Thursday, June 9, 2011

How I decide what to tell other people about

First, have y'all been to the Google website? It's musical today, and you can record your own little diddy. Check it out!

I've been oddly lucky this week to have won two of the two blog contests I entered. I'll be receiving Tess Hilmo's With A Name Like Love and Beth Revis' Across the Universe. I was already excited about getting WANLL because I really admire Tess' writing, and I already have a copy of ATU. But having two copies of each will let me pass on one copy to some other reader--or let me read two copies at once.

The duplicates got me thinking about how I decide which books/things I tell other people about. It's more complicated than me simply liking the book.

Over the last year or so, I'd say there were 3 things that I really pushed. These are the things that I told many of my friends about, that I tweeted about, that I blogged about, etc. One was the Not So Humble Pie blog, which now has over 3500 followers. I think I was one of the first 10 to follow it, but I'm not going to click through them all to find out for sure. This blog talks about baking and also has a lot of really beautiful pictures of the products. I remember passing images around and telling my friends about it, as almost all of my friends eat.

The second thing I told a lot of people about was a television show called Raising Hope. I just thought it was hilarious, and I wanted to make sure it stayed on the air.

And the third recent thing I told people about was a band called Foster The People, which, really, if you haven't already heard them, you should.

Why did I decide to talk about these things? Well, I liked them all. That was definitely an important criterion, but it wasn't the only one. After all, I also found this guy on YouTube after watching Bjork perform "Unison" about three hundred times, which was something else I really liked. I even contacted the YouTube singer and had a short exchange about what inspired us in art. He's really nice.

I realize that I tell people about some things more than others because I have to figure out how to communicate my message to the people I think will care, and some things are easier to talk about than other things. It's much easier for me to say, "You can dance to Foster The People" than it is to say, "This guy's cool because he covered a Bjork song, and has a really simple and elegant voice and accompanies himself with a soprano saxaphone." I don't feel like I can properly sell the second guy in a way that will motivate people to check him out.

So, it's a two step process. I have to like something, and I have to know how to sell that something to the people who might like it. And a lot of things get lost in the process. The strange and sad result is that I keep the things I like the most to myself sometimes.

Let's talk books.

Here are some books I have loved in the last few months: Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Never Let Me Go, Too Much Happiness, Moby Dick.

Here are some books I have pushed on people in the last few months: The Lovely Bones, Water For Elephants, The Book Thief, Never Let Me Go.

There's an overlap, but for the most part, the two lists are different. For the second group of books, I had to feel like I knew people who would like the product I was trying to sell.

For me, then, there has to be some sort of short message associated with the project that teaches me how to talk about it. I don't think that short message has to be about plot or about character or anything specific. But it does have to be about something. As part of my new journey to match writers with their Right People Readers then, my challenge is to figure out how to come up with those messages so that I can get more of the books I love into the right hands.

And, I should say, that I'm not always right about my predictions ahead of time, so maybe it's just a matter of me trying to communicate what I love, even if I don't feel like I know how to sell it. Have you checked out the YouTube singer I mentioned? Did I manage to sell him?

So tell me--and yes, this is for selfish reasons--what makes you tell other people about a book?

And also...
Oh, and also also, February Grace interviewed me here, and Tara Maya put up my first official book review here.


  1. I think, like you, I have to love it myself and also feel that the other person will enjoy it. Sometimes I will recommend something I wasn't over the moon about personally, if it's because it was in a genre I don't normally like. So I will recommend cat mysteries to my grandmother, even though I don't much read mysteries, just because I know cat mysteries are her favorite.

    I've actually been trying to actively increase my habit of recommending things. I always used to restrain myself, out of a sense of shyness, reluctance to impose my opinions on others. I've come to realize that hiding myself and what I love is not really doing anyone a service.

    Tara Maya
    The Unfinished Song: Initiate

  2. Ah, to sell things. I'm always telling people about stuff, and even in my newsletter I always pick 3 book recommendations. How do I decide what to post? I think I'm like you - I need to have specific reasons, but like Tara, sometimes it's just because I know about something. I've even recommended books I haven't read but I've heard a lot of good things about from trusted friends. I always make it clear, though, that I haven't read it or seen it or used it, whatever it happens to be.

    And squee for the picture! I thought you had signed up for July 15th, but I was excited to see you picked June and got it faster. :)

  3. I decided a while ago that if I really like a book, I'll just blog about it and tell people I know that I liked the book. I figure the blogging might have value because I get page hits from people who've Googled titles and maybe if I can say enthusiastic things then these unknown web surfers will go buy the book. And that's really my only criterion: can I talk about a book with enthusiasm. If I can, I figure I should.

    I have had really bad luck matching actual readers to actual books. But I'm happy I got Mighty Reader to read Tristram Shandy and that she likes it. She got me to read Waterland (which is a good book so go read it) by pointing out that it's got eels in it.

  4. I haven't quite thought about what I like and tell people about. I think I tend to keep these things to myself except to people close to me. I think it's partly because I know that if I recommend something to someone who is not interested or feel the opposite to how I feel, I'll need to engage in a discussion, a possibly long one, and just the thought of it tires me.

    If the person is close to me, however, then the prospect of a long discussion is more enticing, which is why I only make recommendations to people I know very well.

    Also, a tiny pet peeve is when someone I know just a little tells me they think I'd like something. How would they know? So I don't say that to people I don't know very well.

    But I do tell people which restaurant had the best calamari...hmm. Maybe it's to do with how important something is to me. Someone who doesn't like my favorite restaurant's calamari doesn't bug me at all, but if someone tells me Hunger Games is too dark for teens, then I get all worked up.

  5. I'm pretty good at promoting stuff. When I was six and selling Girl Scout cookies one of the the fathers asked if I could sell software for his computer company.

    It's always easier to sell things if you like your product.

  6. Tara, This is exactly what happens to me too. "So I will recommend cat mysteries to my grandmother, even though I don't much read mysteries, just because I know cat mysteries are her favorite." I actually end up recommending some books that I thought were mediocre only because I figure some people will really connect with it. I think I've managed to get more people to read my recommendations after I gave up on the idea that I must love a book for someone else to like it.

    Michelle, I try to be clear too when I talk about something I haven't actually read. Then people can read at their own risk!

    Scott, See, Mighty Reader knew how to sell Waterland to you! My success stories include getting my bother to read The Road and my sister-in-law to read The Lovely Bones. On the other hand, getting my sister-in-law to read To The Lighthouse was a disaster. It took at least a year before she'd listen to me again.

    Yat-Yee, that's very interesting! I don't have the same sort of requirement. I guess I like spouting my opinion to strangers more than you do...but really, that's no surprise is it? So, which restaurant has the best calamari?

  7. McKenzie, I'm seriously always impressed by those kids who can sell stuff to me. It takes a certain maturity and an understanding of human nature. Tricksy.

  8. I don't promote something unless I really do like it, believe in it, etc. Having said that, when I do like something, I tend to get behind it and champion it. With writers and books particularly, I really enjoy supporting and promoting people's books because I like that I'm helping out and getting the word out. It's fun to be part of that positive vibe.

  9. It's true recommendations can sometimes backfire. My brother made me watch Reservoir Dogs and I will now go out of my way to avoid any movie he recommends. Ok, to be fair, that wasn't his first bad pick. It was a pattern. :)

    Now that I know more book reviewers, I've found that if I cross a reviewer who doesn't do my kind of book, I recommend books by friends. I can't give them review copies, but I can point them at the book.

    Tara Maya
    The Unfinished Song: Initiate

  10. Best calamari in town: fish restaurant in old town. Biaggi's is quite good. Mac Grill and PF Chang's have both gone downhill. :)

  11. Amazon said I had to wait until September for my copy of Monarch! Who do you know? :)

  12. As an English teacher, I have a built-in excuse to talk about books. People expect that topic to come up now and then with me, so no one gives me strange looks if I launch into praise or criticism of a book. Likewise, people are always recommending books to me, so I guess I never thought about its being difficult for some folks to do.

  13. I usually recommend books that I have enjoyed reading. However, there are instances when I have recommended a book simply because Oprah recommended the book. There are those other unique situations where I will recommend something based on other factors. Which brings me to Control Switch On ( Never in my life have I experienced a more strange and unique set of circumstances that lead me to Control Switch On. I shall remember the moment forever and frequently tell the story to my grandchildren.

  14. I really only have one criterion - I've read it.

    I usually publish reviews of books via (which subsequently so on my blog). If a book is really good, I'll rave about it in the review.

  15. I’m with S.M. Carrière here – I never publish a book review if I’ve not read the book or at least enough to make a proper assessment and there have been only two instances of that, a collection of short stories which were all essentially the same (I read over half) and a book of interviews where I own up to the fact that I couldn’t be arsed reading them all. If I can’t get into a book I don’t review it and if I hate a book I don’t review it. My wife says she can always tell which books I’ve really enjoyed, just from my tone, but it has been a while since I’ve read a book where all I want to say is, “Trust me, you need to read this book.” I have mixed feelings about book reviews. I totally understand the need for them in this busy age but several of the books I’ve been sent to review I’ve opened knowing nothing more than the title and that’s the best way to start a book, in complete ignorance.

    Apart from the ARCs I get sent I do pop in a few reviews of my own, books that have caught my attention. Invariably these will be books that have made me stop and think, that have taught me something new or enabled me to see the world afresh. A good example would be my review of Paul Auster’s Travels in the Scriptorium which wowed me so much that I actually posted the review in two parts: in Part I I told my readers all I knew when I first read the book and said, basically, “Trust me, you don’t want to read Part II,” but I still posted Part II which contained a proper review for those who wanted to read more.

  16. You are really lucky this week. MAN! Congrads. I stopped by Amazon and bought a paperback version of a wonderfully written book. I know it is wonderfully written, because I know the author. Can't wait for it to get here. :-)

    I think I'll do a review after reading it. And I'm heading over to read your interview.

    Davin, I'm always hesitant to recommend books to other writers unless I'm beyond positive that they won't come back and tell me they hated the book and will never listen to me anymore. (That has happened.) Of course, it's different with your book, or my crit partner Beth's book or Tess's. I can't wait to buy her book. And I ALWAYS make sure that I enjoyed the book before blogging about it. If I don't like it, I just don't say anything. That way I don't hurt feelings.

    As for selling stuff, I couldn't sell myself out of a tin can. I would say, "You don't want to buy this do you?" I'd never make it as a salesman. Now when MY book comes out, I'll work it good, but that's a bit different.


  17. Thanks for the mention, D. I just recently learned of your had I missed that? I am super excited to read it (it's in the mail per Amazon).

    How do I choose what to recommend? Well, I am super picky. I have to adore has to move me or make me laugh or open my eyes in a new way.

    My recent most favorite is Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. It is a debut novel this year and a-ma-zing. Not a light read, but an important one. That's how I felt about The Book Thief and The Help and a few others that I shamelessly forced on everyone I knew.

    My favorite Middle Grade novel this year (you know I have to give a MG recommend) is Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt (one of my favorite MG authors). He gets the voice PERFECT and you feel like you are in 7th grade all over again. It is getting Newbery buzz and I think it is worthy.

  18. fyi:

    You can #play all day w/the #google les paul #guitar thingie here


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