Since I've been talking to people in the industry about the state of fiction, I thought I should ask a few questions of Gina Holmes and her crew at the popular ficiton website "Novel Journey." NJ is a great spot to find author interviews, book reviews, writing wisdom, and everything else helpful to fiction writers. This past week they've had an interview with bestselling author Francine Rivers, a report on the Southern Book Festival, a conversation with African-American novelist Stephanie Perry Moore, an interesting reflection from unpublished writer Janet Rubin, and a podcast with Nicholas Sparks. THAT'S moving around. You can find them at www.noveljourney.blogspot.com, and I highly recommend their site.
The founder/creator/mom of the site is Gina Holmes, who agreed to escape her own blogging empire in order to come talk with me...
Gina, what writing trends are you seeing in fiction at Novel Journey?
"We're seeing more fantasy, less science fiction, chick-lit is moving into sub-genres like Camy Tang's Asian chick-lit, and we have mom lit, hen lit, and historicals are coming back into favor. Above all, more and more readers are being turned on by what we'd consider 'literary' writing -- A Thousand Splendid Suns, The Memory Keeper's Daughter, etc.
"In CBA, more literary writers (like Charles Martin and Lisa Samson) are the names we hear most discussed as writers 'you just have to read.' And for good reason -- you JUST HAVE TO read them. Novelists are taking chances, and the payoff has been big. It's nice to see publishers get ahead of the curve instead of chasing what hit the NYT bestseller list last month. Robert Liparulo's Comes a Horseman and TL Hines' Waking Lazarus were different from what CBA houses traditionally have published, and they were very well received. So are M.L. Tyndall's pirate romances, Tosca Lee's Demon: A Memoir, and everything that Claudia Mair Burney writes.
"In the ABA, unusual stories like The Lovely Bones, Dean Koontz's Odd Thomas novels, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, The Time Traveler's Wife -- these are what have been getting the most buzz. All of these novels have been out for a while, but we're pleased to see the trend continue. Another thing we're thrilled about is the improved quality of CBA deput novels. Liparulo's novel was amazing. So was Claudia Mair Burney's first novel, Murder, Mayhem, and a Fine Man."
What marketing or promotional trends are you seeing in fiction?
"Blogging is still the hottest thing around. The power of the internet is huge and everyone's scrambling to figure out how to best capitalize on it. Most writers now keep blogs, and blog tours have become a staple in marketing plans. Newsletters are big right now, with writers trying to capture as many names and emails of potential readers as possible by offering contests to get people to sign up. Some are offering everything from IPods to autographed books.
"For a while we were seeing big names with big platforms writing not-to-great books, but now we're seeing people with strong platforms actually writing good books -- Jars of Clay's Matt Bronleewe's Illuminated is one example. But things have definitely changed. Cross country book-signing tours are less popular as the web has proven more effective at reaching people without the fast food and traffic. And costly magazine ads and expensive book launch parties are less popular as publishers look for ways to get more bang for their buck."
Your site has become an influencer in fiction. What would you like writers to know regarding how they can best influence the influencers?
"One of the most valuable things we've learned by running Novel Journey is how best to approach media. And I think the first lesson is simple: Write a great book. We LOVE to push talented writers. If Charles Martin has a new book coming out, I want to personally review it because I know it's going to be good. Even if we're booked solid for months, if Lisa Samson comes to us and says, 'I've got a novel coming out, can you fit in some space for me?' our answer will be, 'Heck yeah!' Our goal is to promote great writing, great writers, and great books. So we'll bend over backwards to fit her in.
"The second lesson is probably don't approach us like you're doing us a favor. Listen, we know it goes both ways. We know an author is essentially doing us a favor by answering our questions. We know by having Nicholas Sparks and Dean Koontz do interviews on our website, they're helping our platform more than their own. They don't needs us -- they've already arrived. Both authors recently gave us interviews (Koontz's interview hasn't been published yet as of this writing), and by participating they were doing us a favor. But did they approach it that way? Nope. They thanked us. That's how you do it.
"Third, make me look good. You want to be featured on Novel Journey or some other popular website? Great. We want to have you. But it's much less likely to happen if you send me an interview that showed up on blogs everywhere two months ago, or you send me an article that's nothing more than an infomercial for your book. Don't make it about you. Make it about my readership. How can you serve them? Trust me, this will serve you. I've noticed that the best writers tend to give the best interviews. They tend to do everything above and beyond. Dean Koontz's interview is amazing -- he didn't give sound-bite answers. He gave thoughtful, helpful, entertaining answers. Our best interviewees are always among the best writers. So make me look good, and it will make you look even better.
"Fourth, make my job easier. This goes for all media, not just websites. You want to be featured in a local magazine? (Don't we all?) If we're both novelists hoping to get into The Roanoker, and I send them my press release hoping they'll write a story about me, but you actually write the article, make it relevant to their audience, and include photos, who do you think will get featured? Editors and media types are busy people. Make our jobs easier and we'll use you again and again. You'll become our go-to guy.
"Fifth, don't be a diva. Don't send me an interview and ask me to edit it twelve times before it goes up, or chew me out because it went up a few days later than I said it would. Sometimes we have to make decisions you know nothing about. Just follow up, thank me for my time and all I'm doing to help you, politely ask when I think your interview will get posted. The media don't owe you a spot -- it's a privilege to have people feature you, not an entitlement. Afterward, a thank-you card, an email, or an autographed copy of your book goes a long way.
"Sixth, don't be penny wise and pound foolish. I once had a first-time author tell me that she hoped I would buy her book and write a review of it. Excuse me? BUY her book? I already run a website that generates no revenue, take my time to feature authors so that readers will buy their books, and that earns the author income...and she wants me to spend my own money and buy a copy at retail price so that I can help her do that? Does that seem like a good deal for me? Nope, it's not. I get more free books than I could ever read. Sometimes I review one. That's the way it works.
"Finally, be gracious. I wrote a review of a novel I was lukewarm about -- I thought the author had grand potential, but didn't quite pull it off in that book. I said so. She came back with a glowingly warm thank you note. She called me insightful and correct, and thanked me for helping her grow. Wow. You think I'm not a big fan now? You think I won't want to do everything I can to promote her in the future? Follow her example. Don't argue with the reviewers -- thank them. They're probably right, and like a good critique you might learn something from them. But even if they're dead wrong, showing kindness to them might just help them be kinder to you in the future."
Hey, thanks for all the wisdom, Gina!
My pleasure, Chip. We'll see you at Novel Journey.