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?

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, Reading

In support of Indie authors … or what I read this summer

Writing proved elusive for me most of this summer, but I used that time to read. I’m an Indie author, so I believe I should support other Indie authors. I read books by five of them:  Judy Croome, Davin Malasarn, Cathryn Grant, Natasha Alexander, and Christa Polkinhorn.

You may have heard a lot about how much junk there is at the online bookstores since self-publishing has become relatively easy and inexpensive. Well, I didn’t read any junk. They were all different genres, and ranged from fun to serious, but they were all worthwhile reads. I’ll share my reviews.

Dancing in the Shadows of Love is the kind of book that makes me wish I knew how to write a better review. I’m simply overwhelmed. Judy Croome has written a book that’s gorgeous, brilliant, heart-breaking, uplifting, empowering … and more!

Although the story takes place in a purposely undefined place and time, the characters are painfully real. The story follows three women, each with a damaged soul, as they yearn to be loved, but first they need to define love and, in order to do that, they must learn to forgive. The mysterious Enoch is their guide for this spiritual journey.

Judy Croome’s writing is impeccable and her insight into the soul of man astounding. I believe this book came straight from her heart—and that heart is a large and beautiful one.

If I could, I’d give this book six stars. I’m definitely looking forward to her next one.(Amazon; [ebook and print] Barnes & Noble; Smashwords)

The Wild Grass and Other Stories — One of the strengths of Davin Malasarn’s writing is his ability to make his characters, no matter the age, sex, nationality, or status, real and familiar to the reader. I was continually surprised to feel I’d lived a story, though he wrote of an experience foreign to me.

It’s no surprise that several in this collection of stories, written in beautiful, clean prose, have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and won or placed in competitions. The only negative for me is that I reached the last story too soon.  (Amazon [ebook and print]; Barnes & Noble; Smashwords)

In Fatal Cut, Cathryn Grant has given her protagonist Madison Keith a delightful voice. Madison is smart, witty, and more than a little curious—perfect for a church receptionist. She’s also tattooed, pierced, and unusually perceptive. In this first of a series, Grant introduces us to Madison’s particular brand of detection and mystery solving. Fatal Cut is a page-turning tale that will satisfy, but leave you hungry for the next one.  (Amazon; Barnes & Noble; Smashwords)

An Uncommon Family — In Christa Polkinhorn’s debut novel Love of a Stonemason, she introduced us to the adult Karla Bocelli and in this prequel she takes us back to Karla’s childhood. We learn more of what life was like for the child artist Karla as she dealt with the death of her mother and a long-distance father, but the heart of the book is a love story, complicated by secrets.

This time around it’s Karla’s aunt Anna, hardened toward love by a devastating secret in her past, who must decide whether to let artist and teacher Jonas into her heart. When Jonas, who has lost his beloved wife to cancer, discloses a secret to Anna, he only confirms her distrust of men. But the determined Karla won’t give up. She uses all her youthful ingenuity in trying to form those she loves into An Uncommon Family.

In this well-told story, the author takes us on tour from Switzerland to New York City to Mexico and back again, allowing us to experience these locales through the eyes and hearts of her characters. An Uncommon Family is another pleasurable read from the talented Christa Polkinhorn.  (Amazon [ebook and print]; Barnes & Noble; Smashwords)

Just Desserts: Greed. Lust. Death. Tiramisu. — Does Natasha Alexander know how to create interesting characters, or what? This hilarious and outrageous romp features bombs, boobs, books, and a beach! What more could you ask for? Scrumptious food? Oh, yes it has that too—but watch out, it could be deadly.  (Amazon; Barnes & Noble; Smashwords)

Book Reviews, Marketing, My Books, Promotion, Publish, Writing

Can you explain why book reviewers have this prejudice?

First off, I want to say how much I appreciate every single person who’s taken the time to read The Brevity of Roses. And those who went the extra mile by rating or reviewing it, get a second gold star in my book. Most of you paid for the book, and I’m honored. Actually, that you parted with real legal tender to read my writing totally freaks me out!

But today’s post is about seeking reviews from those with a wider reach, a greater influence. As a self-published author, without a publicist, it’s my responsibility to seek reviews of my book. Public reviews act as a sort of official word of mouth, so of course the more popular the reviewer the better.

Unfortunately, all review policies are not equal. I won’t name names, mostly because I’ve checked out so many book review sites since April that I’ve twisted them all up in my brain like a rubberband ball.

Some I eliminated as soon as I saw mention of a reading fee because, right now, I couldn’t pay for a review even if I wanted to. Some ask for two, or more, print copies, ditto on the reason for eliminating them or, at least, moving them to the bottom of my list. Some only review certain genres, usually not mine.

But what’s the biggest reason for crossing them off my list? They don’t review self-published books. That’s their prerogative, of course, but I’m not sure I understand their reasoning. Sure many self-published books are badly written, or badly edited, or both. But not every book published traditionally is excellent on all counts either. Plus, if the reviewer doesn’t like the book, or the quality of the book, they can pass, right?

So, I think I’m missing something. I think I must not understand why people review books for the public. Can anyone explain to me why some reviewers shun self-published books as a policy?

Book Reviews, Characters, Feedback, Fiction, My Books, Novel, Reader, Writing

Psychoanalyzing fictional characters

Clinical psychologist Suzanne Conboy-Hill and I have been virtual friends for a year and a half. Recently she read my novel The Brevity of Roses. I was a little apprehensive when she tweeted that she had started reading it because I figured she might analyze my characters and find them wanting. This is how she reviewed my novel on Amazon:

“There are two things you should know; I’m not a fan of romantic fiction so I would never have read Brevity if Linda were not a twitter-buddy. I approached this with some trepidation, but once started, I read over half the novel at one sitting and the rest at another. It had me. Why? Hard to say because I really wanted to smack Jalal for his adolescent self absorption. Then I wanted to yell at the women around him who seemed hell-bent on keeping him that way. But maybe it was because, in my youth, I would have fallen hook, line & sinker for him. Maybe it’s because he was so well drawn that I was reminded of an incident in a café when an equally stunning creature dived out ahead of me and pulled up at the bus stop, offering me a lift ‘to the rest of my life’*.

Perhaps I saw myself in Renee, jealous of her predecessor, and intimidated by Jalal’s wealth and position. The feminist in me hated the family kitchen scenes, the division of labour, the ‘behind-the-scenes’ but not ‘up-front’ cleverness of the women. In short, I ranted at the characters, identified with some of them, yelled at them to avoid the traps I’ve fallen into myself, and growled at their weaknesses and ineptitudes. Now that’s writing! Make me forget I’m reading something I’d normally avoid; make me angry with the characters so that the writing becomes the skilful, competent engine that purrs quietly beneath; get me involved with people whose behaviours make me spit feathers, and I’d say you’ve got yourself an authoritative author.

If romantic fiction is your thing, you will love this. If it isn’t, give it a try; you might find you’ve inadvertently read a very satisfying, well plotted novel that had you involved enough to be hissing at the page. I wonder if, like me, you will still be yelling ‘No no no!’ as you close the book. And on whose behalf …

*I accepted. It wasn’t!”

As a rule, I would never question, or argue with, a reviewer, but I couldn’t resist picking Suzanne’s brain a little more. I tried hard to make my characters believable and their thoughts, words, and actions consistent with the “psychological profile” I had given them, so I was curious to know how she interpreted a few things. Plus, I wanted to know on whose behalf she was yelling, “No no no!”

So, now we’ve exchanged a couple emails on the subject of the psychology behind my characters, even discussing what might happen to them after the last scene in the book. We agree and disagree on various points, but I was relieved to find we aren’t far off.

As writers, we sometimes find it hard to leave off that editor hat when we read. I guess, for those who wear it, it’s just as hard to leave off the psychologist’s hat. Thanks for the free analysis, Suzanne. 🙂