The other night, I went to a local book club hosted atMystery Brewing (an excellent pub/brewery in Hillsborough, NC that's well worth a visit if you're in the area). It was my first time going, and I kind of lucked out because the club had organized a Skype session with the author of the book (The Summer That Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel). Obviously, it was really cool to listen to her thoughts on the novel, which was about the devil in small town Ohio, but I was even more interested in what she had to say about her publishing experience, since I have similar goals.
Although The Summer That Melted Everything was technically her "debut," I think Tiffany said it was something like her eighth completed novel. According to her, she had met some resistance over the years from agents who thought her work was a little too dark to be commercial. I totally respect her for sticking to the stories she wanted to tell, but it's also interesting to know that dark plots can be considered a "problem" in the publishing industry (as unfair as that is).
She also mentioned the amount of marketing she did for the book herself. I've heard that's fairly typical these days, but it was helpful to hear her confirm it, because it made me realize how much more serious I should probably get about building my author "platform" (i.e., this blog).
The thing is, it just feels weird to be soliciting emails for newsletters that you readers aren't interested in because I don't even have a product yet, or something of value to give in return. Yet everyone says to get started as soon as possible. The sooner you begin getting blog subscribers and email addresses, the more you'll have for marketing purposes later on down the road (and boy, did it feel icky just writing that sentence - even if it's true).
I do some self-publishing on Amazon KDP and have a totally separate website for that pen name to list all my titles. So in that instance, I actually do have something to "give" the reader in exchange for their contact information. For instance, I can tell subscribers when I'm running free book promotions. That feels like a fair exchange.
Whatever your thoughts about marketing, since I believe many of you are also writers, I figured the very least I could do is share a tool with you that I use on my KDP website to analyze user information and solicit emails for my newsletter. I spent an entire day looking for a tool that would allow me to easily copy and paste code to create simple subscription pop-ups, click-maps, and compile Google Analytics into a more user friendly interface, and I finally found it:
This website tool is so easy to use and it does exactly what I want it to. It's also free. So if you're trying to build your author platform, don't waste time looking for something better. There are a lot of options out there, but they all cost money, and what I've learned as a KDP author is that your success somewhat depends on how low you can keep your operating costs. Sumo fits the bill. It's exactly what every aspiring author needs to manage their website.
With all that said, I hope giving you this information will also allow you to forgive me if I install Sumo on Wordly-Bird. So if you see a pop-up requesting your email, feel free to ignore it. It just seems like if I want to get serious about being a published author - then I need to get serious and do some things that make me slightly uncomfortable. I'll try and figure out what more I can give to make these kinds of annoying email solicitations more palatable. Hopefully sharing this Sumo tool with you is a start. (Seriously, install it, it's amazing - they also have incredibly helpful download and installation videos on their website.)
One of the trends in publishing I find very disturbing is the apparent disdain for male, and especially young male readers. Maybe this has always been a problem. Somehow, "reluctant reader" has become code for "boy," as if reading were only a feminine pursuit.
But it's undeniable; if you wander the fiction aisles or the childrens section of any book store, and really study the look of the book covers - it's clear they're being marketed to women and young girls. Meanwhile, the boys seem to be encouraged/forced/herded to the toy section so they can go play with Legos or something.
Nothing wrong with that. I'd just like to see girls and boys invited into either the book or toy section with the quality of the products and not forced into one place or another by the forces of marketing.
I know parents don't like this trend anymore than I do (in some ways it's the counter-side of the "pink debate"), but it's not like they can force their boys to read. And anyway, what would they read if the majority of books seem to be about princesses (and similar female archetypes) or romance? It's not going to appeal to most boys. It doesn't appeal to most girls either. It's too narrow an idea of what boys and girls enjoy to appeal to everyone.
If you're the parent of a "reluctant reader," be they boy or girl, maybe it's just that you haven't found the right genre of book to give to your child. Maybe they'd be into adventures, or mysteries, or science fiction and fantasy. Maybe they'd prefer non-fiction?
So here's a list of books I think boys in particular would enjoy, although clearly girls enjoy these books as well - because I'm a girl, and I've read all of these and loved them. These are some of my absolutely favorite young reader/middle grade books. Any one of these would be good Christmas presents for boys and girls. So don't let gender barriers get in the way. But I do believe there's a good chance that these books will especially appeal to boys who might otherwise avoid reading.
Good Books for Boys (and Girls):
My Side of the Mountain - A young boy decides his family is nice but a little overwhelming, so he runs away to live in the mountains. He traps deer, catches fish, trains a hawk (and explains how he does all of this) while he lives on his own in the hallowed out trunk of a tree. Kids will like this one because it shows what it might be like to live independently at their age. First in a series.
Hatchet - Another adventure story, but this one has higher-stakes A young boy, maybe thirteen years old, survives a plane crash in the middle of the isolated Canadian wilderness. With only a small hatchet as a tool, he figures out how to survive with no food or shelter, and how he can ultimately be saved. A very likable, rational main character. Also first in a series.
Ender's Game - Possibly one of the greatest science fiction novels ever written (with an excellent sequel as well), Ender's Game is about a young boy who is recruited into a battle school where he trains for a possible invasion by aliens using video games and laser-tag to simulate space warfare. Except, that's just the plot and the real story is about the moral and psychological problems that surround using children to fight wars on the behalf of grownups. This one is probably most appropriate for 12 year olds and up.
Where the Red Fern Grows - A classic novel about a young boy coming of age in the Ozarks. He earns enough money to buy two hound-dogs, who he trains to help him track and hunt raccoons, which he sells for fur. It's partially a story about poverty, and mostly a story about the love between a boy and his dogs. A warning, however, the ending is incredibly sad, but sometimes it's good to feel sad.
Island of the Blue Dolphins - A young pacific island girl is accidentally left behind, alone on her island, after her village is taken away on boats to a new, unknown world. She must figure out how to survive on her own, but she has more than enough intelligence, strength, knowledge, and training to figure out how to do so. Again, this is an adventure/survival story, but those book contain a lot of problem solving integrated into the story-line, which may be interesting for young readers who enjoy activities like boy-scouts (or girl scouts), Minecraft, programming, or similar analytical pursuits. Also, I think it is good for boys and girls to read more stories featuring women.
Boy - The first half of Roald Dahl's autobiography, which chronicles his life growing up in England prior to World War II. Much of the story discusses his experiences going to boarding schools, and what a far-cry that was from the romanticized version we see in the Harry Potter series. There are beatings and harassment by both teachers and older boys, but there are also funny stories of pranks and motorcycles, sports-teams and photography. If you have a kid who is interested in becoming a writer, Boy is excellent too because Dahl explains how and where he got many of the ideas for his future novels based on the experiences, big and small, that made up his life.
Going Solo - The second half of Roald Dahl's autobiography, which focuses on his life after school when he went to work for an oil company in Africa and his subsequent enlistment as a fighter pilot in World War II. Any kid would be totally absorbed by his descriptions of learning how to fly and then being thrown into real battle with no idea how to survive an aerial dog-fight. This would be an excellent read for the history-minded child.
If I think of more good books for boys (and girls!), I'll put them in a list in my "Books" tab in the menu. I know there are tons of others, these are just the ones that came first to my mind.
Any other suggestions of books I should include?
Before I transitioned into science, I had a fantasy of working in publishing. Reading for a living was a dream-job. I fancied that I would be a good editor. I'd know which manuscripts were good and which ones were garbage. I'd edit, trim the fat, get to the substantial bones of the story. And when that book started selling, I'd know that I had a hand in its success and that would be enough for me. That was my fantasy, anyway. Sounds lovely doesn't it? I love editing. I'm not sure why I didn't pursue that track. I think I just completely forgot about publishing once I got more involved with Chemistry.
But I'm starting to realize that I would have been a rubbish editor anyway. Because it's not about publishing good books; it's about publishing books that sell.
If The Martian had crossed my desk, I would have stopped reading after ten pages and rejected it. Same for Ready Player One. Kids, that's two best-sellers I would have rejected and felt good doing it - right up until I got fired for screwing the company out of all that sweet, sweet money.
I've been seeing a few patterns lately. Books that sell are not just simple, they're almost laughably one-dimensional. They tend to rely on a hook which can be tied to something that's already popular or bordering on the nostalgic. Character development is not used. The rule is tell, don't show.
Maybe it's a symptom of the world we live in now. People have every website, movie, tv-show, video-game, and song....in their pocket. How could a more complex book, like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, compete with all that? Who knows how to pay attention anymore? This is why I don't have the internet at my house. I didn't want my brain to turn to the sort of mush that can't even bear to read the books on my own shelves. I don't want my family to be that way either.
I don't think we can stop this. At this rate, we're going to be reading books written in bullet points and Y.A. fiction will read like great literature in comparison.