Of Reviews and Reviewers

Just been reading an interesting post from Slepsnor at Legends of Windemere about book reviews.

It seems there are a nasty-minded numbnuts out there, savaging authors’ books just for the hell of it.

The post got me thinking about reviews and how important (or not) they are. Certainly when I’m a prospective purchaser of anything other than books I will check out reviews and I can think of a couple of occasions recently when a review has influenced me not to buy.

When it comes to books however I’m not really interested in reviews. Whether I (or anyone) likes a book is almost totally subjective and subtly influenced by other factors such as curiosity, what friends are reading, price, cover, any other books by the same author and genre.

I bought and read The Da Vinci Code and 50 Shades of Grey for no other reason than curiosity and because friends were reading them. I didn’t like either of them for different reasons but I never felt the need to rush off and write a destructive review.

I find well-thought out constructive criticism is often more helpful than paeans of praise; a thoughtful opinion whether for or agin a book, short story or article helps me to see and get to grips with other perspectives. However a mouthy infantile slagging handed out to an author deserves nothing but contempt. I say handed out to the author because I do believe that the author is the real target not the book.

To me there is something quite cowardly about writing a review that aims to destroy a book and make nothing of it and its author. It is the act of a bully and a bully usually protected by pseudonym or anonymity. Thankfully whilst they may seem to shout loudest they are not the majority.

Is it envy, a sense of their own inferiority, scatter-gun malice or just plain stupidity that motivates these type of reviewers? Are they looking for five minutes of fame? I neither know nor care. The best medicine is silence – a total refusal to even acknowledge their existence.

The “Real” Book is Dead, Long Live the “Real” Book

A new day and I’m not as grunty as I was yesterday…it’s the artistic temperament dontcha know. I’m still musing over a chat I had yesterday with a group of participants at one of my workshops. It was break time and good for dropping the oh so casual hints about THE book. There was apparent interest – apart from one guy whose eyes had glazed over the moment I started the workshop and who slipped quietly into a state of catalepsy as the session continued. I had to proddle him awake at the end of the afternoon and he had the nerve to tell me he thinks better with his eyes closed. But I digress.

The question most asked was “can we get a copy?” I explained it was an eBook available from Amazon, hastily adding that if they didn’t have a Kindle they could download a reader for free onto their PCs/Laptops. Their disappointment was flattering although I harboured an unworthy suspicion that it might have had something to do with their assessment marks but I like to think not. What this particular group wanted was a hold-in-the-hand, curl-up-by-the-fire “real” book and they wanted it signed. (Note to self – query possible sycophancy?)

Driving home I thought about why I had chosen to be Kindled. Apart from the fact that all the publishers out there seemed to suffer from a distressing form of myopia when it came to my book, the royalties from Amazon do at least offer an author the possibility of bread and dripping rather than one or t’other.

Last night I had a little Google (no scatological or salacious comments please). I found that there are certain genres – fantasy, sci-fi, romance, crime and thrillers that all do well as eBooks but non-fiction and more literary fiction do less well. It seems that many people consider eBooks to be disposable whereas they seem to regard non-fiction to be for keeps.

So which way to go? Do I want to go down the road of hard-copy publishing? Time to put the brain in gear. You know, I definitely think better with my eyes closed.

Book Sales, Telephone Repair Man and Me

At last, normal service is resumed; the world is at my fingertips once more and guess what? It’s been a day of firsts.

I’ve just sold my first copies of my first book; I have my first two 5* reviews for it ( no I haven’t bribed my friend or neighbours) and I’ve got my first commission this year for a magazine article.

Woohoo – I’m on a roll. I’m pleased. No what am I saying… I’m as happy as a church mouse that’s discovered a stash of Double Gloucester in the vestry on the cat’s day off.

However, the idea of someone, a real person buying the book really tickles me. I’ve sold articles and the odd short story but never a book. It feels more personal – an act of faith on the part of the reader. I wonder if it will bore, amuse, irritate or even get read at all? Will they delete it or file it for posterity? Perhaps they’ll say it was all a mistake; that they got their cursor crossed and really wanted “Time for Your Lies – a Beginner’s Guide to Telling Porkies”.

I mentioned the book to Telephone Repair Man this morning. I’d made him a cup of copper-coloured tea after he’d been freezing his whatnots off up a ladder fixing the phone line.
“Have you made any brass from it?” he asked in typical direct Yorkshire fashion.
I had to be honest about the anaemic sales figures.
“Thought not.” He supped his tea.
“Are you famous at all?”
I admitted the path to my door was unbeaten.
“Thought not”.
I bridled inwardly (is that physically possible?)but I’ve picked up the gauntlet along with several dozen bits of snipped off wires. I’ll show him. And this is where I’ll need your help.

All you need to do is click on this link http://tinyurl.com/d2wfbb7 and make the appropriate donation to the Make Sheila Famous and Confound all Telephone Repair Men Fund.

Ta very much.

Reflections on Kindle

I spent most of the weekend working on my marketing platform for The Book – mainly bullying the friends and family category. However, I also invested a little time in thinking about this Kindling experience. Here are four early learning points.

1. Don’t assume that everyone has a Kindle or similar. I lost count of the times I was asked to “show” the book because the f&f member didn’t possess a Kindle. This was also the case when I spoke to a couple of local newspapers and a radio station. So, buy a copy of your book and hawk it around on your own Kindle and you can give people a bit of a taster.

2. I had planned to publish The Book in other digital formats however, if you publish in KDP (Kindle Digital Publishing) you are tied in to an exclusivity clause for 90 days. Check the terms and conditions thoroughly (if you are doing your own “Kindling”) and don’t make commitments that you won’t be able to keep.

3. You can have up to 5 “free” days in any 90 day period so you need to think about how you’re going to use them (if at all). I’ve decided to save mine for around the end of the 90 days when they can help me put a bit of a sales boost on.

4. Was it worth going through a Kindle publisher? For me yes, yes and yes again. I’m not tech-savvy; learning how to Kindle is not a priority for me nor a good use of my time. I think it better to stick to my knitting. The publisher I used (www.kindlepublishmybook.co.uk) had loads of experience and inside knowledge; managed the whole process once I gave him the mss and was affordable. I’m sure you can d.i.y. it but for me it wasn’t worth the potential hassle.

Finally, be prepared for someone (at least one) to say to you: “Oooh! You are a clever thing aren’t you, but it’s not like it’s a proper book, is it?”

AAAGH!!!

Happy Monday.

Time for Your Life on Kindle

It’s there! The Book. It’s up on Amazon and I can’t believe how quickly affairs have moved. From having the final, final, final draft of the manuscript to it being uploaded and available has taken little more than 36 hours.

I’m sitting here at 7.30am, having a cuppa, just staring at the cover page and feeling a little tearful. It’s almost as though I’ve lost a bit of myself. Silly I know – I’m just getting sentimental in my old age.

Part of my professional training and background is always to ask two questions after the completion of any project:
What have I learned?
What would I do differently another time?

It’s a little bit too soon to answer those questions; there are some very practical things to understand about “Kindling” and also some “touchy-feely” stuff. I’ll come back to them in Monday’s post when I’ve had time to reflect.

However, one thing stands out above all: there was no buffer between me and the publisher. There was no editor with a sharp blue pencil to cut our the persiflage and waffle; no-one to correct grammer and other howlers; it was all down to me and I found this the hardest task of all – to be objective and distance myself from the writer’s viewpoint. I did ask a chosen few for their feedback and it was always very positive and helpful. But I noticed that the closer the book came to completion, the less I trusted anyone’s opinion, especially my own. That may just be me – I do have the odd kick in my gallop from time to time – and then maybe a collapse of self-belief is a quirk that most writers endure?

Anyway, ’tis done.
If any of you kind readers are interested The Book is:
Time for Your Life by Sheila Williams and you’ll find it on Amazon.

I’m signing off now for the weekend – back on Monday.

I just got Kindled

Yesterday my first book got Kindled. When I got the email to say it was ready I confess I got the shakes a bit. There’s no going back. It’s not a huge 100,000 word blockbuster rather a modest twenty-odd thousand words of self-help type but it’s mine and I’m proud of it.

I’ve lived with this book for more than six months in between the day job – first in the research and then the writing. Sometimes it flowed easily; sometimes it was sluggish. But the most fiddly part was the editing and like the guy in Camus’ The Plague I got stuck writing and rewriting the same sentence. Then I was gripped with this fear that I might have inadvertently nicked someone else’s words or phrases. The subject of the book – making time for the things you want to do in life – is by no means original and the internet is larded with articles, blogs and references. I know I’ve read some of them. I spent last night checking over the mss for possible copyright breaches – for the third time.

All that is left now is for me to write a few persuasive sentences for the advertising blurb and decide on key words for searches. Despite all the anxieties and neuroses it’s brought out in me I feel…not exactly satisfied – I’m never that – but perhaps elated. I’ve done what I set out to do, as well as I could do it. Whether it burns with a bright flame or fizzles out remains to be seen.

I’m also relieved that I can move on. For sure I’ve got work to do in marketing and selling the book but my head’s stuffed full of other ideas and projects all crying to get out.

Clearly I can’t give my Oscar speech since I ain’t sold a single copy yet but I would like to publicly thank Steve at http://www.kindlepublishmybook.co.uk for his support and help. I gave him the worst possible example of a mss for Kindle – full of formatting, tables, illustrations – all the Kindle no-no’s. He took it all on the chin and worked his magic in no time at all.

Now, I need 5 or 6 sentences to promote the book – how hard can that be?

To Market, To Market…Revisited

I received an email from a reader of this blog scolding me slightly for sounding negative in yesterday’s post. Said reader (I know where you live) suggested that instead of being “sarky” I shared my approach to building a marketing platform. Personally I think it’s just a ploy because she’s too lazy to work it out for herself but she makes mighty good cakes which often make their way to me. (No! It’s not my mum).

So, using the list I produced yesterday, here are some of the planks and nails that are going to build my marketing platform for my book “Time for Your Life”

Social Media – I shall tweet, facebook and link-in in an escalating format – “only ten days to go…” you know the sort of thing. It’s also where early reviews extolling the virtues of the book will make their debut.
Press, TV & Radio – these call for press releases. There was a helpful blog about writing these to be found at http://writegoodbooks.wordpress.com/2013/02/01/promote-your-self-published-book-give-the-media-what-they-want-better-press-releases/. I realise I’ll have to keep slots in my diary for the several interviews that will naturally follow the press releases but hey ho…that’s life.
Articles – I’m already on with this and angling each article so that it is specific to an industry, profession or other group. For example healthcare, small biz owners; working mums.
Public Speaking – here’s where I piggy-back onto the day job in the form of workshops that I run particularly Personal Effectiveness and Time Management. I’m not sure whether anything else is possible given that there will be no back-of-room sales with an ebook.
Websites/Email – Promoting on my own sites plus a link to my landing page on few others. Going to add a little banner to my email signatures.
Friends and Family – will be bribed or bullied unmercifully to promote and sell on my behalf.

One additional one – Influencers – clients/ex-clients/HR Managers whose organisations have a staff training section on their Intranets. I’ll let them have a free copy to put up in the hope that individual staff members will want to have their own copies.

There, that’s my platform and not a bit of sarky in sight. I’ve no doubt as it gets closer to launch date (only 30 days to go folks) it’ll all change.
Am I shriven now?

To Market, To Market to buy a Fat Book

One of the hundred’s of thorny issues I regularly torture myself with is the question:if I self-publish a book how will I market it? Then, a few months back an editor at a well-known publishing house told me that for traditionally published non-fiction the strength and extent of the author’s marketing platform is almost, if not equally, as important as the book itself. I suspect that the advice would almost be the same for fiction.

So, having a curious soul I thought I’d check out this concept of marketing platform. One of the basic tenets appears to be that it is preferable to earn your customer’s interest rather than buy it but that your marketing platform can use both approaches. Wow that’s good to know.

Buying your customer’s interest comes through paying for advertising, banner ads, etc in both actual and virtual worlds. So that’s where all those posters in stations come from and those whopping banner ads that quite literally are the length of a bus. Ok, you’ll probably need to take out a second or third mortgage but you could offset it against those mega-buck sales that will stream in.

Then there’s the free stuff. Here’s a brief list:
Social Media
Getting on the radio
Getting on the TV
Getting into the Press
Articles and articles that Search Engines fall in love with
UTube for videos
Public Speaking
Discussion Boards and Forums
E-mail campaigns if you have permission; email signatures if you don’t.

Then there’s your friends and family and the 7×7 rule. Each paid up member of the f&f cohort must be tasked to tell 7 other people about your wonderful book and, so the theory goes, those other 7 will tell 7 more and so on.

Now, I don’t know about you but for sure I have difficulty in managing 2 small websites, 2 blogs and 2 bits of social media as well as managing the day job, renovating the cottage, creating a new garden (on hold – it’ll probably have to be a bog garden) and creating time and space for writing.

However, the answer came to me in a dream. I’ll have more than enough time to build my marketing platform using all the above provided I outsource the writing. Got it. Sorted.

Vanity, thy name is Publishing

About eight months ago I sent a pitch to a publisher for a non-fiction book, (at the moment self-help/business are my main writing streams with a few short stories sandwiched in between). I got a reply from them which said “great idea, very interesting but you don’t have a large enough marketing platform to make it worth our while to publish.” The editor went on to explain that for non-fiction books the author’s marketing platform was as important, as the book itself! I wonder whether in fact the marketing platform is becoming more important – but that’s another post.

It was this rejection that got me looking seriously at self-publishing and e-publishing – once patronisingly and demeaningly called vanity publishing. I’ve always hated that term and I’m pleased to see it is slipping out of use as more and more of us take to self and e-publishing. And why wouldn’t we? We’re more in control of what happens to our work and how it’s presented; potentially we can earn more from it and we have the ability to direct the marketing as we see fit. If you need to know more about how it works take a look at this site: http://www.writegoodbooks.co.uk. Steve is incredibly knowledgeable and helpful.

So self-publishing is the road I’ve chosen to go down, for now. It fits nicely with my “proper job” – that of a learning and development professional and it’s quick to publish once the book is written so I can take advantage of trends and current themes.

On that note I thought I’d share a little fantasy I’ve created where in a Utopian world, after an explosion of self-publishing across the globe, the tables are turned and editors are feverishly looking to partner themselves with authors. I see me holding a beauty parade of editors, each submissively pitching to me for the privilege of publishing my work. I tie them up in excruciating detail about how they would bring my work to the attention of the world; I exact advances and royalties using a choice selection of eye-watering devices whereupon they fall to their knees (if they’re not already on them, that is) in devotion and gratitude. I call it 50 Shades of Editors.
Well I can dream, can’t I?