What Sells Books?

Every good novel needs a character with a compelling voice. Someone to sing a Siren song of love or loss, a Siren song of suspense or mystery, a Siren song of snarky cynicism, coming of age, middle school antics, musicians, or murder. There are a million stories (or a mere handful told a million different ways depending on who you’re talking to) and these stories must be told in a voice that matters. Authors, agents, editors, readers — everyone agrees. A strong voice is the most essential element of any story.

But something that not everyone agrees on, especially since the publishing industry is changing so rapidly, is the best way to sell books, although by now everyone has heard the word ‘platform’.

Platform is just another word for voice. Not the voice of the story, but the voice of the author. These days everyone seems to be saying that it takes more than a book to captivate and keep a reader’s attention. It takes a vibrant personality, someone who has A Story Behind Their Story, or at least, someone who is skillful enough to draw a crowd on facebook and twitter.

So do these things work? Does social networking sell books?

I thought it would be fun to take a look at some of the YA books I read in 2011 and tell you how I came to buy them.

Shift is a YA dystopian by author/artist Charlotte Agell. I fell in love with Agell’s picture books, which she illustrates with gorgeous watercolors, so decided to read just about everything she wrote. I wrote about her here and here and after she told me about The Crosswalk Kings, her son’s band, I wrote about them here.

I read about the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins first in The New Yorker.

I connected with Tara Kelly on twitter. At the time she was posting music recommendations and I liked the music she suggested. I checked out her site and saw that she offered editing services. I liked her site and thought well, if I’m going to hire her, I need to check out her writing. I’d already learned that she was a musician and her book Harmonic Feedback was about musicians so of course, I was interested. I bought the book and hired Tara to do a Big Picture Evaluation of the manuscript I was working on. I liked Harmonic Feedback so much I ordered her latest book, Amplified from my local bookstore. I couldn’t put it down. If you’re a musician you MUST read Amplified.

Joëlle Anthony is another author I connected with on twitter. I’m not sure how I started following her, I think I may have found her link in an article about twitter in the SCBWI bulletin. In any case, when Kidlit4Japan was auctioning off baskets of books to help raise money to benefit the victims of the earthquake and devastating tsunami, I bid on Joëlle’s basket because I knew the main character of her book Restoring Harmony was a musician, and at the time, everyone on twitter was talking about Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. Joëlle’s basket had both, as well as an arc of Where She Went by Gayle Forman. Where She Went is the follow-up to If I Stay, so I ran out and bought If I Stay from my local bookstore. I wrote about Restoring Harmony here.

More tweets! Although my twitter account seemed to have a problem with me following Jay Asher (I swear I had to follow him three times before he remained permanently on my follow list!) no one else seemed to have that problem and his name and face seemed to pop up everywhere. Everyone I was talking to on twitter was talking about Thirteen Reasons Why and finally, after I connected with Jay on facebook and saw a gazillion copies of his book in Barnes and Noble, I bought a copy. And couldn’t put it down. Although I’d like to talk about it with him over a cup of coffee. There’s probably a club I can join.

Divergent by Veronica Roth was another book that everyone I chatted with on twitter was talking about. Another unputdownable book.

Twitter. Again. If you don’t follow @thunderchikin on twitter you must, if only to see his laughably gorgeous avatar show up in your twitter stream. But laugh is the key word here and it was David Macinnis Gill‘s sense of humor that made me go out and buy his book Black Hole Sun. He was kind enough to send me an ARC of Invisible Sun (Could it be because one of his characters is named Mimi?) and I will buy book III in this sci-fi grunge series as soon as it’s available. In this case, the author’s personality is what made me interested in his writing. That plus his hot avatar.

One of the local bookstore owners (who by this time, as you might imagine, has become a close friend) recommended Shiver and it still surprises me that I did not originally hear about Maggie Stiefvater online from #YAlitchat since that’s where I’ve learned about so many fantastic YA authors and their books and Stiefvater is actually a member of the group. I must have missed the chat that night!

I think Maggie Stiefvater is one of the best YA writers out there and if I could . . . I would eat her books.

I learned about Sarah Dessen at Ye Olde Local Bookstore, which, by the way is River Road Books in Fair Haven, NJ.

A whole rack of books by a YA writer? Yes please, I’ll take one. And go back for more.

Thank you SCBWI! For all you do for me, including introducing me to authors and people who work with authors. I met the author Natalie Zaman in a crit group at an NJ SCBWI conference and after reading 30 pages of one of her WIP became a fan.

Ally Condie‘s book, Matched was recommended by an editor I met at the same conference. Love.

And from Natalie Zaman, author of Sirenz, I learned about Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. Good old fashioned word of mouth via NJ SCBWI. Love, love, love this book. Gorgeous writing, killer cover.

Jo Treggiari and I have friends in common, so again, word of mouth. I couldn’t put this book down, it made me think of the summers I spent in the Canadian wilderness as a teen. More on that in another post. I was surprised at the amount of time spent in the main character’s head at the beginning of Ashes, Ashes, as well as the many descriptions at the start of the story. I loved the way this writing technique enabled me to get to know the mc and her surroundings so very well.


I know, I know, I can’t believe I didn’t read this book sooner. The brevity in the writing, in the voice, made me think of a song. Beautiful, dark, perfect, I loved Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson.

And so I end my first annual blog post on books. I hope you enjoyed my totally unscientific fan-girl based conclusions. Maybe by next year at this time I’ll have something completely different to say about what sells books. Until then, I hope you continue to tune in to Sirenstories for new music.

Happy New Year!


8 responses to “What Sells Books?

  1. Lots to gobble up here… I’m impressed that you are able to hang out on twitter and still be able to read so voraciously. I love the way you follow your noise, or ear in these cases, and find exactly what delights you.

    • Oh, I totally meant to include that vital piece of information! Readers please note: this man is absolutely molten. On the inside. To the core. Follow him on twitter immediately. And buy his books.

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