Archive for the ‘Indie Love’ Category

Every day approximately seven zillion squillion books are self published. And the world takes absolutely no notice, assuming they are all rubbish. No doubt some of them are. Others, while not rubbish, are likely flawed. But there are also perfectly decent books which are self published.

Why are they self published if they’re so good? There can be a variety of reasons. A publisher invests a deal of time and money into every title they publish. They have their own agendas and criteria to meet, and simply being ‘good’ isn’t necessarily enough. Maybe it’s good, but they can’t see a large market. Maybe it’s good, but similar to titles they already produce. Maybe it’s good, but currently unfashionable. Maybe it’s good – really good – but just not quite as good as those other ten titles that they have decided to publish.

Some authors claim they self publish by choice; they retain control over every stage of the process, and reap far greater profits. Personally I find this doubtful. Sure, you make a greater profit on each sale – but only if people are buying your book. 70% of nothing is still nothing.

The self published author’s greatest challenges are visibility and credibility. No one knows or cares about their book. The only people they can persuade to read it are likely to be friends and family (certainly early on in the process). They would love for a real, objective reviewer to read and blog about it, but without some initial credibility there is little reason for such a person to take a chance on it.

This is where you can help. Those handful of reviews the book manages to garner in its early months are vital. The bottom line is that the more reviews a book receives the greater its credibility. Unquestionably.

But not all reviews are equal. While any review is better than none (yes, even a one star review), there are things you can do which make your review really valuable to the author, and things which make it … less so.

You have the best intentions. You want to help out the author; you certainly don’t want to upset or offend them. So you go write them that review. Here are the top three pitfalls to avoid.

1) Five Stars

range of reviews

Range of reviews on Amazon for The Golem and Djinni by Helene Wecker

You may think the greatest favour you can do the author is to award the book five stars (assuming five is the maximum on whatever platform you are reviewing). Unfortunately nothing screams ‘Self published author with only friends for reviewers’ like a very small number of reviews all awarding five stars.

That is not the natural pattern of reviewing. Go check out any mainstream, popular book. It will have 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 star reviews. It will have a range, maybe a bell curve, with most of the reviews clustering around four or five stars. Even a work of renowned genius does not garner uniformly five star reviews. It doesn’t garner uniform reviews at all. People have different opinions about it, and they don’t all think they’d better give it the same number of stars as the last person, so that they don’t look stingy.

Keep it realistic. Honestly.

2) I don’t usually read this genre…

‘I don’t normally read sci-fi/children’s books/romances, but this had me captivated from the beginning.’ You might think you’re saying, ‘Read this! It’s brilliant! Even if you think you don’t like the genre. Honest. It’s fantastic.’ But what you’re actually saying is, ‘The only reason I read this book is because the author is a friend, and asked me to.’

3) Boris has done a fantastic job

So the author is your brother, your old school pal, your work colleague. Maybe you don’t know anyone else who’s written a book. It’s pretty cool, right? Referring to the author by their first name subtley lets the world know that you personally know them. You, by association, are pretty cool too.

Or not. Again, what you are really saying is, ‘I only read this book because I know the author.’ It might be true, but it damages their credibility.

Similarly, if you happen to have the same surname as the author, maybe this is the one circumstance where ‘any review at all’ is NOT better than none :-S

If you can avoid those three pitfalls then your review could really help your author pal. So that’s what not to do. But what should you do?

Be honest

I know you don’t want to offend Boris, and really he has done awfully well, and you’re proud of him, but that bit in the middle with the elephant and the volcano didn’t entirely make sense, did it? The plot got a bit confusing around the time the mermen turned up through the oceanic rift, and come to think of it, the comedy sidekick otter was actually a bit irritating.

It’s okay to say that. I know you don’t believe me, so I’m going to say it again:

It’s okay to criticise your friend’s book!

Say that it’s interesting, say that it’s funny, say that you enjoyed it* – just don’t be afraid to also say, “But…” And don’t be afraid to deduct stars accordingly. Your author pal will thank you in the long run. Hopefully, if they have a bit of realism about their situation, they will thank you immediately.

Your friend has most likely spent years writing their book. They’ve put off social events, missed playing with the kids, maybe they’ve taken time off work, with the accompanying loss in earnings. They are serious about writing books and making a success of it. Patting them on the head and saying, ‘well done, that’s brilliant’ doesn’t help them. If there are areas they need to improve on then tell them. They want to get it right. They want to improve. But if no one tells them where they’re going wrong, how will they ever get better? Meanwhile, they are sitting scratching their heads, thinking, ‘if my book is so damn fantastic, how come I’ve only sold 20 copies..?’

In conclusion, you can help your author pal with their two main problems of visibility and credibility. You help with their visibility simply by writing any review at all. You can help with their credibility by reviewing their book as though it was written by someone you don’t know; by being honest, by pointing out flaws.

With a small range of honest reviews their book stands a far greater chance of being taken seriously by other readers and reviewers than if it only has a handful of glowing, five star reviews.

On behalf of all self publishing authors, thank you for taking the time to read this – and for every review you write for self published authors. It really does help.

Other authors, do you agree with this article? What would you add to the list of review pitfalls?

* assuming those things are true.

Today I am very pleased to recieve a couple of signed books from the delightful Krista D Ball.

Alongside her novels, Krista also researches and compiles authors guides. What Kings Ate and Wizards Drank is an entertaining and informative look at how food works (or should work!) in fantasy novels. Drawing on historical sources, as well as some enthusiastic home experimentation, Krista presents a lively guide to all things mead, ale and roast boar related.

signed books from Krista D Ball

signed books from Krista D Ball

A month or so ago I won a competition to supply Krista with an interesting food related fact. Having watched many series of QI, I had no difficulty in recalling that an allergy to Brazil nuts can be triggered by sexual contact with someone who has eaten them; it is the only food allergy which can be triggered in quite this way.

I was not the only entrant to explore the strangeness of Brazil nuts, but was fortunate to be chosen the winner. For this I received not only a signed copy of What Kings Ate and Wizards Drank, but also Krista’s new writers’ guide: Hustlers, Harlots and Heroes, a Regency and Steampunk field guide.

Huzzah! I look forward very much to reading it. Thank you, Krista 😀

You can visit Krista’s blog here.
You can buy What Kings Ate and Wizards Drank here, and Hustlers, Harlots and Heroes here.

I’ve been at this self publishing lark over 18 months now, and let me tell you, it is a hard slog. The greatest obstacle to overcome is the anonymity/indifference double-whammy. It often seems that no one wants to take a chance on an unknown author’s first book. Maybe you can’t blame them. Reading time is precious, and you don’t want to waste it on a stinker. But it’s a bit of a catch 22 if no one will read you cuz you have hardly any reviews, but no one will review you cuz… no one will read you :-S

With that in mind, I have decided to share a bit of Indie Love in the hope that it will help out those like me who are struggling to make a name for themselves. I don’t have half as much time as I’d like for reading, and consequently I am very picky. I haven’t read and loved that many self-published books, but from now on I’m going to share with you those I have.

Dear Bob and Sue, by Matt and Karen Smith

Dear Bob and Sue by Matt and Karen Smith

Dear Bob and Sue, by Matt and Karen Smith

In Dear Bob and Sue the authors, a 50-ish married couple from Seattle, decide to take a year off and visit every national park in America. The book takes the form of a series of emails from them to their titular friends back home. It is a delightfully simple concept, and works very well. The casual tone is fresh and involving. The warm, honest portrayal of their marriage is as entertaining as the anecdotes about the parks they visit.

It is an unassuming book, with many recognisable situations and laugh out loud moments. By the end I felt that I knew Karen and Matt quite well. Matt, the humorous grump (a male archetype I am quite familiar with!) constantly grumbling about… well, essentially other people living on the same planet as him. He also displays a nice sense of irony and a flair for the absurd (I particularly enjoyed him naming nuts in the style of Best in Show‘s Harlan Pepper, “Pea-nut, hazel nut, cashew nut, macadamia nut, pine nut, wal-nut, pistachio nut, red pistachio nut…” to Karen’s mortification.)

Karen frequently pretends not to know him, and has a steely determination of her own,

The ranger replied to Karen slowly, as if talking to a ten year old, “You need to remember that it will take two to three times longer to hike back up than it will to hike down.” Karen decided right then we would do the six mile hike in two hours, or die trying.

Bison in Yellowstone National Park

Up close and personal with a huge bison in Yellowstone National Park (no, I wasn’t using a zoom!)

The book serves as a great taster for America’s many and diverse national parks. They describe hikes, recommend restaurants and tours – and sometimes cocktails.

I had the good fortune in 2011 to visit Yellowstone and Glacier. Both were wonderful, and I’d love to get back to America to visit more of their wilderness areas. Thanks to Karen and Matt I now have a few locations ear-marked.

Dear Bob and Sue is a travelogue and a warmly humorous portrait of a marriage. It is not the kind of book you devour in one sitting, but is very enjoyable to dip in and out of. I thoroughly recommend it.

You can learn more about Karen’s terror of squirrels and Matt’s hatred of caves on amazon, facebook, and dearbobandsue.com.

*****

Please note, I am not looking for manuscripts to be submitted to me for review. As stated above, I don’t have as much reading time as I’d like, and am very particular about what I read. This is just an occasional feature I will do when the mood strikes me.