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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a demo.
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. 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 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 Prophetthat 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.
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 toA Thousand Beginnings and Endingsand 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.
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.
The revelation about how Facebook users’ data was used without their consent inspired Christa Angelios to put together a panel of publishing industry experts who deal in big data to reflect on how we as an industry use the data we are collecting. As publishing is becoming more data-driven, we need to ask ourselves how to balance the increasing pressure to reach out to readers in a crowded marketplace with concerns about privacy and tracking.
Moderator Jim Lichtenberg of Lightspeed LLC, who was writing about Big Data in publishing when it was just a trend on the horizon, asked the panelists questions about their own data strategies and how those strategies are changing with the rise of GDPR, consumer concerns about privacy, and more.
Erika Seyfried, Director of Content Services in Advertising and Promotion for Random House Publishing Group, described how data insights like the ones Miller provided earlier in the program are driving how she allocates marketing effort and dollars. Because backlist titles have been performing well, Seyfried has started to concentrate more on search marketing. If consumers are reading older titles, it’s likely because they are looking for a specific topic and aren’t too picky whether or not it came out in the past few months.
Christina Stanley, Associate Director of Client Training and Development at PRH Publishing Services also talked about search marketing. She advocated for a robust use of keywords, often found in consumer reviews. (We’re big fans of this approach! Check out our intro to metadata for some tips from our colleagues at Firebrand. Firebrand also provides an audience analysis and keyword generation service, Keywords. Read more about it, including case studies!) She advocated for a keyword strategy that is both broad and hyperspecific. By using broad (in her words, boring) keywords as well as specific ones, publishers can access consumers who are both casually browsing and looking for something very specific. And she noted that the way to get these keywords is to look at reader reviews. Readers are telling you what’s important about your books in these reviews. While it might be time-intensive to wade through the non-aggregated reviews, ultimately it will help your title stand out.
Seyfried told us that she is concentrating more of her social media influencer dollars on nano- and micro-influencers, rather than the mega-influencers. Influencers with smaller follower counts, but better engagement, have a higher ROI for her work. While getting your title on a major Instagram account will certainly give it a lot of eyeballs and likely some sales, Seyfried argued that followers of smaller accounts have a more personal relationship with the influencer and are more likely to take their recommendations.
After describing their current strategies based on the best data available to them, Seyfried and Stanley talked about some of the challenges publishing is facing with new data restrictions. Stanley said that while she and her team are acting as though GDPR is a global rule, it’s still a challenge to build a structure to better address security and privacy, rather than ad-hoc solutions as needed.
Seyfried told us that her targeting strategy has changed, not just because of legal rules but because of public perception. Consumers know that they are being targeted, and many are skeptical about how companies are using their information. So, with data privacy front-of-mind for consumers, she is focusing less on website cookies and more on search marketing.
Even with concerns about data usage and privacy, there was still plenty of data shared during the program. Michial Miller, account manager at the NPD Group (formerly Nielsen). He charted trends across the book market from 2018, drawing out themes that publishers should be paying attention to.
One of the most influential trends borne out in different data points is the increasing consolidation at the top of sales lists. This means that smaller numbers of books comprise larger numbers of sales. According to BookScan information, which covers 85% of retail sales, (but does not as of yet take into account audio or self-published titles) hardcover titles have overtaken ebooks in terms of unit sales. Miller noted that this might be due to the buzzy political nonfiction titles that dominated the year. Over the holidays, the top 100 titles saw a 23% increase in sales, while the midlist suffered. The kind of book buyers who are casual books-as-gifts buyers are most likely to buy the books that they’ve been hearing about all year. Surprisingly, backlist titles have been strong. In 2018, 61% of the market went to backlist titles.
Adult nonfiction and children’s titles also saw growth in 2018, with some surprising insights within each of those categories. Miller noted that adult nonfiction growth was due, in large part, to both political titles and to domestic titles about cooking and tidying. The data suggests to him that readers are both trying to keep up with the newest political revelations, and then trying to find some kind of domestic joy in the midst of political whiplash. For children’s titles, 1 in 4 books are branded licensing, meaning that smaller indie children’s books tend to have a harder time standing out.
The Book Industry Guild of New York is a member-operated professional organization composed of individuals from every aspect of the book publishing and book manufacturing industries. It sponsors educational seminars and trips, holds monthly informational programs, and helps raise money to support literacy programs. Check out their upcoming events.
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 Timesand 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.
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.
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.
Cory Beatty, Senior Director of Marketing and Publicity at HarperCollins Canada
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.
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!
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.
As a Senior Agent at the Nancy Yost Literary Agency, I’ve read and reviewed thousands of queries. Yes, thousands,and possibly tens of thousands! Since my query inbox first opened, I’ve had the opportunity read some amazing queries, and some that could have benefitted from the following these tips on polishing and personalizing your query.
1. Send individualized queries
It will take more time, but this is an important relationship. You are hopefully going to be partnered with an agent for years, so just like with any other long term relationship you want to build strong foundations. This means at the very least addressing the agent by their name with the correct spelling and with the correct title if you choose to [address them by their] surname.
Additionally, if you happen to typo, that’s okay, it happens! Feel free to follow up with a quick correction after you hit send. Or if you’re querying via a portal, you should have the ability to withdraw your submission and then re-submit with the corrected form of address.
I promise you it will be worth it.
2. Read lots of query letters
To the Google!! Authors writing in all kinds of genres have shared their query letters, and agents have also shared sample query letters. Find them. Read them. The more you read the more you’ll be able to sort out what format would work best for your book and your genre.
Also note that while their are similarities between fiction and nonfiction queries, they are different.
3. Query letters are like the writer’s version of the middle school five-paragraph essay Here’s a quick cheat sheet of what each of those five paragraphs can contain. Remember, you can shorten as you see fit and [be sure] to personalize it.
Introductory Paragraph: This should introduce yourself and your work. Be sure to include genre and word count.
Three Body Paragraphs: You don’t have to have three, but I find it’s a solid set of paragraphs for you to talk about your book. Try to hone this “about section” think of it as similar to the text you can find on the back of a book’s cover or on the flap of a dust jacket.
Conclusion Paragraph: This closing paragraph is where you can share a bit about yourself. Think of it as your bio. Feel free to include any accolades for your writing that you might have, any professional writing organizations, or fun facts. Also include how you can be contacted if you haven’t included that info in a signature block, or some submission form.
4. Less is more
I know it may be tempting to share as much as possible about your work, but I always say that if an author could share everything they wanted in a pitch about their book then why would they then write an 80,000 word novel? So, know that we want to get to your book and your pages. Don’t keep us hostage in your query letter! Instead, use your query letter as a springboard for us to dive into your book and/or submission materials. Your pitch should pique interest and lead the reader (agent or editor) to you pages! Ultimately your book, your work, your story is what’s most important.
5. Have a friend, family member, or colleague read your query
Be open to editorial feedback. It is helpful to have someone familiar with the querying process to proofread your query letter. But, no matter what, another set of eyes will help catch the small things like the typos that our brains like to gloss over. And then, thoughtfully consider their feedback. Ultimately, you have to make the final decision on what you are going to send out, but most of the people you ask for help aren’t making suggestions just for the sake of it. Really consider their edits, and be sure to appreciate and value the time they’ve taken out of their day to spend on reviewing your query letter.
6. Ask a critique partner to help you draft a query letter
Oftentimes it’s difficult for an author to synthesize their work into a one-page pitch. If you have a trusted critique partner, they can sometimes help draft a few paragraphs to get you started. Of course, you might then owe them chocolate or whatever delicious treat they might desire. But this is an option I’ve had several of my authors mention they used when querying me! Seeing how others frame your work after reading and working on it with you might be helpful. You should never pressure or guilt critique partners or beta readers into helping you draft your query. Ask. And if they decline, that’s okay!
There are also freelance editors out in the world that might also offer these services, and you can totally pursue those options as well. But when money is involved and exchanging hands that’s a personal choice. And always make sure you vet any freelancers you might choose to work with. Do your research, folks!
7. Make sure that when you’re submitting to an agent that they do indeed work with the type of projects that you’re sending
While an agent might seem really cool in interviews or on social media, you’ll be wasting their time and your time by querying them with a project that they do not work on. Save yourself!
Sarah E. Younger, Senior Agent, at the Nancy Yost Literary Agency began her career in publishing at Press53 in Winston Salem, N.C. after receiving her undergraduate degree from UNC-Chapel Hill. She later attended the University of Denver’s graduate publishing program where upon completion she moved to New York City. Sarah joined the Nancy Yost Literary Agency in the fall of 2011 and has since cultivated a diverse and talented list of authors including a variety of commercial fiction and select non-fiction titles. She is specifically interested in representing all varieties of romance, women’s fiction including chicklit and romantic comedies, adult science fiction and fantasy, and very select non-fiction. You can find her on her personal Twitter @seyitsme. Learn more about the Nancy Yost Literary Agency including how to query Sarah by visiting the NYLA website.
Podcasts are an important part of the cultural criticism and influencer ecosystem for books, and beyond. And because audio is such an intimate medium, with hosts speaking directly into the ears of their audience, podcasts develop particularly dedicated fan bases and engaged communities. In Ask a Podcaster, we hear directly from different book-related podcast hosts to help you learn more about their community, what they are interested in featuring on their podcasts, and how they find their next book picks.
Books & Boba is a book club and podcast dedicated to spotlighting books written by authors of Asian descent. Every month, hosts Marvin Yueh and Reera Yoo pick a book by an Asian or Asian American author to read and discuss on the podcast. In addition to book discussions, they also interview authors and cover publishing news, including book deals and new releases.
What should book publishers know about your audience?
Marvin: They are a diverse group of readers, and not necessarily all Asian-American. Our listeners range from Asians from across the diaspora (including the UK, Oceana, and expats) and non-Asian readers who are interested in different perspectives in the books they read. Those that follow us are generally interested in our focus on Asian authors, representation in media, and own-voices narratives.
How do you pick books and authors to feature on your podcast?
Reera: We have a Goodreads list of books that our audience recommend us. We try our best to alternate genres and feature different representatives of the Asian diaspora experience.
Marvin: We make it pretty clear in our podcast opening that we focus on books written by Asian and Asian diaspora writers. We have been more flexible in terms of the genres we cover and have read both fiction and non-fiction novels, and everything from contemporary thrillers to regent-era historical fantasy.
What do you love best about your audience?
Reera: I love their passion and enthusiasm for Asian and Asian American literature. Many of our listeners are avid readers who have felt frustrated by the lack of diverse representation in publishing. Some are from countries where it is particularly difficult to find books by authors of color. So, it’s always wonderful to see their excitement in learning about upcoming and undiscovered books by Asian and Asian American authors.
Marvin: It’s always great to see new listeners who discover new books through our podcast, but I’m especially excited when our members engage with us on our Goodreads forums. Part of what we want to build at Books & Boba is a community of readers who are excited about the breadth of narratives coming from Asian authors.
What do you think is unique about podcasting as a medium for book lovers and for cultural commentary?
Reera: Reading is often a solitary activity. When you finish a book and feel your outlook on the world shift, it can be disappointing when you don’t have anyone to share your experience with. I think literature podcasts make the reading experience more intimate and less lonely. It’s like being in a book club with your friends, only you don’t have to go through the hassle of scheduling.
Marvin: I think podcasts in general are a great medium because listening can be a passive activity, so our listeners can listen to us discuss books while driving or working on something else, so you can be productive and learn stuff. Podcasts maximize efficiency!
If you use NetGalley, what strategies do you use to find books to request?
Reera: We often look through our list of forthcoming books by authors of Asian descent and search on NetGalley if they are available. We also consult [NetGalley newsletters] to see if there are any new books we might be interested in reading for our book club.
What trends in the book industry are you most excited by?
Reera: We’re very excited by the surge of sci-fi and fantasy novels by marginalized authors. It’s fascinating to see how these authors are injecting their heritage and changing how we see race, gender, and sexuality in sci-fi and fantasy.
Marvin: Like Reera, I’m excited in the emergence of speculative fiction from Asian and other authors from traditionally marginalized communities. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy the classics and family dramas about intergenerational issues and immigrant struggles, but seeing fantasy inspired by the Three Kingdoms era and science fiction that uses Eastern concepts as more than just window dressing will always bring a tear to my eye.
Marvin: In addition to producing several podcasts (including Books & Boba), I also listen to a lot of (too many really) podcasts! Speaking of book clubs, I follow the granddaddy of book club podcasts Sword & Laser, I also listen to pop culture discussion podcasts like Pop Rocket and Pop Culture Happy Hour, comedy podcasts like Hello from the Magic Tavern, and anything from the McElroy family, and of course our fellow podcasts from the Potluck Podcast Collective!