Today, I’m proud to introduce Keir Graff. Keir is an author of both adult crime fiction (PRICE OF LIBERTY) and middle-grade fiction (THE OTHER FELIX), he’s an editor of Booklist online, and the co-host of Publishing Cocktails, a networking event for publishing pros.
How does your perspective about book coverage change when you shift between your different roles (author, reviewer, website editor, networking event organizer)
I try—I don’t always succeed—to think of everything from a reader’s point of view. As an author promoting my own work, I want my efforts to be entertaining and informational, not just pleas to buy my books. I give how-to-get-published talks at libraries, I visit schools, I recommend good books in my newsletter, and I write and share stuff just for the hell of it.
As a reviewer, my reviews are naturally informed by my own opinions, but I take into account what the author is trying to do and who they’re writing for. The hardest review to write is of a book that I hated but that I suspect has an audience. I write some negative reviews but, at Booklist, we don’t beat up on debut novelists unless there the book is so newsworthy that we feel we have to go on the record about it.
As a website editor, I try to offer a wide variety of reading choices and to respond to the feedback I get from our users and our editorial advisory board. Because pixels are cheap, I get to indulge a lot of my whims, too. (For example: “James Patterson’s Books: A Novel Not by James Patterson.”)
And as cohost, with Javier Ramirez, of Publishing Cocktails Night (or Pub Night), I turn off the commercial part of my brain. Having a chance to meet, and introduce to each other, a broad swath of Chicago’s book people, from authors and booksellers to publicists and publishers, is just plain fun. I write because I can’t help it, but I live in that world because I like the people. When you get them together, good things happen. We occasionally have special guests who are promoting their books (Dan Chaon, for example), but there will never be a sales pitch. Chaon absolutely butchered some Springsteen at the Blue Frog’s karaoke night—that’s the kind of author appearance we’re looking for.
You write for adults and children. How do you think review/media coverage differs for adult books, children’s books, and YA books?
It’s hard for any midlist book to get coverage, but the adult book world is positively Darwinian. There are just so many adult books fighting for so few readers. Even adults who like to read struggle to find the time, or are reluctant to pay full price for new books, or stick with authors they’re already familiar with. Accordingly, adult authors can be a little more reluctant to help newer authors into the club, and the media can be conservative.
I’ve found the kid-lit world to be warmer and more welcoming. Fellow authors have made essential referrals and I’ve been awestruck by enthusiasm of the librarians, teachers, and bloggers who take time to champion kids’ books. I’ve also been amazed at how much easier it is to sell kids’ books. But think about it: kids who read, read all the time. And everyone knows that books are good for kids, like vitamins. They’re also cheaper and so people seem more willing to part with their cash. Even nonreaders will buy books for their kids or the kids in their families.
I’m less informed about YA. (I write middle-grade fiction, although people often assume I write YA.) I do think YA is still seen as the prestige area of kid-lit—a lot of authors want to write it, and media people want to write about it, and I think this is in part because they can explore complicated subjects for fairly sophisticated readers. But there’s been a big influx in middle-grade fiction as well. I plan to keep writing for third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders because they’re a ton of fun to hang out with.
How has book coverage changed over the past couple years? Where do you think it would go from here?
A lot of people now believe that it’s possible to promote their books solely with a blog and a twitter account—sadly, a growing number of publishers seem to believe this, too. But as more and more people take this route, it gets harder and harder to stand out from the crowd. Early adopters of these platforms can get a lot more traction than latecomers. I don’t know where it’s going from here, but desperate authors will continue to chase each new widget and meme, hoping to attract readers’ increasingly distracted eyeballs.
What advice do you have for debut novelists wanting to get the word out about their book?
Debut novelists need to realize that the onus is on them to get the ball rolling—usually, their publishers will be wait for rave reviews before deciding to put marketing muscle behind their books. An online presence is crucial, especially an informational website, but authors should only do the things they enjoy and will keep current, whether Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, a blog, etc. As always, it’s better to do a few things well rather than many things poorly. Online, they should be engaging and human, avoiding self-aggrandizing self-promotion. And above all, they need to realize the importance of the real world! Meeting real readers in real places (and being charming to booksellers and librarians) is essential. It takes time, but build for a long career, not a single book. And always remember that your friends are your friends, not a marketing segment!
Other than publicists sending galleys and pitching books, how do you find out about new books that are coming out?
I watch Tweetdeck like it’s a stock market ticker. I follow industry publications and people—if they’re talking about something, I’ll know. It can create a bit of an echo chamber but it’s essential to stay informed. The other way is when my boss, Booklist’s publisher Bill Ott, drops a new stack of books on my desk for review. He has an experienced eye and I’ve made some amazing discoveries that way.
Note to publicists: when pitching books, read our submission guidelines first. It’s astonishing how many people contact me when they don’t know who I am or what I do. And don’t just ask me to write something about your book. I’m absolutely deluged with submissions—it’s always a relief when someone has a truly creative idea for coverage or offers something extra that is meaningful.