Gotta Read It by Libbie Hawker

Hawker

“So, what is your novel about?” is the sentence that strikes fear into the hearts of many a writer. Whether sending query letters to agents or talking to a friend at a party, many writers become tongue-tied, or worse, babble on and on. We may know our characters and their stories inside and out, but summarizing three hundred pages in just a few short paragraphs can seem impossible.

Of course every book is unique, but when pitching, Hawker wants us to keep it simple. She recommends starting with the five universal elements that every novel has: character, goal, obstacle, struggle, stakes. She shows writers how to put these elements together into a succinct summary, and how to choose the details that will help flesh out the setting and the story in the reader’s mind.

GOTTA READ IT includes a useful list of “do’s” and “don’ts” that will be helpful to a beginning writer, including not using too many proper nouns and keeping the tone of the pitch consistent with the tone of the story.

However, Hawker only gives two examples of what she considers successful pitches, and they are both from her own books. This doesn’t really prove her point. It only shows that she’s found a formula that works for her. Without examples from other books (or even hypothetical examples) there is no way of knowing how to apply her advice more broadly.

GOTTA READ IT is a good introduction to the idea of pitching your book, but it doesn’t go deep into the mechanics of pitches, nor does it give enough examples to help writers build successful pitches of their own.

—–

GOTTA READ IT can be found here.

—–

Rating: 3 stars

 

—–

This book is best for: beginning writers

—–

I recommend this book or Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds by Michael Hague or Rock Your Query by Cathly Yardley

Show Your Work by Austin Kleon

Show-Your-Work-Austin-Kleon

SHOW YOUR WORK is the follow-up to Kleon’s STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST. Like the first volume, this one is a tiny book with big font and lots of graphics. There aren’t many words on each page, so you’ll get a full dose of quotes and inspirational messages, but not much instruction or advice.

The book is divided into ten sections, each with a basic marketing message like “share something small every day” and “don’t turn into human spam” and “pay it forward.” Every bit of it is good advice, but none of it breaks new ground. I kept flipping the pages faster and faster, hoping to find the real meat of the book, but in the end, there was no there there. It’s marketing 101 dressed in a very hip package.

This book is fine for someone just starting out in the creative life and wondering how to make a living at it. If someone is completely new to selling their work, SHOW YOUR WORK will tell them what to do. However, it won’t tell them how to do it.

—–

SHOW YOUR WORK can be found here.

—–

Rating: 2 stars

—–

I recommend The Author’s Marketing Handbook by Claire Ryan or Let’s Get Visible by David Gaughran instead of this book.

Twitter for Authors by Beth Barany

Barany

A new user of Twitter needs to learn two things: how to tweet and what to tweet. The former can be learned in about five minutes by looking at any internet tutorial, and Barany wisely doesn’t cover it in TWITTER FOR AUTHORS. The latter is more subtle, and is the topic of Barany’s book.

However, very little of her advice will help authors increase their Twitter followers or engagement. For example, Barany tells authors to tweet about other people’s books just so they’ll tweet about yours and to follow book reviewers so they’ll follow you. However, savvy twitter users see right through such fakery. Far better to follow people you find truly interesting and to be interesting yourself so that others will naturally want to follow you.

The chapters in TWITTER FOR AUTHORS don’t flow logically from one to another and much of the information is repeated in several places. The book has completely awful navigation with no hyperlinked table of contents, making it impossible to find anything. It’s also full of things that are supposed to be links to Twitter bios, but the links aren’t live. This seems like nitpicking, and perhaps it is, but it’s also a symptom of a larger problem: the book itself is not well organized and shows very little depth of thought.

Barany claims that Twitter can help an author sell more books but never explains exactly how. She is very interested in helping writers craft their online persona, but I’ve found that being my genuine self on Twitter works much better. I’m there to make friends, not sales. And what do you know? If you relax and have fun on Twitter, the sales take care of themselves.

—–

rating: 2 stars

—–

I recommend How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age by Dale Carnegie and Brent Cole or The Author’s Marketing Handbook by Claire Ryan instead of this book.

Let’s Get Visible by David Gaughran

download (1)

Gaughran’s earlier book, LET’S GET DIGITAL, taught writers how to publish an ebook. But what then? Books won’t get discovered by readers without some work by the author. Overwhelmed with the urge to do something, many writers resort to cheap, easy, but ultimately ineffective ways to promote books. Let’s face it, tweeting “Buy my book!” every day won’t win anyone new fans. In LET’S GET VISIBLE, Gaughran offers true promotion plans that show writers how to connect with readers, not annoy them.

Gaughran begins by dissecting the kindle ecosystem. Amazon has many ways to connect readers with the books they are most likely to buy, but the algorithms are confusing for authors. Gaughran discusses the various list (bestseller, popularity, movers and shakers, hot new releases) and shows how to give your book its best shot at hitting a list. He also breaks down some of the myths that surround Amazon and its recommendation engine.

Next, he covers pricing, and how to change prices for maximum sales. Self-publishers, especially those whose books are exclusive to Amazon, have a great deal of flexibility about pricing, and the price you set today doesn’t have to be the price you charge tomorrow. Gaughran advises “pulsing” the price up and down depending on a variety of factors. Everyone loves a bargain, and putting your book on sale–when done correctly–can give it a real boost. He follows up with a chapter on advertising. After all, what good is a sale if no one knows about it?

It all comes together with a final chapter on launch strategy. Gaughran shows writers what to do in those crucial few days when a book is brand new. He suggests a slow approach, rolling out news and promotion over several days (or weeks) to make sure a book doesn’t shoot up the charts too quickly. A slower climb means a slower fall and is better in the long run.

LET’S GET VISIBLE is an ambitious book, and reading it, one might think that every writer who follows Gaughran’s advice is destined for the bestseller list. (He signs off with, “No more excuses. See you at the top of the charts!”) Simple math tells us that’s not true, since there are more books than bestseller spots. However, by following Gaughran’s advice, your book will do much better than it otherwise would, and is a far, far better option than chasing down readers through ineffective promotion or annoying them on social media. In fact, Gaughran doesn’t want you to chase readers at all. LET’S GET VISIBLE is all about helping readers find you.

—–

LET’S GET VISIBLE can be found here.

—–

rating: 4 stars

—-

This book is best for: advanced writers

—–

I recommend this book.

Rock your Query by Cathy Yardley

Yardley

ROCK YOUR QUERY is my favorite kind of ebook. It’s short, to the point, with all the information a writer needs and none that she doesn’t. I appreciate Yardley’s straightforward approach. The only drawback to the short-and-sweet style is that Yardley doesn’t include many examples. Even so, beginning writers should have no problem writing their own queries using her method.

A query (a one-page letter introducing your novel to agents and editors) is not a complicated document. It has three parts: an introduction, a mini synopsis, and a closing paragraph. Of the three, the introduction is the hardest to get right. Yardley shows writers how to use that first paragraph to hook an agent or editor. She suggests a very, very brief middle paragraph, as short as three sentences. Although I personally think a writer has a bit more room than that, I can’t argue with Yardley, since she shows how to make those three sentences say it all. The closing paragraph is where the writer gives her credentials, showing that she is a pro, or at least has pro work habits.

Yardley also helps with other parts of a query package, since some editors or agents also want a full synopsis and/or sample pages. She does a superior job helping writers figure out what to leave in and (more importantly) what to leave out of their synopses. ROCK YOUR QUERY ends with a bit about the sample pages, helping writers overcome common problems.

There is a lot of information in books and on the internet about query writing, some of it useful, some of it fluff. I’d put ROCK YOUR QUERY in the useful category. It has everything a new writer needs to know to write this maddening document. Making the query rock? Well, that’s up to you.

—–

ROCK YOUR QUERY can be found here.

—–

rating: 4 stars

—–

This book is best for: beginning writers

—–

I recommend this book

The Order of Things by Barbara Ann Kipfer

Kipfer

Like most writers, I love lists. I love to know the relationship of one thing to another. THE ORDER OF THINGS is a fat book full of lists that is supposed to show the structure, hierarchy and pecking order of everything.  While some of the lists do just that, most of them do not.

The lists range from the interesting (boat and ship classification) to the silly (all the answers from a magic 8 ball). The problem is, Kipfer tries to impose an order where none exists. For example, there is a list of the eleven brightest stars in the night sky. However, knowing that Sirius is brighter than Vega doesn’t really tell you anything. Likewise, knowing that a tuba has 13-14 inches of tubing while a trumpet has 4-5 inches doesn’t put them into any kind of hierarchy. And I really don’t know why anyone except a McDonald’s line cook would need to know the order of assembly for a Big Mac. It’s as if Kipfer is trying to jazz up a dry list of lists. The result is a mishmash that is too dull to be truly entertaining, while also too lightweight to be truly useful.

As expected, the most thorough chapters were those on the military, government and sports. Those are places where the hierarchy is strict, confusing, and crucial to know. Kipfer’s lists would be helpful to anyone trying to sort out a chief warrant officer from a chief master sergeant, or a judo yellow belt from a judo green belt.

But none of this information is difficult to find. When looking for facts like this, my first instinct is to run for the computer, not the bookshelf. THE ORDER OF THINGS may be interesting at times, but in this age of Google, it’s hardly necessary. There is nothing here that I couldn’t find on my own with a few clicks of the mouse.

—–

THE ORDER OF THINGS can be found here.

—–

rating: 2 stars

 

Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds by Michael Hague

Hague

SELLING YOUR STORY IN 60 SECONDS is a book about pitching, which is the art of briefly describing your book/screenplay/story in such a compelling way that the listener wants to read your work. Screenwriters have always given verbal pitches, but more and more novelists are getting into the act. At most writer’s conferences and some genre conferences, pitching to literary agents and book editors is the centerpiece of the weekend. It seems awkward to describe a written work with spoken words, but it’s a great skill to have. At some point, every author will be asked, “What is your book about?” It’s important to be able to sum up a story quickly.

SELLING YOUR STORY IN 60 SECONDS has incredible focus. Hague is only telling readers how to pitch. Not how to write a screenplay or novel, not how to find an agent, not how to work with people in the business. Hague zeroes in on those ten minutes of a writer’s life when he’s sitting across from an agent or movie executive.

Hague outlines the ten key components of a story, then shows how they can be mixed and matched into an effective pitch. He also covers what to bring to a pitch, how to begin, how to end, and how to maintain confidence in the scariest moment of a writer’s life.

After a solid start full of useful information on pitch construction, the second half of SELLING YOUR STORY IN 60 SECONDS felt flimsy in comparison. Hague gives lip service to novels, but it’s clear that he’s only talking to screenwriters. He goes into great details about where to find opportunities to pitch, but many of his ideas seem like a stretch. (Video stores? Telephone research? Really?)

The book ends with forty pages of quotes from movie executives and literary agents. Hague asked all of them the same two questions: what are some common weaknesses in pitching and what was the best pitch they’d ever heard. The answers, as expected, are similar. Since Hague already spent the previous chapters telling writers what does and does not work, there is no need to repeat that same information. Hague is padding what would otherwise be a too-short book, with the added benefit of sucking up to the “experts.”

Even so, the first half of this slim volume is well worth the price. With Hague’s information, a writer can learn to pitch a story in person, or use his tips to write an extremely effective query letter.

—–

SELLING YOUR STORY IN 60 SECONDS can be found here.

—–

rating: 4 stars

 

—–

This book is best for: advanced writers

—–

I recommend this book