books

So many books, so little time

Book club ended in the inevitable fashion — everyone chiming in on what to read next. I’ve been part of many book clubs over the years where the policy had been: the host of the next club chooses the next book. I’ve recently joined a club that chooses from a big glass jar containing book titles on slips of paper. Random selection at its best.

But this time the title on the paper triggered a fiery discussion on what they’ve read, what they loved, what they’d recommend. Soon, slips of paper were added to the jar. Some of us (me included) got a personalized list of must-reads.

This is my favorite way to get a book recommendation. From friends. Especially from friends who share my interests and have similar tastes in books. (My mom also happens to be an extremely reliable recommender.)

We all have seen the occasional Facebook post “I need a good book. Any suggestions?” This is the same thing. Lots of bookstores will have “Staff favorite” shelves. People not only rely on but seek out other’s opinions about books.

If you think about it, online book reviews accomplish a similar thing. Apart from word-of-mouth, friend-to-friend recommendations, people rely on reviews, specifically — reviews posted on Amazon or Goodreads. They offer a personal endorsement that readers trust. I have heard that people make decisions on what to read based on ratings and reviews. More than the book’s concept, the back-of-book blurb, awards, discounts, or advertising…

How about you? How do you choose what to read next?

Answer in the comments section for a chance to win a free ebook!

 

WDC in NYC

This past weekend, I attended the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference in New York City. Having just launched FORTE, it was not only an opportunity to hone my craft but also to continue the celebration. The best part about it? My brother, Jim Davies, flew in from Ottawa to attend the conference with me.

Jim Davies & JD Spero on the street

Jim & me in Times Sq

We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn in Bryant Park. Our digs, courtesy of my husband Anthony Spero, held amazing views of both water and Times Square from the 34th floor. The 6:35 am Megabus dropped me a few blocks away, and when I got to the hotel at 10am, I pushed the elevator button for the lobby and…there was Jimmy!

Times Square, NYC

View of Times Square

We dropped our bags, checked the map, and headed toward the Roosevelt Hotel for the conference check-in. My sleep deprivation got the best of me, but my misguided confidence convinced Jimmy I knew where I was going. Our hour-long detour didn’t deter our fun — and got us some cool photo opportunities and a yummy lunch.

Kinky Boots

Jimmy in some Kinky Boots!

We made it in time for registration and the first session, Pitch Perfect by Chuck Sambuchino (nothing to do with the movie but everything to do with pitching literary agents). And so it began…

WDC15 name tag

WDC15 name tag

Some gems from the workshops:

Don’t pigeon-hole yourself! WRITE EVERYTHING! – Jonathan Maberry (Keynote)

Take off your pants and write using the hybrid approach of “plantsing” – Jeff Somers

It’s the small things that break your heart. – Rebecca McClanahan on Word Painting

Writing is both mirrors and windows. – Jacqueline Woodson (central keynote)

Slip the pill in the liverwurst. – Jon McGoran on Exposition & Economy


In addition to the workshops, I attended the Pitch Slam — where I pitched my latest book to 8 or 9 literary agents and came away with lots of genuine interest. Hooray!

We met lots of other writers, including a fellow Xchyler Publishing author! It was a miracle we found each other. There were 1000 people at the conference, who all squeezed into the lobby area for the mixer. I felt like I was back at college at a keg party.

JD Spero and Jamie Potter

Me and Jamie Potter at Saturday’s mixer.

Jimmy and I write in somewhat different genres, so at times we attended different talks throughout the conference. Years ago, Anthony and I attended a Forensics League competition which was being judged by my one-in-a-million grandmother — Grandma Honey. Being newlyweds, we were hesitant to leave each other’s sides, no less let go of each other’s hands. But Grandma Honey insisted, “You need to split up, go experience different things, so that when you come back together you have lots to talk about. And you end up with twice the fun!”

I shared this wisdom with Jimmy, who agreed. So we coined a new term (which wouldn’t fly on the Scrabble board, but would sure make Honey smile): Splitskis!

It became our mantra and moniker. At times, we’d have to find each other among the sea of writers passing in the halls between sessions. I could be heard calling above the crowd: Splitskis!

“Which session do you want to go to next? All right, I want to go to this one. Okay, Splitskis!”

My favorite sessions were those we attended together, however. And I benefitted as much from our whispered side commentary as I did from the speaker’s. It’s way cool my brother and I have this writing thing in common. I’m pretty sure we were the only brother/sister team there. What’s more rare is the heartfelt support and encouragement we give each other — without a smidge of competition.

WDC15 mixer

At networking mixer Saturday night

I can honestly say that — by far — the best part about the conference was spending quality time with my bro. Our final Splitskis was a melancholy one.

 

 

 

Hey, it’s okay.

At the start of this school year, my third-grader AJ was invited to be part of Battle of the Books — a book club that meets before school hours every other week. Battlers read a total of 10 books, a blend of fiction and nonfiction, award-winners and obscure finds. The program culminates in a final contest against other elementary schools that have read the same books. Armed with custom T-shirts for the occasion, the team is excused from school for the final battle, which takes place at the prestigious Skidmore College. After the battle, a local restaurant is donating a celebratory lunch for all participants. Only 5 of the 12 students can go to this final battle, so a test was given to see who made the cut.

AJ came home last Tuesday, his backpack overflowing with all ten books from which to study for the test.

Let me tell you about my son AJ’s brain. He taught himself to use a computer and navigate the Internet before he could talk. He learned how to play chess — and play well! — at the age of 4. He has a scary memory. He can explain the difference between endangered and extinct, giving numerous examples of exotic animals for each category. This morning he recalled something his grandpa told him months ago: 70% of the universe is dark matter which pulls the universe apart, and 25% of the universe is dark energy which pushes the universe back together…Dark matter is winning. He knows the only way to cut a circle in 3 equal parts is to make a ‘peace sign.’ I’m not bragging here, but what this kid remembers blows me away…and sure keeps me on my toes.

So I didn’t do the flash card thing. I didn’t insist he reread all ten books. I didn’t make him redo his summaries. My husband and I didn’t want to put that kind of pressure on him. We enjoyed our weekend. We saw Wild Kratts Live at Proctors, we went skiing at West Mountain. AJ played the Wii with his brothers and chess with his dad. We had fun.

As soon as AJ came off the bus yesterday, tears brimming over his enviously long eyelashes, I knew he didn’t make the team.

As parents, we’re not supposed to solve for everything in our child’s life. We are there to lend advice and provide boundaries, but also support, love, and encourage. But we’re not supposed to keep them in a bubble, protect them from heartbreak, shield them from bullies on the school bus, or lie about the existence of holiday personas for the sake of their happiness. Right?

“That’s okay. Hey, it’s okay. Mom and dad are so proud of you. You did your best. It’s okay. Hey, it’s okay.”

I sounded like a broken record. So I stopped. Put my arm around his puffy coat, pulled him into a side hug as we walked up our driveway. “I know you’re disappointed. I would be disappointed too.”

And then his tears really started. Not just tears. Sobbing. Loud, vocalized agony that surely indicated to neighbors he had broken his femur…or stepped on a bed of rusty nails. (Maybe I should have stuck with the “It’s okay” mantra?)

He got inside, stripped off the day’s baggage, and fell onto the couch. There was so much I wanted to say.

“How about a hug?”

My nine-year-old curled up to me like a sleepy toddler and let it all out. When the tears stopped, we stayed there snuggling on the couch. Me holding my firstborn, my son, my one and only AJ.

I gently cracked the silence by sharing a story I hadn’t thought about for years.

When I was a little girl, I was up for a part in play called Pippi Longstocking. Not just any part. Pippi. It was between me and another girl, but I wasn’t worried. Theater was my “thing” and this other girl was younger and less experienced and had never really been in shows before. This wasn’t just a show, it was a traveling troupe. The small cast would perform all over the Northeast for months to come, creating priceless memories and experiences at every step. Not only that, but my brother Jimmy was a shoe-in for a show-stopping supporting role. It was supposed to be a family affair. Sibling bonding. Just think of the headlines…

The director called the house and although I had answered the phone, she asked to speak to Jimmy. He got the part — the fun supporting role where his comedic genius would shine. And that was all the news she had for our family. She was sorry, but I did not get the part of Pippi. I was devastated. Absolutely crushed. And what made it sting even more? I had to watch my brother have the time of his young life traveling and performing with this small group of actors who became his fast friends.

“What part did you end up getting?” AJ asked me.

“I didn’t get a part. I wasn’t in the show at all.” I said, and then the strangest thing happened. I broke into tears…while I was holding my nine-year-old who just had his first big disappointment in life. AJ was quiet while I tried unsuccessfully to hide my emotions.

Later, my husband called while I was making dinner and AJ told him the news. “I was really sad after school, but I’m okay now…Mom told me about a part she didn’t get when she was a little girl. She was really sad then too. It’s okay to be sad.”

There I was at the stove getting choked up all over again. Will he ever truly know how proud I am of him? Will he ever realize how much I learn from him? There is no bubble. There will be heartbreak. Life is prickly and unfair, yet wondrous and thrilling. AJ will feel every bit of it, because that’s who he is. And I wouldn’t change a thing about him. Not one thing.

Yes, it’s okay. It’s okay to be sad.

Truth about Royalties

First, let me give thanks. To those of you who have read my book, CATCHER’S KEEPER: Thank you! If you happened to have given me a review on Amazon or Goodreads, know that you have given me the best gift you can give an author. Thank you!

Now, many of you are curious to know how my book is doing. A reasonable question, I guess. Some may think it odd that I’m having a hard time finding an appropriate response.

My reviews are good. So far (knock on wood) I haven’t gotten less than 4 stars on Amazon or Goodreads. And most of those reviews are 5 stars—from complete strangers. My overall Amazon rating is a glowing 4.7! Hooray!

Not only is it getting great reviews, it has won multiple awards. Hooray!

As far as my FB friends can tell, it’s doing very well. Heck, I have near strangers congratulating me on the street.

“Your book’s doing so well!”

I smile and thank them. Yes, it’s doing well in many ways.

But when I’m asked the direct question: “How’s your book doing?”…I have to pause. You mean sales?

Yes, they mean sales.

Despite the obvious social faux pas in asking this question (I mean, how many people go up and ask a realtor “How are you making out on commission for that big ol’ house on Main Street?”)

Yet, people truly believe they are celebrating with me by asking the question: “How’s your book doing?”

Well, let me tell you.

Last month, my royalty check was $15.00

$15.00

For one month’s worth of sales.

Way to pay the rent.

DSCN3923

Me holding a recent royalty check. Look closely at the amount! It’s made out for a whopping $6.50!

I’ve been advised by some self-published ebook success stories to enhance my sales. The crux of their advice is to run a “sale” on your ebook and run a promotion on a high-profile ebook marketing engine, like BookBub. I looked into that. For CK, I would have to pay about $400 to give my book away free.

Let me repeat that, I would have to PAY $400 to give my book away FREE in order to promote on Bookbub.

Hmmm….

The idea is that readers will review your book on Amazon and Goodreads, thus helping to get the word out that your book exists, which *might* happen, but—

I would have to PAY $400 to give my book away FREE.

Does that make sense to anyone?

I did my first-ever sale recently. It was kind of a last-minute thing, but I got two high-profile book bloggers to help promote it, plus I did my thing on FB and Twitter, etc. What were the results?

Drum roll please….

I sold 8 books.

8

Which comes to about $11.00 in royalties.

Yes, because I’ve self-published, I make 70% of royalties. Which is great…if your book sells, which mine is not.

I have to say, when I first published my book, I didn’t really care about making money. It wasn’t about that. But I did want my book out there. I wanted people to read it. Because my sales are so abysmal, I’m left to wonder: Will my book languish in somnolence? Will it vaporize into the electrowaves of the internet?

It’s hard to let go, I guess.

It hit home when I attended a bookclub in which a New York Times Bestselling author spoke. When asked the question—How’s your book doing?—she literally knocked on wood and said, “I can finally pay my rent.”

She’s a New York Times Bestselling author!

I have other friends who have been lucky enough to sign with big name publishers for multiple book deals. They all have had to keep their day jobs because they just don’t make any money from their books. Even if they’ve won awards. Even if they have stellar reviews.

In fact, I’ve been warned more than once by many published authors, “You won’t make any money on your books.” They don’t need to add, “unless you are Gillian Flynn.” (Who, I found out the other day, is only 2 years older than me. Color me envious.)

Maybe I’ve lost sight of what’s important, but in my mind, I just can’t reconcile how people spend money these days. What are peoples’ problems with spending money on BOOKS?

My ebook is $4.99.

Thanks to the instantaneous feedback available online, I have been made privy to the fact that people have returned CK after reading it, taking advantage of Amazon’s 5-day return policy. (My feelings about that horrendous policy could fill another blog post.)

But it broke my heart. People are returning it after they read it?

It’s $4.99.

How much does your latte cost at Starbucks? Do you get as much enjoyment out of that latte as you would cozy-ing up with a good book?

Many people would not bat an eyelash in spending $24 on an entrée that will be consumed in less than 15 minutes. Why do people have a problem spending $4.99 on a book that will provide hours of enjoyment?

I recently bought promotional T-shirts for $15.00 a pop to support a friend’s company. I didn’t hesitate to buy two. You could buy three of my books for one T-shirt. I bought six books worth of T-shirts.

Sigh.

A friend from college who I hadn’t talked to in almost 10 years emailed me: “I’d love a signed copy of your book. Please send it to…” Really? Buy your own f’ing copy!

Okay, okay. Maybe I’m being harsh. Maybe it’s the self-publishing stigma that’s making my sales suffer. People don’t take my book seriously because it’s self-published. Is that it, folks? Please, enlighten me. Does the fact that I’ve spent hundreds on professional editors mean nothing? Does my 4.7 Amazon review rating mean nothing? Do my multiple awards mean nothing?

Or maybe it’s priced too high. Maybe people simply value a latte more than a good book. In which case, I’m screwed.

*update! I just got my direct-deposit notification for my September royalties. The grand total = $9.39. That means I sold 3 books in the month of September. Sigh.