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?

Publish, Writing

How well have you chosen your writing path?

After a few detours, I’m comfortable on my writing path. In her recent blog post, Chris King called my decision to publish my first novel a “display of bravery”. I’ll accept that, but I’ll be honest enough to qualify it. It does, for each writer, take a degree of bravery to share your writing with others, to risk ridicule or indifference as well as praise and enthusiasm. But for me, a degree of impulsivity also contributed to the decision.

Where do you expect your writing path to lead you? Or more to the point, where do you really want that path to lead you? Someone may have asked me that before I published, I don’t remember, but I’m certain I never considered the question with the sincerity it deserved.

At various times throughout my life, I dreamed of being a rich and famous author—not that I was writing a book at those times. My dreams were sparked by reading good books and imagining that I could write like that. Eventually, I did write a novel and I believed it was good enough to publish. I dreamed of getting a top agent who would sell it to a major publisher who would pour massive resources into propelling it to the top of the bestseller lists. In other words, I would be rich and famous.

Of course, that didn’t happen. Neither is it likely to. Why? Judged on the quality of writing, I believe The Brevity of Roses could hold its own against any midlist novel. And I believe I have the talent to write a potential bestseller. What I’m missing is the personality to make that potential a reality. As stupid as it sounds, I never really considered that part while I dreamed of seeing my name at #1.

I’m not an expert on this personality, but I do believe I lack certain aspects of it. I don’t have what it takes to join writer’s groups and organizations, attend seminars and conferences, enter contests, submit my work at every opportunity, guest post on blogs, “work” Twitter and Facebook, etc., etc., etc. In other words, I lack the drive and self-assurance to do whatever it takes, in a positive way, to make connections and gain name recognition in the publishing world.

Though writing requires a good degree of seclusion, that doesn’t mean all writers are introverts. Certainly, not all writers are hermits like I am. Some of you are comfortable in a group of strangers—instead of praying that some non-life-threatening emergency will arise to rescue you. Some of you could stand in front of a large audience and speak coherently—instead of breaking into a sweat and quivering to a heap behind the podium. Some of you … well, let’s just say, some of you are the opposite of me.

So, consider your personality before choosing your career path. You might avoid the wasted time and effort trying to attain—or the shock and regret of attaining—an unsuitable goal. For sure, if you’re a writer like I am, you’ll save yourself the frustration, bitterness, and envy of seeing yourself as a “failure” before recognizing you actually have the kind of success that’s perfect for you.

Image courtesy of Evgenie Dinev / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Doubt, Fiction, Musings, Questions, Writing

One question too many?

Lately, I’ve spent more time thinking about writing than I have writing. Though exactly what I’m thinking about is probably not what you imagine. I’m questioning why. Why do I write fiction? Why does anyone?

Non-fiction has an obvious reason to be. What is the purpose of fiction? Would you say it exists to explore the human condition? To illustrate the beauty and complexity of language? To convey universal truths? Would you say those reasons best describe literary fiction?

So then, what of commercial fiction. Is this fiction meant to simply entertain? Does it matter that it’s only a temporary thrill, fright, mystery, heart throb? So what if none of these books will ever be deemed a classic, they serve a purpose, right?

Of course, many books fall in-between those two categories. Every book has its readers . And with the ease of self-publishing nowadays, all authors have the opportunity to share their stories. They don’t need permission. They’ve deemed readers as the gatekeepers now. Should they have?

I question why I write, why I think my stories have any reason to exist outside my own head. Is it an act of hubris to foist my imaginings on others? Who am I to take such a step? Who am I?

Forgive me for thinking aloud in this post. I’m not seeking affirmation. I’m just wondering. And I’m thinking this is something I should have questioned long before now. Don’t you think?

Books, Marketing, My Books, Novel, Publish

Do you judge a book by its cover?

We’re told not to judge a book by its cover. Then again, we’re told how important first impressions are. Hmmm. Well, when I scroll through a list of books online, it’s their covers that make a first impression, and I do judge them. If a cover is not well designed, or doesn’t fit the tone or genre of the book, it’s not the best cover for that book.

Do you see that book cover there on the right? It’s about to change, which I guess makes that cover a collector’s item. I designed that cover with my own artwork. It’s not horrid, but it really only makes sense after you read the book. In that sense, it’s a fail. It also doesn’t make the genre clear. Fail. I did the best I could, but I didn’t really understand the job a book cover plays in selling the book.

This is not just my opinion. Four graphic designers told me the same thing. One of those designers is also a friend, and she offered to help. She doesn’t design full time—she’s also an author—but I’d seen covers she designed for herself and others and thought they were all beautiful, so I said, “Heck yeah!”

I’d never worked with a designer before, so I didn’t know what to expect. I confess I’m not always easy to work with. I’m a perfectionist. I worried about how much I might bug her with my nitpicking, but so far we’re still friends. 🙂 Now we’re down to the fine-tuning, and I’m so excited I can hardly stand it.

The new cover is GORGEOUS!!! She took the two stock photos I selected, added another, and created a cover beyond my dreams. I can’t wait to share it with you.

So tell me:  When you’re faced with a screen filled with small cover images of books you know nothing about, do you judge those books by their covers, or do you read the description of each one?

Blog Stuff, Goals, Writing

I’m back … sort of

Just dropping in from the longest break I’ve ever taken to let you know I haven’t given up blogging. I didn’t plan to leave the same post up for ten days. I just couldn’t find enough quiet moments to sit down and write something new. I’m rushing now to get this written and take a shower before the crowd returns again.

I hope your year is wrapping up well. This year was certainly the worst of times and best of times for me. This time last year, I was struggling with a choice between continuing to seek a traditional publishing career and going the self-publishing route. I chose the latter, of course.

Because I only have one book out there, it’s too soon to tell if I made the right choice. It’s certainly been a learning experience though, and that’s never a bad thing. Now, I’m reevaluating everything concerned with writing, so I can make better progress in 2012.

Right now, 2012 is set to start on a positive note concerning my work, so I’ll claim that as a good sign. I guess I should start working on something for February. Goal setting has never been my strength, but I’m determined to “hit the gym” on that this next year.

Your turn: Let’s end on a positive note. How was 2011 a good year for you?