Tag Archives: marketing

Genre-ing: Risk and reward

I both love and hate genre labeling. On the one hand, genres can help us find books we want to read and avoid books we definitely don’t want to read. But they can also keep us from discovering books we’d love, too. On some level, I chafe against genre labels — perhaps in part because I’ve grown to love so many books that defy a singular genre label. I really do like books that cross genres.

And then there are the times when these genre labels are slapped on a book in error.

I’ve been baffled by the genres applied to two books so far this year, and in both cases it impacted my enjoyment of the read. More on that in a second.

My Friend Amy posted about a similar book marketing tactic, “recommended for fans of …” a day or two ago.

Both of these labeling tactics (applying genre(s) to a book and saying if you like this [fill in famous author/book here], you’ll love this book!) are done on many levels of the book industry. An agent may use this to entice a publishing house to bite, a publisher may put it on a book cover, bookstores shelve and market this way often, and we book bloggers sometimes do these things too. I understand that these tools can be helpful, and in some cases are essential to our mutual communication about books.

Genre labels can also be detrimental, though.

Take the two books I mentioned above, Best Intentions by Emily Listfield and Land of Marvels by Barry Unsworth.

Best Intentions was marketed as the author’s first foray into the mystery/suspense genre — a website was created about the murder mystery. Elsewhere I saw it described as a blending of women’s fiction and mystery. Now, while it did have some aspects of a mystery, it certainly should not be shelved in the mystery section. This is women’s fiction with just a pinch of mystery.

Land of Marvels was labeled as a thriller and historical fiction. So many people gave up on this one because they were led to believe the book was a thriller — and then the pacing was very, very slow for the first three-quarters-plus of the book.

If these books had been correctly labeled, I’d have enjoyed one much more than I did, and perhaps I wouldn’t have disliked the other as much as I did, either, simply because I would have realized going in that it was an entirely new genre for me.

My new labels for these books:
Best Intentions is a work of women’s fiction, with just a hint of mystery.
Land of Marvels is a work of historical fiction with relational drama and oil intrigue.

I’ll reiterate: Labeling isn’t all bad; without it, we’d have trouble finding the books we want to read. But lazy labeling is bad, harmful to the book’s success even.

What erroneous genre labels have you seen?

Cover confusion

I’ve seen various people point out when multiple book covers use the same photo, and I always enjoy the posts. This, though, is the first time I’ve seen a cover randomly and been forced into a double-take, because I own a different book with the same cover image. I verified, and sure enough, it’s true.

I own this book, True Grit by Deborah Meroff:
true grit

And Carrie at Reading to Know posted yesterday about this book, Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films With Wisdom and Discernment by Brian Godawa:
hollywood worldviews

The identical image. Both with black. Very different subjects. Wow. Confusing.

Double negative labeling

I promise this blog is not turning into one that just finds fault with grammar and usage (plenty exist already), but I couldn’t help myself.

Sans Gluten Free glutino

Here we have Glutino brand Sans Gluten Free Wafer Cookies. While they taste really quite good, I was a little nervous because if it’s “without gluten free,” I suppose that would mean the cookies actually did contain gluten, which I’ve been strictly avoiding for nearly 11 months now.

I realize that this instance is almost certainly due to the bilingual nature of this packaging (Glutino is a Canadian brand), but still. On the side of the box, it’s much clearer, where it says: “SANS GLUTEN/BLE • GLUTEN/WHEAT FREE.” See, it’s not actually that difficult to communicate clearly, is it?

(And yes, they were quite tasty. Yum.)

The changing novel

Time magazine predicts (this week) a coming new hierarchy of books, with traditional print editions, professionally edited, at the top. At lower shelves (pardon the pun) of the continuum it claims will contain print-on-demand versions, as well as e-books — and let’s not forget fanfiction.

The picture:

(M)ore books, written and read by more people, often for little or no money, circulating in a wild diversity of forms, both physical and electronic, far outside the charmed circle of New York City’s entrenched publishing culture. … If readers want to pay for the old-school premium package, they can get their literature the old-fashioned way: carefully selected and edited, and presented in a bespoke, art-directed paper package. But below that there will be a vast continuum of other options: quickie print-on-demand editions and electronic editions for digital devices, with a corresponding hierarchy of professional and amateur editorial selectiveness. (Unpaid amateur editors have already hit the world of fan fiction, where they’re called beta readers.) The wide bottom of the pyramid will consist of a vast loamy layer of free, unedited, Web-only fiction, rated and ranked YouTube-style by the anonymous reading masses.

Interspersed throughout the piece are platitudes: Publishing isn’t dying.

I don’t like the sound of this snippet:

We can expect a literary culture of pleasure and immediate gratification. Reading on a screen speeds you up: you don’t linger on the language; you just click through. We’ll see less modernist-style difficulty and more romance-novel-style sentiment and high-speed-narrative throughput.

Actually, I don’t like the sound of other parts of this proposed new future. But its basis seems reasonably sound. What does this mean for writers (big picture)? For editors and proofreaders?

Via Shelf Awareness.

Notice: Natural food is supposed to taste bad

Unless you get it from Frito-Lay

This just in from the back of a bag of NATURAL No Preservatives • No Articificial Flavors • No Artificial Colors Cheetos PUFFS, WHITE CHEDDAR:

“There are no preservatives, no added colors, and nothing artificial in these snacks — just huge taste and satisfaction packed inside every bag. Who else could combine all natural ingredients with great taste but Frito-Lay?

This has been your public service announcement for the day. Remember to get all your natural, “healthy” food from Frito-Lay, or else it will be gross.

Happy Friday!

Book giveaways

OK, I’ve just found three sites holding giveaways: Each blog hosting the giveaway is offering a box of ten books each, for five winners.

Dewey is hosting one such contest, visit her blog post for rules and how to enter.

Trish is also hosting one such contest; visit her blog post for rules and how to enter.

BookroomReviews is also holding such a contest, here’s her info on entering to win.

Apparently Hachette thinks this method is working for them.

Blogs saving books? A conversation, part 3

This is, as the title states, part 3 of this discussion. If you haven’t kept up, please see part 1 and part 2 before reading this installment. This part consists of a review of the bloggers’ side, focusing on one person’s post, and my overall conclusions.

Ready? Here we go!

The other hand’s take:

    1. Trish states that book reviews on blogs are given as much respect as book reviews in newspapers, citing the myriad of authors and publishers sending ARCs to book bloggers these days.
    2. “Blogging is inherently informal.”
    3. Book blog reviews are written in a conversational style, “like I’m chatting with a friend.”
    4. The point of blogging is to be self-indulgent.

My response: To point one of the internet advocate: Yep. Apparently many book publicists find value in the work of book bloggers in promoting their books. To point two: Again, yep. For the most part, blogging is informal, and I don’t necessarily have a problem with that. Some blogs are more professional than others.

On point three: A conversational style isn’t all bad. It isn’t all good, either. There are pros and cons to both conversational, informal writing and professional, formal writing. Books are often discussed in both voices. It seems the Unites States (maybe the world is?) are becoming more informal. Even newspapers are becoming more informal. Isn’t the fact that such formal stanchions as the book review sections of newspapers are dying some evidence of this? This is the way of the world. It’s not all bad. Why fight it?

Point four: Here is where I take issue with Trish and the book blogging community that is up in arms about Warren’s critique.

Trish writes:

Blogging is the place that I can say, I can do what I want when I want to and I can make it look however I want. If I want to say like or alls or dude or WHATEVER, I can. More importantly, the reason I read bloggers’ book reviews is because I don’t want some pompous ass talking about things like What’s the book’s place in the canon.

I know blogs exist that stand on this platform of I Can Do Whatever I Want. I don’t read them. It’s Ethics 101 that to be an upstanding member of any society, one’s freedom stops where another person’s begins. It’s smart to waiting before pushing the Publish button if you’ve written in anger. Sure, we have freedom of speech, but I also have freedom to not intentionally hurt other people. Mrs. Chili wrote a nice post about this recently. Maybe the freedom Trish was thinking of wouldn’t be painful to others, but it’s a slippery slope.

I’ll be the first to say, I don’t consider this blog a book blog, exactly. My reviews are skimpy and can hardly be called full reviews. I started, this year, to catalog each book I read here in part just for personal reference; I’ve started a list each year, intending to write down each book I read for a full year, but the list is always abandoned by about February. This blogging plan is working much better for me — it’s August and I haven’t messed it up yet.

However, I have been thinking about improving my reviews here — beefing them up and making them more meaningful. I still struggle with how much I can say without giving something away, though. I haven’t taken Book Reviewing 101 like Warren suggests.

I’ll end on this note: I’m not sure what newspaper book reviews have done to sustain books; I’m not sure they exactly need saving, even. A point from Warren I think we can all agree on: “Blogs stoke public interest.” Isn’t that what the old media reviews were intended to do?

Whew! Made it through. Your thoughts?

Blogs saving books? A conversation, part 2

This is, as the title states, part 2 of this discussion. If you haven’t kept up, please see part 1 here before reading this installment. This part consists of a review of Lissa Warren’s column that touched off this entire debate. In the third installment I’ll review and comment on the indignant book bloggers’ side.

The first hand’s take: A representative-apparent of the old guard, Lissa Warren (a book publicist and editor) wrote (in a newspaper column) that blogs aren’t (and won’t become) an adequate replacement for these old standbys, the standalone book review sections of major newspapers.

She points out a few book blogs she reads, two of which are in my feed reader — the New York Times’ Paper Cuts and The Elegant Variation. She finds fault with even these, though.

Warren’s main criticisms of book blogs?

    1. Instead of offering original reviews, they often link to reviews in paper media.
    2. Blogs, by format, are too short.
    3. Reviews on blogs are self-indulgent.
    4. They lack a book summary and an introduction to the book’s main characters.

My response: I read a lot of blogs — at the moment, my feed reader holds 112 subscriptions. Not all of them are book blogs, but a good number of them do discuss books on a fairly regular basis. The first two criticisms don’t hold water, to use the old cliche. Warren herself knocks down her straw-man argument for the second. In addition, there are some blogs that offer lengthy, in-depth reviews. These three come to mind.

The first? In the blogs she cites, perhaps those newspaper reviews actually did start the conversation — apparently they were published before the blog post went live. I don’t, however, the the blogs I read, find most (or many, for that matter) reviews linking to a review in the old media. {Even if they did, I don’t necessarily have a problem with that.}

Now we’ve reached her third point. I’ll let this stand in her own words:

Well, I think book reviews on blogs — particularly those of the Blogspot variety — tend to be self-indulgent. Book reviewing bloggers need to move away from opinion in favor of judgment. How does the book compare to — and fit in with — the author’s previous work? What’s the book’s place in the genre? The canon? Does the writer succeed in doing what he or she set out to do — meaning, is it the book they meant it to be? Whether it’s the book the blogger wanted it to be is of much less importance to me, frankly.

I’d also advise that book reviewing bloggers jettison the use of personal pronouns (yes, I’ve used a slew of them here; you can nail me in the comments). And for goodness sake, I wish they’d stop telling me what their father and their girlfriend — or their father’s girlfriend — thought of the book. Also, I don’t need to know how they came to possess the book — how they borrowed it from the library, or bought it at B&N, or snagged a galley at The Strand, or got the publisher to send them a copy even though they average four hits a day. The banal back-story is of little interest.

Emphasis in the original.

[Wow, she uses a lot of dashes.]

Yikes. I’d label that vitriolic. (That last sentence is judgment, by the way, not opinion.)

I try, when I write my own measly reviews, to make sure I do address the book’s relation to the author’s previous work, the book’s genre and the canon, when I’m significantly versed in such to have and/or voice an opinion. Sometimes I’m not, though. A reader’s reaction to the first work she’s read by a given author is in some ways just as valid as the reaction of a reader who has read all of that author’s works; they’re different reactions, in terms of depth and familiarity.

How the reviewer feels about the book is important to me. As I read that person’s reviews over time, I’ll come to know how that blog’s taste matches or clashes with mine. Without this, what’s the point? Maybe I’m being obtuse. I don’t really understand this point.

Personal pronouns should be removed? That’s such a small thing to take issue with. There is also a not-quite-stated-in-words criticism in Warren’s opinion piece, though, that blogs are written informally and are prone to grammar and usage flaws. While this may be true of some blogs, it’s harsh and over the top to apply this fault to blogs across the board; that’s just not true! Informal? Sure. I think it’s valid in this medium. The back story is important to me, as well.

Now to point four above. First, I know all blog book reviews don’t lack this. But I also question the need for plot summaries and an overview of characters to be in book reviews. First of all, this information is readily available. The reviewer could quote Amazon or the book jacket. But this isn’t original content. If a blog mention lacks this, I can just click over to Amazon in a new tab and read about it there (or in BookMooch, LibraryThing, GoodReads … or, if all else fails, there’s always Wikipedia and/or Google). I don’t feel the need for summaries and character overviews to clog up my feed reader. Actually, if I’m interested in reading a book, I sometimes have regretted reading the book cover beforehand — it gave too much away. I usually don’t read it.

I’ll leave this side of the debate now with another quote from Warren:

I can’t ignore the power of blogs to stoke the public interest, any more than I can ignore the fact that the traditional book review outlets are drying up and no one has yet determined how to save them. No, I don’t believe blogs will save books — not in their current format. But I can envision a day when blogs do for books what books have done for people: challenged us, made us think in ways we never would have.

Part 3, coming soon!