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We Know What We Like

I never wanted to be a blogger. I don’t want to be one now, which may seem like an odd way to begin a blog post, but it is true nonetheless. It’s not that I object to sharing my opinions. Obviously, I don’t. I’m a writer. Most people, with a little encouragement, will tell you what they think, or what they believe, which is a different thing entirely. The first is based on rational connections and can be explained; the latter is based mostly on feeling and is far more personal.

So why am I blogging? Well, because it’s something novelists have to do now. They need a ‘platform,’ which includes a media presence, a large part of which is a blog. My problem with the whole blogging thing is that I prefer to spend my time writing novels rather than blog posts about what I think or feel about one thing or another.

Some bloggers write about their lives. Mine wouldn’t make a very interesting story. I was born at a very young age, survived several years of mediocre schooling without any serious emotional or intellectual impairment, worked a few tedious jobs until I managed to escape to what, at a distance, appeared to be somewhat less tedious jobs, got married (twice), raised some wonderful kids… The same things many people in the Western world do. Now, I write novels, and despite what you may think, this does not consist of dashing off a few brilliantly creative words in the morning and having the rest of the day free. Mostly, it involves sitting in front of a keyboard until an idea hits you hard enough for you to notice. This can often take quite some time, ranging from minutes to weeks. Eventually, this idea becomes a jumble of words on your computer screen, which later need to be extensively reorganized, revised, and rewritten.

Some bloggers write about things they’ve discovered. Computer geeks (for whom I have the utmost respect) especially do this. Information in blogs like these can be very helpful, and if I find out something I think might be useful to someone, I’ll share it. Normally when I learn something, it’s because I found the information on line or in a book, though, and you would be better off finding it there, too.

Other bloggers share their opinions. I’m loaded with those. Like most people, I have opinions on all the subjects people normally feel they are inherently entitled to have opinions about, such as politics, religion, music, the future of mankind, and what makes for a good breakfast. Also like most, I don’t really know enough about these things to justify my opinion in any purely rational sense. My opinion, like everyone’s, is based on incomplete knowledge and understanding. It’s probably also subconsciously influenced by mostly forgotten and seemingly unrelated personal experiences, and there may be some genetic factors as well. The point is that my opinions are just MY opinions. They are the conclusions I jumped to using the incomplete knowledge at my disposal. If I’m sane, (a debatable point I won’t dwell on here) my opinions are consistent with what I know, but they rely just as much on things I do not and probably cannot know, which means I could be wrong.

Possibly the only thing we all know for absolutely sure is what we like, although we often only realize this after the fact. We may not know beforehand. Not for sure. Whether it’s a movie, or a book, or an idea, or a tasty treat, we discover we like it after we’ve tried it. Likes are opinions but without any implications. When someone says, “It’s my opinion that the Earth is flat,” it implies that it should be your opinion, too, or at least that they have some good reasons for it. When someone says, “I like the idea of a flat Earth,” it implies several things, but not that it should also appeal to you, unless it’s your boss or someone like that and it is said suggestively.

Because of this, my blog posts tend to be short reviews of the books I’ve just read, and what these say, for the most part, is what I especially liked about the book. If I didn’t like the book at all, chances are I didn’t finish it, and I don’t review those.

Now, what I like in a book may not be what you like. Most people agree on a few things such as spelling, grammar, and punctuation, but even these are not absolute, and they certainly are not sufficient. A book can be technically correct in all these regards and still be a stinker. On the other hand, a great book can include nonstandard spelling, punctuation, and grammar and be quite wonderful. Dr. Seuss comes to mind in this regard, although in his case, it’s intentional, and few novels I’ve read adhere strictly to the Chicago Manual of Style. Still, whatever objective criteria you choose to name, coherent plot, realistic dialog, author intrusion on the narrative, or believable characters, you can find books you enjoy that fail these tests in one way or another.

When you read books published only a few decades ago, you see things that would probably make them unacceptable to traditional publishers today. Would one take a chance on something as quirky and rambling as Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy if it were submitted today? It’s one of my favorite books. Would they say Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings starts too slow, or is too long, or too wordy, and has too much backstory? Few of the books written earlier than this would stand much of a chance. I doubt anything by Charles Dickens, for example, would get into print now, although to be fair, writers in the middle of the Nineteenth Century had more words and many more commas available to them than modern ones have. Although these older books may not meet current fictional norms, they are still great books, and a book written today that does not match contemporary expectations does not mean I, or you, won’t like it. It just means it’s out of the ordinary, which could be a very good thing.

So, if you’ve landed on my blog intentionally or by chance, let me just say that if you see one of my posts and it says I like something, it just means I like it. It doesn’t mean that I think you should like it. It does not imply that it meets any objective standard or that it will have wide appeal. I’ll normally say why I like something, whether it’s a book, or an idea, or something else. If I notice things about the subject that others may not like, I’ll mention them and say why I do or do not consider them flaws. This is really all I can do with any confidence. You many not share my opinions, beliefs, or tastes. I don’t know what appeals to you. All I really know is what I like, and knowing what we personally like may be all any of us can know for sure.

On Paid Book Reviews

About a month ago, a friend and former coworker emailed this Salon article link, The Dreaded Amazon Breast Curve, to the members of our informal discussion and self-assigned world problem-solving group. Despite the article’s strange title, it is about authors, specifically independent authors, paying for reviews of their books.

The Salon story begins like this, “The fact that many authors pay services to write positive Amazon reader reviews of their books…

Wait a minute! That’s not a fact! That’s the opposite of fact. It’s a fabrication, exaggeration, misinformation, politics, spin, a lie! It’s also not true. As it’s authority for this slanderous statement, the Salon article sites a report from the New York Times, The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy.

At the time, I told my friends that the examples provided in these articles must be exceptions. Very few self-published authors would stoop to buying good reviews. For one thing, it costs money, and that’s something most indie authors have in short supply. Another thing is that it’s dishonest. As someone who should know, I confidently informed our little group that the generalizations and extrapolations made by these articles were simply unsound. The idea of authors buying good reviews seemed so ridiculous to me, I thought little more about it…

…Until, this morning. I was driving one of my kids to school, when I heard this report on the radio — Five Ways to Spot a Fake Online Review (from NPR). Now this report specifically focused on restaurant reviews, but it began by talking about authors buying or posting fake book reviews.

I don’t know about restaurants, but obviously rumors about how widespread the practice of buying misleading book reviews is continues. I still don’t believe it is common. In fact, I believe it’s relatively rare. I’m a self-published author. I sometimes stop by forums and read blogs by other authors, and the consensus about this seems to be that the idea of buying positive reviews is repulsive.

I have never and I will never pay someone to review my books. Asking for reviews is fine. Providing an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) or a promotional copy of a book to a potential reviewer is fine. But this is the only form of payment I think an author (or publisher) should ever offer, and promotional book copies must be given without any guarantee that a review — good, bad, or indifferent is forthcoming.

I probably read (or reread) about one-hundred novels a year. Most come from the public library, others I purchase, and I sometimes grab a free Kindle book during giveaways on Amazon when they sound like something I would like. I’ve reviewed several from all three sources. Normally, I post my reviews on this blog, on Amazon, and on Goodreads. Where I got the book has no impact on the likelihood of me writing a review. I have never and I will never accept money from an author to review one of his or her books. It would be inappropriate.

I believe there is a place for professional reviews and professional reviewers. I have no problem with reviewers being paid for unbiased reviews if they are employed by a magazine, newspaper, or similar media outlet, provided that the funding does not come from the authors, publishers, or anyone else with a financial interest in the books being reviewed.

I understand how hard it is for self-published authors to be noticed. I know this painfully well because I’m still struggling with it. So what, you might ask, is wrong with an unknown author paying for an honest review? How else will a new writer get attention?

Second question first — There are many, well, at least a few dozen websites that will consider reviewing books by self-published authors. Some only review indie books, and they do this impartially and without cost or any expectation of return favors. Some do it simply because they like reading and reviewing stuff they might not otherwise see. Search the web. You’ll find them.

First question second — The main reason authors should not pay for reviews is a matter of perception. It’s a matter of how the general book-buying public will perceive what is happening. We are not talking about paying someone to give you, as the author, an honest assessment of your book. We are talking about the author paying someone to tell the world how good his book is. Do you see the difference? Can you honestly not see why this might provide an impression of bias?

Authors live and die by reviews, especially independent authors. Traditional publishers don’t promote most of their authors as much as they once did perhaps, but one thing they do provide, by the very nature of being professional publishers, is a stamp of approval. A traditional publisher’s mark on a book tells readers that someone, other than the author and perhaps a few of his closest friends and family members, thinks his books are worth reading.

Chances are an indie author doesn’t have an agent, promoter, publisher, or anyone else helping him spread the news about his books. He needs his readers to help him do that, and one of the best ways his readers can help is by writing reviews. When the legitimacy of those reviews is called into question, what is left to show the world that someone thinks an indie author’s books are worth reading? Pretty much the author’s word for it, and no one expects him to be unbiased.

This is why reviews are so very important to indie writers. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say they are precious to them, and I believe this is why most indie authors are appalled at the idea of purchasing biased reviews. Doing so undermines the best way we have to build a reputation with readers.

I personally see the purchase of biased reviews as unethical, inconsiderate, and selfish. It’s also likely to backfire on the writer. Once it is discovered that he has paid for reviews, (or loaded Amazon with biased reviews he himself has written under bogus names) his work will be tainted. No matter how good it might be, the reviews will be discounted, even the honest ones from regular readers. If that taint fell only on the guilty, it would be poetic justice. But it is not that well targeted. It stains all of us.

Related Posts:


A list of indie book reviewers

Last week I posted about the importance of book reviews and I promised to provide a list. After data mining the internet, I found 87 sites that review indie books. The list of those is provided below. I have not queried all of these. Some are not applicable to my genre. Some are closed for new submissions, and others I simply have not had time to contact yet. Since I had the data, though, I’m sharing it because others may find it helpful.

One thing to keep in mind when contacting prospective reviewers is to be mindful of their submission requirements. If they only review Romance, don’t ask them to review your Fantasy novel. If they want a synopsis, provide it. If they want the first three chapters, send them. There is no “standard” format. Each review site will have different requirements. These reviewers are doing indie writers a favor, and we need to be courteous by not clogging up their email with things their submission guidelines say they are not interested in seeing.

Good luck to all my fellow indies. I hope you find this list helpful.

Since it does not show well in the HTML below, it is attached here as an Excel spreadsheet: ReviewSites

Review Site Site URL e-Book? Genres
3 R’s Reading Den N Most – see guidelines
A. F. Stewart’s Blog Y ePub Fantasy, Paranormal, Science Fiction, Poetry, Mysteries, Historical Fiction, Historical Non-Fiction and other Non-Fiction.
Adarna SF Y Science fiction, speculative fiction, fantasy, horror, pulp etc.
Bab’s Book Bistro Y Mysteries, Cozy Mysteries, Thrillers, Western romance, Romance, Historical Romance, Some erotica, Suspense, Some dramas, Children’s books
Big Al’s Books and Pals (currently NOT accepting unsolicited review submissions – March 2012) Y All
Bonnie Humbarger Lamer – Author and Review Page Y Paranormal, Urban Fantasy, Political satire, Humorous fiction, Chicklit, romance
Book Vacations (Not taking new submissions – March 2012) Y All
Book’d Out Y All
Booked Up Y All
BookedinChico Y Literary fiction and world literature
Bookhound’s Den (NOT accepting books for review at this time – March 2012) Y Horror, crime, noir, suspense, mystery, and thrillers
Books are Better Y Fantasy, Steampunk and Post-Apocalyptic
Books for Company Y Fantasy, YA, Dystopia
Books Like Breathing Y Romance, YA, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction
Books on The Knob Y Fantasy, SF, mystery and suspense. Check guidelines.
Bored Books Y All but prefers Paranormal YA
Breakout Books Reviews (not taking new submissions – March 2012) Y All
Butterfly-o-meter (Submissions closed. Last checked 20 March 2012) Yes Closed for submissions
Can’t put it down Y Horror, Mystery, paranormal, YA, thrillers, fantasy, crime, detective. No erotica, prefer e-books
Clover Hill Book Reviews (not taking new submissions – March 2012)… N All
CS fantasy reviews Fantasy, speculative fiction
Cup of Tea Reviews (Not accepting requests -Last checked 20 March 2012) Y All, except novels with overly religious tone, won’t review erotica or any adult novels. Only review ebooks with PDF format.
Daily Ebook Reviews Y Science fiction, horror, fantasy, and thrillers – though we will consider all types of fiction.
Dark Readers Y (but paper preferred) romance, supernatural/paranormal, fantasy, adventure, mystery and thriller
Dark Side of the Covers Y Steampunk, Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Romance, Speculative Fiction
Dear Author Y Romance
Demon Lovers Books & More ? historical romance, contemporary romance, erotic romance, crime/mystery, fantasy/sci-fi and young adult paranormal
Ebook Reviews by Elizabeth Swigar Stephen Y All – especially historical fiction
Enter The Portal Y SF & Fantasy
Everything to do with books http://everythingtodowithbooks.blogspot…. Y All but no pure romances, Westerns, and erotica.
Fantasy Book Critic Y Fantasy, Science Fiction, Horror, YA/Children
Five Alarm Book Reviews N Limited – see guidelines
Flying with Red Haircrow Y SFF mostly – see site
Forbidden Passions http://forbiddenpassionsreviews.blogspot… Y Fantasy, YA paranormal, excluding Christian, Self Help.
Got Fiction? YA and Contemporary Romance
I Heart Reading Y Paranormal romance, fantasy or historical fiction. Check guidelines.
Indie Book Blog Y Mainly SF/F but all except Romance or Erotica
Indie Book Podcast Y All
Indie Corner Y steampunk, paranormal romance, urban fantasy, fantasy, dystopian, chick lit, mysteries and suspense
Indie Paranormal Book Reviews http://indieparanormalbooksreviews.blogs… Y Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy
IndieReader Y All indie
Kate Policani Y All except Horror, Erotica, Manuals
Kindle Book Review Y All
KindleObsessed Y All
Letters Inside Out Y YA
Livin’ Life Through Books Y Young Adult (No Fantasy)
Marie Violante Y fantasy, horror, science fiction, and magical realism
Milo’s Rambles Y Crime, Thrillers, Suspense, Mysteries, Historical Fiction, Historical Crime, Humor, Sport, Memoirs and Biographies
MotherLode Y All
Night Owl Reviews Y All
Novel Opinion Y All
Paper Mustang Y All
Papyrus Y All
POD People Y All self-published
Popcorn Reads Y All fiction
Quills and Zebras Y All
Rainy Day Ramblings (Heidi) Y All except erotica, graphic horror and any book that pertains to animal cruelty or abuse, religious books, self help, business etc.
Reading Between the Lines (not taking new submissions – March 2012) N All
Review Haven – Note: free reviews are not given for ebooks. N Science-Fiction or Fantasy
Science Fiction Addiction http://sciencefictionaddiction.blogspot…. Y Science Fiction
Science Fiction and Other Oddysseys ? Science Fiction & Fantasy
SF Book Reviews (not currently accepting new review requests – March 2012) Y SciFi & Fantasy
Sift Book Reviews Y science-fiction or fantasy
Soul Unsung Y Fantasy, young adult, sci-fi, steampunk, paranormal romance, dystopia, horror, urban fantasy
Stories of my life Y Fantasy, Young Adult
The Book Buff Y All
The Book Hookup Y Fantasy, Romance, Paranormal, Young Adult, Erotica, Historical Romance, Dark/Urban Fantasy
The Book Vixen Y Contemporary Romance, Dystopian/Post-Apocalyptic, Erotic Romance, GLBT, Historical Romance, Mystery/Suspense, Paranormal Romance, Romantic Suspense, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult (YA)
The Canary Y YA, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Romance,
The Consumption of Books ? YA
The eNovella Review Y 30k word max
The Fairytale Nerd Y YA (mostly)
The Indie Book Blog Database Y All
The Literary Mind Bender Y
The LL Book Review Y All
The New Podler Review of Books ? literary, science fiction, fantasy, horror, suspense, humor, mysteries and the occasional thriller
The Novel Blog ? Site does not specify
The Scattering (Closed to new review requests – March 2012) ? Speculative Fiction
The Secret Life of Books (Lucy) ? Adult Fiction, Romance, Paranormal Romance, Historical Romance, Erotica, Young Adult, Fantasy, Humorous
The Write to Make a Living ? All
This is from my Heart (Janiera ) Y All except political, biographies, Erotica, and historical romance
To Publish or Not To Publish ? Fantasy
To Read or Not to Read Y All except erotica
Tomes of the Soul Y All except erotica
Tracy Riva Y All
Web Weaver ? Almost All
Writer’s Fun Zone Y YA novels by women about girl heroes

The Importance of Book Reviews (Part 2)

Perhaps the most difficult thing an independent author must do is try to get their book noticed. I don’t belittle the amount of DIY effort it takes to write, edit, create covers, and self-publish a book. Trust me. I know how much work these are because I’ve done them, but all these can be enjoyable and provide a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. Promotion, at least for me, is different. It feels like work. I don’t enjoy selling, never did, and self-promotion is unnatural and even a bit embarrassing for me.

I’ve done the things I’ve heard you need to do. I have a website, Twitter, Facebook, and author bios on Amazon, Goodreads, and others. While all of those are probably essential to creating a ‘platform,’ what I think may help sales of a book most are book reviews on Amazon. This is where many readers look for new books and new authors, and the importance of potential readers seeing what others thought of your work cannot be overstated.

Reviews also can be quoted as part of additional promotions in blog posts, Tweets, Facebook, or wherever you have a presence. Here are some extracts from the few reviews my first book received. You can easily see how valuable these can be to attracting additional readers.

  • “one of the best self-published things I’ve ever read.” ~ Tweet from @ViolanteAuthor 23 March 2012
  • “enough smiles and insights to please both young adults and discerning adults … A very entertaining read.” ~ Review by more4math on Amazon
  • THE WARDEN THREAT is a lighthearted epic fantasy parody with a science fiction twist that kept me engaged and entertained from page one…the story is humorous and fun … It was fun to combine both the science fiction and fantasy tropes in the story.” ~ Review by Enter the Portal on Amazon
  • “it’s laugh-out-loud funny…the grammar is refreshingly precise and the vocabulary, well, scrumptiousThe characters are believable and well-rounded…the whole book is filled with little gems… Usually, when I am reviewing a book for my site, I highlight and make little notes as I go, so that I’ll have a lot to say. In this case, I was too busy reading it; I literally read the entire thing straight through in one sitting. ~ Review by Maria T. Violante “Write, Read, Review” on Amazon
  • “shows the influence of Terry Pratchett in style and current events in the overall plot. The book is easy to read, but hardly simplistic…Occasionally laugh out loud funny, this book is definitely worth picking up.” ~ Review by M. A. Goethe “Margaret” on Amazon
  • “a complex tale about adventure…filled with dry, ironic humor that adds to the sense of growing up and finding depth in the world…interesting characters, and a realistically broad country…The tone of the book is funny, but not giggly or “LOL” funny. Irony is thick. Silly and stupid things happen, but they have too much purpose and truth to really cut up about. The thinking stops the laughing” ~ Review by Kate Policani on Compulsively Writing Reviews

In addition to being a form of free advertising, reviews can provide you with a considerable amount of satisfaction, especially when they are positive. There is nothing like the feeling you get when you learn someone has wandered your fictional worlds, hung out with the characters you created, and enjoyed the experience.

Reviews are also the best feedback an author can get about their writing. They can be exceptionally valuable at pointing out what you did well and not so well and, in general, how your writing is viewed by people other than your friends and relatives. If you listen to what your readers tell you, your subsequent books can only get better.

Getting those first reviews, however, is work. Last November, I sent out seventeen requests to review my first book, The Warden Threat. Eight of those prospective reviewers wrote back saying they would do reviews, and three, so far, have done so. That’s a success rate under 18%, but I was more than pleased to see all of them. I have also received a couple unsolicited reviews, and these are like priceless treasures to an indie writer. Any positive comment on something you have worked so hard to create can be a real boost to one’s flagging optimism, which begins to fall after initial publication of your first book and declines as time passes, wondering if anyone will ever notice your masterpiece.

I spent the last few months preparing my first two books for print release. As of this month, both are available as trade paperbacks. High on my priority list now, is to try to get more reviews. I don’t look forward to this. Like I said, I enjoy writing, editing, and creating covers, but anything related to trying to sell what I’ve created is far less enjoyable, and I can’t help feeling the time I spend on it is time I don’t have for creating my next masterpiece. 🙂

Reviews are essential, though, so I sent out two more review requests this week. I also have identified about twenty other review sites to try. Since I know others are probably in the same boat as far as trying to find reviewers, I’m compiling a list of sites I find. When it’s complete, I’ll provide it on a later post.


Related post:
My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Six – The Importance of Book Reviews

My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Six – The Importance of Book Reviews

 It has only been two weeks since my last post in this series but I have some updates to share.

Last time I said there were two things I needed to try. The first was to get more Twitter followers, not just anyone, but people who might enjoy the types of books I write. The second was to find people willing to review my books.

To accomplish the first, I used Twitter to search for people who read e-books by some of my favorite authors. My books are not “like” theirs but there are commonalities in style and genre. My assumption is that people who like the books I like to read will also like books I write. The authors I picked were Terry Pratchett and George C. Hines. Both write humorous fantasy. My books aren’t fantasy; they’re science fiction but they share the more important factor of a satirically humorous tone. I used Twitter to find people who have tweeted “Kindle” and “Pratchett” or “Kindle” and “Hines.” I followed those who seemed appropriate and some followed me back. I have gained over fifty followers in the last two weeks (315 from 253) but none of these contacts resulted in any book sales as far as I can tell. One thing I am beginning to suspect is that Twitter is not a very good way to promote books. It seems to be a good way to connect with other indie writers though.

The second thing I said I would do is search for people willing to review my books, or at least the first one. On thing traditionally published books have that indie books don’t is the publisher’s implied guarantee that their books are quality products, that they are coherent, consistent and relatively free of typos and other errors. The only thing an indie writer really has that is comparable is book reviews. Even these are no assurance of quality because reviews can be bought or traded but I think they are the best we have at this point. So, with that in mind, I searched the web and Goodreads for reviewers. I avoided any that charged for reviews or any that implied they would provide positive reviews in exchange for other positive reviews. I wanted only objective reviews. I found sixteen sites that indicated they might be willing to review e-books by indie authors on this basis and I sent requests to all of them.

Most of the sixteen sites had specific rules to follow to request reviews. A review request should be treated much as a query to an agent or traditional publisher. If you are requesting a review, you need to follow those guidelines. I used a draft query letter I had prepared before I decided to self publish as the basis for my review requests. All wanted a free copy of the book, which I was more than happy to provide. So far I have received seven positive replies. Here is a list:

Although most of these indicated that it may be months before my book reaches the top of their queue, one has already completed theirs. I was extremely pleased to see it was a five-star rating. It is here if you would like to see it: Marie Violante’s review of The Warden Threat. Shortly after this review was posted to Amazon, I got one sale at the list price of 99¢. I don’t know if this is directly attributable to this review or not but the timing suggests that.

My plan forward from this point is to put less focus on Twitter as a means to promote my books and keep an eye out for additional reviewers. I am also continuing work on my third book. The first draft is almost complete.

Two things I am still debating are the prices for my already published books and the publication strategy for the third. At this point I plan to delay increasing the price of The Warden Threat and The Warden War until next year and leave the introductory price of 99¢ in effect until then. What I am less certain of is whether to self publish the next book, The Warden Pendant, or send queries to agents and publishers. Fortunately, I still have a few months to make that decision. Much depends on whether the first two books gain any kind of following.


Related Posts:
My Self Publishing Adventure
Beyond Genre – Tone And Mood

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