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Friday, July 29, 2016

Will You Fall In Love With Big Little Books?


The book publishing industry is made up of different types of individuals.  Probably only a handful of older writers, editors, and literary agents would remember what was referred to as “Big Little Books, " but a 1997 book that I’d come across brought a whole era to light in such a positive way that I wanted to share with you the author’s passion for a bygone period.  

The Big Book of Big Little Books, by Bill Borden with Steve Posher , says the adventure series books was one of the most popular genres throughout the 1930’s and 40’s.  Borden wrote:

“Every book was rife with cliffhangers, chapters that would compel readers on to the next, leaving them wondering how their hero would escape the latest calamity.”

Whitman Publishing launched “Big Little Books” in 1932.  The author believes some 1,100 similar style books were published in the first two decades.  Other companies copied the style to produce hundreds more.  The Adventures of Dick Tracy was the first one to be produced.

You can see how the author expresses a fondness for these books.  He wrote:

“The early BLBs somehow seem to transcend being just books.  Each one has become an object of art. Small, blocky, and colorful, the books have the aroma and yellowish glow of old newsprint, and they hold the promise of adventure, laughter and love. I relish holding them in my hands, or just looking over and seeing these thick little books sitting on my shelves.

“I have always wondered if their size made them more intimate, allowing me to create stories with my imagination that emerged directly from the pages themselves.  Leonardo da Vinci once said that one can create better in a small room than in a larger one where the mind can wander.  Does that apply to small books too?  Did these small books, which are only slightly larger than a child’s hands, make it easier for their young readers to hold them, and then to imagine?”

These books gave the youthful reader a sense of adventure and wonder during times that made most feel sad or fearful.  The Great Depression and World War II consumed a generation.  But the author explains here why the Big Little Book had such appeal:


“In the 1930s, whether you were a twelve-year-old huddled in a small farmhouse amid sprawling Iowa cornfields on a cold night or peering out of a sixth-floor tenement window in Brooklyn looking down at glistening rain-soaked streets and blinking stoplights, you yearned to discover a life beyond the horizon-and a dime could buy you that.  With a BLB adventure, you could go to another world filled with exotic locations, outrageous heroes and heroines, and wonderfully scary dangers.  The American ethic triumphed, the bad guys lost, morality was preserved.”

A Wikipedia entry says: “A Big Little Book was typically 3⅝″ wide and 4½″ high, with 212 to 432 pages making an approximate thickness of 1½″. The interior book design usually displayed full-page black-and-white illustrations on the right side, facing the pages of text on the left. Stories were often related to radio programs (The Shadow), comic strips (The Gumps), children's books (Uncle Wiggily), novels (John Carter of Mars) and movies (Bambi). Later books of the series had interior color illustrations.”

It is interesting how a particular format and type of content could be so wildly popular and then virtually disappear from the book landscape. What will be the next hot genre or format? I guess ebooks are the latest generational craze. Before them came things like coffee table books, books with CD-Roms, the dime romance novel, etc.

Could we see a return of Big Little Books?  I have no doubt that anything that was successful once before will have a return trip one day in the future.


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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2016.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Interview with James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief, Midwest Book Review



1.      How is the Midwest Book Review serving the book publishing community today? We produce nine monthly book review publications; provide reviews to Gale Cengage Learning for their "Book Review Index" database serving thousands of library systems throughout the United States and Canad; publish two monthly advice columns on writing and publishing (Beth Cox Report & Jim Cox Report); respond to individual questions from individuals from the writing and publishing community; maintain a massive web site specifically designed to promote literacy, library usage, and small press publishing; give priority consideration whenever possible to reviewing books from self-published authors and small presses.

2.      Jim, how has the Midwest Book Review evolved over the years? We began as a weekly radio show in Madison, Wisconsin in 1976. In 1978 we added a local weekly television show on Madison's cable network. In 1980 launched our first monthly book review publication (The Bookwatch) designed specifically for Wisconsin libraries. That original print publication evolved over the years to become nine on-line publications. It was in 1980 that we also launched our Midwest Book Review web site.

3.      What do you love about books? I enjoy learning from non-fiction and being entertained by fiction. Reading books is a form of life-long learning and I'm insatiably curious about the world around me and the people that inhabit it.

4.      Where do you see the book industry heading? The digital revolution is here to stay. Print editions of books will continue to lose market share over the next two decades as the older and print oriented generations (of which at 73 years old I am a member) die off and are replaced by aging millennials who are comfortable with mobile devices such as Kindles and Smart Phones.

5.      How important are book reviews in today’s world? "Make or Break" important -- especially if authors and publishers and their publicists become knowledgeable and adroit as utilizing social media to get the word out to the general reading public.

6.      What do you look for in the books that you review? Well-crafted use of the English language. Originality and talent in storytelling with respect to fiction. "Reader Friendly" organization and presentation with respect to non-fiction.  Cover Art is every bit as important as interior content with respect to a book's commercial viability.

7.      Are there any hot genres or book trends that you are seeing? Adult coloring books are red hot right now. Cookbooks are perennial favorites. In fiction, Romance continues to dominate as a genre. One dramatic trend that now clearly established is that of authors and publishers coming out with a Kindle edition as well as their print (hardcover or paperback) edition. Still one more trend that has continued to strengthen in terms of book marketing is the dominance of Amazon.com as an on-line seller; and that traditional brick-and-board bookstores having to have an on-line operation to supplement (and even make possible) their continued economic survival.

For more information, please consult: www.midwestbookreview.com.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Getting Media Coverage For Books Despite The Elections, Olympics, Terrorism



Authors struggle to get media coverage for their books on a good day, but how do they breakthrough when there’s really big news going on?

Just look at recent headlines. They were dominated by two political conventions, multiple terrorist attacks, a coup in Turkey, cop killings, innocent blacks shot by cops, and the usual mayhem experienced in cities across the country.  Then you have stories that are brewing, such as Zika outbreaks, the Olympics, and local political races.  Add in the usual coverage dedicated to celebrities, pro sports, extreme weather, a gyrating Wall Street, and the newest regular beat – mass shootings – and the media landscape becomes a tough nut to crack if you are an author, especially of fiction.  So what’s a writer to do?

First, create really good press kit materials, customize an accurate media outreach list, and identify who you should be targeting.  Present the best you, regardless of what the media is covering.  Identify your most interesting story angles and talking points and give them your best shot.

Second, look at what’s being covered by the media-and peer into the upcoming news cycle to look for ways to tie your message into what they are interested in.  You can’t offer more of the same.  Think about what you can offer that’s new, unique, or contrarian.  Be controversial, be shocking or be extremely useful with advice and insights on how to prevent something from happening or how to fix a current crisis.

Third, you can sit things out and wait until huge news stories blow over so that you don’t compete with them, but I generally don’t advise this. Books have a limited shelf life.  Unless you delay the actual release of a book, merely missing days or weeks of pitching the media guarantees you’ll receive zero coverage.  You might as well try to get some attention no matter how futile you believe such an attempt would be.

Four, look to see what competing authors are doing to get media coverage.  Copy what works.

Fifth, focus on obtainable, media.  Instead of contacting the New York Times, CBS This Morning, and NPR’s Fresh Air, try your local media, smaller blogs and podcasts, and some radio.

Sixth, when the major media is absorbed or consumed by a huge story - scandal, violence, politics – spend more time trying to create attention through your social media network. Build up Twitter connections, post more to your blog or FB page, or experiment with another medium, such as video.

Seventh, don’t despair or resort to using media saturation as an excuse to do nothing or accept failure. The news still covers more than one story and no matter how dominant a single story appears to be it eventually fades away.  You need to push and get creative to secure media coverage.  No time to lick your wounds or drown your sorrows in wine.

Eighth, dig deep for ways to connect your background, experiences, book, job, or schooling to what’s in the news. If you really have nothing to use, then play up your weakness as a strength. If you can’t find a way to compete with what’s in the news, offer the opposite. If you have a good humor book, pitch yourself as comic relief for a time when the world is so serious, sad, and dangerous.  If you have an escapist novel, present it as a great way to imagine a world without the turmoil that dominates our thoughts.

Lastly, if all else falls short, consider hiring a publicity firm that specializes in books.  Sometimes the professionals with media contacts can bust through the barriers writers feel when seeking out media coverage.

Good luck in doing battle for media attention.  It may help if you kill someone or run for a high political office, but if you can’t work that out, follow this bit of advice – find something to say that out, follow this bit of advice – find something to say that you believe in that you think others need to discover and do all that you can to make your voice heard. 

Someone will listen if you truly have something of interest or importance.

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Speak If You Want To Sell What Your Wrote



One of the best ways to sell books is to speak before a crowd.  Yes, good old fashioned contact with humans.  Sure you can do radio interviews, guest-blog, Tweet, and get a review in a newspaper, and all of that publicity is not only helpful to generate sales but it’s productive in boosting our brand, building your media resume, and in getting a positive message out to a targeted group of people.  But nothing helps more directly with sales than an author speaking – at a bookstore, community, or anywhere that features a gathering of people.

Many, many authors have told me that they always sell books when they speak.  Why?  Because the author-turned-orator lets not only his or her words say something, but their body language, passion, and sincerity become apparent to those who are potentially interested in the author’s topic.  The crowd self-filters—it showed up because it was already predisposed to wanting to hear the message it received.

Speaking, like social media, is not suitable for every author.  Some authors are shy or fearful of public speaking.  Some don’t feel confident nor comfortable about presenting in person.  They may even feel insecure about their voice, appearance, or style.  They may be physically unfit to fill the task of standing and talking for 30-60 minutes.  But if you can do it, public speaking is guaranteed to sell books.  If you set up events and appearances – and don’t sell many books – something is wrong.

So how does one get started?

First, think about what you’d talk about and determine who your targeted audience is.

Second, identify where that target audience gathers and begin to contact those groups or places.

Third, work in advance anywhere from two to ten months.  Some busy organizations book up way in advance and are hard to reach or persuade.

Fourth, organize a schedule.  Which days do you plan to be available and at what times?  How far will you travel?  How many appearances can you do in a day or week?”

Fifth figure out how you’ll monetize the speaking event.  Will you charge admission, sell books, get paid by a group for speaking, or hope the opportunity allows you to network with people who may order bulk quantities of books?

Initially expect to speak for free with an opportunity to sell books.  Find out when the optimal times of the year and day are that you should speak.  See how they can promote you through a newsletter, blog, website or social media.  If they have sister organizations or affiliates, see if they can introduce you to them.  Once you speak, if it goes well, ask to return.  Also request a letter of praise that you can use as a testimonial to win additional speaking gigs from other groups. Think of who is similar to them, even a competitor, and go solicit them to speak.

Here are some do’s and don’ts to speaking:

·         Sound genuine, concerned, and confident.
·         Use humor when appropriate.
·         Engage the audience with ideas, questions or stories.
·         Have people wanting to know more – they need to not feel they heard it all – they need to take an action step/buy book, signup to your blog, connect on social media, etc.
·         Make them feel special, smart and appreciated.
·         Don’t just tell them something – share a piece of yourself.
·         Leave time for a Q&A – that’s when you really get to interact with your audience.
·         Come across as a helpful source as a friend, as an expert.
·         Give something out, even if it’s just a flier with tips and contact information.
·         Speak slowly, clearly, and talk with authority.
·         Reference things people can relate to, especially things in the news.
·         Show that you understand their circumstances and can appreciate their situation.

Speaking can be fun.  It’s one of the few times you get to directly engage potential consumers to hand-sell them based on who you are, what you know and what you say.  You can even videotape your presentation and post it online and gain greater distribution of your message.  By meeting people in person you get to let others hear and see all that you have to offer – and often they’ll buy what you’re selling.

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Monday, July 25, 2016

Freedom of Information Act Turns 50



As the nation celebrated its 240th birthday, this past Independence Day also marked the 50th anniversary of the historic legislation signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson known as the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  This law gives the media – and anyone – the right to access information from the federal government. The National Security Archive, a non-profit that champions the use of the law, shows how it’s been used to expose waste and mismanagement, reveal national security decisions, expose threats to food safety, and hold government to a higher level of accountability. Authors, journalists, and digital media rely on FOIA discoveries to inform the public and to keep our democracy honest and thriving.

Unfortunately, not many people use the powers of FOIA.  Some are confused over how it works or are unaware of the process.  Some are discouraged when requests become expensive, delayed, or denied on a technicality. It’s not a perfect system, but it has made us a substantially better-informed and better-served nation.

According to the State Department’s website, “President Obama signed the Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government as his first executive action, ushering in a new era of open and accountable government meant to bridge the gap between the American people and their government.”

Unfortunately many government agencies and officials still play dirty when it comes to answering, honestly and fully, in a timely manner, all of the FOIA requests that it receives.  Just recently a lawsuit was filed by a national security researcher and MIT Ph.D. candidate, Ryan Shapiro, alleging the FBI is purposely and willfully avoiding public access to documents requested under FOIA.

To place a FOIA request with the dozens of federal agencies that are mandated by the law to participate, there’s no form to fill out.  All you need to do is make a request in writing. You can email or fax it – or mail it.  Each agency may ask for specific details in order to honor your request.

A sample of the agencies you can contact include National Science Foundation, National Transportation Safety Board, EPA and Departments of Commerce, Finance, Defense, Energy, Education and of Homeland Security. A complete list is available at www.foia.gov.

There are many exemptions to the law, some with very good reason. Information that is classified to protect national security; is viewed as an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy; and disclosing techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions is not stuff that the government has to turn over.  There are other exceptions and didactions that the law calls for. However, how does the agency prove that they have met the FOIA standard when declining or honoring a request?  How does the filer know if the government acted truthfully and fairly in what it denied access to?

Writers should look to FOIA requests as a way to gain inside knowledge of what the government should’ve released in the first place.  The writer who knows information can be valuable is also someone who can find a way to use this information to not only make his or her book of more substance but to make it sell well.  Who knows what interesting data or secret dealings can be exposed with a well-written FOIA request.  Don’t you think it’s time you find out?

Go use FOIA to your writing advantage – and help make our country better informed in the process.

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBl

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Book That Binds

I recently came across a 53-year-old book about the old art of book binding, Hand Bookbinding: A Manual of Instruction by Aldren A. Watson (Bell Publishing Company, Inc. (1963). Even though I personally have no interest in binding a book, I found it interesting that this practice was being passed on in a book. Though the book was mainly filled with hundreds of specific steps and illustrations on just how one would go about binding a book, something there is probably very little need for today, there were some good passages about books contained in this manual. Here are some of them:

Early Binding
“Paradoxically, the history of bookbinding begins many centuries after the appearance of the first book.  One of the earliest known “books” is a papyrus roll, dating from the twenty-fifth century, B.C. and containing 18 columns of Egyptian hieratic writing [fig 1]. The roll form continued throughout two thousand years of pre-Christian history. Even after the birth of Christ, although parchment replaced papyrus, the roll volume (from volvere – to roll) remained the standard form.  But the arrangement of the writing in parallel columns separated by vertical lines held the potentiality for the development of a new form.  Eventually, the idea of cutting the roll into separate panels, each holding three or four columns, gave birth to the book as we know it.  The first bound book, then was made up of single sheets, hinged along one edge by means of sewing or lacing.  In the Latin codex, or manuscript book, the columnar arrangement of writing was continued; typical examples from Roman times have three or four columns to the page.  Down to the present day, two- and three-column pages have proven practical and easy to read.  Since modern trade books are predominantly single column, their page are smaller, in contrast to the much larger books of earlier times.”

Paper Making
“Paper making was introduced to Europe from China in the tenth century.  Sheets of this new handmade material approximated parchment in weight, although they could be folded, punched and sewn with far greater flexibility.  Good strong thread was used in the sewing, and silk was employed in making headbands.  Leather was attached to the wooden cover boards in its full thickness; shaving it thin, or paring as it is called, was unknown.  If the temptation is to consider these bindings clumsy, they rather deserve the more proper term “rugged.”  For these binders worked in the tradition of their times; their durable bindings resulted simply from doing their work the only way they knew – well.”

15th Century Revolution
“The revolution in book binding started, however, in the middle of the fifteenth century with the invention of printing from movable type.  A manuscript book, copied by hand, was the product of a slow process producing a single volume.  With Gutenberg’s process of composing words from individual type letters, an entire page could be set up and printed in a vastly accelerated manner.  Relatively speaking, bookbinding changed from an individual craft to one of mass production.  This did not immediately bring in about a reduction in the size of books, for the early type faced were copied from the old, large calligraphic letters.  The growing public demand for books provided the catalyst for a dramatic increase both in the quantity of books and the need for bookbinders.”

According to the book’s jacket, “Hand Bookbinding contains thorough, step-by-step instruction in the sound, traditional methods of fine hand binding, with emphasis on careful workmanship and durability.  Written in clear language, and profusely illustrated with explicit drawings and diagrams, the book demonstrates how to carry through a series of binding projects, from a simple folded booklet to a multi-signature book sewn on tapes.

“Directions are given for the fundamental steps of folding, marking up and sewing, making and attaching boards, and designing title labels. Similar instructions are given for advanced procedures including the rebinding of an old book, making of split boards, head banding, making a slipcase, and the making of a box for a set of books.

“Hand Bookbinding is for the beginning binder, who will find its organization and illustrations easy to follow.  The book is also a useful adjunct to the training of book designers, editors, book illustrators, and those interested in book manufacturing and publishing. It will also be a useful handbook for the amateur hobbyist, the craft teacher, and the camp instructor.”

As for who would be qualified to write such a book? The jacket copy states this about him: “Aldren A. Watson is an artist and craftsman with many talents.  A practicing hand-binder, he is well-known as well as the illustrator of more than two hundred books, and as the author-illustrator of My Garden Grows, A Maple Tree Begins, The Village Blacksmith, and Country Furniture. Mr. Watson has conducted classes and private instruction in hand binding, and has made illustrations for other technical books on the subject. His work is represented in private and public collections, and in numerous periodicals and anthologies.”

To learn more about bookbinding, you may want to consult:

Bookbinders Academy

Philobiblon

Society of Bookbinders

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