By Kelly Jones
So, you’re a writer, and you’ve written a book. You’ve gotten feedback, polished it, and now it’s being published. Congratulations!
Or, maybe you found a book you love, and you want to help spread the word about it!
But, how do you get it into readers’ hands? For that, you may want some help from booksellers, librarians, and teachers. Here’s how to help them discover and share your book with readers!
1. Build a Booktalk
A “booktalk” is a tool to help readers decide if a book is right for them. If you can share a 30-second booktalk that librarians and booksellers can use with readers, that can make their jobs much easier!
Some ways booktalks are used:
- A bookseller might pull 3-5 novels off a display and booktalk each of them to help a customer decide what to buy.
- A school media specialist / librarian might booktalk a number of books for a class assignment, so kids can choose what to read.
- A book club might solicit booktalks from members to choose the group’s next book.
An example for my novel, Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer, which releases May 12 with Knopf Books for Young Readers:
“Unusual Chickens is a book about twelve-year-old Sophie and her magic chickens. When Sophie’s dad loses his job, she and her parents move from Los Angeles to the Northern California farm they inherited. Sophie doesn’t feel like she fits in – she’s Latina and isn’t used to living in a mostly-white neighborhood – so she writes diary-like letters to her beloved abuela, who recently died. Pretty soon, she’s trying to keep a telekinetic chicken, an invisible chicken, and a super-fast chicken safe from a chicken thief, all while making a friend and getting to know her new community.”
What makes a good booktalk?
It’s conversational. Booktalks are part of a conversation about books; they should be an easy way to tell someone about your book, and they should feel natural to the speaker. Consider starting with words like “This is a book about…” “Imagine you are…” “What if…”
The first line hooks readers.
Sometimes even 30 seconds is too long, and you need a one-sentence booktalk. If you only got to share the first sentence of your booktalk, would that be enough to hook a reader? Work on it, then test it out on readers.
It’s memorable and intriguing. We all hear about hundreds of “great books” – what makes this book perfect for the right readers? What details will help readers remember it? How would a reader ask for this book? What makes it not only memorable, but intriguing to the perfect reader?
It gives the reader clues, so they can make a decision. Clues such as the age of the protagonist, the culture(s) in the story, the location, the genre, and what happens can all help the reader to decide whether the book sounds like something they’d like to read. I especially like to include clues that tell readers if a book might be a mirror (a book they can see themselves in) or a window (a world they’d like to experience through a book). Unusual Chickens isn’t primarily about Sophie’s experience as a modern Latina girl – it’s about her magic chickens. But who she is can be an important clue for readers, so I include her heritage in my booktalk.
It contains specific details, but not too many. There are more cool details in any book than will fit in a booktalk – let some surprise and delight the reader who picks it up! Do include specific details – they’re what make your book different from all the others — but choose just a few, or the reader may be overwhelmed.
2. Build Your Local Book Community
So, you have a booktalk for your book! Now let’s find some booksellers and librarians to share it with.
Start local. Visit your local bookstore and/or library, and get to know the book people who work there! I like to start by finding people who like the books I like, and books that are similar to my book. I check displays and recommendations by staff, and ask the people who work there if anyone can recommend a book that’s similar to one I liked.
Share your book as part of your conversation. I like to start conversations with a compliment (“What a beautiful display – I love that you’re celebrating diverse reads!”) or a question (“Can you help me find other middle grade novels about chickens?”) Once we’re talking about other writers’ books, I feel more comfortable talking about mine (“My book about a Latina girl and her magic chickens comes out in May from Random House – I’m so excited!”)
When someone asks about your book, share your booktalk. You want to memorize the basic details and be able to work them into a conversation, not read from a script. It doesn’t need to be exactly the same words every time – and it shouldn’t sound like you’re reciting a speech. (That isn’t how you’d tell your friends about your book, right?) If it’s too long for you to remember, no one else will remember it either – try a shorter one! This is your chance to help a bookseller or librarian pick which details to tell readers about. Pay attention to what intrigues them, what they ask about, and what they don’t seem as interested in.
3. Build Your Online Book Community
What if you don’t have a local bookstore, or you don’t feel comfortable talking to people in person about your book? Try finding booksellers and librarians online!
Use your booktalk online. People looking for more information about you and your book will find it and share it, if they find it on your blog or through social media and it intrigues them. Your booktalk can help book people share your book with readers even if they haven’t had a chance to read your book themselves yet.
Find your book people. Try the Twitter hashtag #librarylife, search for bookstores’ social media pages, read professional reviews such as School Library Journal, and pay attention to online mentions. What bookstores are hosting your favorite authors? Who gave your book a glowing review? What booksellers chose the Kids’ Indie Next titles? Are they on social media? Follow them! Who are they following? Follow them, too! (Latin@s in KidLit is an awesome starting place, of course!!)
Talk about other people’s books! Book people love to talk about books. So join in! Is a bookseller or librarian looking for book suggestions? Share one! Have you just read an amazing book, or learned about a book you’re excited to read – or that you think some readers might really love? Talk about it! Is there a book that inspired you? Share it! Challenge yourself to an extra-short booktalk of someone else’s book, using specific details rather than “great” or “awesome”.
Then, talk about your book, too! Sneak peeks, exciting moments, the kinds of details you share in your booktalk – these are all great to share on social media! But, do try to keep thinking about the reader’s perspective: What can you share that will help the perfect readers find your book, or share it with other readers? What will excite readers and convince them that this is a book they might love? Share that!
Librarians, booksellers, and teachers: please share your thoughts! What helps you share books with readers? How can authors help you find the right readers for their books?
Kelly Jones is a curious person, interested in chickens, magic, farm life, spies, sewing, the odd everyday bits of history, how to make sauerkraut, how to walk goats, superheroes and what makes them so super, recipes to make with a lot of eggs, anything with ghosts (particularly friendly ghosts), how to draw chickens that actually look like chickens, and any story she’s never heard before.
She’s also a writer: Her debut novel Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer, about twelve-year-old Sophie and her magical chickens, is forthcoming from Knopf Books For Young Readers in May of 2015.
Her second book, Glamour, is set in 1818, England, about sixteen-year-old Annis, who would like to become a spy like her father and who does not see why the War Office should put up such a fuss (with bonus magical dressmaking!) is forthcoming from Knopf Books for Young Readers in Spring of 2017.