Coach’s Corner: How Authors Can Be More “Book Club-Friendly”
Dear Book Club Cheerleader:
I just published my latest novel, The Best Book Ever, and I was wondering how I can get book clubs to adopt it. Any ideas would be welcome.
First, congratulations on writing your book! I know what kind of hard work, heart, and soul goes into such an undertaking—I’ve been working on mine for years and it’s still not done…
You are right to want to market your new baby to book clubs. Not only are we fun—check out this endorsement from author Kelsey Timmerman to see just how much—but with over 5 million adult reading groups in the US alone1, the world of mouth among book clubbers is quite powerful!
I wrote the following piece for bookclubcheerleader.com back in June 2009, based on a Book Expo America panel I participated in a few weeks earlier, Book Club Facilitator’s Speak Out. I think it answers most of your questions. In addition, if you would like me to read The Best Book Ever for a potential review, please read my review guidelines that you’ll find on my website (bottom right hand corner below the nice lady in the turquoise sweater.)
Good Luck–and Cheers!
Top Ten Cool Things Cool Authors Provide for Book Clubs
I’ve been getting a lot of questions from authors lately about how they can be more “book club-friendly”. And it just so happens that earlier this month, I participated in aBook Club Panel at Book Expo America (BEA) where fellow reading group facilitators Esther Bushnell, Jill Campbell, and Katherine Schulz, and I—along with moderator, Carol Fitzgerald of ReadingGroupGuides.com fame—shared our thoughts and ideas on what book clubs want. It was one of those situations where you research, talk to all of your client reading groups, and prepare tons of notes—only to share less than a tenth of the information you came with… But, that’s OK—it was a LOT of fun—and I met some great people. And if you’d like to pretend you were there—and would like to eavesdrop on what we discussed, click here to listen to the podcast on BEA’s website. As far as the research is concerned, here’s a little summary of my “Top Ten Cool Things Authors Provide for Book Clubs” (in no particular order…) Hopefully this can provide reading groups with ideas for value-added extras you may be able to find on the internet to enliven your reading group discussions. Also, if you’ve found other “Cool Stuff”—please click here to share them with us, as well!
Top Ten Cool Things Cool Authors Provide for Book Clubs
1) Discussion guides: When authors print their guides in the back of their book, it’s as though the book is sitting in the store with a sign on its forehead saying, “I expect to be a book club selection—buy me.” Authors could do themselves (as well as us) a huge favor by including these. If not, they should post them on their website along with other helps as mentioned below. By the way—80% of the reading groups I work with use reading group guides!
2) Geographical Maps: For example, when one of my groups read Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller, which was set in some “formerly known as” countries in Africa such as Rhodesia, the publisher did a great job of showing us the old and new countries and their boundaries. But more importantly, they also showed where The Fuller’s various ranches were located so we could get our bearings. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks also includes a map, which shows the journey of the book in question across Europe from 1400’s to today in the front cover. In addition, Suite Francaise, by Irene Nemirovsky includes a map, identifying which portions of France were German-occupied during the year the story takes place.
3) Character Maps and Family Trees: Some good examples include The Known World, by Edward P. Jones; and The Covenant, by James Michener. Following the characters in the multiple stories within People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks, proved quite a challenge for many reading groups I have spoken with. I created a People Map to help them keep things straight—but I would have preferred to find one on the web!
4) Music: Robert Leleux recorded a song from his book, The Memoirs of a Beautiful Boy, entitled, It Would Be So Great If You’d Just Die, and put it on his website and YouTube. We were able to add the original song to the mix tape we made of all the other songs that he referenced throughout his book. For our book club meeting last month, we played this CD in the background. On a similar note, Meg Waite Clayton created an iMix “soundtrack” for her novel, The Wednesday Sisters. As Meg writes, “It’s heavy on friendship and reach-for-your-dream songs, and includes songs that [the characters] listen to in the course of the book.” If you’ve put together a mix for one of your reading group books, please share it with us.
5) Back-story: Meg Clayton also includes vignettes, which give us the flavor of each of her main characters. For example, Kath, The Southern Belle, includes Kentucky Derby recipes and family pictures on her page; while Linda, the athletic and assertive ‘sister’, includes men’s running shoes and war protest pictures of the era. This kind of character ‘sampling’ makes the reader want to get to know these people better—and there’s only one way to do that…By the way, The Wednesday Sisters has been selected as the Target Bookmarked Club Pick for the Summer, as well as a Borders Book Club Selection. Just remember—you heard about it first on BookClubCheerleader.com!
6) Book Trailer: Many authors produce some great videos and post them on their website and YouTube. It’s a jazzy way to help readers get a feel for the book.
7) Excerpts: Of course, Kindle readers can download the first chapter free—but why should they have all the fun? Providing a teaser on your website will go a long way toward whetting a reader’s appetite to buy the book. Some authors include the first chapter of their subsequent book in the paperback version of the current book, so readers can decide if they want to buy the new one. BTW, according to a recent survey by ReadingGroupGuides.com, 83% of book clubs read hardbacks in addition to paperback editions of the book—so it would pay for authors to start marketing the new book to reading groups early.
8) Suggestions of Similar Books: This suggestion is more for publishers than authors. Harper Collins has a great feature on their site. For example, if you look up The Known World, by Edward P. Jones, you’ll find a section at the bottom of the page that reads “New Books Similar to the This One.” It suggests, ‘if you like The Known World, you might also want to try: Four Spirits, by Sena Jeter Naslund; Bought , by Anna David; or Bright Shiny Morning, by James Frey (and I believe he’s actually admitting this one’s Fiction…)
9) Author Bio: Facilitators can often find author information readily on the author’s website. However, if the author does not have a website, it would be helpful for book clubs if the publisher would include an expanded author bio on their website. For example, Alice McDermott, author of After This, and Charming Billy does not have a website and her publisher includes only a 2-sentence bio in their “author” section. Not very informative for reading group use…
10) Recipes: This is rather funny, coming from me, since I don’t cook. But, thank goodness, other folks in book clubs do. So, including recipes of special items that are mentioned in the book would be a great tie-in for reading groups. For example, in The Laws of Harmony, Judith Ryan Hendricks mentions a wonderful berry brownie recipe, which her protagonist, Sunny, brings whenever she attends a potluck. So, Judi has posted the recipe on her website for book clubbers.
What Did I Miss? Does your club have some other ideas of cool things they would like—to make your book discussions richer? Let me know!
11) Chat Contact: Since I wrote the above piece a few years ago, I discovered what I missed. Book clubs need to know how to contact the author if he or she’s willing to chat by Skype, phone or visit a nearby group. This information should be clearly published on the author’s website. One of my groups had a fabulous chat with Jamie Ford, author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Of course, I’m a huge Ford fan, but many authors visit numerous books club every week!
1 Book Movement says 5.2 million; New York Times says 4-5 million, so take your pick…