

Also, were I to consider submitting a query/MS, would it be better to cater my query to the particular editor, or to send out my generic query and include a separate cover sheet with an explanation of why my novel will appeal to an LDS market?

Many LDS publishers will consider fiction that has no overt LDS message or characters. A few recent examples from the big three LDS publishers are:
There are also quite a few LDS authors writing books with clean content that are being picked up by national publishers. These four are YA, three of them fantasy.

So the answer to your first question is yes. Yes, there are national publishers who are looking for clean YA fantasy. Yes, there are LDS publishers looking for clean YA fantasy with no LDS references.

The answer to your second question is that you should ALWAYS customize your query to your specific editor, publisher or agent. Always.


Dissecting a Rejection

First of all, thank you endlessly for sharing your knowledge with those us who are just starting out and would not have a snowballs chance in you-know-where of succeeding without a little help. [You're welcome.]

My question involves dissecting a rejection. Are rejection letters by the publisher typically done personally or is there a company form letter specially written to sound soothing and kind to the poor sad sap at the other end of the .com? I want to believe they were really talking to me when they said "It is evident that you have invested a great deal of time and effort developing your story," and "We hope you will consider us again for your future projects," but my inner schizophrenic is laughing at me and calling me naive.

My initial query and first 3 chapters were submitted by email as requested on the submissions form so I received an email response, as was expected, in case that helps answer the question. Thank you for your time!

Most companies use form rejections. It's easier for everyone involved. They may have a couple of variations to the basic rejection that they use depending on the reasons the manuscript was rejected, but pretty much, unless their comments reference specific and unique portions of your manuscript, assume it's a form letter and MOVE ON.

If there are specific and unique comments (such as, "I loved your main character, Jane Doe, but I really think she'd be more likeable if she wasn't covered in warts..."), then pay attention to those suggestions and consider making changes to your manuscript. However, if an editor has taken the time to add specific and unique comments, they've probably also requested that you resubmit after making changes.

If there are no specific and unique comments and no request to resubmit the same manuscript to them after re-writes, then assume the rejection is a form letter and MOVE ON.


Manuscript Presentation: Italics

Hi! I'm a reader of your blog, and I was hoping I could pose a question to you. My friends and I have been debating how to present italics in a manuscript. Some say underlining, but I recently heard that editors prefer straight-up italics, so they don't have to change the format later. Do you know which is currently preferred?

A lot of this depends on which software you use to create the manuscript and which software the publisher uses to typeset. Generally, if you use Microsoft Word, it doesn't matter how you indicate italics because it can be converted to usable files for most advanced typesetting programs with the styles intact. In this case, it's a simple Find/Replace for the typesetter to tag your styles in their program.

However, if you're using WordPerfect (and if you are, stop it right now and join the 21st century!) or some other archaic word processing program or if you've added a lot of unusual styling or fonts to your document (and if you have, knock it off!) that won't easily import to QuarkXPress or InDesign (the two most commonly used typesetting programs), the styles are stripped out in the conversion process and the typesetter must reference the original file to put the styles back in. In this case, underlining is MY preferred way to indicate italics because it's much easier for the typesetter to see them.

As to which you use, if the publisher's website doesn't state a preference, go ahead and use regular italics. If they want it underlined, they'll do it themselves or have you go back through and do it.

And one last note: a lot of writers overuse italics. Make sure it's really needed before you use it.


Credentials Are Not a Big Deal—Good Writing Is!

I must start off by explaining that I am a Stephenie Meyers writing convert—she said go for it, and I did. So I have this ms, actually two now, and I have been scouring your blog and others to figure out what on earth I am supposed to do at this point.

One of my sources gave a sample query that I have used to get started, but at the bottom, it says I should list my sources, ie. degrees, writing accomplishments, books or articles published, etc. What does one put in this part of the query if she has nothing? It seems a little pathetic to say that "the girls in my book club really liked it."

Can you make any recommendations as to what the extremely green writer would cite as a source? Or do I just not say anything?

There's nothing to be embarrassed about if you have no writing credentials. Everyone starts out green.

At that point in the query, state that this is your debut novel and leave it at that. Let your manuscript speak for itself. If it's well-written, you don't need credentials. If it's poorly written, it doesn't matter how long your cred list is. It's still going to bomb.

If you happen to have a hobby or some life experience that makes you an "expert" on some unusual aspect of the story you've written (example: if your story is a murder mystery set in the bull raising industry and you just happen to have raised bulls all your life), then you can include that. That way, if the agent/editor is unfamiliar with the setting (or whatever), they'll have some confidence that your details are legit.

(But don't worry about it if you DON'T have expertise in every area of your story. That's what research is for.)