I was chatting with some writers a couple weeks ago, when one person began talking about the upcoming holidays, and mentioned having been invited to a book fair to speak on a panel about YA Books.
We got enthusiastic about recommending YAs—recent? Classic? Really old? What constitutes YA these days. Then she asked the group if they thought it was okay to go about recommending one’s own books, even though she’d been invited through her school as a teacher.
No surprise that four writers had four different opinions, but all pretty much agreed:
- Best is if asked upfront to talk about your books.
- If not asked, maybe ask if listeners like your genre, and if you see some enthusiasm, give your pitch.
- Avoid hard sell (or as our host put it, “Try to keep your pitch under an hour”), and if you’re there to talk about other books, talk about other books first, at least.
That led right back to recommending books, and what fun it is when it works. One person said that it was like matchmaking, awesome when the book you recommended means a great deal to someone. And you cannot predict when it will happen.
You can recommend Big Important Works and get mild enthusiasm or polite thanks, then recommend something you thought was pure fluff, and it turns out to be exactly the right book at the right time, and it made all the difference.
Then again, it can be the wrong book at the wrong time, too. Or just plain the wrong book, hitting a reader 180 degrees from how it hit you.
Everybody had some ouches to share. Not so much the meh response when you were so sure that Person A was going to adore Book X because they loved Book Z as much as you did, and for the same reasons.
No, the really awful reaction (just like trying to set people up) is when they come back with “How could you think that I would like that??” or “Is that what you really think of me? Do you know me so little?”
Well, we went through various disastrous reccos, then got back to successes, which was much more fun to talk about.
I thought I’d mention three of mine, in hopes other readers will share successful recommendation stories: what books did you match with readers that had a real effect in those readers’ lives?
My first success was in grade school, when a classmate admitted that she really wanted books about girls in history, and they were hard to find, especially ones that had magic. (She had just read Witch of Blackbird Pond, which was good, but had no magic-she’d picked out out thinking there would be a real witch. I told her she had to read Sally Watson’s Witch of the Glens, which I had finished not long before, having checked out the library’s new copy.
Well, she read it in one night, just like I did, and I can still remember the big-eyed grin on her face as she crossed the blacktop toward me the next morning, as the kids milled around before the assembly bell. Scruffy, scabbed knees, limp dress half-grown out of just like mine, ugly Dutch bob haircut that she loathed as passionately as I loathed mine.
“What other books do you love?” she asked, and our words tumbled over each other’s in exclaiming love and hate for various books, before going back to talk about our favorite bits in the Watson. We were such kindred spirits, and for a time we passed notes about Scottish witches, and memorized the bits of Gaelic in the book. Alas, she moved away that summer, and I never saw her again. But that big grin of excitement and discovery has always stayed with me.
My oddest success was a recommendation to someone with whom I had absolutely nothing in common save a relish for Lapham’s Quarterly (which sadly, we can no long afford, but some day . . .) . This was the spouse of a friend I’d made when our kids were schoolmates, and we’d see one another at various school events. She was despairing of a gift for her spouse, who I knew was extremely picky, and only read non-fiction—no interest in fiction whatsoever.
I suggested Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A Time of Gifts, a gloriously, splendidly written book based on Fermor’s experience walking across Europe in the early thirties, which he wrote up decades later, with the formidable wisdom and knowledge he’d gained. The husband actually wrote me a formal thank you note for suggesting it—and I found out later, that it was one of the two books he took into the hospital when he had heart surgery.
The latest one?
Depressed and anxious after the election, plus stress-making family news, last month a friend asked for space opera recommendations—nothing grimdark, preferable with a female lead, and banter as well as action.
Banter! My first thought was of Lindsay Buroker’s Fallen Empire space opera series, the first of which can be found here for 99 cents. Alisa Marchenko is a recently widowed mom, former space pilot in the now-finished war which has left the Empire and the Alliance planets in a shambles. She goes to claim her mother’s battered old trader—old engine, no weapons—and finds some surprises.
Well, the friend burned through them so fast that she was the one to tell me that the eighth volume recently came out, bringing the series to a close.
How about you?