BookExpo 2015 in Photos

BookExpo 2015 was part booksellers conference, part bookfest, part circus. Here’s a look at some of the highlights in pictures.

Gigantic banners featured books with high expectations, including Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee, Witches by Stacy Schiff, and The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch AlbomGigantic banners feature books with high expectations, including Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee, Witches by Stacy Schiff, and The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom–in addition to ever-popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid franchise.Photo by Rod Searcey
Dave Barry (left) talks about writing humor for children with Alan Zweibel (center) and Adam Mansbach.  Mansbach is the author of Go the F*k to Sleep, and has co-written with Zweibel Benjamin Franklin: Huge Pain in My…Photo by Rod SearceyDave Barry talks about writing humor for children with Alan Zweibel (black jacket) and Adam Mansbach (short sleeves). Mansbach is the author of Go the Fuck to Sleep, and has co-written with Zweibel Benjamin Franklin: Huge Pain in My...
RSD15_044_0031A little book madness from the …For Dummies folks.Photo by Rod Searcey
Tess Gerritsen signs ARCs of her forthcoming novel Playing with Fire.Photo by Rod SearceyTess Gerritsen signs ARCs of her forthcoming novel Playing with Fire
   IMG_0040 (2)Lines for book signings. The most popular authors often had 40-50 booksellers waiting for a signed ARC.Photo by Holly Brady
Author Jonathan Franzen talked about the writing life and introduced his new novel Purity.Photo by Holly BradyIMG_0030
IMG_0053 (1)Emeril LaGasse shares a few moments with a fan.Photo by Holly Brady

Hachette vs. Amazon: Do Writers Benefit?

P1000708_JPGJeff Bezos spoke at the Stanford Publishing Course for several years running in the ’90s. At the time, the only thing Amazon was selling was books, and we loved books.

But he tipped his hand one day as he was leaving campus. “I don’t know why you ask me back every year,” he mused before ducking into a town car headed to the airport.

What an odd comment, I thought. Now, of course, it has become clear. We saw him as a highly inventive book distributor. He saw himself as something entirely different.

Now there’s a wicked fight going on between Hachette and Amazon over the price of ebooks. Hachette wants to keep those prices higher than Amazon does, and since they can’t come to agreement, Amazon has slowed the sale of Hachette books by various means-including blocking preorders and removing listing of some titles.

If you want a roadmap of the current controversy, which is now being debated by Clay Shirkey, Mike Shatzkin and Brian O’Leary, start with Jane Friedman’s excellent summary here.

Bezos himself has been mum on this issue, but his team did respond-somewhat obliquely. On August 8, they sent a mass email to their Kindle authors, asking them to rally around Amazon’s efforts to keep ebook prices low. Here’s the crux of Amazon’s argument:

Many inside the echo-chamber of the industry often draw the box too small. They think books only compete against books. But in reality, books compete against mobile games, television, movies, Facebook, blogs, free news sites and more. If we want a healthy reading culture, we have to work hard to be sure books actually are competitive against these other media types, and a big part of that is working hard to make books less expensive.

Moreover, e-books are highly price elastic. This means that when the price goes down, customers buy much more. We’ve quantified the price elasticity of e-books from repeated measurements across many titles. For every copy an e-book would sell at $14.99, it would sell 1.74 copies if priced at $9.99. So, for example, if customers would buy 100,000 copies of a particular e-book at $14.99, then customers would buy 174,000 copies of that same e-book at $9.99. Total revenue at $14.99 would be $1,499,000. Total revenue at $9.99 is $1,738,000. The important thing to note here is that the lower price is good for all parties involved: the customer is paying 33% less and the author is getting a royalty check 16% larger and being read by an audience that’s 74% larger. The pie is simply bigger.

(Read the entire email here).

It’s unusual for Amazon to provide hard numbers such as these. But the argument is a cogent one, and that’s probably why Amazon decided to open the kimono.

I do not think traditional publishers have it right when they argue that Amazon threatens the future of literary culture. I believe that we are seeing the birth of a new publishing business model that offers serious authors greater control and a better shot at connecting with their readers-and lower prices for ebooks are part of that model.

But having worked for the past four years with authors who publish directly through Amazon, I also see how slim the profit margins are for these authors after all the bills are paid. (See my post here. ) I would love to see Amazon seize this crucial moment not by strong-arming Hachette, but rather by rethinking its own business model and sharing more of the revenue with authors. If we’re talking about “promoting a healthier reading culture,” wouldn’t this would be a far more powerful and effective tactic?

So—take the high road, Jeff. Support a healthy reading culture. Don’t block the sale of Hachette books. Rather, spend your time and money nurturing the authors who are experimenting with it and with you. Share more of the profits generated under the new publishing model with the entrepreneurial authors who are building it together with Amazon.

Book Expo 2014 photo album

Martin Short


A selfie taken with Martin Short, one of the celebrity authors featured at BEA 2014.

Book Expo America (BEA) is one of the largest and most prestigious book conferences in the world. Over a thousand exhibitors, 750 authors, and booksellers and publishers all together in one big hall. A book lover’s paradise.

For a few more photos of all the craziness, check out my Pinterest board below.

Holly’s board of Book Expo America sights – 2014 on Pinterest.

Best Fonts for Book Covers

Pentecost, by Joanna Penn uses League Gothic font

Pentecost, by Joanna Penn uses League Gothic font

I’m working with an author on a book cover for a nonfiction book with strong commercial potential.

Since the cover is among the top 3 reasons why readers buy a book, we’re working closely with our designer to choose the exact right fonts for the cover.

In doing research, I came across an excellent article by Joel Friedlander, the Book Designer, on the 5 best fonts for book covers. His picks:
5 best cover fonts
I tend to prefer chunkier fonts because they read better when reduced to the postage-stamp size image displayed on Amazon pages. But that Trajan, which is used for many movie posters, is an excellent choice when you’re going for a more elegant look.

You can’t go wrong with any of these choices. But if you want more, check out the huge collection of commercially available fonts on MyFonts or the free fonts available on Font Squirrel.


An Author’s Guide to Amazon: 7 Tools To Help Increase Book and Author “Discoverability”

Below is a terrific summary of practical things you can do to make your book more visible on Amazon.

It comes from the enewsletter of Smith Publicity, Inc.
Kudos to Book Publicist Jennifer Tucker who put together the list.

1. Author Central
Think of Author Central as your “main hub” in the wide world that is Amazon. Beyond creating an author page, which will educate customers about you and your book and display essential information about your biography, blog posts, etc., you can also use Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) to set up your book for the Kindle if you own electronic rights. Also through Author Central, you can track book sales numbers across the U.S. for the past four weeks to identify sales trends, utilize the CreateSpace platform to publish your next book, and explore Kindle Direct Publishing Select, which will allow you to earn higher royalties.

2. Amazon Forums
Amazon offers a variety of discussion forums for authors, which can help you to network with other authors and expose your book to a new audience interested in your genre. You can also learn just by reading other posters’ questions, advice, answers, tips and tools. Feel free to reach out to other authors (who are often avid readers themselves) to ask for feedback on your book, to position yourself as an expert in your field, and to just have fun!

3. Amazon Keyword Tags
By using the tagging feature, you can make your book more searchable almost immediately, if done correctly. Check out tags on other books (especially top selling titles!) in your book’s genre and make your own tags accordingly. The more keywords you have tagged, the better readers will be able to find your book within a slew of other books. Fun tip — think like a reader: what keywords would you use to search your book? Also, changing tags each week or every few weeks gets your book in front of new audiences.

4. Amazon’s Listmania!
Listmania! is another tool that authors can utilize to reach potential book buyers. Listmania positions your book among other books in your genre by adding your book to book lists, but word to the wise: for best results, make sure to be very selective and true to your book’s genre when choosing your lists.

5. Amazon’s “Search Inside the Book”
Just as book excerpts    draw readers in, Amazon’s “Search Inside the Book” feature allows readers to flip through some of your book, with the goal of making them want to read more. This feature also works to prevent negative comments because by previewing the book, the reader has a better understanding of your book’s content. Be sure to have your personal Amazon page set up before you move forward with this tool, as it can take time to be approved by Amazon.

6. Amazon Marketplace
Amazon Marketplace serves as a third-party online storefront where you can sell your book alongside the array of other Amazon goods. While it’s a great tool and can offer you more freedom as an author (you can choose to give autographed copies of the book, for instance), authors must be willing to carry a book inventory and must have this inventory already on hand to be set up in the Marketplace. It also requires plenty of time and patience for authors to manage their own online book sales, though many authors enjoy the control that they have over the price of their book and fulfillment of book orders.

7. Amazon “So you’d like to…” Guide
With the Amazon “So you’d like to…” guide, you can actually build a guide around your book topic, genre, or specialty, which will position you as the expert of your book or field. This free tool allows you to think outside the box when it comes to book promotion and gives you the option to include your book with other Amazon products, essentially creating a “bundle” of items relating to the “So you’d like to…” Guide topic. Authors can choose to write content about the subject and, within the content, mention that the book is for sale on Amazon.

The “Truthiest” Font Is…

Sample typefaces: Georgia, Helvetica, Comic Sans, Trebuchet, BaskervilleIf you don’t think fonts matter, take a look at the article in Friday’s New York Times. Errol Morris describes the informal experiment of a university student who found that he could raise his grade average just by doing one thing: changing his essay font.

“[The student] had written 52 essays in total. Eleven were set in Times New Roman, 18 in Trebuchet MS, and the remaining 23 in Georgia. The Times New Roman papers earned an average grade of A-, but the Trebuchet papers could only muster a B-. And the Georgia essays? A solid A.”

Intrigued, Morris created his own experiment. He tested 45,000 readers’ perceptions of the “truth” of a passage when presented in one of six randomly assigned fonts–Baskerville, Computer Modern, Georgia, Helvetica, Comic Sans and Trebuchet.

Turns out, if you want your writing to emit an aura of truthiness, Baskerville is your font. Who knew?

Helen Gurley Brown, editor of Cosmopolitan, dies at 90

Folks who came through Stanford Publishing Course will remember Helen Gurley Brown, the editor of Cosmopolitan, who gave such memorable talks about her rise to the top of the New York publishing world–alongside her husband, film producer David Brown (Jaws, The Sting, Driving Miss Daisy). Helen died today at the age of 90.

Helen Gurley Brown at Stanford Publishing Course

photo by Rod Searcey

Helen was full of both bravado and anxiety. And she was willing to show you both. That was her charm.

Here’s a little story that captures her quirkiness better than any I can remember.

When I took over the Stanford Publishing Course in 1994, David Brown was already a veteran speaker who taught participants how to turn a book into a Hollywood film. But Helen did not accompany him on his trips to campus. Turns out she had come to Stanford in the early ’70s, at the height of the Women’s Movement, and given a talk. Because she stood for women who put their men first, she received a not-altogether-gracious reception from Stanford women. She never forgot the experience.

Then one spring day in 1999, David left me a voicemail about the logistics of his upcoming PubCourse talk, adding–offhandedly–that his wife would be accompanying him on his trip to campus.


I immediately called him back, and asked him if she would consider speaking, too. “I don’t know,” he said. “Why don’t you ask her yourself.”

When I reached Helen, she was reticent, dodgy, anxious. Finally, she said, “I don’t think I want to speak, but if you can find somebody to interview me, I’ll do that. ” Bingo.

Getting someone with enough weight to interview Helen on stage was a challenge.    PubCourse director Paul Saffo came up with the best idea: Katrina Heron, the young-turk editor-in-chief of Wired would surely know how to engineer a provocative conversation with Helen. And she would herself be a coup to have onstage.

And so we set it up.

About three weeks from the start of the Course, Helen called. “Who is it that will be interviewing me?” she asked. I reminded her. “Okay. Sounds good,” she said.

Several days later, she called again. “I don’t think I need to be interviewed,” she said. “I’ll just talk.” I couldn’t set Katrina adrift, so I convinced Helen that the current plan was a better one. “Okay,” she said, this time with more reticence.

She called several more times with the same concern, and I continued to push for the interview format.

Finally, the evening of the interview came. Katrina and Helen were positioned on a stage set with two leather armchairs. Saffo made the intros. The moment he finished, Helen sprang from her chair, strode to the front of the stage, and started talking. She told stories about how she had risen from secretary to top editor at Cosmo, how she’d met and “snagged” her famous husband, what good sex they had (even now), and how any “girl” could have it all. Katrina, with enormous grace, simply sat there.

Paul started poking me. “Do something,” he whispered. But what could I do? We were witnessing Helen–in full “on” mode.

Finally, she paused and took a deep breath. Then she turned, sat down, and said to Katrina, “Now let’s talk.”

In those twenty minutes, Helen displayed and dispelled much of the anxiety she had harbored about speaking at Stanford. And when she had done so, she engaged with Katrina in a memorable conversation about what it takes to be an editor-in-chief at a top New York magazine.

I’ll miss Helen’s bravado. And her vulnerability.

Best Book Covers

Just back from BookExpo in New York, where I saw some extraordinary book covers. Over at Pinterest, I’ve put together a little board with comments on why each deserves special attention. If you believe, as I do, that people do indeed judge a book by its cover, check out my Pinterest Board.

Click here for larger view

Best Book Covers from BookExpo 2012

Tips for Hiring an Editor

Do you really need an editor?

Yes! Absolutely. Without question. Regardless of how good your writing is, you need a professional editor to work with you before you publish.

Think of it this way: your editor is a black box through which you send your manuscript–line by line. She will tell you whether the ideas, thoughts, connections and emotion you intended to produce in the reader’s mind when you crafted that sentence is what you actually produced.

Meghan Ward of the Grotto writing consortium in San Francisco has just posted a terrific little piece on tips for hiring a freelance editor–including costs associated with a professional edit. Highly recommended.

How to Find a Literary Agent

I’m often asked by writers who want to take a traditional publishing route: how do I find an agent?

The best answer to that: check out the discussion that has been percolating over at Book Publishing Professionals. Writers and publishing professionals have been gnawing on that bone for several months now.

After you read those comments, you’ll have a much better view of the truth of the matter than any expert or writer’s guide could offer.