Thursday, October 15, 2009

You tell me: book evangelizing

Here's a question I get asked A LOT, in one variation or another. "What have you read lately that's good?"/ "What's your favorite book published this year?" / "What are you excited about?" Sometimes, those questions are the perfect lead-in for me to talk about one of the recently-published books that I've edited or worked/assisted on (and I like to think I've helped to sell at least a few books that way!), which is something that I never get tired of doing.

Other times when I get asked this question, it would be a bit gauche to mention books that I've had a hand in putting out into the world. Happily, though, I'm not the only editor whose authors have written great books, so quite often I also find myself evangelizing for other books and authors who I admire. And I think that evangelize (which Websters defines as "having crusading zeal,") is exactly the right word, because I think there's something in all of us readers that instinctively wants to share the goodness of books that we truly connect to/admire/find truth in. It's easy, these days, to click a button that makes you a "fan" of something, or to retweet someone else's praise--and these are good things, and important tools in today's world. But I don't think those sort of automatic, reflexive actions take the place of honest, person-to-person getting-worked-up-about-a-book excitement (though a great thing about today's world is that I don't think those exchanges have to happen in person anymore, thanks to blogs, goodreads, facebook, twitter, etc.).

I'm curious how spreading the word about books looks and feels to those outside the industry, though, as I know my perspective sometimes gets skewed by being surrounded by so many professionally bookish types. So think back to the last few books that you haven't been able to stop telling people about. What makes you talk about those books/give them as gifts/make your book group read 'em/lend out your copies/determined to spread the word about them in a zillion other ways? The floor's wide open in the comments--what books (or qualities about books, if you don't feel like naming titles) are you an evangelist for, and why? And how do you find yourself doing your book evangelizing?


  1. I can't wait to see what your commenters have to say on this!

    It's the million dollar question, really, isn't it? Word of mouth is what sells books, more than anything else, I think. As authors, we wish we could insert that certain something in each and every book.

    The last book I bought for a gift and couldn't stop talking about with people was THE HELP. The books I love are the ones that make me laugh and make me cry. I think that's what people are looking for - a connection, and we connect through our emotions. If we can laugh and/or cry with the main character(s), he/she feels like a friend, and we want others to get to know him/her.

  2. It's really the emotional connection, something that just hits you in the core and reaches deep down inside you. I've been a big fan of IF I STAY by Gayle Forman and recommend that to a lot of people. I also try to tailor book recs to specific people. If an adult female just read Twilight, I'll often recommend Evermore, because it can be a good next book to get them excited about YA. If someone loves a good escapist novel, I ask if they've read Emily Giffin and then suggest her. I try as much as possible to customize my "book evangelizing."

  3. Hands down the book I've "pushed" the most in recent months has been THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins. My answer should be CATCHING FIRE - the next in the series - but I confess, I haven't read that yet. Gasp! I'm saving it as a treat for when I finish my current round of revisions. Because I know once I start I won't get a thing done, including sleep.

    THG is a brilliant fast paced story that kept me guessing the entire time so even though it's YA I recommend it to everyone I know. Even the people freaked out about reading a "kids book."

    Right now I'm excited to spread the word on HUSH, HUSH by Becca Fitzpatrick since it finally hit stores this week. Again the thing that grabbed me and makes me want to tell others about it is the twist and turns that kept me on the edge of my seat forcing me to stay up very late just to finish.

    If a book can keep me from writing my own book it's definitely one I will share with friends. Even strangers if the subject of reading comes up.

  4. Characters and worldbuilding. Right now my husband and I are reading PUMP SIX and WINDUP GIRL - they're tough reads because of being a fairly bleak future, but those people are REAL and that world - I could walk right into it. I wouldn't want to, but I could.

    Someone on twitter recommended SOMEDAY THIS PAIN WILL BE USEFUL TO YOU and I've been recommending it right left and center since I read it, because the voice of the protagonist is so clear in my head, sometimes I think I could meet him on the street.

    We read a very eclectic span of books, and tell people about them - but those are the the common thread.

  5. The last book I evangelized is Feed. What makes me want to evangelize a book goes back to the old Catcher in the Rye quote:

    "What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it."

    I suppose when I read a book like Feed, I feel as if I'm in a sort of community with the author. What binds us is that we both understand some essential truths about the world or about people. When I evangelize a book, I feel like I am sort of espousing the author's message. I'm saying "I believe in this. Do you? Are you a part of our community?"

  6. Part of it is knowing what other people like. As much as I enjoy Sherrilyn Kenyon, my SO wouldn't. However, S would & as soon as I read a book of hers, I told him about it & loaned him my copy.

    OTOH, I shared my Lois McMaster Bujold & Jim C. Hines with my SO. And I shared Three Cups of Tea (the book) with my stepmother.

    One element that inspires me to proselytize is the book's humor. Goblin Hero is a twist on typical fantasy quest books in that the protagonist is a goblin; a cowardly, nearsighted goblin at that.

    A new twist on an old story or trope; Lacky's A Wizard in London or Reserved for the Cat both take old fairy tales, put them in a new setting and she tells them very well.

    Really, really, omg well-written books that just strike a chord. That's Bujold & the 3 Cups as examples.

    The sort of stories that I write fan fiction about (for my own amusement, not even online). The characters have so much life that they exist beyond the covers of the book to me.

  7. I'm a sucker for severely flawed characters with redeeming qualities, (like a sense of humor and big heart). That's why THE SPECTACULAR NOW is high on my recommend list. Plus, the writing is spectacular. Every word counts.

  8. There are plenty of books I like, even love, but for some reason those don't come to mind when the "What should I read?" question comes. It's the books that are an experience for me, the ones I had a emotional reaction to, the ones I want to MARRY.
    I felt like this after HUNGER GAMES. After I read it, I ran around mumbling the title to any poor sap who would listen. I still feel like this. I've bought copes for my family, called them after to discuss, seen random teens in the bookstore looking at it and spent ten minutes pimping... er, evagenlizing to them. CATCHING FIRE--same thing. And yes, I want to be Suzanne Collins best friend.
    But it isn't just books that make me cry and gasp. I LOVE sharing funny books. After I read AUDREY WAIT!, I went out and bought five copies, so I would always have one on hand to give away. I'm down to one now. My latest fav, out in March, is HEX HALL. With YA, if a book takes me back to high school, I really get connected to it. The pitch perfect voice swept me away, making for a delightful two day reading orgy.
    OK. Breathing again. Please please read all of this. Please people! You can borrow my copy!

  9. I'm reading REVOLUTIONARY ROAD right now and I can tell you exactly what makes me an evangelist: good writing. Writing (and story) that takes my breath away. I want to share it. It elevates my mind and my life! I felt this way about Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, too, and I am not a fantasy reader... but deeply felt writing does it for me every time. GILEAD was this sort of experience for me as well.

  10. I evangelize a ton of writing comrades and I talk all the time about what we're reading and loving, and even what we're not getting about popular books, just so we can understand them.

    My favorite place to evangelize, though, is at the dinner table with my extended family. I love bringing people into the YA and even MG world. It's gotten to where my relatives say, "OK. I loved that. What next?"

  11. I find myself frequently gushing about talented debut authors--or awesome established authors who aren't quite getting the sales I think they deserve. I feel like they need the most grassroots help getting started. (Plus, the aspiring author karma can't hurt!)

    This is done primarily through my blog (directed at the general YA-reading public). I definitely push books on friends & family too, but those recommendations are much more personalized. (I rarely Facebook about books I love because I don't want to irritate people who could care less about YA!)

    I find myself gushing about novels that just entrance me. I have to love the characters, but I'm always swayed by exceptional plotting. Sometimes I'll promote books that I haven't yet read, but I usually make sure that I at least have a feeling for the author's skill (from an excerpt or a blog) and can reasonably guess that I'll love the book.

    And to give you an example of the best evangelizing EVER: hilarious fan video for Girl in the Arena

  12. Thanks for the great comments & insights, everyone. This is all great food for thought. Keep the conversation coming!

  13. Anyone who has a true love of books is probably prone to falling in love with some here and there. Those are the ones we probably evangelize. I've been pushing the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson lately because I think he's really shown what persistence and consistency can offer to aspiring authors. And because his works have made me fall in love with the fantasy genre all over again.

    To make a point about your post, I don't think there is anything wrong with talking up projects you've worked on. It stands to reason that an editor would choose projects they loved. Perhaps in the case of someone _only_ talking about books they've worked on, people might start to shy away from that, but I rarely see that.

  14. I'm often the go-to mom for other mom's to ask about books for their kids, and I love it. (Don't know what I'll do when all these kids grow up!). And it is evangelizing, because I just can't not be excited about the books when I talk about them. For me, it's the books that either have a character I can't get out of my head or a story that is just so fun and fast. I also, though, really get hooked on those books that I can see are so perfectly crafted--the plot, the tension arc, the sentence-level prose. And I never know whether that stuff will hook the kids (or the parents) in the way it gets me as a writer. Probably, right? Probably they just love it without worrying about why. I'm just reading FIRE, and this is one of those books, in which I'm in awe of the skill. And I'll be talking it up a lot.

  15. my husband and I are reading THE BOOK THEIF together (out loud to each other) and it's marvelously crafted. it's always so fun to TALK about books in a real, sitting at home, conversation. But since that isn't always possible, I think blogs and twitter and goodreads are the next best thing: i love it when people post a WHAT I AM READING list to their blog side bar: I hope to add one to mine soon:) Trust is a huge part of "book talk." People will read the book if they trust the PERSON recommending it. keeping it personal is key with internet marketing I think:) great post, molly:)