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Anne R. Allen's Blog

...WITH RUTH HARRIS

My Photo
Name:

I blog about the craft of writing and the publishing industry at Anne R Allen.com and I blog about my books at Anne R. Allen's Books. I'm the author of eight comic novels including the five CAMILLA RANDALL MYSTERIES: THE BEST REVENGE, GHOSTWRITERS IN THE SKYSHERWOOD, LTD, NO PLACE LIKE HOME and SO MUCH FOR BUCKINGHAM 


I've written a survival guide for writers with Amazon #1 author Catherine Ryan Hyde: HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE and a collection of short pieces called WHY GRANDMA BOUGHT THAT CAR

I'm  a former actress and stage director, a graduate of Bryn Mawr College, and I live on the beautiful Central Coast of CA, near San Luis Obispo--the town Oprah called the "happiest town in the US.".

Sunday, December 20, 2015

10 Ways Being a Writer is Like Being Santa Claus


by Tara Sparling


Tara Sparling is an Irish blogger and humorist. I stumbled onto her award-winning blog, "Tara Sparling WritesA Sideways Perspective on the Bonkers Business of Books" through a Tweet, and I've been an avid follower ever since. Her take on the writing life is uniquely quirky and hilarious... and oh, so Irish. Seriously, follow her blog--she'll bring a little much-needed laughter into your work week. And today she has some laughs to help us through this frantic season. 

Ruth and Johnny and I apologize for the broken links and other glitches that have happened during our epic blog move. Moving a blog of this size has turned out to be a much bigger drama than any of us imagined.

Things have been complicated in a major way by our hacker friends. This old freebie blog was under attack by hackers and spammers who kept changing our link codes to redirect traffic, and it seems some of them have followed us. They found a way into the site in spite of the new security. But Johnny Base is on the job and making sure they get out and stay out. He's been doing a heroic effort to combat them. He's had to put on a CAPTCHA for a while. That's the little arithmetic problem you have to do to comment. At least it's not the unreadable kind that shuts out geezerettes like me. Thanks for bearing with us. ...Anne

For Tara's hilarious post on Santa Claus and writers, plus news about a FREE book, visit the new blog.

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Sunday, December 13, 2015

6 More Scams that Target New Writers

by Anne R. Allen



Last week I talked about some of the scams that Ruth and I have heard about recently in my post 5 Scams that Target New Writers. 

Sometimes we're contacted by the scammers themselves and sometimes we get questions from readers who aren't sure if they should accept an offer that might look too good to be true.

As I started to list the scams, I realized that the post was getting wayyyy too long, so I figured I'd divide it. Some of the rip-offs listed in today's post have been around a little longer than the ones I listed last week, but they're just as deadly (and heartbreaking) to newbies who haven't heard of them...Anne

6) Companies that Offer to Turn your Self-Published Book into a Screenplay and open Hollywood Doors for You

This is a new one that preys on naive indie authors with Hollywood dreams. I've now heard about it from three people. Some have been approached through LinkedIn, which seems to be the venue of choice for a lot of scammers. These outfits offer to "analyze" your book to see if it can be made into a film and then offer some murky way in which they will get this analysis in front of Hollywood honchos. They charge between $700-$1000 for this service.
All of this is totally bogus. Their "analysis" means nothing and they have no power to get your book to anybody of importance in the film industry. As veteran screenwriter David Congalton says, "People, NEVER GIVE A DIME to anyone in Hollywood unless you're taking a class. These are all scams, preying on the dreams of the innocents."

The tip-off:

This is not how Hollywood works.  According to the Raindance Festival website, "at least 50,000 scripts are written every year. Yet only a few hundred are bought and made." These are screenplays that have already been written. The chances of somebody wanting to go to the trouble to turn your book into a screenplay are pretty slim unless the book is already a bestseller.

For more, click over to our new WordPress blog...

We apologize that our links keep breaking. Our webmaster is working hard on the problem! These should work now. 

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Sunday, December 6, 2015

5 Scams that Target New Writers

by Anne R. Allen


The blog has moved! We are now at AnneRAllen.com.

This week I'm talking about scams writers need to watch out for. Because we have a high-profile blog, a lot of people contact us because they want us to promote their services to our readers, usually through contests or deals.

Sometimes these services are great, so I always try to check them out. But often they aren't. We have some pretty strict guidelines, but even so, I'm afraid I've let some things get through that shouldn't have, like contests that ask for all rights instead of first serial rights. (Always read that fine print before submitting.)

But some offers are recognizable as scams right away. Here are a few general tips for vetting author services:

  • Any website that's full of testimonials from writers who have no successfully published work is very likely a scam. 
  • Agents who tout their services. Real agents are inundated with queries. They don't need to advertise.
  • Ditto real publishers. 
  • Google is your friend. If anything sounds too good to be true, Google the website name with the words "scam" and "complaints", "rip-off" and "lawsuit".
  • Check with Writer Beware and Preditors and Editors before signing anything. 

Here are some of the scams I'm seeing lately that target new writers, with notes on the red-flags that can tip you off to the scam.

Read the rest at the new blog...



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Friday, December 4, 2015

We've Moved!

by Anne R. Allen


We did it. Although we've been happy with this lovely free Blogger siteand I still recommend Blogger for new author-bloggers who want a website that's free and simple and easy to usewe realized we'd got too big for a freebie blog.




But...after we were hacked in October, we decided it was time to move to a self-hosted site that allows security plug-ins.

So you can now find the blog at our new home at AnneRAllen.com.

Yes, we're having some glitches and growing pains. Sites look very different in different browsers, so if you're having trouble or things look weird, so let us know.

Please do join us at the new site. If you're one of the nearly 2000 people who have been following us in the Blogger rss feed, you can follow the new one either with MailChimp or rss from the new blog.

We have lots of great posts coming up you won't want to miss. We will continue to post every Sunday at 10 AM Pacific Time. Ruth Harris will post on the last Sunday of each month.

This month I'll be talking about the scammers who are out there lying in wait for authors right now. Plus we'll have a visit from Irish humor writer Tara Sparling on Why Writers are like Santa Claus (so many people don't believe in us!)

In 2016, we have visits coming up from Agent Laurie Mclean, Melodie Campbell aka "Canada's Queen of Comedy", and Dr. John Yeoman of Writer's Village.

And you'll also find our usual "Opportunity Alerts" for vetted contests, publishers, and journals looking for your writing.

Plus the new blog will have an easy-to navigate menu with easy access to our archives, a menu of all our great guest posts, a resources page with links to the best writing blogs and writer services, and a lot of other helpful things.

Also, it should be easier to leave comments, especially for people with WordPress IDs, which Blogger had been blocking of late.

So please stop by and subscribe so you don't miss any posts!


...Anne and Ruth

If you're having any problems commenting on the new site, leave a comment here and we'll try to address it. Or email me at annerallen dot allen at gmail.com 




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Sunday, November 29, 2015

25 Gift Ideas For The Writer In Your Life

by Ruth Harris


It is a truth universally acknowledged that no writer ever knows when or where his/her next great idea will strike.

Because of that inconvenient fact, notebooks are essential. Although the back of a grocery receipt or a dry cleaner's ticket will do in an emergency, a notebook will help create order out of the chaos and provides an easily accessible, highly portable record.

Because I have learned to be prepared for the unexpected brainstorm or genius idea, I surround myself with notebooks. On my desk, in the kitchen, on the dining room table, on my night table, in my bag, in pockets, purses and the glove compartment. There is even a notebook in the bathroom for those nights I wake with a "brilliant" idea I absolutely have to write down. By flashlight. So as not to disturb my DH who already knows all too much about what it's like to live with a writer. ;-)

Whether made in the U.S., France, Germany, or Japan, a notebook is a writer's don't-leave-home-without-it essential. Here are some of my faves. Most cost about $10.

Notable notebooks:




"I'm not writing it down to remember it later. I'm writing it down to remember it now." Made in the USA. Field Notes. Also Amazon.



German and superb quality, come in basic black + lipstick red, emerald, dark and light blue and beyond. Acid-free paper, numbered pages, blank toc, 5-star ratings. Find them at Amazon.



I've used Rhodia notebooks for years. Highest quality paper, makes writing a pleasure, come in a wide variety of sizes and configurations. Widely available, I get them at my local stationery store but available from Amazon.



Letts Noteletts Edge have soft, flexible covers, lay-flat binding, and ivory pages with grey rules. Here in dark green, also available in a range of candy colors including yellow, purple, and red.



Kokuyo makes beautifully designed notebooks in a wide range of colors and styles. I found them in a Japanese stationery store in NYC but Amazon has them as does Jetpens.



The great and classic Moleskine usually seen in traditional black but here, in snappy Hermès orange. Amazon



If I were French, I probably would have used these cheerful Clairfontaine notebooks in school. Most decent-quality stationery stores have them as does Amazon



High-quality sketchbooks—Stillman & Birn—also count as essential because sometimes I have to draw a scene before I can write it. I bet I'm not the only one!

If nothing here is exactly what you're looking for, Notebook Stories blog might help you find the perfect solution. Office Supply Geek is another reliable source that might suggest the perfect gift.

Digital notebooks 


They aren't exactly festive but they are necessities—they live in the cloud, synch to all your devices, and they're free! Evernote and Microsoft's One Note are indispensable. My new favorite is Google Keep, perfect for keeping to-do lists and the fleeing ideas you want to jot down quickly in a few words. If the writer in your life doesn't already have these, a few minutes downloading them to his/her computer is a thoughtful—and useful—holiday offering.

For pens to go with notebooks:


Try JetPens and Amazon. From ball points to gel pens, from calligraphy pens to fountain pens, the vast range of colors and point styles from ultra fine to broad, is an obsessive's paradise.

My current faves include the Zebra Sarasa in Forest Green ($1.30 + a wide range of colors) and the UniBall Signo ($2.50 & a choice of 20 irresistible colors) with an ultra fine 0.38 point which makes a 3x5 card seem as big as a football stadium.

The Lamy Safari fountain pen and rollerball (both about $20) are classics and have been long-time personal favorites. They are plastic, therefore lightweight, and the contoured grip is super comfortable for long stretches of writing. They are refillable and come in a range of bright colors + black. I bought mine in yellow! :-)

Writing software makes a thoughtful gift: 


I'm assuming everyone has Word but there are other excellent and well-thought-out alternatives/add-ons.

Atlantis (PC only, about $40) is try-before-you buy, fully-featured word processor. It has a helpful user forum, useful sample documents and templates, will edit existing MSWord docs and turn your documents into epubs. Add-on spellcheck comes in languages from Serbian, Estonian, Turkish and beyond.

Jutoh (Mac and PC, about $40) is fast and flexible and outputs a wide range of file formats. As far as I know, Jutoh is the only one that opens epub files. If the writer in your life has existing epubs and wants to revise, make corrections, or simply update back matter, Jutoh makes the job easy. Join ALLI and get 25% off Jutoh.

Scrivener (Mac and PC, about $45 but discount coupons available) is widely beloved, extremely flexible and customizable, and outputs uploadable files in a range of formats when the book is finished. Gwen Hernandez' Dummies Guide to Scrivener is a great go-along gift. And Scrivener has a Black Friday Sale this weekend only. Grab it today and it's only $25!!

Ulysses (Mac only including iOS) is the new(ish) kid on the block. Elegant, minimal in appearance but fully featured, Ulysses lives in the cloud and is always available on your desktop, tablet, or phone. A try-before-you-buy demo.

Vellum (Mac only with a range of options ranging from $10 to $200) takes the pain out of HTML and CSS and makes formatting easy. Vellum creates beautiful ebooks and mobis, ARCs, box sets, and supports basic word processing.

Anne and I wish all our readers Happy Holidays, Happy Giving—and Happy Receiving! ;-)

by Ruth Harris (@RuthHarrisBooks)

What about you, Scriveners? What's on your list for Santa? What do you buy for the writers in your life? Do you have a favorite notebook or pen? Or do you jot down everything electronically? 

As for ourselves, what we want most for the holidays is a new, more secure, self-hosted blog. We hope (fingers crossed) to see you on our own WordPress site next Sunday! I'll be writing about some of the new scams I see targeting writers right now. I'll tell you how to spot them and stay safe. Some of these scammers have even taken in the pros, including veteran agents...Anne


BOOK OF THE WEEK



A Kiss at Kihali: sweet romance set against the backdrop of African animal rescue

A must-read for animal lovers.


Available at Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon CA, FREE in Kindle Unlimited






Beautiful and inspirational, A KISS AT KIHALI draws on the power of human-animal relationships, the heroic accomplishments of African animal orphanages, and the people, foreign and Kenyan, drawn to careers involving the care and conservation of wild animals. Filled with drama and danger that lead to a happy ending, A KISS AT KIHALI will appeal to readers who love tender romance and who have personally experienced the intense, mystical bond between humans and animals.

"A must-read for anyone who cares about animals and the environment, because what we do to them, we do to ourselves"... bestselling author Sibel Hodge

OPPORTUNITY ALERTS


Platypus Press. A new UK small press is looking for literary novels and poetry collections. No agent required. Though your manuscript must be complete, the first three chapters of a novel will suffice when submitting. It must be previously unpublished, but work posted on a blog or personal website is acceptable. Accepts simultaneous submissions

TARTTS SHORT FICTION COLLECTION AWARD $20 ENTRY FEE. Winning short story collection will be published by Livingston Press at the University of West Alabama, in simultaneous library binding and trade paper editions. Winning entry will receive $1,000, plus our standard royalty contract, which includes 100 copies of the book. Author must not have a book of short fiction published at time of entry, though novels are okay. Manuscript length 160-275 pages. Deadline December 31.

Amazon's Little A Poetry Contest.
 This is a brand new thing. NO FEE The contest will be judged by poets Cornelius Eady, Jericho Brown and Kimiko Hahn. The winner will receive $5,000 in prize money and a publishing contract featuring a $2,000 advance with Little A, Amazon Publishing's literary imprint. Poets who have published no more than one book of poetry can submit their full-length collections for consideration to LittleAPoetry@amazon.com. Deadline Dec 20th 2015

The Poisoned Pencil: New YA publisher open to submissions! The well-known mystery publisher The Poisoned Pen now has a YA imprint. They accept unagented manuscripts and offer an advance of $1000. Submit through their website submissions manager. Response time is 4-6 weeks.

Open call for the Independent Women Anthology: short stories (flash fiction included), poetry, essays, artwork, or any other woman and/or feminist-centered creative work. 10,000 word max. All genres but explicit erotica. $100 per short story, $50 for flash, poetry, and photography/artwork. All profits will be donated to the Pixel Project Charity to end Violence Against Women. Deadline January 31, 2016 with a goal of publication on International Women's Day, March 8, 2016.

SCHLAFLY BEER MICRO-BREW MICRO-FICTION CONTEST $10-$20 ENTRY FEE. Fee includes a subscription to River Styx literary magazine or one issue depending on amount of entry fee paid. Submit up to three stories of 500 words or less each. All stories will be considered for publication. $1,500 first prize plus one case of micro-brewed Schlafly Beer. Deadline January 1, 2016.

The Writer Short Story Contest judged by Literary star Colum McCann. You can have your work read by the acclaimed author of Let the Great World Spin. $25 entry fee. Write a 2,000-word short story responding to one or both of the quotes below by Mr. McCann: "There is always room for at least two truths." or "With all respects to heaven, I like it here." Deadline December 6th

TETHERED BY LETTERS' FALL 2015 LITERARY CONTEST ENTRY FEES: $7-$15 Currently accepting submissions for short stories (1,000 to 7,500 words, open genre), flash fiction (55, 250, or 500 words), and poetry (maximum of three pages per poem). All winners will be published in F(r)iction. All finalists will receive free professional edits and be considered for later publication. The prizes are $500 short story $150 flash fiction, and $150 for poetry. Multiple entries accepted. International submissions welcome. Deadline December 1.

HAMLIN GARLAND AWARD FOR THE SHORT STORY $20 ENTRY FEE. $2,000 and publication to the top unpublished story on any theme. One story per entry, multiple entries acceptable. Maximum 7,000 words. All entrants will be considered for publication. Deadline December 1.

The Ernest Hemingway Flash Fiction Contest. $10 fee Unpublished fiction. 1500 words or less. Simultaneous submissions ARE welcome. All entries will be considered for publication in Fiction Southeast. (a prestigious journal that has published people like Joyce Carol Oates) Winner gets $200 and publication. Deadline: Dec. 1st

Writers' Village International Short Fiction Award winter 2015. Cash prizes totaling $3200.Ten further Highly Commended entrants will have their stories acknowledged at the site and gain a free entry in the next round. Entry fee $24 INCLUDES A PROFESSIONAL CRITIQUE. Any genre of prose fiction may be submitted up to 3000 words, except plays and poetry. Entries are welcomed worldwide. Multiple entries are permitted. Deadline: November 30th.

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Sunday, November 22, 2015

Disappearing Amazon Reviews: The Facts Behind Amazon's Review Purges

by Anne R. Allen


So yeah. We're still here on Blogger. Our tech guy's computer died a tragic death with all our new stuff on it. It even happens to the pros. Sigh.

So it looks as if our date for moving to WordPress has to be pushed up to December. Until then, you can still find us right here. 


If you're getting this in your inbox, we will soon have some changes to our mail program as well, so commenting and navigating to the blog will be easier. But right now you can comment by clicking on this link. That will take you here to the actual blog. (You'll know you're in the right place because the background here is green.) Hit the word "comments" at the bottom where it lists the number of comments, and a window will open where you can read the comments and leave one of your own...Anne 


So what's this about missing reviews?


Go to any author forum or social media group for writers and you'll see the plaintive posts:

  • "Help! My Amazon reviews are disappearing."
  • "Amazon rejected my review because they say I 'know' the author. I don't. All I did was friend her on Facebook!"
  • "Amazon has banned my favorite reviewer because they say he got paid for his reviews. He didn't. His blog is on a book blog tour. But they don't pay him a penny."
  • "I offered to give people a free book if they wrote me a review and now all my reviews are gone!"
  • "I got a nasty note from Amazon accusing me of 'manipulating reviews'. I've never done any such thing. I gave reviewers a gift card to buy the book, but they disclosed that."

These sad cries from the Amazon jungle can sound pretty over the top. Is this stuff really happening?

In a word, yes. Amazon has been conducting a review purge.

All review sites remove reviews. According to Forbes, Yelp removes 25% of its reviews. But Amazon has been stepping up the review removal lately and it has been freaking out a lot of authors.

Amazon has a history of periodic review purges, starting with the huge one in 2012 that came after a massive paid review scandal hit the New York Times. 

Another purge happened last May. I wrote a post about it, Why Authors Should Never Pay for Amazon Reader Reviews. Amazon had just sued a number of paid review companies and was in the process of removing all their reviews. In October, the Amazon review police went farther: they sued 1000 individuals who were selling reviews on Fivrr.

"But," sez you, "That has nothing to do with me because I would never pay for a review!"

Thing is, you may have "paid" without knowing it, according to Amazon's complicated interpretation of its review rules.

What is Considered a "Paid Review"?


The following are considered paid reviews according to people I've spoken to who have contacted Amazon on the subject. You can read more at Bookworks from marketing guru Penny Sansevieri, who got her info from an Amazon spokesperson:

1) A review by a book blogger whose blog is part of a paid blog tour, even if the book blogger is not paid. Often only the organizer of the tour gets paid, but the blog review is considered a "paid review," so it can't be posted on Amazon. (Although you can post a quote from it in the "editorial review" section.)

2) A review written in exchange for a gift card.
Even if that card is only in the amount of the price of the book. A reviewer could possibly use the card for purchasing something else.

3) A review written in exchange for another review. Review trading is 100% verboten.

4) A review written in expectation of a free book. A review copy must be given before the review is written or the book will be seen as payment for the review.

5) A review by a person you "know" online. Yes, you read that right. This can be someone who has friended you on Facebook, followed you on Twitter, or has done business with you in a way that's detectable to the Amazon review police.

Wha-a-a-t? Have the Rules Changed?


The "know the author" rule is a new interpretation of Amazon's rules, although the wording of the TOS hasn't actually changed.

Amazon spokespeople say that anybody who knows the author might "benefit financially" from the book's sales, and financial beneficiaries have always been forbidden to review. (I wish I knew how to benefit financially when one of my 873 Facebook friends has a bestseller, but I'm obviously not working this right.)

So how do they determine if you "know" an author, anyway?

They're not telling.

This is the message reviewers are getting from the Zon.

"Hello,

We removed your Customer Reviews because you know the author personally.

Due to the proprietary nature of our business, we do not provide information on how we determine that the accounts are related."


Book marketing  guru Penny Sansevieri of Author Marketing Experts explains it this way:

"According to Amazon, family and friends write biased reviews…It may seem unfair but, to be honest, I get where Amazon is coming from here. They want authentic, unbiased reviews. And so do we – the readers. Well-intentioned friends and family might post glowing five-star reviews that merely say: "I loved this book!" While their goals are noble (supporting you!), vague reviews don't help consumers deciding whether to buy your book. As authors, we don’t like getting 2-star reviews, but remember that readers will likely regard a book page with all 5-star reviews as suspicious."

But this doesn't keep authors from being pretty upset, since most publishers require that we have social media accounts exactly so that we can become "friends" with our readers and fans.

There's a petition going around at Change.org asking Amazon to change this new "know the author" policy, but it doesn't seem to have gone very far. I think most authors are afraid to sign for fear of retaliation from the review police.

Where does this New Rule Interpretation Come From?


Did Amazon hire a bunch of new employees to sit around all day policing reviews?

That seems unlikely, but they do respond to customer complaints. (And remember that as an author you are not a customer. You are a vendor.)

Unfortunately, some of their most loudly complaining customers are the anti-author vigilantes who haunt the Amazon fora, BookLikes and Goodreads. I wrote about them in my 2013 post, The Laws of the Amazon Jungle. You do NOT want to get on the wrong side of these folks.

A few badly behaving authors gaming the system have ruined things for everybody. And these vigilantes can be seriously scary. They've sent me death threats just because they didn't like one of my blogposts.

To me, Amazon's use of unhinged vigilantes to police their site is up there with the Rolling Stones' decision to ask the Hell's Angels to provide security at Altamont. But hey, they didn't ask my opinion, and Amazon is a private company. It's their circus and their monkeys and they can do whatever the heck they want.

So What Should Authors Do?


1) Do not trade or buy reviews.

Just don't. No matter how many authors do it. Or how many of them say you "owe" them a review because they reviewed you. Or how much they spam you with whiny newsletters.

While I'm on the subject: STOP SENDING FELLOW AUTHORS NEWSLETTERS THEY DID NOT SUBSCRIBE TO!!! I am beginning to sympathize with the vigilantes on this. The fact that you've read a blog or book does not mean the bloggers or authors owe you anything.  Ruth and I love all our readers and subscribers, but we have 24-hour days just like other people. We get up to 100,000 hits per month. We cannot read and review the deathless prose of all those people. We need to work and sleep and have lives just the way you do.

Unfortunately some newbie authors have been told there's a rule that says reviews, sales, and newsletters should always involve a quid pro quo. This is simply not true—and it can put you in serious trouble with the Zon.

The problem is compounded by the writers who don't happen to have been hit by a review purge and refuse to believe any of this is happening.

I still get Tweets and Facebook DMs from authors asking to trade reviews. I've been invited to join groups that are formed for the sole purpose of trading reviews. I tell them politely they're violating Amazon's rules. They ignore me.

When I warned the editor of an anthology about the new policy, a fellow contributor called me a liar in a nasty group email. She said she and her fellow contributors review each other all the time and nobody has ever caught her so nobody ever will. (Change apparently does not happen on her planet.)

People like this are the reason we have vigilantes.

NOTE: If another author happens to like your work, instead of a review trade, ask them for a quote you can put in the "editorial reviews" section of your buy page. Editorial reviews usually carry more weight with readers, anyway.

2) Accept that nothing entitles you to a review. 


Sending a reader or blogger a copy of your book—even a hard copy—does not entitle you to a review. This is a sore spot with a lot of reviewers. Even if they agree to review your book, the fact you sent them a copy does not mean they HAVE to review. They may hate your book. Or they lost interest. Do you really want that on your buy page?

If somebody you have given a book does not write a review, they are probably doing you a favor. Hounding them or demanding a review will very likely backfire. And getting your peeps to gang up on a reviewer who doesn't like your book is always going to make YOU look bad.

Reviewers who have been hounded or bullied by authors sometimes turn into vigilantes. See how that works?

3)  Expect more purges

Smart authors will pay attention: there's a new marshal in Amazon territory and he's going after the varmints who pay for reviews.

Just because you've been getting away with something doesn't mean you always will. Unfortunately, ignorance of the rules is not an excuse in the Amazon justice system.

According to uber-reviewer Big Al, there's more to come after the Fivrr lawsuits. Writing at Indies Unlimited in October Big Al said:

"Amazon isn't just looking to shut down these reviewers, but also identify their clients. The repercussions for that may go beyond just removal of the reviews. Conceivably they could go as far as to remove the seller and his or her products from Amazon."

With this new lawsuit, there will be more removals. Maybe the biggest review purge of all. The problem is, as Al points out, that a lot of legit reviews get thrown out with the bathwater. If you lose reviews, it's almost impossible to have them put back.

4) Save copies of Amazon reviews and post them to more than one site.

Sometimes, reviews evaporate for no discernable reason. Penny Sansevieri says sometimes they will come back just as mysteriously, but usually they don't.

This has certainly happened to me. When a book gets republished by a new publisher, often reviews fall away, never to return. So it's a good idea to always save copies of your reviews. I wish I had.

Another thing we can all do is post reviews we write to iTunes, Smashwords, Google Play, B & N or Kobo. You can also use review sites like Goodreads and Shelfari

That way reviews won't be lost forever if they disappear due to algorithm changes or review purges—and Amazon won't have the only review game in town.

Maybe someday somebody will start up a BookBub type newsletter that says. "50 five-star reviews on iTunes" instead of Amazon. BookBub itself says it prefers books that are available on multiple platforms, so maybe they'll pay attention to other platform reviews.

But we have to post them first!

5) Don't stop asking for reviews, but be ethical.


Penny Sansevieri thinks there's nothing wrong with asking online friends and fans to write a review but we need to keep in mind that Amazon may pull it.

That's kind of my feeling too. I don't see anything unethical in asking people who know you—especially people who get to "know" you on social media because they like your work—to review your book. Fans don't always offer mindless praise. They often say "this isn't up to her usual standard" or "I liked book one better" or whatever. At least mine do.

Unfortunately, it's human nature to be more vocal with complaints than praise, so if we have to depend entirely on first-time readers who have never heard of us, reviews will be skewed on the negative side—if we get any reviews at all.

Authors have always reviewed other authors. It's a tradition as old as publishing. They are not always kind to each other. In fact many have been remarkably snarky. I'll be talking about that in future post.

For a good rundown of what is considered ethical reviewing, see the code of ethics for reviewers at Novel Finds.

6) Report abuse when you see it. 


When you see a misleading, unethical, or inappropriate review on a retail site, click the button for reporting abuse. It's easy. Every review on Amazon has a line below that says "was this review helpful to you?" followed by "yes" and "no" buttons and another saying "report abuse."

Amazon listens to its customers. But the complaints have to reach critical mass.

But What about Amazon's OTHER Review Problem?


The plaintive cries from authors aren't just about missing reviews. You also see a lot of stuff like this:

  • "I have 30 one-star reviews on my barbeque cookbook. They're all from PETA activists who say meat is murder…and Amazon won't remove them."
  • "My stalker ex-boyfriend had his friends leave a bunch of one-star reviews on my buy page saying my book is terrible. It's obvious none of them has read it. Amazon says the 'reviews' don't break any of their rules."
  • "I got a one-star review from a guy who left the same one-star review on 52 different books: 'I didn't read this book. I bought it for my wife'. I complained to Amazon, but it's still there."

Epic Fantasy author William L. Hahn pondered Amazon's review issues at The Independent Bookworm recently. He acknowledges, "Amazon appears to be cracking down on paid reviews and I think most of us would cheer that idea."

But he brings up the other BIG problem with Amazon reviews: 

"ignorant, hateful, racist/sexist/ageist trolls can come crashing through an author page and wreck the place with no penalty whatsoever. Just scratch up $3 of sourdough money to buy the first title: download, write a one-star/one-line review, then return the book. Get all your money back, while your review stays up naming you as a 'Qualified Reviewer' forever! Use the same money to lather-rinse-repeat through every title, just because the author’s a woman, or dared to praise Reagan, or said something nice on Facebook about the football team you hate."

Amazon is plagued by review trolls, revenge reviews and "reviews" by people with political and personal agendas that have nothing to do with the book.

There was a particularly nasty example of this recently:

A book by the mother of a child murdered in a school shooting was attacked by a group of conspiracy-theory loonies who claim there's no such thing as a school shooting.

Their "reviews" claim all those gun rampages are hoaxes and phony "drills" staged by mean (and remarkably clever) people who want to make the "happiness is a warm gun" community feel bad.

Yeah, I didn't know these guys existed either. The delusions of conspiracy theorists get more amazing every day.

But what makes this stuff even worse is that these people are free to torment a bereaved mother with impunity—and they use Amazon to perpetuate the cray-cray. The last time I checked, the toxic reviews libeling the mother were still there.

It doesn't make sense to me that Amazon would want its store to be used as a vehicle for spreading the propaganda of violent extremists. Amazon is a private company so the Constitutional right of "free speech" does not apply.

So I assume not enough customers are complaining.

People may not be reporting abuse because the mother's book is selling well and she has a 5-star rating. The nutjobs have probably done a lot to draw attention to her book and boost her sales and draw sympathetic reviews.

But at what cost?

If this stuff bothers you, you need to keep complaining until Amazon is as eager to remove phony "reviews" by people with personal and political agendas—who have obviously not read a book—as they are to block an author's social media contacts.

Unfortunately, Amazon spokespeople have stated that they do NOT require a reviewer to have read any of the books they review. That's how famously prolific Amazon reviewer Harriet Klausner (RIP) managed to "review" up to ten books a day, year after year.

Personally, I think if a retail site wants their reviews to be helpful to customers, they would be smart to weed out ALL misleading reviews, not just the positive ones.

But as I said, the Mighty Zon doesn't come to me for advice.

Note: Squeaky wheels get the grease. If you want Amazon to change their policies, pro-author voices have to be as loud as the anti-author ones. (But report abuse as a customer, not as an author.)

If—as a reader—you feel misled by reviewers who don't read the books they review, say so. If enough people complain, they may change their policy. Amazon really does believe the customer is always right and will go out of their way to please customers. (I had a great experience with Amazon customer service just this week when a cancellation by a vendor meant I wasn't eligible for free shipping and they gave it to me anyway.)

Amazon's Upcoming Review Changes


Amazon has reported there will be more changes to the review algorithms in 2016. They are introducing a new policy where verified purchase reviews will have more weight, as will more recent reviews.

Unfortunately, this doesn't solve the problem of the system gamers Mr. Hahn mentions, who buy a book, get "verified" then return it without reading.

But as I said, it's the Zon's circus.

I say we should go ahead and review according to our own ethics. (I personally believe in reading a book before reviewing it, and I'm going to continue to follow that rule.) 

But be aware that if you write a review of a book by somebody you "know" on social media, some vigilante may report you to the Zon police and the review will go away.

So post reviews on more than one platform and ALWAYS report abuse when you see it.

What about you, Scriveners? Have you lost any reviews recently? Have your reviews been rejected with one of these "you know the author" messages? Have you ever had an author demand a review from you because they reviewed your book? Do you think it's ethical to review somebody you "know" online? How do you react when you see a review that's obviously written by somebody who never opened the book? 


BOOK OF THE WEEK


THE BEST REVENGE: Only 99c this week!

30 weeks on Amazon's Humor Bestseller list!

Read how it all began!

The prequel to the Camilla Randall Mysteries.

We meet Camilla and Plantagenet in the big-hair, pastel-suited 1980s. In this satirical romp, a spoiled 1980s debutante comes of ageand discovers strengths nobody knew she hadwhen she loses everything. The story takes her from the doors of Studio 54 to the coke-fueled parties of Southern California to a cell in the L.A. County Jail accused of murder. We know she didn't do it, but who did?




The Best Revenge is 99c at Amazon and Nook. (Also available at Smashwords, Apple, Kobo at $2.99.)

This book has been with four different publishers, and each time it gets re-published, most of its reviews disappear (and somehow never the trollish ones.) I don't think this is punishment for anything. Just tech glitches. I see today that the UK site has a new tech glitch: metadata from the 2005 edition has been substituted for the current metadata. I hope Author Central UK will be able to help. Anyway, if you happen to read it and like it, a review would be much appreciated. I don't think simply reading an author's blog labels you as "friends and family" so you can review without fear of being deleted. 


OPPORTUNITY ALERTS



Amazon's Little A Poetry Contest. This is a brand new thing. NO FEE The contest will be judged by poets Cornelius Eady, Jericho Brown and Kimiko Hahn. The winner will receive $5,000 in prize money and a publishing contract featuring a $2,000 advance with Little A, Amazon Publishing's literary imprint. Poets who have published no more than one book of poetry can submit their full-length collections for consideration to LittleAPoetry@amazon.com. Deadline Dec 20th 2015

Platypus Press. A new UK small press is looking for literary novels and poetry collections. No agent required. Your book must be previously unpublished, but work posted on a blog or personal website is acceptable. They want to see your first three chapters (but the book must be complete). Simultaneous submissions accepted.

The Poisoned Pencil: New YA publisher open to submissions! The well-known mystery publisher The Poisoned Pen now has a YA imprint. They accept unagented manuscripts and offer an advance of $1000. Submit through their website submissions manager. Response time is 4-6 weeks.

Open call for the Independent Women Anthology: short stories (flash fiction included), poetry, essays, artwork, or any other woman and/or feminist-centered creative work. 10,000 word max. All genres but explicit erotica. $100 per short story, $50 for flash, poetry, and photography/artwork. All profits will be donated to the Pixel Project Charity to end Violence Against Women. Deadline January 31, 2016 with a goal of publication on International Women's Day, March 8, 2016.

SCHLAFLY BEER MICRO-BREW MICRO-FICTION CONTEST $10-$20 ENTRY FEE. Fee includes a subscription to River Styx literary magazine or one issue depending on amount of entry fee paid. Submit up to three stories of 500 words or less each. All stories will be considered for publication. $1,500 first prize plus one case of micro-brewed Schlafly Beer. Deadline January 1, 2016.

The Writer Short Story Contest judged by Literary star Colum McCann. You can have your work read by the acclaimed author of Let the Great World Spin. $25 entry fee. Write a 2,000-word short story responding to one or both of the quotes below by Mr. McCann: "There is always room for at least two truths." or "With all respects to heaven, I like it here." Deadline December 6th

Writers' Village International Short Fiction Award winter 2015. Cash prizes totaling $3200.Ten further Highly Commended entrants will have their stories acknowledged at the site and gain a free entry in the next round. Entry fee $24 INCLUDES A PROFESSIONAL CRITIQUE. Any genre of prose fiction may be submitted up to 3000 words, except plays and poetry. Entries are welcomed worldwide. Multiple entries are permitted. Deadline: November 30th.

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Sunday, November 15, 2015

Catherine Ryan Hyde on Rejection: Does Your Rejected Work Need a Rewrite?


Rejections. We all get them. In fact, there are only two things we can absolutely count on in the writing business: rejections and bad reviews.

There's no doubt rejections make us feel terrible. As Brian Doyle wrote in Portland Magazine and was quoted in Letters of Note, "To receive one is to instantly and all at once have one's hopes dashed, confidence thinned, and mood dampened."

They devastate us all, no matter where we are in our career. But we have to be careful not to let them derail our careers, or mess with a perfectly good manuscript.

We have to remember a rejection usually reflects only one person's opinion, which doesn't mean anything about its quality.

Agent Pam Howell once told me, "I hate white chocolate, so if you send me white chocolate, I'll reject it. But that doesn't mean it's bad white chocolate."

Think of it this way: if your work is strong enough to get a positive emotional response from one reader, it will trigger a negative response in another. People are different. No artist can please all of the people all of the time.

The truth is, any writer who hasn't received a rejection or a bad review is simply a beginner who hasn't tried to publish anything.

At the Central Coast Writers Conference in September, we all got a big wake-up call from a panel of highly successful screenwriters: it turns out novelists have it EASY. We only get rejected by agents and editors and the occasional reviewer. Screenwriters get rejected hourly—by the actors, the director, the producer, even the gaffer...and of course, the writer who's been brought in to "fix" your script. Everybody working on a picture is always asking for rewrites.

That helped us put things in perspective.

And the truth is the more successful authors are, the more rejections and bad reviews they'll have racked up. Superstar author Catherine Ryan Hyde has a ton. She's the author of  28 (and a half) books. She's had one made into a major motion picture, and she's hit the bestseller lists at the New York Times, USA Today, and Amazon. She's a true "hybrid" author who was published by the Big 5 for decades (S & S, Knopf, and Doubleday), then went indie, then landed in what might be the sweet spot in publishing today, Amazon imprints (Lake Union, Encore and Crossing.) 

She's even been the #1 author on Amazon—knocking J.K. Rowling off her perch at #1 in the Cuckoo's Calling summer of 2013.

So when you want to find out what rejection really means, Catherine can give us the skinny. And it turns out it doesn't mean all that much.

I know so many good writers who decide they need to entirely rewrite their books after a few rejections, or they dump a story in a drawer and never look at it again because it failed to find a home or hook an agent after a few tries. 

Some writers even keep their work buried in their files forever, saying they need to give it "one more polish" because they are so fearful of rejection. 

But if you accept that rejection is part of the process, that it's totally subjective, and that you need to collect a whole lot of them before you'll get a "yes", you're much more likely to succeed

...Anne

When Pay It Forward Was Rejected

by Catherine Ryan Hyde


This is one of my better rejection stories.

I'm not patting myself on the back here. I'm not suggesting that I just love the way I tell this story. It's more that I have a rating system for rejection stories. The more they completely redefine rejection, the better I like them.

So this is a good one, in my opinion.

This is the one about the agent—not just any agent but my agent at the time—who rejected Pay It Forward.

I was already under contract with her for Walter's Purple Heart, which she had sent out many times, to many rejections. I had already shown her Funerals for Horses (to which she responded, "I love this, but it doesn't work." I'd shed light on that comment if I had any). And now, contractually, I had to show her Pay It Forward when I finished writing it.

But I should mention that I had another agent at the time. Yes, another one. You see, technically, if my agent passes on a novel, I have a right to seek representation for it elsewhere. And I had been approached by a younger, newer, hungrier agent who had read one of my stories in a small literary magazine. (Take notice of this scriveners! You know how I'm always telling you to keep writing short stories? This might happen...Anne.)

Agent #2 was enthusiastic about representing me. Enough so to be willing to take on Funerals for Horses without first right of refusal on any of my other works. And Agent #1 confirmed, with only the slightest prickle in her tone, that so long as I was doing so with full disclosure, I did have that right.

What could possibly go wrong?

Ever heard it said that an author's relationship with an agent is something like a marriage? I always took it to mean that you plunge in thinking life will be beautiful from here on out and in less than a year you've deteriorated into arguing over who has to take out the trash. 

To the extent that having an agent is something like having a spouse, having two agents is a bit like bigamy. You spend a lot of time telling one or the other that she is the only one you truly love, that the other agent means nothing to you. (It was one book. It meant nothing.) As my relationship with Agent #1 began to fray, I could always make Agent #2 laugh by saying, "My other agent doesn't understand me."

Of course, I wanted to give Pay It Forward to my agent who understood me. But I couldn't. She didn't have the "first right of refusal" contract.

I mailed the manuscript to Agent #1 and waited. She called me and left a message. It said, "We need to talk."

Have you ever noticed that after people say, "We need to talk," they never go on to share any good news? Ever? I've noticed that. And I thought maybe you had, too.

I wish she had sent me this in a letter. I would have saved it. And we'd have a merry little laugh over it now.

Short version: she hated it.

She asked me why all the people in it had to be "so awful." I told her I didn’t think Trevor, Reuben and Arlene were awful. She admitted that perhaps awful was the wrong word, but noted that everybody had something wrong with them. They all had problems. (Unlike life, I was thinking, where nobody ever has any issues.) She asked me why nice people couldn't pay it forward to other nice people. (Should I even comment? No. Too easy.)

She got angry because she said I wasn't listening to her suggestions on taking it apart and putting it back together. She was right. I wasn't. Because I knew I wasn't going to take it apart and put it back together. Because I didn't think it was broken.

I asked her to send it, and Walter's Purple Heart, back home to me. And I gave them to Agent #2, who had never sold anybody's first fiction. She went on to make me her first. She and her partner-husband sold my first five novels and three movie deals—including selling Pay It Forward to Simon & Schuster and Warner Brothers films—without revision.

Maybe you think the point of the story is that Agent #1 was wrong. But the point of the story is that there really is no right and wrong in fiction. She didn't like it. That's her prerogative. But I'm awfully glad I didn't believe her, get discouraged, and slide it into a drawer.

Next time you get a rejection, picture the manuscript of Pay It Forward gathering dust in one of my desk drawers. And assume that the next person you ask may offer a wildly different opinion.

...Catherine Ryan Hyde


What about you, scriveners? Have you let rejection get you down? Do you rush to revise your book every time somebody rejects it or tells you it needs to be "fixed"? Are you hiding work in your files because it got rejected a few times? How do you deal with rejection?

Many thanks to Catherine for holding down the fort while I recover from dental implant surgery. For more on rejection from an editor's point of view, see Ruth Harris's post 10 REAL Reasons Your Book Was Rejected.

You can find me on Louise Wise's Wise Words this week.
You can read an excerpt from So Much for Buckingham. It's Camilla Mystery #5, in which the Manners Doctor forgets her manners and responds to an Amazon review of her etiquette guide. Mayhem and murder (and hilarity) ensue.

And don't forget that by next week we should be moved to our new WordPress blog
. Keep your fingers crossed. If you subscribe, the blog you get in your inbox should be from the new site. If you follow by rss feed, you may have to click through from this one...Anne


BOOK OF THE WEEK


It goes up to $3.99 on November 20th
It's only on sale in the US and the UK, alas. 
(The Zon's policy, not ours.) 

HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE: A SELF-HELP GUIDE
by Anne R. Allen and #1 bestseller Catherine Ryan Hyde



Not just for indies, and not just for authors going the traditional route. This is the book that helps you choose what path is right for YOU.
Plus there's lots of insider information on using social media and dealing with critiques, bullies, trolls, and rejection.

OPPORTUNITY ALERTS



Amazon's Little A Poetry Contest.
 This is a brand new thing. NO FEE The contest will be judged by poets Cornelius Eady, Jericho Brown and Kimiko Hahn. The winner will receive $5,000 in prize money and a publishing contract featuring a $2,000 advance with Little A, Amazon Publishing's literary imprint. Poets who have published no more than one book of poetry can submit their full-length collections for consideration to LittleAPoetry@amazon.com. Deadline Dec 20th 2015

The Poisoned Pencil: New YA publisher open to submissions! The well-known mystery publisher The Poisoned Pen now has a YA imprint. They accept unagented manuscripts and offer an advance of $1000. Submit through their website submissions manager. Response time is 4-6 weeks.

Open call for the Independent Women Anthology: short stories (flash fiction included), poetry, essays, artwork, or any other woman and/or feminist-centered creative work. 10,000 word max. All genres but explicit erotica. $100 per short story, $50 for flash, poetry, and photography/artwork. All profits will be donated to the Pixel Project Charity to end Violence Against Women. Deadline January 31, 2016 with a goal of publication on International Women's Day, March 8, 2016.

SCHLAFLY BEER MICRO-BREW MICRO-FICTION CONTEST $10-$20 ENTRY FEE. Fee includes a subscription to River Styx literary magazine or one issue depending on amount of entry fee paid. Submit up to three stories of 500 words or less each. All stories will be considered for publication. $1,500 first prize plus one case of micro-brewed Schlafly Beer. Deadline January 1, 2016.

The Writer Short Story Contest judged by Literary star Colum McCann. You can have your work read by the acclaimed author of Let the Great World Spin. $25 entry fee. Write a 2,000-word short story responding to one or both of the quotes below by Mr. McCann: "There is always room for at least two truths." or "With all respects to heaven, I like it here." Deadline December 6th

TETHERED BY LETTERS' FALL 2015 LITERARY CONTEST ENTRY FEES: $7-$15 Currently accepting submissions for short stories (1,000 to 7,500 words, open genre), flash fiction (55, 250, or 500 words), and poetry (maximum of three pages per poem). All winners will be published in F(r)iction. All finalists will receive free professional edits and be considered for later publication. The prizes are $500 short story $150 flash fiction, and $150 for poetry. Multiple entries accepted. International submissions welcome. Deadline December 1.

HAMLIN GARLAND AWARD FOR THE SHORT STORY $20 ENTRY FEE. $2,000 and publication to the top unpublished story on any theme. One story per entry, multiple entries acceptable. Maximum 7,000 words. All entrants will be considered for publication. Deadline December 1.

The Ernest Hemingway Flash Fiction Contest. $10 fee Unpublished fiction. 1500 words or less. Simultaneous submissions ARE welcome. All entries will be considered for publication in Fiction Southeast. (a prestigious journal that has published people like Joyce Carol Oates) Winner gets $200 and publication. Deadline: Dec. 1st

Writers' Village International Short Fiction Award winter 2015. Cash prizes totaling $3200.Ten further Highly Commended entrants will have their stories acknowledged at the site and gain a free entry in the next round. Entry fee $24 INCLUDES A PROFESSIONAL CRITIQUE. Any genre of prose fiction may be submitted up to 3000 words, except plays and poetry. Entries are welcomed worldwide. Multiple entries are permitted. Deadline: November 30th.


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