Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Entitlement Perspective

Lately, I've been reading, and commenting, on posts about paid reviews. This seems to be a sore spot with most amateur writers, and maybe even some professional writers. Writers will gratefully and happily, albeit with a wince, depending on their financial situation, pay for editing, critiquing, publishing, book tour travel accommodations and charges, meals with their agent and even publishing, but they don't want to pay for reviews, believing it somehow makes the review suspect. The idea being that, if a review is paid for, it must be a ringer and the reviewer is paid to lie -- or at least fudge the review -- making the book sound better than it is. Not so.

I've been a professional (read: paid) reviewer for nearly eight years, not that I can make my rent payments on what I earn, but it comes close some months when I churn out a dozen reviews. I do not know the arrangement Authorlink has with authors requesting reviews, but I do get paid, and I get more than twice what I made starting out eight years ago. Do I give the authors unqualified rave reviews? Not on your tin type. I write balanced and honest reviews -- from my perspective -- and I don't play nice. I play fair and I'm civil, although with a rare snark with major typos and grammatical errors in a traditionally published book that do tend to rub me the wrong way. I mention them in one sentence without enumerating all the wrongs they have done to the printed word, but I'll write about my favorites (the worst examples) in another post. This post is about payment for services rendered, to whit: one book review.

Because there are so many free sites on the Internet, and because many writers starting out, and quite a few who are wealthy best sellers, are basically frugal (I did not say 'cheap'), they see reviews as a sideline that has nothing to do with the dollars and cents (and sense) necessary to get a professional writing career off the ground and keep it flying high. Reviews are important, but who buys a book based on reviews when there are so many other criteria for choosing (writer is a jerk, great advertising campaign, personal friend, relative, employee of writer, and, sometimes, if the author writes the kind of books you enjoy). There are always the bad boys and girls of publishing whose books sell because of the vicarious thrill of buying a bad boy or girl's books, and the burning curiosity to find out if they wrote about their misadventures and nefarious exploits.

Not true.

Okay, some of that is true, mostly about writers being cheap and thinking reviews are not nearly as important as a good editor or professional critique. And there is the rub, the one word that sets a reviewer apart from a reader, the word "professional." And that, my constant reader, is why reviewers shoud be paid. They have mouths to feed and bills to pay and they like to go out to dinner, the theater, or on the occasional vacation once a year.

Book reviewing is a business and businesses run on income, that income, in the reviewer's case, derived from the business of reading and reviewing books. It is an exchange of services. The author writes a book and contracts a professional reviewer to read and write their opinion on said book. This is called a contract and, like most contracts, is sealed with a handshake (often virtual) and an agreement for payment. You wouldn't buy a house and expect the banker to give you the house on your handshake, free and clear, without expecting some money in return. Neither should a reviewer.

"But," say authors, "the reviewer gets a free book worth money. Isn't that payment enough?"

If you've had to unload as many books as I have, you wouldn't see that as payment. I give them away and often donate them to libraries and Goodwill or the Volunteers of America. As far as I am concerned, most of the books I read and review are all right in the main, but not the kind of books I usually keep in my library. I reserve that limited shelf space for authors I follow and collect, although admittedly some authors I've found by having to review their work. That does not mean I don't expect my boss to forget to pay me. I expect payment as part of my contract with Authorlink as an employee.

Does that mean I give everyone a rave review? Not at all. In fact, I lost a friend over one of my reviews when I pointed out some of the problems, repetitions and mistakes in her book. I wasn't being vindictive, just writing what I thought of a book that was all right, but could have been much better. It's how I work.

Take a look at some of my reviews on The Celebrity Cafe or on Authorlink and you will see what I mean. I don't do nice. I don't do dressed up reviews. I don't smile when I have had to read utter crap and I do not ever sandbag my reviews. What I write is what I think and how I feel about the book. The author doesn't come into it at all, unless the book is one of a series I have followed and reviewed in the past, in which case I compare the character and writing to previous books. I am not above telling a writer, who may also be a good friend, that their book needs work and then go on to list the reasons why. Does that make my reviews suspect?

How about the reviews of Michiko Kakutani of the New York TImes or any of the professional reviewers in The New York Review of Books or Kirkus Reviews? Are their reviews suddenly suspect because you now know they are paid? What did you think they did up in their ivory towers, knit? The New York Times, NYRB, and Kirkus pay their employees to write reviews. That is their job. Like editors, book doctors, agents, publishers, and everyone else in the publishing business, or self-publishing business, book reviewers are professionals and should be paid for their services. They may do a book review as a favor for a friend, but you are taking up their time and expecting to make use of their expertise, so it is just business to pay them. Just because a reviewer doesn't work for a newspaper or a recognized review source doesn't mean they don't deserve your respect -- and your money. People work and people get paid. That is just business.

Good reviewers, like any good professional, are worth their weight in gold -- even when they say your book needs work or doesn't quite hit the mark. Not everyone will like every book you write, or even every book they read, but that is to be expected. Paying for a review is like paying someone to critique your work and put it in shape for publication. You may get a kudos and a pat on the back or you may get slammed. You pays for yo' ticket and you takes yo' chances. Nothing in life is guaranteed, as any published author will tell you. Don't ignore the contribution a professional makes to your success -- and that goes for reviewers, too.

You can get free reviews from several web sites, Goodreads, and Amazon, or from any reader at a hundred different book stores, but a professional review is far above what you get with the average reader. It is worth more in terms of proof that you did a good job and in terms of cost. If you want the best, you will have to pay the best. It's that simple.

While the readers count -- and they count a lot towards popularity of an author's work -- it is the professional review that lets you know you have arrived and all your hard work has paid off. A professional reviewer will also tell you where you went wrong and what could have been done better. So will some educated and opinionated readers. A professional review is in essence a mini-critique of your work. Don't get on the bad side of karma. If you want professional, pay for professional. If you want just anyone's opinion of your book, save your money and hope you can entice, cajole and motivate the average reader to write a review of your work that makes sense and highlights your book's good points.

You're entitled to the best; pay for it. Everything else is a crap shoot.

Friday, June 17, 2011

No, Not That!

There are times when an author's life is not interesting, usually when editing and rewriting endlessly to make a book just right. I think of Goldilocks and what having everything just right did for her and I cringe. It's hard for a perfectionist to get past the need to keep tweaking a book. An error might have gotten through numerous edits, even from someone else's eyes, and when they pop up later, usually after the book has gone to print, the groan and gnashing of teeth can be heard at least half a continent away, if not all the way to the next continent and beyond. At least with ebooks it's easier to change things and upload the new version, and somewhat easier with print versions as long as you self-published and have already gotten through the first print run, which usually isn't all that big a deal. There is, of course, the issue of cost because printers tend to charge you when you make too many changes and approve the proof. Into every life and all that.

I suppose the worst thing to deal with is bad reviews. I expect them. One reviewer actually emailed me to tell me she couldn't get into the book and therefore would not publish a review. I heaved a hearty sigh of relief since any review she would have written would have been horrible. I can handle bad reviews if someone actually bought the book, but I am ready to ignore pointedly any bad reviews from people who got a book for free. After all, I review books and there are times when I have to write bad reviews, always doing my best to point out something positive, even if it's a nice font. It's something nice, so give me a break. I don't do cleaned up reviews. You pays yo' money and takes yo' chances. I expect to get what I give so frequently.

However, when a bad review seems to have been written about your book that in no way resembles your book, it's hard to forgive and forget. Mostly, it's hard to forget. It haunts you in the night and creeps up on you unawares at the worst possible moments, like in bed with your husband/boyfriend/lover/whatever. You sit up and scream (mostly just scream), "What book did s/he read?" It takes all of one's might and discipline not to hunt the person down and demand an explanation and a diagram with colored markers and bullet points.

Too many authors have gone head-to-head with reviewers in wanting to know why and where and how dare they. It's a bad idea that ends in tears and public ridicule the likes of which one can only imagine given the Internet and the speed at which ugly gossip flies. It's best to take a no comment stance as though walking up the stairs to jail or to the courthouse where you're being arraigned for heinous acts against humanity -- and wearing fur. This is a wired world where everything is connected. Even if you make a snide comment in Outer Mongolia below your breath, someone will hear you, snap a picture on their phone and record the video to show on You Tube where someone will mention it to someone else and in a matter of nanoseconds you have gone viral with a big red sign painted on your forehead that reads "IDIOT." There is such a thing as bad press when there are too many cameras, phones, video recorders, and other devices to foil any attempts at denial, and the nonchalant (not that it's too late) shrug of the shoulders or a saucy wink will not make the situation better.

You have become a joke. An obsessive author with delusions of adequacy. And your books will be avoided -- by most people who don't want to be associated with someone who can't keep their professional cool. Not a good idea at all. Avoid at all costs.

I look at reviews, all reviews, and smile when they're good, frown a little (makes wrinkles) when they are marginal, and hide all sharp objects and projectile firing instruments just in case the reviewer crosses my path at a convention or at the grocery store where I've tracked him (or her) to have a quiet word.

When it happens to you -- and it will happen eventually -- smile and find something else to do, like write another book and give more people more chances to sling mud and fire pot shots at your children books. Keeping busy is a good thing. I think that's where the old adage, Idle hands are the devil's workshop, came from. It must have been an author out to scalp, torture and dismember someone who gave a bad review.

Book Giveaway

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Among Women by J. M. Cornwell

Among Women

by J. M. Cornwell

Giveaway begins June 21, 2011 and ends September 21, 2011. Winners will be chosen from UK, Australia, Canada and the United States. Eight autographed copies will be awarded.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Procrastination or Plan?

There are problems with creating, mostly procrastination. With editing. With rewriting. With being bombarded by great ideas when I'm supposed to be focused on another book that needs to be finished. So, is it procrastination or avoidance or just good sense to come up with an idea for a series of books, especially when series seem to garner the most attention -- and sales?

I'm going to go with great idea.

Looking at Piers Anthony, who my brother and youngest sister have raved about for years and I have avoided, brought me to a description for the first novel. He wrote hard and slick science fiction and then he hit upon fantasy and made his fortune and enshrined his name in Franklin Mint history with figurines from his best selling series.

I'm having trouble getting people to notice my serious books. He had problems getting noticed, although not as much as I have had. He decided to write fantasy and changed his fortune. I could write a series, other than the Memory series currently waiting in the wings to be typed up and published, and use the tarot cards. It's not a big deal. I wrote several articles, with examples, on using the tarot cards to spark that creative fire and create stories.

Why not, my brain insisted while I struggled through the usual dictations, use the fool's journey, which is the heart and origin of the tarot cards, to write a series of books, calling each series by the designations of the cards? Major Arcana, Minor Arcana, and four series to go with the wands, swords, cups and coins? I'll bet that would sell, and I might find the beginning for the fairy novel set in the event horizon of a black hole (time dilation which explains the whole few hours in faery and years lost on earth) I've been contemplating for a while. Anything is possible, and it makes good sense physics-wise. I think strange thoughts when I'm deep into sleep debt, and my dreams are very vivid. This is no dream. I was awake at the time and I think it would actually work.

The problem is not to think it to death. I have a problem with that, too. I plan out everything and then still end up writing by the seat of my pants. I'm a pantser. I admit it. I do, however, have dreams of being more disciplined, but I'm not. I work best when I wing it.

Anyway, it's an idea, one that may not last beyond this post, but an idea all the same that might propel me from the ranks of the obscure into a cabin in the high Rockies with a guest house, a jeep and the time to write while giving up wage slavery forever.

I kind of like that idea. Now I have to wait and see if it passes the next day test, sort of like dyeing your hair or getting it cut. If it still looks good the next day and I don't regret it and want to shave my head, then it's a good.

There. I've made a plan. On to the procrastination portion of this program.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I'm So Confused

Everyone is talking about books, reading books, mentioning books, advertising books and yet it's nearly impossible through social networking, hobnobbing, commenting, posting and talking about my own book to get anyone's attention. Must be information overload or I just don't know the right people.

It seems like the publishing industry is finally taking notes. Agents aren't as reluctant to sign a self-published author, although I suspect trying to tune up the work, get better cover art and guide the writer through the morass of punctuation, grammar and spelling (Spell Check doesn't get everything, especially when writing in the vernacular and what looks like vernacular but is just bad spelling). According to one publishing insider, publishers are willing to admit (after the flogging they endured at BEA in New York) that they don't know what sells and what people are reading. That came as no surprise to me as I have watched publishers put out dog after dog with huge advances and very little return. In fact, according that the publishing insider, 80-90% of all books published by the big guys fail to earn out advances or make them any money, and that's with 52.5% of the profit pie. I guess when there's nothing left but crumbs, 52.5% does not amount to much.

My task as been to maximize my income by choosing (and paying for) the best advertising. I had a brief and noticeable surge in sales when I advertised my novel in Kindle Nation for a day. It was not enough. The sales continue on a trickling basis, but I need a major gush that turns into a sustained and continuing spring runoff the likes of which will sweep away the southwestern part of the U.S., at least figuratively. Add in sales from the UK and Denmark (Amazon added those two venues to my ebook market) and I could just about make enough to pay for the advertising I need. Yes, it still takes advertising. After all, how am I going to find out the names and addresses and information on thousands of librarians, booksellers and book clubs without advertising?

It's all so confusing. It seems as though no one wants to buy and read a book about a young woman who is taken in by a con man, cast homeless onto the streets of New Orleans without friends and, just when things are looking up, is arrested and forced into close contact with (gasp!) criminals. What is a girl to do? She can hide in her cell, except that is not allowed. She can find a corner she can defend with a plastic fork that will likely break at a crucial moment. Or she can listen to the criminals and find out what really brought them to this low pass -- and then write about it. Well, I thought it was a good idea when I lived wrote about it. Now, I'm not so sure.

How does a writer get noticed without someone trumpeting from the rooftops? Read this book. It will expose the dark underbelly of New Orleans. Where is a town cryer for the thousands of towns all across the nation when I need one?

On a limited budget, the only thing is left is Twitter and Facebook, and I'm not good at the whole being a sparkling wit while dropping bits of wisdom, wry commentary and magnetizing the iron filings that are people to hover around my personal space panting for my next words. I write. I don't do socializing. I have no time. I have to earn the money to pay for the advertising.

AuthorBuzz costs between $1250 and $1850 for the cream of the advertising campaigns offered. Kirkus wanted my book three months before it was to debut in stores, except I decided to self-publish about two weeks before I actually self-published, having worked on the novel, refining, polishing, and tarting it up for two years. Every avenue I explore has a caveat and each caveat says, not here and not now. We needed your information six months ago. The gatekeepers are still keeping the gates shut, no matter what that publishing insider says.

So, until the gatekeepers review and change their policies to include intrepid authors jumping the queue and self-publishing, and until I can afford the kind of advertising campaign that will get my novel noticed, I'll have to wallow in the Horse Latitudes of self-publishing, commenting on well known blogs, writing posts like this, and saving up the money for advertising campaigns to promote my book.

In the meantime, I am writing another book. Anyone interested in a story about the woman who Dr. Jekyll tried to erase from his life through chemical ingestion onto create Edward Hyde and begin the most famous (and infamous) murder spree in Victorian English history?