Tag Archives: reviews

Amazon Review Policy Change & More

Since Amazon first opened its virtual doors, there have been concerns about reviews. Not just for books but for all the products sold through its site. It is no secret that authors have paid for reviews — and some still do. Or that there have been fake accounts set up to give sock puppet reviews. There have been stories about sellers and manufacturers planting fake reviews as well, all in the hopes of bolstering their product rankings and ratings. From time to time, Amazon has taken steps to combat this trend. One of the last times they did it, they brought in a weighted review system. This one differentiates between “verified purchasers” and those who did not buy the product viz Amazon. Now there is a new policy in place, once that should help — at least until a new way around it is found.

Simply put, Amazon now requires you to purchase a minimum of $50 worth of books or other products before you can leave a review or answer questions about a product. These purchases, and it looks like it is a cumulative amount, must be purchased via credit card or debit card — gift cards won’t count. This means someone can’t set up a fake account, buy themselves a gift card and use it to get around the policy.

Eligibility

To contribute to Customer Reviews or Customer Answers, Spark, or to follow other contributors, you must have spent at least $50 on Amazon.com using a valid credit or debit card. Prime subscriptions and promotional discounts don’t qualify towards the $50 minimum. In addition, to contribute to Spark you must also have a paid Prime subscription (free trials do no qualify). You do not need to meet this requirement to read content posted by other contributors or post Customer Questions, create or modify Profile pages, Lists, or Registries

Whether this change will work in the long run, I don’t know. But, for now, I welcome it.

There is, however, one change I wish they would make. There are a number of readers who are active reviewers but whose reviews aren’t weighted as “verified purchases” because they get their books through the Kindle Unlimited Program. Those downloads are as easy to track as “verified purchases”. So why aren’t they given more weight than those reviews from people who have not gotten a particular book from Amazon?

On a totally different topic, I came across this article earlier this morning and it left me not only shaking my head but wanting to rip someone a new one.

Landing a traditional publisher can be a frustrating, convoluted process. Yet, most speakers, professionals and fiction writers want to publish a book. The main reasons being: credibility and retail distribution, followed by logistical help producing and fulfilling sales.

Self-publishing lacks legitimacy, especially now that anyone with internet access can publish on amazon and call themselves an expert on whatever topic they choose. It’s lowering the legitimacy of Amazon bestsellers every single day, while traditional publishing remains an elusive endeavor.

That’s what Loren Kleinman had to say at the beginning of the “interview”. Yeah, way to alienate a lot of authors right off the boat. But I kept reading and I kept wanting to reach through the screen and shake someone. I’ll leave it to you to draw your own conclusions, but here are some of my concerns about what Publishizer does.

The first thing that stood out to me as I looked at their site (which did not inspire a great deal of confidence) is the second step in their process. You “raise funds by selling preorders for 30 days, using our book marketing tools.” This is before you submit your book to publishers. So, how are you going to follow through with these sales after you have signed a contract with a publisher? More importantly, if Publishizer uses these “preorders” as part of their sales package when they market your proposal, I have several more questions: 1) what if you don’t have a large enough number of preorders to show your book has serious traction?  2) Who determines what that number is? and 3) How doe the publishers know these are legitimate sales?

Then there is the fact their “software” determines where to pitch your book. The questions about this are numerous but they boil down to one or two. First, how do they gather their information to make this determination? Second, what publishers are in their main database and how many of those publishers have they actually submitted to? There’s a third question that goes hand-in-hand with all this: how often do they update their database and submission parameters?

If you scroll down, you see they have no cost to “set up” your campaign and you get to keep 70% of your preorders. Oh-oh. That rings more alarm bells. That means they keep 30%. What do the publishers you are trying to sell to think about this?

In the fine print down below, they have some questions and answers. It seems they will pitch at least 30 publishers. This is where it gets interesting. They say they will pitch traditional, advance-paying publishers but also  “independent publishers and high-quality hybrid publishers”. Anyone want to take a bet one which type they sign with more often? In the links at the bottom of the page, they have a list of publishers. Another knock because that list is not alphabetical.

Now, this site might be completely legit and it might have successfully helped authors get viable contracts. I don’t know. What I’m saying is if you are contemplating using it, be sure to read all the fine print first and do an in-depth search on it before “signing” anything.

Until later!

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Filed under AMANDA, WRITING: PUBLISHING

Reading Reviews Like A Publisher

One of the joys of being indie is that you get to be your own publisher, with all the control on how to bring your stories out to the world and represent them. One of the real drags is that you are your own publisher, with all the responsibilities and priorities therein that do not line up with your artistic priorities.

And one of those priorities, as a publisher, is gathering market feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of the currently published catalogue, and what’s doing well and trending in the market right now, in order to make business decisions about future releases. (Unlike trad publishers, though, you’re rather committed to accepting any books that come out of your dedicated on-staff writer – you can’t simply turn down a book and go to the slush pile. Makes it a little trickier, it does.)

Feedback comes in several forms – first, the volume and velocity of sales. For your first couple books, this is going to be a real struggle and a giant mystery to you, because you have no internal sales baseline. You have external ones – kindle rank and the hot new releases / bestseller charts can tell you how you’re doing compared to every other book, and you can track the trajectory of sales on other books by watching their ranks rise and fall, and how long they stick around for visibility (but you can’t see what they’re doing for fanbase or publicity). You also have reviews on similar books in genre / subgenre, and you should be reading those, and developing your ability to look for trends.

The internal sales baseline will come with time and more books. But that’s for another article! Right now, let’s look at those reviews.

When the average reader looks at reviews, they’re looking for two very specific things:
1. Are these reviews trustworthy or fake?
2. Is this a book I’ll enjoy?

The first is why you look for one and two star reviews: they provide that curve that looks “real”, because humans know instinctively that if it’s too good to be true, it ain’t true. The second comes in when you skim through the reviews, discard the ones that don’t have much content or are obviously off the wall, and check to see if the things you like are in there, as well as the things you hate. (Even when a reviewer likes what you hate or hates what you like, the review’s still useful at saying if those things are there.)

But now, as a publisher, you’re asking new questions, with different answers:

1. Who is the intended audience for this book?
2. Did the cover / blurb attract the right audience?
3. Did the book fulfill expectations?
4. What did they like in general and in specific about it?
5. What did they want changed / not like?

Phase 1: Pick at least one subgenre you write in, and start reading through the top 50 bestseller’s reviews like a publisher. You’ll start to notice trends, and audience expectations – and develop the filter for weeding out “this person obviously brought their mental issues to this book, and review reflects same.” Get plenty of practice on the skills and plenty of data on broader trends and audience expectations before you try to apply this to a book where you’ve got skin in the game.

Also, on Amazon, people have the option of marking a review as helpful instead of leaving their own review. Weight reviews accordingly.

You’ll also start seeing trends of authors who have fans that read everything they put out, trends of early reviews (fanbase) versus later ones (word of mouth / browsers, and other non-prior-fans), and so on.

As you read through, you may find yourself strongly drawn to download a sample or buy a book you’re looking at. When that happens, make notes on what attracted you to that book – was it the cover? The blurb? A particular review? If a particular blurb or review made you go “I want this!”, write it down and come back later to study what made it so compelling that you can use in your own ad copy/blurb.

Phase 2: Pick at least 5 books that you really love, and a couple you really hate. Go read all their reviews. Now that you have a broad sense for reading like a publisher, you’re going to sharpen it on books that you know the characters, plot, and worldbuilding – so you can see again how the books draw an audience, what that audience is, how they fulfill reader expectations, and so on. Be aware that books that have been out for several reprintings are not nearly as useful for cover/blurb draw, because they will have gone through several iterations.

Are there any reviews or blurbs that make you go “Yes! This!”? Copy them down, so you can study later what they used to hook you in, and how you can apply that. (In fact, while the main function of a review is for one reader to comment to another reader, if you think of them as amateur ad-copy, there’s a lot you can learn.)

Phase 3: Now, only after several hours spent on learning to practice and hone these skills on other books, turn to your books and read the reviews. Did the cover/blurb attract the right audience for the book? What is the right audience for this book? What did they like / dislike?

Once you have this information, it gives you a way to gauge what covers and blurbs will work, and what won’t. What phrases and keywords, characters and plots, are going to hook the attention of the audience, and you should try to work into your ad copy/blurbs. What audiences are attracted by the book, and if you have it correctly categorized / keyworded to find them. And, also, what they really like, and what they want differently.

As an example, I fell into the classic trap in Scaling the Rim of going “My science fiction hits all the romance beats with a major subplot, so it’s romance-scifi.” But as I read the first wave of reviews, I realized that the audience that really enjoyed it weren’t the romance crowd (it had too much scifi for romance-scifi, and no sex scenes), but the scifi-thriller/action-adventure crowd I hadsn’t even considered due to lack of combat. So, I pulled it from romance and reset with action/adventure keywords to hit that subgenre’s lists instead. Sales them picked up – and the reviews were happier!

***Important Note***
Note that everything above has to do with marketing your book, and possibly with editing your publishing house’s books. It has almost nothing to do with writing your book! Write your books from your heart, from your muse, from your curiousity and wonder and dreams. Don’t try to paint-by-numbers due to what the market wants right now!

Kris Rusch speaks of writing and publishing as wearing two hats – and when she writes, she takes off the publisher hat, with its responsibilities and prioroties, and puts on her writer hat, with its completely seperate, and sometimes completely conflicting, responsibilities and prioroties. She even has seperate computers to help remind her that her creativity is not driven by her publishing – her publishing is a way to monetize her creativity.

There will be things that help with the general writing: in Peter’s earliest books, a number of reviewers complained that Peter’s protagonist was a golden boy, and his writing was too stilted. If you get common points in reviews in your own books, remember that reviewers are readers writing for other readers, they’re not professional authors and gifted teachers writing a personal feedback to the author. They’re not even beta readers. So they will identify that something is a problem to them – but they may not have the right cause, and generally don’t have the right fix.

In Peter’s case, he identified that he was writing a very old-school British hero for a very modern American audience. He was using British English with its more formal structure and style instead of the more informal American English his audience is used to, and they weren’t seeing the modern American ratio of challenge to success they were accustomed to. By changing the language in successive books and adding more metaphors and colloquialisms, focusing more page time on the difficulty of overcoming each challenge, and narrowing the scope of each book to a few challenges or limited time span, he brought the stories more in line with reader expectation and the reviews & reader satisfaction went up.

But he did not sit down and say “I am writing military science fiction. Therefore, I must have a galactic war humans are losing, a near-derelict ship, a rebellious antihero captain on the outs with his/her superiors, and a plucky crew of rejects and oddballs the captain must motivate for the do-or-die long shot that will turn the tide of the war / stop the invasion, because those are the most common current hot tropes.”

That is the difference between using market feedback to improve your writing, and “writing to market.”

As for Scaling the Rim? I noted that a lot of people shared my dislike for infodump and enjoyed building the world from clues and references – but a number of other people missed a few subtle bits of worldbuilding laid in, and were confused because there was no infodump to clearly explain what’s going on up front, who the good guys and who the bad guys were, and the history of the world and the peoples to date.

Because I choke on infodump both as a reader and a writer, I’m not going to start putting in lots of narrative summary. I will, however, clearly have to up my game on building more background in early along with the foreshadowing, so I don’t confuse readers – or they don’t stay confused!

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Filed under FYNBOSSPRESS, MARKETING, Uncategorized, WRITING: PUBLISHING

Reviews and Maturity

So this post is the result, as so many of my posts are, of a few conversations I’ve had recently about writing, and life. I’m constantly learning, but at this point, also trying to share what I’ve learned with others who ask me about stuff. Like whether they should ‘un-publish’- a book that was their first, and they now feel is immature and not a reflection of them as a writer now. I pointed out in response that I leave my first novel up, despite it getting not-so-great reviews, because it’s a reflection of where I started versus where I am now. No, readers probably don’t pay attention to dates published, in most cases (I know I do if I am trying to blitz-read an author, because it lets me read series from the beginning if they have been so inconsiderate as to not mark books with series identifiers. Pet peeve: number your series books, people!). I know I have fans who were interested to read it and see my growth as an author, because they took the time to reach out and tell me that. I leave it up for them, and because with some two dozen titles on Amazon, I know it falls to the bottom and only a reader who was working through my whole body of work would find it. Along with some of the other oddballs I’ve written.

And along with that is the other conversation I had on facebook about one-star reviews and whether they are always bad. They are not. I had a prominent reviewer give my latest novella, Snow in Her Eyes, a one-star review, and it led to more sales than that story might have seen elsewhere. Because he was very articulate about what his problem was with the story.

I only work for myself; there is no one who tells me I have to review certain books. I only read what I want to read; that’s why, if you look at my reviews, you will find that the vast majority award 4 or 5 stars. I have been chastised for this in the past; some people have accused me of pandering to authors, others have told me I was an easy grader.

Well, bite me.

If that is the case, why am I reviewing a book that I gave one star?

Part of is is because of the limitations of the Amazon rating system. If you look at what the ratings mean:
1 star: I hated it.
2 stars: I didn’t like it.
3 stars: It was okay. (Amazon says this is a negative review, which makes no sense to me.)
4 stars: I liked it.
5 stars: I loved it.

You will notice that those ratings say nothing whatsoever about the artistry of the writing; the internal consistency of the story; plot development; originality; NOTHING at all about what I think really makes a book worth reading. It is an utterly subjective rating system, and I suppose the only kind that makes sense in the mass-market approach Amazon takes with the book reading public.

Now, that only explains the rating system, and not why I reviewed a book I gave 1 star to, and why I gave it one star.

Briefly:
1. I gave it one star, because in the first paragraph, the author kills off a baby girl. No women, no kids; one star.
2. I reviewed it because the author is Cedar Sanderson, and she is one of my favorite writers, and one of my favorite people as well. I couldn’t NOT review it without my favoritism toward her and her work utterly destroying any credibility I have as a reviewer.

Read the rest at Papa Pat Rambles (and stay for the wonderful essays and quirky reviews!)

A one-star review – especially when it is balanced with other high reviews – can actually be a selling point. It’s only when you see an imbalance of one, two, and even three-star reviews that it’s obvious there’s a problem with that book. And sometimes even ‘a problem book’ can be enjoyed by readers. I ran across a case recently where a friend I trust had reviewed a book, the author found the review, leaped like a gazelle to the absolutely wrong conclusions, and I was highly amused. I also decided that I would not read that author’s books. Not because he’d had a hissy fit over the negative review, but because I saw enough of a theme in the reviews of his books to know my friend was right, and I would not enjoy those books. I have to say the ‘sex scenes written by Victor Appleton II after a few stag films’ nearly made me snort my coffee onto the monitor!

I’ve come to a point where I trust the reviews on Amazon. Sometimes it’s not what they say that is important, it’s how they say it. Like the book with 104 reviews… until you clicked on ‘verified purchasers’ and suddenly it had five, and of the others the majority of them mentioned they had received a review copy in return for their review. I have nothing against review copies. But I do think that if the book does not generate the bulk of it’s reviews from people who read it after buying (this book was not in the KU program) then there is a problem with it (and reading the blurb and ‘look inside’ not to mention the ghastly cover, cemented that impression).

As an author I know I have to show maturity in how I handle my reviews, both the positive and the negative. Mostly, mine make me happy. But even the ones that make me shake my head – like the reviewer who commented on Pixie Noir that it had no emotion and she thought it must have been written by a man – don’t bother me much. Because losing your mind over a review and shrieking about it in public like the above author who gazelled off into the distance calling that there were lions attacking him… yeah, no. That’s not good publicity, dude. Not only did you lead to one of your fans making the connection to my friend and linking to his facebook page in your comment thread (and I screenshot that and let my friend know to brace for incoming) but you lead to me deciding firmly that I would not read your books, nor promote them. Guess what? unprofessional behaviour just pisses people off. I have a very short list of ‘will not buy, will not promote’ but that author is one of those. And I know I’m not alone in that reaction to author behaviours.

 

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Filed under CEDAR SANDERSON, MARKETING

To Pay or Not to Pay

 

Reviews. The bane of every writer’s life. We love the good reviews and we are crushed by the bad. After all, our books are our babies and no one likes being told their baby is ugly. So we watch and wait, holding our breath, until the reviews start rolling in on each new release. We weigh whether we should pay to have professional reviewers and bloggers review our book. We have heard the calls from the hucksters, all telling us that for a low investment of some of our hard earned money, they guarantee a certain amount of stellar reviews. We ask our friends, family and friends to post their reviews.  And we wait, wondering why folks say what they do in reviews and praying those bad reviews are outweighed by the good.

Authors gaming the review system is nothing new. In fact I should correct that last statement to say that publishing professionals gaming the review system is nothing new. There have been paid reviews probably as long as there has been publishing. The focus, over the last few years, has been not on the paid reviews from magazine — and bloggers — but on those paid reviews that show up as ordinary customer reviews on sites like Amazon.

Back in April, Amazon took steps to bring a halt to fake reviews. At that time, the target of its legal team was the site with the oh-so-original name buyamazonreviews.com. In that suit, Amazon alleged that the owner of the site was being paid for reviews of products that had never been read or used. In other words, pay the defendant a certain amount of money and he would give you a glowing review, whether your product deserved it or not. As a result, most of the sites like the one referenced earlier have shut down. But that didn’t end the problem.

In a new move to stop fake reviews, Amazon filed suit against more than 1,000 people it alleges have been offering to write fake reviews. These people are part of the Fivver community. From what I understand, Fivver is a site where you can post your services, whatever they might be, for the grand sum of five dollars. Amazon, concerned about what these Fivvers might actually be offering, had its own employees/agents contact members of the Fivver community. Not everyone they contacted offered fake reviews but a number did. It is alleged that, among other things, some of them said the caller could write the review they wanted posted, email it to the Fivver member and that member would post it to Amazon using their own Amazon account. No need to read the book. Then there was the one who said to mail an empty box or mailing envelope to give the appearance that they had mailed the book to be “reviewed” to the “reviewer”. Others allegedly said they would not read the book even if sent to them but they would give it a great review. Fast forward to this month and yet another lawsuit filed.

As you can imagine, there are some folks out there who are seeing evil in this, not from the part of the paid reviewers but on Amazon’s part. After all, if they are going after the paid reviewers, what are they going to do to the poor author who paid for those reviews? What if the author didn’t know their agent or publisher or mother/brother/uncle/friend paid for the reviews to help them?

I can’t speak for Amazon but I have a feeling what we will see happening is that a number of reviews will simply drop off the site. These reviews will either be directly tied to the sites Amazon has suspicions about or will have key phrases that are oft repeated across other reviews. It is easy enough to code a data crawler to find such similarities. It is basically the same sort of tool that schools use to determine if a paper contains any plagiarized parts.

Amazon might go one step further. Right now, if you look at Amazon customer reviews, you will see some from verified purchasers and then those that aren’t. A verified purchaser is someone who actually purchased the item from Amazon. The only problem with this is it doesn’t reflect those who borrowed a book or short story under the Kindle Unlimited program. This may be the point where Amazon needs to add that as one of the descriptors. I know a number of authors, and readers alike, who have been asking Amazon to do just that. At least that way, people who look at reviews before buying something would have an idea if the reviewer actually put down money on the book in question.

There is always the possibility that Amazon will require you to have purchased an item from them before you are allowed to review it. I’ll admit to being torn about this option. That would keep reviewers like Shiny Book Review from posting reviews on all sales sites. It would kick out reviewers who receive free copies of books unless Amazon has them register as reviewers. This is a path I’m not sure I want to see them go down.

Right now, Amazon gives more weight to reviews written by verified purchasers. As they should. I know that when I look at reviews, I tend to pay more attention to those written by people who have “verified purchaser” listed under their names. I know they might have left a review without actually reading the book but the likelihood is less than it is for those reviewers without the VP notation.

The bottom line, however, is simple. Paid reviews are a way of gaming the system. Amazon — and other sites like it — can make it harder to find folks to do them, but where there is a will, there’s a way. Someone will find a new way around the system. But, as a reader, I put more weight on those reviews written by folks I know bought the book and this is why I want to see Amazon note those who borrowed it under the KU program. They, too, pay for what they read even though it is a subscription fee and not a per book fee. If I’m getting a royalty for it, they’ve paid for it in my opinion.

Amazon is not the big bad in this case. It is actually protecting its customers and the writers who use it as a sales platform. For that, I thank them.

 

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Filed under AMANDA, PROMOTION

Get a Blurb

Blurb always sounds to me like an onomatopoeia. This is a word that should mean something like the last sound you make as you are drowning, as the bubble of air leaves your lungs and breaks to the surface… blurb. Instead, it’s not that bad but it feels that way. I can’t count how many times I have been told by my fellow authors that creating a blurb is so much worse than writing the whole darn book (coming up with a title seems to run neck and neck with this). However, a blurb is essential to a successful book. We’ve written up blurb workshops here at the MGC before, you can find one here. There’s another one here.

A blurb for an ebook goes onto the sales page for the book (and many other places). On a print book, it either goes on the back of a paperback (whether trade or mass-market sized) or the inside flap of a hardback. Since I’m dealing with trade paperbacks in this post, we will concentrate on the back cover blurbs, but there is no real difference from the hardback book requirements. A blurb is your second chance to hook a reader. The first was with the cover art, which for my purposes includes the first text they read, the title. In fact, if we are talking about shoppers in a bookstore, sometimes the title matters more than the cover art as it’s the first thing they see. Remember, spines are important too, as we discussed last week. So once you have intrigued them with the title, attracted them with the art, now is the time to sell the book.

No pressure. You have about, oh, 50-150 words to pitch your whole idea that took you a thousand times that many words to express in full.

I’d suggest you go look at the links above, and remember: no passive voice here. Also, you can put your blurb-in-progress in the comments, and I will try to help, as will your fellow commentors (gives them the mom-eye, you will share, right? Ahem…)

Now that you are working on the blurb, let’s move on to the rest of the layout of a back cover.

Guidelines

 

As you will see on the back cover for Dragon Noir, I have a tagline, a blurb, pull-quotes from reviews, an author photo, a call to visit my blog, a graphic element, and a QR code. I know, that is a lot of stuff going on in a small amount of real estate. All that, and you will note I avoid the barcode location, which is inserted by the printer, not you.

A tagline is a short, catchy sentence or sentence fragment you can use to catch the reader’s eye and pull them into reading the rest of the blurb. Think of it as a headline for your blurb. Writing headlines is an art unto itself, but if you have ever done it, then you are all set for this. If you haven’t, take heart. Headlines need to be punchy, but also say something about the content. Look at the headlines I used for this mini-series. Get a Spine, Get a Blurb: they both play off “get a life” but they don’t say that, and when a reader sees something unexpected, they look further. You want to keep this short.

Pull-quotes from reviewers is tricky if you haven’t got any. In my case, I’m using pull-quotes from the release of Pixie Noir, the first book in the series, and making it clear next to them. I sent Pixie Noir out to a number of places and people for review, but in general you don’t do this with every book in the series and it’s acceptable to carry the quotes through the series. Don’t, for goodness sakes, use Amazon reviews on the book cover for pull-quotes. I took some photos of back covers, and as you will see, some books later in a series, or non-fiction, eschew a blurb altogether in favor of pull-quotes.

Book Backs

Book four in John Ringo’s zombie series, and a non-fiction book: both are hardcovers.

I wouldn’t recommend this approach. Hardcovers as I illustrate above, have the inner flaps, where convention places the blurb at the front, and a short author bio at the back. We’re only working with the back cover to get all that in.

book backs

Don’t leave the cover blank.

If you leave the back cover blank, not only are you wasting all that lovely real-estate that could be promoting your book, you are making it look like it’s not a sale-ready copy. The black cover you see above is an uncorrected page proof that was sent to advance readers. I picked it up in a used book store along with several others like it – someone was cleaning their shelves off, and I made out! I wanted to show you the back of Pixie Noir, because I did a couple of things here. I used the graphic elements of the two guns to visually separate the blurb from the pull quotes. They also create a bit of negative space that reduces clutter and eyestrain. You do not want to pack your back cover full of stuff, the readers will go cross-eyed and put the book back down. I also put each quote in a different color to separate them, but this is not necessary, and can go very wrong if not done right.

Moving on to the final but very important elements: Author promo.

books-3

You do not have to put a photo of yourself on the book. There is no rule that says you must. However, if you do, then choose a professional headshot, well lit and with good contrasts, or a crisp photo as I have chosen above, with a little action in it. I will be changing this out on the next book, but I wanted it to be consistent through the series. Do not use a cell-phone shot, something that is blurry, dark, or full-length. Just your face is usually best (again, the one I’m using pushes that). You are talking about an image that will be a mere 1 1/2″tall. Do not use a photo of a pet, unless this is a book about your pet (or by your pet!) and then, if you do, same rules apply. If you don’t have a good photo, leave it off.

I don’t think you can read the text for my author promo, but it simply reads: “Find Cedar at her blog. Scan the code or go to http://www.cedarwrites.com” A QR code, that square futuristic-looking thing, is a very handy tool. You can generate them for free and very easily. I’ve been using QRStuff for mine recently – and make sure you check the graphic file, I was using another site and discovered it wasn’t rendering correctly. All you do is type in a URL and download the graphic file. Then your reader can scan with a smartphone app, which zooms them right to your website, Amazon Author page, or what-have-you (I use one on promotional material like bookmarks and postcards as well, and sometimes send the scanner code straight to a book for reading sample and buying).

Whew. Long post today! Ok, questions and blurbs in the comments, and I will talk to you all there.

 

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Filed under Uncategorized

Oh those pesky ebooks

I’m going to admit right off the bat this morning that I am operating under a handicap. No, not the usual one of not enough caffeine. My beloved ROG laptop has decided to become the bane of my existence. The battery, overnight yesterday, decided not to work. Now the keyboard is lagging and, at times, not registering keystrokes. Since it is out of warranty with Asus, I’m dealing with the extended warranty through Squaretrade. That means it gets to be sent in for repair. It also means I have to move all my work over to the backup machine (now my family knows why I always have at least one other working laptop as well as a tablet on hand at any time). So, if there are weird missing letters, that is the cause. I’m trying to catch them but. . . .

Anyway, back to being a Mad Genius.

First things first. If you are registered for WorldCon, you should have received notice that the Hugo packet now available for download. Fair warning, some publishers sent only extracts of their nominated works (Ancillary Justice and Skin Game come to mind). John C. Wright’s work is all combined in one file and not necessarily listed in all categories where he is nominated. So it is a bit of hunt and place for him. At least there is a note with the packet that explains this. So, if you are voting this year, start reading. There is a lot of material to get through.

Now, on with the show, so to speak.

Despite all the attempts made by traditional publishers (Baen excluded) to convince readers that e-books are nothing but a novelty that will soon disappear, it is clear they are here to stay. It is also clear that readers are becoming more and more discerning about how e-books look. I’m not just talking about covers but about the interior of the e-book as well. They want the “printed page” to look as professional as the printed page of a physical book. In other words, they want it to look pretty. Or, more simply put, they want it to look professional.

What am I talking about? Joe Konrath talks about it over on his blog. If you scroll down, you will see two examples. The first is pretty similar to most e-books you find out there right now. There is nothing really wrong with it and it is certainly a far cry from those early e-books that had to be hand-coded. But it is simple, almost plain. It is workable but, let’s face it, it doesn’t look like what you expect a printed page to look like.

Now scroll down and look at the second example. I’ll admit that it is a bit too fancy for me but it serves my purpose of illustrating the difference you can have with just a little thought and work. The only thing I would probably do differently is lose the drop cap. I’ve never really liked them and they don’t, in my opinion, look right on dedicated e-book readers. On tablets, they are much better. Trying to read an e-book with drop caps on my phone is problematic at best because of the small screen. But remove it, keep much of the rest, and you have a “page” that looks more professional. Well, it looks fancier and that, to many readers, means professional.

Several books ago, I changed the way I format my e-books to start utilizing small caps on the chapter headings as well as the first line. I removed first line indent on the first page of each chapter. I used special font characteristics (such as bold and italics) to set off the text of the chapter headings and the first line. The key with doing this with e-books is not to small cap and bold or italics the entire first line because of the way readers can alter font size. You don’t want three lines suddenly bold or italicized. So I decide going in if I will do only the first X-number of words or the first clause. Then I follow it throughout the book. Consistency is the key.

What I have found since doing so is I get fewer reviews that focus on the fact my books are indie published. Even though I have no concrete proof that the change in formatting is the reason, I can reasonably make that assumption because of the timing. Those comments stopped, for the most part, around the time I changed my formatting. So, here’s my suggestion, find a publisher of books of the same genre as what you write. Look at their formatting of their print books. Now try to duplicate what their page formatting looks like. The benefit to doing this is two-fold. The first is that your book will, as stated before, look more “professional”. The second is that those readers who follow that publisher will pick up your e-books and there will be a familiar feel to them because they look like those of their favorite publisher. Both can help increase sales.

Since I already touched on reviews — the bane of all authors at some point in their careers — if you haven’t heard already, Amazon has decided to go after paid reviews and has sued several of these review mills. This is something we should all welcome. Now if they would just do the same about the sock puppet reviews. . . .

Anyway, Anne R. Allen has a very good post about why we shouldn’t pay for Amazon customer reviews. Read it. Think about it.

I think her post rang as strongly with me as it did because I was talking with my writers group Sunday about reviews. The newer writers looked at me like I had grown a second, or maybe a third, head when I told them I welcomed the occasional negative review. They couldn’t understand why any author would want to see a one or two star review on their work. Wasn’t that like admitting your baby is ugly?

I explained that, as a reader, I am suspicious when there are nothing but five-star reviews for a work. That’s especially true if there are a lot of reviews and the vast majority are five-star with only a very small percentage of any other ranking. It makes me wonder if the author or publisher didn’t stack the deck. Then I explained that there have been a number of times when I’ve seen books with nothing but five stars that I’ve looked at the sample and found anything but a great book. For me, at least, the three-star reviews have been more reliable than the vast majority of reviews on either end of the spectrum. That said, yes, you do want those four and five star reviews, especially if you are trying to be accepted by a lot of review sites because many of them have a requirement of the number of reviews/level of reviews you must have before they consider your work.

Go read the article and let me know what you think. There’s more I’d say but I am about to throw the laptop across the room, so I’ll stop here. What are your thoughts about e-book design and reviews?

 

 

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Of sequels, reviews and how not to behave

I’m up to my eyes with the final edits to Duty from Ashes and am determined that it will be out by Nov. 1st. That means my mind is so focused on the edits that little has gotten in the past week. Maybe that’s why I did something our own Jason Cordova may never forgive me. In my defense, he egged me on. I swear it. He told me that he would review a certain book if I sent him a copy. So I did. And, yes, I will link and explain in a moment.

A little background. In this day and age of social media, there is one truth. What you put out into the interwebs is always in the interwebs if you know where to look. That is a lesson a number of us seem to forget all too often. It is so very simple to take to Facebook or Twitter or any one of a number of other social media sites to express our outrage or anger over something.

As folks who live by their words, authors all too often forget this. Back several years ago, an author took to his blog and FB to blast his editor because he didn’t like the job the editor had done on his latest novel. Now, I’ve seen what some of the traditional press editors can and have done and I don’t blame anyone for the occasional blow up for idiocy but you don’t let yourself be so specific that anyone with just a bit of knowledge of the industry or a bit of google-fu can find out who you are talking about. In this particular instance, he named names and gave dates and got more than a bit profane. Within minutes, the internet exploded, his agent and others saw it and he was basically told to take it down, issue and apology and pray he hadn’t just killed his career. He complied by taking down the post and making a sort-of apology but for months after, people quoted the post because it was still out there in the interwebs for all to find.

More recently, there’s been the author who admitted she was so upset by a review of her first book she basically turned into a stalker. She used her computer skills to find out who the reviewer really was, tracked them down, called them and even went to the reviewer’s home. That is more than a little creepy and is a prime example of why there are fewer and fewer legitimate reviewers available, especially for indie and small press published books. (By legitimate reviewers, I mean those who actually read the book and post in-depth reviews that point out good and bad. In other words, those who aren’t just out for free books. Note also that I don’t include the majority of Amazon reviews that are left by folks who have — or have not — read the book in question.)

Then there are the authors who really go off the deep end and respond to negative reviews by calling names, resorting to profanity and generally making themselves look more than a little foolish. Sometimes this happens when an author goes after a blogger on the that blogger’s site. Other times, it happens in response to Amazon reviews. We hear about the former more often than the latter because of social media. However — and this is where I get to Jason’s review — there are times when an author acts so badly in response to Amazon reviews that he and his book come to the attention of reviewers and the results aren’t what the author desires.

For those of you who might not know, Jason is part of Shiny Book Review. SBR is one of the few review sites I trust because Jason and Barb Caffrey post their honest opinions about the books they read. Being an author who knows the importance of reviews — but who is always worried about what the reviewer will think — I figuratively hide under the kitchen sink when I know they are reviewing one of my books. What I have found is that they have always been fair and have pointed out problems where they see them. I might not always agree but I do consider what they say and I respect their honesty.

So, cutting to the chase, last night on FB, some of us were discussing a novel where the author has been a prime example of what not to do as an author when it comes to Amazon reviews. Most of us in the discussion had at least read part of the free sample and we had read the reviews and the author’s responses to them. The tipping point for some of us came a few days ago when the author, upset when a very successful indie author offered some very good advice, went to the listing for the other author’s latest book and left what can only be called a revenge critique and was then proud of it when called on what he had done. That sort of thing just isn’t done — or it shouldn’t be.

Anyway, during the course of the conversation, Jason said he would review the book if I sent it to him (full disclosure, I did taunt him with the comment that I was tempted to send it to him for review). I don’t think Jason expected me to follow through but I did and, well, we all owe him. He did the literary review equivalent of falling on a grenade for us. You can find his review of the book — the now, in some circles at least, infamous Empress Theresa — here. I guarantee you that, having read the sample on Amazon and having gone to the author’s website, Jason is right on the mark with what he has to say.

The lesson of all this is, if you put a book out there for the world to read, understand that there will be people who won’t like it. Don’t engage with them. Don’t go leaving revenge critiques. Most of all, if you invite teachers or others to read your book and leave an honest opinion, don’t then attack them when they don’t say what you want. (You can follow the link in Jason’s review to the Amazon page and the reviews and comments. I have never before seen a book with so few reviews and so many comments. If you go to the book’s website, you will find sample chapters as well. They are interesting, to say the least, especially when it comes to changing POVs, construction, suspension of disbelief and more.)

Anyway, go read Jason’s review. The lesson to take away from it and from the way the author has behaved on Amazon is that this is a lesson in how not to act if you want to be taken as someone who takes their writing career seriously.

Now I’m going back to work. Duty from Ashes calls and I really, really need to get these edits finished so I can move on to the next project(s). What I wouldn’t give for a vacation.

 

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