Awards Rewards Prizes: #bookblogging vs #writing


Awards? Rewards? Prizes?

What’s the difference?

I did a little digging…

An ‘award’ is given to recognize personal achievement (e.g. scholarship, completing 100 hours of community service, etc.), whereas a ‘reward’ is compensation or incentive for doing something (e.g. completing household chores or returning a wallet). A ‘prize’ is something offered or won as a result of victory, as in a competition or contest.

When I was ten years old, I won $18 in bingo. The $18 was my ‘prize’ for having won. Recently, I won the BookSparks 2015 Summer Reading Challenge Grand Prize. More on that in a moment… But first, let me say this:

I love book marketing. 

Love everything about it.

I love reading books, love blogging about books, love connecting with readers.

I love connecting with fellow writers, love promoting fellow writers, love learning from fellow writers.

Readers, writers, books. I love them all.

My time as a book blogger has been so rewarding, it’s difficult to put into words. As I reflect on my work as a book blogger, I feel a sense of achievement, and that is my (personally felt) award.

So now that it’s 2016, and I’m entering my fourth year of writing, editing, reviewing, blogging and social media marketing-ing . . . I thought I’d pause a moment to take stock.

A (Very) Brief History with Much Left Out


2013: I launched “Julie Valerie’s Book Blog” with a reading campaign to “Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks.” I finished the year having read and reviewed 55 books in my genre. I attended BEA and other writing conferences; connected with readers, writers, and industry insiders; and learned A LOT about social media marketing, offline publicity, and what makes certain authors’ book marketing campaigns tick – while others fall flat. For me, 2013 was a year of firsts where much was learned. I finished the year with a solid understanding of how the industry works and a marketing plan for when my first novel is released.

CourageJacketWeb2014: Read and reviewed 67 books in my genre while finishing my first novel. Also launched a series of blog events, and a popular Wednesday “Hump Day Books” series that focused on the craft of writing and book publicity. What I learned from the “Hump Day Books” series? The value of building quality content. That Wednesday series brought my average website visitor reading time to over 17 minutes. Average page views per visitor to my website? Eight. That’s some crazy great stats in a crowded blogosphere and I’m grateful. Perhaps I’ll revive that program in 2016 . . . the verdict’s still out.

My proudest accomplishment in 2014? My short story, LLL, was published in A Kind of Mad Courage: Short Stories about Mothers, (S)mothers and Others.

2015: Read and reviewed 75 books in my genre while editing my first novel and continuing the many additional series and programs launched through my website. Big in 2015 (for me, at least)? The launching of the Fiction Writers Blog Hop and the 85K Writing Challenge.

Fiction-Writers-Blog-Hop (1)1

Also big in 2015? Winning the Grand Prize for the BookSparks 2015 Summer Reading Challenge. If anyone knows how to launch a great social media campaign promoting books and book reviews – it’s the folks at BookSparks. Fabulous. I won a beautiful vintage suitcase, vintage luggage tags, and a $300 gift certificate on Southwest Airlines. Still pinching myself. Thank you, BookSparks! A mighty fine prize. Much better than my $18 bingo winnings.


When I reflect on the 55 books I read and reviewed in year one, the 67 books I read and reviewed in year two, and the 75 books I read and reviewed in year three, I now realize I’ve read and reviewed 197 books in my genre. At the time of this post (January 25, 2016) I’ve read and reviewed two books in 2016 and will read and review one more before the month comes to a close . . . bringing my grand total of reading and reviewing to:

200 books in 3 years

Here’s some fun math:

If each book averaged 85,000 words – I read 17 million words
. . . and then sat down to write about those words through my 200 book reviews.

Folks, when it comes to reading and reviewing, I gotta say, it was fantastically rewarding, and even resulted in my winning a (grand!) prize. But I’m exhausted. Grateful and proud, happy to help, but exhausted because I’ve been reading and reviewing while also launching other programs and trying to focus on my personal and professional writing. The ultimate ‘award’ I’d like to achieve with my life is to connect with readers through my writing. So I think I need to set the ‘prizes’ and ‘rewards’ of book blogging aside for a bit and focus on achieving that personal ‘award’ of connecting with readers through my own work.

As the month of January tends to be a month for proclaiming New Year Resolutions, in 2016, my focus will be the launching of my own writing career (getting that finished début novel into the marketplace) and writing my second book.

So from this point forward, I plan to channel my energies into writing a book a year (the inspiration behind my launching the 85K Writing Challenge) and I’m looking forward to serving on the Communications and Annual Conference Committee for James River Writers. I’m going to continue running my Fiction Writers Blog Hop series (last Wednesday of every month) and see about launching the 85K Writing Challenge out of the Facebook group platform where it is now and onto its own self-sustaining website so it can grow and become whatever it is meant to be.


My things-to-do list for 2016:

  • Introduce Book #1 to readers. (I’m currently exploring options in publishing.)
  • Spend the first three months (January, February, March) writing Book #2 while also hosting the 85K Writing Challenge.
  • Spend the second three months (April, May, June) editing Book #2.

Come July 2016, I’ll reassess and make plans for the second half of what I hope will be a great year.

But I must say, as far as awards, rewards, and prizes go, I’m proud of the 200 books on my book-review bookshelf. When I look at them, I smile, remembering the places I traveled and the lives I lived through the pages of those books.

I am forever grateful to the writers who wrote the 17 million words I read. The pleasure was all mine. A truly awarding, rewarding, and prize-worthy experience.

Thank you.

Oh, and, a little something I like to say that’s especially applicable at the moment . . .


Fiction-Writers-Blog-Hop (1)


Thanks for reading! To return to the FICTION WRITERS BLOG HOP click here:

Size doesn’t matter, fellas. It’s what you do with your sentence that matters. #amwriting

verlyn klinkenborg

I read Verlyn Klinkenborg’s Several Short Sentences About Writing so I could add it to my collection of books about sentences.

That’s right. Sentences.

Some of my favorite books on my sentence bookshelf:

Building Great Sentences: How to Write the Kinds of Sentences You Love to Read by Brooks Landon

The Art of Styling Sentences by Ann Longknife and K.D. Sullivan

It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences: A Writer’s Guide to Crafting Killer Sentences by June Casagrande

How To Write a Sentence: And How to Read One by Stanley Fish

Another classic book about sentences that’s on my TBR list:

Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style by Virginia Tufte

My thoughts on Verlyn Klinkenborg’s Several Short Sentences About Writing:

Enjoyed Klinkenborg’s book very much; read it in one sitting; and found several places in the text to be so thought provoking, I’d place the book on my lap, stare off into space and think for a while.

Thought long and hard about his notions of “flow” and whether it impacts writer’s block. The short answer is: No. Flow is something that belongs to the reader. Here’s a page of the three or four he dedicates to this topic:

Verlyn Klinkenborg

I loved how he dissected precise, “nano” issues in writing. He whooshed away the clouds and zeroed in on raindrops. (Okay, okay. That was probably a lousy sentence. Opps.)

I wish the book didn’t use the second-person point-of-view ‘YOU’ along with the occasional first-person plural ‘WE’ — especially when telling YOU how horrible your education was and that everything YOU learned about writing was wrong. Not that I entirely disagree with what Klinkenborg was saying; I get it. We have to rethink the “rules” taught to us by our high school English teachers. But the use of second-person point-of-view when telling YOU, the reader, there’s something’s wrong with YOU (fingers pointing, fingers pointing), placed the author and the reader on two opposing sides of a table. It felt confrontational. Almost, condescending. How does Klinkenborg know what kind of education I had? I must have a brain in my noggin . . . for Pete’s sake, I just spent an afternoon reading a book about sentences.


I also read books about words. Even books about letters.

I loved Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch: Let Verbs Power Your Writing by Constance Hale.

And I loved Letter Perfect: The Marvelous History of Our Alphabet from A to Z by David Sacks.

I agree with Klinkenborg’s assertion that short sentences are grand, but I disagree with his attack on longer sentences and the way he dismissed rhetoric and logic. When done correctly, longer sentences add much, and the figures of rhetoric are so stinking cool to read, write, and study. Without the figures of rhetoric, where would Shakespeare be? And without Shakespeare, where would we be?

That reminds me. I forgot to add this beauty to my list of favorite books about sentences:

The Elements of Eloquence: Secrets of the Perfect Turn of Phrase by Mark Forsyth

( i heart mark forsyth, that inky fool . . . )

But enough about all that. Let’s return to the issue Klinkenborg raises about sentence length.

I’ll never understand why books about sentences fight over length. Size doesn’t matter, fellas. It’s what you do with your sentence that matters.

Perhaps the only way to settle this once and for all is to stage an arm-wrestling match between Landon’s Building Great Sentences (in favor of longer sentences) and Klinkenborg’s Several Short Sentences About Writing (in favor of shorter sentences).

Unfortunately, books can’t arm wrestle. They may have sentences, even sentences about sentences, but they don’t have arms. So the issue of size remains unsettled.

Top Trends in #BookTitles

All the Books We Cannot See: When Book Titles Follow Trends


I talk books with a whole lotta people, and usually, I can navigate discussions without completely embarrassing myself. But not so long ago, while musing about book titles over email, I failed to make the connection that my book companion was talking about ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE, you know, that 531-page World War II novel by that multiple award-winning author, Anthony Doerr. That one. That little-known, rarely talked-about book, that oh, let’s see . . . WON THIS YEAR’S PULITZER PRIZE FOR FICTION.

That one.

She had just finished reading it. Me? I must have been tired (was it a late-night email exchange?), or maybe I was distracted (so many books, so little time) . . .

Doesn’t matter.

I so utterly failed to realize that what she was talking about was THAT SPECIFIC BOOK that I completely confused and cluttered our conversation, until finally, she realized the synapses weren’t firing in my brain, and very politely indicated that she was referring to Doerr’s novel.

Oh. Duh. (“I totally knew what you were talking about!”) Not.

How embarrassing.

And frustrating! Because I know this book – heck, it’s sitting on my desk waiting to be read. So why did I flub up the conversation? Was there something wrong with the neurotransmitters in my brain? Did the receptors across my synaptic cleft suddenly decide to take a freaking nap?

Maybe it’s not my fault.

All three of these books released in 2014 within 90 days of each other, all with very similar titles, and very similar covers. Two of them are even about war.


And then there’s this:

the girl on the trainthe boys on the boat

And how about this? Two books by (very) different authors, both titled: THE DOUBLE. But thanks to book cover design, one Double, really is double. So together, they read: The Double, The Double, The Double. Which, to my mind, is a triple. Or maybe it’s six. I don’t know.


Here’s two books living lives after life. When placed side by side, you can read them this way: Life after life after life after life.


(Hat tip to Emily Temple’s March 8, 2013 Flavorwire “The Doubles: 10 Pairs of Great Books With the Same Titles” for catching the LIFE AFTER LIFE and THE DOUBLE similarities. Photo credits belong to that article.)

My point is, I don’t think it’s entirely my fault that I momentarily “spaced out” about a book title. Especially when some writers do it to us intentionally.

The way Jojo Moyes does it, AFTER YOU, sounds almost polite. Or maybe not, if you put both of her titles into dialogue.

“After you?”
“No, me before you.”

after youme before you

So I’m not crazy. Am I? The trouble with some book titles, especially when done to chase a trend, is that they create a crowded marketplace filled not with: ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE, but all the BOOKS we cannot see.

But don’t take my word for it. Almost two years ago (so the list is still growing), published “The Book Title with 91 Imitators” based on an article that originally appeared in the February 3, 2014 issue of New York Magazine. The article chronicles the mind-blowing flood of books with the word GIRL in the title. The list is astonishing. Nearly 100 ‘girl’ titles and counting.

Here’s a sample:

I’m thinking this girl should find another hobby. She’s clearly not good at flying.

Now, don’t get me wrong. They look like fabulous books. My apologies to the writers who are experiencing their third incarnation of the same point – first in New York Magazine, then in Vulture and now on my book blog. But doesn’t it make you wonder what Stieg Larsson would say about all of this? He’s probably spinning in his grave because he was the boy who was the first GIRL. But then, wait a minute. He’s part of the problem . . .

thegirlwiththe dragonthegirlwhoplayedthegirlwhokicked

Or, maybe, Stieg’s not the problem. He was simply the first to brand it.

Stieg was Swedish. The above titles were chosen for the English-language market. The original title for THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTO is: Män som hatar kvinnor, “Men Who Hate Women.”

Too bad for the men who hate women. The word GIRL sure sells a lot of books!

Just ask JoJo. That girl sells a whole lotta books. But with all this AFTER YOU and ME BEFORE YOU going around, it seems someone got left behind . . .


Great news! I found her. She’s at the Barnes & Noble.

Many thanks to the astute readers of this blog post who are leaving great comments in my comment section, causing me to return to this post to add:

David Benoit at the The Wall Street Journal chimed in on this topic back in November (11/16/15). Here’s his spin on the matter: Loved the Novel About a Girl on a Train? You May Have Read the Wrong Book: Thrillers with similiar names cause some confusion; ‘THIS is not that book!’


Thanks for bringing the WSJ article to my attention, Wendy Janes. And thank you, Pauline Wiles, for pointing us to this August 27, 2015 BookBub article by Hannah Reynolds: What Are the Most Popular Title Trends in Your Genre? Reynolds created word clouds for titles in each genre. Interesting to note, the words ‘love,’ ‘bound,’ and ‘cowboy’ all feature prominently in the erotica genre. I feel bad for the cowboy taxed with servicing an entire genre. With all of these girls on the bookshelves, he’s bound to get tired.

Although, he best stay clear of this one . . .


I suspect once we’ve exhausted THE GIRL ON . . . THE GIRL WITH . . . and THE GIRL WHO . . . titles, we’ll eventually declare that title structure to be over, and done with. Or, gone, so to speak.


Or maybe we’ll simply toss that ‘girl’ toward the back end of the title, rather than the front, as seen in ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL by Jess Andrews.

Now that [BLANK] and [BLANK] and the [BLANK BLANK] book I just mentioned has been made into a motion picture, even the moviegoers – who may not be aware of the book – will become attuned to that type of grammatical construction for popular titles.


Dedicated followers of title trends, take note: the [BLANK] and [BLANK] and the [BLANK BLANK] title construction, and the [BLANK] and [BLANK] and [BLANK] and [BLANK] construction may soon be gracing your bookshelves on a slew of new books.

etta and otto and russell and james

I thought it looked fresh when I reviewed Emma Hooper’s ETTA AND OTTO AND RUSSELL AND JAMES. Although, it’s sometimes hard to remember which name comes first. Is it James? Or Otto? No, wait. It’s Etta. Etta comes first. (Great book, by the way.)

Unfortunately for me, who sometimes lapses into moments of faulty synapses over all the books I (apparently) cannot see — like the aforementioned Pulitzer Prize-winning ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE — I sure hope the coming year brings all the right books, IN ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES. So I can see them. Otherwise, I’m going to need new glasses.


Another Update to this Post:


This update added February 22, 2016 with gratitude given to trendsetting author Francine LaSala who, in 2012, titled one of her books The Girl, the Gold Tooth & Everything long before using the word ‘girl’ in a title was popular. Francine tipped me off to this February 22, 2016 NPR discussion: The ‘Girl’ In The Title: More Than A Marketing Trend. Click to read the article OR listen to this seven minute Morning Edition.

Twitter Content Strategy: Develop an Editorial Calendar

Back by popular demand – my Twitter Content Strategy post originally published on February 18, 2015 as part of my Wednesday “Hump Day” series. Hope you enjoy!


TODAY’S TOPIC: Developing an Editorial Calendar for Twitter

Q: What day is it?

A: It’s Wednesday. Hump Day. Great day for talking books – the people who write them, the people who read them, and everyone in between.

Today’s topic? Developing an editorial calendar to guide your presence on Twitter. Build great content, gain followers, gain influence. 

Editorial calendar?
For Twitter?
Are you crazy?!


Grab a sheet of paper (or index cards) and jot down some notes about what you’d like to say “over the long haul” (over the course of a day, week, month, etc.) to further your author brand on Twitter. Use the following list of topics as broad categories to help develop the types of conversations you want to hold on Twitter.

I know what you’re thinking.
You’re thinking:
I’m busy.
Why bother?

Consider this: Managing these topics, giving each an appropriate amount of time and effort (as determined by you) is a lot like developing an editorial calendar for your website. It will help you “balance” and “spread” your topics of discussion, and help remind you to vary the type of content you’re producing. Ask yourself, what am I saying, and what do I want to say, about these items . . .

Julie Valerie’s Top 10 Talking Topics for Twitter

  1. Author Brand – Tweets that build/support your brand – NOT the “buy my book” tweets that annoy everyone because they’re spammy, spammy, spammy. If your book is about Jane Austen, tweet about Jane Austen.
  2. Community Building – Mentions that show appreciation; replies that incorporate others and build interaction; and retweets (your friends as well as influencers).
  3. Curated Content – Tweets that show you curate great content from elsewhere on the Web. Be sure to include links and consider posing a question or making an observation about the topic.
  4. Timely Tweets – Tweets about breaking news; hot topics; trends.
  5. Questions – Float an idea or concept asking others for their input; ask a question; make an observation posed as a question.
  6. Input – Ask others for specific help and/or insights.
  7. Easy to Retweet – Famous (or not so famous) quotes from others; jokes; photos. Tweets with content that’s easy for others to RT.
  8. Demonstrate Expertise – How to; unique knowledge; instructions.
  9. Promote Your Friends – Links to content produced by others in your community or sphere of influence. Similar to #3 but targeted and focused to the people you know.
  10. Vary Your Links – When speaking about your content, be sure to vary the type of media links you use in a tweet to build following across your social media platforms. For example, include links to your website, but also to content you’re producing on Facebook, Google+, Goodreads, Amazon Author Pages, etc.

Hope today’s content was helpful. If it was – would you mind sharing it with others? I love it when that happens. You can either hit retweet in the above embedded tweet – or use the social media sharing buttons below. I dig comments, too. Brings a smile to my face. 🙂

Hope your Wednesday is wonderful.

Hump Day. We’re halfway to the weekend. Woo-Hoo!

Other Articles You Might Enjoy:
Harness the Power of Twitter’s Search Engine
15 Advanced Twitter Search Tips 
Use Twitter to Find an Agent/Publisher with Pitch Madness #PitMad
Watch & Learn: Authors Pitch Agents/Publishers on #PitMad 

Image source for the picture showing the Twitter button:

#BookReview: A Jingle Valley Wedding by Martha Reynolds @AuthorMReynolds


This gallery contains 2 photos.

Greetings Book Lovers! Say hello to Martha Reynolds, author of Best Seller, reviewed here summer 2014. Newly released A Jingle Valley Wedding is the subject of today’s post. But first, a bit about Martha. Bestselling author Martha Reynolds is a Rhode Island resident … Continue reading