Monday, July 23, 2012

The Self-Styled Reviewer

By Stella Atrium

In this age of self-published writers, we also have the self-styled reviewer.

Review opportunities are circulated for many products – Consumer Reports on cars, Angie’s List for home repairs, comparisons of cellphones or ereaders when deciding which to buy.

We also review work in many stages of development – plans for remodeling the house, a change of direction in the middle of travel, the first draft of a short story on Reddit, peer editing before marketing, focus groups to test how key phrases play in the public discourse.

For this blog, though, I want to look at the reviews from readers for self-published books. I have a friend who manages a blog and is seeking to become a reviewer of romance stories or chick lit or adventures for kids. She asked me what writers are looking for so she can build a fan base for her reviews.

I believe her instincts are good. Write a review that each audience can use – the writer, the reader, the publisher, the fellow reviewer, the client who may re-publish your review on a digest blog.

Here are some basics:

1)  Work in a genre you prefer – I met a fan of romance who read my fantasy novel and complained there weren’t enough fairies or kissing.

2)  Get the facts straight – What genre, length, style, and appeal?  By appeal I mean is the book targeted to the GLBT audience, or does the story include erotica? Mention who may want to avoid the book as well as who may find the read rewarding.

3)  Include a two-sentence overview of the story – pithy and descriptive. NO SPOILERS.

4)  Mention where this book resides in a series or in the arch of the writer’s career, if applicable. Relate the story to previous work, such as  “more geared to a younger audience”, or “scarier even than his last novel”.

5)  Act as a confidant to the reader. What will she like if you pass along the book to her? “Don’t read this story on Sunday because you’ll be up all night and miss work the next day.”

6)  Think about the ways the review is used later. Include a few shorter sentences that can be quoted by the writer, or by Amazon, or by a blog that re-publishes reviews.

What to avoid:

1)  Some reviewers embrace the need to be critical. Suggestions for improvement are fine, but avoid the “this is how I would do it” tone. Include sugar with the vinegar.

2)  Mention your qualifications, but don’t make the review about you. Your emotive responses are a good way to connect with the reader who looks to you for advice. Your ideas for where you met the writer once at a sci-fi convention belong in a profile article, not a review.

3)  It’s okay to show your smarts by comparing the story to Homer or JK Rowlings. However, don’t speak in that complaining voice. “It wasn’t what I expected,” or “it took too long to get started.” Nobody knows your expectations, or cares.

4)  Avoid a blow-by-blow analysis. Readers want to know if they should invest time and money, not how Part II opens in a different voice. A book review for your 8th grade teacher had to show that you read the whole book.  We aren’t in school anymore.

5)  It’s great to list what was irritating or inconvenient such as too many character names or sudden time changes. Personal attacks, however, don’t serve anybody. “I was looking forward to this book, but was so disappointed” can be damning to the writer, but also damages your ability to find the next writer willing to solicit a review.

6)  Remember that readers spend about 60 seconds on your review, so provide a strong opening and write sparingly. Edit the sentences for any ideas that don’t serve the theme or the constructive criticism.

You will know you have succeeded when readers become fans and when writers solicit you for a review of a new work.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The GoodReads giveaway has ended for July.  540 poeple requested a copy of fantasy novel SufferStone, and 382 people requested a copy of the sequel HeartStone.

Thanks for all who participated!

Watch this space for more opportunities to win a paperback copy of the first two novels in the Dolvia Saga.  And remember, Book III titled StrikeStone is due out in January 2013!

Visit my Good Reads page here.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Better Than "Used to Be" for Self-Publishers

by Stella Atrium

Last week a self-publisher complained to me that the lag-time between a GoodReads giveaway and posted fan reviews on Amazon was three weeks.  I turned away to hide my smirk.  I supposed it's true that we're so spoiled by the internet, we don't remember how it used to be. 

A decade ago I trusted a small publisher to produce a paperback fantasy novel I wrote. Turns out, he was really a printer masquerading as a publisher with no press release plan or distribution plan.  The weight fell on me to get the word out.

I did research and surfed the web for compatible sites and posted articles about writing and even a "glass bead game" that asked readers to buy the book.  This was before FaceBook in the days of listserv — remember listserv?

I attended sci-fi conventions and traveled to bookstores in the Chicagoland area and staged and attended author appearances.

I begged friends to lend support at my author appearance at the local and famous bookstore where the proprietor could boost my contacts inside the industry.  Except it rained cats-and-dogs that night and I felt sorry for the four friends who did make it to the event, late and drenched.

puzzleMy efforts went nowhere.  It used to be that a self-promoter expended time and treasure and never reached the intended audience. Listed are a few memories that are burned into my mind.

1)    Introvert at Tradeshow — Did you ever see a booth at a trade show inhabited by a painfully shy writer who spoke to three people the whole day?  I have.

2)    Author Appearance with No Fans — Did you ever see an author at Borders seated alone at a table with stacks of her books and a blank expression of defeat? I have.

3)    Retail Marketing to Bookstores — One writer told me he boosted sales by driving up the California coast visiting bookstores for a personal pitch to owners to place 4 books on the shelves of each stop. An E for effort, but the price of gasoline makes this adventure prohibitive — even if the retail stores are still there.  A hit-or-miss method at best.

4)    Book Signings at Conventions — Writers hate this duty and function like turtles out of the shell. I count Kurt Vonnegut and Robert Jordan in this number. Writers often drink to get past the dread, so they function like hungover shell-less turtles at the morning signing, drinking copious amount of water.bags

5)    Regional Conventions — Did you ever attend a regional convention where you negotiated a giveaway of your book as part of the "fan appreciation" bag, only to discover the 80 attendees preferred stories about zombies and were really there to get laid?  I have.

6)    Listings on Industry Websites — These were accomplished using a form with no personal contact and no acceptance of connected blogs or Amazon listings.  Some of these still hover online, static and aging and misleading. convention

7)    Fan Websites — These genre lovers accepted articles and shameless self-promotion to boost traffic by adding your fans.  Except your fans and hers together came to five, including your mother.

8)    Getting into the Pipeline — Used to be... All promotion was accomplished with paperbacks, so each event included shipping a case of forty books to the hotel that hosted the convention, and then shipping them home again. 

9)    Managing Remainders — Did you ever work with a printer who wanted to be certain the check cleared before he shipped the books, even at 40% off?  Did this same printer dump remainders on the market so they hung around for three years at $1.89 sold by resellers on Amazon?  I have. 

10)     Tardy Reviews -- Did you ever find a complimentary review of your novel three years later by a respected reviewer on LibraryThing who must have picked up a remainder book?  Guess what...  that happened to me too!computer

So don't bring your complaints here that GoodReads or Twitter or LibraryThing aren't working for you.  Industry connections today are accomplished without shipping cases of books to neighboring states, and without leaving the house. 

Spoiled, spoiled, spoiled.