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Notice anything new? We’ve added a new section called My NetGalley Activity where you can see your activity and stats. Next time you log in, take a look at your page and you’ll see the following:

  • Recently Approved Titles: these are new approvals you’ve received that you haven’t yet looked at.
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While you’re checking out these new changes, please take the time to update your contact information! Since more and more publishers outside of North America are now participating in NetGalley, publishers need to know what country you reside in so they can make sure they have territory rights to share galleys with you. Publishers will now be able to see your country when you make requests. Go to My Profile/Contact Information to update your country informtion.*

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BookSwim.com's Nick Ruffilo (@bookswim)

We bookish folks currently live in a funny and expanding universe. Funny and expanding because much of it, for many of us largely takes place virtually. Well, #followreader is one prime example. And, chatting about books and publishing outside of #followreader with fellow Twitter bookish tweeps is another. As are: all the groups and fan sites and friends of a bookish feather we hang out with on Facebook. Did I forget to mention book blogs? Perish the thought! Bookish blogs are a big virtual stop for many of us.

Added to this is the increasingly (again, for many – not all – of us), digital nature of reading itself. Ebooks and ibooks and book apps and whatever will electronic reading gizmo or format will come out in the seconds it takes me to finish typing this sentence — many things about the lit life have gone virtual.

So, it’s pretty fabulous to consider the flip side of all this online activity — it can lead to some wonderful real world interactions with real world books. Consider if you will: I’m in Cambridge a few weeks ago. I casually tweet about being in Cambridge. Not moments later, my Twitter buddy @ConMartin (whom I have never met in real life), direct messages me back, and asks if I’d like to meet for coffee. REALLY meet. For REAL coffee. Well, how cool is that? Long story short, we did meet (real coffee was nixed in favor of real frosty adult beverages). And Constance gave me one of the best tours of Harvard Yard and Harvard BOOKSTORE (definitely worth a visit) that anyone could ever hope for.

@conmartin + @katmeyer meet IRL

In addition, we have a really great conversation, and I learn more about Constance’s own love of books — real booky books– and “in real life” book clubs. I, on the other hand, was able to impart to her some of the reasons I’m crazy about e-reading opportunities and online reading communities.

This is but one example of a bonding with virtual book buddy in the physical plane — another being, just last night I got to meet @susanmpls for the first time in real life for a real dinner at a real restaurant. (more accurately: a really fattening and delicious dinner at a really fabulous Italian restaurant). We talked a lot. A LOT. Almost entirely about books and publishing, but also about chocolate, and family, and – come to think of it, it was mostly about books and publishing.

Begs the question, if virtual relationships can manifest in the real world, what of the connection between physical books and ebooks? I’m not one of those alarmists (I use the term with a tiny grain of salt – please do not take offense all you alarmists, you) who worry that the paper book will be obliterated from the planet. I think paper and plastic will co-exist nicely for as long as we flesh and blood readers remain more real than virtual. But, I have also been running into a lot of cool things happening with booky books lately that make me more and more excited about the book as a real life object. One is visual search, which is a technology that allows the physical to be married to the virtual via smart phones ( QR codes for example, only, visual search ot less bar code-y and a lot more seamlessly integrated into your day to day life).

I’m working on a post over at my day job (Tools of Change) that will offer a glimpse into just how cool this technology is, and how rapidly it’s evolving. So, go over there and check it out tomorrow. (Fingers crossed it will be up tomorrow — I swear, Jamey!).

I’ve also run into some booky-bookish touchstones lately that while are not in the least bit high-tech, do a fabulous job of blurring the lines of what a book is and what the physical book as object means to us as flesh and blood readers. Another story for you: Last month I’m frantically running around BookExpo America, and I have the good fortune of meeting up with the calm, cool and collected Nick Ruffilo of BookSwim.com. We catch up (in real life, for a change) — Nick telling me some of the very interesting things that BookSwim has in store in the near future, and before parting ways, we decide to do the proper IRL thing and exchange real papery business cards. In my usual uncool, uncalm, uncollected manner, I fumble through the black hole that is my purse, looking for one undamaged and mostly legible business card. Nick, on the other hand, reaches calmly into his messenger bag and pulls out an old, leather-bound book:

Nick's book

How odd, you might think – as did I.

But, Nick is full of surprises. Turns out his book is no mere book. His book hides many secrets.

Nick's business card holder

Yeah – that’s cool. As a hobby, and side-gig, Nick takes old, damaged books and converts them into really cool bookish artifacts-with-a-purpose.

It’s interesting how the virtual and the real worlds of books and the bookish tend to collide. Interesting in a good way, I think.

p.s. – Check out Nick’s etsy store. He creates his secret compartment books on request. I might have gone and gotten one. And I might love it to death and highly recommend getting one yourself, if you’re so inclined.

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Being a book lover does not preclude one from pursuing other passions. In fact, for some readers, books bring a whole new level of appreciation to their other favorite pass times, and vice versa.

Book bloggers David Gutowski, Josh Christie, and Vera Marie Badertscher are three such individuals. For each of them, blogging is the perfect outlet for combining their loves of literature with their loves for a little something else – music, beer, and travel respectively. Along the way, they’ve entertained and enriched the lives of countless of their readers.

Learn about each of them, and how they came to be bloggers of books and more, below:

David Gutowski of LargeHeartedBoy

David Gutowski of the blog, Largehearted Boy.
From the “about the blog” – Largehearted Boy is a music blog featuring daily free and legal music downloads as well as news from the worlds of music, literature, and pop culture.

Which love came first, books or music?

Books were my first love. Growing up, there were always books in my house of all age levels, and my parents (both voracious readers) encouraged me to read from an early age.

How do you choose the books/authors for Book Notes? Are they books you are already reading, and you approach the authors to participate, or do you get submissions from authors? Or do they just happen?

When the series began in 2005, I would approach publishers about specific titles I had read and enjoyed. Now I am sent a multitude of books every week by publishers, publicists and authors to choose from. I still only choose books I personally enjoy for the series, though, and often get good suggestions from bloggers, friends, and even booksellers.

Not surprisingly, publicists have come to recognize my taste (the series mostly features literary fiction and nonfiction), so the bulk of my review pile consists of good candidates for the series. Over the past couple of years authors who have already contributed to the series have been probably the most surprising source of new submissions.

I don’t accept unsolicited submissions by authors or publicists. My criteria for inclusion in the series is simple, I have to enjoy the book (and I have been known to be quite picky).

Same question only different – How do you choose the musicians who write Note Books? Do you already know them and ask, or do they ask you if they can?

I have approached a majority of the musicians in the Note Books series directly, I try to focus that series on songwriters I greatly admire.

One of the reasons I started the Book Notes and Note Books series was that I would continually be impressed by music referenced by authors in interviews, and books named by musicians as their favorites. These series not only enlighten the blog’s readers, but also myself.

When starting the series I assumed musicians would be more receptive to writing about books than authors writing about music. I underestimated both the time available to musicians and the music love of writers.

As a rule, do you listen to music while reading?

I do. I keep two baskets of incoming mail just below my stereo in my office, music and books, and sample both throughout the day. I have always been able to multi-task, and reading while listening to music has never been a problem for me.

What’s your all time favorite pairing of music and book?

A friend of mine just asked me what music would pair well with Flannery O’Connor short stories, and I recommended anything by Sigur Ros. I tested the combination yesterday and found that Icelandic indie rock plus Southern Gothic fiction works remarkably well together.

Are you excited about the changes taking place in the publishing world? What hopes/fears do you  have for books, authors, and readers?

I love the way authors are increasingly leveraging the internet to get direct access to their readers. Whether it is their own websites, forums, blogs, or guest essays and interviews. I am incredibly excited to see authors both approachable and humanized through their online interaction.

I worry that as a whole, people are reading less, but I never lose sleep over the quality of writing today. I am amazed almost every day by books from presses big and small.

My biggest concern is the plight of the independent bookstore in the digital age, especially with the growing use of e-books.

David Gutowski
Largehearted Boy: http://blog.largeheartedboy.com/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/largeheartedboy
Facebook: http://tinyurl.com/DGfacebook

Josh Christie of Brews and Books

Josh Christie
of the blog Brews and Books
From the “about the blog” – Brews and Books is a site for everyone’s inner Hemingway – a site about books with a healthy passion for alcohol.  Er, maybe a better example is everyone’s inner Sam Calagione, an English-major-turned-brewer.  Wait, that isn’t perfect either.  BrewsAndBooks.com is a site for everyone that loves a good book in one hand and a good beer in the other.  The blog first arose out of a desire to share reviews of well-written books and lovingly-brewed beer.  The site has evolved slightly from this original purpose, and now shares news in the brewing, publishing, bookselling and beer worlds along with reviews and editorial content.

So, why beer and books? Where did the idea come from, and have you found kindred spirits?

Basically, I didn’t think I had enough to say about either topic by itself.  While I’m a lifelong reader and love craft beer, I’d hesitate to call myself an expert on either topic.  At the time I started the blog, I knew far less about beer than I do now.  While I could talk a bit about the dominant flavors and experience of drinking a beer, I just didn’t know enough about the topic to put out a half-dozen posts a week.  Similarly, my job as a bookseller made books a natural topic for me to dive into, but I’ve never been particularly good at talking about books critically.  I’d heard from a lot of bloggers that the two most factors in making a good blog are a passion for your topic and the ability to update regularly, and I figured I’d be able to write more if I wasn’t focusing on one niche.

I’ve found a few kindred spirits in other bloggers, authors, and brewers.  I tend to focus on independent booksellers and independent breweries, and the entrepreneurial, indie spirit links these industries.  If you look at the number of authors that (for good or ill) enjoyed beer a bit too much, or at the number of brewers that have written books (Dogfish’s Sam Calagione even has an English degree), I’m a bit surprised no one jumped on the book and beer idea before me.

What’s your all time fave brew?

This is one that probably changes every week.  Although I’d probably get some flak in the beer geek community for saying it, my favorite beer isn’t one of the “white whales” out there; the rare, expensive superbeers that people seek out, wait in line for or buy on eBay.  Instead, my fave is one I love for totally sentimental reasons – Alaskan Brewing’s Alaskan Amber.

When I was finishing up my Political Science degree, I spent half of my senior year living out in Juneau, AK.  I was travelling alone, I had just turned 21, and I’d be living further from my family than I ever had before.  After a long flight from New England to Seattle, I bought a pint of the Amber in Seattle while waiting for my connection to Juneau.  It is a simple, crisp and slightly nutty amber ale, and the taste and experience have made it my favorite ever since.

Fave book?

This one is a bit more critically lauded – Michael Chabon‘s Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.  I love Chabon’s elegant writing style, and the topic of comic book superheroes is right in my roadhouse.  I’m a big booster of genre fiction and graphic novels, and it was great to read a book that dealt with the subject matter in a mature, engaging way.  Being part of the book blogging community has also given me a couple new favorites in the last year, including Toltz A Fraction of the Whole, which I read at the urging of Ann Kingman from Books on the Nightstand.

Fave blog (other than your own)?

Whew, that’s a tough question for a guy that gets hundreds of posts in his Google Reader every day.  For books, I love independent blogs like Largehearted Boy, Books on the Nightstand, and Bookgasm.  For book news and reviews, I always read GalleyCat and the Onion AV Club, and there is stellar content going up from bookstores like Northshire and Inkwell on an almost daily basis.  In terms of beer blogs, I’ve really been enjoying the Hop Press on RateBeer.com.  I’ll admit that I’m a blogger for the site, but don’t think that’s the only reason it’s a favorite.  There baker’s dozen of weekly columnists are some of the best beer writers on the internet, and are diverse in age, location, writing topics and areas of expertise.

Beyond brew and book blogs, I check iFanboy, NPR’s Monkey See, Destructoid, io9 and the Slate blogs every day.

What’s the best thing about blogging on books and beer?

Is it uncool to say the free beer and free books?

In all seriousness, the best thing about the blog is turning people on to good beer and good books.  One of the great things about writing on two topics is that beer lovers who may never pick up a book will see book content on my blog and find a new favorite novel.

Similarly, readers who might have never tried good beer – real beer – will end up trying and loving something like a witbier or a chocolat  tarted the site because I’m passionate about both topics, and seeing people find a new favorite beer or book because of me is probably the coolest feeling in the world.

Anything about it not to your liking?

Like Gary Vaynerchuk says, blogging can be hard work.  There are thousands of abandoned blogs out there with authors that just lost interest or couldn’t motivate themselves to write, and sometimes I feel like it’d be nice to take a week off and not write about anything.  Other than that, I’m sure my complaints are the simple things that every blogger mentions – spam comments, disappearing articles, trolls and technical difficulties.  Luckily, there isn’t anything that has made my motivation wane since starting Brews and Books about ten months ago.
Josh Christie

Vera Marie Badertscher of the blog, A Traveler’s Library
From the “about the blog” -SHORT VERSION: Here at the Library, we will wander the globe, in no particular order, ignoring the Dewey Decimal system, the alphabet, continental boundaries, or any other artificial organization.

What inspired you to create a blog devoted to pairing books with travel destinations?

I wanted to start a travel-related blog.  Everyone advises blogging about something you love, and travel and books are my two great loves.  As I read travel listserves and travel sites with user participation, I noticed that any time someone asked for a suggestion for books to read related to their trip, it generated a long list of replies. I searched the Internet for a web site or blog that provided books that inspire travel and found that while many came close to that subject, none hit it exactly. Voila! I then realized that movies have been as important as books in inspiring travel, so I found a name that would include movies as well as books.

How long has Traveler’s Library been in existence?

I started January 10, 2009.

How do you choose what books/locations to blog about?

Generally I put new books with strong presentation of culture or place at the top of my list, and love to develop contacts in publishing who alert me to their new books that fit; next come those that are on my shelf that I have already read–which means a lot of Greece since that is my main love; next I take the suggestions of my readers. Believe me, my readers have supplied me with enough suggestions to keep a blog going for several years. They are well read and contribute valuable information. Through it all, I keep an eye on current events and historic occasions that I can tie in to the blog posts.

Which of your posts are you proudest of/like best (so far)?

Oh boy, that’s tough. Probably the one I have not written yet–because in my mind they always sound so much better than when they are finished. I am passionate about the subject of my very first post, which concerns the repatriation of ancient artifacts, and the book Loot. Related to that, I devoted a whole week to literature (and theater) related to Greece leading up to the opening of the New Acropolis Museum and my soapbox of getting back the Elgin marbles. Amazingly, my quote from Lord Byron’s Childe Harold regarding Lord Elgin drew an enormous readership. I enjoy interviewing authors and had a lot of fun with Simon Cox who wrote Decoding the Lost Symbol. While he is an inveterate researcher who seems to study just about everything, I enjoyed hearing him say that he actually does research as an excuse to travel.I could go on all day. Better stop there, before I list all my posts.

How do you find guest bloggers for your blog?

I meet other bloggers through Twitter and through other social networking tools. When I read the posts of a blogger who writes well and seems to have a feeling for literature and travel, particularly if they have some experience with a part of the world I have not been in, I ask him/her to do a guest blog for me. Also, sometimes people who comment on my blog get roped in.

What book blogs do you love, and why?

I tend to read more travel blogs than book blogs. Just because since I hired myself for this job of reviewing books that influence travel, I don’t have time left over to read outside those lines. That said, I particularly like Angela Nickerson‘s A Gypsy’s Guide. Novel Destinations takes the traveler to the home of an author, or place of famous literature. The Heiroglyphic Streets covers books for the traveler, as I do, but excerpts reviews from around the web. I like their approach, and wish they were better known, actually.

Your favorite travel destination is Greece, but what’s your all time favorite book?

You saw how much trouble I had choosing with your questions up above. With a lifetime of reading, a collection of books that tumbles out of bookshelves onto tables and floors, a well-worn library card–who can choose?
Vera Marie Badertscher
A Traveler’s Library: http://atravelerslibrary.com/

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Do you have a favorite book blog? Share it with us in the comments!

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Robert Rosenwald of Poisoned Pen Press

Robert Rosenwald of Poisoned Pen Press

Here at Follow the Reader, we’re always excited about events and tools that bring authors, publishers, readers, and other bookish types together to talk books. So, when a month or so ago, I stumbled across the website for Poisoned Pen’s Web Con, I was muy intrigued.

Taking place this Saturday, October 24, 2009  PPWebCon is described as the world’s first major virtual mystery and crime convention bringing authors and readers together online from all over the world. Pretty cool, eh? And, if anyone can deliver the goods on such a cool premise, it’s the folks at Poisoned Pen.

I sent a few questions to Robert Rosenwald, who kindly (and promptly) returned some answers. So, for those who want to know more about what is likely the coolest (and premiere) virtual event for mystery lovers EVER, please read on!

KM:  Where’d the idea for WebCon come from?

RR: It came from several places at once:

  • It’s something that had been riding around in the back of my head for a while.
  • One of our authors, Mary Reed, suggested that Poisoned Pen Press authors might want to have an online conference.
  • Janice Hally, the con’s web mistress, goaded us on.
  • Several PPP authors jumped on the bandwagon.

KM: Who is the target audience, or attendee, for WebCon?

RR: Mystery readers and writers, and people who’d like to be mystery writers.

KM: What authors will be presenting at WebCon? What has their reaction been to the idea of a virtual conference?

RR: Too many to name. Our Guest of Honor is Dana Stabenow, International Guest of Honor is Lee Child. Laurie R. King will be interviewing Lee Child and Kate Miciak, Editorial Director of Bantam Dell at Random House Publishing Group (and another Guest of Honor). The reaction has been very positive. Many are a little bewildered and confused by what technology they need to master but people are really looking forward to it.

KM:  What’s the feedback so far from prospective attendees?

RR: Very strong. Some have expressed amazement at the concept.

KM: Authors will have a chance to pitch to editors – how will this work in a virtual setting, and what editors will be present? Any agents?

RR: We’ll have four Poisoned Pen Press editors available including our senior editor, Barbara G. Peters. Each will handle five pitches. Writers will submit a synopsis and the first 30 pages of a manuscript electronically to the editor assigned to them (assignment shall be done by random draw). The editor will spend about ten minutes talking with the writer about their reactions to what was submitted and issues with the written materials they’ve looked at. This will be done one on one using Skype.

KM: How is the tech end for the event being handled? Will there be video/tech people involved in more than one location?

RR: There will be relatively little live video though there will be some. There are several YouTube videos that have been created for the Webcon and I really don’t know what all else. There will be a fair amount of live audio through BlogTalkRadio.com which basically lets one stream to the web a conference call. We’ll be doing a live video from the bookstore at 9:00 am (our time – PST) in which Libby Fisher Hellmann will be moderating a panel of authors, Betty Webb, Frederick Ramsay, and Donis Casey on Building Suspense. We have a handout that will be available for download as well.

KM: Will there be an offline component to the conference?

RR: Everything will be online. There will be components that are not real time but will have been prerecorded or previously created.

KM:  Since it’s virtual, do you expect the conference to continue in a virtual setting after the conference date?

RR: We’re planning on leaving up the website at least for the next year to be available to anyone who is interested in going back through one or more of the presentations or panels. The audio and video will also be archived.

KM:  I love the idea that you’re offering a $20 book voucher for the PP bookstore with registration. What are some of the other goodies that conference goers can expect?

RR: There are some short stories, there are some audio and video clips, book trailers, recipes, a variety of things in the goody bag. I really don’t know all that has been collected.

So, if you are a mystery fan, author looking to chat with publishers and other professionals in the genre, or – like me — just really intrigued at the idea of an online/virtual bookish conference, head over to the PPWebCon site and check it out. There is no limit to the number of attendees, and 100% of profits from your $25 registration fee will be donated to public libraries.

~ Kat :)

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Rich Rennicks: Father, bookseller, gardener, writer, jack-of-many-trades

Rich Rennicks

Oh dear, lately we seem to have gotten a bit lax here at Follow the Reader. But, today we are making up for our recent lack of quantity, with a whole lotta quality in the form of a lovely chat with the Word Hoarder‘s own, Mr. Rich Rennicks.

Rich is a self-described “father, bookseller, gardener, writer, and jack-of-many-trades,” who works as bookstore liaison for Unbridled Books, and part-times it as a book seller for Malaprop’s Bookstore in Asheville, NC.  As you will find out, Rich also enjoys the pleasure of a good book.

If you needed another reason to be fond of him, Rich is a huge advocate of book sellers using social media to engage with their customers, and has a fantastic post all about it over at Word Hoarder. Go check it out after you read our equally fantastic interview with him.

Kat Meyer: Through extensive research (I clicked on the “About” section at your blog), I discovered you are not native to North Carolina, but hail from Ireland with some time spent in the UK. You mention on your blog that your  library reflects your travels. Can you elaborate? Are there any titles that stand out as touchstones for particular times and locations of your life?

Rich Rennicks:

Ireland
There are several books that impacted on me for one basic reason: their authors lived (or had lived) nearby, and that brought the world of arts and letters close enough to home that I began to think I might have a part in it some day.  Brendan Behan’s memoir Borstal Boy, J.P. Donleavy’s hilarious The Ginger Man, and Francis Ledwidge’s poetry, were particularly impressive and remain so..

England
I read Pynchon, Rushdie and Eco for the first time while I lived in the UK. Any of their books could change a person’s life.

US
I read Silas House’s marvelous Clay’s Quilt on a trip to NC while I lived in Michigan. That book, with its warm and nuanced understanding of Appalachian culture, had a great deal to do with my family deciding to relocate back south after years up north. Also, Look Homeward Angel is one of my favorite books of all time — and one of the few to reduce me the tears – so, Asheville carries a certain aura and romance for me because of Thomas Wolfe.

Travels
I almost began grad work in Indian and post-colonial literature after falling under the spell of Rushdie, Roy, Mukherjee and others. My wife and I traveled throughout India in 1998, and I brought home a ton of Indian novels and some literary nonfiction. Upamanyu Chatterjee’s hilarious English, August is one of those special books for me. I’ve discovered an informal fraternity of travelers who have spent serious time on the subcontinent and have often read that book. It captures the distaste the urban, educated Indian often feels for the raw, superstitious life of rural India, which often mirrors the first impressions and feelings westerners have of the country. It’s a book I’ve bonded with a few people over, and one that is something of an antidote to the glossy, sprawling family sagas that were being published as fast as possible for a few years. English, August is no more comprehensive or representative of India’s myriad communities than those sagas, but is one of the few books I’ve found that takes a brutally and humorously honest look at what’s often romanticized.
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OK, it’s now officially #followreader catch up week, with the third of three recaps from our weekly Twitter discussions.

This discussion took place July 30, after we posted a dialogue with Random House sales reps and bloggers Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness, and then invited the two of them to join our friends on Twitter in a #followreader conversation. 

Working from the premise that “the entire book business culture and tradition is up for grabs now,”  Ann and Michael proved fearless in their willingness to reassess the business and where it can go in these digital times. The result was the best kind of Twittersation – a long riff on fresh ideas with scores of improvisationalists, that turned into one of our most intense and creative #followreader conversations to date. Many thanks to Michael and especially Ann, who was able to stay for a full hour!

[NOTE: Due to technical constraints, I've reconstructed the conversation primarily from the Twitterfeeds of @annkingman and @mkindness, in addition to my own. Apologies to the many other participants in this conversation whose smart comments I was not able to retreive.]

Here are some of the highlights:

How can we keep books high on the cultural radar?

@AnnKingman: I’d love to see more salons, where people talk about book they’re reading or love, not a traditional book club

@charabbott: You could say that #followreader, #litchat, #tbc, #editorchat and #TuesBookTalk are all newfangled book salons.

@AnnKingman: I think the salon can work online and off – Twitter, blogs, Goodreads, etc. are all kind of online salons

@AnnKingman: Offline book salons are not as popular as online, but there’s potential

@charabbott: Maybe the key is creating offline parlor games with books. I once invited eight friends over on Oscar Wilde’s birthday to read one of his plays aloud.

@jnyrose: Free books are nice. But hanging out with large groups of book-obsessed people is fantastic.

Who might be the tastemakers in these emerging book salons?

@annkingman: Indie e-mail newsletters are great, and we are starting to see more indies with blogs, which thrills me.

@mkindess: There are customers who look to booksellers for recommendations, why not editors too?

@annkingman: If you read a book you love, would you want to read another acquired by that editor?

@annkingman: Last three non-brand-name books I loved were all acquired by same editor, but I didn’t know it at the time. Now I’ll read anything she buys.

@mkindness: I think readers would be interested ito hear from the editor who brought them The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

@charabbott: Yes, I watch some editors and agents, like Susan Kamil and Nicole Aragi for fiction, and Eamon Dolan for nonfiction.

@annkingman: Publisher and editor extremely important for bookstore buyers because they’ve learned who to trust. Why can’t that carry over?
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Random House sales reps by day, Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness are also bloggers by night–and subjects of the latest installment in our Profiles in Convergence series, about influential bridge builders between the print and digital worlds. They launched Books on the Nightstand in April 2008, with one of the few podcasts about books aimed at booksellers, librarians, and the general reading public. “We thought that our insider’s perspective on books would be a fun twist,” they explain. Most of the books they write or talk about “happen to be published by Random House,” since they read so much for work, although they swear they will talk about any book they love, no matter who publishes it. And while their self-funded blog is an independent project not related to their employer, Kindness and Kingman confess they do dream “that Levenger will want to sponsor us someday.” Read on for their recent conversation with Follow the Reader.

What motivated you to take on your blog in addition to your very busy jobs as sales reps?

Michael: Talking about the books has always been my favorite part of the job. Several times a year we present titles to reading groups [in bookstores], and often get asked to do many more than our schedules would allow. Ann came up with the podcast as a way to have those conversations online, on a regular basis.

Ann: At one of our evening presentations at bookstores, a consumer approached the store owner and asked if Michael and I could write a monthly column in the store newsletter. Though circumstances prevented it, I didn’t forget the exchange. A year or so later, as part of a new hobby, I saw the incredible power that a well-written and engaging blog or podcast could have in creating excitement about a yarn or pattern. And I finally put two and two together and realized that we create excitement about books and give readers a peek behind the “publishing curtain” by starting our own blog.  

Ann Kingman
Ann Kingman

Has blogging made you better at selling books to your accounts?

Michael: I think the feedback we’re getting directly from readers has given us a better intuitive sense of what’s being read out there. Yes, I knew The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society was a big, popular book, but the feedback we received from our readers and listeners let me know exactly how much this book touched people.

Ann: It has made me read differently, and think and talk about the books in a different way. In our sales calls with the bookstore buyers, we tend to emphasize comparisons: this book is similar to that book. We talk about the marketing and publicity campaigns. We look at the book jacket. But for the blog and podcast, we speak much more in the language that frontline booksellers use when selling a book to their customer: This is why I love the book; here’s how I felt when I was reading it. We talk about the use of language and the storytelling ability of the author. I think this change has made us more effective in talking to booksellers, and allows them use our information with their customers, even if they haven’t read the book themselves.

Which of your blog posts has been most popular?

Michael: One of our most commented on posts was ironically one I called “95% of You Don’t Need to Read this Post.” It was about baby naming books. I just love that it happened to be useful and perfectly timed for so many people! 

Who is your typical reader?

Ann: We recently did a survey of our readers and listeners, and found the following to be quite interesting: 

  • 88% of our readers and listeners are from the United States
  • 28% of our audience works at a publisher, at a bookstore, or at a library
  • 26% of our audience has a blog that frequently discusses or reviews books.
  • 87% of our audience has read at least 1 book based on our recommendation, and 24% have read 6 or more.
  • Just under 50% of our readers/listeners engage with Books on the Nightstand through our GoodReads or Facebook groups, or regularly comment on our blog.

To what extent do the bookstores in your territories tune into your blog, versus readers who have stumbled on the blog but don’t work with you professionally?

Ann: People in our stores read the blog, though I don’t have any hard numbers, and I don’t know if they are subscribers or just occasional readers. We also have bookstore readers who are not in our territory, as well as readers from used or nontraditional bookstores. Overall, though, the bulk of our readers are “civilians”–people who love books and want to hear or talk about them.

Michael: On the blog, I raved about one of Ann’s titles several months before it came out. When she was selling the list to one of our stores, the buyer said he’d definitely take that book “because Michael loved it.” Things like that still surprise me. You represent your publisher’s books to regional bookstores, yet by blogging about Random House books, you’re taking on a role that’s akin to marketing or publicity, since you’re now reaching consumers as well. 

Do you think more publishing people will play this kind of hybrid role in the future?

Ann: We’ve been speaking directly with consumers through bookstores for the last several years, so those roles have already been shifting. In the publishing industry, there has always been a filter between the publisher and the consumer: bookseller, book reviewer, TV personality. But it turns out that book consumers also like to hear directly from the publisher.

Michael Kindness
Michael Kindness

 Michael: It’s so hard to know exactly how the reps’s role, and indeed all publishing positions, will change over the next few years, but I think we can all agree that it will. It’s vital to be adaptable and that’s what I think Ann and I are doing. And not only with blog: we’re doing more consumer interaction than before, like reading group nights and holiday gift presentations.

I do want to stress, though, that at Books on the Nightstand, we don’t speak in an official role for the publisher. It is an independent project, and so we truly talk about the books that we are passionate about, or the books that we think our readers and listeners will love, and we don’t care who the publisher is. The reality is that we read mostly Random House books because of time constraints, but we never write or talk about a Random House book just because we want to “market” it. I believe that our readers and listeners would see through that in a minute.

How does Random House regard your efforts? Are they encouraging people to blog, or just tolerating those who do?

Michael: Everyone at Random House has been incredibly supportive of our work. A few of the RH publishers have given us books for giveaways and have been pleased with the attention those giveaways received.

What person in publishing do you most wish would write a blog?

Ann: I can’t limit it to just one. I wish everybody would blog. In our industry, we work with the most interesting people, and I would love to get to know them all better. And I’m not alone. I think there’s a huge opportunity for publishing people to connect with readers. Readers have a fascination with the “glamorous” world of publishing, and I know they would love to hear from publishers, editors, publicists, designers.

What upcoming book are you most excited about?

Michael: From the Random House list: Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon. It’s an amazing novel about identity and identity theft and features three separate storylines that come together in very unexpected ways. From “out-of-house:” Stitches by David Small. I got this galley at BEA and read it that weekend. I’m still thinking about this graphic memoir about Small’s childhood. I expect it to end up being one of my favorite books of the year.

Ann: I can’t wait to see what happens with The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown, coming from Doubleday on September 15th. Personally, I am over the moon about Lorrie Moore’s new novel, A Gate at the Stairs (Knopf, September). As soon as I finished the novel, I wanted to re-read it — something that I never ever do. Beyond Random House, I’m dying to read Scholastic’s Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, the sequel to The Hunger Games, one of my favorite reads from last year.

We are pleased to report that Michael Kindness and Ann Kingman will make a guest appearance at this week’s #followreader publishing discussion on Thursday, July 30 from 4-5pm EST. To follow to our discussion in real time, go to Twitter Search and type in #followreader. To add your questions to the discussion, tweet them to moderator @charabbott with the #followreader tag. And to contributute comments to the discussion, use the #followreader tag.

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