How important are book reviews?

As an independent author, I often hear about how important book reviews are. But is this the real make-it-or-break-it item for authors?

Years ago before the Internet, many readers bought their books from brick-and-mortar book stores. They would find a book with an interesting cover, read the back blurb, and if it sounded intriguing, they would buy it. Unless the story was already a best-seller, reviews were probably not even considered but a friend’s recommendation might have been. When deciding between two books, readers are probably far more likely to pick the one recommended by a friend.

But nowadays we have the Internet and a mass of independently published books. Whether right or wrong, some readers have a poor perception of those books. Perhaps they think because they were not traditionally published, they are not as good. Of course, that is not true. There are many reasons people decide to self-publish.

This is where reviews can come in handy. A good, well-written review can do wonders for your sales. But so can word of mouth recommendations. In 2011, Smashwords creator Mark Coker did a survey asking readers to select the biggest deciding factor in choosing a book to read.

Twenty-nine percent of respondents said they selected books based on recommendations from readers on forums, message boards and blogs. This implies that it isn’t so much reviews on a book-buying website but the reviews of peers elsewhere that influence the purchase of a book.

This makes sense as the trustworthiness of online book reviews have been called into question. Some authors pay for top reviews (though paying for a review is not always bad) or the reviews obviously sound like a friend or family member posted them. Sometimes online reviews on places like Amazon are thoroughly unhelpful to other readers as all you get is an “I liked it.” quote.

That is the problem with reviews found at online book retailers. They can be written by anyone, including someone who doesn’t read or like your genre or someone who has a beef about something totally unrelated to your book. But when these point-of-sale reviews are detailed and positive, they can reap rewards in the additional sales.

Whether the reviews are on a blog/forum or at the point of sale, these reviews are a form of social proof that readers liked your book. How much other readers value these reviews depends on their trust of that reviewer. Perhaps they will believe a fellow reader on a forum or book-viewing website more than someone on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. It is hard to predict.

And while I believe reviews do matter and help sell books, you need to remember that book reviews are only one small piece of the book marketing puzzle.

Not sure how to get book reviews? I’ll address that next week.

Pen Names: when you might want to consider one

Last week, I wrote about fantasy character names. Sometimes fantasy authors come up with some hard to pronounce names which can really turn off readers. You want the character name to be memorable. Even more so, you want your name to be memorable. You want readers to be able to recommend your books to others.

I host authors every Friday, and I have seen some pretty hard to pronounce names and ones that I imagine are impossible to remember or spell correctly. How do you expect readers to recommend you? How are readers going to be able to search for your books on Amazon when they can’t figure out how to spell – much less pronounce – your name?

Image result for Pen nameThis is where a pseudonym or pen name comes into play. A pen name allows authors to select a catchy, memorable name. It allows them to switch genders or even nationalities, which depending upon the circumstances could mean more book sales.

Reasons for using a pen name

1.) Your real name may also belong to someone already famous or to another author.

2.) Your name may be hard to pronounce, remember, or spell.

3.) You may be known for writing one genre and want to write another. Or perhaps you write non-fiction books and now want to write romance novels.

4.) You pick a pen name to mask your gender. If you are a man writing romance novels, you might want to choose a feminine pen name. Some genres are more dominated by men so using a masculine name or initials might improve your chances of succeeding. (Examples: J.K. Rowlings, J.D. Robb)

5.) You want to hide your moonlighting. Perhaps you don’t want your boss to know you are an author, so he doesn’t begin to think you aren’t working hard at your job.

6.) You want to remain anonymous. Some people want a private life. They don’t want fans tracking them down, or perhaps they don’t want people they know to find out they write erotica or romance novels.

Other Authors with Pen Names

Many famous authors write under a pen name. Probably the most well known is Mark Twain (real name Samuel Clemens. Here are a few more…

  • George Orwell(real name Eric Arthur Blair)
  • Stan Lee (real name Stanley Martin Lieber)
  • George Eliot(real name Mary Ann Evans)
  • Lewis Carroll(real name Charles Lutwidge Dodgson)
  • Seuss (real name Theodor Seuss Geisel)
  • Anne Rice (real name Howard Allen Frances O’Brien)
  • Nora Roberts (real name Eleanor Marie Robertson) – has also written under J.D. Robb, Jill March, and Sarah Hardesty

Margaret Astrid Lindholm Ogden, a fantasy author, writes under two pen names: Megan Lindholm for her earlier, contemporary fantasy, and Robin Hobb for her epic, traditional fantasy books.

Dean Koontz has written under several pen names in the beginning of his career, including David Axton, Leigh Nichols, and Brain Coffey.

Picking a pen name

There are tons of ways to pick a name. You can look through a baby naming book. You can shorten your name. (Amelia to Mia) Maybe you like your middle name or a friend’s first name. Try looking at family names for last names.

Make sure the name you pick out is easy to remember and something you can answer to just a readily as your own name.

After you come up with a list of possible names, check out to make sure there isn’t already an author by that name by using Amazon. Use Google to search the name and see what links come up. Another place to look up the name is on Facebook. You can then figure out if you have a unique name or one that quite a few other people have.

Now some authors keep their pen names a secret while others proudly claim what other names they write under. And that is totally up to you. There is no shame in using a pen name. In fact, it might just help your book sales.

 

My Top 9 Publishing-related Posts of 2016

Happy New Year Everyone!!!!

As 2017 begins, I wanted to take a moment to list some of the better blog topics from 2016…Last week I did the writing topics and this week I am choosing the best publishing-related posts. If you want to read the rest of the post, simply click the “read more” link next to that topic.

Offering your novels as a boxed set or bundle

One way to increase sales of your books and increase your fan base is to offer your books as a bundle, or if you wrote a series to offer them in a boxed set. This applies no matter if you published a print or e-book version of your novel.

An e-book bundle or box set is simply multiple books offered together. It is one download and payment for a reader followed by hours of enjoyment. (Read more)

Cover Reveal as a Marketing Tool

So you have written a book and are in the process of editing it. In just a few months, it will be out there for the world to buy. But before you publish your book, you will want to create a buzz about your upcoming release. That is where a cover reveal comes into play.

Blank Book CoverA cover reveal is exactly what the name implies. It is simply letting readers see the cover of your new book BEFORE the book is published. It is a great way to promote interest in the book and remind your readers that something new is coming. (Read more)

Reading Aloud as a Proofreading Method

I wrote last week about proofing everything you write even the simplest Facebook post. Proofing what you wrote whether it is a simple email or blog post to your actual full-length novel is extremely important. One of my favorite methods is to read your writing aloud.

Often when we read silently, our eyes skip small errors and typos. Reading aloud forces you to notice every single word. It can help you notice run-on sentences, missing words, awkward transitions as well as other grammatical or organizational issues. (Read more)

Publishing a book: Part 1 – traditional publishing house

Last week, I wrote the steps for writing a novel. This week I wanted to address what to do with that completed novel.

So you have completed your novel and are ready to publish it. What do you need to do now? (Read more)

Publishing a book: Part 2 – Self-publishing

Last week, I wrote about publishing a book through a traditional publishing house. This week, I wanted to discuss going the self-publishing route.

There are many benefits to be self-published. You have complete control over what you publish and when. You retain all rights to your book, and you receive 100 percent of the profit. The main drawback is that you have to do all the work and pay for any expenses yourself. (Read more)

Publishing a book: Part 3 – Self-publishing an e-book

For the past two weeks, I have been discussing publishing your own book. The first week I covered traditional publishing and what steps you would need to become published through a book publishing house.

Last week, I discussed the options of self-publishing a physical copy of your book. This week I want to focus on the steps to publish an electronic book (e-book).  (Read more)

Six tips for selecting a book excerpt

Authors are often asked for an excerpt of their book, whether it is for a feature on a blog, to be run in a magazine or even just for their own website. And many authors have trouble selecting a passage of their book to feature.

An excerpt is designed to give the reader a sample of your writing style and a bit of the story to entice them to want to keep reading your book. It is certainly worth putting a little thought into choosing the right sample. Here are six tips to help you make your decision. (Read more)

And here is to another great year of blogging about being a self-published author. If you have suggestions for topics, please leave them in the comments.

Choices for Authors: Marketing vs. Writing

You can’t write a book and expect it to be an instant best-seller. (Or if you do, you will most likely be disappointed.) It takes time and effort before most authors make consistent sells. And the only way to do that is to market yourself and your books.

How much marketing you need or what marketing strategies work best is so dependent on each individual author that there is no right or wrong answer. There simply is no one-size-fits-all plan for marketing. (Read more)

6 book promoting tips

A lot of times as authors promote their book through trial and error they find things not to do. Maybe a blog tour doesn’t work out the way they planned or a holiday sale doesn’t bring in the sales they hoped for.

Learning from our mistakes lets us know what we shouldn’t do but doesn’t necessarily say what we SHOULD do. And the problem is what works for one author, may not work for another. (Read more)

And here is to another great year of blogging about being a self-published author. If you have suggestions for topics, please leave them in the comments.

WhiteSmoke down 3 weeks, almost had to find a new grammar program

I have written a few times on my blog about using Grammar-checking software. Back in 2012, I found the program WhiteSmoke. It is a cloud-based program that has done a good job of checking grammar for my blog and novels.

At the end of October, I received a notice that my license expired, which is odd since I upgraded two years to a license that doesn’t expire. I tried contacting the company through their support page. No response. I tried e-mail. No response. I called and the phone just rang and rang.

I went to the company’s Facebook page and found out that I was not the only one with this problem. Many customers on their Facebook page reported the same thing. Their life-time license wasn’t working, and they can’t get a hold of anyone in the company by phone, email, Facebook or through the support system.

This went on for almost a month, so I decide the company must no longer exist and began looking for a new grammar-checking program.

Now I know that grammar-checking software is not fool-proof. There is no software out there that will catch every error. Even WhiteSmoke sometimes would suggest things that weren’t correct or at least made no sense. These were typically word choices and not punctuation situations. You do have to review each suggestion to make sure it is correct for what you are writing.

Beyond WhiteSmoke (which was at top pick in 2016 by TopTenReviews.com), the next two most popular programs seem to be Grammerly (number 2 on TopTenReviews) and Ginger (not rated on TopTenReviews). Another site ranks Grammarly as number one – followed by Ginger and WhiteSmoke.

Here is a quick look at the other two.

Grammarly (website

  • It offers a free version but will only give writing suggestions on the paid version.
  • Paid version checks for more errors than free version.
  • More Expensive than WhiteSmoke and Ginger at $139.95 for a year subscription
  • It includes a Plagiarism checker on premium version.
  • No free trial of premium version

Ginger Software (website

  • Works on multiple platforms
  • Free version only analyzes a limited number of words per check and not the whole text.
  • No plagiarism tool
  • Offers two paid versions – basic and premium – The basic version is $61.20 per year.
  • It includes dictionary and translation tools which Grammarly doesn’t.
  • The software will actually read your sentences or the words it suggests be replaced.
  • I found it hard to find anything on the site other than the free version. I figure after you download it, they might “suggest” the upgrade.

Both look like good options, and I was trying to make my decision on which one to go with when all of a sudden I received an email from WhiteSmoke. They reported that their servers had experienced technical difficulties, and they had been working non-stop to fix them. I guess that means they were too busy to update their website (that was still taking orders) or post on their Facebook page or at least have a message on their phone for all of those of us panicking that our program no longer worked.

So as of today, their program is back to working. Now with this last bit of poor customer service, I am not sure I want to recommend them to others, but I am going to continue to use them since I have already bought the non-expiring, free upgrades license from two years ago. But at least now if something does really happen to them, I know I have two other good programs to choose between.

Six tips for selecting a book excerpt

books uid 1269725Authors are often asked for an excerpt of their book, whether it is for a feature on a blog, to be run in a magazine or even just for their own website. And many authors have trouble selecting a passage of their book to feature.

An excerpt is designed to give the reader a sample of your writing style and a bit of the story to entice them to want to keep reading your book. It is certainly worth putting a little thought into choosing the right sample. Here are six tips to help you make your decision.

1.) Do not give away what the reader can already get for free. Don’t show them the prologue or first chapter that they can easily be found on Amazon, Smashwords or Barnes & Noble. Give them something else, something exclusive.

As with any rule there is an exception. I find that with short stories, there sometimes are fewer choices of scenes. With my own fantasy short story, The Search, I only have the opening scene as a sample because there is not another scene that could stand alone without confusing the reader.

2.) Choose a passage that represents the book. Don’t choose the only funny scene if the book is not meant to be humorous. Don’t show a quiet moment if you have written an action-adventure novel. You want something that is interesting and will draw the reader in. Make sure not to pick a page-long description but rather something with dialogue and action or conflict. And it should end with a cliffhanger or a dramatic moment that makes the reader want to read more.

3.) Don’t give away big secrets. Some authors worry too much about giving anything away but it is okay to give away little twists in your story, Just make sure you don’t give away any big spoilers.

4.) Keep the selection short. You want to give them just enough to hook them, but you do not have to let the whole scene play out just as you don’t have to start at the beginning of a scene either. When selecting an excerpt, keep it short – a few pages at most.

5.) Choose a scene that doesn’t require context. You need to select a scene that the reader can understand without having read anything before it. If necessary, you can alter the scene slightly to make it more understandable to the reader. This can be especially useful if your story takes place on another planet or where you might be dealing with non-human characters.

6.) Offer a way to purchase the book. This is probably the most important part of your excerpt. You need to be sure to include the purchase information – preferably a direct link to several online stores so the interested reader can select their preferred electronic format.

So definitely take some time to pick an excerpt that highlights your writing AND will entice the reader to want more and buy your book. It will be well worth it.

And in case you want to check out an excerpt of my stories….

Excerpt of The Search (Opening Scene for my short story.)

Excerpt of Summoned: Book One of The Elemental (Prison scene – two-thirds of the way through the book – this scene is kind of long, but I have used a shorter version of it on other websites.)

Excerpt of Quietus: Book Two of The Elemental (Destruction of the Land – from the beginning of the book and probably an example of too much description and not enough action.)

Excerpt of Destiny: Book Three of The Elemental (Selda’s trap – This scene happens over halfway through the book and I had to include a quick note before the excerpt that two of the characters were dragons who were speaking telepathically.)

Excerpt of The Heir to Alexandria (Cabin escape – Again this happens over halfway into the novel. It shows a good amount of action and suspense.)

Holidays are a great time for a book promotion

If you have been in any major store in the United States for the past few weeks, you have seen the Halloween decorations up. And you know what that means…Christmas decorations will soon be following.

Yes, it is now the time to start thinking about promoting your books for the holidays!

I scoured the Internet for ideas about holiday promotions and there weren’t many.

Pre-Holiday Sales

Several sites suggested hosting holiday book signings or to offer your book at a discount during Cyber Monday.

gifts-of-books-with-ribbons-and-bows1If you do have a physical book to sell, you can of course promote it as a great gift, but I don’t have a physical book. My novels are all offered as e-books. While I know people can gift e-books, I am not expecting my novels to be under anyone’s Christmas tree this season.

Another option that takes a little more planning is to write a Christmas novella or short story. Many authors have published shorter works that have a Christmas theme or setting, and they sell well each holiday season. If you are writing a series, perhaps you can take some of your characters and write them their own holiday story. If you are going to do a holiday story, publish it in November and then make sure you advertise it well to get it in the hands of those holiday readers. (More on this subject in two weeks.)

Post-Holiday Sales

Instead of trying to find readers before the holidays, sometimes it is easier to approach the new owners of Kindles, Nooks and other e-readers or tablets. And there are quite a few others out there with gift cards waiting to fill up their e-readers.

Of course, the trick is to reach those new readers and let them know about your book sale. As with any promotion, you need to know how to reach the readers of your genre.

Another idea is to create a bundle or box set of books and offer them at a reduced price. Or perhaps get a few indie authors together and offer some of your books as a bundle. (I wrote about box sets last week. If you missed the post, check it out here.)

No matter how you plan to do some holiday promoting, just make sure you take advantage of this book-buying season.

Offering your novels as a boxed set or bundle

One way to increase sales of your books and increase your fan base is to offer your books as a bundle, or if you wrote a series to offer them in a boxed set. This applies no matter if you published a print or e-book version of your novel.

An e-book bundle or box set is simply multiple books offered together. It is one download and payment for a reader followed by hours of enjoyment. This ensures readers of a series can read each story in order (and immediately). And usually because the books are offered at a lower price than buying them individually, book lovers are getting a bargain. And who doesn’t love a bargain?

It cost you, the author, next to nothing to offer a box set. You simply create a file with all the books and then create a picture of a virtual box, and add it to your usual distributor websites with an appropriate blurb and price. (For more on this, check out my post about offering my trilogy as a boxed set.)

Box Set – One Author

You don’t have to have written a trilogy or series to have a box set. You can make a bundle out of any of your novels. This especially works well if they have a similar theme (small-town romances) or are the same genre (mysteries).

Box Set – Multiple Authors

It just doesn’t have to be your novels in a box set. You can get authors which write in the same genre together to offer a box set. Or you can have all women authors but different genres. Or perhaps there is something else that ties you novels together such as they are all second-chance romances or all have a dog as a character.

These multi-author sets bring readers entire new worlds in one convenient package. It is just a matter of getting some other authors to go in with you on a set. You will then have to work out how you will promote it and how profit will be distributed, but these are small issues compared to the amount of exposure it can bring you s an author.

Pricing

box setReaders typically expect some sort of price discount if they buy a box set or bundle. Basically plan to knock off several dollars off what it would cost if they bought the books individually. On my box set for my trilogy, I reduced the price by $1 per book. So Summoned costs $2.99 (as do Quietus and Destiny), but you can get the box set for $5.99.

When deciding on the price of your box set, you need to consider why you are doing one. If it is for the convenience of readers, so they can get the whole series at once, then you will probably only be looking at offering a small price discount.

But if you want to boost rankings and want a massive number of downloads, then you might put in as many books as possible and price the set as low as possible. A quick search on Amazon will show that there are box sets for 99 cents that offer up to a dozen books.

If you already offered the first book in a series at a reduced price or for free, it could help your sales of the remainder of the series if you offered the first book in a multi-author collection.

No matter how you do it – your books, your series, a collection of books from various authors – a box set or bundle is an excellent sales tool that every author with more than one book to their name should consider.