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Posts Tagged ‘book reviews’

One of the great rallying points of self-published authors and those who champion them is that now the Big 5 publishers* no longer control what you and I can read. With the self-publishing revolution, everyone can be an author, an editor, a publisher. As the printing press allowed for underground pamphleteers to get out their message, the desktop publishing industry made books available to the masses no matter what the New York Literary Establishment might decree!

Yeah, about that… Turns out the NYLE, like any cog in an ecosystem, had (and still has) its uses. The NYLE is, among other things, a gatekeeper. The complaint was that it “suppressed” books by deciding which were worthy of publication, using criteria that were both arbitrary and secret. Now that publishing is a home industry, the NYLE’s role is diminished. But all of those “suppressed” books that are now popping up everywhere? Many of them were suppressed for a reason: They weren’t very good.**

We need gatekeepers. There are too many authors and too many books to keep track of, even in a small niche like SF or mysteries. Somebody has to say, “This is good,” or nobody’s ever going to buy it, not only because they can’t find it, but because (honestly) most people don’t want to spend money on an unknown quantity. (I sure don’t.) But who are the gatekeepers of this Wild West of words?

You are. Everyone who reads a book can go on to Amazon or Goodreads and leave a review. It doesn’t take more than checking a box. A couple of clicks and you’re done. You have contributed to the mass gatekeeping operation which is the only way to deal with the mass publishing operation going on in every neighborhood in America (and much of the rest of the world). And you need to do this.

Independent authors have no marketing budgets (although the Big 5 do). Independent authors have no sales force (although the Big 5 do). Independent authors have no connections with all the bookstores in town (although the Big 5 do). The only thing indies have is the power of their readership to rank and review. Your words, your ranking can be seen by everyone in the world–just like the Big 5’s ads can. But if you don’t review, then the stories you want–the books you shouted about and blogged for–go away. This gig doesn’t pay a lot, and it doesn’t take but a couple of disappointing books to make an author go back to selling insurance.

You think you can do better than the gatekeepers? Fine. Now’s your chance to prove it.

*The number changes all the time.

**This is not to say that the traditional publishers only ever published what was worth reading, either.

#SFWApro

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I am fond of saying that one of the reasons I’m a writer is because I have absolutely no talent for higher math. I’m pretty good at straight arithmetic, I managed to hold my own in algebra (with a great deal of struggle), and geometry was relatively easy–but when I try to advance beyond that, forget it. Many of my friends can read complicated equations like I read the newspaper (yes, some of us still do read the newspaper, and not on our phones), but to me they don’t even form a language, let alone a readable narrative.

Words, on the other hand, have always been my bread and butter. I was always the best speller in my elementary classes (among the boys, anyway), and I was a top English student in high school. Now I’m a writer. My friends with physics degrees can build models of quarks, but I can build models of worlds.

It is ironic, then, that so much of what I do is defined by numbers. There are sales numbers, obviously, and numbers of reviews (never enough), and ranking numbers at Amazon (although I realize as well as anyone how arbitrary they are, it doesn’t stop me from looking). And there are other numbers, as well–first among them is word count.

When you’re writing a short story, word count defines what kind of story you’re writing: flash, short, novella, etc., and where you can sell it, because magazines have parameters, based on their page counts and budgets. Some are firm, some have a little elasticity, but they all have the limits. You have to know this if you’re going to have any success at all, because your 17,000-word novelette may be brilliant, but its potential markets are few.

Word count also defines something quite different: It defines how difficult this job is. Think about it. A commercial short novel these days runs no less than 65,000 words, and you’ll find damn few of those. Most are at least 80,000 words. My longest novel so far ran 122,000 words. The novels I’m writing now are designed to come in at 60,000. And these words are not random; every one of them is specially selected. How hard is that?

Let me give you some context: The average person speaks about 16,000 words per day. That means that my typical novel is the equivalent of everything you say for four days. And it all has to be entertaining, suitably paced, and come to a point. You think you could talk that way for four days straight?

I do. Granted, I plan some of it out ahead of time, and it may take me ten weeks, but in the end it’s the same thing. The next time you’re reading a book, take a look at its page count, and multiply by 300. That will give you a rough idea how many words it is (depending on the book, of course, but bear with me). Then ask yourself, “Could I write that many words in a fashion so entertaining that people would pay money to read it?”

If the answer is “yes,” then close this window and get to writing. But if the answer is “no,” then the next time you finish a book, take a few moments to rate or review it on Amazon or Goodreads.

After all, in writing, it’s the numbers that count.

#SFWApro

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Please check out this glowing review of The Invisible City at the Seagull Rising blog!

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Netgalley is a site to join where readers who review can go to find new books and recommend them to their friends, followers, and the world at large through Amazon reviews, blogs, Twitter, and whatever the new app-of-the-day is today. It is free and easy to join. And among its thousands of offerings by traditional and independent publishers, you can find The Invisible City.

Reviews are the lifeblood of book-selling. The way things are today, it’s not enough to go down to Barnes & Noble or your local independent bookseller (yeah, right) and scan the shelves. This is particularly true of independent publishers whose works aren’t on the shelves. Nowadays, many people find the best way to choose books is to hunt down reviews on Amazon. And without reviews, authors (especially new ones) can’t get traction.

So if you didn’t know about Netgalley, give it a try. You don’t have to look at my book (although you can at least vote on the new cover), but there are thousands of authors in dozens of categories who are begging for your attention.

Read and review. It’s the thing to do!

#SFWApro

 

 

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Self-publishing is spreading. And it’s a bad thing. Here’s why:

1. It doesn’t allow you to blame anyone else for your mistakes. Self-publishing (“self-pubbing”) requires you to be creator, editor, art director, publicist, accountant, and publisher, unlike regular publishing which only requires you to be creator, editor, publicist, accountant, and Chief Submissions Officer. So there’s, hmm, one more thing that you have to be responsible for. Still, it’s a lot, because you have to bemoan the responsibility of cover approval instead of bemoaning your lack of authority over cover approval.

2. It doesn’t allow you to blame anyone else if the book doesn’t sell. Writers have hard shells but fragile egos. Look at every article that tells you not to read reviews if you don’t believe me. We can handle rejection before a sale, but not after. If a traditionally-published (“trad-published”) book doesn’t sell, we blame the cover art, the marketing, the shelf placement. If a self-pubbed book doesn’t sell, well, you chose the art, you did the marketing, and there are no shelves. So you can feel rejected even without a review–or, ironically, if you don’t get any reviews.

3. It takes the job of reading out of the hands of professionals. A trad-published book in the store is the end result of slushers, editors, copy-writers, and salesmen all working together to make sure that your book is the book they want to sell (regardless of whether it’s the book you naively wanted to write). These professionals work long hours for inadequate pay to ensure that the reading public sees only the cream of the crop of all submitted novels (and Dan Brown and Nicholas Sparks, because they sell really well). Self-pubbing allows anyone to be a published author. How are you supposed to be able to read the best books if no one tells you what they are?

4. It overloads the reviewers. There are a lot of reviewers out there. In fact, the same Internet that allows self-pubbed authors also allows self-pubbed reviewers. But still there are not enough of these selfless and dedicated public servants to cover all the books that are published. This results in overworked reviewers, who then have no time to write their own books. Can you believe that there are reviewers out there who have never had the time to write a single book? And yet they bravely attempt to criticize others who have the time to do what they can only dream about accomplishing. I tell you, the word “hero” is tossed around pretty casually these days, but…

5. It threatens to create a permanent, mentally-skewed underclass. As I have repeatedly described, writers are insane. We are, in fact, completely nuts and should never be allowed around sharp objects like, say, pens, for example. (The only exceptions are those scribes who have recognized their affliction and attempt to minimize their own capacity for harm by submitting manuscripts in crayon. Editors should applaud these highly-disciplined individuals.) The only factor that has limited this plague of lunacy (or, if you will, this Confederacy of Dunces), is that getting published has been so difficult. Now that safety valve is gone. I fear for the future.

Given more time, I certainly could elaborate, but I hope this essay will serve a public service, much as the editors and reviewers have done until now, in educating the world as to the true costs of self-publishing. And if you, dear reader, need any further proof, I have three self-published books. Read them, and learn how dangerous it is to allow just anyone to express himself.

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