Penguin shuts down FirstToRead, and a look at what’s next

firsttoread

I can’t decide if I’m more surprised that Penguin Random House’s FirstToRead early reader access platform is shutting down this July, or that it took so long. I took a dive into FirstToRead’s point and review system in 2016, and even then, the signs weren’t great; the program’s social media accounts had been abandoned, the books on offer were also available on NetGalley, and the site went down for two whole days in the middle of my investigations…

Still, FirstToRead’s system of getting people to read and review its books appeared to be working. From my 2016 math, for every 100 free advanced galleys released per available book, the review feedback rates were in the 20-40 percent range. That review rate seems to be on par with NetGalley review rates for small or coop publishers.

And yet, and yet. For an established publisher like Penguin? The payoff probably wasn’t enough to justify staffing, hosting and maintenance—especially since FirstToRead merely replicated some of Penguin’s NetGalley offerings. 

And so the FirstToRead platform is being officially shut down this July.

Where To Next: Reader Rewards

Even as FirstToRead enters its end days, Penguin is advertising its new program, Reader Rewards, a pay-to-play rewards system in which you register eligible purchases to earn points for a free book.

According to the website’s FAQ, earning “120 points (the equivalent of uploading proof of purchase for 12 books)” gets you “any eligible book(s) on penguinrandomhouse.com for free (up to a $30 value).” Points expire after two years, and code expires within six months of issue.

So, What Now?

If you have a FirstToRead account, check in and use up any spare points on May’s book lotteries. They won’t carry over once the program shuts down in July 2019.

If you’re a regular buyer of Penguin Random House books—and any of its insane number of imprints—then sure, sign up for ReaderRewards and take advantage of your purchases.

And if you’re mostly looking for ARCs, there’s always NetGalley.

Canaries, have you ever used any of these platforms?

What’s been your experience?

 

 

Earning points on FirstToRead, and other observations

First launched in summer 2013, FirstToRead is Penguin’s answer to how to get ARCs and Galleys into the hands of readers. Every few weeks, anyone with a pulse (who also happens to live in the United States) can enter a lottery to receive any of a dozen upcoming books. Readers earn points by interacting with the site, reading and reviewing the books they win, and can then spend those points to get even more books.

But here’s the thing that’s been driving me crazy, the site says almost nothing about how their point award system works. When I joined FirstToRead, I’d explore the site, and when I’d next log in, mysterious points would appear in mysterious quantities. And I just gotta know exactly how much when why what and where. Google, unfortunately, has been a complete disappointment in solving this mystery.

So, reader friends, here are my observations, in case you’ve also wondered:

firsttoread

Point Distributions:

One-time:

  • 100 for creating a FirstToRead profile
  • 100 points for linking to Facebook
  • 100 points for linking to Twitter

Continue reading

[Book Review] A pep talk and hug from Patricia C. Wrede

Wrede on Writing: Tips, Hints, and Opinions on Writing by Patricia C. Wrede

“What matters is that when you are finished, you have a good story, however you managed to get there.” (Wrede on Writing)

You know this author. You know her because of all the awesome:.

Dealing with Dragons (Enchanted Forest Chronicles, #1) 64207 245727 5797595

And now she has a book out that distills over thirty  years of writing wisdom into 246 pages covering basics from what it means to get an idea for a novel to the eternal question that plagues writers around the country – should you have a dedicated writing office, or write on all and any available and relatively flat surface up to and including relatives and large animals? In small, short vignettes, the book covers a miscellany of writer-relevant topics in a ‘there’s no one right way to write’ kind of way.

The book is set up in three sections: the bare-bone basics of writing (outlining, what point of view is, tense, narration, the works), the more advanced basics (using flashbacks, writing conflict, ending the darn book, beginning it…), and the practical, financial and operational basics of being an author.  Continue reading

Pitch Slapped: Who am I pitching to? Publishers, reviewers, and readers, oh my.

A few weeks ago, Madison Woods came to us with a 25-word story pitch to be prodded and yanked as part of our Pitch Slapped series. She’s planning on sending her book out to a publisher soon, and even as she sent her blurb to the sacrificial altar, she asked us…

“Do you think that what publishers and editors look for in a pitch is the same as what readers judge by when they are deciding if they’d want to read a book? Will the same qualities make a reader want to read as make a publisher ask for pages?”

The short answer is yes. Or rather, “almost.” Well, it’s “kinda.” Here’s the longer chirp on the matter… Continue reading

[Pitch Slapped] You only get three seconds to make a first impression.

One of my grad school professors told me that any report I handed in had to tell him everything he needed to know in 30 seconds, 3 minutes, and 30 minutes. But when you’re pitching your novel, you’re not writing a 50-page report and you don’t always get 30 seconds. Sometimes, you get 25 words and three seconds to convince the reader your book is on their to-buy list.

Madison Woods, Pitch Slap veteran and the host of “Vote for it: Would You Buy it?” series, came to us with a 25-word summary of her story.

“I’m planning to pitch my book to a publisher in October, and I realize I will have time to give more than the 25 words, but I want the first words I say to hook their interest.”

Let’s take a look at those words:

In this Pitch Slapped article, I’m going to give the blurb a good pecking and talk about the importance of appropriate and deliberate language decisions.  Continue reading

[Small Chirp] Publishers conspire to overcharge for ebooks?

The US Department of Justice has hit Apple and five of the nation’s largest publishers with an antitrust lawsuit, alleging that they colluded to bump up the price of new ebooks, costing consumers millions. Publisher control over retail prices is made possible by a shift towards a pricing model where publishers set book price and retailers take a commission. The conspiracy itself is purportedly aimed at Amazon, which tends to price ebooks at $9.99–three to five dollars under the price rise ($12.99-14.99) the publishers allegedly caused.

Publishers involved:

  • Hachette
  • HarperCollins
  • Simon & Schuster
  • Macmillan
  • Penguin

Continue reading

[Small Chirp] Storytelling Podcast Shortlist

Some may think that oral storytelling died with Homer, but they’d be wrong. There is a huge open-mic storytelling scene in cities like New York and LA, places where people congregate to share moments of their lives, both happy and sad, hilarious and tear-jerking. And even better, many of these events are turned into podcasts, so that everyone can listen to the comeback of the oral tradition. As a writer, these are a great way to learn how different stories are told, how each narrative are wander along a different path. And for non-writers, they are still amazing fun.

Here’s a list of some of my favorite storytelling podcasts I’ve found on iTunes.

(Oh, and almost all of these are actively looking for more stories, so check out their contribution pages! Perhaps I could be listening to your story coming from my iPod one day.)

The Moth

For me, The Moth is the story-telling podcast to end all story-telling podcasts. This is likely because it was the first I stumbled upon, and so it has the dearest place in my heart.  The tagline of the show is “True stories told live without notes.” And there is a spontaneous feel to the stories; they have certainly been rehearsed before the live shows, but not to the point of losing emotion. They are funny and heartbreaking and every emotion in between.

I think my favorite part of The Moth is that it is a mix of famous people and ‘normal’ people who simply have fabulous stories to tell.

Each episode is about 15 minutes long (perfect for my commute), and there is a new story every Monday. Keep a special lookout for the episodes labeled ‘storySLAM.’ Those are from The Moth storytelling competitions and they tend to be pee-your-pants funny. Continue reading

[ Small Chirps ] Writers, if you won’t speak up for your writing, who will?

When 11-year-old Kahlo Smith saw that the rules of NPR’s Three Minute Fiction contest excluded minors, she had two options. One, and the one of least resistance, was to let out a deep breath of disappointment and close the browser. Instead, she sent the contest organizers a letter to them know about her interest, ask why they had the 18-and-over-only rule, and tell them about her 600-word story.

Today, All Things Considered featured her question and her short piece of fiction on their program. The age rule stays, but Smith will be receiving an autographed copy of Luis Alberto Urrea’s most recent historic novel, Queen of America, and some NPR-related items for her story. You can read her entry and the full story at the NPR article, Minor Details: Three-Minute Fiction’s Age Rules.

For every thousands of young (and adult) writers who look at the rules (or at the impenetrable design of a publisher site, or the distracted and busy life of an agent), there are one or two individuals who will be willing to put themselves out there and write that letter or ask that question. And in the end, that will set them apart.

So this Saint Patrick’s Day, make the resolution to make your own luck.

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Related Reads:

[ Pitch Slaps ] Weekend Picks

Part of the Pitch Slapped Series:

Blurbs can make or break the a book’s sales, especially if the reader hasn’t heard about the author before. A strong blurb is a must for query letters and getting the book read.

For this latest installment of Pitch Slaps, we’re going to do something different. We’ve talked about a lot of things that go wrong when an author writes a blurb. So instead, here is the cream of the blurbing crop from indie books recently submitted for review.

SECTOR C by Phoenix Sullivan

“Cloning Ice Age mammoths and saber-tooth cats for canned hunts seems like a good business venture — until it reintroduces the species-jumping pandemic that wiped out the megabeasts 10,000 years ago. Now history is about to repeat itself, with humans the next target for extinction.”

What works: In two sentences, the book blurb sets up the world (ours, futurist), genre (science fiction, speculative, medical thriller) and the conflict (extinction! corporation-style). It’s clear, concise, and clever.

What doesn’t: The truth of it is, I cut the rest of the blurb (not shown here), going from four paragraphs to the one (shown here).


The Phoenix and the Dream King’s Heart by James Monaghan

“The Phoenix is a cursed ship.

Exiled to the Darkland Expanse, on the fringes of the known galaxy, its captain and crew have spent the last decade struggling just to stay alive. In a galaxy full of cruel gods, terrifying monsters and treacherous allies, though, survival is far from an easy task.

When the King of Dreams offers them a bargain – retrieve his stolen heart in return for a key that may just get them home – Captain Asher Lee and his crew agree to launch a desperate mission across dimensions. When faced with an insane goddess and her army of quantum spiders, though, do they really have a chance?”

What works: This is an example of a blurb that does it all–dramatic tension, a hint at the plot, and a glimpse of the world. It adds an extra lure by promising to combine science fiction (space, dimensions…) with fantasy (gods, monsters…). And of course, who doesn’t like a story that has some treacherous frenemies?

Torn by Dean Murray

“Shape shifter Alec Graves has spent nearly a decade trying to keep his family from being drawn into open warfare with a larger pack. The new girl at school shouldn’t matter, but the more he gets to know her, the more mysterious she becomes. Worse, she seems to know things she shouldn’t about his shadowy world.

Is she an unfortunate victim or bait designed to draw him into a fatal misstep? If she’s a victim, then he’s running out of time to save her. If she’s bait, then his attraction to her will pull him into a fight that’ll cost him everything.”

What works: This blurb takes a different approach. It woos the reader with the very fact that it presents the traditional star-cross-lovers plotline with a dash of paranormal intrigue. There will be romance and there may be betrayal, it says, and in the YA PNR genre, what more can you ask for?

What doesn’t: As a reader, I would love to see what sets this book apart. There is safety in being generic in this genre, but give me a hint of something concrete.

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Do you have a pitch or synopsis that you’d like to send to the sacrificial altar?  Email it our way with the subject “Pitch Article Submission” at canarypost@gmail.com. 

Read more slapped pitches here.

[ Small Chirps ] Can you publish your NaNoWriMo novel?

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo or NaNo, for short) is in full swing, and hundreds of thousands of aspiring writers worldwide are hitting Week 2 of their attempt to write 50,000 words in 30 days. This is my third year doing NaNo, and so far it’s going well: I’m over 2,000 words ahead, giving me a nice cushion in case I have an off day later in the month, and I’ve got a list of writing prompts to help ease me through the notorious second-week slump (for those new to NaNoWriMo, the second week is when the novelty of the story wears off, but the end is still nowhere in sight. It’s a dark time).

I do NaNoWriMo because I become a part of a great community, join a solid writing boot camp to kick productivity into high gear, and the pressure often results in my creative energy leaping off into directions far different from where it goes for most of the year. I do NaNo, in fact, primarily for the excitement of doing NaNo, but there’s always that voice that crops up, from a friend or family member, fellow writer or even that nagging voice in the back of my own mind.

What many of us really want to know at the end of the day is: Will this month of frenzied writing leave us with something we can publish?

Yes and no. Continue reading