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?

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?

Fiction, Life, Marketing, Novel, Promotion, Publish, Real Life, Writing

The whole truth about why I self-published

Three years ago, I started this blog to chronicle my journey to publication of my fiction writing. I wrote often about my trials and tribulations in writing, editing, and querying my first novel. I had always planned to get an agent, who would then sell my book to an editor at a traditional publishing house. It didn’t work out that way.

The_Brevity_of_RosesPart of what went wrong with that plan was not something I could control. By the time I finished that novel, traditional publishing was in upheaval, and editors were buying fewer debut novels than ever. It seemed the only way to get an offer was to have an inside connection or write a book in the hottest genre. Neither my book nor I qualified.

One element that I could possibly have controlled was to write a book destined to become a classic. I may be a bit delusional about my talent, but I know I’m not that good a writer. My book is a good story, it’s a pleasant read, but no one will ever add it to their favorite-book-of-all-time list.

So, if no editor was likely to buy my book, no agent was interested in representing it. I woke from the dream of seeing my book published by a big New York publisher. I started exploring other options. I researched self-publishing as well as small presses.

I was leaning toward submitting my book to these small publishers when something happened that changed everything.

Exactly a year ago, my husband’s employer downsized and because my husband was the highest paid manager in his store, he was shown the door. Overnight, our income dropped by 60%—sixty percent! We’ve never had much money, and what we had we didn’t manage the best we could have, so I knew if my husband didn’t get another job right away (difficult because of his age), it wouldn’t be long before we exhausted our savings. Long story short, he didn’t.

I panicked. Then I decided I could help. I had a book to sell. Suddenly, waiting another year or so to have my book published by a small press was out of the question. So in an extraordinary mixture of overestimation, misunderstanding, and fantasy, I chose to self-publish.

If you know the stress of total DIY publishing, imagine adding to that a total lifestyle change. I think I handle stress well, but I don’t really. I just internalize it. My body takes what it can and then starts packing on pounds, breaking out in skin problems, and producing pain, pain, pain. Nice, when you have no medical insurance, right? Okay, that’s the last of my whining on this blog.

Now I’ve finally told you why I really self-published. It wasn’t a well thought out decision. I think only now, seven months later, do I even understand how I should have tried to market the book. And despite what I wrote earlier, I now know you can publish without spending a lot of money, but it’s incredibly hard to successfully sell without spending money—at least not when you’re trying to sell a debut novel.

I apologize for writing so many glum posts this last year, but maybe now you’ll understand why. Nothing has changed in our financial situation, but I’ve decided it’s time to change my attitude. I’ve read many posts lately by writer friends that have lifted me up and shown me the path I need to get back on. This post is already too long, so I’ll publicly thank them next time.

Blog Stuff, Marketing, My Books, Promotion, Publish, Sunday Stew, Writing

No ebook giveaway, no new blog, but I do have rudeness!

I think this has to be the weirdest post I’ve ever published. I wrote this post a few days ago, but have had to edit it twice since then because two of the things it announced became invalid. For one, I had planned to announce an ebook giveaway this morning, but the site featuring the giveaway is having problems. The problem may—or may not—be resolved by the time you read this, so I’ll leave this announcement intact.The new blog thing? Well … read on.

The Brevity of Roses is now featured on Tony Eldridge’s blog as a Sunday Kindle Giveaway. The free eBook offer runs for one week, so if you’d like to win a copy, go leave a comment by August 27th. And while you’re there, take a look around the site.

Are self-publishers rude? I’ve read posts on a few blogs lately, as well as in recent comments on this blog, that some self-publishers act less than professional. I read an excellent post a couple days ago titled How Self-Publishers Can Mind Their Manners. I’d hate to see Amazon banish the Indies to the “kid’s table” as Catherine Ryan Howard puts it.

I spent all day Friday and Saturday trying to implement a brilliant idea I had. Well, not so brilliant as it turned out. I’ve been toying with the idea of starting another blog. Some days I have something I’d like to say that has nothing to do with being a writer. In the past, I’ve written such posts and then wrangled in some questionable link to writing. To avoid that, I’d decided to change this blog to a pseudo-website with a split personality.

I had already registered the blog, picked out a theme for it, wrote new posts for both blogs, and made graphics for the new “front page” of this blog. Then I did a lot of behind the blog stuff with new nested pages, featured images, constructed new widgets, etc. etc., etc. All of it gave me headache.

In the end, I decided to let things stay as they are! Maybe someday, I’ll shake things up, but for now, you might see more “Let’s just chat about life.” posts than usual here. Maybe I’ll even get serious once in awhile.

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?