It’s happened to every reader. You have the weekend off. Rain is pouring down. The coffee pot is sputtering, and those tantalizing smells seduce you to crawl under a blanket and pick out your next great read. So, you hop online, go to your favorite bookstore and start scanning those covers. One calls out to you, so you click, excited to see what it’s about. The blurb looks exciting, you’re ready to buy, but you decide to glance at all those reviews just a short scroll away. Five stars. Not bad! You read a few sentences in and… gasp! They just revealed the plot twist! Ruined the ending! Stole the joy you would have gotten from uncovering it yourself. The horror! Now that the plot is revealed before you even opened the first page, you back out and buy another book.
As a reader, I’m infuriated when someone’s spoiler review appears without warning. As a writer, I’m sad for the author who will no longer get the sale of that book from me, and perhaps more books if I enjoyed it and sought out the rest. All because a reviewer didn’t realize they had broken proper book reviewing etiquette.
Last night I was on a message forum where a well-known author came on and she was devastated a reviewer put the who-dun-it in the first review of her new release. Ouch. Not only is that devastating for an author who worked hard to craft a story and unveil information to you piece by piece, it’s sad for the readers who will no longer get to enjoy the surprise that one reviewer got to experience. On that post, author after author, and reader after reader came forward with similar sob stories. And as a reader who won’t read a book that’s been spoiled, I felt awful knowing authors will inevitably lose sales because of it. And the saddest part? Most of these were five-star, raving reviews. Reviewers who enjoyed the book and wanted to support the author by taking the time to write a review had accidentally cost them sales and caused them heartache as well as ruined the experience for those who would read it after them. It was then I realized, maybe people just don’t understand book review etiquette. Maybe we just need to spread the word! So, after polling authors and readers, we have compiled the list of things you should and shouldn’t do when you review your next read.
1) Review that book
This is a post about etiquette, yes. But it’s important to remind people just how much your reviews help support authors. The good, the bad, and the ugly. We want your opinion and your feedback. Your reviews boost book sales and help rank. If you enjoyed a book, give the author the biggest gift you can… your review. But when you do, just be mindful of other eager readers who want to enjoy the surprises.
2) A Book Review is not A Book Report
No one is quite sure how this came to be, but when writing a review, people don’t want a play-by-play of the book. They want to know your overall thoughts on story, craft, and characters. Let them learn the play-by-play as it’s intended… by reading it. A review that reads like Cliff’s Notes is most definitely laced with spoilers and the bottom line is no reader wants to know that stuff before they read a book. Do you?
I’m going to put two reviews below as an example.
When a handsome swordsman comes to Camelot, he discovers the one thing he can’t battle away… his feelings for the beautiful Guinevere. Their growing passion for one another could destroy them both, and they must each choose between their loyalty to their King or loyalty to their hearts. But when Arthur’s old enemy returns with a vengeance, it’s up to Lancelot to put aside his feelings and fight beside his king to defend not only Queen Guinevere, but all of Camelot.
Wow! This book has all the feels. It’s a gripping historical romance novel filled with action, adventure, and romance. The writing is beautiful. I practically felt like I was back in Camelot. The characters were wonderfully crafted, and I rooted for them every step of the way. The pacing was perfect, and I had trouble putting it down. I loved this book and highly recommend it for anyone who wants to get on an emotional roller coaster and never get off!
This book starts in Camelot and Guinevere is betrothed to the King. She really seems to love him, but then she meets Lancelot, his newest knight. After she’s kidnapped by King Arthur’s enemy, Arthur sends Lancelot to find her and they end up succumbing to their love. She cheats on her husband with Lancelot and when he finds out he’s devastated. Eventually she chooses her husband over Lancelot and he’s banished, but when Arthur dies at the end she gets to be with Lancelot after all. It was a great story and I highly recommend it.
Can you see the difference? One reads like a book report while the other tells us nothing to spoil the story but tells us how the reader FELT about the book. And that’s the most important part! Did you like the story? Too fast? Too slow? Could you identify with the characters? These are all very safe things to address, and they are actually helpful to potential readers. But let’s leave those book reports back in High School.
3) If it’s not in the blurb, don’t put it in the review
This is the safest way to make sure you don’t ruin a book for anyone else. Blurbs are carefully crafted to give away just enough info to make a book enticing, but not too much to take away the fun of discovery a reader gets to enjoy when they read a new book. When writing a review, I’m careful to never disclose anything specific the blurb hasn’t already told us. I don’t add in plot twists, endings, who-dun-it’s, or anything you wouldn’t have gotten from the blurb.
In the two reviews above, you’ll see in the first one no spoilers were leaked but you still got an idea of my feelings on the book, as well as an idea of what it’s about. It’s action, adventure and romance. Emotional. Hard to put down. In the second one, I told you exactly what happens! As a new reader, when you open that book you already know many of the major conflicts AND you even know how it ends. As a reader, if I read that first review, I would put that book in my cart. If I read the second review, I would shout curses at that reviewer for ruining a book it sounds like I would have loved. I would back out without buying it and go find another book. So, when you review, if it’s not in the blurb, find a way to get your point across without revealing any additional information.
4) Write the review you would want to read
Having a hard time coming up with a review that isn’t a book report? Try to think about what you wish you would have known before you started it. Without giving away too much, try to help the next readers decide if this is the right book for them. Do you hate cliffhangers, and it ended in one? Tell us that! Don’t tell us what the cliffhanger was but tell us you were disappointed it requires you to purchase book two in order to get the ending. Do you love sex scenes and this writer did a fantastic job? That’s a great thing to add and can help readers decide if they want a book with steamy sex scenes or not. Was it too violent for you? Say that. Readers who like violence in books will purchase it, and it will steer away those who don’t have a taste for it. These are all things that can help you write a book review that actually helps guide buyers and doesn’t ruin the book for the people who read it.
5) Use Spoiler Alerts
If you decide you absolutely must write a review that includes info not already in the blurb, please PLEASE write in all caps at the very top of your review *SPOILER ALERT!* This gives any readers who like to be surprised plenty of warning to flip past your review and not have a book experience ruined.
That’s it! Those are the five simple rules to writing a review that will have both authors and readers singing your praises instead of cursing your screen name. Your reviews are SO IMPORTANT and we want to encourage you to come forward with how you felt about our books. But just be mindful when doing so and let the readers who come after you share in all the joy of discovering a story the way an author intended. Let them share in your surprise.
by: Katherine Hastings
Katherine Hastings loves love. It’s why she writes romance novels. Getting lost writing a romantic adventure is one of her favorite pastimes. When she’s not on an adventure with her characters, she can be found at her home in Wisconsin snuggling her husband, two Boston Terriers, and the world’s naughtiest cat. Two things make Katherine want to leave her happy home these days… going for rides on her dressage pony or floating at the beach in her big inflatable raft. Writing her novels while floating in the lake is one of her ultimate pleasures… that and Fried Wisconsin Cheese Curds, of course.
“The internet is forever.”
Wrong. We’ve all heard this warning. I say it to my teenage daughter all the time. But this so-called helpful advice is not only not helpful to you, if you’re like most people, it’s probably detrimental to your success on social media.
Unless you’re talking about nudie pictures, (public service announcement: don’t post nudie pictures on the Internet) letting your social media strategy be guided by the fear that any of your posts will ever be fascinating to the whole world for all time is kind of like planning your three-year-old’s career as an NBA superstar. Sure, it happens to some people, but the odds of it happening to you are just so (to be polite) ridiculously small. And, in fact, your biggest problem is much more likely the opposite: getting anyone, anyone at all, to read and care about what you’ve posted.
My day job is social media marketing, and I spend a lot of time doing it. So, from my experience, let me suggest some better, more helpful advice.
by: Kristin Bayer
By night, Kristin is a playwright, and an aspiring romance author. By day she’s a digital marketing consultant and a mom. Find her at her website or on the bleachers at her kid’s game.
Recently, I attended the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference (ACFW) in Nashville. If you are hoping to publish in Christian fiction, this conference gives an overview of the inspirational market. The Christian fiction market is growing due to its loyal readership and the hope these novels bring to a chaotic world.
Historical Romance and Romantic Suspense remain strong genres in the Christian market. Contemporary Realism is trending due to the news of the day (bombings, school shootings, suicide) seeping into novels. Legal thrillers are on the rise as well.
Unfortunately, my genre of Biblical fiction barely received a mention at the conference. Librarians and readers love Bible stories, but publishers are still shy in pursuing this genre. The cry for more Christian YA still goes unheeded by publishers. Where do your teens shop for books? In the small religious section?
Retailers are seeing more time slips and “sister” stories in the market. Diversity is increasing, but at a slow pace. A call was put out for more diversity not only in race, but also in religion. Retailers would like to see stories with older characters, characters that struggle with weight, and more Middle Grade stories for boys.
Shorter series are getting hotter. It is difficult for reviewers to comment on books in a series if they haven’t read previous installments. The term “duology” was new to me. Readers are preferring shorter, two-book series. And, more indie-published books are making it into the “Top 10” in categories on Amazon.
I attended a panel on whether an author should only write in the genre in which they are published. A couple of authors said you shouldn’t jump ship. Another author said she writes the stories God places on her heart regardless of genre. I like to think there is some wiggle room especially with the use of pen names. Some genres are similar in nature and have reader overlap. What do you think? Is your path wide or defined?
While authors are working on their novels, they should mind their social media followers. One agent liked pre-published authors to have an aggregate of 5,000 followers among their social media platforms. Instagram seems to be the hottest media at the moment. Non-fiction authors should shoot for a total of 10-20,000 followers or have a special tie-in to their story that might bring credibility and endorsements.
The job demands of being an author are increasing. We should never forget to enjoy the creative process and find joy in our writing journey. What’s hot or trending this year in Christian fiction may be on the back burner next year. Embrace your characters and your story. Only you can bring your novel to life.
Barbara M. Britton lives in Wisconsin and writes Christian Fiction for teens and adults. She has a nutrition degree from Baylor University but loves to dip healthy strawberries in chocolate. Barb brings little known Bible characters to light in her Tribes of Israel series. She is a former board member of WisRWA, and a member of RWA, SCBWI, and ACFW. You can find out about Barb’s books on her website, or follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.
My neighbors are blowing stuff up in the cul-de-sac while my dog cowers under a chair, so that can only mean one thing: it’s July, and conference time is almost here. As the fireworks settle down and the picnic leftovers run out, romance writers everywhere are preparing (aka getting mani/pedis) to head to the annual national conference hosted by Romance Writers of America.
I’ve attended five RWA national conferences: as a wide-eyed newbie in 2013, a chapter president in 2014 and 2015, and a Golden Heart ® finalist in 2016 and 2017. Now, as I get ready to attend my sixth “Nationals” this year, with my shiny new PAN pin on my badge, I thought it would be a great time to share a few things I’ve picked up along the way.
I know. Articles about how to prepare for conferences abound. They spring up on the internet this time of year like mattress sales (what is it about patriotic holidays and selling mattresses, anyway?). So why should you keep reading this one? Well, remember how agents and editors are always saying they want “the same, but different?” This is kind of like that. I’m going to take five traditional pieces of conference advice, and add a little something different, my own little spin, collected over the five years I’ve attended Nationals.
I’m an extrovert at heart, so this isn’t a problem for me. But if talking to strangers gives you hives, don’t be afraid to use the introverts’ tried and true method of talking to strangers: the internet. Engage in social media while at the conference. Use hashtags like #RWA18 and #RITAGH to post about the conference and share fun pics or nuggets of workshop gold. And maybe you will run across fellow introverts tweeting via the same hashtags and can strike up a conversation that way (and perhaps turn that into an in-person convo at the bar?).
There you have it! If you are headed to Denver, I hope to see you. Look for me at the bar, I’ll have a wine glass in my hand, and there’s a decent chance it will be filled with water.
Award-winning author Melonie Johnson—aka #thewritinglush—is a two-time RWA Golden Heart® finalist who loves dark coffee, cheap wine, and expensive beer. And margaritas. And mimosas. And mules. Basically any cocktail that starts with the letter m. She met her future husband in that most romantic of places—the mall—when they were teenagers working in stores across the hall from each other. Today, they live happily ever after in the magical land midway between Chicago and Milwaukee with two redhead daughters, a dog that’s more like a small horse, and a trio of hermit crabs. After earning her Bachelor of Arts magna cum laude from Loyola University Chicago, Melonie taught high school English and Theatre in the northern Chicago suburbs for several year. Now she writes smart and funny contemporary romance and moonlights as an audiobook narrator under the pseudonym, Evelyn Eibhlin. Watch for her contemporary romance debut, THE SOMETIMES IN LOVE series, coming summer 2019 from St. Martin’s Press. Melonie is represented by Pamela Harty of the Knight Agency. A Star Wars junkie and Shakespeare groupie who quotes both Yoda and the Bard with equal aplomb, you can visit her at at her website and find her on Twitter and Instagram at @MelonieJohnson.
Growing up the only time I saw people like me on television was when I was at my grandmother’s house watching telenovelas or when there was a housekeeper/nanny/criminal on some other program. Literary pickings were even slimmer. There were no characters who looked, sounded, and acted like me or my loved ones. At least not ones written well and without stereotypes.
When I decided to become a writer I struggled to decide what kind of characters I would create. I wanted to tell stories about Latinx people, like me, but I also saw that all the characters in the stories I read were not people like me. I started writing stories about characters like the ones I saw in other books and secretly withered away inside.
For many years my family would tell me, “When are you going to write a story about us?” and I would reply, “Maybe one day.” Then I would go back to reading Twitter posts and blogs about the need for diversity in publishing, nod my head in agreement, but continue to write the same types of stories. Taking up the mantle seemed like such a daunting task and something better suited for more established and experienced authors.
It wasn’t until recently that I realized I was wrong.
At a Barbara Vey’s Reader Appreciation Luncheon I had the incredible luck of scoring a seat at my writing idol’s table and we discussed writing. She asked me what I was working on. I told her I was currently taking a break from writing, because I just didn’t feel motivated. She asked me if I had any ideas that I felt excited about and I hesitated to answer. Eventually I told her that I’d always wanted to write a series based off a large and animated Puerto Rican family like mine. Her response was, “That’s awesome. Why haven’t you written it yet?” I tried to explain that I didn’t think it would work and how I thought it was something better left for other (already represented) authors. She grabbed my hand, looked me in the eye, and said, “Listen to me. Nobody is better equipped to write those stories than you. Your stories need to be heard, so write them.”
I sat there in a sort of dumbfounded shock and thought to myself, “Is she right? Should I be writing these stories? Can I handle the pressure?” I thought about my life. About how I was forced to use my Barbies to act out stories as a kid, because I couldn’t find any about people like me anywhere else. I thought about how I have always been a proud Latina, even when others tried to discourage me from being one. I realized that I wasn’t doing myself or potential readers justice. There are people out there hungry for diverse stories and I can provide some.
I immediately went back to my hotel room and started plotting. I haven’t gotten as far as I’ve wanted. As you fellow writers know, life often gets in the way of our best laid plans. However, I can finally say that for the first time in a long time, I am excited to write. I look forward to finally giving my family and others like us a story with real representation to enjoy.
When she was in the first grade Natalie Caña was given an assignment: write a few sentences about the old lady who lived in the shoe. Four pages later (front and back) in which she wrote a whole new version of the story, it became clear to her mother that she was a writer. However the type of writer she was remained unclear, so she tried a little bit of everything. She wrote plays, screenplays, poems, song lyrics, news stories, and even produced some television. It wasn’t until she picked up her first romance novel, that everything was revealed (clouds parted and angels sang). She was a romance writer. Now she writes contemporary romances that allow her incorporate her witty sense of humor (it’s impossible to quiet) and her love for her culture (Puertominican whoop whoop!) for heroines and heroes like her.
I spent nine years getting ready to birth a book. I would have preferred it take nine months, but everyone’s publishing journey is different. I like to think I gained some wisdom after surviving my debut launch. Wisdom I will share with all of you.
A good friend of mine debuted her first novel in March. She was busy planning for the big day. Blog posts. A party. Popping champagne. I think I startled her when I told her she wouldn’t have a launch day, she’d have a launch year. Yep! Once that novel goes live on Amazon, you will be banging the promotional drum for the rest of your life, or at least one year. We place pressure on ourselves for “the day” and we need some hoopla, but authors need to be connecting with readers and increasing discoverability for months, not days.
The publishing world has changed dramatically since I first put pen to paper. Thousands of books are placed on Amazon every year. Some authors don’t need to work on discoverability because everyone knows their name and is waiting breathlessly for their next novel. The rest of us have to build our reach organically. Is it work? Yes? Can it be fun? Most of the time.
How do you get readers to know you have a book in the digital world? First, you have to know who your readers are and where they hang out. I write Christian
fiction. I make a point to be on Christian blogs a couple of times a month. I will also guest on podcasts about writing topics or topics that connect me to readers. I survived breast cancer and I talk about that aspect of my life since it intersects with launching my debut novel. Readers may not be able to relate to writing a book, but they probably know someone who battled cancer.
I didn’t know any podcasters when I signed my first contract. I met podcasters at writing conferences and on Christian publishing loops. Opportunities abound in writing communities.
Have you visited your local libraries? Not to check out books, but to ask them to buy your books. Repeat after me, “The reference librarian is my friend.” Libraries don’t return books to your publisher. When they buy a book, it’s sold for life, or until it’s placed in the Friends of the Library sale. Walk into your local library and introduce yourself. This is your homework for the week. Hand the librarian a sell sheet and politely ask them to purchase your book. Would your book sell well in a different region of the country? Call a few libraries in that geographic area.
Also, visit local bookstores. Even those “Big Name” stores. You are a local author and customer. If you won’t ask them to carry your book, send a relative. My mom is one of my best marketers.
Don’t sweat your launch day. Enjoy the experience and be proactive every month to reach your readership. That first year will fly by.
Barbara M. Britton lives in Southeast Wisconsin and loves the snow—when it accumulates under three inches. Barb writes romantic adventures for teens and adults in the Christian fiction and Mainstream markets. She is published in Biblical fiction and enjoys bringing little known Bible characters to light in her Tribes of Israel series. Barb is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Romance Writers of America and Wisconsin Romance Writers of America. Barb has a nutrition degree from Baylor University but loves to dip healthy strawberries in chocolate.
I was once asked what success meant. I remember struggling for an answer because I’d never given the definition of success much thought before. Back then, I was in customer support for a software company, so I equated success to a day of answered calls. However, that wasn’t what the asker was looking for. The person asking the question went on to explain that there was no right answer to the definition of success because what I define as success, another person might not.
His words have stayed with me through the years, and as I started my new career as an author, I found myself facing a similar question. What is success to an author? As an industry-collective thought, the answer seems to revolve around landing a traditional publishing deal. By doing so, an author has “made it” as a published author. But was that a definition of success which would satisfy me?
When I first started researching how to become published in 2012, the wheels of change had been slowly turning for years, thanks to the inception of Amazon’s self-publishing platform in 2007. That change had opened doors for many aspiring authors, who had taken a self-publishing route.
I read how, with an upload of a file, an aspiring author could instantly reach readers. I remember spending hours researching article after article about the pros and cons of self-publishing and just wishing someone would come out and say which was the right thing for me to do. There was no article with the magic answer, and the more I researched, the more I began to understand that the answer lay in the reason why I wanted to publish my books. I just wanted to share the stories that had so entertained me during their creation.
With the digital age in full swing and rising projections of readers switching to devices, I took the plunge and went the self-publishing route. January 2013, I uploaded my first book, quickly followed by a second in March and a third in April. Did I consider myself successful? Let’s look at the numbers:
No, I wasn’t very successful, but I was persistent and kept researching and learning about the market, my target audience, and my options. October 2013, everything changed when I altered my pricing strategy and my covers. I suddenly had over 2,000 downloads of Hope(less), the first book in my Judgement Series (the second book I published). I was finally reaching readers and sharing my stories.
Today, I write full-time, out earning what I’ve made in any of my previous careers. Although I do consider that a level of success, my income still doesn’t define my success. It didn’t in previous careers so why should it now?
The original reason I started writing and why I continue to write, remains my definition of success. To share the stories in my head. To give all my imaginary friends a voice. To be read. To date I’ve sold over 300,000 books and given away over 500,000 series starters.
Success can be measured in so many different ways. What’s your measure of success?
by: Melissa Haag
Melissa Haag lives in Wisconsin with her husband and three children. An avid reader she spent many hours curled in a comfortable chair flipping pages in her teens. She began writing a few years ago when some ideas just refused to be ignored any longer.
Before sending their manuscript out into the world, some writers choose to have their work reviewed by a freelance editor. There are several advantages to having an editor join you in the revision process.
Whether you plan on self publishing, pursuing a traditional publisher, or seeking to find an agent, hiring an editor to polish your story is a powerful tool to help present yourself in a professional manner.
After authors dedicate large amounts of time and effort to their manuscripts, it can become hard to see much-needed changes.
As an author, if you are gearing toward establishing a writing career, then working with an editor is a great step toward building a solid foundation to grow from. Not only does an editor polish your work, but you learn as well throughout the editing process.
I had the privilege of interviewing Judy Roth from Custom Editing. Judy opened the doors for business in 2012. She has been writing and editing for over 20 years. With a New York publishing house background she currently works with a large and diverse group of authors covering most genres of fiction and nonfiction, publishing both traditionally and independently. She takes very seriously the privilege of working with such talented writers—novice and bestselling alike. She is also a conference and writing group workshop leader and thinks she has the best job in the world!
In this article, I have asked Judy some questions about the editing process.
Why is it important for writers to hire an editor to review their manuscript before showing it to the world?
An editor has a practiced eye. She is unbiased and works for you. She has the time, whole days of it often, to devote solely to your work. She has the experience to tell you if something is or isn’t working in a constructive manner and offer concrete examples of how it can be improved if need be. An editor is on your side. She wants you to succeed, and it is her job to help you do so.
What are the most common mistakes you see in a manuscript?
Aside from basic technical errors, I think it’s less about mistakes and more about honing our craft. It’s an ongoing process—an adventure—and a good freelance editor guides authors in this process while respecting authors’ artistic vision.
At what point in the writing process is it a good idea to hire an editor?
The traditional answer is when the manuscript is as done as possible. (When that is, is an entirely different question.) But the beauty of hiring a freelance editor who works for you is that is not always the only answer. An author might want the editor to look at the first few chapters to see if the manuscript is on the right track plot wise and/or style wise. Or, returning to the question of how the writer knows if the manuscript is finished, an editor can help determine that and if need be give suggestions for how to take the story to the next level.
This is an individual process depending on many factors. In any case, it’s important to remember the editing process is as vital as the writing process. With that in mind, try to budget enough time to ensure larger developmental edits are implemented consistently throughout and sentence and paragraph structures are varied and move the story forward. Try to avoid getting bogged down by holding on to something that isn’t working. It could be a plot point that’s dear to you but just feels off in this story. It could be that one perfect sentence that makes you laugh and cry and think deep thoughts, but you’ve moved it to ten different places, and it just no longer works. Let it go—hit delete. It’s actually quite liberating, like cleaning the basement, very satisfying once it’s done, and nine out of ten times we never miss our favorite coat from high school or our kids’ first bikes. And here is the coolest part, it’s no risk. You can hit Undo. If you take it out, you can put it back. It’s your manuscript. And a tip: Keep a separate folder for those wonderful words you have deleted but don’t want to lose. I call mine Hidden Gems. Who knows, those words may come in handy in the next story, or if not you can still go visit them, laugh and cry and marvel at your genius, whenever you want. They are your words!
What advice would you give authors going through the revision process?
Try to keep an open mind and be true to yourself. It sounds obvious, but it’s dang hard to do both at the same time, especially if you are receiving critiques.
And one very practical piece of advice is whenever you make any revision, even as small as a comma change, be sure to read not only the full sentence the revision is in but at a minimum the sentence before and after it as well.
What services do you offer authors?
I edit most fiction and nonfiction. I work with authors who want to publish independently and those who want to spruce up their manuscripts for submission. I offer several different packages of full developmental edits, line edits, and proofreading. I also offer coaching services. And I love talking with writing groups, big and small—always a blast.
What is your favorite part of being an editor?
Oh gosh, I love my job. I meet such talented writers, learn something new every day. I get to look up the most outrageous things on the Internet. Chat with authors about body fluids, who wore breeches, pantaloons, or trousers when, and the merits of an em dash—love ’em. I’m a mamma bear and being an editor I’m able to nurture without ever having to send anyone to timeout, no one gets hurt, and when all is said and done authors actually say, “Thank you.” What could be better than that?
Lisa Romdenne has been an RWA(PRO) member since November 2014 and a WisRWA member since September 2015. Currently, she serves as President of WisRWA . She writes western romance under the pen name Lianna Hawkins and is presently working on a historical western romance series.
For many of us, when we consider purchasing a book, we look at the cover, read the back blurb, and scan chapter one for the hook unaware of the process and the professionals involved in creating the book. We may recognize the author or perhaps the publisher, but what role did the editor-in-chief play in the creation of the book? I had the privilege of interviewing Nicola Martinez, Editor-in-Chief of Pelican Book Group. Pelican is the premier publisher of Christian, inspirational fiction and the first publisher to dedicate an entire imprint to promoting purity.
In this article, Nicola provides an insight into her world in producing Christian fiction books, and how her faith is an integral part every step of the way.
Tell us about your path in becoming an editor-in-chief
I started acquiring Christian fiction for a publisher in 2006 as an editor for their inspirational imprint, White Rose. In 2009, I purchased White Rose from that company, and started the journey of publishing as an independent. White Rose Publishing became an imprint of Pelican Book Group, and over the years, we added new imprints.
Can you describe a typical day in the office?
After personal morning devotions, I spend time answering emails. Depending on deadlines and other schedules, I might spend more or less time getting through emails. I’ve gotten it down to a routine of answering emails only twice per day unless there’s something time-sensitive or pressing. With my morning email stint finished, I work through my to-do list, which could include office/accounting work or editing tasks, considering requests for contract, figuring out cover art, working on marketing either in-house or coordinated with the distributor.
Just before midday, I’ll stop to get together with staff to pray. We pray daily for the needs of the company and our authors and staff and for any special requests we receive through the prayer submission form we have on our website. Pelican is a ministry first, so our prayer time could be an hour or sometimes longer. We deliberately don’t put a time-frame on that part of our day. (You know what they say: If you’re too busy to pray, you’re too busy!)
Once a week, I’ll conference with our marketing director. We take that time either to consider current marketing strategies or to brainstorm ideas and discuss/decide upon the opportunities passed along to us through our distributor or PR.
In May 2017 we launched a weekly TV show, and so a couple days a week, working on that production is in my schedule.
How many different hats do you wear?
Only about four hundred, or so. 🙂 As publisher as well as editor-in-chief, I’m responsible for the business side of everything from contracts to accounting, etc. Because I feel a strong responsibility to the Gospel, I also try to vet every story we publish, so I do a good deal of reading and evaluating manuscripts as the final step before offering a contract. When I can’t read a manuscript an editor would like to acquire, that editor and I have discussions about what should be acquired. Then there’s editing and coordinating marketing efforts with our marketing team, coordinating releases with the distributor, working on subsidiary rights…the list goes on.
What do you look for in new writing?
I’m always looking for passion. Be enthusiastic about your story—believe in getting your message out there through the entertaining word—so much that it rubs off on others.
I want to see great story-telling. Make me laugh out loud, empathize with your character, hate your villain, and to fall in love with Christ a little bit more.
Don’t “tell” me your mission. “Show” me. For example: If you have to repeat the same thing three different ways (over-writing) or explain in minute detail why a character is doing something or saying something (over-simplifying), rather than having that information flow naturally, then you’ve missed the opportunity to immerse me in the reality you’ve created.
What excites you about the publishing industry?
I get excited when authors get excited, when they are so happy to see their work come to fruition, when they are raring to get their book into the hands of readers. As an author myself, I still remember what it feels like to get that contract offer, to see edits for the first time, to receive a release date, to see the cover art and the final product. It’s exciting! And I love getting to share that with authors.
On a more company-centric note, I’m excited that we’re seeing more of our books in audio.
Can you share any trends with us?
We’ve been hearing about it for a little while now, but audio is definitely on the rise. It’s one of the reasons we’ve made the decision in 2018 to produce more of our current and favorite titles in audio.
Christine Schimpf was born and raised in a small town in southeastern Wisconsin, graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, and is an award winning essayist. Her debut novel, Nick, The Journey of a Lifetime is based on the life of her grandfather-in-law. Five years after its release, the book remains the #1 best seller in her hometown at a local book store and gift shop. Christine is a member of the national and local chapters of the American Christian Fiction Writers Association and the Romance Writers of America. She lives on five acres in the country with her husband and golden retriever and is now fortunate to devote most of her time to writing. She always has a work-in-progress, but in her spare time, she enjoys golf, tennis, kayaking and simply being outdoors as that is her source of inspiration. Her advice to those wanting to take the leap into writing is to join a writing/critique group, read as often as you can, and study the craft.
While long-published authors put my meager knowledge to shame, I did learn a lot in the last year. Needless to say, getting attention for a novel with all the competition for attention is a tough assignment. Here are the most important things I learned during the process of getting my first novel published.
The writing is the fun and easy part. Right now, I am still promoting my first two books, editing my third, writing my fourth and partnering on a non-fiction project. There is so much work involved in all these that has nothing to do with writing—there’s a web site, social media (see below), PR plans, book events and planning, essays to help promote the books (you are reading one), “tip sheets” to help sell your book; meeting with book clubs……I could go on and on. You must use every skill you have—and develop new ones—to promote your book to the widest audience.
It’s a year-long process after writing your book. Lots has to happen from the time you finish your book until it is published. For me, the process began when I sent my final manuscript to my publisher in December, 2015. There are two windows for traditional publishing: spring or fall. As time was short to accomplish everything, we chose the fall cycle for my first novel. Even with that, the final title of my book had to locked down by March 1 with the cover design well underway. I know more about the cycle now and released my second book in August of this year because the timing fit perfectly with the PR plan. Choose the most advantageous time to publish your book.
Summarizing your book in one paragraph is the hardest thing to do. I failed at this, miserably! My friend and established author, Kris Radish, stepped in to help me. It is so hard to tell the story of your book in so few words without giving away key elements, but it is exactly this summary that attracts readers to your book on every platform there is, especially Amazon (more on that below). Work hard to create the fewest words to describe your work. Your short book summary is its biggest selling point.
Amazon is the big gorilla. I certainly knew this before becoming an author, but I now have personal experience with the biggest name in books. I learned that establishing an Author Central page on Amazon was critically important, and I did this by “claiming” my book as part of my page creation. My husband is English and we have tons of family and friends in England, so I wanted to make it easy for them to purchase my book, so I claimed my book on Amazon UK as well. Amazon can change the price of a book any time they want, and they did bring the retail price down on my book as part of the pre-sale. Amazon is king, so take advantage of it, but understand how it works.
Social media is king. As publishing is so fragmented, using social media to get the word out about your book isn’t a “nice to do,” it’s a “must do.” This means as a writer you must develop new platforms on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, etc. and connect your own web site to social media tools. Luckily, I knew a bit about social media through professional and personal experience, but I learned a ton more because of my book. Get familiar with social media and use its power to promote your book every day.
Friends and family rule. They know you and want to help, so give them the tools. I did mailing lists of all the folks I know in cities where I did book events; I sent a customized email to key friends and family about the book and how to buy it; I asked a few friends for their early thoughts and asked them to review my book on Amazon or Goodreads. I used Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to keep contacts informed of good reviews and awards and issued calls to action. You’ll be surprised at some of the folks who step up to help you. The people who know you well are best suited to help promote your book.
Be bold. To get your book out there, you have to take some risks. Unfortunately, many don’t work out, but if a few do, you may hit the jackpot in promoting your book. I sent my book to some well-known authors, reporters and others in the movie industry, and this hasn’t paid off in a big way yet. A few months before my book came out, I sent an email to a small, local magazine about publishing a notice about my first novel. They did a whole story with a sidebar about the book, and I ended up on the cover! Make a lot of shots on goal in promoting your book, as you never know which one will result in great exposure.
Incorporate what you know and love into your book promotion. I spent more than thirty years in corporate communication, so I wrote an essay that was published in an industry newsletter about how my career helped me become an author. I love to cook, bake and travel, and, of course, write, so I incorporate all of these into my book promotions, connecting across social media platforms. Make promoting your book fun for you.
It’s never enough or totally done. Here’s the bad news: promoting your book is never over, you just move on to the next one. Here’s the good news: my publisher tells me that it takes two or three books before an author can get established, so each subsequent book brings attention to earlier works, which can result in additional sales. Never give up on bringing your work to the world as your efforts today could pay off well down the road.
It’s all on you. Whether you are working with a publisher or self-publishing, you are the one who needs to do the lion share of the work to get your book out there. You must do something every day to bring your work to the world. I was lucky that my publisher had great people who taught me about the book business, but at the end of the day, it was up to me. Quick story: I had my screening mammogram recently and got into a conversation with the technologist, and she bought my book! She asked me to talk to her son, an aspiring fantasy writer, and I did. Engage and put yourself out there; you are the best ambassador for your work.
Phyllis Piano spent more than 30 years working in Fortune 500 companies, serving as an officer and chief communication officer in several. Her first novel, Hostile Takeover: A Love Story, was published in October 2016, and received the Gold Medal in Romance at the 2017 Independent Book Publishers Association Ben Franklin Awards and first place in Fiction: Romance at the 2017 Independent Press Awards. Her second, Love Reconsidered, was published in August, 2017, and was a finalist in the 2017 Best Books Award.