Saturday, October 31, 2015

So You Want to Write a Book Review

keys, padlocksAsk 100 independent authors the key to success (other than being able to actually write worth a darn) as an author, and I would be willing to bet that more than 90 of them will give the same answer: reviews. Positive, plentiful, relatively well-thought-out reviews. There's simple math involved when it comes to sites like Amazon. You need a minimum of reviews before your book starts appearing in the customers-also-bought section.

But it's not just that. We need numbers, but we need numbers when it comes to stars also. And no, they don't all have to be 5 stars. An occasional low rating shows the reviews aren't rigged. Not that I'm encouraging you to give me a 1-star review, but you never have to feel like you need to inflate the score because you either know or know of the author. Score the book the way you feel it should be scored.

book, reading, pages, handsAnd the third thing we need as authors is for the reviews to be useful. Not that I would ever say no to someone who writes a brief, "I loved this book because I did" 5-star review. I will take those all day. But the kind of review that really gets other people to take a chance on buying a book is the one that gives them a reason to believe it will be worth their time and money. The problem, though, is that a lot of people are intimidated by writing reviews because they just don't know what to say. So for those folks, here's a list from author Luisa Playa of things to consider including when you write your review. I adapted these from a website called Booktrust. Click the name to go to the original post.

  1. Give a one- or two-sentence summary of the book, being careful not to include any spoilers. If the book is part of series, this would be a good place to mention it. And you should also, as best as you can, tell the genre of the book.
  2. Tell what you particularly liked about the book, such as plot, characters, writing style,  dialogue--whatever you enjoyed.
  3. Tell what you didn't like too. You should be honest. If you found a character or situation shallow or implausible, say that. No book is perfect and folks don't usually find reviews that claim one is to be believable.
  4. Wrap up with a general comment about what you liked and didn't like. This would also be a time to talk about what other books, types of books, or authors this book reminds you of, such as, "If you like the writing of Robert B. Parker, then you will enjoy this book."
  5. Finally, if you're on Amazon or Goodreads, decide how many stars you think it deserves.
girl, sad, crying, raining, rain drops, window, people, womanOne other comment on reviews. As with anything, please be kind and reasonable. Even if you didn't like the book, you don't have to be mean in how you talk about it. Remember--someone probably worked hard for a long time to write it and, while it may be bad, that doesn't mean you have to try to make that person cry. Along that line, review the book on its own merits, not based on any extraneous issue. I got two 1-star reviews for books since I started publishing books. One was puzzling in that the description seemed to be positive, but the reviewer didn't rate it accordingly (I still suspect that the rating was accidental). The other, though, said that he or she couldn't read the book due to file issues and, rather than simply contacting me about the problem so I could fix it, the person gave it one star without any idea of the quality of the writing.

So I hope you find that helpful and, more than that, I hope that if you've read and enjoyed one of my books but have never written a review, that you'll seriously consider it. It really is the greatest gift you can give an independent author.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

WV Book Festival

My booth on the first day
For those who are regular followers of my blog, you know this entry is a day later than usual. That's because I was at the WV Book festival this weekend and wanted to wait until it was over to write about it. Well, that and I was really busy, but mainly the first thing. I could summarize the whole event by saying that I definitely plan to go again next year.

I went in, to be honest, with extremely low expectations. The last two events I attended where there were many authors there, I sold next to no books. In point of fact, I sold exactly one at each--and one was basically an exchange with the writer at the next table. So I figured this would be a similar experience, but I wanted to go anyway in the hopes that I would add some names to my mailing list and get my face and name known a little around the state.

The amazing sign that Charlie Gesell made for me. I got
several positive comments about it.
Well, I got that and more. I actually sold several books--at least compared to the other events. I added sixteen names to my mailing list and I met some amazingly nice people. The folks in the next booth, Devin and Sue Thompson (Sue writes historical romance and Devin provides, in his words "logistical assistance"), were helpful and generous and just plain nice. They were my first sale! Additionally, I shared my booth for part of the day on Saturday with a man named Mark DeBryan, who (beyond the fact that he forced me to take money for sharing my booth) gave me some amazing pointers and ideas for increasing my sales. And he was a nice guy to boot.

As an added bonus, I got to see some old friends. I ran into some treasured former students and even some current ones. I also said hello to some authors and writing business folks I've gotten to know over the last several months since I started travelling with my books.

There were tons of activities going on beyond just the booths.
There were several big-name authors giving talks, workshops,
and even a children's area. This is the fairy tale parade. They
were moving pretty fast, so this is the best picture I got.
It was quite a positive, productive weekend. I got ideas for improving several aspects of my business and I spent time with nice folks. I'd like to thank the Kanawha County Public Library and all the people who took countless hours putting this event together. I can't think of a single thing I would change, except maybe letting the authors park for free, but that was a Civic Center thing, so it doesn't even count.

So, next year, when this comes around again, you can be sure you'll see me there--hopefully with another book or two for sale.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

My Writing Process: How It's Changed

When I first started writing seriously, I thought I knew what I was doing. I wrote and revised Harsh Prey, for the most part, in one sweep. Writing sessions consisted of editing (and by editing, I mostly mean proofreading, though I did make minor revisions occasionally) and then writing new stuff. I had a few folks beta read it and did one last quick sweep before rushing it to publication. If only I knew then what I know now. I made so many mistakes.

When I go back and read that first book, it's almost painful at times. Yes, I've gone back and fixed several just plain errors, so if you have a newer version of it, it's a pretty clean read. It's that the writing is just okay. I know that this is partly because it was my first book and I've grown and matured as a writer so that later books will inevitably be better than that one. But it's more than that. If I could start again, I would do it differently. I would do it more like I do things now, such as:
  • Remember the rule I harp at my kids about, which is based on Mark Twain's immortal words: "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug." ( I'm in the midst of my third revision of the novella I'm going to be publishing next month and at this point my main focus is to go through making sure each word is the EXACT RIGHT word to convey the message I want. Is it completely accurate? Is it too strong? Too weak? Does it perfectly fit the character? The situation? So many questions I barely thought about with my first book.

    writing, working, notepad, pen, business, desk, office
  • Editing is way more than proofreading. Again, I tell my students this constantly, and yet I didn't seem to take my own advice. It's much larger than simply making sure all the words are spelled right and all the commas and periods and stuff are in the right place. It's closely examining how every word and sentence and paragraph and character and event fits within all the other words and sentences and paragraphs and characters and events. It's making sure to give out enough information at the right times and thinking about when it's better to just omit something and leave it to the imagination of the reader. It's paying attention to the arc of the story so that every little detail comes at exactly the right time. It's going back and rewriting page two so that the little thing that happens on page fifty has more emotional impact.

    turtle, shell, animal, rocks, water
  • There's no hurry. I have no intention of being George R. R. Martin slow, but cranking out a book every few months is, for one, not feasible while holding down a full-time job and, for two, not conducive to creating good stuff. And after all, I can publish all the books in the world, but if they're crappy then I've wasted my time and am not going to make any sales. After all, the ultimate goal here is to someday (I hope soon) to make a living doing this. So maybe two a year, or even one a year with a novella thrown in will be a more reasonable schedule. The point is, I'm not going to set artificial deadlines on myself. Each book will be ready when it's ready and only then will I think about publication. I think that will improve my ability to properly market books too.
I'm sure there are other things I do differently now, but that's enough for one entry. Before I end, though, I want to let you know about a giveaway. I'm giving away three signed copies of In The Shadow via Goodreads. If you want to be in on it, just click the button on the right and follow the directions. Winners will be chosen on November 30, with the books arriving in your mailbox shortly after.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

My Book Trailer

I teach and write--those are my jobs. But I like playing with technology too. Specifically, I enjoy using technology to tell stories. So I set out to make a trailer for my first two books. I feel like it turned out decently well, so I tried again with In The Shadow. So rather than write a bunch of words in my blog today, I decided to share my trailer. Let me know what you think.

I'm the author of The Shalan Adventures, of which In The Shadow is the third. If you want to learn more about them or me, you can go to my website. Or, if you're interested in purchasing my books for your Kindle, go to my Amazon page. If you're interested in ordering paperbacks, please consider using the links below:
Order Here
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Saturday, October 3, 2015

IN THE SHADOW is here!

Charlie Gesell's amazing cover!
I hope you aren't getting sick of hearing about this because I'm not sick of writing about it. Fair warning: I probably won't be for a few weeks--or months! It's partly because this is a new book and the excitement of launching a new story out into the world and seeing how everyone likes it is thrilling. But it's also partly that I just feel really good about this book. I feel like I've come a long way as a writer since Harsh Prey. Not to say that wasn't a good book, but, as with any skill, thoe more you practice, the better you get. And also, I just really feel good about the new character of Jenn Bezaleel. I think she's going to add a dimension and layer to the storyline that just wasn't there before. I hope you agree.

So, in case you haven't picked up a copy yet, here are the four ways you can get one:

The back cover

If you want to order a paperback online, there are two choices. Either one will cost you approximately the same, but the first is the one I prefer you use for a very simple reason: economics. If you use Createspace, you're buying directly from the printer, which means I get a bigger slice of the pie. If you are used to Amazon or just don't want another account, then that works too. If your preference is an ebook, then Amazon is the place to go too. The link above takes you to the page that allows you to choose either format. You'll eventually be able to get them at the other online retailers, though that's not true quite yet. It takes a few days for that stuff to cycle out.

The author

The third way is to go to J & M's Used Books on Blizzard Drive in south Parkersburg. They always carry my books and will be glad to sell this, as well as the other two, to you at the same price. It's easy to find. As you're going up Blizzard toward South High School (from the KMart end), it's in the little plaza on the left, beside the antique store.

The fourth way is the most fun for me and that is to walk up to me and hand me $10 in exchange for a book. That's more fun for you too because you don't have to pay shipping for the handing-over process. Plus, we get to actually talk to each other and I can sign your book for you. There's no link to click and not account to set up. It's just money-book-sign-smile-talk-laugh-bye! Of course, you can have me sign it if you buy the paperback online or from J & M's too, but in that case, you bring the book and hand it to me. I don't hand you money. That would be counterproductive. If you don't see me regularly, then mark October 17 on your calendar. I will be doing a reading and/or signing somewhere in the greater Mid-Ohio Valley area sometime that day. I promise I'll give you more information than that soon.

And once you finish this one, it's just another month or so before more Shalan fun appears in your inbox (assuming you're on my mailing list) with the prequel novella, "Harry and the Redheaded Angel."  It's the perfect way to usher in the holiday season. And speaking of holidays, have you thought about how all three parts of the Shalan trilogy would make an amazing Christmas present? I hope you'll consider it.