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Jan 23, 2011

5 Things A Writer Learned About Reviews and Reviewers



It's that time in my novel's lifecycle that it has to go out into the big wide world and plead for reviews. It's both terrifying and gratifying, when I thought it would merely be terrifying. Already, I've leared so much I never would have guessed about reviews and reviwers, and I'm only beginning.

1. People who read and review books are awesome.
I admit, I never used to think this. I thought of book critics as obnoxious wannabes who enjoyed tearing down writers for the malicious sense of self-importance it gave them. Now I am ashamed of myself for thinking that.

Who are the reviewers? Well, among those who are interested in my book, which is a coming of age story, a fantasy, a romance, a fairytale, there tend to be a lot of young reviewers. College kids, mostly, a few high school and a few just out of school, who find time for fiction around school semester schedules, math tests and English degrees. Then there is a whole slew of SAHM (Stay At Home Moms) who balance a house of small hooligans with very slick, semi-professional review blogs. Among the professionals, librarians and teachers predominant. We mustn't forget there are also a few grandmas out there, boldly braving the new technology to remind readers of classic tales, and also to read new releases.

Some of these reviwers do three to four reviews a week! Some reviewers work in teams. Others work alone. They challenge each other to read X number of Y kind of book in Z amount of time. Not surprisingly, they get burned out. Some reviewers whose beautiful reviews of other books moved me were sadly not taking on any new projects. Others were eagerly still filling their calandars.

2. Not every reviewer will love, or even like my book... and that's okay. Really.
Of course, I've gotten nothing but 5-star reviews for The Unfinished Song: Initiate so far, so it's easy for me to say this now... but I know not every review is going to be 5-stars. Some reviewers I've contacted have already declined because they didn't think it looked like their kind of book. I thought that kind of response would devestate me, but you know what? It didn't. I didn't feel bad about myself or the reviwer in question. It was acutally (gasp) no big deal.

3. There are, in fact, more readers than writers in the world.
I have a lot of friends who write novels. In fact, sometimes it seems like everyone I know writes novels. A great many of my friends on Facebook and Twitter not only write novels, but write much better novels than I, and have been publishing them for years. This is all very intimidating, and it sometimes feels like it's pointless to put any new novels out there, because there are more novels than people to read them...

...and it turns out, this is completely myopic. There are actually lots and lots of people out there scouring the world for books, desperate for books, in love with books.

And it's ridiculous I have to be reminded of this, because I am actually such a reader myself. I was, long before I wrote anything down, and remained, even after I began earning money as a published author. Readers are abundant, they love books, and they make this whole thing worthwhile.

Not surprisingly, some reviewers are also writers, or aspiring writers. Rather than see this as a bad thing, I see myself in them, especially the young girls who are busy devouring 8 books a week while also puttering away on their first novel. I was once in their shoes.

4. Reviewers need ereaders.
There were some reviewers whose blogs I loved, whose reviews were a delight to read, but whom I did not ask to review my book. Why? They didn't want an ebook version, only a print ARC.

I remember going through this with agents and email. Originally, I mailed all my queries. Agents wrote scathingly on their websites that authors had better not try to email them. Then, a few agents began to accept email queries. Naturally, I queried them first, but still wrote paper letters to the others. After a while, it became tiresome to write paper letters, when the more reasonable agents accepted email, and I procrastinated. Finally, long after this should have occurred to me, I realized I didn't even want an agent who couldn't figure out to use email, and I didn't care what their excuse for preferring paper was.

I could see myself about to go through the same thing with ARCs and reviewers. I understand that some reviewers haven't bought an ereader yet, some still prefer paper books, etc. But the fact is, if you are in this industry, and if you review, even as a hobby, you're in it at least by a toe, you owe it to yourself to move past paper. It's just dragging you down. It makes it more expensive to send an ARC, unnecessarily so.

I did note the names of reviewers I liked who had a "no ebook" policy. In a year, I'll check in on them again. I bet many of them will have changed that policy.

5. Reviewers have gone indie too.
A lot of reviewers state explicitly that they won't review self-published books. I'm going to restrain myself from injudicious comparisons to refusing to serve certain people at lunch counters because of the color of their skin rather than the content of their character, because that would unfairly trivialize a loathsome historical situation. I will say that I wish all people would judge books by the content of their character.

Here in the real world, though, some people still turn up their noses at small third party presses and indie books. The most obnoxious so-called fantasy/sf review site I saw actually listed the only publishers from whom it would accept books, and it wasn't a long list.

The publisher of Paeolo Bacigalupi's award winning The Windup Girl, Night Shade Books, was not on that list.

Dude. Whatever.

However, there's a most delicious irony lurking in all this, namely that reviwers themselves are independently published. Think about it. It used to be rather difficult to be a reviewer of any importance, to be anyone publishing houses would send ARCs. You had to have a journalism degree and a job at a newspaper or a magazine or some such, or perhaps a syndicated column. High school girls, and college students and stay at home moms and grandma librarians probably needn't have applied.

Now all you have to do is set up a blog -- self-publish. You don't need credentials, you just need cred, and you build that by providing content. Simple as that. Make it look professional, put the work in like a professional, and you will be treated as a professional, you'll have publishers sending you so many books you have to turn them away in droves. If you're lazy or inconsistant, that shows in the blog, in the number of followers and readers, and probably you won't be as overwhelmed with eager authors and publicists sending you books. Either way, it's all up to you. You can do a professional job without making it your professional job. You have the control.

I love living in a tech revolution that actually helps decentralize power rather than hoard it.


Jan 17, 2011

What is the Purpose of Social Media?

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All the writers I know struggle to balance time on twitter/facebook/blogging and time spent writing. Possibly, probably, other people have this problem too, but I dare say it's more extreme when you work for yourself. And ultimately, no matter whether a writer is a hobbiest or professional, has a contract with a big pub or is an indie, when it comes to writing, you work for yourself.

What purpose does all that social media stuff have anyway? I mean in the BIG picture? I came across an article advancing an interesting theory, and I'd like to share it with you.
Why do moose carry such enormous and metabolically expensive horns? Why do some gazelles jump up and down when they see a predator, wasting time and energy instead of running off as fast as they can? Zahavy's insight was that this wastefulness ensures the honesty of their signals of fitness and speed: Only animals with an excess of the signaled resource can afford to waste it on expensive communicative displays.

Similarly, observers have been puzzled or concerned by seemingly irrational behavior on SNSs. Users may spend considerable time updating their pages, adding new pictures and music; the comments they send each other are often in the form of jokes and images. Why spend so much time on seemingly inconsequential changes of imagery and uninformative communication? Deep concerns have also been raised about young people who create overly revealing profile pages, in which they appear in provocative photographs or recount illegal activities such as drug use or underage drinking. Warnings about the dangers of doing so have stopped some, but not all. Why would someone choose to post such material once he or she was aware of the negative consequences? Signaling theory can help explain such behavioral phenomena.

While an outsider might see as wasted the time expended on profile updates and exchanges of the latest pictures and URLs, another interpretation is that these seemingly trivial activities are examples of online fashion, signals of social position in an information based society (Donath, in press; McCracken, 1998; Thornton, 1996).

Fashions, the constant change in the way of doing something, are signals whose form—the currently popular object or saying—changes frequently, while the meaning—social position—remains the same. There are fashions in clothing, slang, and management techniques. Their individual instantiations are easily-copied conventional signals; it is the constant evolution of forms that creates the reliable signal. Fashion is about information, about knowing the changing social meaning of an object or way of doing things.
There is no doubt that books are judged by their covers. But these days, books are also judged by their authors' covers. This is what agents talk about when they want to know an author's platform. It's not just about connecting with potential readers, though that is there, certainly; it's about building trust with potential readers. This is critical to all writers, but perhaps even more so for indie writers, who lack other ways to build trust, such as relying on the brand name of a Big Six pulisher. 

A writer who can maintain a blog, facebook and twitter presence, and still find time to write, is demonstrating a huge commitment to their art. It's the equivilant of a peacock's tail. Only the healthiest cocks can afford to strut their stuff.

What about those of us who aren't quite so cocky? What about those of us who can barely find time to write, never mind spread a peacock's tail display across the internet?

I don't know. I am only posting once a week on this blog now. Although I'll be posting twice daily over at 500 Words, I still worry it's not enough. I'm not the world's greatest social mediaist. I just struggle to do the best I can, and hope that even in this strange world of e-posturing, those of us with feathers designed more for hiding behind bushes than winning beauty pagaents can still compete.

Jan 10, 2011

J.K. Rowling On Why It's Okay To Fail



Almost Three Good Things!

I have a guest blog post today on the Backspace Newsletter on the Four Stages of Chasing Markets. How much do you -- and should you -- shape your writing to fit what's trendy and popular?

I love reviews, especially glowing ones, and there's a new one up. You can read the short, professional version available on Amazon, but the really funny bits are only found in the longer version up on the blog Unlikely Explanations. (Which has the caveat posted: "Formerly "Laura's Bad Ideas". Please don't take anything you read here seriously.") Except of course, you should take her ideas seriously, because she liked my book. And yes, I do know her, and I can tell you that she's very smart, with excellent taste in literature, and her opinion means a lot to me.

That's two good things. I haven't complained about anything yet, though and I'm going to remedy that right away. Has anyone noticed that the new Blogger interface, while wonderful in so many ways, tends to add a lot of unneeded, unwanted html fluff to posts? I was noticing a lot of weird spacing issues and when I check the html, I see 14 lines instructing italics or something.   

Hm. That's not a completely bad thing, because I mostly like the new Blogger. Let's call it 2.7 good things. Yay!

Martha Stewart and Jeff Bezos on the Kindle

I'm going to blog more lightly here over the next few months, as I have two other blogs to tend, and some guest blog posts I still owe. Maybe I'll post every Monday, I'm still trying to decide. 

Meanwhile, here's Martha Stewart talking to Jeff Bezos about the kindle. I was going to put this on 500 Words, but I decided it made more sense here, since this blog is about writing and publishing and the other is really more aimed at connecting to readers.

UPDATE:

Might be nice if I actually included the video. Sheesh.



What's funny to me is how "well, duh" this already sounds to me, when it was "Wow, really?" such a short while ago. 

Jan 7, 2011

Up To My Neck In It, As Usual

I don't do it consciously, but that doesn't mean I don't do it on purpose.

I always overbook myself with work.

When I have too little to do,  actually do even less than little. When I have too much, even though I might come up short, at least I finish a few things. It's frustrating, but maybe it's meant to be. Without that slight buzz of worry at the back of your mind that you should be doing something, nothing would get done. In the long run, that wouldn't be very satisfactory.

Of course, I know people can overdo this. Type A personalities who are innately worried and obsessed to begin with need to learn to relax.

I am by nature pretty relaxed. So I need to push myself if I am to do more with my life than sitting on a beach looking pretty. (Did I ever mention I worked as a mermaid once? That's what it involved. Sitting on a beach looking pretty. Letting folks take their pictures with me and give me tips, which I spent at the used bookstore across the way. Oh, and flirting with hot guys. Good grief, why did I give up that job?!)

Anyhoo... I'm working on cover art today.

I also put The Unfinished Song: Initiate up for sale at $0.99! I don't know how long I'll leave it at that price, so if you've been meaning to buy it but haven't gotten around to it, now would be a good time.  :)

Oh, under the "dumb mistakes I made" category, I discovered that I entered the title on my kindle edition and print version of the book, so it's not clear from a search that they are the same book. It's obvious to a human, but not to Amazon's computers, I mean. Grrrrrr. Frustrating. I haven't figured out how to change it yet.

By the way, I'm going to start cutting back on the posts on this blog. I will only blog Mondays, and if I have a chance, maybe Fridays, just to share informal notes like this.

Also, when I get the chance, I'm going to prettify and update this blog and my cover-art blog. I really like how 500 Words looks and I may try to coordinate the three blogs better.

Jan 3, 2011

3 Things I'm Excited About In the New Year

It's a new year, and I've got so much planned!

First off...

My new blog is up, please check it out and consider Tweeting, Liking or Following it. If you're already a published author, send me an 500 word excerpt and I'll post it! If you a writer but not not published yet, send me a 500 word flash story and I'll post it. If you're an artist, send me some art, and I'll post that. If you're a musician... you guessed it, send me your song (preferred format is as part of a video) and I'll post it. I want to support all my creative friends, because you guys rock, and you are what makes the internet worth netting into.

I'm so pleased without how many artists and writers have already responded. This blog is going to be fun!

I've also been invited to blog for the new Fantasy Fiction Forum, which will be aimed more at readers than writers. I encourage all of you fantasy and horror fans to join us over there. These are a smart group of writers. They must be, right, because they asked me to blog with them!

Secondly...

Book 2 of The Unfinished Song is due in February. Meanwhile, I'm working hard to see that Initiate, Book One of The Unfinished Song, is available in more formats. I'm especially eager to launch it on the Nook. My husband has a color Nook and he is convinced it will be the salvation of Barnes and Noble.

Another thing I need to do, although I'm kinda chicken, is send my book out to Blurbers and Reviewers. I'm not sure what the difference is, except that Blurbers are already famous and they only need to say one or two lines about the book, not write a whole review. (Though it's not like I would object or anything.) They are the ones who provide quotes like,  "This is the most fantastic book I've read while sitting on the porcelain throne!" -- Author Famous that you later put on the front and back and inside cover of your book.

It's even more intimidating to ask for than an ordinary Review (which, frankly, I find intimidating enough) because there's such a big gulf in Importance between you, lowly newbie author, and Famous Author. Famous Author has lowly, noobs asking for blurbs all of the time, and it's really a drag.  Noob probably worships Famous Author, which potentially adds FFF (Freaky Fan Factor) to the mix. Multiple this by Fifty Fs if noob author is also self-published, and not quite sure how to explain/apologize/deny this to Famous Author.

That's a lot of ways to F up.

So that's on my list, but I haven't yet worked up the nerves to steel myself against the rejection and humiliation sure to ensue. However, if I can overcome my own shyness, and find the proper etiquette, it would be great to have some blurbs from authors I love.

Finally...

In addition to my writing, I have four book covers lined up to do. I'm excited about these, and have already started the initial stage, looking for images and thinking about design set-ups. I'll knock the best of these up into mock covers and send them to my clients soon. One of these covers, of course is for Notes from Underground. Yay! I will tell you about the others when I am further along, and can post them to my Cover Art blog.