books with Athena

books with Athena

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Confessions of a Big Six Editor: The Triumph of the Slush Pile

Thanks to everybody who came by and/or commented on last week’s post on Amazon reviews. You gave the blog its own Black Friday, with a record 1200 hits on Friday alone. 9000 visits, 140 comments, and counting. It’s now our #1 post of all time!

But I seem to have seriously miffed a lot of professional reviewers who thought I was lecturing THEM—telling them not to give negative reviews.

Major, major apologies, reviewers! NOT what I meant to say at all.

Without negative reviews, the positives wouldn't mean a thing.

NOTA BENE, SCRIVENERS: BOOK REVIEWERS ARE DEITIES WHOM WE ALL LOVE AND ADORE. They are our helpers, not the enemy. They are the new gatekeepers. To learn more about how phenomenally important they are, read my post THE NEW GATEKEEPERS and my interview with book reviewer Danielle Smith here

The purpose of my post was to tell the non-Amazon-savvy readers in my own demographic they now have more power than they realize, and that it’s easier to exercise than they may think.

But it seems the non-savvy Boomer was me. I talked about review conventions that are kind of obvious to anybody who’s been to Amazon a few times, but are apparently (sotto voce) THE FACTS THAT MUST NOT BE NAMED. 

I didn't know. Seriously. Sorry.

But, since humans are always more likely to be more vocal with complaints than with praise, I will continue to urge fans to support their favorite authors and reviewers. 

If that gets me more cyberbullying, so be it. I still think that if you love a book, it's good to say so. And it only takes a minute. 

As I said in last week’s post, if a review is useful, whether positive or negative—say that too. Good reviewers need our support just as much as good authors. Publishing is a business, and professionalism should be rewarded.

I also want to apologize to any Boomers who got their feelings hurt when I said some of us don’t automatically think of leaving an Amazon review and may not be acquainted with online review conventions. Ruth and I are both Boomers ourselves, specializing in what Ruth laughingly calls “biddylit”—that is, women’s fiction for grown-up ladies--many of whom tell us they're terrified to leave reviews.

I assumed this was because most of us born before 1965 treat tech as a second language, and don’t have the automatic tech instincts of Millennials and Gen X-ers, but to the Bill Gateses and Steve Jobses (we’ll miss you, dude) out there: sincere apologies.

Yes, the whole durn computer/Interwebz thing was invented by us Boomers. Yay Mickey Mouse Club, the Beatles, and Woodstock!

A number of people argued that, with Amazon becoming one big slush pile, the reviews should have stricter guidelines.

I agree. 

There’s no doubt a lot of not-ready-for-prime-time stuff is getting uploaded to Amazon every day, and (OK, I'll whisper it: A LOT OF AUTHORS DO GET FAUX RAVES FROM THEIR SISTERS AND THEIR COUSINS AND THEIR AUNTS.) Those are just as unhelpful as the ones written by trolls who leave semi-literate 20-word negatives for 1000s of books they’ve never read. (Which, BTW, happens to Big 6-ers as much as indies.)

The Kindle revolution means that we bypass the gatekeepers. Which turns us—the readers—into gatekeepers.

So how do we tell if a book is part of the Konrath’s tsunami of crap  or a brilliant new find?

We have to learn a new set of skills. 

Readers can learn which one of these is more positive:

“*****5-stars: The author is a friend from church who got me to write this in exchange for bringing her tuna surprise hot dish to the Sunday social, and I guess her book is OK if you like a bunch of filthy sex in a romance novel.”

“**2-stars: This is the most brilliantly written romance novel I’ve ever read. Strong, believable characters, eye-opening insights, and a page-flipping story, but hey, it’s a romance--not exactly A la Recherche du Temps Perdu.”

But unfortunately the Amazon algorithms can’t read between those lines. They only read the stars, so that leaves more work for us, the readers. A 3-starred book is going to be way harder to find, but keep looking.

As a customer, you can also look at the book description, the blurbs and, if you’re in the US, get a hefty sneak peek into the book—usually several chapters.

That makes you a new version of the old gatekeeper: the publishing house slush reader.

So who is better to teach us than Ruth Harris, former slush reader for Bantam?

Ruth went on to become a senior editor at both Bantam and Dell—and then publisher at Kensington, as well as the author of a whole lot of NYT bestselling novels. She knows the business from all sides.

In this piece, she reminds us of three hopeful things:

1) Great careers DO start in the slush pile.

2) There are a lot of seriously clueless people out there, so if you can read and write English, know how to follow directions, and are taking your meds, you’re way ahead of the game.

3) Somebody does actually read your submissions, (although nowadays that somebody is unlikely to be paid.)

TRIUMPH OF THE SLUSH PILE
by Ruth Harris

Back in the twentieth century when I started out in publishing, publishers did not insist that all submissions be agented, and direct submissions, aka the slush pile, served as training wheels (more like hamster wheels as it turned out) for young editors.

Beginning a new job at Bantam, I was assigned a desk in the secretarial bullpen where a monster stack of manuscripts waited for me. My job was to read them to see if any might be worth passing on to one of the older, more experienced editors.

Conscientious and wanting to impress the senior editor who was my boss, I began to read, at first assiduously finishing one manuscript (I had learned by then they were referred to as “ms” in written communications) after another.

The quasi-literate (they were the ones who loved "big" words and used them incorrectly), sub-literate and illiterate were sandwiched at random between the religious visionaries, the sexually shall-we-say peculiar, and the politically febrile.

There were the demented, the deranged and the delusional, submissions from jails and penitentiaries.

Most of all there were would-be writers who had never met a comma or, sometimes, even a paragraph, who had no idea how to shape a scene or introduce a character much less write a line of dialogue that any human being might actually have uttered. To those wannabes (that word didn’t exist then), quote marks also often seemed a galactic mystery as did sentences containing both a subject and a verb.

I was no literary snob and my reading choices embraced the entire range from Willa Cather to Mickey Spillane—but the slush pile did me in.

No matter how fast I plowed through the mss (that’s the plural of ms), attaching Bantam’s form rejection letter to the top and placing them in the required SASE (Self Addressed Stamped Envelope), the pile never diminished.

Every morning and every afternoon (two mail deliveries a day back then) the mail room guy dumped another stack of mss on my desk.

They were typewritten, smeary, sometimes single-spaced, sometimes sans margins, punctuation or paragraphing; some were hand written, scrawled in old-fashioned school notebooks, the kind with the marbelized black-and-white cardboard covers. They were held together by rubber bands, string, yarn and, once in a while, ribbon.

The pages were occasionally pristine but more predictably smudged, dog eared, defaced by icky, unidentifiable substances, or dotted with coffee stains and cookie crumbs left by previous editors who had read—or made a valiant effort to read—the submission in question and, as they say in the trade, “passed.” 

I quickly learned to read the first one or two pages, maybe scan a few more, then flip to somewhere around the middle to see if anything had improved and, if any shred of hope remained, look at the last page or two to see if a more careful reading might be called for. (Dream on.)

The only further communiqué from these would-be authors was an occasional complaint that they’d left a piece of white thread on page 125 and, when the ms came bouncing back, the piece of white thread remained in place.

Why, they wanted to know, hadn’t the entire ms been read? How could we (the nameless editors because no one ever signed a name to a form rejection) reject their masterpiece without reading it in its entirety?

Let me count the ways.

I moved on and so did the slush pile: to agents who weren’t about to pay a young assistant to get the slush sorted—by now, it was their unpaid interns who slogged through the mess. (As opposed to the mss.) There was to be a double benefit: publishers no longer had to pay salaried employees to sift through the slush pile and, in the bargain, submissions had now been vetted before appearing on an editor’s desk.

As time passed, we arrived somewhere in first decade of the twenty-first century and reading the slush pile had gone from paid labor to unpaid labor.

A sort of progress, I guess, but one last glimmer of progress beckoned:

The Internet.

The quick and easy upload that earned Amazon a 70% cut every time a 99c book was purchased. Amazon had managed what once had seemed the impossible: it turned a huge time and money sink into a profit center.

Or, as my Mom would say: Someone had finally figured out how to turn shit into Shinola.

And guess what? The same problems that beset me years ago at my piled-to-the-rafters desk persist today in cyber-ville.

  • Mangled grammar? Check.

  • Run on sentences and run on paragraphs? Check.

  • Typo infestations? Check.

  • Terrible formatting,

  • No discernable plot,

  • “Characters” unrecognizable as human beings,

  • Blobs, clunks and chunks of back story bulldozed in,

  • Hopeless attempts at description,

  • Even more hopeless efforts at narrative,

  • Character names that change from one chapter to the next.

  • And so on. And on.

About the only thing that’s different is that today’s digitized slush pile comes sans icky unidentifiable splotches and the coffee stains and cookie crumbs left by previous readers.

...and the little piece of white thread on page 125.


PS: Lest you think me excessively bitter and cynical, I will add that the SP is not absolutely, totally 1000% hopeless.

There are writers who have made it out. Stephanie Meyers (Twilight) was rescued from an agent’s SP. Philip Roth back in 1958 from a Paris Review SP (you can look it up on Google). And, IIRC, Kathleen Woodiwiss, one of the queens of the Bodice Rippers, was originally pulled out of the SP as was Rosemary Rogers. At Avon. By a talented editor who knew what Freud didn't: she knew what women wanted.

*******

Please Note: We are very much aware there are lots of thoroughly professional indies, who are producing work as good or better than what was vetted by those slushpile readers of yesteryear. (Ruth is self-pubbing these days, and Anne is with two small publishers.)

But because self-pubbers aren’t vetted, it’s up to you the reader to learn to weed out the bad ones—but I’ll bet you won’t have to read as far as that “white thread” page to spot them.

How about you, scriveners? Do you feel competent to do your own vetting, or do you think interns do a better job? Do you want your book to get the stamp of approval of the Big Six before you’ll feel OK about seeing it for sale?

This week, MWiDP is launching its second Saffina DesforgesPresents anthology: Kindle Coffee Break Collection. Anne's story VIVE LA REVOLUTION appears in the anthology (caution: very noir Hollywood humor there. For fans of dark satire only.)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Amazon Reader Reviews: 12 Things Everybody and His Grandmother Needs to Know

Update: Amazon has changed a lot since 2011, when I wrote this post. (Although it still labels a three-star review as "critical.")  For an update on Amazon rules read my post the Laws of the (Amazon) Jungle.  

Earlier update: This post was written for grandmothers (and grandfathers)—readers of my generation (Boomers) and our parents—non-tech-savvy folks who never think of writing online book reviews. I wrote for people who don't realize the Amazon review gives them a voice they never had before. Instead of calling everybody in our book group when we finish a book we love and insisting! it be put next on the list!! immediately!!!—we can go to Amazon, write a review, and reach more people.

Obviously, if we don't like a book, we can tell people that too.

Without negative reviews, the positives would mean nothing. I am simply reminding people to think of the impact of what they write, because online reviews have a lot of power.

Reviews are for readers. They should be honest and fair.

However, at the request of several grandmothers, I offer some tips on making your star rating match the content of your review.

This is because the online star system is different from the ones we grew up with.

One sweet woman in her seventies had been devastated to find out that giving a book "a gold star" wasn't letting people know she liked the book. She thought one star was a good thing.

I chose the title "everybody and his grandmother" because I thought it was a cute way of saying this is a post for older folks.

Instead, a lot of younger people have taken it as a challenge. It has made a lot of them irrationally angry—so irrational they are unable to read the actual text of the post. I do ask that if you decide to comment on this post, that you read it first—and don't rant about stuff it doesn't say.

All obscene, threatening and criminal comments will be deleted.

You lose your moral high ground when you stoop to sending death threats. Seriously.

This is not a post about self-publishing. I am not self-published. Traditionally published authors need reviews too.

Unfortunately, it's human nature to be more vocal with complaints than with praise, so continue to urge fans to support their favorite authors and their favorite reviewers. If you love a book, say so, and if a review is useful, whether positive or negative—say that too. Good reviewers need our support just as much as good authors. Publishing is a business, and professionalism should be rewarded.


********

Original Post on AMAZON reviews


One of the less fortunate results of the Kindle revolution is the outsized portion of the publishing market that has been gobbled up by Amazon. Yes, Jeff Bezos got his near-monopoly by being author-friendly, while the Jurassic sector of the business still treats writers like single-use plastic bags of poo, but the truth is: monopolies are always scary.

Whether or not Mr. Bezos has taken sole possession of the Interwebz, as Wired reports, or he’s about to lose world supremacy, as Mark Williams  predicts, most authors are dependent on “the Zon” for about 90% of their income. (Check sample stats at the Writer’s Guide to E-Publishing.)

This means an Amazon glitch can stop your cashflow dead, as has been happening to Saffina Desforges, since her bestselling Sugar and Spice disappeared from Amazon.co.uk last week with no explanation.

It also means that Amazon reviews, which were only mildly significant three years ago, now have a make-or-break impact on an author’s sales.

When you’re buying an ebook, there’s no helpful bookstore clerk to tell you what might be appropriate for your nine-year old niece, or if there are any new cozy mysteries you might enjoy, or whether the new Janet Evanovich is up to her usual standards.

Instead, you check reader reviews and Amazon’s “also bought” suggestions. These are all generated by consumers, which gives the ordinary reader immense power.

But most readers, especially those who are my age, don’t have a clue this power exists.

As Ruth Harris and I have found, the gap between “I love this book! I want to tell everybody to read it!” and leaving a review on Amazon seems unbridgeable to most people born before 1965.

I recently discovered this the hard way. A kind older friend asked what she could do to help me, since I’ve been on overload with seven books coming out before Christmas. I said, truthfully, the most useful thing anybody could do for me is write an Amazon review of one of my books.

She bought FOOD OF LOVE, enjoyed it, carefully posted her wonderful review, and gave me…three stars. She bought another copy for a friend who “thought it was a hoot,” and gave it…two stars.

While you’re all groaning and saying “with friends like that, who needs…” let me tell you what this experience taught me:

Stuff we take for granted in our insular online publishing world is a mystery to outsiders—especially readers who don’t spend much time in Cyberia. They may have noticed their local Borders store has closed, and that nice little bookshop on the corner is gone, but hey, in this economy….

A lot of readers don’t have a clue the old publishing paradigm is over. If they don’t own an e-reader and mostly get their books at the library (when it’s open) they may not have even shopped at Amazon.

This is complicated by the fact some older people don’t have a clue about online customer reviews. They assume they’re like TV Guide movie ratings. A Sandra Bullock rom-com always gets 2 stars, right? 3 stars are for something deep and moving, or a spectacle like Avatar; and 4 stars are reserved for Oscar winners.

(If you’re under 25, you may not know what TV Guide is, which shows what a huge information gap we’re dealing with.) 

So I figured I’d write a handy guide you can send to your older friends and relatives—or anybody who isn’t savvy about the book business. They want to help. Really. But they feel like they’re being asked to speak Klingon.

I’m focusing on Amazon here, because it has such a huge share of the market. Barnes and Noble and places like Smashwords keep the Zon from having a total monopoly—at least in the US—and I don’t mean to exclude them. A review posted anywhere, especially a readers’ site like Goodreads—is always useful. They have a slightly different rating system, so make sure to check guidelines. UPDATE: Amazon's share of the market has decreased considerably since this post was written.

A Reader’s Guide to Amazon Reviewing


If you’ve got favorite writers who aren’t superstars, they can use your help, right now—whether they’re with a small press, indie, or even published by the Big Six. The demise of bookstores and print book reviews means online reviews can make or break a new title. If you see a book hanging out there in cyberspace with only a couple of reviews—or none—remember that with just a few minutes of your time, you can jumpstart that writer’s career. 

Here are some helpful tips to get you started:

1) Anybody can “Like” a book’s Amazon buy page. There’s a button. Click it. We used to be allowed to “rate this book” by giving it stars whether we reviewed it or not, but that seems to have changed. “Liking” doesn’t do much, but it makes the author feel better. UPDATE--Amazon has removed the "like" button on the US site.

2) You don't have to be a regular customer at Amazon to sign up. You just have to have bought one thing from Amazon at some point. Plus you can sign up with a pseudonym or your real name. A “real name” review carries more weight with some readers, but if you prefer to remain anonymous, that’s fine. If buying from big corporations is against your religion, consider signing up anyway--and buy that one item--because that’s how you get your power.

Once you’re signed up with any branch of Amazon: UK, DE (Germany) CA (Canada) etc. you can leave reviews on any country’s site. Posting reviews to both the US and UK site can really help sales, since inhabitants of the British Isles buy more books per capita than any other people on the planet. (Maybe it’s all those rainy days, or maybe they’re just smarter than the rest of us, but all writers need to pay attention to the UK/Eire market.)

3) Rating the existing reviews as “helpful” or “unhelpful” has significant impact. Reviews with the most “helpful” votes appear on the buy page. By voting for the most informative and favorable reviews, you have the power to get them moved to the head of the line.

You’ll also be giving props to the reviewers who were kind enough to post a thoughtful review. There are regular Amazon reviewers who write dozens of reviews per month. (We LOVE these people.) You can check their tastes and ratings by clicking on the “see my other reviews” button after the review. “See my other reviews” is also a way to find out if the reviewer is legit. If somebody has given only one- and two-star reviews to ten or more books in the same sub-category, he’s probably a troll, paid by one author to bring down other authors’ ratings. (Yeah, I know. Creepy.)

Raising the position of the most descriptive reviews is especially helpful if the publisher hasn’t given the book a very effective blurb, or has simply quoted the initial pitch letter, like Nathan Bransford’s publisher, Dial/Penguin. (They still post the dated information that Nathan “will be hosting extensive games, parties, and giveaways in the lead-up to publication” on the buy page of his first Jacob Wunderbar book. Not cool, Penguins. We know everybody’s overworked, but Nathan deserves better.)

4) Any reader can “tag” a book. You probably won’t need to mess with this, but it’s nice to know you can object to existing category tags or add your own. If you see Jennifer Weiner’s iconic chick lit comedy, Good in Bed is categorized as “erotic romance” you can object. Or if it’s labeled as a romance but not “humorous romance” or “romantic comedy,” you can add the tags. That means people looking for comedy can find the book in a search. UPDATE: Amazon has removed tags on the US site.

5) If you see something troll-y going on, you can get a review taken off and checked by Amazon personnel by clicking “report abuse.” This doesn’t happen often, but it can.  If you see a reviewer has panned a book he obviously hasn’t read, you can click the button for “report abuse” that appears after each review. I once checked out a well-known author’s page and saw three almost identical 1 and 2-star reviews from R. Jones, Bob J, and RJ, which all said in pretty much the same words that the book was extremely long, dry and boring. Thing is: it was an action-packed novella that other people found too short. The generic nasty review didn’t fit. I hit the abuse button.

But do NOT abuse the abuse button. It has to be pretty clear the troll hasn’t read the book or is making a personal attack on the author, or the Zon will restore it and you’re the one who will look bad.

Update: The lynch-mob mentality online has made the one-star review the "punishment" of choice for many fanatical groups. I have recently seen groups listing the names of authors they disagree with and urging people to leave one star reviews on all their books without reading them. I'd hope none of my readers would consider it. But do be aware it happens--and that you can fight this kind of bullying by reporting it to Amazon. Other sites are harder to police, but Amazon has safeguards in place.

6) You don’t have to leave a review to comment on one. If a review is extremely helpful or unhelpful, you get to say so. If a review of Melissa Banks’ The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing gives it one star because it’s a novel and not an outdoorswoman’s manual, you can leave a note for the reviewer pointing out she’s a doofus. (In a nice way of course, or you’ll be on the receiving end of the “report abuse” button.)

If you find a thoughtful, thorough review that helps you decide whether to buy the book, the reviewer will always welcome a little praise. Maybe he’ll even remember when your own book is published.

NOTE: Do not comment on your OWN book's reviews. These are for reader-to-reader commenting. Arguing with a reviewer in the comments can get you marked as a "badly behaving author."

7) Amazon reviews are guides to help other customers, not essays for the NYT. You don’t want to ask yourself, “is this War and Peace?” A better question is, “does the book deliver as advertised?”

Here’s what an Amazon review isn’t:
  • A school book report. It’s informal, so don’t worry about writing perfect prose or giving a complete synopsis of the book. Talk about the things you liked/disliked.
  • A showoffy piece for the New Yorker. Don’t get your Pauline Kael snark on if you want to stay friends with the author.
  • An essay about your personal tastes. It’s not about you. Don’t give a cozy mystery a negative review because you personally prefer thrillers.
  • A critique to help the author “improve.” (If you think an author has made an error, it’s more useful to contact her through her blog or website than pan her book. Almost all authors are accessible to readers these days, and most of us would love to hear from you.)
8) Anything less than 4 stars means “NOT RECOMMENDED” to the AMAZON ALGORITHMS. 2 or 3 star reviews are going to hurt the author's sales, no matter how much you rave in the text.

Those stars are the primary way a book is judged on AMAZON. Without a 4 or 5 star rating, a book doesn’t get picked up in the Amazon algorithms for things like “also bought” suggestions. Giving 1 or 2 stars to a book that doesn’t have many reviews can impact an author's income, so don’t do it unless you really think the author isn't ready for prime time.

Giving a bad review to a good book in a genre you don't particularly like isn't helpful to the reader and can do harm to the author.

If a friend asks you to review something you found amateurish, or wasn’t your cup of tea, just tell her you don’t feel you can review it. That happens all the time and we appreciate it.

4-star reviews can often be the most helpful. If a reader sees something like, “I loved this mystery, but the humor is pretty farcical. If you’re looking for a standard whodunit, this isn’t it,” or “this is awfully intellectual for something called chick lit.” Those offer honest information to buyers, without telling them not to buy.

I'm not saying you shouldn't be giving 1-3 star reviews. I'm just saying that on AMAZON (not all review sites) 3-Stars is perceived as a negative rating by the site itself. If you intend to be positive, then 4 stars will better convey that sentiment.

Update: Amazon algorithms change frequently, and the star rating doesn't have as much weight as it did when I wrote this post. A three-star review doesn't do the damage it used to, but it still can impact Amazon's recommendations. 

9) The star rating is like other online retail ratings, not like restaurant or film ratings.

When choosing a star rating, think of how people rate online clothing-store purchases:

5 stars means it’s just like the picture, fits great, and I wear it all the time.
4 stars means it’s pretty nice but maybe runs a little snug.
3 stars means it’s cheap-looking and the color is off. I wouldn't buy it again.
2 stars means the stitching is shoddy, the hem’s crooked, and the picture showed pockets, but it doesn’t have any. Yeah, I can wear it, but I’m seriously disappointed.
1 star means it’s a tacky mess and I sent it back. 

You don't give a great pair of jeans 2 stars because it isn't an evening gown. 

Note: I'm NOT TELLING BOOK REVIEWERS THEY HAVE TO WEAR EVENING GOWNS as one reviewer/blogger has reported. Um, little gray cells, people, as Hercule Poirot would say. Use them.

Unlike other online retail store reviews, this should NOT be a review of the retailer, but the content. If the book took too long to arrive, or was damaged in transit, it’s not fair to give the author a bad review. Contact Amazon directly.

With e-books, the line blurs. When there’s a glitch in the formatting, a lot of reviewers are giving bad reviews—both for self-pubbed and Big 6-pubbed books (yes, they have a lot of glitches too.) Also, with the proliferation of e-readers, there are lots of compatibly issues. Something that reads great on an iPad may be a mess on your Droid.

Again, it’s better to report the problem to Amazon or the author directly and keep your review to the content of the book, not the delivery system.

10) Anything over 20 words qualifies as a review Yeah. It’s that easy. It doesn’t have to be more than a couple of sentences, although longer ones are always appreciated.

11) Karma comes back. Positively reviewing an author’s book pays back in tons of good will. Review a friend’s book now, and when yours comes out, she’s a lot more likely to review yours. And even if you don’t write, writing positive reviews is the nicest thing you can do for your favorite authors. (I don't mean to suggest a quid pro quo review exchange, which would violate Amazon's review guidelines.)

12) A bad review is forever  As Patricia de Hemricourt said recently in her excellent series on book promotion on Publishing a Book is an Adventure , “Never forget that what is on the Net never falls through it, it stays there forever, so a bad review on Amazon is extremely detrimental.”

Note to authors: never, ever dis a reviewer in public. To quote Mainak Dhar on David Gaughran’s blog, “Some self-published writers assume that not going through traditional publishers means that they have bypassed so-called ‘gatekeepers’ that stand between them and their readers. Here’s a dose of reality – there will always be gatekeepers.

Review sites and blogs play that role, as do Amazon reader reviews.

Sometimes, self-published writers try and fight this, and degenerate to the pathetic spectacle of publicly complaining about poor reviews. Don’t fight gatekeepers, make them your friends.”

If you get a bad review, do your suffering in private. Chocolate helps.

*********
How about you, scriveners? Do you make a habit of reviewing your favorite authors’ books? Do you have friends who know how to review? Have you ever had an experience like mine, where somebody thinks a 2-star review is perfectly nice?

I want to give many, many thanks to the wonderful Irish author and poet, Gerry McCullough, who gave THE GATSBY GAME a fabulous review this week on her blog, Gerry’s Books. 

Canadian noir writer Benoit Lelievre has also given THE GATSBY GAME a fantastic, thoughtful review on his great blog Dead End Follies. Merci beaucoup, M. Lelievre! (And you didn't even mention my awful misspelling of a French word. Which should be fixed by now. Thanks for the heads-up.)

And I also want to thank Elizabeth S. Craig, who hosted me on Mystery Writing is Murder on Thursday the 17th. My post on Bad Writing Advice got 163 likes and 44 comments!

And AGAIN:

This post is about AMAZON reviews ONLY. (Notice the word "AMAZON" in the title) 

PLEASE DO NOT COMMENT ON THIS POST WITHOUT READING IT. A WHOLE LOT OF NINCOMPOOPERY IS BEING SPREAD ABOUT WHAT THIS POST SUPPOSEDLY SAYS. IT DOESN'T SAY ANYTHING ABOUT BOOK REVIEW BLOGGERS. IT DOESN'T TELL ANYBODY NOT TO WRITE NEGATIVE REVIEWS. IT SAYS AMAZON REVIEWS GIVE READERS A LOT OF POWER. AND THAT IF A READER LOVES A BOOK, LEAVING A REVIEW AND PUTTING 4 OR 5 STARS ON IT WILL CONVEY THAT SENTIMENT-- ONE to THREE GOLD STARS--NOT SO MUCH.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Lawrence Block Talks Self-Publishing


I can’t quite believe we have one of the most successful mystery writers of all time here on our blog! Mr. Block is the author of over fifty novels and even more short stories, including his two long-running series featuring P.I. Matthew Scudder and gentleman burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr.

Read Lawrence Block's Blog
He has been named a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America and is a four-time winner of the Edgar and Shamus Awards. He’s the recipient of prizes in France, Germany, and Japan and received the Diamond Dagger from the British Crime Writers' Association—only the third American to be given this award. The list of his awards goes on for days.

He’s also a master teacher who has authored some of the great books on the craft of writing, including one of my favorites, Telling Lies for Fun and Profit

So why would a superstar turn to self-publishing? Read on:


D-I-Y Publishing—
New Tricks for an Old Dog
by Lawrence Block

It was in 1954 that I first entertained the motion of writing for a living, and a few years later I was doing it. I sold a story to Manhunt in the summer of 1957, and by the end of the following year I’d published a batch of magazine stories and articles, and written and sold three novels. (Most of the stories have been recently republished by HarperCollins in One Night Stands and Lost Weekends; the novels—Strange Are the Ways of Love by Lesley Evans, and Carla and A Strange Kind of Love by Sheldon Lord—are newly available as Open Road eBooks.)

In 1964 I took an editorial job in Wisconsin and stayed there for eighteen months, but with that exception I’ve spent all my working life as a free-lance writer.  (And in fact I did write a couple of books during that year and a half of honest work.) The friends of my youth were in the same fragile boat, chasing the same dragon—or white whale, or what you will. We spent many long nights, generally with glass in hand, and we talked about everything—God, how we talked! You’d have thought we were still getting paid by the word, even away from the typewriter.

We often talked about publishers. I don’t think we saw them as the enemy, or regarded the writer-publisher relationship as inherently adversarial. But it seemed to us, as I suspect it has seemed to every writer since Homer, that they were ham–handed oafs who did everything wrong. The fault, dear Bruce, was neither in our stars nor in ourselves; it was those dimwit publishers who kept us off the bestseller list.

And of course we dreamed of doing their job ourselves. Why let some twit in a Brooks Brothers suit screw up our careers when we could screw them up ourselves? Self-publishing was a seductive fantasy, but it was never more than that.  Because, while we may have been crazy, we weren’t flat-out stupid. While publishing was not yet the multinational corporate industry it has since become, and while enterprising fellows did start successful operations on not much more than a shoestring, they put in eighty-hour weeks and hustled like mad. Publishing wasn’t something for a creative type to engage in on nights and weekends, after his real work of making up stories was out of the way. You needed capital, you needed distribution, you needed no end of unattainable expertise.

But in 1985, with my nights and weekend already given over to an interactional seminar for writers, I decided to venture into self-publishing.

It was a special situation.  I felt the need for a book version of the seminar, both for attendees to take home with them and to make the material available to the many people unable to get to one of our sessions. My publisher at the time was Arbor House, and they’d done quite well with Telling Lies for Fun & Profit, so I might have persuaded them to take a shot at Write For Your Life—but I couldn’t delude myself into the notion that this would be a book with broad commercial potential. 

No, the book’s natural market would be limited to writers who’d taken the seminar or were thinking of taking it, along with readers of my monthly Writers Digest column. I was reaching precisely those people with my print and direct-mail advertising for the seminar, and I could easily piggy-back a pitch for the book in those ads.  The book didn’t need to be in bookstores, so I didn’t need a distributor.  All I needed was books, and if I was ever going to publish anything myself, this was my chance.

Besides, the sooner I had books in hand, the sooner I could sell them.  A publisher would take a year or longer. By using Arbor House’s production guy, who did this sort of thing in his spare time, I got books professionally produced in a couple of months. I printed 5000 books, and, even though I was unable to process credit card transactions, I managed to sell just over 4900 of them by the time Lynne and I got out of the seminar business.  (It had been great fun, and produced some positive results in people’s lives, but all the income went to hotels and airlines, and we were working our butts off for 50¢ an hour. And I was also beginning to feel uncomfortable with the role of a Writing Guru, and knew it was time to get back to writing.)

Self-publishing.  A success, all in all, and by no means an unpleasant experience.  Still, I never expected to find myself doing it again.

Right.

What changed, of course, was the world. I was aware of eBooks 20 years ago, and knew right away that they had a future, but wasn’t sure any of us would be alive to see it. Kindle was the game-changer, and Amazon’s self-publishing program didn’t just level the playing field. It broadened it as well.

I got right into it, making a handful of backlist titles available for Kindle. When Open Road came around and made a deal for 40+ backlist books of mine, I took down the few I’d published myself—except for a couple of novelettes that I thought of as pieces of string too short to save.  I left them where they were, and they went on selling a few copies a month, and when I noticed the numbers creeping upward, I started uploading various uncollected short stories at 99¢ a pop.

Gradually I learned how to buy stock photos and make my own eCovers; it turned out to be easy to do, and sometimes the results were better than any number of covers to have graced my books over the years.  Some of those short stories got two or three downloads a month, but others got two or three dozen, and my top sellers got two or three hundred. 

It wasn’t long before I had two dozen stories out there, on Nook as well as Kindle. I could know at a glance exactly how they were selling, and I could refresh the page every ten minutes if I wanted. (And even if I didn’t want to.  I mean, if you’re not going to be obsessive-compulsive about something, why bother with it at all?)

I didn’t self-publish, for Nook or for Kindle, any of my Matthew Scudder short stories.

I had nine of them, and the more recent were on my hard drive in digital form, so it would have been a cinch to render them eVailable. And I knew they’d be popular with readers. The only thing that held me back was the thought that they really ought to be a book.

Well, that was easy enough.  Just gather them together into a single file, think up a title and slap it on a cover, and publish it the way I’d published the short stories.

Or I could do it right.  Add a vignette previously published only as the text of a limited-edition broadside, and write another wholly new story to cap off the collection.  And make of the whole something rather more professional than my previous Nook-and-Kindle efforts.

I had lunch with two friends of mine, the screenwriting/directing team of Brian Koppelman and David Levien, and left the table with an idea for that new story, along with Brian’s offer to contribute an appreciation of Matthew Scudder. 

Now I was really determined to do it right, and I arranged for the folks at Telemachus Press to do the heavy lifting—scanning the non-digital stories, proofreading the nightmarish OCR scans, formatting the text for all eBook platforms, and performing all the tasks that make a world of difference.

I wrote the new story, plus an afterword that put all the stories in historical perspective. I found a stock photo, picked a display font.  I wanted to make sure the cover was outstanding, because somewhere along the way I decided to gamble on a Print-on-Demand paperback edition.

Available Here Just $2.99!
You don’t need a full play-by-play.  What’s remarkable, it seems to me, is that it was the middle of July when I first thought about doing all this, and on September 30th the eBook went live on Kindle and Nook. Two weeks later, on Friday, October 14th, I took delivery on 500 gorgeous trade paperback copies of The Night and The Music, and by Saturday afternoon I’d shipped 350 copies, filling all my prepaid orders.

It is, I assure you, a slow way to get rich.  But it is clearly a very fast way to bring a book into existence, a book which might well otherwise not exist at all, ever.  I’d already discovered this with two collections of Writers Digest columns, The Liar’s Bible and The Liar’s Companion, which Open Road brought out as eRiginals, and confirmed it with Afterthoughts, a piecemeal memoir composed of the afterwords I wrote for Open Road’s editions of my backlist titles.

These were all books that seemed unlikely to provoke interest, let alone enthusiasm, from a traditional commercial publisher.  But readers have been finding them, and saying nice things about them, and my world is fuller for their presence in it. 

I might have found a publisher for The Night and the MusicI never looked for one.  I wanted the experience of self-publishing in this intrepid new eWorld. I knew it would be interesting, and I figured it would be fun.  So far it’s been both.

And will it turn out to be profitable?

I think so.  One of the first decisions I made was to price the eBook at $2.99. No end of folks assured me that this was too low, that I was leaving money on the table, that Scudder fans  would gladly pay two or three times that for a new collection. I was told, too, that a low price would somehow be demeaning to the book.

I decided I wanted to maximize my audience, and had come to believe that the price-sensitive eBook market would reward a low price.  (As for a low price demeaning the book, I decided that was crap; there are enough egos I have occasion to worry about in my daily life, and I don’t need to ascribe an ego to the book and take care not to bruise it.)

At $2.99, it looks as though the eBook will cover its expenses within six weeks of publication, if not sooner.  Once it does, everything’s profit.  The paperback, higher in price at $16.99, cost more to publish, and there are ongoing printing and shipping costs for every copy I sell.  Even so, it’s already edging into the black.

And there’s Otto Penzler’s $150 leather-bound collector edition, too, limited to 100 signed and numbered copies. I won’t get too much out of that beyond a gorgeous book for my library, but that’s okay—and its mere existence makes the trade paperback look like a remarkable bargain, and the eBook an out-and-out steal.

But all of that’s secondary, really.  The Night and the Music is a book, for heaven’s sake! A new book, filling a spot on the shelf where once there was but empty space. Whether the shelf is physical or virtual, there’s my book, and don’t she look grand?

So would I do it again? 

Not with my next new novel, which I’ll be delighted to publish with Mulholland Books, who did such a fine job with A Drop of the Hard Stuff. Not with Jill Emerson’s next effort, should she happen to write one, which I’d hope to publish with Hard Case Crime, who’ve done so well with Getting Off. Not with a batch of backlist titles, which I hope to see ePublished by Open Road.

But with the right material, and at the right time, and if I continue to enjoy the whole process as much as I’m enjoying it right now…

Yeah, you bet I’d do it again.

********
And he designed that brilliant cover himself. Amazing. Self-publishing is now officially mainstream.

For me, one of the most positive messages here is: short fiction is back! For so many years we’ve been told to treat short fiction as “beginner” and “practice” writing, because short stories make no money and anthologies are impossible to place.

But they’re back in style with ebooks. These days—with people reading on their phones and tablets while on the go—the short form is very reader-friendly. You can sell them one at a time or as collections.

Also: $2.99 seems to be the sweet spot for ebook pricing.

How about you, scriveners? Does this ease any doubts about self-publishing? Do you have any short stories in your files that might make good ebooks?

********

This week my blog tour will make a stop at Mystery Writing is Murder, the blog of Elizabeth S. Craig/Riley Adams, author of the wonderful Memphis Barbeque mysteries. I’ll be talking about bad writing advice.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The New Gatekeepers: How to Query a Book Review Blogger—an Interview with Danielle Smith.

Publishing insider Alan Rinzler said in a blogpost last summer that traditional book marketing is no longer working. “That $50K space ad in the New York Times?” he said. “Forget it. It’s only for the author’s mother…not even an appearance on the Today Show can guarantee more than a brief spike in sales. The old ways don’t work, and smart people in book publishing know that and say it openly now.” (If you want more on this, check out Meghan Ward's Blog, Writerland where you can read her brilliant interview with Rinzler and agent Andy Ross.)

Many agents now say they’re no longer interested in queries from unknowns. Some even suggest you self-publish first, then query only if you have good sales. 

So if agents are abdicating as gatekeepers, and the New York Times and the Today Show are no longer the best places to find out about new books, where does a reader go?

Increasingly, people are going to book review blogs. That’s why getting a good review from a prestigious blogger in your genre can be the best way to launch a book.

But how can you find the right reviewers? And how do you approach them?

You send a query—pretty much the way you approach other gatekeepers like literary agents and editors. (See, you didn’t entirely waste the two decades you spent querying every agent listed at AgentQuery.com.) 

Here are some general rules for scoring a review: 

1)     Read the guidelines carefully.
2)     Then, um, follow the guidelines carefully.
3)     Never send an unsolicited book or file: query first.
4)     Don’t query with books outside the prescribed genre. (Even if the blogger agrees to do a review, you won’t reach the right readers. People don’t go to a chick lit review site to hear about the latest zombie gore-fest.)
5)     Personalize the query.
6)     Keep queries short and intriguing.
7)     Don’t take it personally if they turn you down. Reading takes a lot of time and most of them are swamped.
8)     Understand the review is for the READER, not the writer, so negative reviews happen.
9)     If you get a less than stellar review, mourn in private and move on.

Who are the worst rule breakers? Turns out it’s marketers, publicists and other publishing professionals who don’t get social networking. People who blast generic review requests into thousands of bloggers’ inboxes only get thousands of deletes. (Kristin Lamb has a funny post on those “Dear Madam” email requests this week.) 

To get the real skinny on how to approach a book blogger, I decided to talk to one. I'm lucky enough to live near Danielle Smith, who has one of the most popular review sites in her genre.

I met Danielle long before I knew she was a reviewer—and before I knew she was my neighbor. I met her at the blog of Emily Cross--the wonderful Irish writer who started the Writers' Chronicle Forums--and I just assumed Danielle lived in Ireland like Emily. So I was blown away when Danielle introduced herself at the Central Coast Writers Conference and told me she lived only twenty miles from me.

Here’s how important book bloggers have become: after I introduced Danielle to one of my classes at the CCWC, two fierce older ladies came to my “table talk” and plunked themselves down, announcing, “We don’t want to talk to you. We want to talk to the book reviewer!” I explained that because Danielle wasn’t a presenter, she wasn’t part of the table talk, but the two ladies had staked their claim and they weren’t going to move. They may be sitting there yet.

But I can pretty much guarantee that their approach isn’t the best way to get a book reviewed. So what works better? Let’s let Danielle answer.

Anne: How can authors find the right reviewers for their books?

Danielle: Here are some great places to find book bloggers for every genre:
Book Blogger Appreciation Week
Book Blog Directory
Fyrefly's Book Blog Search 

Anne: What got you into book blogging?

Danielle: My kids. I've been a long time reader and blogger, but I'd never combined the two. My son actually started reading on his own at around a year and a half which lead to a giant problem...which books do I pick up for him? I felt overwhelmed in book stores and libraries and quickly came to the conclusion that I couldn't be alone in my plight. I started There's a Book to help others find the right books for their own kids, no matter their age. After about a year I connected with Leah from Chick Lit Reviews and News and started reviewing there as well. I love it!

Anne:  I know you review on two separate sites. Do you only review children’s and chick lit novels?

Danielle: Yes. I review picture books, middle grade and young adult books as well as chick lit/women's fiction novels.

Anne: What are your submission guidelines?

Danielle: Anyone requesting a review or feature I suggest they read over my review policy first and then contact me via email at the1stdaughter at gmail dot com. But, read the review policy first!

Anne: Do you like an author to approach you first with a query letter?

Danielle: Yes. I'd absolutely prefer a query letter first.

Anne: What do you want to see in the query?

Danielle: Think about this the same way you'd approach a publisher you hope to have publish your book. No, I'm not going to get you published, but I may just be able to help sell a few copies of your book.

Keep your query professional, but show me some personality. No guilt trips of course. Be concise and make sure to share a two to four sentence summary of your book. Also helpful is an image of the book cover if available, the age range of the intended audience, page count and publication date. I also like to know if you have an expected time frame of when you'd like to see the review posted for scheduling purposes.

Anne: What is most likely to get your attention and make you want to review a book?

Danielle: Cover and then the synopsis. Yes, I love a good cover. Then and/or if you've done your homework the topic will be something that appeals to me. It really frustrates me to get queries about books I list as specifically not accepting. Not only because it's a waste of my time, but a waste of time for the author. Think of all the excellent book bloggers you could be reaching out to who love the topic you write about!

Anne:  Do you give unfavorable reviews, or do you only review books you like? Have you ever had a bad reaction to one of your reviews?

Danielle: Yes, I do write negative reviews. Honesty is always my policy, but I'm also very constructive in my criticism. I understand how difficult it is to write a book, no matter it's size and I don't like to write negative things for the sake of being negative. Generally speaking though, I've gotten much better about selecting the books I read and review which cuts down considerably on the number of negative reviews I have to write.

As for bad reactions...not really for reviews. If anything, I've received negative reactions about my decision not to review a certain book. Which is unfortunate because I'm almost always happy to refer someone to a reviewer I know personally who may enjoy their book.

Anne: What are your pet peeves that authors and agents do when approaching you?

Danielle: There are only a few things that really get to me when being approached:

  • Contacting me for a review via Twitter. I will not take review requests via Twitter and this seems to be an increasing trend with authors unfortunately. Most book bloggers I know won't accept them either.
  • Not using my name in an email requesting a review. This is an immediate indication to me that the person hasn't read my review policy. It's also slightly rude. Often I get requests opening with "Hi..." and nothing else. Would you email a publisher or employer that way?
  • Requesting a review from me for a book I clearly wouldn't read. I recently had a request for a James Patterson novel and though his books are excellent they aren't exactly the right fit for either of the sites I review at, are they?
  • Too much personal info. I want to know about your book and not your cat, sorry! I love cats, but unless they appear in your book I don't really need to know them to decide about reviewing your book 
  • A synopsis for your book that exceeds a paragraph. I simply don't have the time to read more than that.
  • Authors who don't have a website and/or blog. Sometimes this can make or break my decision. If you don't have one I may not review your book. It doesn't need to be fancy, but often this is where I go to find more info about your book if I'm not quite sure if it’s a good fit.

Anne: Any advice you'd like to add to authors who want to approach you?

Danielle: Be fearless! If you love your book, which I know you do, then make it shine and show me why I should love it. Also, don't be afraid to contact me with a general question. If you know your book isn't a good fit and need help finding a great book blogger don't be afraid to ask. This goes for most book bloggers I know, we're generally a very friendly bunch and a tightly knit community so don't be afraid to reach out to us, we love authors!

Thank you for this wonderful opportunity Anne. I'll gladly answer questions to anyone who comments, so please feel free to ask away!

Thank you Danielle! There’s so much information here, and you’re so generous about helping authors find the right reviewers.

So scriveners—you heard the lady. Ask away!
*********

NOTICE: We've had some tech problems with the ebook of THE GATSBY GAME. If you've had any problems with downloads, or bought a copy with funky formatting, please let me know!  Email me at annerallen (dot) allen (at) gmail.com.

But now everything seems to be fixed and all is well!

But I would like to test it, so if you'd like a FREE EBOOK, email me at the above address. I'll just need you to download it in the next 24 hours and let me know how it looks. Thanks for bearing with me here. This is when it's awfully nice to have a publisher who can fight these battles for me. Thanks, Mark! 
**********

Remember that next week, November 13th, we have a guest post from none other than the legendary grand master of mystery writing, LAWRENCE BLOCK!

New on the blog this week is my page for the Indie Chicks Anthology--an anthology of personal stories and writing samples from 25 independent women. All sales go to breast cancer research.

I continue my blog tour this week at Florence Foisttoni's blog, Florence Fois in the City with a guest post on November 9th on women and body image.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Winners, Apologies and Whispers From Some Awesome Independent Women

I feel bad for all my east coast friends who are snowed in and/or power-less. I’ll have to have another contest for them soon. East-coasters, you’ve had way more than your share of natural disasters recently. Time for some good luck.

And here are two people who had some Halloween luck last night.

I assigned a number to everybody who posted in the last two days and used the number generator at random.org and came up with two numbers,

Winners of GHOSTWRITERS IN THE SKY!

#5  Kamille Elahi
#19 Donna Hole

So congratulations, you two. Send me the addresses you use for your Kindle (or your PC app) and I’ll send those along to you.

Now an apology: to anybody who has run into Amazon dramas while trying to buy my books. You’re not alone. The Zon seems to be undergoing some major growing pains. First they uploaded GHOSTWRITERS IN THE SKY with the cover and blurbs for THE GATSBY GAME. That was fun. Then they changed the prices on all my books—even FOOD OF LOVE—which has a different publisher—from $2.99 to $4.99. Then, over the weekend, THE GATSBY GAME disappeared entirely. My publisher heard there had been complaints from people who downloaded it and got only one page! (I’d complain too.)

So anybody who has had hassles trying to buy any of my books, email me at annerallen dot allen at gmail dot com and we’ll get you “sorted” as my Brit friends say.

Don’t you love the way the English find “sorting” the solution to everything? It’s as if proper categorization—perhaps with some cosmic “Sorting Hat”—could send one’s troubles off to their respective Griffindors, Hufflepuffs and Slytherins and make all things right.

And speaking of making things right, today we have a special mid-week guest post from the fabulous Cheryl Shireman, author of the bestselling ebook LIFE IS BUT A DREAM I feel very honored that she invited me to join her and the twenty-three other fascinating “Indie Chicks” to put together this anthology to benefit breast cancer research. Here is her story of what inspired the post. 

Is Your Life Whispering to You?
by Cheryl Shireman

I believe life whispers to you and provides direction. I call that life force God. You can call it whatever you want, but there is no escaping it. If we are open, and brave enough to say yes, life will take us in directions we never expected, and you will live a life beyond your wildest dreams.

Those whisperings often come in the form of a “crazy” idea or a nudge to move into a certain direction that seems odd or silly or daring. Then there is that moment when you think, Well, that’s weird. Where in the world did that come from?

And then there’s the second moment, when you have to make a choice. You can dismiss the crazy notion, and probably even come up with a dozen reasons why it’s a bad idea. You don’t have the time, the money, or the resources. Besides, who are you to do such a thing? What in the world were you thinking? So, you dismiss the idea. We always have that option - to say No.

But it comes back - that whisper. Sometimes again and again. But if we are practical, and safe, we can squash the notion until it is almost forgotten. Almost.

Such a notion came to me a couple of months ago. I began to think of an anthology composed of women writers. An anthology that would be published before the rapidly approaching holiday season. The title came to me almost immediately - Indie Chicks. It was a crazy notion. I was working with an editor who was editing my first two novels, and was also in the middle of writing a third novel. Working on three books seemed to be a pretty full plate. Adding a fourth was insane.

But the crazy notion kept coming back to me. It simply refused to be dismissed. So I sent out a “feeler” email to another writer, Michelle Muto. She loved the idea. I sent out another email to my writing buddy, J. Carson Black. She loved the idea, too, but couldn’t make the time commitment. She had just signed with Thomas & Mercer and was knee deep in writing. I took it as a sign. I didn’t have the time for the project either. Perhaps after the first of the year, when final edits were done on my own novels. I dismissed it, at least for the present time. I’d think about it again in another couple of months, when the timing made more sense.

A week later I surrendered, started developing a marketing plan for Indie Chicks, and began sending out emails to various indie writers - some I knew, but most were strangers. I contacted a little over thirty women. Every one of them responded with enthusiasm. Most said yes immediately, and those who could not, due to time commitments, wished us well and asked me to let them know when the book when the book was published so they could be part of promoting it.

One of the first writers I contacted was Heather Marie Adkins. Earlier this year, while I was browsing the internet, I came across an interview with Heather. The interviewer (oddly enough, Michelle Muto) asked Heather, When did you decide to become an indie author? Heather’s answer was:  About a month ago. My dad had been trying to talk me into self-publishing for some time, but I was hesitant. One night, I sat down and ran a Google search. I discovered Amanda Hocking, JA Konrath, Victorine Lieski; but it was Cheryl Shireman that convinced me. This is the field to be in. I was shocked (Astonished! Flabbergasted!). I had no idea that I had ever inspired anyone! To be honest, it was a bit humbling. And,okay, yes - it made me cry. So, of course, I had to invite Heather to be a part of the anthology. Heather not only said yes, but she also volunteered to format the project - a task I was dreading.

As Heather and I exchanged emails, I told her about how I had been similarly inspired to become an indie writer by Karen McQuestion. My husband bought me a Kindle for Christmas of 2010. Honestly, the present angered me. I didn’t want a Kindle. I wanted nothing to do with reading a book on an electronic device! I love books; the feel of them, the smell of them. But, very quickly, I started filling up that Kindle with novels.

One day, while looking for a new book on Amazon, I came across a title by Karen McQuestion. I learned that McQuestion had published her novels through Amazon straight to Kindle. Immediately, I began doing research on her and how to publish through Kindle. I had just completed a novel and was ready to submit it through traditional routes. Within 48 hours of first reading about McQuestion, I submitted my novel, Life Is But A Dream: On The Lake. Twenty four hours later, it was published as an eBook on Amazon. Within another couple of weeks it was available as a paperback and through Nook. Did I jump into this venture fearlessly? No! I was scared to death, and I almost talked myself out of it. Almost. The novel went on to sell over 10,000 copies within the first seven months of release.

As I shared that story with Heather, another crazy notion whispered in my ear - Ask Karen McQuestion to write the foreword for Indie Chicks. Of course, I dismissed it. We had exchanged a couple of tweets on Twitter, but other than that, I had never corresponded with McQuestion. It was nonsense to think she would write the foreword. I was embarrassed to even ask her. Surely, she would think I was some sort of nut.

But, the idea kept whispering to me and, with great trepidation, I emailed her. She said yes! Kindly, enthusiastically, and whole-heartedly, she said yes.

Karen McQuestion had inspired me to try indie publishing. I had inspired Heather Adkins. And now the three of us were participating in Indie Chicks, that crazy whisper I had been unable to dismiss.

The book began to develop, and as it did, a theme began to form. This was to be a book full of personal stories from women. As women, one of our most powerful gifts is our ability to encourage one another. This book became our effort to encourage women across the world. Twenty-five women sharing stories that will make you laugh, inspire you, and maybe even make you cry. We began to dream that these stories would inspire other women to live the life they were meant to live.

From the beginning, I knew I wanted the proceeds of this charity to go to some sort of charity that would benefit other women. While we were in the process of compiling the anthology, the mother of one of the women was diagnosed with breast cancer. Almost immediately upon learning that, Michelle Muto sent me an email. Hey, in light of *****’s mother having an aggressive form of breast cancer, can I nominate The Susan G. Komen foundation for breast cancer? I mean, one of our own is affected here, and other than heart disease (which took my own mother’s life), I can’t think of anything more worthy than to honor our sister in words and what she’s going through. A daughter’s love knows no bounds for her mother. Trust me. I know it’s a charity that already gets attention on its own. But, that’s not the point, is it? The point is there are 25 ‘sisters’ sticking together and supporting each other for this anthology. I say we put the money where the heart is.

We had our inspiration. All proceeds would go to the Susan G. Komen foundation for breast cancer research.

The stories started coming in. Some were light hearted and fun to read. But others were gut-wrenching and inspiring - stories of how women dealt with physical abuse, overwhelming grief, and a host of bad choices. It was clear; these women were not just sharing a story, but a piece of their heart. I felt as if I were no longer “organizing” this anthology, but just getting out of the way so that it could morph and evolve into its truest form.

Fast forward to just a few days before publication. Heather was almost done with the enormous task of formatting a book with twenty-five authors. We were very close to publishing and were on the homestretch. That’s when I received an email. An unlikely email from someone I didn’t really know. Beth Elisa Harris and I were involved in another indie project and Beth sent an email to all of the authors in that project, including me. She attached a journal to that email. For whatever reason, Beth had been inspired to share a journal she wrote a few years ago. She cautioned us to keep her confidence and not share the journal with anyone else. I tend toward privacy and don't tend to trust easily. This is a HUGE step for me. I've only read it once since I wrote it.

Intrigued, I opened the journal and began reading. It dealt with her diagnosis, a few years back, with breast cancer! Before I was even one third of the way through the journal, I felt I should ask Beth to include this journal in the Indie Chicks Anthology. It was a crazy notion, especially when considering her words about privacy and trust. We didn’t even know each other, how could I ask her to go public with something so personal? I tried to dismiss the notion (are you noticing a pattern here?), but could not.

I wrote the email, took a deep breath, and hit send. She answered immediately. Yes. Most definitely, yes.

So here is the anthology INDIE CHICKS: 25 Women 25 Personal Stories, with foreword by Karen McQuestion and afterword by Beth Elise Harris.

It’s now available through Barnes and Noble and Amazon. The book includes personal stories from each of the women, as well as excerpts from our novels. And it began as a whisper. A whisper I did my best to ignore.




Foreword by Karen McQuestion
Afterword by Beth Elisa Harris

Stories included:
Foreword by Karen McQuestion
Knight in Shining Armor by Shea MacLeod
Latchkey Kid by Heather Marie Adkins
Write or Die by Danielle Blanchard
The Phoenix and The Darkness by Lizzy Ford
Never Too Late by Linda Welch
Stepping Into the Light by Donna Fasano
One Fictionista’s Literary Bliss by Katherine Owen
I Burned My Bra For This? by Cheryl Shireman
Mrs. So Got It Wrong Agent by Prue Battten
Holes by Suzanne Tyrpak
Turning Medieval by Sarah Woodbury
A Kinky Adventure in Anglophilia by Anne R. Allen
Writing From a Flour Sack by Dani Amore
Just Me and James Dean by Cheryl Bradshaw
How a Big Yellow Truck Changed My Life by Christine DeMaio-Rice
From 200 Rejections to Amazon Top 200! by Sibel Hodge
Have You Ever Lost a Hat? by Barbara Silkstone
French Fancies! by Mel Comley
Life’s Little Gifts by Melissa Foster
Never Give Up On Your Dream by Christine Kersey
Self-taught Late Bloomer by Carol Davis Luce
Moving to The Middle East by Julia Crane
Paper, Pen, and Chocolate by Talia Jager
The Magic Within and The Little Book That Could by Michelle Muto
Write Out of Grief by Melissa Smith
Afterword by Beth Elisa Harris

Stop by our Facebook page! http://www.facebook.com/IndieChicksAnthology

********
What whisper are you ignoring? What crazy notion haunts you? What dream merely awaits your response? I urge you, say Yes. Live the life you were meant to live. Say yes today.