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Review: How to Build a Powerful Writer’s Platform in 90 Days by Austin Briggs and Max Candee

There’s a saying in marketing that we know 50% of marketing activities work—we just don’t know which 50%. The same could be said for How to Build a Powerful Writer’s Platform in 90 Days. It includes what looks like some excellent information and advice—but that advice is wrapped up with advice that is incorrect, and it worries me because someone reading only this book won’t know what is good advice and what isn’t. Even I don’t know. I may praise something as being good advice and find it’s totally wrong.

I’m a book reviewer and freelance editor, so those are two subjects I know a lot about. I know less about building and maintaining a writing platform—while I have a degree in marketing, it dates from the dark ages before the intrusion of the web into every area of our lives. So while the principles of marketing are the same, the internet and social media have changed the practice of marketing.

That’s why I’m reading books like this: to understand how to do it now. And I think How to Build a Powerful Writer’s Platform in 90 Days does that well. But I can’t be certain. Because there are some elementary mistakes around how Briggs and Candee integrate editing and reviews into their 90-day timetable, so I’m not convinced they are accurate and believable in their claims in the areas I know less about.

The book starts by saying that before you begin this 90-day journey, you’ll need the final draft of the best book you can write, and a website. But the discussion on editing makes it clear that this ‘final draft’ hasn’t been edited. The authors then proceed to confuse beta-readers with editors (which is ironic, as one of them offers manuscript assessment services on his website).

Then there’s the editing. The schedule doesn’t allow nearly enough time to get the work professionally edited (which will take at least two weeks, and may take months if your preferred editor has a queue of books—as many good editors will have). Given most books need to go through at least two editing passes and two rounds of proofreading, I think this needs to be completed before the 90 days begin, not as a part of the 90 day launch project.

The timing of reviews is equally ridiculous. Most book bloggers have a two to three month waiting list, so sending them a book on day 76 and expecting the review on day 77 is unrealistic, to say the least (not to mention the advice to copy their review to your website: a copyright violation if the reviewer hasn’t specifically given you permission).

Overall, while there might be some good ideas in How to Build a Powerful Writer’s Platform in 90 Days, they are outweighed by the bad advice. Not recommended.

Review: The Extroverted Writer by Amanda Luedeke

If you have a website and are already active on Twitter and/or Facebook, then The Extroverted Writer probably isn’t the book for you. It gives good advice on why authors need to set up a website and be active in social media, but it doesn’t give much in the way of new advice on how. I’m speaking as someone who has followed Amanda’s posts on the MacGregor Literary blog for the last year or more—if you don’t read that, The Extroverted Writer provides a useful introduction to the subject.

Topics covered include:

  • Knowing your audience (i.e. book genre)
  • Knowing your online marketing goals
  • Websites
  • Blogs
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Other social media sites: Pinterest, Tumblr, Goodreads, YouTube, LinkedIn

She gives hints for building a following on Twitter and Facebook, but these are not the only ways. I have over 1000 Twitter followers without using any of her ideas (I simply follow interesting people and hope they follow me back—most do). And her Facebook ideas are targeted towards the published or almost-published author (things like posting cover art and back cover copy). Good advice, but I think if you’re only just starting to build your online presence when you get a publishing contract, it’s a bit late (but better late than never, I suppose).

Amanda doesn’t really comment on when is the best time to begin building an online presence. I suppose she feels that if someone is interested enough to read to read the blog and buy the book, they are ready to begin. That’s probably not far wrong. My view is that authors should start building their online presence when they decide this writing thing is more than a hobby—it’s something they want to pursue as a viable career option.

The things I found most useful were here ballpark figures of the number of followers an agent or publisher considers ‘good’, and her explanation of the necessity to understand your market segment (i.e. genre). However, this information was all in the free Kindle sample!

Book Review: Let’s Get Visible by David Gaughran

Let’s Get Visible: How To Get Noticed And Sell More Books begins by explaining the intricacies of the Amazon algorithms (the computer programmes that dictates lists such as the bestseller lists, as well as what each individual customer sees on screen). He explains both what they algorithms are (as best anyone outside Amazon can know) and why understanding the algorithms is important.

He then moves on to an analysis of pricing, including a comparison of free and paid, with a focus on using free and discounted pricing as promotional tools. This all makes sense—because he’s explained the underlying algorithms that drive Amazon. He’s focusing on how the system works, and how you can then work within the system to drive results.

The book then moves on to the best sites for advertising, designing a promotion, and designing a book launch (for which he provides three options, as well as convincing evidence—based on the algorithms—of why the ‘traditional’ launch strategy no longer works).

Some key lessons are the importance of centring marketing around a mailing list you control (rather than, say, a Facebook Fan page), inserting a link to the mailing list signup form at the end of each book, and asking for reviews (with a link to the Amazon book page).

Following Gaughran’s advice will ensure you and your book look professional and are able to compete in the highly competitive market that is Amazon. The book is aimed at self-publishers, but small publishers will also benefit from the information.

Highly recommended.

Book Review: Let’s Get Digital by David Gaughran


I’m inclined to like Let’s Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should a lot because David Gaughran has a lot of nice things to say about editors, especially about how important they are for the self-published author:

Editors are the unsung heroes of the publishing world.

and

Writers shouldn’t consider editing an expense; they should consider it an investment.

Leaving aside my obvious bias, there is a lot of good information in Let’s Get Digital, including a concise history of the rise of ebooks and the impact Amazon has has on publishing, as well as an excellent section on resources. He covers why he believes authors should self-publish, then moves on to writing, cover design, editing, formatting, uploading and pricing, as well as a whole range of marketing tools (such as websites, blogging, social media, reviews and promotion).

One of Gaughran’s early points is how quickly the publishing industry is changing, and his own book illustrates the fact. While it was all accurate information at the time it was published, it isn’t any longer. Let’s Get Digital talks about the Big Six (now the Big Five), Agency pricing (gone, courtesy of the US Department of Justice), and talks about the surcharge Amazon used to place on Kindle downloads (which no longer applies in Australia and New Zealand, and I don’t know if it still applies in other countries).

Let’s Get Digital includes a lot of excellent information, including interviews with 33 self-published authors. However, I would advise caution, as some of the content is outdated. Read it as a background to his follow-up book, Let’s Get Visible: How To Get Noticed And Sell More Books, but realise that not all of the information and advice in Let’s Get Digital is current.

Book Review: 10 Keys to ebook Marketing Success by Karen Baney

10 Keys to Ebook Marketing Success delivers what is says on the cover: ten steps to kickstart your ebook marketing efforts. What sets this ahead of some of the other marketing books I’ve read is Baney’s professionalism. She is a professional, and she expects her readers to act in a professional manner. Other self-published authors would do well to emulate her.

The 10 Keys are:
Key 1 – A Good Book
Key 2 – Target Audience
Key 3 – Internet Presence
Key 4 – Pricing
Key 5 – Distribution
Key 6 – Book Reviews
Key 7 – Guest Blogging
Key 8 – Reader Communities
Key 9 – Social Media
Key 10 – Paid Advertising

I appreciate her insistence on the importance of good editing—that’s a lesson she’s learned the hard way—and her thoughts on defining your target audience (and genre) were clear and useful. Her pricing chapter is particularly good—not as thorough as Let’s Get Visible, but well-written and easy to understand.

On promotion, I personally think she tweets too often, and too much of it is promotion, but she saw a 47% increase in sales through her tweets, and that’s hard to argue with (although I wonder if attitudes and results may have changed since she wrote this).

The one thing I don’t understand is her comment about her contemporary novel, Nickels. She says it hasn’t done nearly as well as her historical novels, which I find strange. I’ve read them all, and I enjoyed Nickels far more than the historicals (two of which featured rape scenes, which I don’t enjoy).

Overall, 10 Keys to Ebook Marketing Success is a quick and easy read that will provide new authors with a simple marketing framework to use, and those who have read other marketing books may benefit from the book’s clear structure, and from having another point of view on subjects like pricing and promotion.

Book Review: How to Market a Book by Joanna Penn

I’ve read quite a few books on marketing books on Amazon (or marketing books in general), and this is one of the best. Many books I don’t even get through the Kindle sample before finding something that’s outdated, unethical or just plain wrong. Of the ones that pass the sample test, many end up being little more than ‘how I did it’, with little understanding of the principles of marketing. Most concentrate purely on promotion, ignoring the other key aspects of marketing: having a marketing plan that guides decisions around product, place, price … and promotion.

Joanna Penn’s book is different. She begins by asking authors what they want to achieve, because it is only by understanding the desired end result that we can plan marketing activities that will achieve that goal (including the importance of good professional editing). She then discusses branding: the meaning of brand and the need for authors to display a consistent brand across all platforms.

She talks about short-term marketing tactics, and why authors should develop a long-term marketing platform, which includes discussions on topics such as websites, email marketing, content marketing, social networking, audio and podcasting, and the use of video. There are many ideas in here that I initially dismissed as not relevant, but that’s like an author saying they only read hardcover books so there’s no need to release an ebook. Just because I don’t listen to podcasts or watch video doesn’t mean they don’t serve a purpose in an integrated marketing plan—and maybe I should consider them as well.

How To Market A Book contains dozens of links to useful websites, and for this reason it’s probably best read on a tablet or PC, as the Kindle isn’t designed for surfing the internet. It would also be good read as a real book—I found I highlighted a lot more material in this than I usually highlight in an ebook, and I still could have highlighted more. Maybe I’ll have to buy the print version as well …

If you are looking for a book with five simple steps to launch your book and sell millions of copies, or three easy ways to gain 10,000 Twitter followers, this isn’t it. What Penn does show is a solid method for developing and maintaining a brand-driven platform that will support your individual business aims, whatever that is. Recommended.

The Celtic Stone by Nick Hawkes

Chris Norman finds himself in possession of a strange object after almost losing his life in an airplane crash. It’s a celtic cross, and this leads Chris on a journey to the Isle of Skye, where he has inherited the croft his forebears farmed, and where he still has one distant relation. That relation is a small boy, Ruan, and Chris arrives on Skye to find himself the next-of-kin to a complete stranger.

Morag Daniel has retreated to her family home on the Isle of Skye after being blinded four years ago. She has taken Ruan in following the death of his father, and is suspicious of this newcomer, but finds herself drawn to him as they work together to keep Ruan in his home community, find the story behind The Celtic Cross, and fight for their island family.

The twisting and turning plot is one of the strengths of The Celtic Stone. The other is the characters. These are, without exception, well-drawn with real personalities: likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses. The plot has complexity not always found in Christian fiction, and the writing is strong and occasionally beautiful. Nick Hawkes has a background as a research scientist and a pastor, and both come through in his writing. The Christian aspects have the ring of a pastor and teacher, and there is a real gentleness in the way different characters experience and present their faith journeys.

The Celtic Stone is the first book I have edited by Nick Hawkes, and you’ll have to believe me when I say the next two have equally compelling characters, with strong suspense plots, a solid Christian message and a touch of romance. There seems to be a small but growing readership for Christian novels with unique settings, and The Celtic Stone is a valuable addition to that genre. You can find out more about Dr Nick Hawkes at his website.

Spiralling Out of Control by Michelle Dennis Evans

Stephanie’s family have moved from Sydney to Toowomba, a move that forces her to leave her best friend, her school and her passion in life: dance lessons. While the rest of the family settle easily into their new lives, Stephanie is teased and has trouble fitting in to her new school until Jason, one of the senior boys, asks her out. Stephanie falls in love with Jason, and doesn’t see the way he is manipulating her to the point where she has turned her back on everything she once valued. Her descent is not helped by her parents, who seem to have little time for her and no appreciation of the difficulties she is facing.

Stephanie is a well-written but challenging read. I think the strong and consistent third-person point of view has captured Stephanie’s descent into mistreatment and exploitation very clearly, as well as detailing the consequences of her decisions. It’s an interesting story, because although Stephanie was forced in some respects, this was still clearly a consequence of the decisions she made, a series of seemingly-insignificant decisions that compound in an almost-ruined life. And she loved him, which was her excuse for going along with everything he wanted. I don’t entirely understand this mindset, but I know it exists, and Stephanie illustrates it well.

This is not a pretty story, nor is it an easy read. There are several unsavoury characters and a number of scenes where Stephanie, Jason and others are falling headlong into sin (to use Christianese—a trap Stephanie does not fall into). It’s not graphically portrayed in that there is little or no description. But the images are still there. In fact, parts of Stephanie are a study in how much can be implied with a few well-chosen words.

Stephanie’s descent is very well portrayed. But what is missing for me, as a reader, is Stephanie’s change of heart. In my view, the resolution came too quickly and conveniently to feel real. Despite this, Stephanie is well worth reading.

I proofread Spiralling Out of Control for Michelle Dennis Evans, and have subsequently edited the sequel (and have just had a sneak peak at the final book in the trilogy). I’m happy to say that the plot lines will all resolve themselves, but you’ll have to read all three books!

 

What Makes A Good Book Review?

Following on from my post last week about getting book reviews on Amazon, I thought I’d address a related question: What makes a good book review?

Looking at Amazon, it appears that a lot of authors automatically consider a five-star review to be good and a three-star or lower review to be bad. I disagree. As a reader, a bad review is one that doesn’t give me enough information to make a decision, regardless of the rating. Here are some examples of bad reviews:

I love this book! Even better than Twilight!! Smith is the best author EVA!!! and I could just swoon over Jamie all day!!!!

This book was okay. Amazon makes me write at least twenty words for a review so now I’m done. Yay.

Reviews are for readers.

The objective of a review is to help a potential reader decide whether or not they will like a particular book. Should they spend their hard-earned money buying this book? Is it worth their time to read? My time is valuable. I don’t want to waste hours reading a bad book, even a free book, when I could have been doing something more enjoyable (like scrubbing the toilet, or better still, reading a good book).

Over the years I have come to the conclusion that there are five main aspects that contribute to my enjoyment of a book, and these are the questions I try to address when I write a review:

  • Plot: Does the plot make sense? Is it exciting? Romantic? Do the sub-plots add to the overall story? Is it believable? Is it original, or do I feel I’ve read it before?
  • Characters: Do I like the characters? Are they people I’d want to know and spend time with in real life? Or are they too-stupid-to-live clichés?
  • Genre: Does the book conform to the expectations of the genre? If it’s Christian fiction, does the protagonist show clear progression in their Christian walk? If it’s romance, is there an emotionally satisfying ending? If it’s fantasy or science fiction, has the author succeeded in convincing me the world they have created is real?
  • Writing and editing: With many books, especially those from small publishers or self-published authors problems with the writing or editing take me out of the story (like a heroin wearing a high-wasted dress). Bad writing or insufficient editing makes a book memorable for all the wrong reasons.
  • The Wow! Factor: Some books, very few, have that extra something that makes them memorable for the right reasons. The Wow! factor is usually a combination of a unique plot and setting, likeable and intelligent characters (I loathe stupid characters), and a distinct and readable writing style, or ‘voice’.  This is highly subjective and other readers might not agree with my taste. And that’s okay.

Some reviewers, especially Christian reviewers, are of the view that “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”. I disagree. That doesn’t mean I’m going to be cruel, but it does mean I’m going to be honest. Reviews are for readers, and readers deserve honest reviews. They want to know whether a book is worth their money and time—or not.

It’s hard to write a less-than-glowing review. It’s much easier to write a four-star ‘I liked it’ review (and even easier to write a five-star ‘I loved it’ rave). I wish I could write more five-star raves, but a lot of books are missing that Wow! factor, that originality that takes them from a four-star like to a five-star rave.

I will, on rare occasions, not publish a critical review—usually when another review already covers all the points I was going to make. But I publish reviews for around 75% of the books I read—and over 95% of the books I accept as review copies (because this is a condition of accepting a review title with most online book blogger review programmes). If I accept your book for review, I will review it. I might take a while and you might not like the review, but I will read it, and I will review it.

Critical reviews are especially hard to write if the book is from a lesser-known author with fewer reviews. I don’t enjoy writing a review saying a book was full of cliché characters, a predictable plot and editing errors. It’s not my fault I’m the first person to notice a book refers to Barnaby’s Star when it’s actually Barnard’s Star (true story. The author said even his NASA beta-reader didn’t pick that up).

Reviews are not book reports or a critique. They are not a way for authors to get free feedback on the quality of their writing. If you want feedback on your writing, ask an objective reader, find a critique partner, get a free critique through a writing organisation, or get a paid critique from an editor. I provide manuscript assessments as part of my editing services. They are far more detailed than my reviews, and provide concrete advice in how to rectify the weaknesses. I can’t do that in a short online review.

Because reviews are for readers.

 

Book Review: How to Get Good Reviews on Amazon

This is one of those times when I’d like Amazon to have half stars. This is better than 4 – “I liked it”, but I try to reserve 5 “I loved it” to books that are outstanding. I really liked this short guide—it’s a solid 4 ½ stars, but to be outstanding it would have needed to venture outside Amazon. I’d like to have written it myself, but never mind.

Theo Rogers has written a solid summary of Amazon reviewing—an introduction to what motivates people to review, the main methods authors can use in selecting appropriate Amazon reviewers, and advice on approaching reviewers. There is also valuable guidance on the ins and outs of Amazon to help ensure authors don’t get stuck in the minefields of Amazon.

None of this is new information. Any author could learn this by spending a few months lurking in the Amazon discussion forums. But that’s time that could be spent writing—so why not save yourself a few hundred hours and buy this instead? Read it and apply the principles (while Rogers doesn’t mention reader sites like Goodreads or other retail sites, my experience suggests most of the same principles hold true).

I would suggest one correction: Rogers comments on the number of reviews of self-published books that say the book was in desperate need of professional editing and proofreading. I’ve made similar comments myself, and in some cases the author has responded that the book was professionally edited.

If so, I’d prefer their books were competently edited, as it seems that how much an author pays for editing doesn’t necessarily translate into a quality product. In fairness to my editing colleagues, I’d also say that some self-published authors are merely uploaders with no understanding of what makes good writing, let alone good fiction, and no amount of editing will help. What these people need is a competent ghostwriter.

Anyway, back to the topic of Amazon reviewing. At best, reading How To Get Good Reviews on Amazon will help you gain a respectable number of honest reviews. At worst, you will learn how to avoid ruining your writing career before it’s even begun.