V.E. Schwab Reflects on Her Publishing Journey: “In Writing for Myself I Found My Readership”

Originally published on Bookish.com.

Earlier this year, V.E. Schwab’s debut novel The Near Witch was republished with a brand new cover and bonus short story. For the readers who have flocked to Schwab’s Shades of Magic and Villians series, it’s been an exciting opportunity to visit their favorite author’s first book after falling in love with her other work. For Schwab, it’s been a time to reflect on The Near Witch’s initial run and how it ultimately impacted the way she told stories. Here, Schwab opens up about finding her readership, writing for herself, and the advice she gives to all debut authors.

Bookish: Your debut novel The Near Witch was recently rereleased with a brand new cover. What’s the rerelease been like for you?

V.E. Schwab: It has definitely made me more introspective. I’m proud of how far I’ve come. A decade has passed between writing that book and my work on my next novel, The Invisible Life of Addie La Rue.

I assumed that The Near Witch was going to roll out very quietly back into the world. Instead, Titan, my UK publisher, took a book that never really had a fair chance and they’ve given it everything debut me would’ve dreamed of. They treated it like a new release and gave it so much attention and fanfare. I’m elated.

This is, of course, the great paradox. Debut me never would’ve gotten any of these things.

I’m very honest about that to aspiring writers. Nothing about this book changed. Everything about the way this book was treated changed.

Bookish: In the book, the Near Witch rises up after being buried. It seems to mirror this book’s journey.

VS: I’m calling this book tour the resurrection tour. It’s very weird and surreal. It’s hard for me to talk about with any objectivity. I’m so grateful.

I’ve come a long way but it wasn’t a straight line. The Near Witch is a quiet book that originally came out at a time in publishing when everything that was being touted was very loud and it wasn’t finding an audience. I now have a weird, dark, morbid audience and I’m very fortunate to have found it, but it took time.

Readerships take time to build and publishing isn’t always great at the long con. After The Near Witch and the two books in The Archived came out, I was very jaded. I was falling out of love with writing because writing is beautiful and publishing is not. I said, “I’m doing everything I can to make other people happy and it’s not working. I don’t know if I have a future in publishing but I’m not going to go down on someone else’s ship. I’m going to write what I want to read. Audience of one.” What happened was Vicious, a book that was never supposed to be read by anyone. Because of that I didn’t pull any punches. I made it weird, mildly sadistic, and as morally complicated as I wanted… and that book found its readers. What I discovered is that in writing for myself I found my readership, my dark, devoted readership. My rule from then on was I write for an audience of one first, I write what I want to read. If I do that and it appeals to other people, that’s wonderful. It it doesn’t, I will not feel like I wasted any time. I never looked back after Vicious.

My rule from then on was I write for an audience of one first, I write what I want to read. If I do that and it appeals to other people, that’s wonderful.

Bookish: Are there any elements of The Near Witch that you now recognize as a hallmark of your work?

VS: In The Near Witch, you can see the motifs I would go on to explore a decade later. I was on a panel several years ago with Melissa de la Cruz and she said that she had been told that writers tell one story. That no matter how many books you write, you as a writer are exploring one story. If you look at all of my books, they’re about insider/outsider culture and feeling like you don’t belong. That motif is in every single one of my stories. It’s interesting to look back at something like The Near Witch and see that 21-year-old me had a very tentative touch. I was just starting to learn and just starting to push. The difference between Lexie in The Near Witch and Marcella in Vengeful is the difference between 21-year-old me pushing back against society and 31-year-old me burning society down.

Bookish: This rerelease of The Near Witch is going to introduce some of your readership to your debut novel, while other readers may be picking it up without having read your other work. For new readers, where do you recommend they go next?

VS: It’s so hard. There’s the Marvel velocity where I’m like go in order: The Near Witch is the first one and none of the other books would have happened without it. I also have a tweet that says if these are things that appeal to you read this—it’s like a choose your own adventure game.

It’s also hard because books are static and people are not. If someone reads my work at 20 versus 30 they’re going to come to it with a different set of life experiences. I have to be the right version of myself to write a book, someone has to be the right version of themselves when they read it. As a writer, I will only ever bring half of the equation, the reader brings the other half. Everything the reader brings will determine if they enjoy one of my books. I want everyone to try everything knowing they’re not going to love everything and equally that something might surprise them.

Bookish: You have some stellar first lines. What do you think makes a good first line and how do you go about crafting yours?

VS: I spend a lot of time on first lines. I think it goes back to my poetry background. I don’t judge books by their covers, their titles, or their jacket copy because authors usually don’t have a say in any of those. As a reader, the first thing you encounter that an author has complete control over is the first line. I judge books very strongly by their first page because I want to get a sense of the voice. The first line needs to tell me not only something interesting, kind of like the opening line of a joke, but it also needs to tell me the tone of the book.

I will agonize over a first line. I’ve tried very hard to make the first line in each of my books be a microcosm of the first page in that I want them to tell you what kind of book you’re stepping into. The first line of Addie La Rue is “This is how it starts” and that becomes the first line for each of the sections of that book until we reach “This is how it ends.” I’ve always really wanted to begin a book with that line.

Bookish: Out of all of the characters in your other books, who do you think The Near Witch‘s Lexi would get along best with? What about Cole?

VS: Oh god. Let me think. I always joke that I make female Slytherins and male Hufflepuffs.

I tend to write this female transition: You watch Lexi become Mackenzie from The Archived and Mackenzie grows up a little bit and becomes Kate from This Savage Song, Kate evolves into Delilah Bard from Shades of Magic. I’d like to put Lexi with Delilah Bard. I feel like Delilah Bard would show Lexi her next evolution.

In the same way, This Savage Song’s August is the Super Saiyan version of Cole. He’s the glow up. But not in a pretty way, he’s a glow up of feelings. Cole was my first shot at the very emotionally aware boy and August takes that to 11.

Bookish: Is there any piece of advice that you don’t see being given to debut authors that you wish you could give them?

My advice is to work on your next book and remember that for the vast majority of us, careers are not made by a single novel but by a body of work…You can’t predict which book is going to blow up.

VS: My advice is to work on your next book and remember that for the vast majority of us, careers are not made by a single novel but by a body of work. The more pressure you put on a single novel, a debut especially, the worse it is going to be for you. You can’t predict which book is going to blow up. Shades of Magic, my most popular series, starts with my eighth novel. The seven books that came before that were instrumental in building my career. Every single one of those books was a brick in the wall.

Publishing has a really high mortality rate and you need to develop healthy habits. I’m an ancient veteran now. My debut year had 196 young adult and middle grade debuts, and there are fewer than a dozen of us publishing now. Only three of us are bestsellers. The curve is not in your favor as a creative. I think it’s best for everyone to have more information, more balance, more support across publishing generations.

You have to go in armed with knowledge. Publishing is very short-term minded and that’s very often to the detriment of books. It’s the nature of the industry to only be interested in the shiny and the new. As a reader, I find things that are five, ten, 20 years old. I don’t come to them when they’re brand new. We’re missing out on a lot of really great things in the interest of always trying to chase the new. It’s unfair because nine times out of ten the books that don’t get a chance are by diverse authors. It’s becoming even more vital to have passionate bloggers, reviews, and sites that are devoted to finding really good stories whether that story is a day old or a decade.

Bookish: On social media, you’re open about the challenges of being a writer and the demands of the industry. How did you get to a place where you felt comfortable sharing that?

The problem with not being honest and open in a creative industry is that when you begin to struggle, and we all do, you take it as a reflection of you, not of the fact that creating is hard.

VS: I’m very fortunate that I’m still in this industry and can have that kind of retrospective. Transparency and openness have always been my policies because I started out so young. When I wrote The Near Witch at 21, it was a time when no one was being honest. The problem with not being honest and open in a creative industry is that when you begin to struggle, and we all do, you take it as a reflection of you, not of the fact that creating is hard.

That’s what was happening very early on when The Near Witch wasn’t going well. I thought it must be me. Then I went to a writing retreat and all of these authors who were only talking about the positives online were sitting around talking about how hard everything was. I remember thinking that if I had known these other authors were also struggling, I would have felt so much less alone.

I meet a huge number of aspiring authors and authors new to the industry who come up to me and say thank you for making me feel less alone in how hard this is. And that’s really the only reason that I do it. There’s this pressure to romanticize the creative process. I didn’t want to perpetuate this myth. I wasn’t going to let anyone else come up feeling as alone as I felt.

Bookish: You’re currently working on a book called The Invisible Life of Addie La Rue. How’s it going?

VS: It’s trying to kill me on a daily basis. I hit this point in every single one of my book processes where I want to delete the book and move to Iceland to raise goats. But Addie is a really specific beast in that I’ve been working on it for so long and it’s lived in my head for so long. I needed to wait to write it until I was emotionally and craft ready, and I am those things now, but it’s the longest a story has ever sat with me. When you’ve had the first draft in your head for eight years, you want to do it right the first time which is not possible.

The internal pressure to do it right is way higher than with any of my other books. I’m trying to smooth the concrete before I pour it. As a writer, I revise as I go. I will work on each chapter until it’s ready. As a result, what I turn in to an editor looks very polished, but the story isn’t flawless. I’m very fortunate to have editors who can see past the polish, and while it sucks to have to tear things down to studs even when there’s really nice wallpaper, I think it is important to have strong editors who can see through that.

Bookish: Are there any books you’ve read that were quietly released into the world that you wish received more attention?

VS: Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. It’s wonderful and I want the world for it. It flew under the radar but I love everything about it. I recommend it constantly.


Victoria “V.E.” Schwab is the #1 NYT, USA, and Indie bestselling author of more than a dozen books, including Vicious, the Shades of Magic series, and This Savage Song. Her work has received critical acclaim, been featured by EW and the New York Times, been translated into more than a dozen languages, and been optioned for TV and Film. The Independent calls her the “natural successor to Diana Wynne Jones” and touts her “enviable, almost Gaimanesque ability to switch between styles, genres, and tones.”

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5 Tips for Newly Signed Authors from a Senior Literary Agent

Literary agents bridge the space between editors and authors, working with both to shepherd great books into the world. Because they work closely with both editors and authors, they have a unique vantage point within the industry. They know what editors expect, and how authors can best set themselves up for a successful working relationship. Here’s what the Nancy Yost Literary Agency’s Senior Agent Sarah Younger wishes every newly signed author knew:

1. You don’t have to be on every social media platform known to man

In fact, for fiction, you don’t have to be on social media at all. Sometimes publishers like to see authors supporting their book publishing efforts through social media, but you don’t need to have a robust following while you’re in the querying stage. You may not even need to have a big social media footprint when or even after your book is sold. Social media can become overwhelming, take away from writing time, and be a source of frustration to authors who aren’t innately inclined to visit the platforms. This is okay. However, social media can be a place where you find community and friendship. It can also be a way to communicate with your fans and readers, not to mention a fun way to support your books. Ultimately, when it comes to social media you have to find your own personal comfort level. If it doesn’t feel natural, don’t force it.

2. Get ready for edits

Yes, the author has the final say on their story, and their writing, and their book. But you should be prepared to work with your agent on possible revisions before manuscript submissions and know you’ll eventually get feedback and edits from an editor, copy editor, possible beta readers, and critique partners. They all want to help make your work stronger. And help you tell the story you want to tell. I know that the first response writers have when faced with revisions is not always LET’S GET TO WORK, but having a good attitude about those revisions will go a long way in establishing and preserving a great working relationship with the enthusiastic team behind you.

3. Create an author website

While you don’t need to be on social media, I do think it’s a good idea for authors to have an author website. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive, but having a place with your pen name, or your real name, and a bit about your books or your works in progress will be helpful when your readers want to find out more about you, your books, and your future projects. Before you shell out money for a website domain though, be sure that it is the name you really want to use. I advise using your name or pen name as your domain name. But, if that name is already taken, think about adding book-related words to the end. For example, if my name was taken, I would try adding “books” or “novels” or “author” or “writer” on the end to see if that domain is available instead, like this: sarahyoungerwriter[.]com  

4. Explore professional organizations.

Joining a professional organization could be a great way to find community and educational resources. However, membership fees are typically involved with these organizations, so know that this isn’t a requirement for your success. But, if the budget’s there, I advise authors to look into professional organizations in their genre of choice. (If they’re writing across genres, it can be helpful to be part of multiple organizations.) For example, I work with a lot of romance authors, so RWA (Romance Writers of America) is a helpful professional organization for romance writers, both published and unpublished.

5. Expect and prepare for rejection. This industry is not for the faint of heart. An author and agent will see and experience many more rejections than offers and success stories, particularly when they are starting out. However, receiving a rejection, or multiple rejections, doesn’t mean that this career isn’t for you. Just keep swimming! (Yes, I appropriated that quote from Dori.) But it’s true, just keep moving forward. Just keep writing. Just keep going. It only takes one YES!

Sarah Younger is a Senior Agent at the Nancy Yost Literary Agency. You can find out more about the projects she’s sold and the genres she represents here. Additionally, you can find her on Twitter.

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Giving Publishers the Data They Need: Developing Eloquence on Alert

Firebrand Technologies’s newest service, Eloquence on Alert, gives publishers more access to data about their titles across retail sites than ever before. Through EoA, publishers can keep tabs on any changes to their title information, including changes to sale price, product pages, buy buttons, and third-party seller activity.

Catherine Toolan, Director of Eloquence Services at Firebrand, gave us an inside look at how Eloquence on Alert developed, and some of the surprising ways that publishers are already using it.

What were the origins of EoA?

Eloquence on Alert came out of a simple need for publishers to determine if and how their products were being displayed on retail and reviewer sites. Publishers send out metadata to trading partners and there is very little feedback from those trading partners once the metadata is received. This simple mission planted the seed and from there we have discovered that there is a lot more information we can provide to make it easier for publishers to help their products succeed.

A lot of the impetus for EoA came from Eloquence on Demand users. Many of our clients were sending out the very best metadata that they could on the industry recommended schedule but they were still having issues with the data or the timing of updates on some sites. They also encountered situations where their titles did not appear on some sites at all. As you can imagine, publishers with a large list cannot check retail sites daily for the presence or absence of their titles. Eloquence on Alert grew out of a need to help publishers tackle these and similar problems.

Eloquence on Alert was conceived in 2016, with the first data collection in July of that year.  We released an “alpha” Title Management-dependent version of EoA in 2017 and quickly realized that we needed to pivot and build a SaaS model (software as a service) that would allow for independent product growth.

How does EoA interact with other Firebrand products like Title Management and Eloquence on Demand?

Eloquence on Alert is a standalone product and does not require the use of any other Firebrand products. We will be working to integrate EoA with Eloquence on Demand and NetGalley in the future.

How does EoA fit in with Firebrand’s overall vision around publishing and data?

Firebrand’s flagship products, Title Management and Eloquence on Demand encourage publishers to develop workflows and data management practices that help them to provide some of the best metadata in the industry. Eloquence on Alert takes this a step further and helps publishers fine-tune their practices by drawing attention to trading partner behavior in relation to their metadata content and delivery schedule. The best metadata in the world does not do much for you if your partners are not using it.    

What need does EoA meet for publishers?

Eloquence on Alert monitors critical factors such as fluctuating list and sale prices, changes in sales rank, missing product pages, missing buy buttons, third-party seller activity, marketing assets, review count growth, and audience sentiment. EoA is committed to continued product development and enhancement to meet emerging industry needs.

We know that a select group of publishers have been using EoA in beta. How have you seen them use EoA?

Each of our beta customers is using EoA in a different way. This was somewhat of a surprise! Some are using it primarily to monitor third-party seller activity, some are using it to track missing product pages or price data fluctuation, and some are using the data in their own Business Intelligence systems to augment their internal data analysis.

Did any of them use it in ways that surprised you?

Yes, there are several uses that have surprised me. One that seems obvious to me now but did not initially is the use of EoA to track products that should not appear on certain sites. When certain products appear for sale on a specific site it is a violation and their product management team is alerted so that they can contact the site to have the product(s) removed.

How do you hope publishers will use EoA now that it’s more widely available?

I hope that EoA will become a “first thing in the morning” activity. The EoA results can be used to let you know if there will be any burning issues to deal with today, if any of your products are on the move, or if all is status quo for the day. A simple check-in with EoA can do a lot to inform your priorities.

Where can readers learn more about EoA or see if it’s a good fit for their goals?

The best way to learn more about Eloquence on Alert is to see it in action – words cannot really describe it! Readers can contact our Sales and Marketing department at info@firebrandtech.com to schedule a demo.

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Proven Strategies: Strong Subject Lines in Email Campaigns

Tips and success stories from NetGalley’s marketing experts

Every day, NetGalley’s marketing team works with publishers and authors to help put their books directly in front of the NetGalley members who are most likely to read, review, and advocate for them. Through years of collaborating closely with clients of all types (from the “Big 5” houses to self-published authors, and publishers of all kinds of books–bestselling fiction to nonfiction and academic, religious, graphic novels, children’s and YA, cookbooks, and beyond) our marketing team has seen first-hand which strategies have worked to engage different kinds of readers.

Dedicated eBlasts are extraordinarily successful and NetGalley’s most popular marketing program. Clients see outstanding results with a custom, highly targeted email campaign to meet their goals. The success of any email can be measured by both the Open Rate and the Click Through Rate (CTR). The Open Rate is determined by how many people open the email, and the CTR is determined by how many people click on a link within the email–for example to Request, Read Now, or Wish.

Today’s Proven Strategies post will focus on the first step to a successful eBlast: A strategic subject line. Remember that the subject line is your chance at a strong first impression, and it will determine whether the recipient will either open the email to find out more, or ignore it (or worse, mark it as spam). Here are some crucial tips:

  • Think about the recipient: Why are they receiving this email? Think about what your recipient is looking for, and use that to guide your messaging to ensure it resonates. Does it give them what they want?
  • Be clear and concise: The subject line should be 10 words or 50 characters max. This helps ensure that the subject line won’t get accidentally cut off on specific browsers or mobile devices.
  • Stand out: Inboxes are cluttered! Be sure your subject line catches a reader’s eye with an emoji or first name personalization.
  • If you can’t decide, test: Torn between two subject lines and unsure which will perform better? Run an A/B Test on a small percentage of the overall recipient list to see which subject line yields a higher open rate, and then use that as your subject line for the rest of the recipients.
  • Target strategically: Make sure the email is being sent to the right people. NetGalley can target specific member types, preferred categories and genres, comp titles and authors, and more. Our marketing team can help you determine which of our members will be the best fit for your book, your goal, and your budget.

Now, let’s see some of these tips in action with some recent successful subject lines. According to Mailchimp, a marketing email from a media or publishing company will have an average open rate of 21.92% (which is slightly higher than what Mailchimp sees as an overall average of 20.81%). Keep that baseline in mind as we look at these examples:

This custom eblast for Berkley’s Those People had an open rate of 51%! The knife emoji adds drama and flair to an inbox, and the question is engaging. This concise subject line also immediately gives the reader a clear idea of what kind of book this is. This eblast was targeted to a highly engaged, genre-specific recipient list who had already interacted with the author’s previous book.

This subject line for NetGalley’s Spring Young Adult Newsletter used a bit of reverse-psychology as a result of an A/B test. Our marketing team first tested this subject line against “YA books to add to your TBR right NOW” and found the “DO NOT OPEN” subject performed better in the test. It’s no surprise–it was attention-grabbing with that emoji, too! This newsletter ended up with a 46% open rate, and was sent to a highly engaged list of members who had previously interacted with similar emails.

This concise, compelling, and slightly mysterious subject line for I Am Yours from Amberjack resulted in a whopping 55% open rate! It responds to a recipient’s desire to connect in a meaningful way with a compelling new voice. The custom targeting for this eblast reached fans of comp titles, and readers who had interacted with promotions in the same genre.

Bonus Tip: Consider using a preheader, which is the preview text that follows the subject line in the inbox display. This can be just as important as the subject line! Make the preheader a call to action or use it as a short summary of the email content (we recommend a 35-50 character limit).


Have questions or need advice? Ask NetGalley’s marketing team – marketing@netgalley.com! We’re here to help, and want to help your book succeed. And, stay tuned for more best practices and success stories in our next Proven Strategies post.

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The Future of Poetry with Kirsty Melville, President & Publisher of Andrews McMeel

Andrews McMeel Publishing is a major player in poetry’s resurgence with a new generation of readers. Their list includes bestselling poets like Rupi Kaur and amanda lovelace (whose most recent title, the mermaid’s voice returns in this one has over 400 reviews on NetGalley). With a focus on young, digitally-engaged poets from all over the world drawing upon their diverse backgrounds and experiences, they connect with audiences who may never have seen themselves reflected in poetry before.

In honor of National Poetry Month, we sat down with Kirsty Melville, President & Publisher of Andrews McMeel. In this interview, she tells us what she thinks is behind poetry’s current boom, where she’s looking for new voices, and what trends she sees on the horizon. She describes how the publishing industry is becoming more responsive to what readers are looking for, and how booksellers can use poetry to engage with new customers.

What do you think accounts for some of the popularity behind popular poetry from a diverse group of poets, especially among millennials?

The impact of technology, really. The ease of being able to connect and communicate online has opened up sharing. The ability for people to share their work online, and to share their books. And then for the books to be available at retail so that [readers are] having an experience online and then able to buy a physical book. Poetry lends itself to the experience of reading in short form online. You have that short, shareable mechanism that something like an Instagram distribution platform provides. It also provides building awareness. People want to read poetry privately and it’s a form of reflection, so you see them purchase the same poetry in a book so they can experience the same work.

One of the things that I’ve found most exciting about the poets that we publish is that it’s a global phenomenon.

One of the things that I’ve found most exciting about the poets that we publish is that it’s a global phenomenon. Lang Leav was this poet we published. She was born in a Thai refugee camp — she’s Cambodian originally, raised in Australia. She started posting her work on Tumblr. I saw that she had this fan base in Asia; young women in Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines were reading her work. I saw this community of young women who were totally involved and interested in what Lang had to say.

Young women see themselves reflected in [these] poets. So, you have someone like Rupi who is Punjabi-Canadian and she’s a brown woman. So suddenly brown women are seeing themselves reflected in the work of poets and spoken word artists. And then you have someone like K.Y. Robinson who’s from Houston and who’s African-American. She’s writing work and young women are seeing themselves reflected in her work. Or you have Upile Chisala who’s from Malawi; she’s speaking to African women. I think what’s happening is that the internet is facilitating young people seeing themselves reflected in the writers of today and responding to that.

People can finally have poets who are not dead white men writing about things that are relevant to them. Poetry has always been the form of talking about the meaning of life and expressing emotions around life and loss and trauma and understanding the world. All that’s happened is that the Internet’s facilitated that sharing.

Where are some of the places that you and your team are looking to keep up with emerging voices, emerging trends, or communities that you hadn’t known about before?

I think because I’m Australian, I’ve always had a global outlook. Last year I went to the Sharjah International Book Fair in the United Arab Emirates. One of our authors, Najwa Zebian, who is Lebanese, was on the panel there. I was fascinated to see the Arab world responding to poetry. Rupi had been there 2 or 3 years ago and had a similar response.

I was in Sydney in Australia and we are publishing a young aboriginal boy who is 13 years old who won the Australian Poetry Slam a year ago called Solli Raphael. And he writes about some of the issues that he, as an aboriginal and indigenous young man growing up in Australia [deals with]. Environmentalism, for example.

I’m looking in communities who haven’t had their worlds expressed.

I think a lot of young people see the world as a place they communicate, so I’m looking everywhere. And I’m looking in communities who haven’t had their worlds expressed. amanda lovelace, the author of the princess saves herself in this one, she has a strong feminist orientation and LGBTQ fan base.

What’s your strategy for moving poetry away from its reputation of being intentionally oblique or rarified, broadening the perception of poetry as something that is for a lot of different kinds of people?

This resurgence in poetry is providing an awareness of the power of poetry in people’s lives. I actually think that we as a culture are committed to poetry as a genre. At Foyles in London you can see Rupi Kaur next to John Keats in the poetry section. It’s bringing more people to poetry, bringing them more to discovery. Once you’ve read one type of poetry it can lead you to another.

Rupi recently wrote an introduction to a Kahil Gibran edition of The Prophet that Penguin Random House is publishing. [Young people are] interested in the genre and people want to write poetry. So there’s this great canon. [But] there’s room for everyone.

What trends do you see emerging in poetry for the rest of 2019 and beyond?

I think a lot of the themes that we’ve seen around feminism and self care and personal expression and identity and immigration.

We’re publishing a book next year with Ahmed Badr who was a refugee who started a platform called Narratio, which is about helping refugees write poetry about their experiences. He’s worked with the United Nations and so he’s been working with refugees to help them express their experiences through poetry. He was an Iraqi refugee who wrote a poem about the experience of having a bomb dropped on his house. He read it at the United Nations. He’s a student at Wesleyan, actually. He had launched this website in part because he wanted to be able to help others write about [the refugee] experience.

Greenpeace has enlisted Solli Raphael to be a spokesperson for their latest video. It’s pretty amazing how young people are embracing spoken word poetry as a means of communicating.

Anything else you’d like more people to know about poetry publishing?

One of the things that I have always been passionate about advocating for is booksellers to bring poetry out front. Young people are going into bookstores and buying poetry. So, poetry in the front. Put it on the cash rack. Have a display! It’s National Poetry Month now, so there probably is. But make poetry relevant again. Bring it back. I think it’s a way of bringing more young people into the stores.

It sounds like what you’re saying is that it’s less about booksellers making poetry relevant, but booksellers realizing that poetry is relevant and that it is what the next generation wants.

Yes, exactly. Poetry has always been there but for some reason gets a bad rap. But if all booksellers could treat poetry the way they treat fiction bestsellers… Put the poetry up front and see what happens! They might sell more than they realize. I think a lot of people are looking to break away from their digital lives and poetry is a form of self-care. I think that the things a lot of people are looking for are for nurturing and reflection and time for themselves. And reading a book of poetry is the way to do that. To be more human again.


Bio: Founding publisher of Simon & Schuster Australia, Kirsty moved to the U.S. in 1994 as Vice President and Publisher for Ten Speed Press and led in its transformation from a niche publisher into an internationally recognized, award-winning company. She subsequently departed Ten Speed to work as Publisher for San Francisco’s University Games, was appointed Publisher and Executive Vice President of Andrews McMeel Publishing in 2005, ultimately being named President and Publisher in 2009.  

Known for best-selling humor, poetry, inspiration, entertainment and children’s books, Andrews McMeel is home to an extraordinary and vibrant selection of writers, artists, poets and comic storytellers. A global, independent, and integrated media partner, Andrew McMeel distributes creator content through global syndication; book, calendar and greeting card publishing; digital consumer experiences; and entertainment licensing. Under her leadership, Andrews McMeel has published many #1 New York Times bestsellers including Milk and Honey and The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur, with more than 7 million copies sold, How to Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You by Matthew Inman, more than 1 million copies sold, the Big Nate children’s series by Lincoln Peirce, over 5 million copies sold, and Posh puzzle and coloring book program with more than 10 million copies sold.  Since 2013 she has been at the forefront of changing the way poetry is perceived and marketed, helping grow and expand the poetry category for readers worldwide.

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Preeti Chhibber: Making publishing more diverse and dynamic

NetGalley Insights chats with writer and publishing professional Preeti Chhibber on her career path, her mentors, and the other people making publishing a more inclusive industry.

There’s a lot of talk in the publishing industry about efforts to address diversity and inclusivity. We’ve listened to panels all year long from Tech Forum to London Book Fair. Preeti Chhibber is one of the people doing the work to make it happen.

Frankly, she does it all! She points out where the publishing industry is falling short in terms of representation, both at a systemic level and in the titles that are being published. She produces content to make the industry more diverse, like her contribution to A Thousand Beginnings and Endings and her podcast Strong Female Characters. And with her Marginalized Authors & Illustrators database, she is giving publishers no excuse for a lack of diverse hires.

She spoke with NetGalley Insights recently about how her career path evolved, her mentors and collaborators, and the other players who are making publishing a more inclusive and dynamic industry.

Tell us about your career trajectory: What was your path from children’s publishing to being a professional cultural critic and enthusiast, a podcaster, and all-around advocate for a more inclusive pop culture?

It wasn’t so much a path as it was something that happened side by side. My work in children’s publishing inspired my advocacy because I was noticing a trend of our kid lit to be very monochromatic. It was rare to see books by and about people of color. Then I started realizing that we work in an industry where we can affect what is and isn’t published, and if I was going to be vocal about books, why not look at the rest of the media landscape as well? I had a vested interest, after all. In terms of the criticism and podcasting, I’ve always written about pop culture on my own time – I grew up on the internet and in the era of blogging and WordPress, so when I realized I could get paid to do this, I had a portfolio ready to go when I started pitching.

What brought you to book publishing and what were your early days in the publishing industry like? What piqued your interest? What challenges did you face?

Book publishing sort of happened by accident. I don’t mean that in a “I fell into this job” kind of way but rather  “I can’t believe this is a real job.” I was, as so many young South Asian American students are, pre-med when I was in undergrad. And I was struggling because I am terrible at math and science. I’ve always been more of a reader. My brother was in New York at the time, and he met a woman who worked at Tor and he facilitated a phone call between us where she told me about her work, and I was flabbergasted. This isn’t an industry discussed in the Indian community at all. We get doctors, lawyers, engineers. Publishing? What is that. But as soon as I realized that I could be a part of something that got books into readers’ hands… that’s all I wanted.

Chhibber contributed to this 2018 short story collection reimagining the folklore and mythology of East and South Asia.

Early days were interesting. I got my start in kid lit at Scholastic in 2008, and it was just when the industry was starting to think about how we were being impacted by the Internet. I saw the rise and fall of several e-readers and e-reading apps in the span of four or five years. It was so frustrating to watch as an entry level position without the power to say anything!

It’s always a challenge in publishing to disrupt the status quo. The industry is so old and so slow to change, but it needs to change. When I started, it was so difficult to get noticed without knowing someone (I only got my job by meeting someone at NYU who put my resume in for her position when she left). Publishing is not an equitable industry, and it’s something that needs to be addressed. The pay is low, the work is intense, and you have to come from some kind of privilege to be able to afford to work. I heard an HR rep on a panel once brag about an entry level assistant who had to work an extra job in addition to her work at the publishing house in order to afford to live in the city. I’m… still mad about it.

Who were mentors and colleagues who inspired and encouraged you along the way? How did they help you find your path?

In 2015 I started working for a woman named Ann Marie Wong, who was the boss that I think people dream about. She was so supportive and encouraged new ideas – together, we started the We Need Diverse Books (WNDB) partnership with Scholastic Book Clubs as well as a Young Adult initiative. I also want to shout out Sona Charaipotra, who co-founded Cake Literary, a book packager for commercial, diverse children’s literature. She, as a fellow desi woman in publishing, has always been available for conversations about new jobs, or negotiating, or in my case, quitting the industry to write full time for a year. It can be difficult to navigate the business side of some of these old companies, and having women of color around who have done the Thing and can use their experience to help guide you is invaluable.

What has it been like to go from working on behalf of other people’s books to being a writer yourself? Was this always the goal or was it something that developed along the way?

Writing is definitely a goal that developed along the way. It was just so far out of my understanding as something that I could do. Growing up, I had Arundhati Roy or Jhumpa Lahiri as examples of Indian women who were writing for a living. And… I am not either of those women, who are literary bastions of excellence. Early on in my career, an executive said that it was so important to understand the line between Writer and Publisher, and knowing what side you stood on. I know now what a ridiculous thing that is to say, especially considering how many of my colleagues are incredible writers… but when I heard it at the time, it stuck with me for years.

But, as I started noticing what books were being published, I thought I had something to say, a book to write for the kid I’d been. The kind of stories I wished I’d had. So here we are.

It’s been an interesting experience, because I know the publishing side so well, but I’m not as familiar with being a writer… and none of those writerly insecurities are stymied by knowing what’s going on behind the scenes. They might actually be exacerbated by the fact? Like, I can imagine what the meetings are like discussing a book which is not helpful, ha!

We know that moving forward is a collective effort–who have been your biggest supporters? Who are some others that are doing important work to make publishing more inclusive?

I already mentioned Ann Marie Wong and Sona Charaipotra above—but I’ll add women like Dhonielle Clayton, Ellen Oh (who were our colleagues on the side of WNDB when we launched the SBC partnership). In terms of who is doing good work right now to make the industry more inclusive? Patrice Caldwell and her People of Color in Publishing organization, Alvina Ling was an inspiration when she started the diversity committee at Little Brown. And honestly, every single publishing professional who speaks up about the inequity of the industry, many of whom I’ve had the privilege to work alongside like Kait Feldman, Celia Lee, Cassandra Pelham, Trevor Ingerson, Eric Smith, Jennifer Ung, Cheryl Klein, Nancy Mercado, Namrata Tripathi, Zareen Jaffrey. And so many writers (including the aforementioned Ellen, Dhonielle, and Sona) who won’t let publishing coast, like Daniel José Older, Justine Larbalestier, Laurie Halse Anderson, Heidi Heilig, Kayla Whaley—I could go on and on and on, this list is by no means exhaustive, but there are so many incredible people doing the work. We’d be here for hours!

Tell us about the efforts you have made to create communities in publishing, like your Marginalized Authors/Illustrators Database.

Yes! I created the marginalized authors/illustrated database because there is a thing in publishing called IP (intellectual property) – where the publisher will come up with an idea and then hire an author to write the book. I was noticing that editors tended to keep going back to the same list of cis, straight, white authors and I wanted to do what I could to equalize the playing field as much as I could… so I created a resource for editors to find a more diverse group of possible creators. It throws the excuse of “Well, I just can’t find any” out the window. Here! They found themselves for you!

[To request access to the database, fill out this form!]

Bio: Preeti Chhibber is a YA author, speaker, and freelance writer. She works as a publishing professional. She has written for SYFY, BookRiot, BookRiot Comics, The Nerds of Color, and The Mary Sue, among others. Her short story, “Girls Who Twirl and Other Dangers” was published in the anthology A Thousand Beginnings and Endings (HarperCollins, 2018), and her first book, Peter and Ned’s Ultimate Travel Journal comes out this year (Marvel Press, June 2019). You can find her co-hosting the podcasts Desi Geek Girls and Strong Female Characters (SYFYWire). She’s appeared on several panels at New York Comic Con, San Diego Comic Con, and on screen on the SYFY Network. Honestly, you probably recognize her from one of several BuzzFeed “look at these tweets” Twitter lists. She usually spends her time reading a ridiculous amount of Young Adult but is also ready to jump into most fandoms at a moment’s notice. You can follow her on Twitter @runwithskizzers or learn more at PreetiChhibber.com.


Interviews have been edited for clarity and length.

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Companion Audio Strategy for The Unwinding of the Miracle (Penguin Random House)

Julie Yip Williams, author of The Unwinding of the Miracle, knew she would never see whether readers liked her book. The Unwinding of the Miracle shares Yip Williams’s experiences and thoughts as she approached her death from colon cancer. Through the book she wonders about what the lives of her husband and daughters will look like, and finds the miraculous in the most universal human experience — death. Published posthumously on Feb. 5 by Random House, The Unwinding of the Miracle is a New York Times bestseller.

The team at Random House helped raise the memoir’s profile through a unique audio strategy. Beyond typical plans to advertise on podcasts, they decided to take it a step further for the release of The Unwinding of the Miracle. In collaboration with Pineapple Street Media, Random House created a 4-episode companion podcast, Julie: The Unwinding of the Miracle.

The podcast featured audio interviews with Yip Williams as well as audio from some of the last visits her family had with her before her death. Listeners could hear Yip Williams talking about how she decorated her bedroom so that she’d have somewhere beautiful to die and making plans to haunt her family members. In the final episode, the surviving family members and friends talk about the ways that they feel Yip Williams’s presence after her death.

As of February 27, 2 weeks after the final episode was released, the podcast ranks number 51 for all Health podcasts on iTunes, with over 600 reviews and an average of 4.5 stars. The podcast was featured on Call Yr Girlfriend through a sponsorship from Pineapple Street Media and on All Things Considered.

Investing in a collaboration with expert podcasters resulted in a well-paced and compelling narrative with high production values. Pineapple Street Media is a well-established podcasting company. They produce, among other shows, Still Processing from the New York Times and were behind the chart-topping Missing Richard Simmons. Julie: The Unwinding of the Miracle’s producer Eleanor Kagan comes from a well-established audio background, having worked previously for both NPR and Buzzfeed.

We chatted with Leigh Marchant, Director of Marketing & Business Development at Random House about Julie: The Unwinding of the Miracle and their companion audio strategy.

How did you decide to create a podcast for The Unwinding of the Miracle?

Our Random House Editor-in-Chief, Andy Ward, and I had been talking about doing a podcast with our mutual contact, Max Linsky, from Pineapple Street Media. As all great projects start, we pitched him a few ideas over lunch and decided that Julie’s story would make for an incredibly compelling podcast. We thought having Julie’s story told in both book form and via podcast would be a really interesting project—that instead of being restricted by only telling this story in one format, we could have them complement and inform each other.

What kinds of audiences were you hoping to access with the podcast?

We think that podcast listeners are readers, and readers are podcast listeners. We have seen some consumer insights reports that show media affinities for some of our authors and titles, and podcasts are definitely included in there. Of course, certain podcasts appear more frequently in our data than others but we do think there is listener/reader overlap.

So we were hoping to draw attention to the book through the podcast audience – and vice versa. The two projects – the podcast and the book – are meant to be complementary. In other words, if you read the book, you will want to hear more from Julie and her family and friends through the podcast. And if you listen to the podcast, you’ll want more in the book. Both the podcast and the reading experience deliver in such a strong way. The content of the two projects is actually different but together provides an incredible understanding of what Julie and those who are terminally ill are grappling with.

Both the podcast and the reading experience deliver in such a strong way. The content of the two projects is actually different but together provides an incredible understanding of what Julie and those who are terminally ill are grappling with.

How is that audience different from — or the same as — the audience you were connecting with through other parts of the campaign?

We are always looking to reach readers through our campaigns and one of the ways we do that is actually via podcast advertising! So creating the podcast was a great way to reach some of our target audience. We were hoping to reach readers of books like When Breath Becomes Air, The Middle Place and The Bright Hour. Also we targeted readers of medical memoirs, followers of Julie’s blog, as well as parents.

But of course the goal for any book is to reach the right readers and we knew that if we could capture an expanded audience via the podcast, they would likely be interested in the book as well.

How did you balance creating a rich and emotionally resonant podcast with leaving enough unanswered for the listener so that they would want to read the memoir?

That was a main concern at the start of the project. We didn’t want to cannibalize either project so we were careful to keep the content different enough, yet complementary. In the podcast, you hear from Julie’s family and friends. The book is just Julie’s words and thoughts. The two forms work so well together though. Each project is so powerful, so moving, so compelling. But together they offer such a complete portrait of Julie’s incredible life and, later, her battle with cancer.

How does companion audio fit into your strategies for other titles?

We are always looking for new ways to reach readers – on whatever platform they are consuming content. Podcasts are a great way to do that and we will continue to explore opportunities in that space – when it makes sense. We have a number of other podcasts through our corporate group coming. But we’re also exploring other multi-media platforms, as well. We also just launched an Alexa Skill called Good Vibes. Our goal is to connect readers (and listeners) to great books via the platforms where they are already consuming content.


Be sure to subscribe to NetGalley Insights for more strategies from successful marketing campaigns, audio coverage, and more!

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Future of Publishing Panel Takeaways

Data-driven discovery and trend predictions, plus what success looks like for books in 2019

On Thursday, March 7, NetGalley attended Centennial College’s Future of Media panel in Toronto. This mini conference features a larger discussion about the media landscape, with a specific panel to focus on publishing. With moderator Manu Vishwanath of Harlequin, the Future of Publishing panelists talked about how to incorporate data into decision-making and how to think about gaining the attention of an audience with limited time and budgets in an oversaturated media landscape. Here are some of the takeaways that we’re bringing with us into the future.

Panelists

  • Cory Beatty, Senior Director of Marketing and Publicity at HarperCollins Canada
  • Noah Genner, Director of BookNet Canada
  • Nathan Maharaj, Senior Director of Merchandising at Kobo
  • Kristina Radke, VP of Business Growth and Development at NetGalley
  • Léonicka Valcius, Assistant Agent at the Transatlantic Agency

The Future of Discovery

At NetGalley, discovery is one of our favorite words. Connecting readers with new books and new authors is the name of our game, and the panelists were just as passionate about this topic as we are.

While discovering the “next big thing” has always been a publisher’s dream, the reality of this actually happening seems to be getting slimmer every year. Not only are there more publishers who are publishing more books, there are hundreds of thousands of books being self published, and the global marketplace seems to promise that anyone with a talent for writing can make big on their own under the right circumstances. But publishers and authors need to work extra hard to retain a reader’s attention. The panelists discussed the pressing question: How?

Director of BookNet Canada Noah Genner opened up this conversation with data. He noted that leisure spending has not gone up and neither has the rate of leisure reading. This means that readers are struggling to prioritize enormous amounts of content without the time or money to spend on it.

To combat this, Genner told the audience that it’s more important than ever for publishers to have a voice and a brand that stands above the rest. Whether this means developing a niche, like Second Story Press, whose books with strong female leads and themes of social justice sets them apart, or running a smart and snappy Twitter account like Coach House Books, it’s your brand–not necessarily the next blockbuster book–that keeps readers returning for more.

Kristina Radke, VP of Business Growth and Development here at NetGalley, added that in order to make your book succeed, it’s crucial to not just look at a variety of KPI’s and early data, but to actually make time to understand it. There will always be multiple points of data that can be collected pre-publication–like the information on NetGalley’s Title Feedback Activity Page–but without taking the time to understand that data and change your plans based on what you learned, it’s never going to make an impact on the success of your book.

Focusing on the end users, Senior Director of Merchandising at Kobo Nathan Maharaj said that publishers should focus more clearly on appealing to readers who don’t have time to sit down for focused reading, through audio. Audiobooks can help rope in customers that don’t necessarily have the leisure time, but are still interested in the story format and do have the leisure money to spend on books.

The Future of Book Trends

On a panel predicting the future of publishing, it’s only natural that the conversation steered toward predicting future trends. Léonicka Valcius, Assistant Agent at the Transatlantic Agency, said that books are a cultural artifact that reflects society as a whole, and by reflecting on the events of today we can predict what trends will pop up in the next few years.

Take, for example, the dystopias of yesterday which became popular as the world experienced great political and economic upheaval. Now, we’re seeing a surge of “up-lit”, which emphasizes kindness, empathy, and happy endings. As consumers, we’re now looking for books that show us the light at the end of a long, dark tunnel.

Valcius also praised the data when trying to hone in on the trends of tomorrow. With all of the data that’s available to us digitally, finding what works is the challenge–but also the opportunity. While we may have a book that will only sell 200 copies throughout its lifecycle, with that data we can now predict what type of reader will buy those 200 copies and market accordingly.

The Future of Success

It is, of course, every publisher’s and author’s goal to see their books succeed. However, as Noah Genner was quick to point out, there are different  kinds of success, and it’s important for anyone in the publishing industry to evaluate their standard for what success means.

Senior Director of Marketing and Publicity at HarperCollins Canada Cory Beatty said that he regularly needs to set expectations with the authors he works with. Sometimes authors may be frustrated that their books aren’t immediately being buzzed about in major newspapers, and yet the marketing team for said book has been celebrating for weeks at the successes it has seen, whether hitting modest sales goals or generating consumer interest on Goodreads.

Kristina Radke returned to the data conversation, piggy-backing on the ideas about anticipating trends. Modern capabilities are making it easier for new players to join the game. For instance, Wattpad Books is launching a new imprint that will use machine learning to help predict the next hit story and further develop content from their site.


Keep up with the rest NetGalley Insights coverage of industry events, plus publishing trends and interviews, by subscribing to our weekly newsletter!

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Ask a Librarian: Charmaine Atrooshi

Putting your titles in the hands of librarians is an important part of any book’s success story. Librarians build collections for their library branch, pick titles for their own reading groups, and were the original comp-title recommendation engines before the age of algorithms. Librarians are book advocates in their community and beyond!

In our Ask A Librarian series, we ask librarians on NetGalley about what makes their community special, what they read, and how they stay up to date with the best new titles for their patrons.

Ottawa Public Librarian Charmaine Atrooshi describes her community of patrons who visit North America’s largest English/French bilingual library and use its Homebound Services program. She also gives us an inside look at how she uses NetGalley, and which resources she uses to keep up with new titles that she can recommend to her patrons.

What resources do you use to find new books to recommend, or to add to your library’s collection?

I use NetGalley and BNC Catalist to find new books to recommend to customers, as well as the Loan Stars lists! I love that library staff all over Canada can vote for their favorite upcoming titles, and that these lists are released monthly!  I also like to browse our catalogue (BiblioCommons) for items on order, and I try to browse some of the staff lists within for ideas.

In addition, NoveList and Books & Authors [formerly What Do I Read Next?] are great databases to use when looking for read-alikes, reviews, and recommendations.

*BNC Catalist is a NetGalley Partner. If a book is in both systems, the NetGalley link automatically appears in Catalist.

What’s your strategy for finding new books on NetGalley?

I have some favorite publishers and auto approvals so that is often a first place I check when quickly searching for new books.  Depending on what mood I am in, or what area of readers’ advisory I am looking to strengthen, I will search by categories for a specific genre and browse the options available.  

What catches your eye when you are on the hunt for new books?

The cover and title are certainly something that draw my initial interest. I admit, I am guilty of judging a book by its cover! If looks good I will read the description to see if it is something that would appeal to me or to library customers.  The cover of The Smiling Man by Joseph Knox was one that really appealed to me, as well as The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides. I read and really enjoyed both of those and can see why both have such strong appeal!

Even if I don’t end up requesting a title, reading blurbs and looking at covers helps to keep me abreast of trends in publishing, read-alikes, and new releases, which is always helpful!

Even if I don’t end up requesting a title, reading blurbs and looking at covers helps to keep me abreast of trends in publishing, read-alikes, and new releases, which is always helpful!

Tell us about your library’s community, and the patrons who use your services:

My permanent position is in the Homebound Services department of the Ottawa Public Library.  We select and deliver library materials to customers who have difficulty accessing a library branch on a regular basis.  Our customer base consists primarily of older adults, and customers with disabilities.

Currently, I am working temporarily as the adult librarian at the Nepean Centrepointe (NC) branch.  NC is the second largest branch of the Ottawa Public Library, and it is located in the Ben Franklin Complex, which is also home to Centrepointe Theatre, and a City of Ottawa Client Service Centre. It is also just down the street from Algonquin College.   

On average, NC sees between 900 and 1,300 customers a day; a mixture of children, teens, adults, and older adults. Nepean Centrepointe offers a large range of programs from book clubs, to storytimes to Dungeons and Dragons evenings!  It also houses materials in Arabic, Russian, Chinese, Hindi – in addition to –English and French, which is reflective of the languages of the community (world language collections are based upon census data).

What resources or programs make your library unique?

Homebound Services is unique in the sense that it literally brings the library into your home and provides a team of staff who are well-versed in readers’ advisory and spend the majority of their time in the realm of readers’ advisory and materials selection.  One more unique fact is that we talk with the majority of our customers via telephone!

Nepean Centrepointe houses OPL’s Imagine Space where customers can come to create and collaborate using 3D printers, laser cutters, photo/video editing stations, green screens/video gear, as well as various hand and electronic tools.  NC also houses the Sunlife Financial Musical Lending Library, along with our main branch.  Customers can borrow instruments such as keyboards, guitars, banjos, mandolins, bongos, ukuleles, violins etc.

Fun fact about the Ottawa Public Library– it is the largest bilingual (English/French) library in North America!

Based on what they’re checking out, what kinds of books are your readers most interested in?

Popular areas of interest for Homebound customers are family sagas and mysteries, as well as biographies of ‘the average person’. We get many requests for Danielle Steel, James Patterson, Kristin Hannah, P.D. James and Anne Perry to name a few.

At the NC branch, nonfiction materials circulate the most (more than double general fiction and mysteries put together!).  Staff have really great displays in the nonfiction section which make it hard to walk by without grabbing one (or two). Currently, my favorite displays are “Vintage Hollywood,” “Dropping Names,” “faerie tales are Grimm” and the new cookbook display that offers a quick pick option.

What percentage of your patrons check out digital books versus print?

In terms of Homebound customers, the majority are print material users. There is an increase, however, in questions about downloadable materials, with tablet devices such as iPads becoming more popular and customers starting to explore the possibilities within these devices.  We have had an increase in requests for assistance in setting up their devices in order to borrow library e-materials.

The Ottawa Public Library offers various online resources for customer use such as Overdrive (e-books and audiobooks), CloudLibrary (express e-books) and RB Digital (magazines and audiobooks). We also offers appointments for customers looking for assistance with downloading library materials.

Based upon a snapshot from this past June at Nepean Centrepointe, approximately 20% of NC customers borrowed digital materials, 70% borrowed print, and 10% borrowed both.


Read the rest of our Ask a Librarian series, plus learn more about librarians’ use of social media with The Librarian Twitterverse.

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