S1 Ep15: Reviews, lists, & other media circuses

…with Daniel Roman

How do bloggers hear about books, curate lists, and choose what to review? Why does it feel like every list has the same books? Do physical arcs matter when it comes to getting reviews, and how does author platform intersect? This week we’re joined by Daniel Roman, the Associate Editor at the thriving and enormous “Winter Is Coming” sff fansite, to talk about all those topics and more–including suggestions for how authors can conduct themselves online, the importance (or not) of individual platform, and the Bookends 24 Hour Rule that Sunyi lives her Twitter life by.

Show Notes

(coming soon – saved to another file sorry!)


Transcripts (by Sunyi Dean)

[00:00:01.590] – Sunyi
Hi, I’m Sunyi Dean.

00:00:03.690] – Scott
And I’m Scott Drakeford.

[00:00:05.910] – Sunyi
And this is the publishing Rodeo podcast. In 2022, we both launched debut novels in the same genre with the same publisher in the same year. But despite having very similar starts, our books and subsequently each of our careers, went in very different directions.

[00:00:21.970] – Scott
That pattern repeats itself throughout the industry, over and over. Why do some books succeed while others seem to be dead on arrival?

[00:00:30.650] – Sunyi
In this podcast, we aim to answer those questions and many more, along with how to build and maintain an author career.

[00:00:38.490] – Scott
Everyone signing a contract deserves to know what they’re really signing up for. In an industry that loves its secrets, we’ll be sharing real details from real people. We’ll cover the gamut of life as a big five published author, from agents to publishing contracts, finances and more.

[00:01:00.690] – Sunyi
Thanks for waiting while we sorted out our frantic schedule.

[00:01:03.960] – Daniel
No problem.

[00:01:04.900] – Scott
We’ve had to fit in a whole lot more episodes than we had planned. At first, we were only going to Do one a month.

[00:01:11.980] – Daniel
Oh, wow.

[00:01:12.920] – Sunyi
This is how many we were going to do in a year.

[00:01:15.130] – Daniel
Oh, my gosh. You guys must have had a crash two months then.

[00:01:19.290] – Sunyi
Yeah. Now we need to actually get some writing done in the next two months.

[00:01:23.290] – Scott
Seriously. Sunyi does not do things in halves. She just goes, man. But it’s been fantastic. Welcome to the publishing rodeo podcast. We have with us today Daniel Roman. I should probably let you do your own intro so I don’t screw it up. But you are the Associate Editor or an Associate Editor@winteriscoming.net and a short story author, is that correct? What other accolades should we be putting on your name?

[00:01:56.200] – Daniel
Oh, God, probably no accolades, but Associate Editor for Winter iscoming net is definitely the big one and probably the most relevant one to what we’re talking about. I do also write science fiction and fantasy. I have short stories out the same name. Daniel Roman written novels and been on submission with a novel, had a novel die on sub. So got a little bit of a foot in a few different places, but primarily these days I am spending the majority of my time@winterscoming.net and that’s kind of my full time thing at the moment. And I’m one of our primary contacts for book related stuff and we only cover science fiction and fantasy, so I am always trying to stay as keyed into new science fiction and fantasy book releases as possible. That’s me in a nutshell.

[00:02:50.790] – Sunyi
Could you talk to us about what Winter is coming, what that website is, how it got started, what it does, kind of your involvement with it and sort of its place in the book reviewer world.

[00:03:01.230] – Daniel
I should preface this by saying I am not a marketing expert. I am an editor at the site WinterIsComing. Net, where we review fantasy and science fiction books. We do lists of fantasy and science fiction books and what Winter Is Coming net is is basically a fantasy and science fiction fan site that got its start as a Game of Thrones fan site. So when Game of Thrones was on the air, it was pretty much exclusively Game of Thrones, a Song of Ice and Fire, george R. Martin News and since Game of Thrones ended, it’s really expanded into more of just a general home for science fiction and fantasy news, especially television and movie news. But we do cover quite a bit of book stuff at this point as well. So we do review shows, we do review movies and we’ve been pushing more into reviewing books as well. I came onto the site as a freelancer in 2019, basically right when Game of Thrones ended. I wrote something on spec that was just I need to write my feelings out about this, because that series was basically I got into the books as a teenager so that I would know what my world of Warcraft guild members were talking about when they mentioned Jon Snow and all the nothing he knew, and basically just had a feeling, if I don’t write something about this, I’ll regret it.

[00:04:27.050] – Daniel
So submitted it to a few sites I liked reading, including Winter is Coming. They published it and I just kind of kept writing for them. And in late 2021 I was on sub at the same time as I was freelancing for Winter is Coming and then they asked me to come on as an associate editor. So in terms of our place in the book review space, what I would say to that is we do review books but it is not our entire model because we’re talking more broadly about the science fiction and fantasy space usually. So book reviews are one of many different types of things we do at the site. But the one through line to the site is they’re all science fiction and fantasy things, maybe with the exception of we talk about like Utread, son of Utread from The Last Kingdom and stuff like that too. So Sci-Fi fantasy and sneaking in the historical fiction when it is appropriate.

[00:05:28.730] – Scott
Utread counts. Yes.

[00:05:31.690] – Sunyi
You probably get more traffic that way to be honest.

[00:05:36.650] – Daniel
Without knowing book blog numbers from any specific blogs, that is probably true. Winter Is Coming is a fairly large site. I don’t think I am really allowed to talk numbers, but we have millions of people reading the site every month I think is a pretty safe thing to say. It has been interesting for us to do more book coverage because some of it has gone over better than we thought it would because anytime you break into kind of different spaces, there’s always a question of how well it will go over and how things might change. But fantasy and Sci-Fi books are at the root of all the fandoms we talk about.

[00:06:14.860] – Sunyi
Yeah. So today we were going to talk to you about marketing media and a little bit of platform from the perspective of someone that kind of takes reviews and sees some of the back end of it, not as a publisher or as an author, but basically the website media blogger side of it. You kind of provided some topics for us, which is really, really good. But I guess the first question we were going to ask is how do media people or book bloggers curate lists and choose what to review or which titles to cover?

[00:06:41.570] – Daniel
That is a fantastic question that I am sure a lot of authors are really curious about. I know I was always really curious about that and I’m going to give what’s probably a slightly disappointing answer for this, which is everyone has a different way of doing it. So there really are no hard and fast rules for curation beyond the one golden rule is people can only write what they know about so what people are aware of it becomes a huge factor there. But I will say for me personally when it comes to we can talk about lists and reviews kind of as two separate things, but for reviews a lot of it comes down to timing and schedule. The amount of buzz a book has is definitely a factor when you think about books where it might maybe the more buzz there is, the more it might be like folly for a site to not cover a book. So that definitely becomes a factor in the equation. Beyond that. I think there is a lot of personal reading stuff that goes into choosing titles that end up on lists, which feels I hate to say that because it makes it sound like it’s just people picking things randomly.

[00:08:01.300] – Daniel
And you would hope that people are doing their due diligence right. To try and curate lists in a thoughtful way that represent kind of the diversity in the industry at the moment. Because I do think that the science fiction and fantasy landscape is in a really healthy place right now with the different types of titles that are being produced. But ultimately, every media outlet and ecosystem is going to have slightly different ways of doing things. And it’s always fascinating to me to look at other sites lists because there will be releases that I considered like the big release of a given quarter or a given month that isn’t on those lists and then other books that I wouldn’t have even had on my radar, which are getting prominent coverage on them. The short answer is everyone does it different. The long answer is that hopefully people are doing it in a thoughtful way, even if it’s different, hopefully that makes at least a little bit of sense. Yeah, absolutely.

[00:09:02.210] – Scott
I think it absolutely makes sense. So one question I have for you and understanding that everybody does it different, so your answer is probably relevant just for you. But I am interested to hear what Buzz means for you. And you mentioned due diligence. Basically, I’d love to understand what your sources of information are because we’ve talked to booksellers and they go through publishers catalogs and they have sales reps and whatever else. What are your primary sources of information that you’re paying attention to and how do you even find out what books are coming out at any given time?

[00:09:43.210] – Daniel
I would say probably two. There are probably three main things that I pay attention to when it comes to figuring out books for lists, which I’ve been doing this a lot this year because this year Winter Is Coming, started doing a list every month, which we’ve never done before. That was something I kind of pushed for this year because we couldn’t physically cover all the books we wanted to. So doing a list of new releases every month was kind of a happy medium for that, where you can’t be reviewing ten books a month, but you can talk about that they’re coming out. So for me, when it comes to finding titles for lists, there is the maybe it’s becoming more of a dumpster fire by the day, but Twitter is an extremely helpful one, which for a lot of journalists, twitter has been an extremely valuable resource for various parts of the journalism industry. I don’t know how that’s going to change in the coming months, but that has been an extremely useful one for every reason, from publishers tweeting about their books to book bloggers going there to share their video roundups, which you never want to crib someone else’s list, but it’s always good to cross check in case there’s something you might have missed that you really wished you didn’t miss.

[00:11:05.450] – Daniel
I would say the common fantasy and science fiction book spaces. So like Twitter, R, Fantasy on Reddit, those kinds of places are the BookTube channels, like Daniel Green’s a great resource, those sorts of bloggers. So that’s one another and probably the I don’t want to say the more useful, they’re all useful in their own ways. But we also do have a fair amount of contact with publishing PR, not companies, the PR department at publishers. And that ranges from big five publishers to smaller publishers who reach out and say, hey, we have a book coming out. Would you be interested in covering it now for big five and maybe some imprints that aren’t necessarily big five either. A lot of them will have like a catalog that they sent. Some do it quarterly, some do it monthly saying like, here are our releases for the spring, summer, January, whatever. And that is extremely helpful for me because then you have it all in one place. So if you’re curious what Books Tour or Orbit has coming out in a given month, it’s pretty easy to scroll through their catalog and find out. There’s kind of like a hierarchy of how things are placed in the catalogs, and that varies by publisher as well.

[00:12:23.920] – Daniel
But if you’re really scoping releases, then you’re probably going to read the whole thing anyway. But yeah, so those are the two main ones. I’m blanking on what the third one is right this second. The third one is probably being contacted. That was what I was going to get around to because when you work with certain publishers, you end up kind of regularly getting their catalogs and things like that. But the flip side of that is people reaching out on a specific book saying, hey, is this book something you’d be interested in and bringing it to your attention that way?

[00:12:58.620] – Sunyi
Yeah. So you mentioned that Curating lists works a bit differently for your site than for, say, Publishers Weekly or Kirkus or the places that give us trade reviews. And I just wondered if you knew a little bit about that and how they select books, whether they have pressure to look at lead titles or pressure to review them or possibly should phrase that just if they’re aware of buzz, if trade reviews are aware of buzz and if that kind of impacts, whether they’re willing to look at books.

[00:13:25.570] – Daniel
That is a really interesting question. With trade reviews, I’m not super familiar with their ecosystem in terms of how they pick the books. I do have a friend who reviews for Kirkus, so I can tell you that in terms of your Scott, you mentioned this a few weeks back in one of your episodes when you were talking about how you got one trade review that kind of poked fun at your title that you didn’t even choose. And it’s like, well, you never know who’s even reading these things and writing them. And that to my understanding with trade reviews, that is the case. I believe they take on freelancers and then they kind of assign out books and there’s no guarantee that you’ll be reading in one genre. It’s kind of like you have a quota of books you get sent every month, and sometimes it’s really random and they line up with your taste and sometimes they don’t. Now, in terms of buzz, I don’t know how much that is a factor, but the flip side of that, I would say, is if they are being made aware of titles in the same way that a site like winter is Coming might be being made aware of titles from publishers, then there is certainly a chance that publishers are reaching out more about their lead titles or sending out an extra mailing blast to make sure that they’re aware of their lead titles.

[00:14:46.880] – Daniel
And then, of course, once you get into the kirkus that libraries get, where they’re often choosing out their titles to order for the library, the starred reviews in those are something which is kind of easier for people to refer to or automatically draw the attention, especially if it is a genre that the librarian is not familiar with. While it’s easier to look at the starred things and think, maybe these are some books we should have, I’m not saying that there’s always a correlation between lead titles and starred reviews in something like Kirkus. Obviously that’s not the case. But having also looked at those magazines for libraries, like helping one of my local libraries pick out Sci-Fi fantasy titles, there’s often a correlation there between the ones that you see getting the stars and the ones that are lead titles. And it’s hard to think of that as totally a coincidence. But I would be kind of speculating, I think, to go too deep on that.

[00:15:47.760] – Scott
Yeah, that makes sense. But, I mean, even just understanding that it doesn’t necessarily have to be a pay for play situation, right? Pay to play. But that there might be some influence just because a publisher might be sending out better materials that might better match a book with a reviewer that cares about that kind of book and likes that kind of book. I mean, that makes a big difference and makes a ton of sense.

[00:16:16.410] – Sunyi
I also saw online, when I was looking into trade reviews a bit, quite a lot of them will say, because you can submit to them as, like, an indie or it has submission guidelines. If you’re a publisher and you need to look it up, they prefer to have physical copies a lot of times, which, if your book didn’t get Arcs, you’re sending in an e copy. So that might, by default, lower its priority. And also when you get the Arc. So I know that especially after COVID they were really backed up, apparently, and it was taking ages to get trade reviews. So if you were getting those marketing materials out early and in hard copy, which lead titles tend to, that probably helps you to get read, I would imagine. Speculating yeah.

[00:17:03.030] – Daniel
So this is something I’ve been thinking about, literally since you guys started your podcast. Just this idea of, do physical Arcs matter? We’re in this digital age where people are also reading ERCs, but in my opinion, yeah, they totally matter. I think you’re absolutely right that it might give people that extra bit of incentive to read something. To get a physical thing in the mail is obviously a slightly more exciting thing than getting sent a link. There are aspects to people sharing pictures of physical Arcs on social media. I will say for me personally, I always request physical Arcs if I can. That’s not to say I won’t read a digital Arc, but I don’t know if other people ever think about this. This might just be me being a weirdo, but I spend on average, like eight to 10 hours every single day on my computer. So turning around and using an Ereader after that, sometimes I physically cannot do it because my eyes hurt. There is an accessibility thing there, too. And personally, I wonder when I see a title from a publisher I know does physical Arcs. It’s different if you’re at a small publisher, you’re self published, but if it’s a large publisher that does Arcs and they have a title that they’re not doing Arcs for, I’ll often wonder why.

[00:18:32.150] – Daniel
And I don’t know if other people wonder that, but I certainly do.

[00:18:36.150] – Sunyi
I’ve really noticed, actually, when I started getting a lot of books to Blurb. I used to always take e copies before because I used to review e copies on NetGalley when I was a reviewer, before I was a writer. And now my Kindle is just full of all these really badly formatted ebooks that I am reading. But I started requesting the physical copies because there’s nothing else that the physical pile of books guilts me into reading more of them. Something about that presence is there.

[00:19:08.270] – Daniel
Yeah. I mean, maybe that’s a plus and a minus in that way. I’m like staring. I have my shelf of Arcs, like, right here that I’m side eyeing as we talk about this. I think there are advantages to digital Arcs, too. Like, there’s an accessibility element there as well. Right. Because anyone can get the link anywhere in the world and have it immediately. I use them, especially when I’m on deadline or there’s something I want to review that I don’t have time to wait for a physical Arc to actually show up at my house. So I’ll dive right in on the digital. Yeah, I definitely think there is something to that idea of they matter if you’re with a large publisher, small one less.

[00:19:50.010] – Sunyi
So just to quickly go back to the star thing, I think, Scott, you had a question about that, but I can’t quite remember it.

[00:19:55.890] – Scott
Yeah, I already hit it, and I don’t think we’re going to uncover any more secrets about how Publishers Weekly and Kirkus and whoever turnout starred reviews. Right. But I do think the connection between knowing how they’re doled out to reviewers things are starting to click a little bit. But yeah, Daniel, I mean, with respect to Arcs, I’m the exact same way.

[00:20:25.760] – Daniel

[00:20:26.140] – Scott
And A, I think they matter just generally. It’s pretty easy to see the buzz that they generate on Twitter and Instagram and elsewhere when a publisher is sending out Arcs, and not just Arcs. I don’t know if you feel the same way, but I’ve been somewhat impressed with the other materials that have been sent out, or maybe if it’s obvious that the publisher put a lot of effort and potentially money into really good cover art, whether for the Arc or the actual book or both, that has seemed to matter. But yeah, I mean, I personally read almost all physical copies, not just Arcs, but books in general, for the exact same reason I literally cannot look at a screen after a day of trying to get things done to read anything. So that makes a ton of sense. Next time I have a book out, I certainly will be pushing very hard for physical Arcs, whatever kind of material possible. And I would recommend it to any and everyone that’s got a book or wants their book to get attention.

[00:21:34.030] – Sunyi
Yeah. And I’ll just quickly reference there’s an episode by print run podcast and they have an episode about books as objects, which I think is really interesting and worth the time for people who are interested in that subject. And it goes into what it is about a book being an object that has a kind of pull that draws people to collect them and just things. Like when I got an arc from a friend of mine, her UK publisher is Daphne Press, right? And this arc had gold foiling, and it’s shiny and it’s beautiful, and it looks so you put it on I think I’ve got it on my Instagram, the sun and the Void. And it feels like it literally is the shiniest book I’ve ever those Arcs are so pretty. Yeah, see, and you want it. You look at it, you’re like, I want to be part of that. People want to be part of that. Even if you don’t get the arc, you then want to read the book because you’ve seen someone else has a shiny golden arc. It has that effect.

[00:22:26.190] – Daniel
That’s a great example. I saw a picture of someone with that sun in the void arc like a week or two ago, and I literally ran in my email to make sure that I had remembered to request an arc of that book. So, yeah, that is a great example. And yes, of course, people who have bookshelves, we’re all kind of pack radish, like collecting things. People and Arcs are in essence, it’s kind of like a collectible thing. For someone who is just a fan of something or is reviewing it, maybe it’s your first Arc or like there might be some kind of emotional attachment there. I do want to drive home, too. It’s not like all hope is lost if you don’t get physical Arcs because there are plenty of people who do primarily review digitally. But I think in terms of just as a signal of what a publisher is investing, it’s definitely a relevant thing. And so maybe we can kind of segue into this a little bit. But for media people and reviewers, there is a tangible benefit to covering things which are already getting a lot of coverage, basically reviewing things which are already getting a lot of marketing push versus things which aren’t.

[00:23:52.590] – Daniel
Because at the end of the day, whatever outlet site blogger, they all have their own metrics for success as well. And if a publisher is marketing something and you are writing about it, you’re essentially, like, hitchhiking off of their marketing just a tiny bit, because that makes it more likely that people are looking for a given book and therefore that there’s kind of like a tipping point where it’s like, oh, this is a good idea to write about this. Look, this is getting a lot of people talking and then at a certain point it’s like, it would be dumb of us not to write about this because so many people are talking about it. When publishers are marketing a book, a lead title, it fills into that idea of it being a self fulfilling prophecy of some books being chosen for success. Because the thing that is making the success is the fact that they are dumping a bunch of marketing behind it. Hopefully it’s a great book too.

[00:24:48.650] – Sunyi
This is something I was talking about, I think, with some of my agent siblings a while ago, the fact that it is so hard to get a book visible. So every time you see a book that’s being hyped and everyone says that book is overhyped, it’s like, yes, you have to overhype a book to even get it to a really low level of visibility. When Babel came out and it was absolutely everywhere in book world. But if you step outside of our little book world, I think there are like one or two people in my real life circles who were vaguely aware that this book was coming out because they might have seen it once on a shelf. And all of that hype and that buzz is just to cut a claw into the general reader consciousness that a book exists. It’s so, so difficult and it’s weird because if you don’t have that massive push, it’s hard to get seen at all.

[00:25:36.430] – Daniel
Yeah, I mean, I totally agree with that. Before doing as writing, working at Winter is Coming, all of that. So I went to school for music business. I related quite a lot to Scott Nick Eames’s story on here when he mentioned working at restaurants and things like that. I was going to school for music and wanted a more stable career and I chose writing. Yeah. So in terms of I went to school for music business, something that one of my professors who was like an ex New York City record label guy said, that really stuck with me was this idea that marketing is not to make someone run out and buy your thing immediately. It’s maybe on the 17th or 18th or 20th time they hear someone talk about it, they’ll run out and buy it. But it’s like to plant the seed so you start associating, oh, maybe that’s a thing I want. And then the more you hear about it, the more likely you are to actually get it. But it’s really not designed to immediately turn people into immediate buyers. Like it is exactly what you’re talking about, where it’s something being overexposed and overexposed until people think, well, I need that or I can’t not get that.

[00:26:54.400] – Daniel
I think we kind of get into a little bit of tunnel vision in the bookish communities at times where it feels like these things are being super overexposed. But then, like you said, Sony, you step out of those communities and people are like, who’s this upstart? Brandon Sanderson? He wrote some books, I guess. And it’s like, who’s heard of that guy? Well, everyone in bookish communities, but it really varies once you step outside of those spaces.

[00:27:26.120] – Sunyi
Great story. Which I might cut because in case it’s too long, I won’t make it long. But basically my Harper Editor UK Harper side, wanted to send book eaters to Neil Guyman for a blurb, right? I had no illusions that he would read it. And as it turns out, we never heard from. So we either hated it or he just didn’t get around to it. It’s fine. But anyway, I told my parents about this. I told my mother that Neil Guyman was going to read my book and possibly blurb it. And she got really, really excited, which surprised me because she’s not normally that interested in my book stuff. And she’s like, oh, so is he going to sing a song about it? And I said, I don’t think Neil Diamond sings. And we were kind of looking at each other in confusion. And then she ran off to find my dad and she said, Sony says Neil Diamond is going to blurb her book because she’d misheard me on Skype. And when I explained, I was like, no, it’s not Neil Diamond. I didn’t know who he was. And she didn’t. It’s Neil Diamond.

[00:28:33.660] – Sunyi
And she said, all right, who’s that? And then I explained, and she said, oh, right, he’s just another writer. Then it’s like, yeah, mom, he’s no one. He’s just another writer. Don’t worry about it. And he didn’t blurb it anyway. But it just really reinforced me. It’s like that he’s a titan in our genre and in mainstream fiction. But my mother doesn’t read fiction. She’s just like, who’s that guy? He’s just some loser who just writes books.

[00:28:59.510] – Daniel
Yeah, that’s such a great that’s one. That’s hilarious. But it’s also like it’s the perfect example because, like, who doesn’t know who Neil Guyman is? Well, I guess once you step outside of people who are avid readers who are in these genres, then less people. So George R. Martin has talked about this quite a bit, which one of the side effects of my job at Winter Is Coming is I have an encyclopedic memory of random crap George R. Martin has said throughout his career, but talked about how basically he was still an anonymous writer up until Game of Thrones got pretty famous. And that was the only point where he reached a point where it was like, he gets recognized in airports now. And that’s because he was on, like, late night shows and things like that. I saw John Scalze talking about this recently on Twitter too, where he’s famous in a very small circle. Like, if you go. To cons, people will recognize him. But the minute you step outside of that is just another person who’s not getting recognized at all, and the average person doesn’t know who he is. So, yeah, fame is so relative.

[00:30:07.810] – Scott
Yeah. Even with Martin. I wonder if that started before the show came out. Right? Because I’ve been reading his books forever, and most of my friends growing up and even now, and all the people I’ve worked with, et cetera, none of them have really been readers, or at the very least, not Sci-Fi and fantasy readers. And Martin, before the show came out, Martin didn’t even register for them. Nobody looked at that and said, oh, yeah, how’s that? And I mean, I’ve given people books by some of the biggest authors in fantasy, and they won’t even pick it up because to them, it’s like, oh, that’s that weird nerd book that Scott likes. And so they just leave it on their shelf or give it away or whatever. But yeah, I mean, 15 years ago.

[00:30:59.320] – Sunyi
When I was still at Silklander, Netlin, White Tower, places like that, one of my, like, online friends who lived near George R. Martin at the time, just kind of walked over to his house and was like, hey, can I do an interview? And he did. And you couldn’t do that now with Martin, but at the time, it was like, not that many he was in our fantasy world and not outside that. I should ask him whatever he did with that interview anyway.

[00:31:27.610] – Daniel
Yeah, probably get the cops called now. But I mean, talking about, like, mid list and lead titles. Martin. He was a mid list author, I believe, who kind of just broke out of it by being tenacious, quitting for ten years and then coming back and writing more books because he had one book, The Armageddon Rag, that failed so badly that he basically decided to go write for TV for a decade and then came back and wrote Thrones.

[00:31:56.280] – Sunyi
He’s got a great Sci-Fi series about a grumpy old man who travels the universe with a shit full of cats. And I don’t know why that wasn’t. Yeah, why is that not his breakout novel? I don’t know. People are weird, but instead they want to watch Game of Thrones.

[00:32:11.210] – Daniel
Yeah, a lot of his work, it’s such a good reminder of that. Often the success of a book is not always dictated by its quality, because Martin had a lot of great work before Thrones, like you said, like, tough, voyaging. Those stories are great. His vampire novel Fever Dream is excellent and is basically a relatively unknown novel at this point. I can probably count on one hand the amount of times anyone has ever brought up Fever Dream to me. So it’s a great book.

[00:32:46.580] – Scott
Yeah, I’ll look it up. So maybe backing up a little bit to this idea of now, we’ve pretty firmly established that Sci-Fi and fantasy readership is a very crowded, but probably siloed off group of people. And we’ve talked about how it’s advantageous for people to reviewers to jump on books that have a lot of press, et cetera. So beyond things like physical arcs and having a lot of support from your publisher, is there anything in particular that you look for or that could be helpful from the publisher or author’s perspective that could influence somebody’s personal taste? Is there anything that you’ve seen that works well for communicating the particular themes or style or whatever? Or is it really just a matter of finding enough people who will start reading it to communicate that organically?

[00:33:48.290] – Daniel
I don’t think there’s any substitute for the organic word of mouth. I mean, I think a lot of the publisher outreach is kind of designed to facilitate that, which I guess we can debate whether it’s really organic if a publisher is facilitating it, but just in terms of them reaching out to bloggers and people there hopeful will talk about it, that’s in essence like facilitating word of mouth. I think in terms of just things authors can do and publishing PR people, I think this is relevant too. I think leading with being a reasonable human being is always the best policy, which feels like such a redundant, stupid thing to say. But I do think it’s a pitfall that a lot of people fall into where it’s reaching out to someone about book coverage and it’s like, hey, I wrote a book. I don’t know if you remember they’re those things with pages and you are a book reviewer and you happen to review the things with pages. Would you review my book? And really, if you can show that you understand who you’re talking to, that you understand the needs of their outlet or their site, it’s kind of the same as with querying in that way, where you’re just way more likely to have success.

[00:35:04.450] – Daniel
And this is if you’re actually reaching out. So that’s slightly different than just building hype or whatever. But in terms of reaching out, I think showing that you have an understanding of the medium you’re pitching to the people you’re pitching to. An example that I have from fairly recently, someone reached out to me about a book that my gut reaction was, I don’t think I have time for this one. But in their pitch email, they mentioned that the book was people like George R. Martin and Stephen King had blurbed this author’s work before and they had a series coming out on X streaming service. And those two things told me that they weren’t just sending me a blanket pitch email, they understood parts of our market well enough that it was an intentional pitch. But I think as far as how you conduct yourself online as a general human being is also really important. Like if you’re just plugging your book all the time, you’re probably going to make people want to close their ears and eyes whenever they see you talk about it. Versus a recent example I’ll use was I saw Kate Elliott talking about her sequel to Unconquerable Son, and I happened to need a new book for a list I was putting together for that month and immediately added it.

[00:36:27.000] – Daniel
And it wasn’t a situation where anyone reached out to me, it was just seeing her talk about it. Not in a, hey everyone, come buy my book. But just I’m in this situation where I’m thinking about outreach and my book Unconquerable. It’s not Unconquerable sun Furious Heaven, I think, is the sequel comes out soon and she was just talking about it. I think just talking about your work to raise awareness and being active in different ways in these sorts of communities is a really good idea because you can’t control the marketing outreach that publishers are going to give you. So the things you can control are how you act and kind of the reputation you build for yourself as a human being and an author.

[00:37:15.280] – Scott
Totally agree.

[00:37:16.200] – Sunyi
Yes, we’re talking about connecting kind of over social media, is that right? And also through email and stuff like that. Do you think that social media and platform matters, particularly for fiction writers, or does that equation change depending where someone is and what type of publisher they have?

[00:37:32.800] – Daniel
I think it’s really important to know who you’re talking to on different social medias. So most of the examples I’m giving are really relevant to Twitter, and the reason that I’m giving them is because a lot of industry people hang out on Twitter. So it’s less so like you’re hyping to fans and prospective readers. It’s almost more of networking when you’re on a platform like that versus something like Facebook where you’re plugging your book primarily to fans. So does it matter? I have seen a lot of people kind of say you need X amount of followers for publishers to give you a chance. And I think that particularly is garbage because most of the debuts and even larger authors often have a shockingly small amount of social media following to draw from a personal experience for this. When I was going out on Sub, my agent who I’m no longer with, I was basically advised you have to be on Facebook. It’s really important that you’re on Facebook. Publishers will care. And I’ve since kind of come around to the conclusion that that is pretty bad advice and that if you are, it’s just important to know your audiences and where they hang out.

[00:38:56.430] – Daniel
So Facebook for adult sci-fi and fantasy. Like, since we talked about Brandon Sanderson, he only has 130,000 followers on Facebook, which sounds like a lot, but that’s less than half his Twitter following. That’s probably the smallest platform he has. When you start branching out to other authors, like most of the recent debuts for publishers like Orbit and Tor either don’t have Facebook pages or very small Facebook pages. James S. A. Corey who wrote The Expanse, has a publisher run Facebook page that has like 30,000 followers. I would be curious to know if you guys had to do this. When I went on Sub, we had to put together a packet that said, here are the potential ways this author can reach on their own. And they did put social media numbers in there, and that was something I didn’t know how I felt about at the time. Was that normal for you guys as well, or did you just not even have to think about social numbers when you were going on Sub?

[00:39:59.870] – Sunyi
I think we might have had different experiences on this, and there might be one bit where Scott will have to actually cut his answer if he’s a little too honest. I had 120 followers on Twitter when I signed with my agent. I had maybe not even a thousand. I think when I got the book deal with Tor, no one ever really asked if you have an obvious pathway. I think so. For example, in Essa, I think they were hoping that her connection to Lucasfilm would somehow magically make film rights appear. So that was noted on her social media connections, but they seemed to have kind of got over this idea that it makes a difference. I think the only time I really see it thrown around is smaller presses where they’re relying on social media marketing. So anything that you bring to the table is good for them, or pubs who are looking to maybe shift blame for why the book didn’t sell. And they just tell you that it’s like because you didn’t share it on Twitter enough or something, and it’s not true. I think social media made a difference, but it wasn’t my social media.

[00:41:10.860] – Sunyi
And I remember one of the podcasts I was listening to where this woman defined the difference between marketing and publicity. She said, Marketing is what you say about yourself. It’s your message to the world. And publicity is what other people say about you and marketing. You can control the message, and that’s the bonus. But the thing with publicity is it’s more effective when someone else says it about you. So publicity has been good for me. I haven’t done any marking. I know Harper and Tor run ads and stuff, but the publicity is other people posting your book on Instagram saying, I got this arc, I got this this novel, I got this book. It came in my crate box. Here’s a really pretty picture with some skulls and candles around it. That’s publicity, and that made a difference, but it’s not something I could generate myself because it’s easier to write a novel for me than it is to go and become an Instagram influencer.

[00:42:04.710] – Daniel
Yeah, I totally feel that it’s a different skill set. Right. And I think you see that with the BookTubers who are now releasing their own books. It’s kind of like they started with that skill set and now they’re hopping over to writing and releasing books and yeah, I think expecting authors to be social media gurus is a tricky proposition because you only have so many hours in the day, and what do you want them spending those hours on? I am curious. I do want to hear Scott’s answer to this too, but I was thinking.

[00:42:40.450] – Sunyi
Of the person in publishing who asked Scott if he was attractive, I guess in relation to marketing and publicity.

[00:42:53.590] – Scott
Yeah, that might I don’t want to get anybody in that much trouble. Yeah, that was interesting. So to answer your question, though, Daniel, directly, without getting anybody in trouble, I think that we do have a line here. I don’t want to call anybody out necessarily personally by name in the submission process. No, none of that was mentioned at all. Was there maybe some confusion with me? So my real name, as I’ve said on air before, my real name is Scott Smith, and I write under the pen name Scott Drakeford because it’s a very common name. And there’s another author, screenwriter, that’s publishing under that name. But when it came time to prep for launch with my publisher, they did ask, like, hey, what are your socials do you have any schools that you went to that might have strong alumni groups? Do you have any special interest that has a strong following or that has a strong niche that we might be able to market to? So there are some of those questions, but I think all you really need to know about whether social media influences well, social media followings at least influence how well a book does, is go look at a publisher’s posts, right?

[00:44:32.820] – Scott
Like, I think some publishers might get a little bit of run on Instagram or whatever, but despite having hundreds of thousands of followers, some major imprints, again, not say not naming any names, but some major imprints have huge followings and their posts will get like, ten likes. It’s pretty obvious that just gathering a following and building a platform doesn’t do the trick. There has to be that organic generation of PR like you all were talking about.

[00:45:05.890] – Sunyi
I do think it’s possible to do, because one of the things that I learned about when we started getting translations for Book Eaters is that a lot of the foreign European presses do cultivate readerships, and that my agent was explaining, they have a little bit of a different culture with it. So I know that the Spanish publisher, spanish language publisher for Book Eaters is called Oceano, and they call their readers Sailors, and they kind of interact with them and they get them excited for new releases. And it’s very much a thing, the way people might be fans of a football club, you might be fans of, like, a publisher. So they have some of that going. They understand how to cultivate that. I do see that as well with like Angry Robot and kind of some of the mid size Sci-Fi and fantasy presses who have to do that so that they do and they’re effective at it, but it can be done.

[00:45:56.050] – Scott
I think there’s brand loyalty. I’m not saying that there’s no value in the brand. Right. I just don’t think that people on social media give a shit about that following necessarily. And I don’t think it’s the ticket to success. It might work for some, but it’s certainly not a silver bullet.

[00:46:18.060] – Sunyi
I think more people shoot themselves in the foot. Sorry, gone.

[00:46:22.010] – Daniel
No, I want to hear what you were going to say because I think I agree with it.

[00:46:26.590] – Sunyi
I think more authors shoot themselves in the foot of social media than create a platform that does anything to move their sales. Because I feel like every other day you see someone on Twitter who’s just said the dumbest fucking thing since I don’t even know, and you’re like, why did you do that? And they’re human and whatever, and sometimes they deserve it and sometimes they don’t. But basically people just really stick their foot in it and they get caught out and they’re out there trying to build platform. But if you’re not media savvy, you’re not social media savvy, it’s really difficult to do well. You’re just on this constant tightrope.

[00:46:59.830] – Daniel
Yeah, I mean, I think there’s a fine line between building your audience through posting and becoming a PR problem because you said the wrong thing. And one of the very first friends I made on Twitter, I then watched Combust on Twitter and this was like a couple of years ago, basically exactly what you’re talking about, putting their foot in it and saying something that they then regretted that ended up causing them to split with their publisher and all this stuff. I do think there are definitely things to be mindful of in terms of how you’re conducting yourself. It’s just important to remember that if you’re hoping people will get referred back to you or outlets will cover your stuff. I don’t want to say don’t be embarrassing on social media. How do you measure that? You really can’t, but just be mindful of is this something you’re using personally just to vent about whatever thing you feel upset about on a given day? Or is this an extension of your professional profile? And if it is one, it’s important to keep that in mind just so you don’t send mixed what Scott said about being asked about what platforms you had.

[00:48:14.610] – Daniel
Do you have a school that you went to with an alumni outreach? It’s super reasonable and I would assume fairly normal for a publisher to wonder what things you can bring to the table once you’re at that point and you’re discussing the launch of a book. But I think there’s a bit of a myth of you need a following to get publisher notice and I think at least in science fiction and fantasy, I haven’t seen anything that actually supports that. So that is different than once you’re launching it saying what can we all do to say 10,000 followers or bust bub? Just doesn’t happen.

[00:48:54.400] – Sunyi
I don’t think I’ve given up trying to debunk that myth because I used to run into almost every day in kind of Facebook writing groups and I think it comes from like a couple of the same articles put out by self pub gurus or people who are just, I don’t know, bloggers of unknown qualifications. And it sounds good and it sounds plausible. So people say it and they repeat it even if they have no experience in the industry and don’t trade publish. And it just kind of gets around. And I think every time you try and debunk it, someone will pop up invariably and comment somewhere and say, well, my second cousin’s niece’s husband twice removed was told by an agent who is very, very big that you definitely have to have 15,400 followers on Twitter or you can’t get a book deal. And it’s like, oh, my God. And everyone will just believe it.

[00:49:49.530] – Daniel
No, it’s legit though, because it is misleading. And ultimately then, if people think I need 15,000 followers, how much energy are they going to put into that that they should be putting into making their book really good? Because ultimately that’s going to be the thing that will help them sell it more in theory, hopefully. I definitely have some strong feelings about that too.

[00:50:11.330] – Sunyi
I have a theory that it has to do with control and that there is so much in publishing which is outside our control. So even getting picked up by an agent is out of your control. How you do on sub, how your sales are, our followers are something we can control and I do think there’s a tendency in people to want to seize on that, to feel like if I can just get the followers, everything will be okay and agents will notice me. If I can get the likes in a pitch contest, which don’t usually pan out, by the way, then I can get picked up and so on. And it feels like a really tangible thing that you can do but it just doesn’t necessarily do much. And I think it’s maybe not helped by the rare examples that we do see that the occasional social media stars who break out and kind of make a difference that way. But for most of us it’s not. Although you did mention some of your notes that TikTok can be a thing and we do know that TikTok makes some difference. I don’t know if you want to segue into that.

[00:51:05.560] – Daniel
A lot of both authors, publishers, booksellers have been finding success by utilizing TikTok and a big part in my opinion of why we’re seeing such breakout success for people on TikTok is because TikTok is algorithmically oriented toward organic reach. So not suppressing your posts and just sharing things out on trending hashtags. Whereas Facebook and Instagram specifically, and now Twitter it seems is going down this route. They pay wall reach, so they really do suppress organic reach because they want you to be paying for ads or boosts or their subscription. But TikTok doesn’t have that element yet. So like for Winter Is Coming, for example, we basically built and have a TikTok that over a couple of months went from total zero to I think it’s just under like 10,000 followers right now. And that is entirely just from sharing things related to House of the Dragon and Game of Thrones during the period when they were on and catching on with those sorts of trending tags. I remember seeing another story a while back from an editor who I follow with one of the big five publishers who posted a TikTok about this book that they had acquired.

[00:52:30.210] – Daniel
Just kind of like, cracking a joke about this book they acquired and, like, convincing their boss to get on board with this book and then tweeted about this a few weeks later, saying they saw an obvious effect on the sales from this that happened to coincide with this viral TikTok that was just totally unpredictably viral, not something she did intentionally. Wasn’t a marketing move, just, hey, let me post this random TikTok and it took off TikTok. If you are hoping for organic reach and breaking out in that way, it can be great. I would just, as with any social media, just be conscientious of chasing trends because that can sometimes bite you in the ass.

[00:53:13.600] – Sunyi
My agency have this really great rule that has actually saved me a lot because I have a big mouth and a hot temper, which is a bad combination on social media. They call it the 24 hours rule, which is anytime someone posts something which just pisses you the fuck off, give it 24 hours and see if you still give a shit. And 99% of the time I don’t because my temper has burned itself out and it just it stops so many things from spiraling. You really don’t want to start a dog pile on yourself on any platform.

[00:53:45.190] – Daniel
Great advice.

[00:53:46.030] – Sunyi
We were going to ask if you’ve had general advice for authors who are wanting to approach reviewers if possibly their publisher isn’t doing that or isn’t doing it in the way that they hope, if there’s a good way to go about it. I know you mentioned being human, but is there kind of a format for reaching out? Are there lists? Are there people? Can we go to our publishers and ask for lists of names and things like that?

[00:54:08.160] – Daniel
Well, can you go to your publisher and ask for a list of names? You probably should be able to. I don’t know how forthcoming they would be with that. It probably would depend on your relationship with your publisher, I would assume. I do think there’s definitely value in I would encourage any authors wondering about that stuff to start making a list themselves. Because with publishers, in theory, if you’re with a Big Five, they should be the ones reaching out for you. Not to say that most reviewers would be averse to hearing from an author, but there is that extra bit of legitimacy when you get the email from a PR department versus a random person saying hey, would you read my book? So there is that, but you can’t always control that. Kind of like we talked about and I’ve definitely heard stories of authors asking about who are we sending this to? And kind of getting talked in a circle because publishers put out more books per quarter than they can probably realistically, like fully promote. Not to say they’re not doing anything for them of course they are, but that they can put their full weight behind.

[00:55:19.350] – Daniel
I think once we talk about Big Five imprints, they’re probably putting out more books than they can reasonably do that with in a given span. There’s no form type of email. Thinking about it in that way is something that can get you into trouble because one of the best things I would recommend this is tied to the being human thing, but also really just researching. Again, it’s so similar to querying in terms of reaching out. Anytime I see people talk about having queried like 200 agents, my first thought is always like how well did you actually research those agents? And I think it’s the same once you start looking at the media space. It is more advantageous to be reaching out to fewer places but making sure they are a really good fit for your work and that you understand their audience. Familiarizing yourself with what they do before you’re pitching them is always a good strategy, I think. I would also highly encourage to not treat reviewers like they could become potential arc thieves if they don’t read your book. So if you are interested in this, I would highly encourage you to go back earlier in this podcast and listen to the episodes with Michael J and Robin Sullivan because she said a thing that made me outright cheer out loud when I heard it, which was when they were reaching out, they used goodreads.

[00:56:48.280] – Daniel
And that is another great source. I do not personally use Goodreads a whole lot just because of Amazon beef mostly, but I know I probably need to get over that hill at some point. But the thing she said that stuck with me that I loved was when they were reaching out for Michael’s books, they would say can we send you an ERC in hopes that you’ll review it? If you like it not in exchange for a review, in hopes of a review. Having that attitude of I will be happy if this works out but I’m not going to act entitled that since I have taken the time to email you. You must do the thing I want you to do for me. But I think generally reaching months ahead of time is absolutely the way to go. Well, not as many months, but I would say anywhere from five to three months ahead of time is best. If you’re hoping for coverage, if it’s just like, hey, you do lists and I want to make sure you’re aware of my book coming out, then you have more leeway because that’s not a big ask compared to take the time to read an entire novel and review it or interview me or whatever.

[00:58:03.020] – Sunyi
If you don’t have any more questions. Scott I was going to ask if you have any rapid fire quick advice for people. Daniel and also a chance to plug yourself, if that’s okay. We should do that every episode, but we sometimes forget.

[00:58:16.270] – Daniel
Sure. I feel like I’ve talked to a lot of people in the fairly recent past where they had a book deal that maybe didn’t go right and feel like that’s the end. And I would just kind of encourage that if you are in this sort of career for the long haul, to just keep doing the work you like doing because you never know how that will come back around. And don’t take it personally if people can’t cover your book, because often I would say, for me at least, and this will vary person to person, but for me, like 90% of the time, whether I can cover a book or not has very little to do with the book and so much more to do with my schedule on a given month at a given time. Sometimes that means you need to choose between arcs. As we’re recording this, I’m looking at May and knowing I’m probably going to need to drop at least one of the books I was hoping to get to because I just don’t have time. So just knowing that that’s not personal on your book.

[00:59:20.000] – Scott
No, I love that. Yeah, no, that was great. And I agree, for what it’s worth.

[00:59:24.480] – Sunyi
Yeah. And if you still want to plug yourself, go ahead. I’m just reminding you because you’ve got a lot of different things going on.

[00:59:31.460] – Daniel
If you are into science fiction and fantasy books and television shows and movies, game of Thrones, House of the Dragon, all those sorts of things, you can find a lot of my work and just a lot of great articles in general about those sorts of topics@winteriscoming.net at Wicnet, on Twitter. There’s also a YouTube, a TikTok and a Facebook for Winter is Coming and I’m writing there pretty much most every day. I have stuff go up on the site and we also do a live podcast called Take the Black on Wednesdays at 03:00 p.m.. Eastern, where we talk about nerdy Sci-Fi fantasy news and what we’re watching. And. Reading. And then if you’re curious about my fiction stuff, I’m at Danielroman.com and I tweet at Roman Writing and I’m occasionally on at Danielroman books on Instagram and I actively avoid that same handle on Facebook where I also have a page with lots of cop webs. Thank you guys, SUNY and Scott, so much for having me on. It’s been an absolute pleasure to talk.

[01:00:35.290] – Sunyi
To you guys and that’s been fantastic. Thank you so much. We’re really, really glad to have you.

[01:00:40.140] – Scott
Yeah, this was really wonderful. Thanks, Daniel.

[01:00:42.530] – Sunyi
You’ve been listening to the publishing Radio podcast with Sunyi Dean and Scott Drakeford. Tune in next time for more in depth discussion on everything publishing industry. See you later.

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