Author, Book Reviews, Marketing, Opinion, Promotion, Publish

Do you believe all’s fair in love and publishing?

If you’re an author, you’ve probably been reading about the NY Times “book reviewers for hire” article by David Streitfeld. If not, it’s the first link listed below this post. In that article he talks about a man named Todd Jason Rutherford, who ran a lucrative business selling enthusiastically positive, but fake, book reviews. He ran ads on Craigslist to hire reviewers, who soon realized they could write more reviews—and make more money—by not actually reading the books, but just skimming the text or Googling  to learn enough about the book to fake it.

Streitfeld also reveals that John Locke, the author who became the first self-published writer to sell a million Kindle ebooks through Amazon, bought 300 of those reviews. In addition, Locke requested that those reviewers purchase their copy from Amazon, so the reviews would have the “Verified Amazon Purchase” tag to add credibility.

That’s three hundred five-star reviews! Think about that. How much do you think 300 glowing 5-star reviews would increase sales? I have some great reviews and ratings, and though a few of the early ones were from family members and friends, the rest are not—and I didn’t pay a cent for any of them.

Yes, I know publishing is a business. Locke and others like him are undoubtedly smart businessmen. But as much as I’d like to make money, I’m conflicted and can’t look at my writing strictly as a profit-making product. I can’t subscribe to the all’s fair in love and publishing mindset. I’m proud of my writing. I think it’s worth reading. I want the opinions of readers to be genuine. I don’t want someone buying one of my books based on misleading reviews. I don’t want to deceive readers to make a dollar.

In reading about this issue, I realized this is another black mark against self-published books. Those of us who’ve chosen that path have already faced prejudice, mostly from other publishers and authors who consider self-published work synonymous with poor quality. Now, if readers think they can’t trust reviews of our books, we’re even more disadvantaged.

I also learned certain groups of self-publishers (and small presses?) trade positive reviews of books they haven’t read, as in, I’ll give your book 5-stars, if you give mine the same. Some time ago, I got caught up in the “marketing ploy” of trading clicks on descriptive tags on Amazon. Though tags only help readers searching for books, not influence their buying, it felt dishonest, and I took my book off the list the next day. I know we self-publishers are at a great disadvantage in getting our books noticed, but I would rather mine get noticed honestly and for the right reasons.

If you’d care to read more about this issue, follow the links below, but I have two questions for you. Do you read reviews or, at least, consider the rating before buying a book? And do you think it’s unethical for authors/publishers to pay people to write positive book reviews?

Book Reviews, Contest, My Books, Writing

Today is a good stuff day!

First up today, we have a winner in the Invisibility Cloak Contest. Congratulations to Cristina Trapani-Scott! You have won a signed copy of The Brevity of Roses. I will contact you by email to get your mailing address. I hope you enjoy the read.

Thank you all for your support. Those of you who didn’t win today, stay tuned because I’ll be giving away another signed copy in a few weeks. You might be interested in Helen Ginger’s review of The Brevity of Roses at her blog today. And don’t skip her hilarious FTC disclaimer at the end.

Next, I’d like to point you to more free books. My friend, Christa Polkinhorn says: On Thursday and Friday (Jan. 26 and 27) my novels (ebook versions) about love, art, and family are available for free on Amazon. The freebie lasts ONLY TWO DAYS, so grab them while you can. Curl up on your favorite sofa and travel to Switzerland, Peru, Italy, New York, and Guadalajara, Mexico!

 An Uncommon Family

Love of a Stonemason

Remember, if you don’t have a Kindle, you can get the free Kindle app for your computer, smart phone, or tablet.

Author, Book Reviews, Fiction, My Books, Novel, Reader, Writing

Does what you bring to a book matter?

If you give a group of writers a prompt, you might be amazed at the variety of tales that result. The same photo of a rose might inspire one to write about a first love, another to write about his mother’s funeral, and still another to write of a serial killer who leaves one in the hand of each victim. Your life experience influences what you write. In the same way, it influences how you read a book.

My novel The Brevity of Roses has received a number of reviews, mostly at Amazon and Goodreads, and I’ve read them all. I didn’t think I would. I said I wouldn’t. I should have known I’d be too curious not to. I know reviews are meant for other readers, not the author, but the varied responses to the book I wrote interests me.

The latest reviewer wrote:

For the record, I am a 100% male reader. I am not a love story genre fan but I found this love story to be compelling.

The Brevity of Roses is NOT a romance novel. It is a thought provoking story of the love between people of different age groups and social backgrounds.

The writing is very well crafted. The characters are developed carefully and seem to spring to life. I felt like they were staring back at me from the page.

This fine debut novel is a story of complex relationships. The complexity level is dependent on the amount of thought given by the reader.

The emphasis on NOT was his. I assume he was disagreeing with the previous reviewer (on Amazon) who titled his review “A good romance novel”. I didn’t set out to write a romance novel, so I don’t view Brevity as one, but if some readers do, I understand that. And maybe it’s only a contradiction of terms; what one calls a love story, another calls a romance novel.

One thing I love about reading is the individuality of the transaction between the author and myself. I ask for a story, and the author gives me one, but I might not be able to drink every drop of the story the author tells. The author can only fill the glass I bring to it. To some extent, the size and shape of that glass determines the story I imbibe.

As a reader, I suspect that sometimes part of a story ran over the side of my glass and dribbled off my chin. What can I do? I drank what I could. As an author, certainly, I’m thankful for all my readers, dribblers or not, but I admit that the deeper they drink, the more gratifying that is.

Book Reviews, Books, Doubt, Movies, Opinion, Reader, Real Life, Time, Writing

Hell is being sick … and not being able to read!

By a strange coincidence, a virus felled me the day after I saw the movie Contagion. That was bad enough, but the topper was that for a couple days, I was too sick to even read. You can only sleep so much, and with my need for glasses, it’s not easy watching television lying down. And writing—even to just think the words—fuhgeddaboutit!

So, as much as I hate the word bored, I have to say I was. I kept thinking about that Twilight Zone episode where the man who wants only to be left alone with his books, gets his wish, but then isn’t able to read because he breaks his glasses. Hell, indeed. Today, I’m about 90% back to normal.

When I could read again, I finished The Help, which I’d started before I got sick, and read a little more of another one, Joy for Beginners, which I’d started over a month ago, but set aside.

For the record, I loved The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which I mentioned in a previous post. I was astounded to learn the degree to which one woman’s cells have been instrumental in worldwide medical and biological research for over fifty years. My only reserve is discomfort over the way the author chose to portray Henrietta’s family.

I also loved The Help. It’s been a long time since I read a book of that length so quickly. I hope to see the movie soon, though I’ve heard it’s not as good as the book. Typical. I try not to read reviews before I read a book, so afterward I was surprised to read negative remarks written as though the reader expected The Help to be more history than fiction.

Despite what the cover says, Joy for Beginners is not constructed as a traditional novel, and eventually I found it less frustrating to read it as a collection of connected short stories. The writing is pretty. The reason I’m taking so long to finish the book is that I don’t care enough about the characters.

As for Contagion, it was a disappointment. The acting was good, the story premise good, the execution of that premise, not good. It started out well, developed a bit, but then waned, and finally, fizzled out. Gee. I seem to be doing nothing but blogging reviews lately, or rather opinions—which is exactly how you should view them.

I don’t really have much to say about writing because I’m sort of stumbling around again. This is a list of the writing problems I encountered this month:

  1. I kept changing my mind on which book to work on first. (Solved … I think.)
  2. I lost sight of writing for myself and started wondering what readers would think.
  3. I started worrying about who I’ll get to beta read and how I can pay an editor.

In short, I’ve been fussing and fighting with writing, but not doing much of it. I have one more novel to read, and then I’m hanging up my library card for a while, so I can do what I’m supposed to do. Write. Right?

Book Reviews, Fiction, My Books, Short story, Writing

Tuesday Tales, Titles, and a Thriller

Since I’m in the middle of a read-a-thon, I have books on the brain. I finished The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks yesterday afternoon and immediately started The Help, but today, I’ll put down the books and go to the movies with my husband. We’re seeing Contagion, if you’re interested.

Speaking of books, I’ve made a final decision on which one I’ll publish next. It will be a short story collection. I hope, before too long, to whip into shape the stories I’ve written so far, plus the one I’m working on now, and the one I plan to write next. They make an eclectic grouping, so I made a list of appropriate book titles, but then searched Amazon and found out most of them have already been used … some more than once. I’m sure something will come to me when it’s time.

Speaking of books again, if you’re looking for a thriller with a heart, check out Monarch, a new release by Michelle Davidson Argyle. This is the blurb:

Nick’s life as a CIA spy should be fulfilling, but it has only given him unhappiness—a wife who committed suicide, and two daughters who resent everything he has become. Now, stuck in the Amazon on the last mission of his career, he must track down Matheus Ferreira, a drug lord and terrorist the U.S. has tried to bring down for years. If he succeeds, he’ll have the chance to start his life over again.

Just when Nick is on the brink of catching Ferreira, he’s framed for a murder that turns his world upside down. His only chance of survival lies in West Virginia where Lilian Love, a woman from his past, owns the secluded Monarch Inn. He’s safe, but not for long…

I rarely read thrillers, but I’m glad I read Monarch. My fear that the CIA agent storyline would bore me and possibly be hard to follow was groundless. The characters were well fleshed out, warts and all. The author deftly entwined the action story with a love story, switching back and forth, without any confusion and the breaks were just long enough to build the tension, but not make me want to skip anything to get back to the other story. I found both stories satisfying. As a bonus, I learned a bit about Monarch butterflies. 🙂

Find out more on Michelle’s blog, including a list of giveaways you can enter to win a copy: MONARCH giveaways!