Ask an Expert: A Conversation with Bryan Robinson on How to Build a Successful Author Brand (Without Burning Out)

It’s important for authors to protect their mental health; like any other job, failing to care for your mental wellbeing can result in serious burnout. As an author and a psychotherapist, Bryan Robinson understands the unique challenges authors face when caring for their mental wellbeing. Robinson has successfully published numerous titles about combatting both workaholism and burnout, and taking care of yourself, including Chained to the Desk (4th edition – 2023), #Chill: Turn Off Your Job and Turn on Your Life (2019), and Daily Writing Resilience (2018). Today on the blog, he’s sharing some of his top tips about how to build a successful author brand, while caring for your mental health.

  1. What’s your top piece of advice for writers when it comes to mental health?
    When you receive a rejection (and you will; every great writer has), don’t take it personally. You can’t have an up without a down, a right without a left, a success without a failure. Writing success is built on writing failure. That’s how you learned to walk. You fell down a few times when you were a toddler before you could walk and run on your own. Your mindset is essential for your success. So remember rejection and success are a package deal.
  2. Are there certain groups or resources you recommend for writers to help them protect and improve their mental health and wellbeing?
    My book, DAILY WRITING RESILIENCE is exactly for that. It has 365 readings to deal with all the obstacles writers encounter on their literary trajectory. Also joining organizations such as International Thriller Writers or Mystery Writers of America and conferences such as Killer Nashville are supports every writer needs to develop resilience and stay in the game. It’s a lonely enterprise and support is essential to boost your self-confidence.
  3. What’s something you wish someone had told you as a debut author?
    Your book isn’t as great as you think it is, but you can make it great with the right attitude, persistence, and skill. Perseverance is as important or more important than a well written book. Too many debut writers give up because they can’t take the hard knocks. If you want to see your writing in print, never give up, keep learning, and take that towel you want to throw in, wipe the sweat off your brow, and keep on plugging away. And you’ll get there.
  4. You are an expert at branding yourself as an expert. Why is “branding” important (particularly for nonfiction authors)? What tips would you offer to other writers who are seeking to publicly “brand” themselves as experts in the subjects they are writing on?
    You have to have a platform, credentials, or extensive experience to be an expert. Sometimes that takes years of schooling or years of practice so that you truly are an expert. If you don’t have one, the first step is to develop your platform by working as a consultant or a writer gratis to get the experience under your belt part. Then you have to promote yourself. That’s the sticky part. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. If you have a book, your expertise is part of the product. If you shy away from talking about yourself and your skills out of modesty, you’re sabotaging your branding. Of course, you have to be discreet. Nobody wants to hear someone drone on about how much they know about something. But you need to find that line where you feel comfortable promoting yourself without carpet bombing people with the promotions.
  5. Bonus: In your opinion, what does it mean to be a “successful” writer?
    It’s a life dream. When I was seven, I wrote stories to get away from a dysfunctional childhood. A teacher teaches, a doctor heals people, a realtor sells everyday. A successful writer writes everyday, not just on a whim. A successful writer pens their craft because they are passionate about writing, not because they want to be famous or rich. If you lose your passion and don’t consider it as a job, you’re dead meat.

 

Bryan E. Robinson is an author, psychotherapist, and Professor Emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He is Chief Architect Officer (CAO) of ComfortZones Digital, Inc. He is a regular contributor to Killer Nashville Magazine, The Big Thrill, Thrive Global, and Forbes.com. He has authored forty nonfiction books, including his latest, the 4th edition of Chained to the Desk (2023) and #Chill: Turn Off Your Job and Turn on Your Life (2019). His books have been translated into fifteen languages, and he has written for over one-hundred professional journals and popular magazines. He has won two awards for writing and has lectured across the United States and throughout the world. His work has been featured on every major television network. Way DEAD Upon the Suwannee River has been made into a pilot for a television series under the name of Limestone Gumption, and he has completed the second novel in the series, She’ll Be KILLING ‘Round the Mountain. Robinson maintains a private clinical practice in Asheville, North Carolina and resides in the Blue Ridge Mountains with his spouse, four dogs, and occasional bears at night.

For more information, visit his website: www.bryanrobinsonbooks.com and www.comfortzonesdigital.com.

 

Ask an Expert: Should Authors Join TikTok?

“BookTok” (the reader community on TikTok) is showing up everywhere these days–but is it “worth it” for authors to join TikTok to promote their books? Stephanie Cooke is an award-winning writer, editor and author of the “Oh My Gods!” graphic novel duology and Paranorthern: And the Chaos Bunny A-hop-calypse, and she’s been growing her following on TikTok since last year (and you can follow her at @helloc00kie).

Today on the blog, she’s opening up about how being on TikTok has impacted her author career, what she’s found rewarding and challenging about the app, and her advice to other authors who are thinking of joining TikTok to promote their books.

1). When did you join TikTok?

2021, coinciding with when my first books came out. I felt like I wanted to try to reach younger audiences that aren’t as prevalent on other apps I use like Twitter.

2). Why did you initially join TikTok–what was your motivation? Did you always intend to use the platform to promote your books?

Yes, exactly. I was very wary of using yet another app and the learning curve involved there but I really wanted to try to promote and grow my audience. I also wanted to help people interested in creating comics and graphic novels find out about the process and what’s involved in it.

3). What kind of attitude did you perceive in your offline reading community (friends, agents, publishers, editors, publicists, and/or other authors) towards TikTok when you first joined? Were people excited about the platform? Nonchalant? Dismissive? Unaware of it entirely?

I think a lot of my friends felt wary of it in that they didn’t want to learn a new app and try to build a following from scratch. Also not everyone wants to be on video and that can be hard to find a niche for yourself there when that’s not your thing. I don’t think anyone in my professional circle was actively against it but I definitely didn’t know of a lot of people on it when I decided to try it out.

4). How did your TikTok content change over time? Among the videos you posted, which “type” did you find attracted the most engagement/attention from users, readers, and fans?

I still think that a lot of my videos are a little more niche. I am prone to talking a lot (being succinct is not a strong suit of mine) so you need to want to learn about the industry for some of my videos. I get engagement on my shorter videos and when I kind of do goofier things based around my geekier interests though. I think my content is largely the same, though with the caveat of it’s getting better as I learn more.

5). Has TikTok made an impact in your author career? If so, how?

I’m not sure! It’s definitely connected me with some new fans, authors, and peers which I don’t know that I would’ve come across otherwise. And I’m definitely watching and learning other creators as they grow their followings and get their books in front of people. But it’s still a bit of a learning curve for me and I struggle with putting myself out there sometimes.

6). What do you enjoy most about using TikTok as an author? What do you find the most challenging?

I love connecting with the other creators and authors on there. I’m an avid reader too so seeing what everyone else is doing is always a blast. For me, the most challenging thing is coming up with content to regularly post there. I definitely overthink it and want to plan things out but I know a lot of people just basically throw things against the wall and hope that something sticks…which is an approach I should try more.

7). What advice would you give to other authors seeking to use TikTok to promote their books?

Don’t be closed off to it! While it might not ultimately be for you, it’s a fun tool that can connect you to different audiences and it’s a lot of fun to explore (albeit sometimes a bit of a rabbit hole…)

How Should Authors Promote Their Books in 2022

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 changed the way people buy books.

Now it’s time for the final question: How should authors be promoting their books in 2022? What does author promotion in 2022 look like?

Answer: Here are some savvy promotional steps you can take to take your promote your book and author brand in 2022:

1). Pay closer attention than ever to the news: locally, nationally, and internationally.

Regardless of where you get your news or what you think of the media, it has never been more important to be as informed as possible on current events. The events of 2020, and how they were reported–particularly pandemic news, the Black Lives Matter movement, and political / election events–heavily influenced both the type of books that publishers acquired, book sales, and the types of books publishers and booksellers will invest in in the future. Stay ahead of the curve, don’t race to catch up.

2). Let’s talk about what genre trends we’ll see.

Genre trends that will continue:

  • Children’s education, as people continue to homeschool, or make decisions about homeschooling
  • Race/diversity/antiracism: Nonfiction on antiracism will continue to sell well, if not AS strongly as in 2020. Fiction in all genres with themes of race, antiracism, diverse characters, representation, and justice will continue to grow.
  • Commercial YA: This genre juggernaut is only going to keep getting bigger.

Genre trends that will emerge (predictions):

  • How-to books on rethinking life and work post-pandemic: All over the world, people are rethinking their lives now that they have been severed from a sense of “normalcy.” The market is ripe for nonfiction that directly addresses how to create fulfilling, purposeful, previously-inconceivable ways of living in a mid-/post-pandemic world.
  • Domestic how-tos on working from home: A work-from-home model is here to stay for many industries, and work life balancing is changing and will continue to change as a result.
  • “Pandemic fiction” (or allegories for pandemic): Once pandemic-weariness has become a more distant memories, in a few years we predict we’ll see a spike in pandemic fiction, which can include everything from romance novels about love blossoming between partners in isolation/quarantine to dramas and thrillers with isolationist themes.
  • Factional/political/polarization/radicalization dystopia: The world is still too tired and burnt out from living in an actual dystopia, so dystopian lit won’t make a huge resurgence straight away–but the social polarization that has occured won’t go unnoticed by publishers (or savvy authors).
  • Sweet, fluffy, escapist, ANTIi-dystopian lit: Get ready for a FLUX of feel good escapist fiction. We’re all tired of talking about how terrible life is–so let’s not.
  • Horror (especially YA horror): Good, intelligent horror is going through a renaissance in film and TV, and the literary world will have some catching up to do to meet demand

3). Seek to connect with readers as directly as possible. One way to do this is through targeted ads and outreach to boost your online exposure.

Online book sales are still dominating the market; remember that this means that most visible titles (celebrity names / endorsements, great SEO, big ad spend) will get seen. Think strategically about making your book stand out online

4). Get on TikTok if you’re a YA or romance author.

TikTok is one of the most powerful sales tools YA and romance authors can use. Other genres–but not all–may also find an audience on TikTok, but keep in mind that their primary book-buying base leans heavily towards romance and young adult fiction. (True crime, real-life mysteries, historial dress, how-tos, “lifehacks” and supernatural content can also find audiences on TikTok). Spend time on TikTok and become familiar with the app before using it to promote your author brand. Do not use it just to sell your books–commit to creating consistent, engaging, creative, and (most of all) authentic content that will help readers connect with you–a person, not a sales pitch.

5). Consider releasing audio media if you haven’t already done so.

Audio is booming. If you haven’t released an audiobook yet (available on Amazon/Audible, etc), do it. It’s also a great time to explore audio-only literature.

6). Be a visible champion to bookstores.

Supporting local bookstores was important before, and it’s super important now. Boost local stores on social media. Raise money and awareness for indie stores. Talk to your local store about their needs and how you can be a good partner to them. Not only will you be improving your community, any benefit you provide to local booksellers will be received with gratitude and goodwill, and could lead to future opportunities.

7). Understand that publishers and booksellers are examining how to reinvent the wheel right now. You can be a part of that reinvention.

Traditional publishing and book marketing methods aren’t working like they used to. There’s never been a better time for creative solutions, fresh approaches to writing and marketing, and experimentation. We’ll end this blog series on a New York Times quote from April 2021, which still holds true today:

“As fear for their industry turned to a stunned optimism last year, publishers started to rethink almost everything they had once taken for granted, from how to cultivate new literary talent to the ways that they market and sell books. Live literary events like book signings and author appearances have been replaced, as with so many things, by Zoom. BookExpo, the largest gathering of publishing professionals in the United States, which typically took place in May and drew thousands of booksellers, publishers, editors, agents, authors and librarians to the Javits Center in New York, has been canceled. The convention center is now being used as a mass vaccination site.

‘One of the most significant things that’s going to change is the re-evaluation of all that we do and how we do it,’ said Don Weisberg, the chief executive of Macmillan.”

State of the Industry Blog Series: How the Pandemic Changed the Way People Buy Books

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 Black Lives Matter movement affected indie bookstores, and how indie booksellers are doing in 2022.

Now it’s time for a new question: How did the pandemic transform how readers buy books and engage with authors?

Answer: There are four major areas of impact, which we’ll break down below, including: the “re-emergence” of the backlist, which genres dominated the bestseller list, the continued rise of audiobooks, and the power of TikTok.

1. More readers than ever are buying books online.

When physical bookstores shut their doors, booksellers had to become commercial e-tailers almost overnight – something many of them were not equipped to handle. With shoppers unable to browse in-store, and book tours and festivals canceled, a book’s discoverability became limited by search terms and to titles readers have already heard of. Despite massive leaps for online retail from indie bookstores, major corporations like Amazon, Target, and Walmart continued to dominate book sales.

The consequence of this is that titles with celebrity names and big budgets, as well as recognizable and/or timely backlist titles, were getting the most attention. As a result, new, small, and debut titles struggled harder to find their audience.

What you need to know in 2022: While things have balanced out, prepare to see publishers promoting their backlists like never before, as they’ve realized that backlist titles are indeed commercially viable long after their pub date. This is good news for all authors in the long run. But it may mean that new titles continue to struggle for attention as older titles are pushed back into an already-saturated market.

2. The events of 2020-21 ignited a firestorm of interest in specific genres.

Books exploring race, antiracism, diversity, and justice dominated the bestseller charts. Political books were hot sellers. Thanks to the pandemic push for homeschooling, children’s nonfiction, reference, and language saw a surge, as did domestic books on cooking and gardening.

Perhaps the most visible change, at least when it comes to YA fiction, is the impact of TikTok on the book industry, in part because YA fiction was already becoming more diverse and incorporating themes of justice, antiracism, and inclusion that were even more popularized during 2020-21.

What you need to know in 2022: Readers are more socially and politically aware, motivated, and ”charged” than ever before. We will continue to see these genres dominate nonfiction for the time being, and influence forthcoming fiction. Savvy authors will stay on top of – and ideally, ahead of – the curve by writing books that leverage these dominant themes and genres in 2022.

3. Audiobooks are booming.

In 2020, publishers in the United States released a record number of audio titles — more than 71,000 titles, an increase of nearly 40% over 2019. Publishers’ revenues from audio rose 12% to $1.3 billion over the same period, the ninth straight year of double-digit growth, according to the Association of American Publishers. In 2021, revenue from downloaded audiobooks grew more than 18% from January to May.

A 2021 New York Times article quotes Lance Fitzgerald, vice president of content and business development at Penguin Random House Audio, as saying “Audio listeners are so voracious, they listen to so much, we have to keep supplying content for them.”

The article goes on to explore how mega-bestselling author Erik Larson is experimenting with a stand-alone audiobook, and publishers are exploring/expanding stand-alone audiobooks and other audiobook production.

What you need to know in 2022: There’s never been a better time to produce and market an audiobook. We will continue to see audio expansion, and ever-creative ways of producing, distributing, and marketing audio literature.

TikTok is changing the way readers (especially YA readers) discover books and connect with authors.

TikTok is one of the fastest growing social media platforms, and YA and romance fiction feature heavily within the app’s reading community (colloquially named “BookTok”). In January 2018 the app had 55 million global users, which ballooned to 271 million by December 2018. A year later they were at 507 million, and they hit 700 million monthly active users in August 2020. By September 2021, the company reported that their user base had hit 1 billion.

During the pandemic, more readers than ever took to TikTok to gush about, critique, and (yes) cry over their favorite reads – creating a demand that landed certain books back on the bestseller list in ways that surprised even the savviest of publishers and authors.

Now we’re seeing “Booktok” endcaps and signage at bookstores, and celebratory “smash hit on Booktok” taglines on covers – that’s how powerful the app’s influence became.

What you need to know in 2022: Authors who are active on TikTo – or who get their books heavily promoted on TikTok by “booktokers” — will find an enthusiastic audience of extremely motivated book buyers. Authors who join TikTok will have a great opportunity to promote their work creatively and connect with fans directly

How else should authors be promoting their books in 2022? Join us next month when we wrap up our State of the Industry blog series with a comprehensive plan for how authors should be promoting their books this year.

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.