Tag Archives: reading

My Top Five Tips when asking bloggers to review your book

Most authors know that approaching bloggers to review their new book is a great way to drum up some free publicity that gives their book a word-of-mouth popularity, but when it comes to approaching blog authors, their emails can be very hit and miss. Based on the emails I receive every day, here are my top five tips to help authors with traditional presses and self-published authors achieve a higher response rate when approaching bloggers about their books.

 

Tip Number 1 – Check the blog’s reviewing policy

I wrote my reviewing policy so that anyone who asks me to review their book knows exactly what to expect when dealing with me – I don’t do paid reviews, I won’t mince my words, I don’t guarantee a review for books that were just blah  and I don’t review self-published novels. I’d say roughly half of the emails I receive asking me to review books are from self-published authors who haven’t spent the time familiarizing themselves with my reviewing policy beyond lifting my email address from it. If their book looks interesting and I know of another blogger who would review, I will try to link them up, but more often than not I have to delete their email without replying.

 

Tip Number 2 – Personalize your emails

No address is just rude, Dear Blogger is a bit annoying. If you’re taking the time to email bloggers, don’t send a clearly mass email in the hope that someone is going to commit at least three hours to reading your book and writing a considered review. Dear Book and Biscuit is acceptable, but most bloggers will have their name in their About Me section, and they won’t mind you using it.

 

Tip Number 3 – Build relationships

Bloggers can be really busy people. I work and have a toddler. Lots of other bloggers do too, or have other really time intensive commitments. If I’m pushed for time and declining reviews, I’m far more likely to make time to review a book by an author or publisher I have an existing relationship with. I doubt I’m the only one who feels like this. Rather than cold email a blogger, take your time to get to know their site, engage with it, comment on their blog, chat with them on social media. It will set you apart from authors who have lifted their contact details from a book reviewers list that many bloggers didn’t opt in to.

 

Tip Number 4 – Use your existing networks

If you’ve written a book, there’s a good chance that you’re a reader too. What existing networks do you have that allow you to reach readers that you’ve already built a relationship with? Do any of those blog, or would they be able to recommend interested bloggers who specialise in your genre? It’s worth reaching out with a personalized email to ask for their help or advice. It seems to me that there can be a lot of ego involved when people start out writing, but the authors I admire and who seem to be really successful are genuinely interested in being part of a community with like minded readers. I guess it’s all part of really understanding your target audience.

 

Tip Number 5 – Don’t pay for reviews

I know that it may seem tempting. And I know that there are unscrupulous sites which tout themselves as blogger networks who will take your money to arrange a blog tour or similar. I found this out when I provided an honest review after another blogger had begged me to as a favour, and the author became very upset because she had paid the other blogger (without my knowledge) and assumed that she had bought a positive review from me. It caused a lot of bad feeling all round. If you put in the work making yourself a part of a reading and writing community, you won’t have to pay for reviews, and you’ll build a more engaged following for it.

 

Fellow bloggers, is there anything else you’d add to this? Authors, what’s worked well in your experience?

The Best Book Subscription Boxes

If you’ve dipped even your little toe in the murky waters of social media recently, I’ll bet that you’ve seen an advert for some kind of subscription service. From make up to meat, surprises to sanitary towels (no, really) it seems that there’s a subscription box for almost everything, though until recently a monthly box for book lovers has been a pipe dream for those in the UK.

But no more! There are now a wide range of book subscription services for bookworms in the UK, so you don’t have to pay a huge postage fee to enjoy a monthly book box from across the pond. And, dare I say it, it seems to me that UK bookworms actually have a more grown up selection of book subscription packages to choose from?

I’ve selflessly gone out of my way to test a few of these (best month ever) and am able to give you a round-up of the best book subscription boxes the UK has to offer. Curated by small teams of imaginative, talented and hardworking bookworms, they really are all fantastic:

Bookishly

bookishly subscription unboxing review

If you’ve ever had wall art envy for an amazing framed literary quote, you’ve probably come across a print from Bookishly. They’ve recently branched out from creating word art with Vintage books and have created a book club that sends out a monthly package containing a vintage book, a luxury tea sample from Jenier World of Tea and a curated item of stationery. If you know a bookworm who loves to curl up with an old book and a cup of tea before writing a thank you note on beautiful stationery, then the Bookishly book subscription is the gift for them. Or you, if you fit that description.

 

Illumicrate

illumicrate subscription unboxing review

Curated by Daphne at Winged Reviews, Illumicrate is the new heavyweight on the book subscription box market and it really packs a punch. Filled with items that match the Illumicrate ethos of “fun, beautiful and geeky” this larger subscription box is released monthly. The perfect gift for a reader who is passionate about their contemporary and young adult literature, the former teacher in me also thinks it would be the perfect way to lure a reluctant reader into exploring literary worlds.

 

Owl and Bear Gift Company

owl and bear gift company book subscription review

If you’re looking for a special gift for a loved one but don’t necessarily share their literary tastes, the Owl and Bear Gift Company Book Subscription service can help you out. Specialists in genre book subscriptions, they have a package to tickle every bookworm’s fancy whether they are young or old, or if their passion is for horror, thrillers or romance. If you’re not even sure exactly what kind of books your intended recipient prefers, they can still help you out with their bespoke subscription service which builds a package based on the recipient’s favourite authors.

 

The Willoughby Book Club

willoughby book club subscription review unboxing

Founded by Adam and Chloe Pollard in 2012, The Willoughby Book Club provides a personalised book subscription service with some really clever package options. Not only do they provide a Contemporary and Classic packages for those who want to hone their reading in a particular direction, they also provide hobby subscription packages for cooks, gardeners and natural historians. The Willoughby package I like the sound of most is, sadly, not for me… The Couples Book Club package which sends out two copies of the same novel so that you can read it together and discuss it. My boyfriend may make wonderful cups of tea and buy me the books I am embarrassed to be seen with in bookshops, but a reader he is not! Still, I think it would make a great gift to share with a close friend and it really is a genius idea.

New Year Reading Resolutions (you’ve probably broken already…)

Have you made a new year’s resolution? I haven’t yet, partly because I think January is a terrible time to make any kind of life change (way too dark and gloomy) and partly because, as I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been a little bit distracted. But year after year, I see the same reading resolutions cropping up, and I’m pretty sure that they’re never kept.

Here are 5 popular reading resolutions I’ve seen and why, if you’re anything like me, I think they will fail:

Resolution 1- I will read 52 books this year.

A book a week. Perfectly achieveable… if you already read at around that rate and don’t expect to have, you know, life get in the way of your plans if you don’t. You get sick, have a busy week at school or work and the next thing you know you’re behind on your schedule and will start panicking. I hate it when people set numerical reading targets, because for me, reading is meant to be enjoyable, and a pleasurable activity can’t really be quantified in terms of the number of pleasurable items consumed. For example, you might like eating chocolate, but eat too many bars and you’re going to get sick. This doesn’t have to be a book a week either, it’s any arbitrary number that you use as a stick to beat yourself. Just read at your own pace, and love the books you do manage to read.

Resolution 2- I will read War and Peace

Ah, so you’re going to read that fictional classic that you’ve always felt that you should read but didn’t quite get around to despite that fact that you’ve been promising yourself that you will for the past seven years? It’s all well and good, but are you promising yourself that for the right reasons? My feeling is if the book had really called to you, you would have read it already. If you feel you should read a book, you’re probably doing it because it symbolises something to you, an intellectual achievement, a chance to fit in… not necessarily the right reasons to beat yourself around the head with a 1,440 page dusty tome. If you love classics, fine, but if you actually love dodgy sci-fi with giant spaceworms and bigger plot holes? Do yourself a favour and stick to what you love.

Resolution 3- I will read “the greats”

Ever fancied reading the unabridged great books? I tried this when I was in sixth form and thought I should educate myself before going to university. I started with Marx’s Das Kapital because I was studying Nineteen Eighty-Four at the time, and I didn’t get much further than that. The thing is, many of these great political/philosophical works are pretty esoteric or are deeply rooted in their time, with obscure references to people, works and ideas which you may not have heard of or which are very much of their time. Do yourself a favour and if you are going to try this, either go abridged or get a good academic guide which is going to offer you some context.

Resolution 4- I will share my favourite books with my partner…

Ever heard the expression that you can take a horse to water but can’t make it drink? Well in my house, the horse only drinks sports drinks… if you follow the analogy. Best of luck in your own house though!

 

 

What New Year’s resolutions have you seen or made that have struck you as being overly ambitious?

Quote me on that… a half-finished book

A half-read book is a half-finished love affair

Image based on an original by Jain Basil Aliyas under the terms of Creative Commons license.

I loved Frobischer’s character in David Mitchell’s The Cloud Atlas. Everything about his characterization was perfect but I loved the “A half-read book is a half-finished love affair” line. I think it’s something every reader can relate to. Unless the book was by James Joyce, in which case it was almost certainly a dead-end relationship and you’re better off without it….

I will try reading Joyce’s books again one day. But I will need the world’s biggest cup of tea and a huge plate of biscuits to hand.

3rd Anniversary of Book and Biscuit

WordPress has just notified me that today is the 3rd anniversary of The Book and Biscuit. I feel like we should have cake but the occassion has caught me unprepared, so for past cakes try here, here and here.

I started the blog to give myself something to do with all my free time when I finished teaching and to reach out to like minded book geeks, and while logically it makes sense that it’s been three years, it doesn’t really feel that long ago.

Thanks to all my followers old and new for sticking with me through redesigns and moves- your comments always make me smile and sometimes laugh out loud.

If anyone would like to get in touch with comments or ideas for the blog going forward, I can be reached at bookandbiscuit (at) hotmail (dot) co (dot) uk

JK Rowling/Robert Galbraith, so what?

CuckoosCallingCoverIf you’ve been on twitter, news websites or watching television this week, you’ve probably already heard that JK Rowling has released a well-received crime novel called The Cuckoo’s Calling under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. As a pseudonym, it bears all the hallmarks of JK Rowling’s characters’ names reflecting their traits and means Famous Stranger. Well played, JK Rowling, very well played.

But why all the fuss about her writing under a pseudonym? I can completely understand that with such wild success under her belt she would want to see how her work was received by readers who weren’t prejudiced by their opinions of her previous work. (See statement from JK Rowling on Galbraith here). I mean, show me a review of The Casual Vacancy that doesn’t mention, if not compare it, to the Harry Potter books. Even I was annoyed by the reviews that complained it was a departure from the wonderful world of Hogwarts and its inhabitants. Imagine how she must have felt.

Still, while I could understand excitement at JK Rowling releasing a new book (who doesn’t love a new book from one of their favourite authors) I feel that there has been a hell of a lot of negativity and that it mostly seems to stem from the fact that JK Rowling is so successful.

For example:

Suggestions that it was all just a publicity stunt. Maybe it was a marketing ploy, the way it was discovered is a little fishy, but I still think that it’s pretty cool that she did it. As I’ve said, it must have been nice to have her writing appreciated without her name being considered. Let’s face it, publicity stunt or not, it’s not like any book by JK Rowling is at risk of going under the radar. But it does serve to highlight that writing isn’t a get rich quick scheme and even if you are lucky enough to get published what a fickle world it can be. Industry experts like Jonny Geller of Curtis Brown have pointed out on Twitter that until the news broke, the well-reviewed Galbraith novel had sold 449 copies since April. This gives you an idea of why new talent is such a big risk for publishers- they take an awful lot of effort to market when compared to an established name.

People complaining that she felt that she had to use a man’s name as though she’s a gender traitor. Some have said that this allowed her to conceal her identity more effectively, but honestly? It’s just an example of sexism in literature. Male names sell better than women’s names in Crime Fiction. This is why she was told to use her initials rather than Joanne Rowling as a name when she released Harry Potter- because boys don’t like reading books by girls. Pathetic yes, but when did you last pick up a Romance book with a man’s name on the cover? There are plenty of men writing for Mills and Boon, they just use female pseudonyms. Yes it’s sexist. But JK Rowling has done enough to prove that women can right, it’s the attitude of publishers AND the reading public that needs to change here.

Saying it’s all about the money. JK Rowling is allegedly the first billionaire to give away enough money to charity to lose billionaire status. And while it is, admittedly, all relative, it’s annoying to see people giving her a hard time for being successful. Some of the nastier jibes about this have come from agents and publishers on twitter (eg. this tweet from Melville House, below). I wonder if they have a policy of rejecting clients and authors who they deem to be too successful? If so, send them my way. I’m not so fussy.

melville house jk rowling galbraith

So, when The Cuckoo’s Calling is out in paperback, I will be reading it. In the meantime I will continue to read a mixture of established authors and new authors, but to be honest, I’ll be more interested in the content of the book than the name on the cover.

1000 novels that everyone must read?

A friend sent me a link to this reading list on The Guardian billed as “1000 books that everyone must read a definitive list” telling me that it made her miserable  because she hadn’t even heard of most of them. Granted that these lists are supposed (I suppose) to be a little aspirational, but it does make you wonder who decides what should be included on these lists. The Guardian’s Review team and a panel of expert judges apparently.

It’s not really an Everyman’s List, and it’s interesting to see that a lot of the “100 Best Books” titles seem to have been left off in favour of a disproportionate amount of the Amises, Perec and Smollet. Which instantly gives you the impression that the panel weren’t looking at populist fiction.

I’m beginning to fear that a lot of these lists are designed to allow a select set of individuals to preen their intellectual plumage rather than offer suggestions for great reads for the rest of us.

Reading Glasses

Reading GlassesI dream of having eyesight good enough to forget my glasses, but really liked this idea that I saw when we went for Sunday dinner in a local pub called The Greyhound recently. Patrons who forget their reading glasses can borrow a pair from the bowl to allow them to enjoy their book/paper while they enjoy their drink or wait for their meal. Perfect!

Quote me on that… people who sneer at fiction

pleasure in a good novel Austen

Picture courtesy of ShutterHack on Flickr

Facebook is pretty annoying, but when you take out the equation the big, worse-than-annoying stuff you see (racism, homophobia, etc.) by unfriending people, one of the most annoying things I’ve ever seen was someone who wrote in their favourite books section: “I don’t read fiction, I prefer to spend my time on things which actually have some relevance in the world.”

I had to count to ten. And breathe deeply. And swore anyway.

It really annoys me when people just dismiss books as being trivial. They aren’t. This is why books are still banned and still get burned. People are scared of the ideas they contain because they have meaning and power. But you’ve no doubt heard this all before so I will leave you with an appropriate put down from Jane Austen, which you must deliver in your best impersonation of Downton Abbey’s Lady Grantham the next time you see someone utter something so dismissive.

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

 

My Top 5 Fictional Badgers #teambadger

Image by BadgerHero, used under the terms of Wikimedia Commons License

Badgers remind me of my childhood. Mysterious woodland animals who usually played a noble role in fiction, defending the weak, standing up for what was right… They remind me of more innocent days in my naive youth. A time when I believed that a democratically elected government had to listen to the views of the people, or, if they insisted upon taking a paternalistic approach, the mainstream of scientific opinion… you know, silly things like that…

Given the UK government’s current foray into badger fiction* (fiction in the sense that they are flying in the face of the facts/a ten-year independent scientific study into badgers and Bovine TB) I thought I would share my top five badgers in actual fiction.

 

1. The Badger Lords of the Redwall Series  by Brian Jacques

I was obsessed with the Redwall Series by the late, great Brian Jacques when I was small. I’ve always had a fondness for rodents. The Redwall books are a little like what Lord of the Rings might be if you take out the magic and replace hobbits, dwarves and orcs with mice, squirrels and wildcats.  My favourite characters always the badgers and the mice. Though the badgers are noble characters, they suffer from bloodwrath which turns their eyes red, the sign of a great warrior who will not hold back or even be able to restrain themselves in the heat of battle.

2. Badger in The Animals of Farthing Wood by Colin Dann

If you’re of a similar age to me, you’ll probably remember The Animals of Farthing Wood as a television series in which a diverse group of woodland animals  who are threatened by man’s interference in their wood, form a motley crew and journey to the safety of a woodland reserve. It doesn’t look as though this will go ahead, due to the smaller animals natural fear of the carnivores eating them, until Badger suggests they take an oath of mutual protection. It’s a very nice story about understanding other people’s limitations and supporting them (Badger carries Mole on his back because he can only walk very slowly). Someone should also read it to the Environment Secretary because it makes the point that animals under threat migrate.

3. Tommy Brock The Tale of Mr Tod Beatrix Potter

Now Tommy Brock is a very naughty badger, the kind of badger you could imagine the government wanting to do something about. Don’t be fooled by his smart waistcoat and downturned gaze. This is the kind of badger who would steal a nest of baby rabbits and hides them in Mr Tod’s oven. Now you might say that badgers don’t commonly eat rabbits in the wild. To that I say, foxes don’t commonly own ovens. We’re suspending our disbelief here. Suspended? Thank you. Many people love Beatrix Potters “good characters” but I’ve always had a soft spot for the villains. Yes, I prefer Samuel Whiskers to Tom Kitten, and I salute Tommy Brock for stealing the baby rabbits and making everyone wonder why Benjamin Bunny decided to sire a family with his first cousin Flopsy. Well, that’s rabbits for you.

4. Mr Badger The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graeme

I admire any badger that wears a dressing gown, and the solitary Mr Badger may have attempted to stage one of the first interventions in literature when he tried to dissuade Toad from his path of self-destruction by placing him under house arrest. Interestingly, Badger and Mole are driven out of Toad Hall by a crew of stoats and weasels. Did you know that the TB virus can survive for a very long time in empty badger setts, infecting any badgers which move into the area. Interestingly, since rats and weasels move into Toad Hall, rats, weasels and ferrets can also carry the disease. As can foxes. And deer… shoot anything that moves will be next.

5. Trufflehunter Prince Caspian C S Lewis

This Old Narnian badger rescues Prince Caspian and hides him when he is fleeing from his evil, murderous Uncle Miraz. As a good and true Narnian, he surely lives on in Aslan’s Country, the true Narnia. But you have to wonder what fate lies in store for less vocal members of the meles meles if the government proceed with this madness.

 

Honourable mention should go to Bill of Rupert the Bear fame and Captain Ramshackle of Automated Alice but I felt that we had one randomologist too many in the form of Owen Paterson at this time.

* Even if your name isn’t Sherlock, you will notice that I have used this post on fictional badgers to ram home my views on the cull. I make no apology for that, it is madness. A ten-year study has shown that culling will not solve the problem of Bovine TB. It may in fact make it worse as studies showed TB decreasing in cull zones but rapidly increasing in surrounding areas. 92% of the surveyed British public are against the culls so both the scientists and the people the government have been elected to represent are being ignored.

If you’re a UK resident and as annoyed about this as I am please sign this petition. It’s already been debated once and the cull was postponed. Hopefully a second debate will see the cull cancelled altogether and Bovine TB managed through vaccination, improved husbandry and better biosecurity.