As a reader, it can be easy to forget just how much power readers have to make or break the success of a book--particularly of a book that doesn't have the resources of a major publisher's promotion department. I always feel hesitant about asking my readers to serve as my publicists, but the simple fact is that when an author tells people about how wonderful her books are, it gets discounted as meaningless. When a third-party reader tells people how wonderful a book is, they're more inclined to believe it. So while I never expect my readers to promote my books, I will occasionally point out that the success of my current books has a major influence on whether you'll be given the opportunity to enjoy future ones. If that matters to you as a reader, it's important not to treat my work as some sort of guilty pleasure--to be admitted to only when pressed--but to shout out to the rest of the world what a wonderful experience they'll miss out on if they don't read these books. With that in mind, here are a few observations on the process.
There is no such thing as "over the top" when promoting a book. No one has ever been convinced to read a new author by being told, "The writing is kind of interesting," or "She's never going to be the next Ursula K. LeGuin or Brandon Sanderson, but the books are ok, I guess." People expect book recommendations to be full of intensity and passion. A luke-warm recommendation is heard as a polite way of warning readers away.
When you recommend a book, don't hand people reasons to decide to avoid it. Reviews need to include critical assessment, but when you're being an advocate for a book, focus on the things you like, on what you consider the book's strengths. Honestly, I cringe when fans of my books write things like, "Even though it's a lesbian romance, other readers might enjoy this," or "I don't usually like historic settings but this one worked for me," or "it isn't really much of a romance but I didn't mind that," or "I enjoyed this book but I wouldn't recommend it to most people because they wouldn't appreciate it properly." Talk about the specific aspects that you honestly and genuinely loved. "The worldbuilding is intricate and immersive," or "the characters are all richly individual," or "the plot went in delightfully unexpected places."
Don't pre-reject the book when people are asking for recommendations. The most important part of recommending a book is remembering to actually recommend it. I'm not saying you should act like a rec-bot and insert the recommendation randomly into every conversation. But look for connections where it matches part of what people are looking for, even if it isn't a "central case". Books like mine aren't ever going to be a "central case." They intersect too many themes for that. But most of all, I beg you, simply remember that my books exist and that you liked them. Once upon a time, there was a recommendation thread in a lesbian fiction group where a reader was specifically looking for historic/fantasy stories. After I waited patiently for a day to see if anyone would recommend the Alpennia books, I finally suggested them myself. Several posters who had previously made suggestion comments jumped in and said, "Oh yeah, I really liked Heather's books." But not one of them had thought to recommend the series themselves. Don't make Alpennia the Colonel Brandon [*] of the book world, the books everyone thinks well of but nobody remembers to talk about.
[*] Sense and Sensibility reference
At the very least, post a review-like-object somewhere online. Not everyone does Amazon reviews; not everyone does Goodreads reviews; not everyone has a review blog. But pretty much everyone who is reading this has some context online where they can say, "Hey, I just read this great book [title] by [author]. Here's what I liked about it." Make sure the title and author's name will show up correctly on searches. That sort of thing matters.
That's probably enough of a pep talk for one day. Let's have another excerpt from Mother of Souls. It's the first term of Margerit's new college for women and Serafina has been tapped to help out with the thaumaturgy lectures...
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Chapter 22 - Serafina
“Mais— Serafina, I don’t understand.” The question came hesitantly from Valeir Perneld.
The hesitation in her voice was not from what they studied, for Valeir was one of Margerit’s most promising thaumaturgical finds: an auditor who heard the fluctus as choirs of angels. No, they all still stumbled over how to address each other. Margerit had declared that there would be no distinction of rank among the students. No constant reminder from mesnera to mefro of the distance between them outside these walls. And there, too, she held an awkward place. Not a teacher to be given the respect of a surname, and yet one who stood on familiar grounds with most of those who were. If the other students stumbled over addressing her as Serafina, she too stumbled to remember to address Akezze as Maisetra Mainus in their hearing.
“Yes, Valeir?” she said. “What is it?”
“How will it work to try to…to describe fluctus in pictures when I don’t see it?”
Serafina paused in laying out the drawings to answer. “Visio is the most common way of perceiving phasmata, if the word ‘common’ can be used at all. But even for visions it isn’t a simple question.”
From the corner of her eye, Serafina saw two figures slip quietly into the room. Not tardy students, but Margerit herself and a stranger in the dark clothing of a priest. It wasn’t at all uncommon for guests to observe the classes: parents who wanted to see what their daughters would be studying or simply the curious. And not surprising, perhaps, that a priest might be sent to examine what was being taught in the way of thaumaturgy. Margerit made a silent gesture to continue, so Serafina turned back to her topic.
“The depictio isn’t a true image. None of these are, any more than letters written on a page are the sound of a word.” She caught the eye of a plump, dark-haired girl at the far side of the table. “Helen, write your name on the board.” She nodded encouragingly to indicate that this was not intended as punishment.
The girl traced the letters crisply and precisely.
“Now in Greek,” she instructed.
With only the slightest hesitation, Helen wrote Ἑλένη.
“Now in Latin.”
Back to the more familiar letters: Helena.
“Now,” Serafina asked, “are those the same name?”
The students looked confused and uncertain.
“They’re not the same…” Valeir began.
Serafina returned to the dark-haired girl. “Who is your name-saint?”
“Sain-Helen,” she replied promptly.
“And if you read her life and miracles in Bartholomeus, what do you read on the page?”
Her eyes brightened in understanding and she said, “Sancta Helena.”
“Is that two saints or one?” Serafina asked. This time she directed the question to the whole cluster of girls.
“One,” they chorused.
Serafina nodded to indicate they’d done well. “So here you have a depictio that Maisetra Sovitre made during the Mystery of Saint Mauriz.” She returned to the images they’d been studying. “If I had represented that same moment of the ceremony—” She cast her mind back, though it hardly mattered in detail. “—I would have called the currents here more of a reddish-pink where she has green. I would have said it pulsed slightly, which she hasn’t indicated. And these lines here at the side are meant to indicate the aural part, but I rarely hear things during mysteries. Someone else who is a tactile sensitive might describe the same thing as a breath of warm air followed by a prickling as if an insect were walking on their skin.”
Two of the girls shuddered at that description.
“And yet the mystery is the same. The grace of God through Saint Mauriz is the same.” Serafina chose those words for the unknown priestly observer. Margerit was usually the one who insisted on the language of charis and miracles.