Is TikTok the next Bookstagram?

You’ve seen it in the headlines, heard about it incessantly from your teenage niece, or (perhaps) you’ve even downloaded it yourself. Let’s talk about TikTok. 

TikTok is a very popular app that promotes the creation of short-form video content and slideshows of no more than 1 minute in length. The app is designed so that videos have a much greater chance of going viral than, say, content on Instagram or even YouTube. 

As of the time of writing this blog, TikTok has approximately 800 million monthly users, ranking just behind Instagram (1 billion monthly users). However the app is only two years old, so its growth rate is substantial. It also received a huge download boost during March-July 2020 due to Covid-19 lockdown. 50% of users in the US are under the age of 35, with the majority of users being 16-24

Like Bookstagram, TikTok has a healthy book community. YA is the most popular genre on TikTok due to its demographic, with YA Fantasy and YA Romance/Rom-Com being among the top most popular subgenres

Just like Bookstagrammers, BookTokers are influencers who review books, offer recommendations, and flex the extensiveness of their shelves (such as @zacharyjamesoffical, @treofpaperbacks, and @amysbooknook. Authors are beginning to find very influential platforms on TikTok as well, and since the app is still relatively new, it’s not inundated/saturated with authors just yet. TikTok viewers (who are often young, aspirational writers themselves), love connecting with authors writing in their favorite genres, or engage with videos of fellow writers explaining their successes, tips, and struggles. 

There is a niche on TikTok for EVERYTHING. So what makes a video become popular or go viral? Here’s the thing: Nobody knows. TikTok’s algorithm is notoriously “uncrackable” (as far as users are concerned, at least) meaning that even frequent users don’t really know why some content becomes popular and others, well, doesn’t. The pro is that technically anything can go viral; the con is that “trying to go viral” is a mystifying and frustrating endeavor. But there are a few indicators of success. 

When you publish a TikTok video, the video will not be visible to 800 million users — instead, it will be introduced to a pool of a few dozen (based on what content those users have engaged with previously). If your video is watched from start to finish, liked, and shared by that small pool of users, TikTok will then “show” it to a pool of a few hundred, and then if engagement is still high, they’ll “show” it to a few thousand, and so on and so on.

Videos with high engagement get exposed to more viewers. Engagement is measured by likes, shares, comments, duets, and view time (watching the video from start to finish is best). Videos tend to get highest viewership (aka most exposure to viewers/higher engagement) within the first three hours of posting, but not always — every person who engages with your video can give it a little “boost” in the algorithm (meaning suddenly more people see it), so videos can go viral “later,” like 3-5 days after posting. This is the exception though, not the norm.

Again: No one knows the exact formula for making something go viral. Success can feel very arbitrary. However, popular TikTok content is pretty much always entertaining, authentic, and relatable. Seriously, leave your sales pitches at the door — no one is interested. But if you entertain, are authentic, or are relatable (or best, a combination of all three), the influence/following you’ll gain is extensive and unlimited. Telling people to “buy my book!” on TikTok is content-death — but authentically demonstrating your passion for your work and then asking people to check out your book / showing why it’s appealing can have a huge effect. Viewers on TikTok want to support creators; demonstrate why they should support you. 

Why do virtual events have higher attendance but lower sales?

 

After a monumental shift to hosting 2020 author events online, many bookstores reported that attendance for virtual events is higher (sometimes much higher) than for physical book events–but event-related sales are way down.

In fact, during a briefing at the SIBA/NAIBA trade show in September 2020, Brooklyn bookstore Greenlight Books (who had hosted 150+ virtual events since March!) shared that one event drew 80 online attendees, but they only sold 12 books. And this rate is actually above average: many booksellers are reporting an average sales conversion of 10% for virtual events. So what’s happening?

There could be any number of reasons for this, but one intriguing possibility revolves around active vs. passive investment.

It takes effort to attend a physical event: you have to get ready (even if you just put on your shoes), travel to the venue, potentially spend money on fuel or food while you’re out, and spend at least a couple of hours outside of your home. That’s active investment; you’ve put work into being in that space, and this increases your stake in what you “take away” from the event at the end of the night, whether intangible (general enjoyment) or tangible (a book or other purchase).

Subtle social pressures may also influence sales at physical events: the signing and sales are public, and choosing to buy–or not buy–the book may feel “noticed” by other attendees, booksellers, or the author. At physical events, you have an opportunity to connect with an author directly, and even this brief interaction can create a positive impression, even a feeling of “relationship,” that incentivizes you to support the author with a book purchase.

Contrast this to a virtual event, where there’s no expectation to dress to “go out,” no travel is required, and you can turn off your video and “disappear” from the event at any point without scrutiny. This is more passive investment. You can’t peruse store shelves, or mingle with other participants in a physical space. The bar to attendance is lower than ever–but “attending” is not the same thing as engaging.

In addition, the instant gratification of the book signing a challenge. At traditional author events, attendees who buy a book during the event leave with it in-hand. Physical book signings also enable readers to have direct, personalized experiences with authors. Not so with virtual events: Book plates and mass-signed stock don’t have the same personalized feeling, and waiting on a book delivery is not as satisfying as leaving with it. A lack of physical connection and instant gratification also contribute to lower sales and event engagement.

During virtual events, book sales are handled privately and not publicly, and (much like any online shopping experience) passive investment, distraction, apathy, lack of peer pressure, and even the subtle inconvenience of writing in your payment/shipping details can result in fewer purchases.

Virtual events have lowered the bar for participation, which dramatically increases attendance — but not sales. It’s important to understand that, for the time being at least, online events revolve less around sales and more around:

  1. pure necessity (as some stores just aren’t able to physically reopen right now),
  2. enabling participants to join regardless of location (meaning you now have a better chance of working with bookstores that aren’t necessarily “local,” and involving nonlocal participants from around the world), and
  3. engaging with your audience in fresh new ways.

Online events are still your time to shine. Even if there’s not an immediate sales boost, increased attendance and exposure during virtual events can have a positive impact on growing your readership, relationships, and sales long-term. So if you’re wondering if you should participate in virtual events, the answer is a resounding: yes! Understanding the challenges and opportunities of this unique virtual space will help you set better expectations, get creative, and strategize how to best invest your own time and energy during your event!

6 Fun Things You Can Do While Procrastinating On Your NaNoWriMo 2020 Novel

NaNoWriMo 2020 is here y’all! Annnd…we’re tired. Like, really tired. Maybe you can relate.

Maybe the events of this year have you bursting with pent up angst creative energy, ready to channel all of your insecurity anxiety anger ideas onto the page, allowing yourself to be absorbed by the escapism of writing. Or maybe you’re sitting in front of that blank blinking cursor trying to mobilize your brain into some semblance of sentence structure, tea gone tepid as you wonder “Where do I even start?” Or, “Why is all of this garbage?”

For those who may be feeling a little less than inspired this year — we get it. And it’s time to plan your procrastination strategy. Wait wait, here us out. Exhaustion naturally results in a lack of creative energy, difficulty focusing, and (you guessed it) procrastination. This year we invite you to skip the guilt trip and plan ahead. Don’t just schedule your well-earned writing breaks; actually allow for time off that isn’t tied in any way to your productivity. You can even add a space to your calendar titled “Time I ‘should’ be working on my NaNoWriMo novel but I’m procrastinating and no one can stop me.” Procrastination sans guilt can be very edifying, and may even give you a little creative boost.

How should you fill your procrastination time? The answer is, of course, however you’d like. But before you fall into another mind-numbing social media rabbit hole, consider that there may be more fun, interesting ways to procrastinate. Here are a few:

Make a funny photo series or video about procrastinating. Documenting your NaNoWriMo journey does not have to be all pretty Instagram images of steamy beverages beside computers or humble brags about your word count. Plenty of authors are procrastinating just like you; they’re just not showing it online. Create a tongue-in-cheek photo series or video about the trials, tribulations, and procrastinations of NaNoWriMo; no doubt countless authors can relate (and will be relieved that they’re not the only one!).

Make an over-the-top snack or dessert. Good procrastination needs food fuel, and procrastination fuels the best food. You don’t have to be a Master Chef or a Great British Bake Off contestant to whip up a dish worthy of either (at least as far as your taste buds are concerned). Imagine the best possible snack you could eat right now, the most delicious thing you could think of piling together. Then go make it. You can also look up a new recipe for an especially tasty dish or dessert, something you wouldn’t normally give yourself time to make, and give it a try!

Do a random chore or run an errand that you’ve been putting off. Isn’t it funny how when we’re procrastinating on one task, suddenly we must go accomplish another task we’ve been putting off RIGHT NOW? Lean into that. Go buy that fancy cooking item you meant to get that one time. Rearrange your bedroom furniture, or organize your closet by color. Go drop off that dog grooming kit you should have taken to your aunt months ago. Look at how productive you are! No matter how big or small, now’s the time to prod-crastinate.

Design a wardrobe for each of your character(s). Use Pinterest, draw, create a photo file or PowerPoint, or even cut out pictures from magazines. What elements define your characters’ individual styles? What would their activewear look like? How would they dress for an elegant event? What about their casual day-to-day attire? If they could time travel, what would they wear in various eras?

Create a mood board for your ideas and aesthetics. When you imagine the “feel” of your book — its settings, mood, character styles, and various aesthetics, what do you think of? Collect various images that you associate with the world you’re building. These can be literal or figurative interpretations; totally up to you. Digital Pinterest boards are perfect for this, but physical boards with collaged cut-outs can be great as well.

Write a 1-3 page short story or a poem you intend to delete. Feel like what you’ve written is trash that you want to burn in a fire? Good _ let’s do some more of that. Write a silly, random, and/or bad short story or poem that is unrelated to your NaNoWriMo project. You can even use a random idea generator to get started. Pour that frustration into this; show that page what bad writing really is. You even start having fun with how over the top you can go. Delete the piece at the end — or, you might find that you actually enjoyed it enough to keep it.

“Tell Me a Ghost Story:” The Books Forward Team Shares Tales of the Supernatural

Picture this: You’re gathered around the campfire on a crisp October night, s’more in hand, the moon high overhead, when somebody asks: “Does anyone know any good ghost stories?” Chances are that you’ve heard a good ghost story or a creepy urban legend in your time. Perhaps you’ve even had a spectral encounter yourself, or know someone who claims this experience. Our Books Forward team loves a good spooky story (especially during Halloween), so let’s gather around the virtual campfire and trade our favorite supernatural stories, urban myths, and tales of terror! 

The Farmhouse 

“My dad has always sworn that he had a ghostly encounter when he was a kid. He told me that my great grandparents used to live in an old farmhouse up in the Tennessee countryside that was rumored to be haunted. One night when he was 10, he went to stay with them on his first overnight visit. The guest room was technically the master bedroom; a little weird, but he didn’t think anything of it. It was a hot July evening and they didn’t have any AC, so the windows were open, and it took him a long time to fall asleep. But in the middle of the night he woke up suddenly: the room was freezing, so cold he could see his breath, and he said there was a static feeling in the air. He thought he was dreaming. But there was a rocking chair in the corner, and as he watched it started rocking — just a little at first, but then faster and faster, until it was practically scooting on the floor. He started screaming and his grandma rushed in: as soon as she flipped on the light, the rocking chair stopped moving and the temperature rose. He said he still would have thought he had been dreaming — except there was condensation on the windows from the sudden temperature change. 

The next morning, his grandma calmly explained that she and her husband had experienced several unexplained phenomena in the house (things moving, temperature changes, etc). She even went as far to say that a local rumor about a murder-suicide of a couple who lived there in the 1930s was probably true, because there was a bullet hole in the kitchen wall. She assured him that, if there were ghosts in the house, they couldn’t hurt him. It was the first and only supernatural encounter my dad ever had, in that house or anywhere else. Nevertheless, he never stayed overnight again. 

My dad has stuck by this story throughout my entire life. He says he’s not even sure ghosts are ‘real’ or that he believes in them, but he nevertheless maintains he experienced something that can’t be explained.”

 — Chelsea Apple, Content Creator

The Sultan’s Mansion

“I live in New Orleans, one of the most haunted cities in America, so of course I have a ghost story or two to tell! There are nightly ghost tours throughout the French Quarter, and I happen to live near one of the famous stops, the Sultan’s Mansion. I’ve heard several versions of this story, but my favorite goes like this: 

A mysterious man who claimed to be the brother of a Turkish sultan moved into the multi-story house, and every night from then on were lavish parties with loud, exotic music, booze flowing freely and beautiful women dancing high up on the balconies. This went on for weeks, but then one rainy night, there was stark silence. A woman walking her dog saw blood spilling from the doorway into the street and called for the police to come immediately. The police arrived at a gory scene, dismembered bodies throughout the mansion and the sultan’s brother freshly buried in the courtyard. No one knows for sure why this massacre occurred, but they suspect the man who moved into the house had actually fled his home country after stealing his brother’s riches and harem, and the sultan got his revenge. 

Today? The Sultan’s Mansion is separated into apartments. I knew someone who lived there, and let’s just say the ghostly happenings inside that house creeped her out so much, she moved out a month later.”

 — Angelle Barbazon, Lead Publicist 

A Rocking Chair for Charlotte

“The middle school I went to in sixth grade had a girl’s locker room haunted by a girl named Linda Landy who died there years ago after a tragic accident. There was a plaque outside honoring her and everything. There were multiple instances where people felt as if they were being pushed while we got ready for PE. There was a heaviness about the locker room in general. 

I also had a friend who lived in the old post hospital that was renovated into a house. There was a mother named Charlotte and baby who died there and it was a genuine rule that whoever lived in the house had to provide a rocking chair for Charlotte. If you didn’t have one, they would supply one. His bedroom was the old morgue and he invited us over to see the house once. When we were there we went upstairs to where the rocking chair was and it started to move slowly. There was no window open and the AC was off and I still have no explanation.” 

 — Rachel Hutchings, Publicist 

Electric Rougarou

“As a native Louisianan, there’s one urban legend that instantly comes to mind: the Rougarou. Funny name but terrifying to think about. The werewolf-ish creature stalks the swamps and bayous of southeastern Louisiana, allegedly feasting on disobedient Catholics who don’t observe Lent. (I could breathe a sigh of relief growing up in Evangelical north Louisiana!) 

But I do know a lot of people whose parents scolded them as children, threatening them with, “If you don’t behave, the Rougarou is gonna get you!” But you could protect yourself from the monstrous dog creature by putting 13 pennies or rocks on your doorstep or windowsill for him to try and count (he’s REALLY bad at math, and this will distract him until he ultimately gives up and goes back to the swamp.)”

 — Jennifer Vance, Publicist 

Deja BOO!

“I’ve always had a lot of deja vu — when I was younger, I just assumed I was a witch, naturally, but someone told me a story about deja vu when I was a teenager that has always stuck with me and creeped me out. They said that deja vu happens when a spirit has appeared and needs to mist over our memory of what we’ve just seen because it was too much for us to handle. So now I shiver EVERY TIME I have deja vu — what did I just miss, and who has been messing with my mind?”

–Ellen Whitfield, Senior Publicist 

Bloody Mary

“I’m not saying I believed in Bloody Mary…but I didn’t not believe. The Bloody Mary legend I heard was sort of like a dare: you were meant to go into a bathroom, turn out the light, close the door, and chant her name while staring in the bathroom mirror. Supposedly she was meant to show up in the mirror and — well, I’m not sure what was meant to happen next, but I’m guessing it wasn’t good! I definitely would get freaked out when friends tried to summon her in the bathroom in grade school. I never did so myself. However, I did overcome my fear by dressing as Bloody Mary for Halloween with a New Orleans spin. I used a mirror and a fake Bloody Mary drink to make it look as if the drink was pouring over my head!”

 — Marissa DeCuir, President & Partner

The Invention of Horror Literature

October is the perfect time for a good ole ghost story or scary movie, but did you know that the “horror genre” is a relatively modern invention? While some staples of horror (such as witches, demons, bloodsuckers, spirits, and other malevolent entities) have haunted folklore, mythologies, and classic literature for centuries, “horror” as a marketable genre has really only come into its own in the past two centuries. So how did our most shudder-worthy literature come to exist–and why so recently? 

Ancient civilizations had a healthy fear of (and fixation on) witches and evil spirits. The Greeks had several stories featuring vampires called lamiæ or empusæ (which appeared as early as 450 B.C.E. in Aristophanes’ The Frogs). Biblical texts contain stories of demonic possession, and make several references to the dangers of “conjurers.” The Inquisition in 1235 ignited a publication frenzy of literature about witches (all reportedly “nonfiction”) which continued into the 16th century. Meanwhile, Dante’s Inferno (1307) fueled public imagination about the monstrous denizens of the afterlife. Witches and ghostly spectres also feature prominently in Shakespeare’s work, particularly Titus Andronicus (1594), Hamlet (1600), and Macbeth (1605). 

While many stories featured “horror” elements, the first notable work centered on supernatural occurrences was Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto (1764). The youngest son of prime minister Robert Walpole, Horace was fascinated by medieval history, and even built his own Gothic-revival castle, Strawberry Hill. In his novel, Walpole combined medieval beliefs about the supernatural with modern (for his era) literary realism in order to saturate his work with unpredictable dread–and the (rather bizarre and melodramatic) result is regarded as the first work of Gothic literature. 

The success of Walpole’s novel inspired similar books about ominous castles and diabolical nobility, such as Anne Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) and Matthew Gregory Lewis’s The Monk (1796). Gothic literature continued to feature high melodrama, romance, and a range of sinister threats, until a fateful literary experiment propelled the genre into new territory. 

That experiment occurred the night Mary Shelley, her future husband Percy Shelley, Dr. John Wiliam Polidori, his patient Lord Byron, and Mary’s stepsister Jane Claremont found themselves trapped by rain at the Shelleys’ summer villa, where Byron challenged the group to a spooky story-writing contest. Mary Shelley’s story would ultimately become Frankenstein (1818), credited as one of the first works of sci-fi / science-based horror. Dr. Polidori’s story, “The Vampyre” (1819), was the first popular work about vampirism published in England (made more popular by the view that the titular “vampyre” was a parody of Lord Byron), and the first work to introduce the idea of “the gentleman vampire.” Both novels were immediately successful. Boom–the market was evident, and other writers began racing to accommodate. 

Enter an author who needs no introduction: Edgar Allen Poe, whose stories of hauntings, murder, and revenge cemented key genre tropes that continue to thrive to this day. Beginning in 1833 with his first short story “MS. Found in a Bottle” (in which an otherworldly summons lures a man on a doomed seafaring adventure), Poe blended the best of the Gothic supernatural with the notion that dark, sinister impulses could lie within even the most mundane, “ordinary” individual. 

Meanwhile, the Industrial Revolution was underway — and crime, violence, murder were on the rise in cramped cities. Cheap works of mystery and gore called “Penny Dreadfuls” were becoming popular, mass-produced entertainment during the 1840s. Vampires and vengeful spirits were still prominent, but a new class of horror was growing: the rise of crime literature, centered on diabolical murderers who were not castle-dwelling nobles, but “normal” citizens who committed ghastly deeds, “hiding in plain sight” among fellow city-dwellers. Inspired by true crimes of the day, works such as Thomas Prest’s “Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber” (1847), Robert Browning’s The Ring and the Book (1868), and Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1885) all dealt with the evil impulses that could lie at the heart of the “everyman” — and all were instant successes. 

While the popularity of the undead never died (inspired by writers before him, Bram Stoker’s Dracula would take the world by storm in 1897, and remains a staple to this day), the rise of technological innovation and emphasis on “future technology” at the turn of the century transformed horror again. In 1898, H.G. Wells published The War of the Worlds, ushering in a new brand of terror: cosmic, technologically advanced, alien (read: foreign) and futuristic. With the publication of his first short story “Dagon” in 1919, H.P. Lovecraft would continue to push the boundaries of cosmic horror until his death in 1937, creating worlds at once both ancient and mythological, and also incalculably advanced. 

During the 20th century, the Great Depression and both World Wars fueled a growing sense of social unease that there were devastating, unreasonable forces at work in the world, forces that would leave one helpless and bereft. Yet society was painfully reminded that human beings were at the heart of these modern catastrophes, expanding the idea that mankind itself was fundamentally destructive and corrupt. The world was no longer a safe, predictable, or trustworthy place–not on a micro scale (as during the citywide crime rise of the Industrial Revolution), nor on a macro, worldwide one. Change was rapid. Humankind flawed. The future uncertain. The stage was set for all imaginable terrors to come into play.

By the mid-to-late 20th century, the most popular modern horror tropes of today bursting into public imagination: the sci-fi/alien threat and the dystopian society can be attributed in no small part to Ray Bradbury (The Martian Chronicles in 1950 and Fahrenheit 451 in 1953)  the serial killer (Robert Bloch’s novel Psycho in 1959); the occult (Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby in 1967); the demonic (William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist in 1971); the paranormal (Stephen King’s first novel Carrie in 1973–and pretty much all of his novels thereafter); and the monster story (Peter Benchley’s Jaws in 1975). Even vampires would make a resurgence with Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire in 1976, albeit a much sexier and more sympathetic portrayal that persists today. 

Blockbuster films further cemented these stories in popular culture and inspired today’s horror storytellers. In fact, thanks to cinema we are widely touted to be in the midst of a “horror Renaissance” of smart, well-crafted, and absolutely terrifying media. While film and streaming services have created unprecedented competition for literature, great storytelling inspires great storytelling, regardless of medium. So look out for the next generation of incredible, iconic horror stories 

 

7 Nonfiction Reads That Are (Almost) Too Crazy to Be True

You know that wide-eyed, jaw-drop feeling you get when you hear a story that’s so outrageous, so out-of-the-park bonkers you think there’s no way it can be true? Followed by that alarming (yet bizarrely satisfying) feeling you get when you Google or fact check said outrageous story and discover it is, in fact, facts? That’s exactly the sensation we had when we dove into these bizarre nonfiction reads. These books had us shaking our heads, gasping for air, exclaiming out loud–and then left us super eager to share with everyone we know. Here are seven nonfiction books that are (almost) too crazy to be true: 

I’ll admit, anything in the healthcare/technology fields confuse me, so I was surprised when I got sucked in by Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou. For Elizabeth Holmes to finesse and fraud her way into a multibillion-dollar startup speaks to a lot of different privileges. If you’re hooked on true crime of the white collar variety, this one’s a must-read. (Jennifer Vance, Publicist)

Educated by Tara Westover is one of the craziest coming of age memoirs that I’ve ever read. The author was raised by a survivalist father, and her family went along with his whims — often endangering their own lives. Tara and her siblings didn’t receive a formal education, so she taught herself, and eventually went on to study at schools like Harvard and Cambridge. (Ellen Whitfield, Lead Publicist) 

Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson sounds like something straight out of the speculative fantasy and thriller books that I love. With a surprisingly gripping and engaging narrative, this historical nonfiction tells the story of two architects: Daniel H. Burnham, a young man tasked with designing the famous “White City” exhibition of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, and H. H. Holmes, widely regarded as America’s first serial killer and the mastermind behind the infamous “Murder Hotel,” where he lured unspecting fairgoers to their deaths in ingeniously macabre ways. The story of these two men — Holmes in particular — is so shocking and incredible that it’s hard to believe this really happened! (Chelsea Apple, Content Creator).

I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O’Farrell is a memoir of sorts in short stories, but each of those stories explores a near-death experience from the author. Each account is a reflection on life and what it means to live in this world. O’Farrell’s alarmingly frequent encounters with multiple types of danger gives her writing a sense of wisdom and melancholy, but also seems to prepare her to be the perfect mother to a child with a life-threatening immune disorder. I read this book as a love letter to her daughter — “See? Look what I survived. And you will too.” (Ellen Whitfield, Lead Publicist) 

Dr. Mütter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz tells the story of a game-changing surgeon. Before he stepped on the scene, there was no bedside manner, there were no sterile operating rooms, and there was no anesthesia. The picture the author paints of the medical world in the early 1800s is cringeworthy and ghastly, and will make you thankful Mütter was around. (Ellen Whitfield, Lead Publicist) 

I was upset most of the time reading Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan because I wanted more than anything for the people in her life to believe and support her. Suffering from an extremely rare disease, it was fascinating seeing how she not only found her way to a correct diagnosis and recovery but also how she leaned on the people around her to help research and reconstruct the narrative of her own life. (Jennifer Vance, Publicist)

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore is about the girls who worked to paint the illuminated numbers on watch faces around the same time as the first world war. The only problem is that they were using radium, and they soon began to get sick. The way the workers and the people in charge reacted and covered up what was going on still echoes today. (Ellen Whitfield, Lead Publicist)

Books & Binge: Nonfiction Addiction

The “real life” TV and nonfiction books we can’t get enough of

Like many of you, our to-watch lists have gotten pretty long this year. Whether you’re addicted to Netflix docuseries or you can’t get enough of A-lister dramas on Hulu and HBO, there’s no way to deny it: we are in a golden age of quality TV. But how do we stay on top of our to-read lists while indulging our streaming habits?

Welcome to Books & Binge, a blog series where we talk about what we’re watching and reading. After all, who doesn’t love a great reading and TV recommendation? This week we’re talking about our favorite nonfiction, so whether you’re a true crime junkie, a food documentary enthusiast, or a self-improvement seeker, we’ve got a book and a show recommendation for you — read on!

Jennifer Vance, Publicist
I’m one of those true crime junkies, so I was very happy when the book club I’m a part of took my suggestion to read I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara. As a former journalist, I admired the way McNamara spent years investigating the Golden State Killer as an amateur detective, her dogged determination to find justice for his victims. The writing is simply beautiful, unlike typical true crime books, and is a must-read for anyone who considers themselves a fan of the genre.

Or, you can turn on the new HBO series of the same name! The six-episode docuseries is a short, but addicting, ride into one of the United States’ most infamous serial killers — and the woman who refused to forget about him or his victims.

Jackie Karneth, Publicist
Director Halina Dryschka’s documentary Beyond the Visible: Hilma af Klint wants you to forget everything you thought you knew about art history. Welcome to the dazzling world of forgotten artist Hilma af Klint, who began creating abstract art in 1906, before there was any terminology for the style – and before Wassily Kandinsky, who is universally credited as the first abstract painter, began creating his truly abstract works. “Beyond the Visible” reveals how patriarchal and capitalist influences have shaped art history, while at the same time honoring the life of a gifted painter and showcasing the greatest works of art you’ve never seen before.

For a great nonfiction read, I’d recommend Being Here is Everything: The Life of Paula Modersohn-Becker, by Marie Darrieussecq, translated by Penny Hueston. Darrieussecq’s small-but-mighty book imitates the life of its subject, the short-lived, yet prolific German expressionist painter, Paula Modersohn-Becker. A significant figure in modernism, Modersohn-Becker, when mentioned at all by scholars, is often drawn up as the friend of poet Rainer Maria Rilke. Yet, despite working alongside such names you already know — Picasso, Matisse — Modersohn-Becker remained, until now, an anonymous pioneer of early expressionism. Part feminist manifesto, part well-researched biography, Being Here is Everything is a luminous examination of the lone female artist.

Marissa Decuir, President
I just finished the period drama Pose, and it’s really sitting with me in a powerful way. An utterly fantastic visual display of New York’s underground ballroom culture — the clothes, the trophies, the VOGUING! — with a compelling cast which has inspired me like no other. It’s a true shame none of the women have been nominated for an Emmy.

I’m also diving into director and executive producer Janet Mock’s memoir Redefining Realness. “Femininity in general is seen as frivolous. People often say feminine people are doing “the most,” meaning that to don a dress, heels, lipstick and big hair is artifice, fake, and a distraction. But I knew even as a teenager that my femininity was more than just adornments, they were extensions of me, enabling me to express myself and my identity. My body, my clothes and my makeup are on purpose, just as I am on purpose.”

Ellen Whitfield, Senior Publicist
Years ago, I read Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential and absolutely fell in love. The star writes about his experiences in restaurant kitchens and the debauchery that takes place behind the scenes. I don’t remember why I initially picked it up, but it sparked a love of food memoirs and documentaries.

One of the most recent food documentaries I’ve enjoyed is Somebody Feed Phil on Netflix. Phil Rosenthal, whose producing credits include Everybody Loves Raymond, travels around the world and explores different cuisines. I love it because he’s not some famous chef or expert critic — he’s just a guy who really loves food and has a lot of enthusiasm for it!

Angelle Barbarzon, Lead Publicist
The last documentary series I binged was Wild Wild Country on Netflix, and it’s, well … wild! This six-part series follows the beginnings of a cult created by an Indian guru that later expanded to the U.S., building their own city in Oregon and causing an uproar among all the people who originally lived in the area. Wild Wild Country dives deep into the community’s beliefs, the abuse of power within its leadership and the complicated dynamics that led to the group’s evolution and the people who held the reigns behind the scenes. This series is so intriguing!

My recommended read would be Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies: And Other Rituals to Fix Your Life, from Someone Who’s Been There by Tara Schuster. This book came into my life at exactly the right moment, a time when I felt like I needed to refocus and make some positive changes. Reading Tara Schuster’s book was like having a conversation with a good friend. It’s brimming with thoughtful advice for self care that you can easily put into practice. If you feel like your life is a bit (or 100%) messy, pick up this book!

Brittany Kennell, Digital Marketing Strategist
The last nonfiction book I really enjoyed was A House In The Sky by Amanda Lindhout. While traveling at a young age — Amanda set out to explore, photograph and journal countries most of us will never travel in our lifetimes, not even in a group. Yet she set out to take on Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Syria *alone* (just to name a few) making friends along the way. On her fourth day in Somalia, Amanda and her friend Nigel are abducted and held for ransom by Islamist insurgents. I could not put this book down until I knew Amanda and her friend Nigel were home safe and free of being held captive. This book is survival, strength and bravery — Amanda’s story gave me a whole new perspective on life.

I’m a big fan of sports docuseries. I’m just finishing up The Last Dance, which is fantastic! I also loved watching Last Chance U and I think mainly because I love hearing different backgrounds and stories that fuel passion. I love rooting for the underdogs, and watching dreams come true.

What “true life” show do you want us to binge, and what nonfiction books do you recommend? Tell us Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, and we’ll spotlight your suggestions in our next post!

5 Hilarious and Irreverent Picture Books For Adults

Picture books transport us with their sweet illustrations and wholesome stories–that is, unless you stumble on the sub genre of picture books aimed at adults. The illustrations may be equally sweet, yet the stories are anything but. The result is an irreverent, ironic, and downright irresistible contrast that is perfect for unpretentious parents, novelty gifters, and readers with a sardonic sense of humor. So if you’re looking for something a little less saccharine and a little more sacreligious, buckle up for this list of hilarious picture books that are not meant for kids!

All My Friends Are Dead by Avery Monsen and Jory John
Sometimes things are going swell and life is full of friends, and sometimes all your friends are dead. From a sock whose only friend has gone missing to a tree whose friends have all become end tables (except that guy) here is a darkly funny and brilliantly simple take on life’s inevitable setbacks and peculiar friendships (or lack thereof).

Go the F**k to Sleep by Adam Mansbach and Ricardo Cortes
Exhausted parents of the world, rejoice: this book is for you. This bestseller is pretty well-known (particularly thanks to Samuel L. Jackson’s infamous reading), and perfectly captures the not-so-zen side of bedtime. Anyone who has spent significant time putting kids to bed can relate to this cozily illustrated–and increasingly frustrated–journey of trying to lull little munchkins off to dreamland. It’s no Goodnight Moon, that’s for sure!

P is for Pterodactyl: The Worst Alphabet Book Ever by Raj Haldar, Chris Carpenter and Maria Beddia
There are books that teach kids how to read, and there are books that teach kids the truth about how nonsensical English spelling vs pronunciation can be. This one is the latter.

Someday a Bird Will Poop On You: A Life Lesson by Sue Salvi and Megan Kellie
Ok, so kids may enjoy this one, but adults will probably enjoy it a little more. This book tells that someday a bird will poop on all of us. But that’s okay. In a world of bad news, fake news, delays, disappointments, trash talk, and tweets, things are bound to get a little poopy. This modern parable about life hitting us with the unexpected says that “what matters is not how big the mess is, but how well you react to it.” Sounds like the perfect book for 2020.

Slothilda: Living the Sloth Life by Dante Fabiero
This is the book I wrote during lockdown. Just kidding–this is just an accurate representation of my life during lockdown. Here’s an adorably illustrated book for anyone who is feeling a little overwhelmed by their to-do lists, a little anxious about their habits, or a little procrastinator-y about their deadlines. I didn’t choose the sloth life. It chose me.

How Bookstores are Innovating Due to Covid-19

Independent bookstores had their fair share of hurdles before coronavirus, but thanks to the quote-unquote “new normal” of Covid-19 and social distancing, indie booksellers have had to dramatically reimagine their businesses.

When Seattle’s “Shelter in Place” order went into effect on March 24, Third Place Books had to close their physical stores, temporarily furlough some staff (with healthcare maintained), and essentially “learn how to run a bookstore remotely overnight,” said events manager Sam Kaas.

“It was like opening a whole new business,” he said. After six weeks of operating remotely, the store was able to offer curbside pickup. “That has been like opening another totally new business,” said Kaas. “We’ve fundamentally altered most of the basic framework of our jobs the past two months.”

Virtual events have been one of the most widespread transformations, with booksellers having to work creatively — and quickly — to transition to online programming.

Third Place Books experimented with multiple platforms (Facebook Live, Instagram, Zoom and Webinar) and are now trying Crowdcast. Initially their event attendance was higher than average (70-80 online, vs. 20 in-store) while sales were lower. Over time, Kaas says attendance has “settled into a more normal pattern” and sales have increased, with variation from event to event.

Shakespeare & Co has also transitioned to virtual programming. In addition to book launches and author events, they are hosting virtual creative writing workshops, online book clubs with author participation, and partnered events with other authors and organizations. Françoise Brodsky, Director of Community Outreach and Events, said that Zoom has been their preferred platform. Sales have varied, but “participation has increased, because it is not linked geographically anymore,” Brodsky said.

Doloris Vest at Book No Further said their store has also been working on virtual programming via Zoom. Although attendance fluctuates, their event pre-sales have been comparable to in-store events. Book No Further is trying other new strategies as well, such as offering small-group browsing and browsing-by-appointment, and improving store layout to ensure everything is clean, sales-friendly and easily accessible.

Some changes have been surprisingly positive. “We did more online sales in the first two months of the shut down than we had done in the previous/first eight months of our website,” Vest said.
Kaas said that the pandemic has presented new challenges, and also fresh innovations. “While booksellers have to be nimble every day to survive, our industry is also one where it’s easy to get into a rut, and to stick with what works until we’re forced to think of something new. This has forced us to think outside the box, which is crucial.”

All three bookstores confirmed that they intend to host virtual programming for the long-term. For many, pre-pandemic-style (dare we say “normal?”) business operations are not expected to resume before 2021. Even then, the book industry is writing a new chapter. It’s very likely that some changes — such as “hybrid” schedules of virtual and in-person events — are here to stay.