21st Century Yokel

So I have a YouTube channel now, and I recommend you subscribe to keep up with all the videos because I won’t always be posting them here. The link to the channel itself is on the sidebar to the left. (Scroll down to all my online media buttons.)

I’ll try to get more sophisticated with my recording and editing methods. But for now, enjoy this short video about author Tom Cox’s work. And if you watch long enough, you’ll catch a glimpse of my cat Minerva.

Thank an Author?

I’ve seen a resurgence of posts saying some variation of: “The best way to thank an author is to write a review!” I’ll admit I’ve even (re)posted these from time to time.

Here’s the thing, though: I don’t think readers are looking to “thank” authors.

I’m not saying readers are ungrateful. I just don’t think couching it in terms of gratitude is useful. An author does his or her job by writing what hopefully is a good book. A reader then purchases that book. To many readers, that’s the end of the transaction. Readers figure that when they buy our books, we’ve made our money. They’ve done their part. And then we go and ask for additional work from them and tell them they should be grateful we’ve done our jobs and entertained them.

You don’t see posts saying, “The best way to thank an actor is to write a review!” Or, “The best way to thank a band is to write a review!” Why do we do this for authors then? Do we really think it will motivate readers? In my experience it doesn’t.

I would very much appreciate more reviews. But I’ll equally admit that, after closing a book, my first thought is seldom if ever, “Gee, I wish I could thank that author!” In fact, it’s human nature to be more likely to write a review complaining about something bad than one praising something good. We expect good; we feel entitled to it, particularly after spending our money. When something isn’t good, we’re angry and want others to know it.

(I do write reviews, btw. I post them on my spooklights blog and on Goodreads. If I were a better person, I’d also post them on Amazon. For some reason I can’t seem to ever remember to do that. So I guess I shouldn’t complain when others don’t do it for me either.)

The big question is: How do we motivate readers to leave reviews? We can try explaining the importance of those reviews—that without them, authors can’t afford to keep writing and publishing books. So if you like an author’s work and want more, show your support by reviewing. I don’t know if that would work, but I do believe people like to believe they’re helping, that they’re contributing to a worthwhile cause.

Then again, even without reviews, there will always be authors writing and publishing. So readers aren’t going to lack for books if a few under-reviewed authors fall out of the machinery.

Asking for applause is a tad gauche. And that’s what reviews are: textual applause. (Or boos, if the reviews are bad.) How can authors instill the habit of reviewing in readers? We all know to clap after a live performance; sometimes we even give a standing ovation. But theatre has been around for centuries, and when watching something live, we can see the hard work going into the show. How can we help readers appreciate the same for writing?

I don’t pretend to have answers. I just think it’s worth posing the question. In order to get more reviews, we need to examine the culture around writing and publishing and reading—we need to figure out how to add that final step of reviewing to the chain so that it becomes a regular part of the cycle. And to do that, we need to understand how people read and what motivates them. If and when they review, why? Only when we have a clearer picture can we hope to make better progress . . . and get more reviews.

Brynnde Scores a PW Review

It seems like Brynnde is on an upswing. Yesterday it was featured on the Indie Beginning podcast (see yesterday’s post), and I also discovered Booklife/Publishers Weekly had reviewed it! Read the review here.

All of this makes me ever more determined to get Faebourne done and out into the hands of my readers. I hope you’ll embrace it as warmly as you have Brynnde.

SFWC 2018: Getting Book Reviews

Here’s a topic every indie author—and probably traditionally published author, unless they’re already a big name—wants the scoop on: how to get more book reviews. This panel consisted of Stephanie Chandler and Isabella Michon and was moderated by marketing guru Penny Sansevieri.

Isabella stated up front that book marketing is “all about exposure and getting media attention.” She pointed to the Midwest Book Review as a good place to submit for that exposure. Also BookTalk. Giveaways are a good way to get your books under people’s noses, too (though now Goodreads charges for that). And if you do a blog tour, or if a blog posts a review of your book, you should always thank them and ask if they’ll also please publish on Amazon or Goodreads.

Stephanie agreed that you shouldn’t be afraid of giving your book away. She quoted Seth Godin: “Your problem is not piracy, your problem is obscurity.”

She mentioned software called Book Review Targeter that helps authors find Amazon reviewers for their books. She said to get in the habit of asking, even from big-name authors. “Find bloggers who speak to your audience.” Joining online groups and enlisting beta readers who will spread the word about your book is also helpful.

Penny gave a startling statistic: approximately 4500 books are published each day now. That’s a huge amount of content, and it’s difficult to be heard over all that noise. She said to put a letter in the back of each book that asks for a review. Turn those beta readers into superfans by giving them early access to material, or even exclusive material. Do the same for newsletter subscribers. Give them reasons to be fans rather than just readers.

95% of books are sold via word-of-mouth.
Fewer than 3% of readers leave reviews.

Isabella then mentioned the paid reviews you can get from elite outlets like Kirkus, or the paid Facebook ads. Those are fine so long as you’re only paying for honest reviews from known channels. Never pay someone to post a review on Amazon. You have to make sure your reviews are legitimate. (In most cases, people advise authors never to pay for a review regardless of the outlet.)

Someone then asked about Amazon pulling reviews if the book was, say, gifted rather than a verified purchase. Penny said that you can post a review, even if the book was not purchased on Amazon, and that pulled reviews usually have more to do with the reviewer than the book or author. Usually, if a review is pulled, many reviews by that particular reviewer are being pulled rather than the book or author being somehow punished.

So how to find fans? Well, social media is a good start, or maybe creating a private Facebook group where that elite content can be posted. People like to feel like they’re part of a club. Penny points out that the level of engagement is more important that the number of total fans. If you have 10,000 fans who don’t do anything, well . . . How much more valuable are 10 fans who are eager to spread the word about you and your book?

Timing is a final consideration. Major outlets will want your book well ahead of publication. But Amazon reviewers don’t care when the book was published. And readers seldom stop to look at whether the review is recent or not.

As for pre-orders, they’re great, but better to keep the time short. One to two weeks works best. And make sure you have fans and readers ready to post their reviews right away.

What do you think of these tips? Have you tried any? What has worked for you? Tell me about it in the comments!

Dark Dawning by Christine Rains

I was lucky enough to get an ARC of this novella, first in a 9-part series. It will be available on Amazon starting October 17.

Ametta Dorn is the youngest of three shifter sisters. When she saves fellow shifter Lucky Osberg from hunters, she gets drawn out of her world of interior decorating and into a dark and dangerous mystery. Who is hunting and killing shifters? And more immediately: Can Ametta stay true to herself and her plans to leave her Alaskan home, or will growing feelings for Lucky anchor her there?

This first in the Totem series sets the stage for an interesting quest. The three Dorn sisters must work to reassemble an ancient totem pole. And of course, because it’s Christine Rains, there will be romance.

I enjoyed the setting and the novelty of having Inuit mythology in this story. It feels like a fresh twist on the shifter mythos. I’m sort of over vampires and werewolves, but this is new and intriguing. The only down side is that it’s a cliffhanger.

I can easily imagine readers trying to decide which Dorn sister they are: Ametta, Kinley, or Saskia. Maybe there should be an online quiz! I look forward to getting to know all of them better over the course of the series.

Blog Tour Continues

. . . with a nice review of Peter.

I do definitely consider character and dialogue to be my main strengths as a writer. And I feel like there are many different kinds of readers, too. Or maybe it depends on your mood. But sometimes you want a meaty, dramatic, character-driven story. Some readers gravitate toward those. And sometimes you just want plot-driven fluff. A lot of readers choose those kinds of stories because they don’t want to work too hard.

This isn’t to say a plot-driven story can’t have great character and dialogue, or that a character-driven story can’t have a driving plot. But I think many books lean one way or another.

I like both kinds. As I mentioned, it depends on my mood. I mean, I remember reading The DaVinci Code. Very plot heavy, even though the characters were meant to be engaging as well. I went through a Michael Crichton phase in middle school where I devoured all his books, which again revolve largely around plot. But when I read Tana French or Kate Morton, though I know there will be a fair plot, I’m not looking for or expecting a light, speedy read. With books like theirs, I’m anticipating investing some time and thought.

Anyway, Peter is a character book. If you’d like to take a look for yourself, you can find all e-formats linked on the publisher’s site.

Regency Romance & the 10th Review

So Peter had a little bit of an uptick on Amazon this weekend. But it’s stuck at only nine reviews, so I’m looking for someone to please, please, please go write that golden #10. Yes, I’m not above begging. And to those who have written reviews, thank you!!!

Meanwhile, I was trying to write some new Sherlock Holmes stories, but . . . It was like trudging through mud. I couldn’t write more than a couple sentences at a time. I realized I needed something lighter. Coming off stuff like Peter, and even my YA fantasy is a bit heavy, I really just needed something playful. So I dug out an old Regency romance I’d started writing some years ago. I hadn’t realized I’d gotten as far as 11,000 words, but apparently I had. I’ve dusted it off and begun playing with it again, and it’s great fun. A nice, light break (in the same way my novel The K-Pro is lighter). Hopefully it will be a relatively quick project as well. I find it’s faster to write the fun stuff.

The Great Unknown

I’ll admit I had my doubts. I wasn’t wowed by “Trust You,” was moderately more pleased with “Hold On Forever,” and by the time he was giving out “I Think We’d Feel Good Together,” I was already suffering fatigue and thinking, Geez, I’ll just wait for the album. Which came out today. And still I hesitated, but curiosity and my love for Rob won out, and I “completed the album” on iTunes.

And . . . I really like it.

Okay, well, I took it with me on a walk. And I haven’t had a nice solo walk in a while, so my general pleasure at being able to get a walk in might have colored my feelings about the music. But still. When heard cohesively, The Great Unknown is pretty catchy. There’s a lot to dance to, if you like that kind of thing. Club mixes, anyone?

My problem with “Trust You” had been that it didn’t really sound like Rob to me, and there are songs on this album where I was definitely thinking, “Reminds me of Jason Mraz” and “Oh, how American Authors,” but at least vocally it sounded like Rob. And I like Jason Mraz and American Authors. ::shrug:: Anyway, “Trust You” has grown on me over time.

Also, while I’d sort of cringed at a live video of “I Think We’d Feel Good Together” (studio acoustics often suck, so I’ll handily blame that), the album version is better. It would have to be. I can’t imagine anything worse.

The upshot is, there wasn’t any song I felt the urge to skip. I always listen to the whole album a few times before deciding which songs I can live without, but I can usually tell right away if there’s one I’m not going to want on my permanent playlist. That hasn’t happened [yet]. Yes, even “Trust You” will stay on my iPod.

Nice work again, Mr. Tumnus Thomas.