As an author, you have likely spent more hours than you care to count dreaming up your story, imagining the inner workings of your characters and working through plot structure. And now that your manuscript is ready, your book is almost ready to meet the world! In order to help your book make a positive first impression, here are some ways to make sure that it’s ready for publication.
You’ll want to do everything in your power to make sure that it grabs a potential reader’s attention right away… and holds it. This means a strong cover design, editing with a fine tooth comb, and adhering to publishing standards and deadlines.
Readers are inundated with books to choose from, at their libraries –on retail websites, and in brick-and-mortar bookstores–which means that your cover matters. Make sure that it looks professional and eye-catching, and pay attention to what other books look like in the category or genre you’re writing. For inspiration, check out perfectbound_ or She Designs Books. You might end up shelling out for a professional book design, but a compelling cover makes a big difference for readers in a crowded marketplace.
Once you have a reader’s attention with an enticing cover, one of the quickest ways you could lose that attention is with typos and grammatical errors. A book might be full of the most fascinating characters and original worldbuilding, but if the apostrophes are always in the wrong place and commas are running rampant on the page, the reader will be quickly distracted and turned off. Make sure that you are sending your book out into the world in its very best possible state, with a comprehensive line edit. Your book gets one first impression with readers, so make sure it’s as strong as possible by sorting out any wayward spelling or grammar issues.
If you intend for bookstores and libraries to carry your book, make sure to set a realistic pub date and stick to it. Most bookstores, libraries, and even “long lead” review outlets, need significant time to plan what new books will be added to their store. Setting your pub date at least six months in the future will give you time to share it with book buyers at stores, librarians in charge of collection development, and traditional review organizations. Additionally, it’s important to ensure that any digital files you have are formatted correctly, and that you have an ISBN number.
While graphic design, line editing, and ISBNs might not seem like the most important part of publishing your book, these are the details that will help your book stand out for readers, reviewers, and retailers.
In February, the Publishers Advertising and Marketing Association (PAMA) held an event entitled “Lunch with the BookClub Gatekeepers.” We were excited to attend and hear about how some of the most influential decision-makers in the world of book clubs make their selections and keep their communities thriving.
The panelists all agreed that personal recommendations were one of the core ways that they determined which new titles would be most appropriate for their book clubs. Ms. Newman mentioned how much she appreciates publicists who recommend books that aren’t necessarily among their own authors, but which they think would be good candidates for the Oprah Book Club (OBC). Even though these publicists aren’t pushing their own titles, they are demonstrating that they care about the overall success of the OBC and know what kinds of books Ms. Newman is looking for. Ms. Caldwell finds a lot of recommendations from romance authors and readers on Twitter, where fans of the genre are active and recommend generously. These gatekeepers are still fundamentally looking for the kinds of books with grassroots buzz; the books that people can’t stop talking about.
Instagram is the platform of choice for book-loving millennial influencers
As founders of digitally-based book clubs with predominantly millennial audiences, both Ms. Edim and Ms. Preiss highlighted Instagram as a crucial resource for helping them keep abreast of new titles and new trends. It is one of the principle places that they find book recommendations. They follow bookstores, authors, and trendsetters both inside and outside of the book industry. In addition to using Instagram to discover new titles or authors to feature in their book clubs, they use Instagram as a community hub for their own book clubs. Well Read Black Girl and Belletrist, with 78K and 174K followers respectively, are very active on Instagram. Belletrist uses Instagram to keep its members engaged with the club and with each other, often by posting questions that followers will answer in the comments. A recent post asking “What are you reading?” received 350 comments and over 6.5K likes. You can check out some of our favorite book industry Instagram accounts to follow here!
Enthusiastic authors make for successful book club picks
One of the most important factors for a successful partnership between a book club and a book is the willingness of an author to participate. Authors who provide interviews, or write content that is directly or indirectly related to their book are creating supplementary content that helps keep book club members engaged with their community as they read. For example, when Wild was an OBC pick, Ms. Newman interviewed Cheryl Strayed about the “7 Things That Didn’t Make It Into Wild” and the “6 Reasons Wild Almost Didn’t Get Written.” Lesley Nneka Arimah, author of What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky, a book club pick for Well Read Black Girl, was interviewed by Ms. Edim at a WRBG live event in Brooklyn, and an excerpt was put up on the WRBG YouTube channel. The panelists wanted authors for their book clubs who were active partners; who would work with the clubs to help promote their title and give readers a meaningful and enjoyable experience.
Book clubs want more substantial reading guides and supplementary material
Panelists generally liked the idea of reading guides and supplemental material to enrich the reading experience for their audiences. But, they noted that sometimes this supplementary material can feel condescending. They, and their book club members, want substantive questions for book club guides. Ms. Caldwell hoped to see romance novels with additional material about consent, feminism, and body image in the reading guides. The members of her book club want to tackle complicated and nuanced questions and would be happy to have more intellectually engaged reading guides. The panelists were also interested in other types of material, like photos from an author’s research, as a digital resource rather than as a print addendum. They are looking for additional content in a variety of formats that truly enriches the reading experience.
Package galleys with the recipient in mind
All panelists expressed a desire to have the relevant information they need about a title in one clear place on a galley. These gatekeepers need to quickly see the pub date, the publisher, and the contact information for the publicist. Printed inserts in galleys tend to get lost, so panelists requested that the publishers in the audience consider putting that crucial information in the frontmatter of their galleys or on the front cover. Including the pub date on the spine is extremely important, too! Ms. Newman receives so many galleys for consideration for the Oprah Book Club that she sorts them into piles by pub date and emphatically requested that all publishers place that date on the spine for easy visibility.
If you’re sending digital galleys to media and book club gatekeepers, be sure to include this important information in your subject line and/or at the beginning of your email!
NetGalley is always evolving, and we know it can be hard to keep up with all the great new features available to you. We recently hosted a webinar detailing some of the most important enhancements we’ve made to NetGalley in the past year; changes for both publishers and members. This quick 20-minute webinar will show you how NetGalley’s tools continue to evolve, and how you can incorporate them into your unique marketing strategy.
The Internet is a social place. It’s where readers find their next book, where authors stay connected to readers, where publishers keep abreast of new voices, and industry newbies hunt for their first jobs in the field. “How to use…if you’re…” breaks down best practices for literary social corners of the Internet for different players in the publishing industry.
So, today we’ll be looking at how industry professionals such as acquisitions editors and agents, who are tasked with finding and grooming the next great writers, can use Wattpad to stay on top of new trends and new voices.
Using Wattpad as an Acquisitions Editor or Agent
Wattpad is a great resource for staying up to date with emerging trends and finding the newest voices that are resonating with audiences. Acquisitions editors and agents can work with Wattpad’s team directly to gain data-driven insights, and can connect with Wattpad authors directly or through Wattpad’s team.
What is Wattpad?
Wattpad is a social media platform for writers and readers. With a global community of 65 million members, it is a vibrant place full of passionate readers and new voices. Most of the stories on Wattpad are geared toward young women and tend toward YA, Romance, Sci-Fi, and Fantasy, although other genres have devoted followings as well. Wattpad writers have had their serialized stories turned into books, television shows, and movies.
Wattpad writers are often Wattpad readers as well, creating a communal spirit of experimentation and enthusiasm. Readers leave comments on Wattpad stories, and can even comment on a particular sentence, showing precisely where they are having an intense reaction. Writers and readers have profiles they can use to recommend books to their followers and send messages from within Wattpad. Writers’ pages have a Conversation section for them to chat with their readers and fans.
Keep a pulse on emerging trends
Wattpad makes it easy to see who is trending, and where. You can manually browse stories by genre, and search for what’s most popular within that genre under the “Hot” tab. There, you will see a quick roundup of the most popular stories and authors within that genre. Stories also have tags created by the author, which can give an overview of the subgenres or topics that readers are gobbling up. You can browse tags by genre under the “Explore” tab in a genre category. Agents and acquisition editors can use Wattpad team’s curated lists, including The Featured List and Up and Coming, as resources. Checking in on the most popular trends on Wattpad offers early understanding about what kinds of stories this massive reading community is clamoring for, and whose voice is resonating.
Find new voices
Wattpad stars have worked with traditional publishers to turn their serialized stories into novels. When authors bring their viral Wattpad stories to the traditional publishing market, they are not only bringing proven content, they are bringing their audience with them, too. Oftentimes, the traditionally-published book may be edited so thoroughly that the Wattpad audience is excited to see how this well-loved story has been revised, and the readers are able to enjoy both versions. For example, even though St. Martin’s Press acquired rights to White Stag (Permafrost #1), the story will stay up on Wattpad indefinitely. The Wattpad landing page even has a pre-order link to the St. Martin’s Press publication.
Access Wattpad’s Data
Agents and acquisition editors can work with Wattpad directly through Wattpad Studios to find authors who would be good fits for their lists. Through Wattpad Insights, publishing industry insiders can subscribe to trend reports with both data and analysis about which genres, themes, and subjects are causing a stir on the platform. Publishers including Sourcebooks, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and HarperCollins are already working with Wattpad Studios.
New technologies often disrupted business-as-usual, and the relationship between writers and publishing industry gatekeepers, like agents and acquisitions editors, is no exception. Poets like Rupi Kaur gained traction on Instagram before signing with Andrews McMeel, and literary agents are giving advice on Twitter. Wattpad is a part of that disruption, but rather than fear this new iteration of viral, serialized reading, agents and acquisition editors can embrace this tool to find their newest authors.
We are now several years into the podcasting boom. Podcasts like Serial and S-Town have gone viral and every major news outlet has gotten in on the game, from The Daily at the New York Times to Thirst Aid Kit from Buzzfeed. And there are countless smaller, indie podcasts about everything from true crime to comics to wellness.
Naturally, there are plenty of podcasts that cover books and the book industry. Some of these podcasts, like Book Riot’s Hey YA, are only focused on a specific market in the book industry while others, like Call Your Girlfriend, are broadly about culture and media, and often feature books as well. Podcasts are an important part of our cultural landscape, and therefore should be an important part of authors’ and publishers’ publicity plans.
Podcasting is an intimate medium, which is its strength. At their best, podcasts feel like being let in on conversations between friends. Listeners develop personal attachments to podcast hosts. It’s one of the reasons why sponsors and advertisers prefer live reads for their ads. Featuring a book or an author on a podcast functions like a word-of-mouth recommendation because of the intimate relationship that listeners have to podcast hosts. If a book is vetted by a cultural critic who feels like a friend, a listener is more likely to pick up the book or research it further.
If you have never included podcasters in your publicity strategies, now is the time to start!
Expand your horizons beyond exclusively literary or book-focused podcasts. If you write sports romances, look into sports podcasts. If you are publicizing a non-fiction title about time management, explore podcasts about wellness, creativity, and career advice. Podcasts give you an opportunity to reach unexpected new audiences.
Just like other media, it can be difficult to find just the right podcast to suit your book, and to help your book stand out. The most popular podcasts are also going to be the toughest to have your book chosen for a feature, while smaller podcasts might have too tiny an audience to be an effective part of your marketing strategy. This is why it is important to be creative with the types of podcasters you’re pitching, ones who reach niche communities relevant to your book.
Trickier still, there’s no standard way to tell how many people a given podcast reaches. Hosting platforms like iTunes generally don’t show the number of subscribers for a podcast, making it hard to tell how big a specific audience is. To get a sense of a podcast’s audience, take a look at the podcast’s social media presence. Does it have a good number of followers? Do those followers engage with the podcast through comments, likes, and re-tweets? Has the podcast been written up in any other sources (i.e. on lists of recommended podcasts for its particular niche)? Use these guidelines to find a list of appropriate podcasts to pitch.
When you are pitching, make it personal. As with all other kinds of pitching, targeted and personalized requests tend to be better received than anonymous, formulaic ones. Demonstrate to podcast hosts that you are familiar with their work.
Take advantage of the form. Think about what opportunities audio offers your titles. A short teaser of an audiobook? A chance to highlight an author’s witty banter to build personal interest? Audio podcasting is a unique medium. Be creative with how you might use it in your publicity strategy.
Podcasting is an exciting and emerging part of the media landscape. Tell us about how you use podcasts as part of your publicity strategy in the comments or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. We hope to share success stories in future articles!
The beauty of a bustling bookish marketplace is that there is a book for every reader; a lid for every pot. This also means that not every book is for every reader. For an author, it means that not everyone will love your book. And that’s ok! The best way to make sure that your book makes it into the hands of the readers who will love it as much as you do, who will buy copies for their friends, nominate it for prizes, and review it for their audiences, is to know your book. Sounds easy, right? Not quite.
Hollywood writers, Madison Avenue advertisers, and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are well-versed in the elevator pitch; the sentence or two that summarizes the scope of a project and piques the listener’s attention. One of the most famous examples is Alien. Pitched as “Jaws in Space,” it generated huge studio interest and went on to become a classic. As an author, you don’t need anything quite so short or quippy, but you do need to know how to talk about your book in a way that will entice your audience, and give them a sense of whether they are going to like it.
The best way to start thinking about the elevator pitch for your title, as with many things, is to read more. Read the blurbs for the books you love. How do they describe themselves? What details do they highlight? How do they describe the plot and its characters? How do they condense hundreds of pages in to just a few lines?
Ultimately, you should be able to explain what your book is about quickly and succinctly. Feel free to compare it with other books, but remember, if you’re comparing it to Harry Potter, Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train, or Fifty Shades of Grey, these are some of the most popular books, and many new titles compare themselves to them. So readers might feel a bit jaded when they see these same titles mentioned again. Try comparing your book to a slightly lesser known, though still beloved title, which might resonate with a more niche audience. If your book is about a young wizard learning the ropes, consider comparing it to Wizard of Earthsea rather than Harry Potter.
Thinking carefully about what makes your book unique, and distilling its unique characteristics into a quick elevator pitch will help you find the right target market for your work.
The Internet is a social place. It’s where readers find their next book, where authors stay connected to readers, where publishers keep abreast of new voices, and industry newbies hunt for their first jobs in the field. “How to use…if you’re…” breaks down best practices for literary social corners of the Internet for different players in the publishing industry.
We’re starting this series out with our sister site, BookishFirst!
Using BookishFirst as a Marketer
Utilize BookishFirst to connect with a community of highly engaged readers, jumpstart early interest and consumer reviews for your books, increase buzz on social and retail sites, and gain valuable demographic information about your audience!
What is BookishFirst?
BookishFirst is a new platform that allows publishers and authors to reach avid readers directly with a pre-publication excerpt and book raffle. Readers get a “First Look” at new books with an excerpt, and enter the raffle to win the full book by providing a short blurb, their “First Impression.” Raffle winners are then sent the full book, and after reading, they submit full reviews on retail and book community sites. Readers are incentivized: each action earns points (writing blurbs and full reviews, and sharing those reviews, especially on pub date), and those points can later be redeemed for a free book without raffle entry.
Category trends are beginning to develop, as raffles for Women’s Fiction, YA, and Thrillers are doing especially well. But recent experiments with other verticals, including nonfiction, comics, and cookbooks, have seen success as well.
How To Use BookishFirst
Learn more about your readers
One of the most powerful benefits of a BookishFirst campaign is the information marketers get about their readers. BookishFirst reporting includes information on readers’ age, gender, and book-buying habits (including how often they purchase books and where). Marketers can then use this information to gain early insight into what kinds of readers will be most interested in their titles. If a marketer expects their title to resonate best with women 21-30, but finds that most of the raves from BookishFirst are from women 51-60, that marketer can adjust the marketing strategy to best access those readers.
Gain early impressions
Readers get a “First Look” new books with an excerpt, and enter the raffle to win the full book by providing their “First Impression” or short blurb. Raffle winners are sent the full book, and after reading, submit their full reviews on retail and book community sites. Readers are encouraged to write full reviews and share them widely. They earn points for every action (writing blurbs and full reviews, and sharing those reviews, especially on pub date), and those points can later be redeemed for a free book without raffle entry. BookishFirst has an 80% review rate: readers are very engaged and incentivized to submit full reviews after winning the book.
The in-depth reporting that BookishFirst provides to publishers after the pub date includes those full reviews, as well as the specific links to those reviews on retail and book community sites. Publishers find the reporting especially valuable: “This is so great, especially the audience breakdown…I definitely want to do this again.”
Generate buzz outside of BookishFirst
BookishFirst campaigns radiate out into other parts of the Internet in several ways. Raffle winners crosspost their reviews on book sites (like Amazon, Goodreads, blogs, etc), especially on pub date, and are sent an automated reminder to do so. BookishFirst campaigns can also integrate into social media campaigns; for example, through hashtags.
Reach the Bookish & NetGalley communities
New raffle books are promoted heavily to the entire Bookish audience via email marketing and social media throughout each week. BookishFirst titles are also cross-promoted to NetGalley members when applicable. All this extra marketing is included as part of the raffle cost.
You already know that Instagram is for book lovers. It is full of swoon-worthy photos of gorgeous books (Book Bento Box, Modern Book Design, and Book Baristas for starters). But it is also a great place to keep up with trends in the publishing industry.
Discover unique community programming at brick and mortar bookstores, see how publishing houses are creatively marketing their books on social media, look at online book clubs to learn what readers are excited about, and get inspired by cutting edge book design. These accounts are some of our favorites in the whole universe of book-loving Instagram. They showcase unique viewpoints and strategies from different corners of the industry that we think you should be paying attention to.
As book lovers ourselves, we always want to know what people are reading. Subway Book Review satisfies that itch by asking strangers on the subway for a micro review of what they are reading at that moment. It’s a fascinating slice of life, in the spirit of Humans of New York, but this account is really a sneak peek into the minds of consumers. Why are people gravitating towards the books they are choosing? How are people finding these titles and where are they buying them? Use this account for some free market research.
The Spines, aka book blogger Megan Prokott, might not be the biggest book-loving Instagram account, but she really knows how to engage her community. The secret? Ask questions! She ends her posts with questions about what her followers are reading, where they like to read, and more. Readers love talking about reading, and Megan is giving her followers a way to interact with her account, and with each other. It also doesn’t hurt SEO.
Women & Children First is a bookstore in Chicago that has been stocking books by and about women (and for children) since 1979. Their Instagram page is chock full of events held at the bookstore–you can look at their account and see that they host author interviews, drag queen storytime, and multiple book clubs. The community centered around Women & Children First is clearly vibrant and passionate. Keeping tabs on indie brick and mortar shops is a great way to see how bookstores are serving the needs of their unique communities and can help you craft specific pitches to different kinds of booksellers for different kinds of bookstores.
Have you ever seen a structure on someone’s front lawn with a small lending library inside? You likely have Little Free Library to thank for that. Little Free Library is a small non-profit that fosters neighborhood book exchanges all over the world. Their mission is based on hyper-local community reading needs, but they use Instagram to keep the global Little Free Library community engaged with the project, and, if you look in the comments, with each other.
Founded by Glory Edim, Well-Read Black Girl is an online newsletter and social media community highlighting the work of black women authors. It has also blossomed into an in-person book club and an annual festival in Brooklyn featuring author interviews, panels about writing and self-care, and more. Well-Read Black Girl’s Instagram is full of photos of book recommendations, author quotes, and photos from in-person events. It highlights a vibrant and engaged community that is communicating on multiple platforms in a variety of ways.
A digital book club for predominantly millennial women readers, Belletrist was founded by Karah Priess and actor Emma Roberts. Their Instagram account is full of links to author interviews, check-ins with their book club readers, and collaborations with other book-loving Instagram accounts. Belletrist was started by two best friends, and the conspiratorial, friendly tone is reflected in their social media presence. It feels like a conversation with your friends, inspiring lots of follower engagement. Belletrist also makes great use of live features on social media, both in Instagram stories and on Facebook Live, premiering new book club picks in a livestream, encouraging their audience to tune in all at once and all together.
Graywolf does a fantastic job of marketing its titles on Instagram. Graywolf promotes its titles with visually appealing, color-coordinated shots. The trick is that they post multiple shots of the same title, creating unique pieces of content while keeping the branding consistent. This tactic keeps the information feeling fresh while also keeping their titles in the feeds of their followers, and hopefully top of mind when they go to the bookstore.
An iconic library and cultural institution, the NYPL’s Instagram is a mix of serious shots of their massive collection and casual celebrations of its community of patrons. They post vintage index cards full of questions that patrons have asked librarians (subtly reminding us all how vital librarians are to their communities!). The NYPL also spearheaded #BookfaceFriday, where some of their librarians and staffers match their faces or their surroundings to a book cover. The trend has spread and NYPL reposts photos from other libraries, creating cross-library awareness and goodwill. It’s a great reminder to be creative with your photos, and to have a sense of fun with your visual marketing.
Highlighting books designed by women, this feed is full of beautiful book covers. If you are a self-publishing author, get inspired by these innovative and effective images. If you work in book design, take a look at new trends in the field. Even better, if you are a designer in New York City, follow this account for their live meetups and networking events!
Marley Dias has been on the literary scene since 2015, when, at the tender age of 11, she began a campaign called #1000BlackGirlBooks, calling for more children’s books about black girls (she complained to her mother that she was given mostly books about white boys and their dogs to read in school). She has been promoting better representation in children’s books ever since, interviewing other creatives, writing a book, and going on book tour. Keep an eye on her and on other young voices who are the next generation of literary tastemakers.
Jen Pastiloff, author of the forthcoming On Being Human, has an Instagram presence that shows some of the less glamorous moments in her life, like wearing pants that still have their tags on them and eating a tupperware full of goldfish crackers for dinner. Her account is relatable, and very personal. She posts photos of her family, including her young son. It helps her audience connect with her at an intimate level, rather than purely a professional or literary one. Not all authors will want to divulge their personal life, but for those who do, Jen’s account is a great model.
How have you used Instagram to market your titles or engage with your audiece? Let us know by emailing email@example.com We’d love to feature stories from our publisher and author community for future stories.
Book clubs are full of passionate readers who go out and buy books throughout the year. They are always on the hunt for new titles to read, and are recommendation engines for the family and friends outside of the club. In Ask A Book Club, we help you better understand how book clubs find the books they read, and where they talk about books beyond their club. We look at individual book clubs to learn more about what they look for in a book and how groups of passionate readers come together to choose their titles.
We’re kicking off this series featuring NetGalley’s Communications Assistant, Nina Berman’s book club.
Nina Berman’s Book Club: Brooklyn, NY
About the book club
We are group of 10 or so women in our mid-20s-30s living in Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn. Most of us work in creative industries, nonprofits, or are in graduate school. We meet every month at rotating members’ apartments. Most of us prefer to read physical books rather than e-books, although a few of us do read on Kindle. We celebrated our 1-year book club anniversary with mimosas and homemade cinnamon rolls in May.
While none of us are book reviewers, or book bloggers, we are book recommenders, book lenders, and book buyers. One of our members, Razi, shares the titles she reads on Kindle with her mother, and lends physical copies to her neighbor.
Like many book clubs, we tend to gravitate towards literary fiction and literary memoir. We did take a winter detour into True Crime, but have since returned to our wheelhouse. We are looking for books that help us experience the world through other perspectives, and books that help us reframe our own experiences.
To date, my book club has only read books written by women. This is not to say that we haven’t considered books written by men (Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin and The Railroad by Colson Whitehead have both been previous nominations). But, we deliberately seek out titles written by underrepresented voices (especially queer voices, women’s voices, and POC voices) and our book club picks tend to reflect that, even though that is not the explicit focus of our club.
Finding new titles
We tend to find new titles from critics and influencers whose opinions and tastes we trust. We recommend books that our friends outside of the book club recommend to us.
For example, I suggested Too Much and Not the Mood by Durga Chew-Bose because I had recently listened to an interview with her on the podcast, Another Round and remembered seeing a blurb about the collection in The New Yorker.
Traditional media: The New Yorker (Jia Tolentino, whose 2017 article “The ‘Sex and Rage’ of Eve Babitz” got our July author on my radar). We tend not to use big lists like the New York Times’s Best Seller List, although blurbs, reviews and articles from the Times certainly catch our attention.
Every month, we vote on three nominations. Two of those nominations come from rotating members of our club, and one of the nominations comes from the book club’s founder, Emily. We nominate books that we’ve been hearing a lot about, or that we have been meaning to read for a long time. Our lists tend to sway between well known authors who have been on our lists for a long time and authors whose names have been cropping up in the media we consume. When our imaginations fail us, we also have a shared Google Doc with titles we collected in the beginning of our book club. When the Google Doc becomes too lean, we add new titles that we have kept in the backs of our minds.
Most of our choices have been published within the past few years (South and West by Joan Didion and A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin) rather than the newest titles from the biggest publishing houses. These are the books that we just keep hearing about!
We also let our current book choices influence our future ones, wandering down paths of interest as they crop up organically. Essentially, we make our own comp lists. Last fall, after we read Too Much and Not the Mood, we recognized echoes of Maggie Nelson’s introspective essay style, so we read The Argonauts next. When we discussed which Maggie Nelson title to read, some of us suggested Jane: A Murder or The Red Parts, both of which deal with her aunt’s murder by a serial killer. Still wanting to pick up some true crime, the next title on the list after The Argonauts was the classic true crime tome, The Stranger Beside Me.
The Goldfinch (2013) by Donna Tartt, Little, Brown and Company
The Stranger Beside Me (1980) by Ann Rule, W. W. Norton & Company
The Argonauts (2015) by Maggie Nelson, Graywolf Press
Too Much and Not the Mood (2017) by Durga Chew-Bose, FSG Originals
Today we’re talking to Stuart Evers, former bookseller and editor, and acclaimed author of Ten Stories About Smoking, which won the 2011 London Book Award, the novel If This is Home, and Your Father Sends His Love. He lives in London. He is also the Assistant Director of NetGalley UK.
How do you set your writing goals? Are they daily, weekly, etc?
The ideal is for there to be no goals or targets at all; to be writing with a complete ignorance of such outside-the-text pressures. Just picking up from where you left off: The words, the shape, the tone and the timbre so entwined that’s the only thing on which you concentrate. These moments are few and far between, however. Mostly I give myself long deadlines – a story, a chapter, a section finished by some time in the near future – and try to adhere to them. This has a moderate success rate. Otherwise, goals are sharp sticks with dubious carrots at the end – get a thousand words down and you can bathe the kids before their bedtime, get five thousand done by the end of the week and you can go to the pub. These goals are easily achievable – I always want to see my kids, I always want a beer on a Friday – but whether the work that stems from them is usable is something of a moot point.
Describe your routines as a writer and how they help you stay on track with your goals:
My routines are shaped by two vital factors, my job and my children. I write around these – before work, when the kids are eating, and after they have gone to bed. I sometimes do an hour just before bed, and a few hours on the weekend while my wife looks after the boys. These twin commitments allow me to write, so they have to be treated with respect and priority, even if characters are screaming at me for some attention.
How did you develop your writing routines?
I’ve always had a job, so it’s always been the same for me: Snatched hours here and there; concentrating for short periods at a time; blocking out time on weekends and holidays. It is a necessity and I have got used to it. I’d love to be able to take the time to spend a day honing a sentence, but I suspect that even if I had that space, the sentence would be the same as the one I wrote originally.
What routines have you tried that didn’t work for you? Why didn’t they work?
I found that any very strict deadlines I set myself, I became resistant to. If I said that I absolutely had to finish a piece by a particular date, I would fail. A more generous deadline and I would beat it handsomely.
What do you do when you feel stuck?
I walk. Sometimes for some hours. I usually end up in a pub of some kind. Sometimes I just go off and write something else, other times I revisit writers I love to remind me that it can be done.
What compromises have you had to make in order to have time for writing?
I am less sociable than I once was. I once met David Mitchell and his advice to me was to halve my social life and buy a teapot. I already had the teapot.
Describe the balance between having a full-time job, family, and writing. How do you manage both?
They are all fun, all frustrating, all important – and they are all interdependent. The difference is that, for the most part, writing can wait. It is a kind of vital luxury – but it’s like some people are with exercise, if you’re not doing it, it can impact on other aspects of your life. So you always find the time.
How do you think about finding a job that supports you financially and supports your writing? Do you need something that leaves room in your mind for creative work, something that keeps you in the habit of deep thinking and frequent writing, something else altogether?
Most writers – certainly those who are in their forties like me – need a job. Even Zadie Smith has a day job. That means you need something that works for you. That can be something flexible, something stretching, or something that you hate, but gives you impetus. You’ll know the fit when you find it.
Tell us a little bit about the New Year’s resolution you made at the beginning of 2018 to help you keep on track with your writing goals.
My wife and I resolved to make Monday to Wednesday no television days, so I would write in the living room as my wife read on the sofa. It’s been a success – I’ve read more and written more than I’d expected and it’s been a very easy transition. It’s the kind of joy – having a partner who likes to read like you – that’s easy to take for granted.