Ask an Expert: A Conversation with Thomas Judd on audiobook narration and voice acting

Ever wondered what it was like to be an audiobook narrator and voice actor? Today on the blog we’re sitting down with Thomas Judd, a talented vocal artist who has narrated over 180 audiobook titles, including books by George Orwell, Bernard Cornwell, James Patterson, David Mitchell, Georgette Heyer and Anton du Beke–as well as titles from our sister company Books Fluent like One Must Tell the Bees: Abraham Lincoln and the Final Education of Sherlock Holmes by J. Lawrence Matthews, where Judd’s performance was highly praised by critics and reviewers. Judd’s audio drama work includes Six Degrees of Assassination (Audible), 2000AD and The Noise (Penguin) and he’s done cmmercial voiceover work includes Fiat, Channel 4, The Times.

Judd shares how to be a great audio narrator, how he got started in vocal work, and how he brings audiobooks to life with the power of his voice.

How did you get into audiobook narration?

I was steered in the direction of audio while I was at drama school. I took part in the BBC Radio Carleton Hobbs competition, and when I graduated a tutor of mine advised me to get in touch with an audiobook studio she had recorded at which was based in Bath, where I’d studied at university. In the meantime, I was spotted performing at Liars’ League, which is a live event in London where actors narrate new short stories by writers. After that I was invited to record my first audiobook and twelve years later here I am!

Can you please tell us more about the other kind of acting and voicework you do/have done?

My background is in theatre, and I do a lot of Shakespeare. My wife runs a company called Open Bar which performs Shakespeare in Fuller’s pub gardens across the south of England. This year I’ll be playing Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew. I’ve also done VO commercials and audio dramas – I was part of Penguin’s 2000AD audio adaptations last year; I got to play a villain in a Judge Dredd adaptation, which was a lot of fun.

If you were speaking to an aspiring voice actor right now, what attributes would you tell them they need to succeed in the audiobook/voice work industry? What makes a “good” narrator / voice actor?

Firstly, you need a voicereel – that’s absolutely essential. I started out with a couple of them – one specifically for narration, and another with some commercial stuff. Because I didn’t have any professional credits, I just recorded anything I thought suited my voice and once I’d done some professional jobs I put those on there.

I’ve never had a voice agent (I’ve tried!) so I don’t think that’s essential, particularly in the audiobook world. I wrote and wrote, and once the work started coming in, I was able to write to more people and I built contacts that way. It’s definitely possible to succeed as a self-represented VO.

I think of narration as being very similar to any kind of acting performance – it’s about clear storytelling and engagement with the listener. I often imagine I’m just reading to someone else in the room. Sight-reading ability is important for working consistently, because the more fluent readers will always be asked back. And be nice!

You’ve narrated nearly 200 audiobooks (wow!). What do you find challenging while recording audiobook narration? What about it do you enjoy the most?

It demands so much stamina, which you wouldn’t necessarily expect from something that involves sitting down all day! The brainpower that is required is exhausting, and I’ve definitely felt this more recently now that I have two young kids who don’t let me sleep as much as I used to. I tend to spread narration days over a longer period now so that I’m fresher each time.

I absolutely love being a narrator. I get to read and tell so many fantastic stories, I get to play all sorts of characters I would never get to play on stage or TV. I grew up doing impressions, voices and characters so continuing that is definitely my favourite part of the job.

What is something you aspire to do with your acting/vocal career that you haven’t done yet?

I would love to do more drama and radio. I’ve done a few projects where several actors are in the studio together, and it’s so much fun.

Follow Thomas Judd on Twitter: @tjudderman.

How the Black Lives Matter Movement and the Pandemic Transformed Bookselling

State of the Industry Blog Series:
How the Black Lives Matter Movement and the Pandemic Transformed Bookselling

In our new “State of the Industry” blog series, we’re breaking down how the pandemic has transformed the publishing industry. By understanding how the industry has rapidly transformed in 2020 and 2021, writers and authors will be better prepared to navigate the new state of the industry in 2022.

Last month, we explored how the pandemic impacted indie bookstores, and whether or not Bookshop.org “saved” indies.

Now it’s time for a new question: How did the Black Lives Matter movement impact indie bookstores? And how are indies doing today?

Answer: BLM boosted indie bookstore sales in a surprising way. Bookstores fared better than expected during the pandemic, but they are still struggling.

The murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020 sparked outrage against racially motivated police violence, spawning mass protests and a highly visible reckoning with racism that swept America, and the globe. The “Black Lives Matter” movement (also known as “BLM”) inspired active discussion about race, racism, anti-racism, white privilege, and allyship that reverberated from the streets to The White House to the world — and was felt clearly among publishers and booksellers.

In June 2020, The New York Times reported that “As Americans grapple with the country’s history of racism, many of them have turned to books, propelling titles like “How to Be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi and “So You Want to Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo to the best-seller lists.”

The article also reported that some bookstores, especially Black-owned stores like Semicolon Bookstore in Chicago, saw a “huge financial boost,” with sales rising from 3,000 books per week to 50,000 books per week. Store owner Danni Mullen estimated that at least half of her store’s income resulted from “the 10 or so race-related books dominating best-seller lists.”

By May of 2021, the general consensus was that indie bookstores had not suffered as much as had originally been projected at the beginning of the pandemic.

Booksellers experienced a surprisingly strong holiday season in December 2020 that, coupled with other unexpected boosts like the sales resulting from the BLM movement, helped keep many stores open at the start of 2021. Booksellers reported a huge boost in online sales in 2020 and 2021, compared to previous years. Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans enabled some store owners to meet their payrolls. Bookshop.org directed more than $14 million to indies in revenue as of May 2021.

There was also arguably more awareness of and support for “supporting local” businesses like indie bookstores than ever, due to the economic pressures of the pandemic.

However, indie stores were (and are) still struggling. Bookstore sales fell 30 percent overall in 2020 according to the US Census Bureau. While BLM gave a huge financial boost to some stores, those bestselling titles did not dominate sales in the same way as time went on.

Stores were operating on the same limited budgets, but were combatting higher costs that were unimaginable two years ago: Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), hazard pay, postage, extra cleaning and sanitizing products, etc. Bookstore staff had to work hard to ship books and reorganize/sanitize stores. With reduced income and population capacity in-store, these challenges demanded more of the remaining staff.

As of October 2020, in-store foot traffic was still way down, and it was hurting revenue. Some stores (especially those in NYC) were hit hard by the fact that a substantial portion of their customer base were tourists, who were no longer visiting in the same capacity.

As of May 2021, profits were still down for indie stores, according to the Associated Press. In-store events had not returned to pre-pandemic levels. And despite the influence of Bookshop.org, Amazon still commands a hefty share of the book market.

Without a doubt, the pandemic transformed bookselling in a variety of ways: Booksellers, authors, and customers got a crash course in how to approach sales and events virtually; Bookshop.org proved to be a noteworthy competitor for Amazon; and the Black Lives Matter movement helped open publishers’ eyes to the sales potential of their backlists.

While some bookstores will return to some semblance of pre-pandandemic “business as usual,” the events of 2020 and 2021 have certainly changed how booksellers, authors, and readers understand and approach bookselling as a whole.

And it’s not just the publishers and booksellers who have changed — readers themselves, and their reading habits, have transformed as well.

We’ll explore this in more detail in our next blog: How the Pandemic Transformed Readers and Consumer Habits.

Ask an Expert: A Conversation with YA Author Dahlia Adler on How to Edit an Anthology

Today we’re sitting down with Dahlia Adler, author of the YA novels Cool for the Summer and Home Field Advantage, a Buzzfeed books blogger, and editor of four anthologies that reimagine the stories of Edgar Allen Poe, Shakespeare, and various fairy tales. Dahlia gives us an inside look at what it takes to edit an entire anthology, how to get involved in an anthology project, and what she loves best about YA.

1. You’re a YA author, Buzzfeed books writer, and the editor of four (!) anthologies. What is it about the YA genre that appeals to you, as both a reader, editor, and a writer?

I love how much life changes in those young adult years, how big the feelings are, how fascinating the transition is as you gain more independence and try to balance the increased responsibility you want with the increased responsibility you don’t. You can and do make massive mistakes that feel catastrophic but generally aren’t. It’s just such a fraught, exciting, marvelous time, with so many possibilities, and so many relationships to explore, and I love getting to live it again a thousand different ways. (Which is easier to say as an adult who knows that This Too Shall Pass.)

2. You’re the editor for the anthologies His Hideous Heart (a Junior Library Guild selection), That Way Madness Lies, and your newest release, At Midnight (Flatiron Books, 2022), plus the forthcoming Out of Our League (Feiwel & Friends, 2023) with Jennifer Iacopelli. How did you “get into” editing anthologies?

It was such a wild, whirlwind thing. I posed the question on Twitter “What would you choose if you could pair any author to retell any story?” and a teacher named Jaclyn (hence the dedication) came up with the idea of a Poe anthology. I tweeted about loving the idea but particularly loving it for two of my favorite psychological thriller authors, and before I knew it, I had an incredible lineup of authors tweeting at me that they wanted to join in. I filled in the rest of that lineup, and it felt so obvious to me after seeing the response to it that there needed to be another one, reimagining work by another author who was at least as widely read. And so on. As far as I can tell, anthologies are to me the way tattoos are to other people: so painful to undertake and yet as soon as you’re done, you want to do another one.

3. How are writers selected for an anthology? Who does the selecting — the editor, the publisher, or someone else?

The answer has varied a little bit for each one of mine. In the case of His Hideous Heart, since I put that together before having a publisher or even an agent, that lineup was completely selected by me. The next one was definitely more collaborative–we went out to lunch, discussed a long list of authors I’d provided plus some suggestions of hers, reached out to a bunch, and then kept drawing and redrawing the lineup as it filled in to make sure we had an even amount of tragedies and comedies in addition to diverse representation. At Midnight was similar to that, but it’s definitely the one with the biggest publisher input in the lineup; three of the authors already work with my editor, and she thought they’d be really great for this collection in particular. (She was correct!)

4. What advice would you give to authors who want to contribute to an anthology?

Be loud about your passions, and don’t be afraid to put out there that contributing to an anthology is something you want to do; I’ve found a whole bunch of contributors this way. If you don’t have any publishing credits, it’s going to be particularly challenging to be considered, but you can always be more proactive and do searches for anthology calls (I mean this literally–put it in your search bar on Twitter); they happen all the time. And if you are contributing, try to be responsive, hit deadlines, and promote the anthology; your editor is already wrangling so many people, and it makes such a big difference when your authors move things along smoothly and help with the publicity.

5. Should a writer already have an established platform (a book release, social media presence, etc) before seeking to contribute to an anthology, or can they contribute at any time, even as a relative unknown?

There definitely are collections that’ve featured relative unknowns, and some actively seek them! The two ways in which this generally happens are 1) someone involved in the anthology (editor, agent, publisher) is familiar with them and their writing, or 2) there’s a submission call, which is rarer for traditionally published anthologies but I’ve definitely seen happen at least once or twice a year these past couple of years. Since I don’t have time to go through submissions on top of the other stories, putting out a call isn’t part of my process, but it’s certainly worked for other anthologists! That said, it’s going to require more work on your part to do that (ordinarily, stories aren’t written for traditionally published anthologies before they sell), and you certainly can’t get “discovered” if you have literally no presence or network, so I do recommend at least a basic presence on the social media site(s) of your choice and a very basic website that showcases any writing/passions you may have and also makes clear how to contact you.

6. What kind of stories do you enjoy reading (either short stories or novels)?

I read all across the board, but I definitely have favorites, specifically contemporary romance, thrillers of all subgenres, and mysteries. His Hideous Heart was such a delight to put together because I was able to just tap most of my favorite authors of thrillers, horror, and dark fantasy, and since I’m such an avid reader of those genres, that took about two seconds. As you may have guessed, I also quite love retellings, especially if they’re taking on something I haven’t seen before. And I am a massive sucker for foodie books; if it’s about a cooking competition, I’ve already read it and loved it. In general, I love books where the protagonists are really, really nerdy about their passions, whether that’s cooking, sports, fandom, crafting, or what have you.

7. When you contribute a story to the anthology you’re editing, does someone else edit your contribution?

Always. I have a beta reader for each story before I turn it into my editor, and then she edits it as well. Of course, for Out of Our League, having a coeditor works out nicely, and Jen and I edit each other’s stories before sending them in.

Bonus: In your opinion, what does it mean to be a “successful” writer?

Success is a tricky marker, because it’s easy to say something like “When you make enough at writing to go full time,” but first of all, people have different professional aspirations, and second of all, how much it takes to go full time is very different depending on where you live. Personally, I think that if you’re finding readers and enjoying what you’re doing, you’re doing A-OK.

Dahlia Adler is an editor of mathematics by day, a book blogger by night, and a Young Adult author at every spare moment in between. She is the editor of the anthologies His Hideous Heart (a Junior Library Guild selection), That Way Madness Lies, At Midnight (Flatiron Books, 2022), and Out of Our League with coeditor Jennifer Iacopelli (Feiwel & Friends, 2023). She is also the author of Cool for the Summer. She lives in New York with her family and an obscene number of books.

Ask an Expert: A Conversation with Jenna Noll on How Libro.fm Impacts Indie Authors and Booksellers

Today we’re sitting down with Jenna Noll, a software developer with Libro.fm, an online platform that allows you to purchase audiobooks in a way that benefits your local bookstore. The site features audiobooks from indie and traditional authors alike, and has partnered with thousands of booksellers. Jenna gives us an insider’ss look at the audiobook industry via Libro.fm, and reveals the best way for authors to promote their audiobooks on the site.

1). What is your role at Libro.fm? What do you do?

I am a software developer on the small but mighty cloud team. I work on the website and the backend. A recent fun project I worked on was customizing the homepage so that if your bookstore has added bookseller recommendations, their picks will show when you visit the site.

2). How does Libro.fm benefit indie bookstores?

We see ourselves as a technology partner to local bookstores. Through our tech and bookstore partnerships, we enable readers to buy audiobooks through their local bookstore, rather than through a big, impersonal company.

We split profits with local bookstores (50/50) and currently partner with more than 10,000 booksellers at more than 1,600 partner bookstores based in the US, Canada, and online.

3). Can indie authors get their books featured and sold on Libro.fm (even if their books are available on other platforms like Audible)?

Yes! We love seeing indie authors’ audiobooks on Libro.fm! If authors are producing their own audiobook, the best way to get them on Libro.fm is to work with Authors Republic.

If authors are not producing their own audiobooks, they should talk to their publisher about making the audiobook(s) available on Libro.fm. For more information about audiobook accessibility and avoiding Amazon Exclusive contracts, check out our blog.

4). What suggestions would you make to authors (indie or traditional) who want to get their audiobook featured on Libro.fm?

Great question! First of all, we suggest they visit Libro.fm/authors. Once they’re ready to promote their audiobook, they should read over the ideas and tips collected here: https://blog.libro.fm/author-guide/

One fun option for authors is to curate a playlist. They can just complete a quick form, and we’ll create a custom playlist that they can share on their channels. This is a good opportunity to support other authors, as well as their favorite bookstore.

We also encourage authors to become Libro.fm affiliates so they can earn commission on sales of audiobooks (including their own), while driving sales for bookstores at the same time.

5). How has the pandemic affected subscriptions/usage of Libro.fm from audiobook listeners, as well as participation from bookstore and publisher partners?

The pandemic has made a big impact on audiobooks in general. In 2020, there were double-digit audiobook sales increases, according to The Audio Publishers Association’s annual survey—67% of audiobook listeners said that one of the reasons they enjoy the format is because it reduces screen time.

It was also a big year for Libro.fm, as we offered another way for people to support their local bookstores while staying safe. We saw a 202% increase in monthly members. The pandemic also made it necessary for booksellers to be flexible and become well-versed in technology; we saw a 48% growth in bookstore partnerships, and a 398% increase in amount paid to local bookshops.

Overall, 2021 was a time of healing, growing, and learning how to thrive in our “new normal.” You can check out our annual report here for more details of the past year’s impact.

6). What kind of audiobooks do you enjoy listening to? Tell us some of your faves!

I love listening to big, well-researched nonfiction audiobooks! Some of my favorites are:

Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe – this audiobook is about the history of the Sacklers, the family that owns Purdue Pharma, and their ties to the opioid epidemic. It is so informative and gripping! I couldn’t stop listening.

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson – this book is about the great migration of black southerners who left the south from 1915 to 1970, seeking better lives and opportunities. It closely follows the stories of three individuals through the whole book, and intersperses stories of many others along the way. I learned so much from this one, and the writing is superb.

How the Word is Passed by Clint Smith – Clint Smith traveled around the country and beyond to explore America’s history of slave ownership. For each historical site he visited, he recounts the conversations with people he met. It feels deeply personal and reflective, and still remains accessible and informative. I highly recommend it!

Yearbook by Seth Rogen – I did not consider myself a huge Seth Rogen fan until I listened to this. It had me cackling nonstop. It was fun to learn more about Rogen’s experiences in Hollywood, and his life before he made it there. Listen to it when you want to laugh!

7). Do some genres fare better as audiobooks on Libro.fm than others? If so, what are the three “top” selling genres on the site?

This was a fun question to figure out! Outside of our more general genres of fiction, nonfiction, and literary fiction, our top-selling more specific genres are Biography and Memoir, Social Science, and Fantasy.

Last year we also looked at the top-selling audiobooks in each genre – you can find the blog post with the results here: https://blog.libro.fm/2021-top-audiobooks-by-genre/

One of my favorite ways to browse the site is to look at the bestsellers for different genres. You can get to the genre-specific rankings by visiting our bestsellers list, and then using the buttons at the top to find your favorite genre.

How the pandemic transformed publishing

The pandemic has changed everything, including the publishing industry. In our new “State of the Industry” blog series, we’ll be breaking down exactly how the pandemic has changed the game for publishers, booksellers, authors, and readers. By understanding how the publishing industry has rapidly transformed in 2020 and 2021, writers and authors will be better prepared to navigate the new state of the industry in 2022.

Let’s start with a question: How did the pandemic in 2020 change the game for publishers?

Answer: They started out rough and finished strong.
According to a December 2020 article in The New York Times, (“Surprise Ending for Publishers: In 2020, Business Was Good”) book sales dropped sharply in March and April 2020 as panic and closures disrupted daily life. But demand increased beyond pre-pandemic level in June 2020 as buying habits and stores transitioned.

2020 concluded with:
Print sales up by 8% (NPD Bookscan)
Audiobooks up 17% over the same period in 2019 (Association of American Publishers)
Ebooks up more than 16% after a several year decline (NYT)

So, how did the events of 2020 influence book-buying habits and genre trends?
The short answer is that books on race and antiracism, politics, home DIY projects, and escapist literature like YA fantasy had a VERY good year.

Sales were UP in the following categories:

Sales were DOWN in the following categories:

Perhaps one of the most surprising developments in 2020 was a surprise sales boost for backlist titles as well as frontlist titles. Publishers are notorious for investing resources in frontlist titles, but requiring nearly immediate success for the book to be considered “a hit.” But in 2020, the postponement of new releases, coupled with an increased reading demand during lockdown and quarantine, proved that both backlist and frontlist titles could be financial successes. This could very possibly mean that publishers will be more willing to invest more in backlist titles in the future (particularly those tied to culturally momentous events within any given year) than they have in the past.

Where did the publishing market stand at the end of 2020?
Publishers saw a 10% increase in sales in 2020. Despite major issues with supply chains and staff layoffs, buying trends in 2020 that supported backlist as well as frontlist titles helped publishers succeed, and gave them more leeway to delay the release of new titles.

Amazon deprioritized books amid increased demand for medical supplies and household items, giving Barnes & Noble and Bookshop.org a previously unforeseen edge.

Against all odds, 2020 was a profitable year for major publishers. The key takeaways here are:

  • Readers don’t necessarily care if a book is a new release, or a backlist title: if the subject is in-demand, they will buy it. Considering that backlist sales helped major publishing houses succeed in 2020, publishers are now more aware than ever of the financial potential of their backlist.
  • Genre trends are driven by reader demand, and what is or isn’t in-demand can change rapidly. Publishers may influence some genre trends intentionally, but at the end of the day readers drive the market, and publishers will work to fulfill reader demand. A savvy author will be paying close attention to the demands and behaviors of their target audience, so they can write to meet the needs of their demographic. A great book is a great book–but a timely book sells.

How else did the pandemic change the publishing industry? Despite major rapid innovations, independent bookstores experienced major struggles and surprising successes. Learn more in next month’s post: How the Pandemic Transformed Bookselling.

Three Reasons Why You Should Release an Audiobook Right Now

Audiobooks are booming like never before. According to Deloitte, the U.S. audiobook market in 2020 was valued at an estimated $1.5 billion. Yes, that’s billion with a “b.” When 2020’s pandemic shuttered libraries and bookstores, and delayed postal deliveries, stuck-at-home readers browsed digital shelves instead, and audiobook sales kept growing. In the UK alone, the pandemic increased audiobook sales by 42% in the first half of the year according to The Guardian, while print sales plummeted.

Audiobook listeners are readers. And the takeaway is this: There’s never been a better time to release an audiobook.

Here are three reasons authors should jump on the audiobook bandwagon (as soon as possible):

1). Expose your work to more readers.
By releasing an audiobook, you will reach an audience who have, by preference or necessity, transitioned away from print media.

If you’re releasing a nonfiction book, you’ll be able to reach the growing market of 18-34 year old urban men who prefer audiobooks (particularly nonfiction), and who have traditionally not been known as a strong book-buying market according to Good E-Reader.

If you’re releasing fiction, you’ll be able to reach the vast majority of busy stay-at-home moms who juggle kid-centric commutes with an endless list of household errands–but who still want to find time to read a book.

You’ll be able to reach elderly readers who can no longer easily see the printed page, or readers who are homebound for a variety of reasons in 2021.

Why wouldn’t you want to expose your work to the widest audience possible? Audiobooks substantially broaden your reach.

2). Bring your book to life in new ways.
Gone are the days of clunky audio cassettes, scratched CDs, and uninspired narrators. Today’s technology can broadcast your story in vibrant color on the theater screen inside people’s minds.

Audiobooks (such as the ones we produce through our sister company Books Fluent) are dynamic and engaging. Talented voice actors, multi-voice casts, sound effects, musical interludes, and other interactive and engaging elements can be integrated into audiobook recordings more easily than ever.

Some newer audiobooks are more akin to professionally-produced radio plays, inspiring repeat-listens and passionate recommendations. Some authors are only releasing audio these days.

Even if your audiobook is more traditional, the point is that there are now more options than ever to get creative and make your story come alive. Why not take advantage of that?

3). Grow your sales. The statistics are in: if you can successfully reach a new audience, you will increase your sales. Podcasts have given a huge boost to consumer demand for audible media. And thanks to the pandemic (either ongoing, or in its aftermath), that demand isn’t slowing down.

We are constantly finding fresh ways to help our authors reach new readers through audiobook promotion. By making your book discoverable in this rapidly-trending audio format, new readers will find and love your work–and can become dedicated fans and repeat customers.

Audiobooks have risen, and will keep rising. It’s time to rise with them.

Four Great Books to Gift for the Holidays

Need inspiration for an amazing book to give away as a gift this holiday season? Our Books Forward team has weighed in on our favorite books of 2021 to give as gifts this year. Which ones are on your holiday list? 

“The book I’ve consistently recommended to people all year has been Broken (in the Best Possible Way) by Jenny Lawson. She’s quirky, insightful and downright delightful. I love this book so much, and I’m totally planning to gift it to a couple friends this year.”

Angelle Barbazon, Lead Publicist 

“One of my favorite books in 2021 was by my favorite author, Becky Chambers, but takes a bit of a different approach than her previous sci-fi adventures. A Psalm For the Wild-Built delves into the meaning of life from the point of view of a monk questioning their existence, but it does so in a way that makes you hopeful for the future. It also includes a dorky robot — what more could you want?”

Ellen Whitfield, Publicity Director 

“I’m gifting Death by Dumpling by Vivien Chien. I’m prone to reading slumps, and I’ve found that diving into a cozy mystery is a good way to get out of one. Chien’s Noodle Shop Mysteries are super quick reads, and amateur sleuth Lana is a fun and sassy heroine with wonderful relationships from family to friends to everyone in Asia Village. Presenting a loved one with any of these books in the series and a gift card to a local Chinese restaurant is a great personalized way to gift a book — and will certainly satisfy those cravings for Chinese food they’re bound to have while reading.”

Jennifer Vance, Publicist and Digital Marketing Strategist 

“Qian Julie Wang has such a beautiful writing style, and Beautiful Country has a remarkable story that I think would enlighten any reader. I am choosing to gift this book to friends and family because of how deeply impacted I was by her story. I hope others will appreciate this author as much as I have!”

Elysse Wagner, Campaign Strategist and Publicist

Ask an Expert: A Conversation with Alex J. Cavanaugh on the Insecure Writers Support Group

Have you ever felt insecure as a writer? You’re not the only one. Today we’re sitting down with Alex J. Cavanaugh to discuss the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, an online community of writers that provides encouragement and advice to one another.

1). How would you describe Insecure Writer’s Support Group to those who are not familiar with it?

It’s a safe haven for writers at all stages in the process. We began as a monthly blog posting before founding the website, which is the database of databases of all things writing related, plus there are weekly articles from experts. We also have a Facebook group where members can share and help one another, plus an Instagram, Twitter, and Goodreads book group. We also hold an anthology contest and host #IWSGPit on Twitter.

2). How long has IWSG been operating?

The blogging began on September 7, 2011 (ten years ago!) and the website was founded the following year. The site has been named a top writing site by Writer’s Digest, The Write Life, and UK Writers Club.

3). How many members do you have?

Bloggers – 150, Twitter – 10,900, Facebook – 4,800, Instagram – 1,180, Goodreads Book Club – 440, and following the website – tons!

4). What kinds of writers can we find in IWSG? (Traditionally or indie published, unpublished, specializing in certain genres over others, debut or seasoned authors, etc.)

It’s a total mix, which is perfect as there is always someone one step ahead who can offer advice. But otherwise, we are all equal here.

5). In your opinion, what can writers who participate in IWSG expect to get out of the community? What purpose / benefit does IWSG serve for writers?

They will get support, encouragement, advice, find critique partners and editors, help with marketing, maybe land a book deal, and all while learning along the way.

6). Does your IWSG exist only online, or are there physical branches as well?

No physical groups, although you can own a piece of the IWSG from our swag store – https://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/p/iwsg-merchandise.html

Bonus question: In your opinion, what does it mean to be a “successful” writer?

One who is still moving forward, still growing, and still finds joy in writing!

Alex J. Cavanaugh works in web design and graphics and is experienced in technical editing. A fan of all things science fiction, his interests range from books and movies to music and games. Online he is the Ninja Captain and founder of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. Find more at http://alexjcavanaugh.blogspot.com and https://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/.

Which social media platform is best for promoting your book?

Social media can be your most powerful tool for getting your book in front of readers–but are you using the “right” platform to effectively reach your audience? We’ve broken down the most popular social media platforms to help you determine which offers the best social media promotion opportunities for your book. Find out which social media you should be using below!

Facebook
With 2.8 billion users worldwide, Facebook still dominates social media. However, the platform is not necessarily seeing the same level of engagement that it was a decade ago. The most active users on Facebook are still millennials ages 25-34, 18.8% of whom are male. Facebook is the best social media platform for growing a personality-based brand. No matter your genre, we recommend that all authors create an author Facebook page, and post at least once per week. The genres that will find the most success on this platform are personality-driven nonfiction including self-help, how-tos, business, and lifestyle brands. Romance and mystery/thriller authors will also find an engaged audience on Facebook.

YouTube
YouTube maintains 2.3 billion users worldwide, and is the second largest social media network. YouTube is also not what it was a decade ago. The popular video-viewing platform has been saturated by “content farms” churning out derivative videos to soak up as many views as possible from the algorithm, celebrity brands, and a select number of influencers who dominate the space. However, BookTube is alive and kicking, even though traditionally published A-listers still get top billing.

Genre fiction authors (romance, YA, fantasy, historical fiction, sci-fi, horror, and “book club bait” mainstream literary/women’s fiction) will have the most success in approaching BookTubers for reviews, unboxings, or book haul videos. If you’re an author who is considering starting your own YouTube channel, understand that (much like starting a successful podcast) it’s a long term endeavor with a high degree of investment and slow rate of return. You must be prepared to create consistent, weekly content that is related to, but not solely about, your book. True crime, supernatural, and paranormal authors may find success here, as (again) will personality-driven nonfiction authors who can create self-help, how-to, business, and lifestyle content.

Instagram
Of Instagram’s 1.4 billion users, the highest percentage are aged 25-34, followed closely by users who are aged 18-24. Because Instagram is a photo and video platform, highly visual, aesthetic, and/or informative content reign supreme. Personality-driven lifestyle authors will continue to find a receptive audience on Instagram, as will self-help, business, and how-to nonfiction authors. YA, historical fiction, romance, and mysteries also perform well on Instagram.

TikTok
With 732 million users, TikTok is one of the fastest growing social media platforms, with more than 50% of users under the age of 34 (the majority are teens). “BookTok” has already become a popular buzzword in the literary sphere. YA authors–fantasy in particular–will perform best on TikTok. Romance, historical fiction, and paranormal fiction will also thrive on BookTok. Nonfiction authors who specialize in true crime and “life hacks” can also find a dedicated following in this space. As with YouTube, be prepared to create regular short-form video content that does not always revolve around your book(s) in order to find success.

Pinterest
Pinterest has 478 million users. 77.1% of users are female, and 38% are 50-64 years old, with the 30-49 demographic coming in second place at 34%. Like Instagram, Pinterest is driven by images, so “aesthetic” genres like adult historical fiction, fantasy, and romance will draw attention. Lifestyle how-tos are also incredibly popular. Unlike Instagram, book discovery is more circumstantial rather than personality-driven, so we would recommend using Pinterest to promote your book if you are familiar with and actively engaged on the platform already.

Twitter
Twitter has 397 million users, 63.7% of whom are male. Twitter is the perfect platform for political, social commentary, historical, self-help, and business nonfiction. Content can be either topical or personality-driven. While any author in any genre can have a Twitter page, we would recommend using Twitter to promote your book if you are already familiar with and actively engaged on the platform.

 

Ask an Expert: Interview with BookToker Azanta Thakur @AzantaReads on BookTok and BookTalk

Today on our Ask an Expert series, we’re excited to sit down with BookToker Azanta Thakur for a conversation on why TikTok is transforming publishing, and the future of readers and authors on social media. Azana is an avid reader and literary advocate who has created a substantial platform on TikTok (aka “BookTok”), with more than 17,000 TikTok followers on her account @azantareads, and more than 5,000 followers on Instagram. She is also the founder of BookTalk, a new digital conference that is connecting authors and readers like never before.

Learn more about Azanta, BookTok, and BookTalk below, and follow Azanta on social media:
TikTok: tiktok.com/@azantareads
Instagram: instagram.com/azantareads
BookTalk / instagram.com/booktalkevent

When did you first get involved in BookTok? Were you a Bookstagrammer prior to joining TikTok, and if so, what prompted you to branch out to BookTok?

I’ve been on Bookstagram since November of 2018 and joined BookTok in January of 2021 after landing on BookTok on my personal for you page. I had been avidly following BookTokers like @lluuuuuuu_ and @aymansbooks for a few weeks and after seeing how quickly people had connected over their shared love of books, I decided to make a couple of videos. I still consider Instagram my true main platform but because I have more followers on TikTok, I tend to focus more on my content on TikTok now.

Which genres / types of books do you enjoy reading the most?

I’ve been an avid YA fantasy reader for years and I don’t see myself growing out of that any time soon, especially with all the new fantasy books entering the market being inspired by different cultures. As a teenager, I read mostly western-inspired and Eurocentric fantasies because that’s what I had access to but now there are books like Witches Steeped in Gold and A Song of Wraiths and Ruin and the upcoming The Keeper of Night that span across the world. At the end of 2020, I started broaching Adult Fantasy as well as Adult Romance. I’m still working through my intimidation of adult fantasy books but these days, I find myself gravitating towards more romance books than fantasy. They’re fantastic to help work through reading slumps!

What types of BookTok content do you enjoy creating the most?

Although they’re far and few between, I love making my little skits. I love to incorporate hijab jokes in them because I just get a kick out of them and those videos are when I feel the most creative and although I’m not normally a very funny person, I find them hilarious. I’m a very big proponent of creating content that I myself would consume and one day, when I find some more time, I’m going to get back to making more of those minute-long skits!

What are some misconceptions that you’ve seen people have about BookTok / TikTok in general? What do you think people don’t understand about BookTok?

I think for some reason people think we get paid a ton of money to promote books. Sure, some of the bigger BookTokers do get paid, whether it’s via views or via contracts with publishers/sponsors, but it’s nothing like booktube/YouTube in general. Most of us don’t get paid at all, and if we do, it’s a small remuneration here and there. All the books I promote are ones that I truly love, enjoy, and recommend. Another misconception that I’ve seen a lot of people have lately is that BookTok is a harsh, critical place with constant drama. And while yes, there tends to be a lot of discourse surrounding constructive criticism, calling someone out (politely) to do better — especially when it’s related to race and diversity in publishing — is not drama. BookTok is not only a place to partake in the bookish community and celebrate our collective thirst over fictional characters but also a place full of educational opportunities!

What advice would you give to authors who are interested in joining TikTok to promote their books?

Interact with BookTokers/readers in your comments — people love it! Be sure to use trending audios and partake in trends if you want to promote your videos and turn on your Q&A for readers to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to reach out to larger BookTokers to introduce yourself if you’re a new author, as well!

What is BookTalk? How / why did you found BookTalk?

Thank you so much for asking! I founded BookTalk back in March of this year as a way to bring together the community we were creating on BookTok and Bookstagram by connecting authors, readers, and those in the publishing industry. I set out to create a weekend full of events and panels — think Yallwest, but smaller, virtual, and focused on debut/newer/authors from marginalized backgrounds. I reached out to several of my mutuals a few months ago, asking them to come on board and help with this massive project, and thus, BookTalk was born!

How did this year’s BookTalk conference go?

Honestly, BookTalk 2021 hit every single one of the goals we had set out to do. The night before we announced BookTalk in May, the Leads and I sat down together and defined our versions of success. We collectively agreed that we would be “successful” if we managed to introduce a new author and a new book to even just one reader and helped them connect with other readers. Over the course of the weekend, we received several messages from participants saying exactly that — how they were so excited to read these new books and how many friends they had made. We created a community for readers, by readers, and I could not be more proud of it.

Where do you see BookTalk going in the future?

There is so much potential with BookTalk and I hope to take it to the lengths I see in my visions for our organization. We will obviously continue our summer virtual event full of author panels and activities for participants and we hope to expand from one to two weekends for 2021. Beyond our event, we eventually have the goal of doing an in-person event in addition to our virtual one, as well continuing with events throughout the entire year to build hype for books. We will continue to bring BookTokers and Bookstagrammers onto our team so that we can create collective content for readers and we hope to introduce a book club, a podcast, and other platforms to promote authors on.