What is a street team and how should I use it?

As an author, have you ever thought about just how great it would be if you had a network of friends you knew would be dedicated to helping you promote your book? Sound like a fantasy?

Enter the street team.

A street team is a group of readers that help you promote your book, usually the most loyal fans of your previous books, or books in similar genres.

The relationship built between author and team members is beneficial for both parties. Team members will have access to their favorite author (you!) as well as other exclusive content. And as an author, you’ll have a team dedicated to promoting your upcoming book by posting and talking about it to their network of followers and friends — building up buzz ahead of your book’s launch!

How to recruit team members

The first step after deciding to compose a street team is, of course, recruiting members. If this is your first time getting a team together, try and shoot for between 20-50 members initially. More is great! But keep in mind you’ll have to keep track of if everyone is doing their part and promoting on their end. Exclusivity also helps make everyone on the team feel more special as well. A fun way to cement that exclusivity: Consider coming up with a creative team name!

And remember, team members need to be active online. There will be opportunities to promote your book in person — like talking with a bookseller or book club — but word-of-mouth will be most effective online and on social media.

Where to find members

  • Reach out to friends and family who would be a good fit
  • Check in with any beta readers you may already have
  • Go through previous relationships with book bloggers and people who have previously reviewed your book
  • If you’re promoting the next book in a series or a book similar to a previous work, reach out to people who have positively reviewed your book on Goodreads, NetGalley, Edelweiss, etc.
  • Announce in your mailing list, newsletter or on social media that you’re looking for team members

Have people fill out a Google Form so you can go through and pick who would be best for the team, or create a form/page on your website where they can enter info. Ask them things like what social media accounts they have, other books they’ve read in your book’s genre, any specific ideas for how they’d like to see your book promoted, etc. Consider keeping a tab on your website where people can request to join and you can consider building up your team for future books.

How to communicate with your team

So how do you keep track of communication with members once you’ve assembled your team? You’ll need to have an online space where all members can have access. Consider creating a private page on your website that only team members can access with a password. Or an easy option: Create a private Facebook page with just you and members — just make sure everyone in your team has a Facebook account!

Wherever you decide to keep team communication, you should make it a goal to post here regularly as well (we know, basically another social media platform!!). But interaction is important: It helps team members get to know you and vice versa. And it builds a great relationship with your team for future releases.

Notes on communication

  • Try and keep content focused around you and your book. After all, the goal of your street team is to promote your work!
  • Organize things like author interviews/takeovers with other authors to cross-promote and provide new content for your team members.
  • Make sure your team has access to any kind of promotional materials, both digital and physical. This could be bookmarks they can pass out to friends or flyers, stickers, buttons, etc. that they can drop off at local bookstores and libraries.
  • And again, exclusivity is important! When making announcements, make sure team members are one of the first — if not the first — group you reach out to and alert of something new. For instance, if you’re planning a cover reveal, your team should be able to see the cover before the general public.
  • You can also consider hosting a special launch event/party with just team members to celebrate all their hard work leading up to your book’s launch!

How to incentivize team members

It’s important to keep your team active and engaged during the book promotion process. The easiest way to do that is to create a challenge system where members must complete a task to receive a special reward, i.e.: After they post about the book on all their social media accounts, they’ll get a sneak peek of a future book excerpt. For bigger challenges/rewards, you can have drawings for prizes, i.e.: If someone gets a book club to read your book, they can be entered for a video chat session with you.

Potential rewards for your system

  • First access to any advance reader copies
  • Early access to extra written content like short stories, prequels,
  • Signed copies of books
  • If they aren’t already, consider allowing them to be beta readers for future novels
  • Sneak peeks at cover and title reveals, excerpts from future books etc.
  • Early and/or exclusive access to content on your author website or blog
  • Bonus book-related content like printable artworks, maps, bookmarks etc.
  • A video chat session with you (or potentially with an author friend as well if you’re working on cross-promoting!)
  • Promotion of your team members’ blogs and social media accounts on your own channels
  • A shoutout in the acknowledgements section of subsequent books

Potential challenges for members

  • Have them leave reviews of your book(s) on Amazon, Goodreads, Bookbub, other bookseller sites, their own personal blogs, etc.
  • Posting Instagram photos (if you don’t already have a hashtag around your book/series, now would be a good time to think of one!)
  • If they have a blog, hosting you for an interview or guest post.
  • Sharing others’ reviews and social media posts about you and your books
  • Sharing your blog posts and reposting posts from your social media accounts
  • Posting shoutouts of you and your book on their own social media channels
  • Talking about and recommending your book(s) to their family members, friends, etc.
  • Requesting your book(s) at their local libraries and suggesting them to any book clubs

There’s no set limit on how often you dish out challenges and rewards, but weekly challenges are a good goal to shoot for. You want challenges to be often enough to keep members active and engaged, but you don’t want to give them too many challenges that they are overwhelmed. Being a team member should be fun — not a chore!

Organize your system in the beginning of your book promotion period so that as the weeks go on, all you have to do is keep track of if team members are completing the challenges. And don’t forget to let everyone know that the rewards are not the main purpose of the team: They’re a way of thanking team members. The goal is to get the word out about you and your book to new readers!

 

Your next great book club pick

Whether everyone takes turns choosing a book, or the entire club votes, picking the next read is always challenging. You want to pick something that will spark discussion but has a wide appeal. We’ve put together a list of recommendations that we think will be a great fit for any book club.

A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza
We actually did read this in my book club years ago, and it was so enjoyable. Everyone related to a different character in a different way, and it remains my favorite book to recommend for that very reason.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
This is a classic that will appeal to clubs who love historical fiction, coming-of-age stories and strong women.

There There by Tommy Orange
I never would have picked this up if it weren’t for my book club, which would have been a huge loss. The stories are so powerful, and the way Orange weaves them together is masterful.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Maybe not the best choice for a pandemic, but the way this story is weaved together likely will have everyone talking — and might even lead to some interesting end-of-the-world theories.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
There’s a reason this book has been everywhere. It is full of questions that have no clear or concrete answers but will keep you thinking for months after reading it.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
If you’re looking for a humorous book that also explores emotion and has a great cast of characters, this is a great fit.

Born A Crime by Travor Noah
The affable TV host’s presence translates well to the page, but the stories about his childhood will capture you even more than his humor. (Note: If you get the chance, grab the audiobook because he’s a great narrator as well!)

The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson
Science-fiction is a tough choice for many people, but this book paints such remarkable metaphors that are applicable to our reality — many different realities reflecting divides along racial lines, income lines, and more.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
If you are in a book club that likes to pick sides, look no further. A marriage is tested when the husband is sent to prison, and most people land firmly on the husband’s side … or the wife’s.

Educated by Tara Westover
This was one of the wildest true stories I’ve ever read and one that had us Googling “did this really happen” during our book club meeting.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
Blending fiction with some horrifying truths, Whitehead’s writing will have you highlighting passages to bring up at your book club meeting to see if they blew everyone else away as well.

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong
It’s likely that most people in a book club have experienced feeling lost during a quarter-life crisis or have dealt with the circumstances around aging parents. This slim volume explores both beautifully.

Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper
Hilarious, heartbreaking, and so so smart, this should be required reading for any book club with white women.

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
A meditation on faith without being overtly religious, Gyasi also dives into grief, family, and science in interesting and often devastating ways.

Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi
This would be a commitment because it’s very long, but there were so many times when I was reading this that I wanted to be able to talk to someone and ask them if they were just as shocked as I was by what we were reading.

Find this complete list of great book club picks at bookshop.org.

Books Ted Lasso brought to England (probably)

Ted Lasso was one of my absolute favorite new discoveries of 2020, and I thought it would be fun to peek inside the luggage he brought with him to start his new job in England.

  1. Check, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu Ted has shown a baking prowess just like the main character in this graphic novel, and I feel like Ted would be absolutely hooked on its team spirit and the absolute sweetness.
  2. One Life by Megan Rapinoe If I know Ted (and I do because I’ve watched the show several times), I know that he worships Megan Rapinoe as a hero on and off the soccer field.
  3. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle Ted has been shown to be a fantastic father, and I feel like this book would be a perfect buddy read with his son.
  4. Notes From A Small Island by Bill Bryson When Ted told a bookseller he was going to be moving to London, they recommended this book.
  5. Furia by Yamile Saied Méndez Of course this book about a rising soccer star is on Ted’s radar. “If it’s good enough for Reese, it’s good enough for me.”
  6. The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis Coach Beard watched the show with Ted and then recommended this book to further his chess education.
  7. Darius the Great Is Not OK by Adib Khorram A focus on soccer and discovering one’s identity? A perfect fit for Ted.
  8. Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby A true British classic about football and all the weird rituals that come with it makes a great introduction for Ted.
  9. Only When It’s Us by Chloe Liese Of course Ted reads romance. And he especially loves a romance with a feisty, strong soccer star like Willa.
  10. The Collected Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle He said he felt like he had to read it to complete his British education.

Why it’s important to take a great author headshot

When releasing a book, there are a lot of moving pieces. Of course writing the book and marketing the book takes precedence, but a lot of smaller steps can be overlooked and may have a huge impact!

First impressions are everything. Especially in a digital world – our eyes naturally gravitate towards book covers, websites, social media platforms and the quality each of those possess. We often refer to the “restaurant” metaphor: If you have two restaurants side by side, one is empty, run down, dark lighting, unclear of what their menu will look like versus a full restaurant, well lit, bustling and beautiful restaurant – which one are you most likely to go into? Consider this when building your profile. Is your website warm and welcoming? Does it look like a real person or just advertisements? This way of thinking narrows right down to your author headshot. Did you scroll through the dark depths of your photo roll and pick a picture from 10 years ago? Is it blurry? Is your pet in it? These are all things you want to avoid when settling on an author headshot.

Photography can be expensive, but if you can get professional photos done, we highly recommend including this in your marketing budget. You can hire locally for headshots and press shots, and these photos will work for radio, newspaper, your press release and beyond. Having these photos can go a long way and will keep your brand looking professional.

If you are on a tight budget, there are options. You can hire a college student, somebody who is looking for experience in photography – perhaps they need for their final project and will take your headshots at no or low cost. Another option is asking a family member or friend to help you take photos. Most phones these days come with high quality cameras.

All you need is good lighting (natural lightning works best, or invest in a ring light – these are also great for Zoom interviews!) a plain background and the editing tool in your phone. Refrain from using filtered apps for your headshot, as these can really tamper with the quality of the image. Focus on slightly and subtly brightening and adding a little bit of contrast. And take multiple shots – you’ll want options to choose from! Don’t be shy to get the best author headshots you can to represent your book.

All in all, remember to be current and stay relevant. You are an author, and that needs to be clear and concise when people see your headshot on the back of your book and the front of your social media platforms. This is your business. It may be a small part of the bigger picture, but it’s an important one that will help sell your book.

Some of our favorite authors to follow on Twitter

We live in a golden age — not only do we get to read masterful books from some truly groundbreaking authors, but we also get to follow them on social media and see what they’re having for lunch and their musings on the latest Taylor Swift album. I’ve been on bookstagram for a while, but recently started getting more into Book Twitter, and while it is a wild and lawless place, it’s also full of hilarious, thoughtful writers. It makes sense that great writing would translate to wonderful social media accounts — check out some of our favorites!

  1. C.L. Polk, author of The Kingston Cycle novels and The Midnight Bargain. Her tweets are somehow relatable and hilarious.
  2. Christina Lauren, author duo who has written 25+ romance books together. They will remind you that being a romance writer isn’t all champagne and flowers.
  3. Kwame Mbalia, author of the middle-grade Tristan Strong series and Last Gate of the Emperor. He is the creator of Gum Baby, Tristan Strong’s snarky sidekick, who is the best thing about the internet.
  4. Saeed Jones, poet and author of How We Fight For Our Lives and Prelude to A Bruise. I follow him for unapologetic takes on the news, politics, writing, and everything else. And for the judgemental cuteness of his dog.
  5. Susan Orlean, writer for The New Yorker, and author of multiple books. Over the summer, a drunken tweetstorm provided some much-needed laughter.
  6. Alexander Chee, author of How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, The Queen of the Night, and Edinburgh. He’s a professor of creative writing at Dartmouth, and his tweets make you realize that the truly great writers see things a little bit differently.
  7. Jasmine Guillory, author of five romance novels. She’s been open and honest about the difficulties of keeping on during the pandemic, which has provided me with some much-needed realism. Her newsletter is also wonderful — I’ve gotten some great recipes from it!
  8. Brandon Taylor, author of Real Life and the upcoming Filthy Animals. My favorite things are his hot takes on centuries-old pieces of art. 
  9. R.F. Kuang, author of The Poppy War trilogy. Readers are constantly tweeting sentiments like “WHY!?” at her as they make their way through her books and terrible things happen to their favorite characters — she seems to take great delight in this, and it’s hilarious to watch.
  10. Nicole Chung, author of All You Can Ever Know, editor of Catapult. She recently started a parenting column, and I’ve found it enlightening and inspiring. Also her Peggy the puppy tweets are a pure endorphin rush.
  11. Roxane Gay, author of several books and contributor to multiple anthologies. Honestly, there are so many reasons to follow her, but I think her pinned tweet sums it up: “I will say it again. My tweets are not meant to be universal. They will not nor cannot account for every reality. If something I say doesn’t include or apply to you that doesn’t invalidate your truth.”
  12. Kristen Arnett, author of Mostly Dead Things and the upcoming With Teeth. The randomness of her thoughts regularly makes me snort with laughter.
  13. Dahlia Adler, author of several novels and book blogger. She regularly champions other authors’ books with boundless enthusiasm and joy, which is truly delightful.
  14. Leah Johnson, author of You Should See Me in A Crown and the upcoming Rise to the Sun. Her small obsessions always make me smile — when she talked about Logan Lerman in Percy Jackson, it ended up making me start the series.
  15. R.O. Kwon, coeditor of Kink, author of The Incendiaries and contributor to multiple outlets. She can tweet back to back tweets about writing panic, political disgust and needing a haircut without breaking a sweat.
  16. Aiden Thomas, author of Cemetery Boys and the upcoming Lost in the Never Woods. He has so much enthusiasm for the things that he loves that it will leap through the screen.
  17. Sabaa Tahir author of An Ember in the Ashes series. Another writer who seems to take pleasure from the pain she causes her readers by putting the characters in her books through pain and suffering.
  18. Alisha Rai, romance author most recently of First Comes Like. She creates excellent TikTok videos and posts them on Twitter for everyone’s enjoyment.
  19. Samantha Irby, blogger and author of several books. No one’s books have ever made me laugh like hers, and this translates well to her Twitter feed. 
  20. Sarah Gailey, author of several novellas and books, most recently The Echo Wife. Their tweets take on the most random of things, and they always stands up for the disabled community.

And special shout out to Mike Lasagna — he’s not an author, but champions them relentlessly in a way that will make you buy way too many books.

Books Forward authors most anticipated books of 2021

There are a lot of things to look forward to in 2021, and new books are at the top of our list! When our authors aren’t writing, lots of them are reading, and we asked them what books they’re excited to read next year.

“Halli Gomez’s List of Ten is a contemporary YA debut about a teen living with Tourette syndrome and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder who is considering suicide. I read an early draft of this #ownvoices novel and it handles these challenging issues in a thoughtful and inspiring way.

Nicole Lesperance’s The Nightmare Thief, a MG fantasy about a girl who works in her family’s dream shop, where they can craft any dream you want — including nightmares. Lesperance is a beautiful writer and I’m a sucker for MG fantasy, so I can’t wait for this one!

Rissy No Kissies by Katey Howes tackles the issue of consent for the picture book set. Beautifully illustrated by Jess Engle, it creates a forum for discussion of bodily autonomy in an engaging and informative way.”

Katharine Manning, author of The Empathetic Workplace

“I couldn’t stick with just one so indulge me, people, but there are four books from the world of crime fiction I’m excited about. In no particular order, P.J. Vernon’s Bath Haus is already garnering a lot of accolades and is poised to be his breakout novel. I’ve been a fan of Laura McHugh’s work for a while, and What’s Done in Darkness looks spectacular. I first read Hannah Mary McKinnon this year, which was a mistake since I should have read her much earlier – she’s now on my “read as soon as it’s out” list, and You Will Remember Me sounds fantastic. And Mia P. Manansala’s debut, Arsenic and Adobo, is long-awaited (Mia’s racked up “emerging writer” awards on her way to publication) and the promising start of a wonderful career.”

E.A. Aymar, author of They’re Gone (written as E.A. Barres)

“There are so many 2021 releases that I’m looking forward to adding to my bookshelves, but the one I’m probably the MOST excited about is Blackout. Not only does this book feature stories written by six AMAZING Black female YA writers (Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woolfolk, and Nicola Yoon), but these short stories are all focused on Black love. 2020 was a tough year for everyone, but especially Black and Brown folks — so seeing more Black joy stories couldn’t have come at a better time!”

Pamela Harris, author of When You Look Like Us

“I recommend Trial By Fire, by Scott James. Through interview-based reporting, James investigates the 2003 nightclub fire at The Station in West Warwick, Rhode Island, which happened during a Great White concert. James spoke with concertgoers and local media who survived the fire, as well as others close to the investigation with their own stories and information to share. A true story that reads like a thriller novel.”

Katie Burke, author of Urban Playground

“The books I anticipate reading early in the new year are mainly ones I have, but have not yet gotten to this year.

A novel by Philip Duke called The Village, a story about the German invasion of Crete in WWII, a rich history and a well-paced thriller that explores several points of view, including not only the Cretan guerrillas and the people of the eponymous village, but the opposing figures of a British soldier who gets caught up in it and a German paratrooper. True I have already begun to read it, and we may know how the story ends in history but I’m eager to see how it turns out for the characters.

Most of my reading is research, and most of my research these days is either concerned with the immediate future of our species, particularly related to climate issues. To that end, I also read about the deep past. Here is a sampling:

Humankind, by Rutger Bregman, a more optimistic look at us that I hold and hopefully an antidote to my current pessimism. He wrote Utopia for Realists.

The Rules of Contagion by Adam Kucharski, appropriate for the time of pandemic, but an ongoing issue for the world, and appropriate for my current project, third in my Lisa Emmer series of thrillers. Not only contagions, but toxic memes and disinformation all follow the rules.

Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art by Rebecca Wragg Sykes. My recent book, Mixed Harvest: Stories from the Human Past, touches on encounters between modern humans and Neanderthals in the Paleolithic era. Research in this area remains intense since it overturned everything we thought we knew about our cousins. Many of us carry Neanderthal genes, which should not only give us more respect, but again in the history of science knock us down another peg on the Great Chain of Being.

Metazoa: Animal Life and the Birth of the Mind by Peter Godfrey-Smith. I picked this book because of Other Minds, his wonderful book about cephalopods, particular octopuses, and how consciousness emerges, and how very different it can develop even on our own planet. They are the real aliens, except from Earth.”

Rob Swigart, author of Mixed Harvest: Stories From the Human Past

Bookstagrammers to follow for National Science Fiction Day

Science fiction gives us an avenue of escape and a view of a possible future. I think sometimes people can be intimidated by the genre or think it’s nerdy, but there’s a sci fi book out there for everyone! I added my own recommendation at the end, because these are some of my favorite books to read and I will take any opportunity to push Becky Chambers on people.

  1. Becky (@basiclandcave) says: “One of my go-to recommendations for science fiction fans is Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee. It’s the first in an extraordinary queer space opera trilogy filled with high stakes intrigue, creative magical technologies, and the best characters. It takes some investment to get started with this uncommon novel, but the payoff is more than worthwhile.”
  2. Erin (@erins_library) recommends The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson. “I recommend this book for many reasons, but would ask you to read it for the twists alone. There’s a special place in my heart for books about the multiverse and interdimensional travel. And this book serves as a great platform to discuss and explore classicism, segregation, racism, exploitation and poverty.”
  3. Bezi (@beingabookwyrm) says: “My pick is Escaping Exodus by Nicky Drayden — the worldbuilding of space beasts in which human societies now live is entirely unique, and I was so intrigued by the depiction of this society’s space matriarchy that centers Black women. It’s a bit gory at times, but I definitely recommend this epic space opera of class politics and star-crossed friends-to-lovers.”
  4. Katy (@theshriekingstack) says: “These days I’m a science fiction and fantasy enthusiast, but before I experienced N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy (starting with The Fifth Season), I wasn’t interested in SFF at all. Jemisin tackles racial, social, and environmental politics on a continent ravaged by climate disaster. She takes a nuanced route to dealing with issues that parallel our own world in a way that takes into account the complexities of human conditioning, inequality, and oppression. Realizing that SFF offered such gems as these and could not only include but focus on characters from marginalized backgrounds changed the entire way I looked at the genre. The Broken Earth is a stunning feat of imagination with unparalleled worldbuilding and mythology and a multi-faceted exploration of finding yourself in a world that doesn’t see you as human.”
  5. Erin (@roostercalls) recommends The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz. “If you like your time travel stories historically contextualized, socially aware, and a little bit punk rock, Annalee Newitz has got a magical wish-granting piece of fiction for you.   In addition to being straight-up fantastic writing, The Future of Another Timeline is also fiercely feminist, and was the galvanizing reminder I needed in 2020 that resistance matters — that a better world is worth fighting for and can be won.”
  6. Kim (@runoutofpages) recommends Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes. “There’s nothing I love more than a good space opera. Chilling Effect (and the sequel Prime Deceptions) has a strong heroine, a sexy love interest, a fantastic crew, lots of action, too many geeky easter eggs to name, and plenty of laughs.”
  7. Casey (@caseythereader) recommends Octavia E. Butler’s Lilith’s Brood trilogy. “A crew of humans wake up to find themselves on an alien ship, where the aliens are planning to save humanity and expand their alien empire by integrating themselves – mating – with the humans. This series is an extended examination of what it means to be human, both on the literal genetic level and on a cultural and emotional level. It’s engrossing and terrifying and thought-provoking; a true classic of the genre.”
  8. Cristina Marie (@2bookornot2book) recommends Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez. “It’s a beautiful, sweeping science fiction debut that centers around the love people have for each other, whether that is romantic, friendly or familial. It’s a story about the importance of music and the magic of space and science, and the deeply important value of chosen found family. It’s one of my favorite books I’ve ever read, period, no qualifiers.”
  9. Gagan (@afantasysky) recommends The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson. “I loved The Space Between Worlds for so many reasons but mainly for the fascinating take on parallel worlds, complex characters and amazing twists. It’s dark, layered and full of surprises.”
  10. Angie (@angiesreading) says: An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon takes the horrors and injustices of the antebellum South into space aboard the HSS Matilda. The mystery behind our protagonist, Aster, and her mother’s death, along with an incredible cast of characters made this one of my favorite reads of the year. 

And from me, I recommend The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. This is one of my all-time favorite books — it manages to be a fun space voyage across the universe with buddies while also making you stop to think about the world around you. The rest of the Wayfarers series is just as good, and her standalone novella, To Be Taught, If Fortunate, is also outstanding. 

Books for winter that aren’t holiday reads

Now that Christmas is past, it might seem like seasonal reading is over, but there are lots of great books set in cold climates or during the winter months that don’t have to do with the holidays. Cozy up with a blanket and candle and dive into one of these great reads to embrace the chill.

  1. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
    Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart — he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season’s first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone–but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees. This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.
  2. The Snowman by Jo Nesbo
    In Oslo, the first snow hit. Jonas gets up in the morning and finds out his mother’s gone. There’s only one clue left – the pink scarf he gave her for Christmas. He’s got a snowman on his neck. The previous night, he unexpectedly appeared in the backyard, and his black eyes stared straight into the house. The case is being handled by Inspector Harry Hole, who recently received a mysterious letter with the signature Snowman. The situation gets even more tangled when Harry discovers that this model is repeating itself – eleven women have been lost in the last ten years, always on the very day the first snow hit. The investigation is all the more difficult for Harry to relate to his new colleague, but also to his beloved Rachel. The Snowman case brings him to the brink of madness. Brilliantly plotted characters and graduating suspense guarantee a thrilling story that only the master of contemporary thrillers Jo Nesbo can write.
  3. The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
    Seamlessly blending classic horror and a dramatic narrative with sharp social commentary, The Only Good Indians follows four American Indian men after a disturbing event from their youth puts them in a desperate struggle for their lives. Tracked by an entity bent on revenge, these childhood friends are helpless as the culture and traditions they left behind catch up to them in a violent, vengeful way.
  4. A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny
    Welcome to winter in Three Pines, a picturesque village in Quebec, where the villagers are preparing for a traditional country Christmas, and someone is preparing for murder. No one liked CC de Poitiers. Not her quiet husband, not her spineless lover, not her pathetic daughter—and certainly none of the residents of Three Pines. CC de Poitiers managed to alienate everyone, right up until the moment of her death. When Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, of the Sûreté du Québec, is called to investigate, he quickly realizes he’s dealing with someone quite extraordinary. CC de Poitiers was electrocuted in the middle of a frozen lake, in front of the entire village, as she watched the annual curling tournament. And yet no one saw anything. Who could have been insane enough to try such a macabre method of murder—or brilliant enough to succeed?
  5. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
    At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil. After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows. And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent. As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.
  6. Beartown by Fredrik Backman
    People say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. And in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys. Being responsible for the hopes of an entire town is a heavy burden, and the semi-final match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected. Beartown explores the hopes that bring a small community together, the secrets that tear it apart, and the courage it takes for an individual to go against the grain. In this story of a small forest town, Fredrik Backman has found the entire world.
  7. Snow Falling on Cedars by David Gutterrson
    Gripping, tragic, and densely atmospheric—a masterpiece of suspense San Piedro Island, north of Puget Sound, is a place so isolated that no one who lives there can afford to make enemies. But in 1954 a local fisherman is found suspiciously drowned, and a Japanese American named Kabuo Miyamoto is charged with his murder. In the course of the ensuing trial, it becomes clear that what is at stake is more than a man’s guilt. For on San Pedro, memories of a charmed love affair between a white boy and the Japanese girl who grew up to become Kabuo’s wife; memories of land desired, paid for, and lost. Above all, San Piedro is haunted by the memory of what happened to its Japanese residents during World War II, when an entire community was sent into exile while its neighbors watched.
  8. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
    So begins the story of Susie Salmon, who is adjusting to her new home in heaven, a place that is not at all what she expected, even as she is watching life on earth continue without her — her friends trading rumors about her disappearance, her killer trying to cover his tracks, her grief-stricken family unraveling. Out of unspeakable tragedy and loss, The Lovely Bones succeeds, miraculously, in building a tale filled with hope, humor, suspense, even joy.
  9. Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg
    She thinks more highly of snow and ice than she does of love.  She lives in a world of numbers, science and memories–a dark, exotic stranger in a strange land.  And now Smilla Jaspersen is convinced she has uncovered a shattering crime… It happened in the Copenhagen snow.  A six-year-old boy, a Greenlander like Smilla, fell to his death from the top of his apartment building.  While the boy’s body is still warm, the police pronounce his death an accident.  But Smilla knows her young neighbor didn’t fall from the roof on his own.  Soon she is following a path of clues as clear to her as footsteps in the snow.  For her dead neighbor, and for herself, she must embark on a harrowing journey of lies, revelation and violence that will take her back to the world of ice and snow from which she comes, where an explosive secret waits beneath the ice….
  10. Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice
    With winter looming, a small northern Anishinaabe community goes dark. Cut off, people become passive and confused. Panic builds as the food supply dwindles. While the band council and a pocket of community members struggle to maintain order, an unexpected visitor arrives, escaping the crumbling society to the south. Soon after, others follow. The community leadership loses its grip on power as the visitors manipulate the tired and hungry to take control of the reserve. Tensions rise and, as the months pass, so does the death toll due to sickness and despair. Frustrated by the building chaos, a group of young friends and their families turn to the land and Anishinaabe tradition in hopes of helping their community thrive again. Guided through the chaos by an unlikely leader named Evan Whitesky, they endeavor to restore order while grappling with a grave decision.
  11. Raven Black by Ann Cleeves
    Raven Black begins on New Year’s Eve with a lonely outcast named Magnus Tait, who stays home waiting for visitors who never come. But the next morning the body of a murdered teenage girl is discovered nearby, and suspicion falls on Magnus. Inspector Jimmy Perez enters an investigative maze that leads deeper into the past of the Shetland Islands than anyone wants to go.
  12. Peace Like A River by Leif Enger
    Once in a great while, we encounter a novel in our voluminous reading that begs to be read aloud. Leif Enger’s debut, Peace Like a River, is one such work. His richly evocative novel, narrated by an asthmatic 11-year-old named Reuben Land, is the story of Reuben’s unusual family and their journey across the frozen Badlands of the Dakotas in search of his fugitive older brother. Charged with the murder of two locals who terrorized their family, Davy has fled, understanding that the scales of justice will not weigh in his favor. But Reuben, his father, Jeremiah—a man of faith so deep he has been known to produce miracles—and Reuben’s little sister, Swede, follow closely behind the fleeing Davy.
  13. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe  by C.S. Lewis
    Narnia…the land beyond the wardrobe door, a secret place frozen in eternal winter, a magical country waiting to be set free. Lucy is the first to find the secret of the wardrobe in the professor’s mysterious old house. At first her brothers and sister don’t believe her when she tells of her visit to the land of Narnia. But soon Edmund, then Peter and Susan step through the wardrobe themselves. In Narnia they find a country buried under the evil enchantment of the White Witch. When they meet the Lion Aslan, they realize they’ve been called to a great adventure and bravely join the battle to free Narnia from the Witch’s sinister spell.
  14. In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende
    In the Midst of Winter begins with a minor traffic accident—which becomes the catalyst for an unexpected and moving love story between two people who thought they were deep into the winter of their lives. Richard Bowmaster—a 60-year-old human rights scholar—hits the car of Evelyn Ortega—a young, undocumented immigrant from Guatemala—in the middle of a snowstorm in Brooklyn. What at first seems just a small inconvenience takes an unforeseen and far more serious turn when Evelyn turns up at the professor’s house seeking help. At a loss, the professor asks his tenant Lucia Maraz—a 62-year-old lecturer from Chile—for her advice. These three very different people are brought together in a mesmerizing story that moves from present-day Brooklyn to Guatemala in the recent past to 1970s Chile and Brazil, sparking the beginning of a long overdue love story between Richard and Lucia. Exploring the timely issues of human rights and the plight of immigrants and refugees, the book recalls Allende’s landmark novel The House of the Spirits in the way it embraces the cause of “humanity, and it does so with passion, humor, and wisdom that transcend politics” (Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post). In the Midst of Winter will stay with you long after you turn the final page.
  15. The Terror by Dan Simmons
    The men on board HMS Terror have every expectation of triumph. As part of the 1845 Franklin Expedition, the first steam-powered vessels ever to search for the legendary Northwest Passage, they are as scientifically supported an enterprise as has ever set forth. As they enter a second summer in the Arctic Circle without a thaw, though, they are stranded in a nightmarish landscape of encroaching ice and darkness. Endlessly cold, with diminishing rations, 126 men fight to survive with poisonous food, a dwindling supply of coal, and ships buckling in the grip of crushing ice. But their real enemy is far more terrifying. There is something out there in the frigid darkness: an unseen predator stalking their ship, a monstrous terror constantly clawing to get in. When the expedition’s leader, Sir John Franklin, meets a terrible death, Captain Francis Crozier takes command and leads his surviving crewmen on a last, desperate attempt to flee south across the ice. With them travels an Inuit woman who cannot speak and who may be the key to survival, or the harbinger of their deaths. But as another winter approaches, as scurvy and starvation grow more terrible, and as the terror on the ice stalks them southward, Crozier and his men begin to fear that there is no escape.
  16. The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
    Alaska, 1974. Unpredictable. Unforgiving. Untamed. For a family in crisis, the ultimate test of survival. Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier. Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if it means following him into the unknown. At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers. In a wild, remote corner of the state, they find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the Allbrights’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources. But as winter approaches and darkness descends on Alaska, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates and the family begins to fracture. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in eighteen hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: they are on their own. In the wild, there is no one to save them but themselves.
  17. The Shining by Stephen King
    Jack Torrance’s new job at the Overlook Hotel is the perfect chance for a fresh start. As the off-season caretaker at the atmospheric old hotel, he’ll have plenty of time to spend reconnecting with his family and working on his writing. But as the harsh winter weather sets in, the idyllic location feels ever more remote…and more sinister. And the only one to notice the strange and terrible forces gathering around the Overlook is Danny Torrance, a uniquely gifted five-year-old.
  18. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
    A groundbreaking work of science fiction, The Left Hand of Darkness tells the story of a lone human emissary to Winter, an alien world whose inhabitants can choose – and change – their gender. His goal is to facilitate Winter’s inclusion in a growing intergalactic civilization. But to do so he must bridge the gulf between his own views and those of the completely dissimilar culture that he encounters. Embracing the aspects of psychology, society, and human emotion on an alien world, The Left Hand of Darkness stands as a landmark achievement in the annals of intellectual science fiction.
  19. Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekbäck
    Swedish Lapland, 1717. Maija, her husband Paavo and her daughters Frederika and Dorotea arrive from their native Finland, hoping to forget the traumas of their past and put down new roots in this harsh but beautiful land. Above them looms Blackåsen, a mountain whose foreboding presence looms over the valley and whose dark history seems to haunt the lives of those who live in its shadow. While herding the family’s goats on the mountain, Frederika happens upon the mutilated body of one of their neighbors, Eriksson. The death is dismissed as a wolf attack, but Maija feels certain that the wounds could only have been inflicted by another man. Compelled to investigate despite her neighbors’ strange disinterest in the death and the fate of Eriksson’s widow, Maija is drawn into the dark history of tragedies and betrayals that have taken place on Blackåsen. Young Frederika finds herself pulled towards the mountain as well, feeling something none of the adults around her seem to notice. As the seasons change, and the “wolf winter,” the harshest winter in memory, descends upon the settlers, Paavo travels to find work, and Maija finds herself struggling for her family’s survival in this land of winter-long darkness. As the snow gathers, the settlers’ secrets are increasingly laid bare. Scarce resources and the never-ending darkness force them to come together, but Maija, not knowing who to trust and who may betray her, is determined to find the answers for herself. Soon, Maija discovers the true cost of survival under the mountain, and what it will take to make it to spring.
  20. The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper
    With these mysterious words, Will Stanton discovers on his 11th birthday that he is no mere boy. He is the Sign-Seeker, last of the immortal Old Ones, destined to battle the powers of evil that trouble the land. His task is monumental: he must find and guard the six great Signs of the Light, which, when joined, will create a force strong enough to match and perhaps overcome that of the Dark. Embarking on this endeavor is dangerous as well as deeply rewarding; Will must work within a continuum of time and space much broader than he ever imagined.

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. 

Books Forward holiday gift guide

Still on the hunt for the perfect gift for the special people in your life? We have a few suggestions…

For your mom, who is working to diversify her reading life:
We love our families and we love our mothers, sisters, grandmothers, and aunties, but not every family looks like a Norman Rockwell painting, and not every woman is a 1950’s homemaker. Nor should they be! Seema Yasmin’s Muslim Women Are Everything is a beautifully illustrated book with inspiring stories of successful Muslim women from around the world.

For your BFF who thinks they’re totally a detective after binging too many true crime docs:
We all have that friend who is obsessed with true crime documentaries and can’t get enough of suspenseful TV dramas. Let them get lost in the pages of The Second Mother, the newest psychological thriller by USA Today bestselling author Jenny Milchman. This twisting story follows a schoolteacher who attempts to outrun her past by accepting a job on a remote Maine island — only to discover that its residents may be more dangerous than the isolation itself.

For the aspiring hip hop artist in your life:
Big Freedia is the irrepressible force behind bounce rap music going mainstream and a collaborator with Beyonce, Lizzo, Drake and Kesha. And although this year’s tour with Kesha was canceled due to the pandemic, this iconic voice for LGBTQ+ and Black Lives Matter activism is celebrating the paperback release of her memoir, Big Freedia: God Save the Queen Diva, just in time for the holiday shopping season. From growing up as an overweight gay choir boy in New Orleans’ worst neighborhood, to surviving Hurricane Katrina by living on her roof for two days, to bursting underground bounce music into the mainstream, Freedia’s signature creativity and resilience continues to set her apart. Grab a copy of this book and pair it with Big Freedia’s new holiday album, “Smokin’ Santa Christmas,” available on Dec. 11.

For your armchair psychologist sister:
Did your sister take an intro psychology class in college and now she wants to diagnose everyone in the family? Losing the Atmosphere: A Baffling Disorder, a Search for Help, and the Therapist Who Understood is the perfect book for her. In this stunning new memoir, Vivian Conan takes a deep dive into her struggles with unsettling symptoms and her mental health journey.

For your activist cousin who’s not afraid to discuss race and politics at the dinner table:
Your family has a carefully curated list of topics to NOT talk about at the table — and your cousin can be relied on to confront them all during the course of the holiday. It’s a breath of fresh air after too many prim discussions about the weather and the consistency of the mashed potatoes; these dialogues are important, even if they challenge some of your relatives. Gift your cousin Wings of Ebony by J. Elle. This explosive YA debut is about a Black girl from a poor inner-city neighborhood who is desperate to return to her community after she discovers she has magic powers and is swept away to the secret land of Ghizon, only to discover that the evil infiltrating the land may also be threatening her hood. Described as The Hate U Give meets Wonder Woman in a Black Panther world, this novel tackles racism, privilege, and allyship with clear parallels to the Black Lives Matter Movement.

For your favorite crazy cat lady:
We know them, we love them, and we (usually) support their feline fandom. So instead of turning to a typical T-shirt or overdone wall art, this year, gift your cat-obsessed friend with a book from a cozy mystery series featuring lovable Siamese RahRah and his amateur sleuth owner, Sarah. Debra H. Goldstein’s Sarah Blair Mystery Series are witty and charming whodunits that include easy recipes for the cooking-averse — and of course, lots of cat content!

For the theater nerd in your life:
Got that one friend who breaks out into song when things are a bit too quiet? Or maybe you are that friend. Either way, embrace that performance prowess by pre-ordering your friend — or yourself — a copy of Odd Woman Out by actress Melanie Chartoff (aka Didi Pickles from Rugrats). From breaking into the biz to the devotion that led her to put career over love and family, Melanie’s stories are equal parts heartwarming, entertaining and oh, so funny in this memoir.

For your siblings who swear like sailors:
None of us can deny 2020 has been a mess. But instead of shushing your brother’s creative cursing or stifling your sister’s impulsive swears, psychologist Jodie Eckleberry-Hunt would rather embrace it, as she details in her self-help guide Move On Motherf*cker: Live, Laugh, and Let Sh*t Go. Whether it’s journaling exercises or practical steps individuals can incorporate into their daily lives, this is a book your family members will be ******* glad to receive under the Christmas tree this year.

For your film-obsessed friend:
I bet you’re thinking, “We all love movies, right?” or “I’ve been watching 10+ hours of Netflix per day since March, surely that counts, right?” Well, nice try. But when we say obsessed, we mean like, knows-Cary-Grant’s-birthday-and-celebrates-it-annually obsessed. Or, someone who actually knows what French New Wave Cinema is, someone who’s not only subscribed to Netflix and Hulu but also the Criterion Channel. You get the idea. Well, if you’re into getting the perfect gift, look no further than Phantom Lady: Hollywood Producer Joan Harrison, the Forgotten Woman Behind Hitchcock by Christina Lane. Considering that this is the first-ever biography on writer-producer Joan Harrison, it’s sure to have even the most extreme film fanatic saying, “Huh, I actually never knew that!”

For your techie cousin:
If your cousin is always coding or streaming on Twitch, then getting them a book may not seem like the obvious choice – but we’re not talking about a slow-burn here, we’re talking about a fast-paced, action-packed, furious page-turning type of book. The Price of Safety by Michael C. Bland is set in the United States in 2047, a time when technology is implanted in human brains and extensive surveillance is used to reduce crime rates. After a techie dad decides to help his daughter cover up for a crime, things get dangerous, pitting them against powerful forces in the government.

For your younger brother, who has taken to wearing all black and talking about death a lot:
This year has brought out the nihilism in a lot of people, but we suggest directing them to a book that will fit their darkness but leave them uplifted. E.A. Barres’ thriller They’re Gone is gritty with great character work. It starts off with two murdered men and only gets more intriguing from there.

For your uncle who misses the glory days of rock ‘n roll:
Jon Zazula, who is known in the music world as Johnny Z, gives a look behind the scenes in his book, Heavy Tales. After he and his wife founded Megaforce Records in the early ’80s, he had a hand in the early successes of bands like Metallica, and has stories to share.

Need even more book recommendations? Check out our previous blog posts or email me at ellen@booksforward.com.