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Five Myths Non-Writers Believe

Five Myths Non-Writers Believe

If you’re reading this, you’re probably a writer. But you weren’t always a writer. Once upon a time you were a reader and—perhaps—an aspiring writer.

Like me.

I’ve always been a reader. A bookworm, if you like. And like many readers, I also wanted to be a writer. Specifically, a novelist. I won two school writing competitions in high school and even went on a creative writing camp, but the endless essays of high school and university didn’t leave much time for personal reading or writing.

I didn’t know much about the publishing industry.

Okay. I didn’t know anything about the publishing industry.

I started reading for pleasure again when I got a job, but not writing: I already spent enough hours a day in front of a computer, writing client reports and our company newsletter. I had one colleague whose wife was writing a novel. I asked how it was progressing: he said she was still in the research phase, which was going to take her a year. I asked a few more times but stopped asking when I got a look that said she wasn’t making much progress (or not making as much as her husband thought she ought to be making).

I had another colleague who announced one day that he’d finished his novel. I asked when it was going to be published. Yes, I really thought it was that easy.

When I started researching the craft of writing and the business of publishing, I soon realised that many of my assumptions were incorrect. In particular, there were five myths I believed about writing:

  • Anyone can write a novel
  • Writing is a good way to earn some extra cash
  • Running spell check is enough editing
  • Getting a novel published is easy
  • Writers write. The publisher does the rest

Are you laughing yet? Or do some of my naïve ideas sound eerily familiar? I’ve since discovered my ideas were misguided. But I’ve also discovered there is an element of truth in some of them.

Anyone can write a novel

This is both wrong and right. Anyone can type 80,000 words and call it a novel. Slapping a cover on it and uploading to Amazon isn’t hard (it can’t be, given the quality of some of the novels on Amazon).

But writing a good novel is hard, and not just ‘anyone’ can do it. It takes patience, perseverance, and practice. And most people don’t make it.

Writing is an easy way to earn some extra cash

If you’re prepared to make money writing scam recipe books (using recipes copied from dodgy websites) or scam self-help books (using advice copied from wacko websites) or other scam books (using information copied from Wikipedia), then yes, writing can be an easy way to earn extra cash. Even better, hire someone on Fiverr to ghostwrite (or ghostcopy) the book for you.

But is that writing? It’s certainly not the writing dream so many people have. In reality, pursuing a career as a writer, especially a novelist, is going to cost you a lot of money before you earn anything from it. And most writers also have a day job to pay the bills.

Running spell check is enough editing

Once the manuscript is written, editing is just a matter of running spell check, followed by a quick read-through to make sure spell check hasn’t missed any your/you’re or their/there/they’re errors. That’s editing.

No, that’s running spell check. Editing goes into a lot more detail, and a good novel will have one gone through several stages of editing before it is published (not to mention being read and red-penned by critique partners and beta readers before it goes to the editor). And then it will be proofread—which is different again.

Getting a novel published is easy

Check out your local bookstore. Check out the publishers of those novels. Getting your novel published by one of those publishers isn’t easy. It’s a long way from easy.

But the advent of vanity publishers and self-publishing make it easy to find a publisher. Any vanity press will take your money, tell you you’ve written the next great American (or Australian or British or Canadian or New Zealand) novel, and for another $10,000 they’ll be able to put your novel in front of influential Hollywood producers (and take a first-class holiday in some swanky resort).

But self-publishing platforms such as Amazon, DrafttoDigital, iBooks, Kobo and Smashwords do provide newbie authors with a way of getting their novels published and printed and on sale. And it’s not difficult. But authors soon find that writing and publishing was the easy part . . .

Writers write. The publisher does the rest

This is the final myth, and is one that continues to drive new authors to traditional publishers. They don’t want to be involved in the publishing or the marketing. They want to write. Period. The problem with this myth is that all authors, no matter how they are published, all authors have to do more than write.

Even traditional publishers expect authors to contribute to their marketing efforts. At the very least, these will include a website (which the author pays for), social media profiles and regular updates (which the author undertakes herself, or pays someone else to manage), and attendance at certain industry events and conferences (which the author pays for). These efforts may or may not sell books.

Self-published authors have sole responsibility for marketing — there is no one else. They can just write, but then it’s likely no one will buy their books.

Myth or Truth?

Yes, there is an element of truth in each of these five myths. But more myth than truth. Oh, well. Back to the writing . . .

Writers, what myths have you heard that you now know aren’t true?

Readers, what do you believe about writers that might not be true?

Back Matter or End Matter

Self-Publishing Your Book | Writing Your Back Matter

Over the last two weeks, I’ve covered what needs to be included in your book’s front matter, and what needs to be included in the author information. Today we’re looking at what else goes in your back matter (also known as end matter).

Back matter is the information at the end of a book, what comes after the final page of the story. It’s also called end matter (you know, because it’s at the end). Back matter or end matter can include:

  • Author’s Note (covered last week)
  • Acknowledgements (covered last week)
  • List of books by the author
  • List of comparable books from the publisher (for trade published books)
  • About the Author (covered last week)
  • Link to author website
  • Link to publisher website (for trade published books)
  • Social media links
  • References or end notes (non-fiction)
  • Index (non-fiction)
  • Review request (especially in self-published books)
  • Email list invitation (especially in self-published books)
  • Discussion Questions
  • Book Excerpts

Back matter is prime selling space. If your reader has enjoyed the book (and we hope they have), they want to find out more about the book, the series, and the author. The back matter is your opportunity to capitalise on that interest and turn a reader into a fan.

Good back matter sells books. And this starts with the book list.

Book List

There is probably some fancy psychological term for what comes down to pleasure.

If the reader enjoyed your book, they want to replicate that feeling of enjoyment the easiest way possible: by buying and reading another of your books. As an author (and especially if you’re a self-published author) you need to capitalise on your reader’s lack of impulse control.

Your back matter should include a list of all your books, especially if this novel is part of a series.

Include a list of all the books in the series in reading order. You can also include older books, either in series order or in reverse order of publication (i.e. newest first).

If the book is part of a series, make sure you include information sales on the next book in the series (e.g book description and release date). The best time to persuade a customer to buy your next book is when they have happy feelings about the current book. We will not discuss how much money I spend this way.

If your book is an ebook, make this list into hyperlinks to a retail site (Amazon, or whichever site the book was purchased from). If the book is part of a series, include the buy link or pre-order link to the next book in the series. If it’s not yet available for pre-order, direct them to a page on your website where they can sign up for your email list so they are the first to know when the new book goes on sale.

A great book followed by comprehensive back matter is your best marketing tool for the next book. Take advantage of it. Make it easy for your readers to buy your next book.

A trade publisher may also include links to other books in the same genre by other authors from their publishing house. Your objective as an author is to sell your books. Their objective as a publisher is to sell books: yours, and those of all their other authors.

Email List Signup Link

Self published authors realise the importance of having an email list. Savvy authors will include a link to their email list in their back matter. They may also offer an incentive for people to sign up to the list e.g. a free novel or novella.

(You can sign up for my email list in the box on the right.)

Review Request

Positive reviews from customers are an important feature of Amazon, and other retail sites. Less than one reader in a thousand will review a book simply because they enjoyed it—mostly because they don’t know how adding their review helps an author.

Adding a request for a book review on Amazon, Goodreads, or your favourite online bookstore will help boost your review rate. This, in turn, will make your book look more popular (which can help with sales), and will increase your chances of getting a BookBub advertisement.

Discussion Questions

The rise of book clubs means a lot of novels include discussion questions at the back of the novel. These make it easy for the book club host to facilitate the discussion. Discussion questions usually take two pages of a standard paperback.

Book Excerpts

Some authors and publishers include excerpts from other books as a hook to entice the reader to buy now. This is obviously an evil plan designed to part readers from their money. This is a great idea, but don’t go overboard. I’ve read novels with so many excerpts that it affected my perceived pacing of the novel and therefore my enjoyment.

I suggest including one chapter. This could be:

  • The first chapter from the next book in the series
  • The first chapter from an unrelated standalone title in the same genre.
  • The first chapter of the first book in another series.

Publisher Information

A trade publisher may also include their own website information, an invitation to sign up to their email list, or an invitation to join their book blogger/review programme.

References/End Notes

A novel might include a list of reference either in the Author’s Note, or separately. Fiction authors usually include just a simple list of book titles and authors, ordered alphabetically on the title.

References in non-fiction are more complex. They need to include more information—title, author, publisher, year, and the exact page or chapter reference. They are formatted according to the publisher’s style guide. This could be the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS), Associated Press Style (AP), the Christian Writer’s Manual of Style (CMS), another style guide, or an in-house publisher guide.

Paperback or hardcover non-fiction books may include footnotes, but these can mess with the formatting in ebooks. Many newer books use endnotes instead. These may be at the end of each chapter, or at the end of the book, but before the index.

Index

Non-fiction books (other than memoir) need an index.

Indexing is a specialised skill, and should be completed by your publisher or a qualified freelancer. The convention is that the index is at the very end of the book. This makes it easy for readers to find the information they are looking for.

Conclusion

I have come across some small trade publishers which do not include back matter in their books. This, to my mind, is a problem. They are missing out on potential sales. They are also depriving you, the author, from the opportunity to connect with readers.

If you’re trade published, ask (or getting your agent to ask) what information your publisher includes in their back matter, and what you will need to contribute (e.g. discussion questions).

If you’re self-published, you get to choose. If I haven’t convinced you, maybe this infographic from Bookbub will:

Using Back Matter to Sell More Books

What else do you like to see included in the back matter of a book? How much is too much?

Author Information

Self-Publishing Your Book | Writing Your Author Information

Author information is part of the front or back matter of the book. Some authors and publishers include it at the front (mostly older trade published paperbacks). Others include it in the back (especially ebooks, but also modern trade published paperbacks).

There is no absolute correct order in which the front and back matter should be presented. In fact, there isn’t even complete agreement on what should be included as front matter, and what can be used as back matter.

However, there are some elements which are fixed, and I discussed these last week:

  • Endorsements
  • Title Page
  • Credits Page
  • Dedication
  • Table of Contents

There are other elements which may be included as front matter or back matter. These include the author information:

  • Author Note
  • Acknowledgements
  • About the Author

Older books (from the pre-ebook era) often included these as front matter. Newer books and ebooks are more likely to include these as back matter. Why?

Because there are differences between how ebooks are formatted compared to paper books.

Ebooks vs. Paper Books

Most ebooks start directly at Chapter One, which means the reader won’t even see most of the front matter. There is limited use in including Endorsements or other sales material at the beginning of an ebook, as the casual reader won’t see them. Someone who wants to look has to go back to the Kindle table of contents, and choose the appropriate section. Choosing Beginning will take you to the beginning of Chapter One (or the Prologue).

It is also important to limit the front matter in ebooks. Most online stores allow readers to sample a portion of the book—up to 10 per cent (or more, depending on the retailer). Too much front matter limits the amount of the actual text that will be included in this sample, and that can affect your sales.

I remember downloading one Kindle sample which was all front matter, with no actual book content.

Yes, really.

Did I buy the book? No. I download samples to (wait for it!) sample your writing to see if I want to read your book. If there is no book to read, I’m not going to buy.

So while some authors and publishers recommend including these three elements of author information as front matter, I don’t. With a few exceptions.

Author’s Note

This is your opportunity to address any factual issues in the novel—such as part of the novel being based on your own personal experience. Books that deal with traumatic issues may include contact details for relevant help organisations (e.g a novel about dealing with an unplanned pregnancy may include details for organisations that provide pregnancy support).

Some authors include a short list of research books and sources, which always impresses me. Others say this information is available on their website, which is doubly clever—it shows me the author has done their research, and it encourages me to click through, and perhaps sign up for their email list.

Exceptions

I do have a few exceptions, instances where I believe the author’s note or similar material should be included in the front matter, not the back matter:

Deliberate Errors

Authors of historical fiction sometimes introduce deliberate errors to better serve the story they are telling (e.g. they may have moved event by a few weeks or months to better fit the timeline of the novel, or they may change the location of key characters or events).

I’m a history buff, and when I find incorrect “facts” in a novel, I always turn to the back to see why the author has made that change. If there is no note, that affects my enjoyment of the novel because it gives me the impression the author hasn’t done their research.

I don’t mind deliberate changes to suit the story, but telling me Germany was in the “early days” of World War II in 1942 is guaranteed to annoy me. An introductory Author’s Note is the perfect time to explain these changes … but only if it can be done without spoiling the story. Otherwise, it may be more prudent to add a simple note explaining that certain facts have been changed, and detail the exact changes in the back matter.

Family Tree

Historical or fantasy novels often include a family tree to enable the reader to keep the characters straight. Depending on the circumstances, this can be helpful or it can serve as a spoiler. My suggestion would be to include the family tree as it is at the beginning of the novel, not the end.

Glossary

If your character uses unfamiliar vocabulary, then readers will appreciate a glossary explaining the meaning.

This could be words from another language (e.g. many Amish novels translate the Deutsch terms used). They could be technical words, or terms which have fallen out of everyday use. Or they could be local idioms that your characters use, but your target reader may not understand (e.g. if you have a book set in Australia or New Zealand).

As a guide, if the information is essential or important to enable the reader to understand the novel, include the information in the front matter.

Map

Fantasy novels or historical fiction often include a map (I’ve even seen maps in some contemporary novels set outside the USA). This provides readers with a heads-up about the setting, and helps them orient themselves in that unfamiliar location.

Acknowledgements

This is your opportunity to thank the reader for buying and reading the book. It is also the place to thank people who have helped in the writing, editing, and publishing process—your critique partners, beta readers, and editors (if you’re trade published, you can also thank your agent, publisher, and the marketing team).

I always read the acknowledgements. As a reader, I often the names of other favourite authors in this section. I’m then more inclined to check out books from the authors whose names I don’t recognise—if I enjoyed this book by Author A, who thanks Authors B and C (who I’ve read and loved), then I think I’m likely to enjoy books by Author D as well.

As a pre-published author, the acknowledgements section provides valuable market research. Which agents and publishers are interested in books like this? Who designed the cover of this self-published book? Which freelance editor does the author use? (Everyone needs an editor, even editors. We can’t edit our own work—we see what should be there, not what is there.)

About the Author

Readers want to know and connect with the author as a person. There should be an About the Author or Author Bio section which gives readers a brief author biography, and displays a professional photograph. It may also include links to the author’s website, and social media sites e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

A paper book will have these as written links, but an ebook should have them as hyperlinks so the reader can click through to the website. Hopefully they will then sign up to your email list, or subscribe to your blog.

Conclusion

This author information needs to be included in your book no matter whether you write fiction or non-fiction, and whether you are trade published or self-published.

I’ll be back next week to talk more about the back matter that always goes at the back.

What do you like to see in the front matter? Or the back matter?

Front Matter

Self-Publishing Your Book: Writing Your Front Matter

You’ve finished your book. You’ve outlined, written, revised, edited, edited, edited and proofread 20,000 or 50,000 or 80,000 or more words. Now it’s ready to publish, but there is still more to be written.

You need your front matter and back matter.

A published book is made up of three parts:

  • Front Matter
  • Body
  • Back Matter (also called End Matter)

Today we’re going to look at the front matter: what’s included before Chapter One. This week we’re going to look at the three must-haves of front matter, and two might-haves:

  • Endorsements
  • Title Page
  • Credits Page
  • Dedication
  • Table of Contents

Endorsements

Endorsements are short two to four line quotations aimed at encouraging the reader to buy the book. They may be from prestigious reviews (e.g. Publishers Weekly or Romantic Times), or from well-known authors in the genre. With trade-published books, these are often authors published by the same publisher. Some authors include comments from customer or fan reviews.

An endorsements page is optional. If included, it is usually the first one or two pages of the book, starting on the right-hand page.

Title Page

The title page is always a right-hand page in the front matter. It may be the first page in the book, or it may follow the endorsements.

Credits Page

The credits page or imprint page includes the legal information:

  • Title
  • Publisher name (address optional)
  • ISBN number/s
  • Copyright
  • Permissions
  • Other Credits
  • Disclaimer/s

The credits page is always a left-hand page. It may be opposite the title page, or opposite the dedication page.

ISBN Number/s

The ISBN Is the International Standard Book Number, which allows booksellers to order your book and know they have the correct edition. Different editions of the book will require a different ISBN e.g. paperback, hardcover, ebook. A reprint may use the same ISBN as the original edition, but a new or updated edition may require a new ISBN.

Books are not required to have an ISBN, but it is recommended if you wish to sell through online retailers. Note that Amazon has its own categorising system, the ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Number). ISBNs are free in some countries (e.g. Canada and New Zealand), but must be purchase in others (e.g. Australia or the United States of America).

Copyright

The copyright information will include:

  • The text copyright (the author/s)
  • Cover copyright (the cover designer)
  • Image copyright (the photographer or stock image site)

The cover designer may or may not retain copyright over their work. This will be covered in your contract, and they should also advise you of their preferred wording e.g. whether they need to be acknowledged as the copyright holder (Cover design © Designer X) or credited (Cover by Designer X).

There should also be a statement to the effect that all rights are reserved, and that the book may not be copied or reproduced in any form without written permission. Many books make a specific exception for short quotations in reviews (a use which is permitted under copyright law in most jurisdictions).

The actual wording of this section may depend on where you live or where the book is published.

Permissions

Authors cannot quote the copyrighted work of another creator without permission. The Credits Page will therefore include the necessary permissions e.g.

  • Bible quotations: most versions of the Bible can be quoted subject to certain restrictions (e.g. less than 500 verses, and not a complete book). Check Bible Gateway for further details.
  • Song lyrics: song titles are not subject to copyright in most jurisdictions, but song lyrics are. Lyrics should not be reproduced without permission. The copyright holder will be able to provide their preferred/required wording.

Other Credits

The author or publisher may wish to credit the cover designer, editor, or typesetter/formatter.

Literary agents may be mentioned as well.

Disclaimer/s

A novel may include a statement that the characters and events depicted in the novel are fictional (assuming they are—some novels are based on real-life events), and any resemblance to actual people living or dead, or to events is coincidental and unintentional.

A historical novel that includes a mixture of real-life people and imaginative characters may include a statement to that effect.

Dedication

The dedication is usually a short one or two-line statement from the author. This is always on the right-hand page. It is often opposite the Credits page.

Table of Contents

Non-fiction books will have a table of contents as part of the front matter. This will usually include chapter numbers and chapter names. It may be broken down into parts, or chapters may have subheadings. The format of the table of contents will depend on what makes sense given the structure of the book.

Novels may or may not need a table of contents, and most don’t. However, Amazon requires Kindle books to have a Table of Contents in the front matter, even if it is as basic as Chapter One, Chapter Two (and most are that basic).

The table of contents starts on the right-hand page, and comes after the title page, credits page, and dedication.

Other Front Matter

There are other elements which may be included in the front matter or the back matter. We’ll discuss those next week … as well as the differences between front matter in paper books compared to ebooks.

Meanwhile, do you have any questions about front matter or end matter?

How Do I Find a Publisher?

Reader Question: How do I Find a Publisher? (#AuthorToolBoxBlogHop)

This blog post comes from a question I was asked on Twitter: could I help the writer find a publisher. It’s also part of the August #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop, hosted by Raimey Gallant.

Can I help you find a publisher?

No, I can’t. Not directly.

But I can provide you with some advice that might help. First, know your genre. Then understand the paths to publishing, and choose the best path for you.

Know Your Genre

No publisher publishes anything and everything. Small publishers specialise. Big publishers have dozens of imprints, each specialising in specific genres.

Harlequin Mills & Boon (HMB) are a great example. HMB publish romance novels under a range of branded imprints. HMB are also subsidiary of HarperCollins, one of the big five multinational publishers, who publish a huge range of romance and non-romance titles.

As an author, this means you have to know your genre so you can target the specific publishers and imprints who publish your genre. Don’t submit your post-apocalyptic thriller to Love Inspired (the HMB Christian romance line). Don’t submit your historical epic to a publisher that specialises in flash fiction.

Instead, do your research and find out which publishers represent your genre. These sources might help:

Know Your Path To Publishing

There are various paths to publishing, each of which I’ve covered in detail in previous blog posts. You can:

  • Publish through a major trade publisher
  • Publish through a small press
  • Self-publish
  • Vanity Publish

I’ll look at each of these:

Major Trade Publisher

(see Paths to Publishing: Trade Publishing for more information)

Major trade publishers are probably the publishers you’ve heard of. If you read books in your genre (and you should), they are books from these publishers. You’ll find their books in your local bookstore and at your local library. And you’ll find their books in your local supermarket or big-box store.

The problem with major trade publishers is that every aspiring author wants to be published by one of an ever-shrinking number of publishers. Almost none take submissions directly from authors—instead, you’ll need to be invited to submit, usually through a recognised literary agent (click here to read my post on finding a literary agent).

If you can’t get an agent, your other traditional publishing option is a small press.

Small Press

(see Paths to Publishing: Small Presses for more information)

You probably haven’t heard of many of the small presses, although the better ones will be represented in your local bookstore or library. Many accept submissions directly from authors (although some only accept submissions from recognised literary agents).

The main problem with small presses is that they are small, which means they can’t do everything well. They might be good at editing, but have mediocre cover design (or vice versa). They won’t have the distribution networks a bigger publisher has—you might find your novel in your local Christian bookstore, but you won’t find it at the supermarket or airport.

Some offer digital-only or digital-first contracts.

This means your book is only produced as an ebook, probably because the publisher can’t afford to invest in cheap offset printing without having a print distribution network (and perhaps can’t make a profit of the more expensive print-on-demand).

There is nothing necessarily wrong with the better small presses. But if you choose to publish with a small press, you need to make sure they are doing a better job than you could if you self-published.

Self-publishing

(see Paths to Publishing: Self-Publishing for more information)

Self-publishing means you wear multiple hats. As the author, you write and revise your book, and you have primary responsibility for marketing. (That’s the same no matter what path you take to publishing.)

You then have a role as a publisher, where you’re responsible for all the business aspects of publishing: finding one or more editors, getting your book edited, proofread and formatted. Finding a cover designer and agreeing a cover. Finding reviewers and influencers. Sending your book off to print (if you’ve decided you need a print run—many authors don’t). Converting your book into ebook format, and uploading to the various retailers.

Self-publishers still need partners to distribute their book. The most common distributors are:

For paper books:

These distributors list your book in their online catalogue, then print it when an order is received, and ship it directly to the purchaser. As the author, you receive the profit on each sale (i.e. purchase price less printing, handling, and distribution costs).

For ebooks:

There are two main formats of ebooks: epub, and mobi. All retailers except Amazon sell ebooks in epub format. Amazon uses mobi, their own proprietary format. Distributors such as Draft2Digital and Smashwords will sell books in a range of formats, as selected by the purchaser.

As an author, you receive the sale price less a distribution fee. This distribution fee varies from 35% to 70%, depending on the retailer and the sale price. For example, if you publish on Amazon Kindle, you keep 70% of the sale price on books priced between $2.99 and $9.99, and 35% for cheaper or more expensive books.

There are an increasing number of companies who advertise themselves as assisted self-publishers.

Some of these are legitimate companies providing quality services to authors (e.g. editing, cover design, formatting, or printing services). But many are vanity presses, charging a lot of money and not delivering a quality result.

Vanity Publishing

(see Paths to Publishing: Vanity Publishing and Author Services for more information)

This is not my recommended route. In fact, it’s one I recommend you avoid. These publishers might tell you they are self-publishers (but they ask for money), or they might tell you they are traditional publishers (but they ask for money). They may call themselves a co-operative publisher, a hybrid publisher, a partnership publisher, a self-publisher, or even traditional royalty-paying publisher.

What they won’t call themselves is a vanity publisher. But that doesn’t change what they are. But you can learn to recognise them: vanity publishers ask for money.

Check out their website: are they trying to sell books to readers, or publishing packages to writers? A genuine publisher makes their money by selling books to readers. A vanity press makes money without ever selling a single book. They don’t usually offer editing, and their books are often overpriced relative to the market. The contract may well assure you that you earn 100% royalties, but 100% of no sales is nothing.

If you have any doubts, don’t sign.

To my Twitter questioner:

No, this doesn’t directly help you find a publisher. But I hope it helps you understand the publishing industry, and brings you a few steps closer to finding the right publisher for your book. It might just be you.

Are you a published author? Which path to publishing did you choose? What advice do you have for my Twitter questioner?

This post is part of the August #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop, hosted by Raimey Gallant. Click here to find other blogs participating in the Hop.

Four Types of Authors Who Shouldn’t Read Reviews

Four Types of Authors Who Shouldn’t Read Reviews

Should authors read reviews?

That was the question Jordan Dane posed at The Kill Zone blog last week. I also saw the same question addressed in an author Facebook group I’m a member of, and (indirectly) on Seth Godin’s blog.

Three times in three days. That must be significant …

I’m not yet a published author, so haven’t yet had to face this decision for myself. But I do have a lot of experience from the other side of the question: as a reviewer. I’ve reviewed around 900 books on Goodreads, and most of those reviews have also appeared on other sites: Amazon, my blog, and other retail sites.

My reviewing experience leads me to believe that not all authors should read reviews of their books. Here are some authors who shouldn’t read reviews of their books.

Authors Who Forget Reviews are For Readers

Reviewers don’t always agree (you can see that by reading the reviews to any great work of fiction). But one thing we do agree on is that reviews are for readers. Not for authors.

As reviewers see it, the purpose of an online book review is to share information which might persuade a like-minded reader to read the book … or not. And either is a valid conclusion. It takes several hours to read an average novel, and a good review takes a while to write, and to post. Especially if you cross-post across several sites, as I do.

Reviewers aren’t doing this to please authors. Reviewers do not exist to promote your book for free (although some do). If they are, it’s skirting close to Amazon’s definition of a “promotional review”, which is then at risk of being deleted.
No, reviewers review for themselves, and for like-minded readers. They do it for fun, for free.

Authors Who Focus on the Wrong Things

As Seth Godin points out, if there 100 glowing five-star reviews and one stinking one-star review (or even a well written three-star review), we focus on the negative. We ignore the positive, even when it’s overwhelming. It’s human nature.

Yes, some reviews are unfair. Some reviews are written by people with issues. Some people should be banned from the internet because they seem unable to communicate online in a mature and adult manner. In an ideal world, everyone would love everything we write and our reviews would be all fluffy unicorns and rainbows.

But life isn’t fair. Everyone has issues. And the world would be a better place if some people were prevented from ever sharing their opinions again (including most politicians, celebrities, and especially reality TV stars). No writer can appeal to everyone. Not even JK Rowling.

The critical reviewers probably aren’t your target reader. So we need to ignore the naysayers and focus on the positive reviews. If we can’t do that, we shouldn’t read reviews.

Authors Who Are Seeking Validation

If we’re reading book reviews to validate ourselves—as a person, or as a writer … just don’t. My worth as a human being is entirely separate from some random reader/reviewer’s opinion of my book (or my blog post). So is yours.

Just because someone doesn’t like your book doesn’t mean they don’t like you. And vice versa. Some of my closest writer friends write fantasy—a genre I have a lot of trouble enjoying. That doesn’t mean I don’t like them as people. It doesn’t mean they aren’t good writers. It just means I don’t enjoy the genre they write.

Authors Who Respond to Reviews

This is one of the first rules of being an author: don’t respond to reviews. Don’t respond to positive reviews—it can look needy and stalkerish (as if you’ve got nothing better to do than read and comment on reviews). And don’t respond to critical reviews—that never ends well for the author.

This should seem obvious. Yet just this week I was checking the Amazon reviews of a book I was considering buying and I saw the author had commented on the top-ranked review. The review basically said the self-help book contained no new information on productivity for writers, and that the author’s suggestion writers give up coffee and chocolate was unrealistic.

I thought this was a helpful review—there is no way I’m giving up coffee or chocolate on anything less than do-it-or-die orders from a doctor. So there is no point in me even considering a book with this recommendation. It’s not helpful.

The author didn’t agree. She copied and pasted a five-star review that said the book had helped the reviewer.

I’d already decided not to buy the book (see above points about coffee and chocolate), but now I’m hesitant to buy or review any of her books. I don’t want an honest review to come back and haunt me if she takes issue with my view should it differ from hers. (As it does. I don’t believe authors should respond to critical reviews. She obviously has no issue with the idea).

So Should Authors Read Reviews?

If you can read reviews of your book without becoming one of “those” authors, then yes. Otherwise, it might be best to ignore reviews, or get someone to vet them for you.

What do you think? Should authors read reviews of their books?

This post is part of the June 2017 #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, a monthly blog hop for authors who want to learn more about being authors. Posts are related to the craft of writing, editing, querying, marketing, publishing, blogging tips for authors, and reviews of author-related products. The hop the brainchild of Raimey Gallant. To find this month’s posts:

 

Reader Question: How do I Find a Christian Literary Agent?

Reader Question: How do I find a Christian literary agent? And what does an agent do?

If you’ve read Christian Publishing: A Guide to Publishers Specializing in Christian Fiction*, you’ll have seen that many of the big name Christian publishers state that they only accept manuscripts submitted from recognized literary agents.  Unsolicited paper submissions are likely to be returned unread (or, worse, trashed unacknowledged and unread). Electronic submissions go to the virtual trash can.

*If you haven’t read Christian Publishing: A Guide to Publishers Specializing in Christian Fiction, you can get a free copy by signing up for my mailing list using the signup box on the right.

How do I find a Christian Literary Agent? - via Christian Editing Services

 

What does a Literary Agent Do?

The role of a literary agent is varied. While they are best-known for their role in selling manuscripts to publishers, they have other responsibilities:

  1. Provides structural and developmental editing advice to clients in regard to new projects.
  2. Line edits and copyedits manuscripts prior to submission to publishers.
  3. Submits manuscripts to appropriate publishers and follow up as appropriate.
  4. Negotiates publishing contracts on behalf of clients
  5. Guides clients through the publishing process as required.
  6. Work with clients to develop and implement marketing plans.
  7. Offers career coaching for authors, determining the direction for their writing career and taking industry changes into account.
  8. Acts as liaison between the author and the publisher on any and all issues.
  9. Reviews royalty statements for accuracy and consistency with the publishing contract, and follows up any discrepancies with the publisher.
  10. Recruit new authors and agrees terms of working as per the agency contract.

Not all agents will undertake all these tasks, which should be no surprise. Agents have strengths and weaknesses, and you need to ensure you are getting the best possible advice. That might well mean paying a professional for additional support (e.g. an editor, or a intellectual property attorney).

How do you find a Christian literary agent?

Literary agents receive far more requests for representation than have time to accept, so they are selective in choosing new authors to represent. A reputable literary agent is unlikely to take on a writer who needs a substantial amount of coaching and nurturing, as this work is unpaid.

Agents are paid a percentage of advances and royalties on projects sold, usually 15%. This means agents often turn down authors or projects that might sell in favour of authors or projects they know they can sell. After all, they receive no payment for merely having an author on their books. Agents also need to balance their desire to take on new authors with their ongoing commitments to their established authors.

Check out Michael Hyatt’s List

Michael Hyatt has a list of literary agents available from his website (click here). You’ll have to sign up to his mailing list to receive it, but you can unsubscribe. The list isn’t completely up to date, but will provide you with a solid starting point.

Check out Books in Your Genre

You can also find a potential agent by checking the copyright and acknowledgements pages of your favourite books—many publishers include the agent’s name on the copyright page, and most authors thank their agent on the acknowledgements page.

Check out Books from Your Target Publishers

If your ultimate goal is to be published by Bethany House, you want an agent who has previously sold projects to Bethany House, and has a good working relationship with the acquisitions editors at Bethany House. You don’t want an agent who has only sold to small publishers who aren’t represented in the major Christian book stores, to digital-first or digital-only publishers, or to publishers who don’t require an agent. So check out new books from your dream publisher, and see which agents made those sales.

Check out Christian Writing Conferences

Another way to find potential agents is to review the list of agents who attend prominent Christian Writer’s Conferences each year. Many conferences feature agents as speakers, panel members, or offering agent appointments. Take note of the agent’s name, and their agency (if stated). The Seekerville archive has a list of Christian Writing Conferences (although the list is no longer being updated).

I’ve Created a List. Now What?

Once you’ve done your research and identified some potential agents, how do you go about getting their attention?

Interact on their Blog

Most reputable literary agents have some form of online presence, such as a website, so the next step is to Google the agent and/or their agency. Good agent websites contain a lot of useful information:

  • The names of the authors they represent.
  • The names of their agents (most agencies employ a group of agents, and they can range from new graduates to agents with decades of publishing experience).
  • Whether the agency or specific agents are open to new submissions, and their particular areas of interest.
  • How to submit to each agent. Some prefer email, others only accept snail mail.
  • The information the agent wants in the submission. This may be a query letter, proposal, or (less likely) full manuscript.
  • A blog, which will include information on how to write a query letter or proposal.

Follow and read the agent’s blog, and when you feel comfortable, comment on the posts. This will help you determine which agents or agencies could be a good fit for your books, and will give you an indication of the personalities of the individual agent: is this a person you want working for you?

Enter Christian Writing Contests

Writing organisations such as American Christian Fiction Writers conducts regular contests for unpublished authors. In most major contests, the final round entries will be read and judged by an agent or acquisitions editor, which can lead to an offer for agent representation or the offer of a publishing contract.

 

Attend a Christian Writing Conference

Meeting a prospective agent at a conference can be good way to get a ‘soft’ introduction so you aren’t approaching them cold. Many conferences offer formal pitch appointments with agents. Some agents will request submissions after getting to know you at a conference, whether through a formal appointment or an informal conversation over a meal.

If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in a future blog post, please email me via www.christianediting.co.nz/contact, or tag @iolagoulton on Twitter.

Print is Not Dead. Really.

“Print is Back!”

Print is not dead. At least, that’s what the headlines say as they report a 3.3% increase in US print sales in 2016.

But are the headlines telling the whole story?

Graphic: Amazon eats the little guysNot according to Author Earnings, who say the reason print sales increased in 2016 was mostly because of aggressive discounting from Amazon … which leads to print books from major trade publishers costing about the same as the ebook versions (which a lawsuit says Amazon are not allowed to discount).

I prefer ebooks for novels, but I’m still reluctant to pay USD 9.99 for a computer file.  I’m happy to pay that or a little more for a paperback which I can easily loan to friends, and can donate to the church library or charity booksale if I no longer want it. But not for an ebook.

Other highlights from the report:

  • Sales of adult fiction from traditional publishers are nearly half digital (either audiobooks or ebooks), almost all of which are online sales.
  • Print sales actually decreased in large book chains. The only increases were for independent bookstores (a 5% increase), and Amazon (a 15% increase). Another win for online.
  • Ebook sales aren’t shrinking. Ebook sales from traditional publishers are shrinking, because Amazon started discounting print instead.
  • Sales of ebooks from independent publishers and Amazon imprints remain high.
  • The publishing industry typically tracks sales using ISBNs, but many indie publishers choose not to use ISBNs (which are free in Canada and New Zealand, but not in countries like Australia or the US).

On Amazon, 43% of ebooks sold don’t have ISBNs, so aren’t being tracked (well, except by Amazon. And Author Earnings. And individual indie authors).

Overall, the picture is of rising online sales in adult fiction and non-fiction: 69% of US book sales were online. Of those:

  • 91% were digital purchases
  • 52% were from non-traditional publishers

So the question isn’t paperback or ebook. It’s online or in store. And online is winning.

Adult titles are more likely to sell online than young adult and children’s titles. And fiction is more likely to sell online than non-fiction.

An exception:

It won’t surprise any Christian to know that religious non-fiction and Bibles are one of the biggest areas where we still buy from traditional publishers. This makes sense. I don’t know about you, but while I’m happy to try a novel or devotional from an indie published author, I want my Bible translation to have the backing of a major publisher.

The other genres where traditional publishers have retained online market share include reference books, biography/memoir, self-help, textbooks, and thriller/suspense novels. None of those surprise me: most are genres I’d expect people to prefer to buy in paper.

Data Guy says:

I don’t think Christian fiction is underserved by traditional publishers. But I do think traditional publishers have a skew towards conservative titles, and a growing number of titles which are “clean” rather than Christian. Agree or not, Christian agent Chip MacGregor sees the CBA moving further in this direction.

Please try not to laugh at “declining indie sales” in #8, and focus on #10, where Chip says:

CBA fiction is going to morph into “clean romance” and “values fiction” and “apocalyptic biblical thrillers” aimed specifically at a shrinking group of hard-core conservative evangelical readers in their 50’s. There are only a handful of houses still acquiring Christian fiction these days, and some of them are shifting to doing high-quality literary or women’s stories for a broader people of faith, or a slim list of suspense novels, rather than clearly religious stories aimed only at the faithful.

I don’t know whether to agree or disagree, whether to laugh or cry. What do you think?

Is My Novel Publishable?

I recently completed a manuscript assessment for a new client. After I’d given her my feedback (a lot of feedback), she emailed back with a number of questions. Two stood out—while it’s the first time I’ve been asked these questions, I’m sure many of my other editing clients have had similar queries:

  1. Is my manuscript publishable?
  2. What do I do next?

I’m visiting Australasian Christian Writers today, attempting to answer the first question.

Click here to join the discussion.

Grapic: Is my novel publishable?

 

 

 

 

Why I’m Against Vanity Publishing

I’m against vanity publishing.

Why?Why I'm Against Vanity Publishing

There are many reasons. Most of them are illustrated in this story.

A few months ago, I received an email that made me want to cry.

It looked innocent enough—a request from a debut author for me to review her book. My website said I wasn’t currently accepting review requests, but that’s only kind of true. I still look at each request I receive and consider it, as I wouldn’t want to miss the opportunity to read and review a great book.

So I read her email instead of just sending my standard “I’m not currently accepting books for review” response.

She says:

I chose to publish [book title] independently to retain control over my book.

That’s fine. I have no issue with whether a book is traditionally published or independently published, as long as it’s good, and in a genre I like.

My book is considered to be Christian Romance.

Christian romance? Excellent—it’s one of my favourite genres. She continues:

There is love in the book … but I don’t feel it overwhelms with Romance. I would rather it be called Historical Fiction …

Well, I like historical fiction as well, so that’s not a sticking point. But what she said next got me worried:

but alas … I don’t have that much control over it.

That’s a red flag.

You, the self-published author, don’t have control over your book’s genre? And this seems to contradict her choosing to publish “independently to retain control over my book”.

This made me curious about the book, probably for all the wrong reasons. I then read the book description from the back of the book, which was rather meh. It didn’t really describe anything—certainly nothing to grab my attention as a reader. However, she’d also included her own synopsis of the book, which definitely described a historical fiction novel, not a romance (hint: in a romance, the couple get together at the end of the book. It’s not about their marriage).

At this point, I wasn’t sure what to think, so I clicked on the link to the Amazon book page.

The first thing I saw was a cover that is best described as average. A stock photo featuring purple flowers on a nondescript green background, with the book title and author name written in an ubiquitous and boring script font. There was nothing about the cover to show the reader what kind of book they were reading, and it smacked of the worst kind of amateur self-publishing.

Then I checked the book description. Sure enough, it’s the completely unengaging one. Next I checked the publisher, where I wasn’t surprised to find the book was from a notorious vanity press (which explained why the author didn’t have control over the book’s genre even though she’d supposedly published “independently”).

Then I looked at the reviews.

Six, all five stars, and one of them from a reviewer with the same last name as the author. While it’s not an uncommon last name (like, say, Goulton), it’s not Jones either. The review is almost certainly from a family member, which suggests the other reviews are from personal friends: hardly reliable. Two of the reviewers have only ever reviewed this book (one reviewed this book twice, so that’s two of the six reviews). One has reviewed three other items, but this is the only book.

None of the reviewers have the Amazon Verified Purchase tag (which can be faked, so having the AVP tag doesn’t really prove anything), yet none of them acknowledged they’d received a free book in exchange for review (as required by Amazon Reviewing Guidelines and the FTC).

I clicked on “Look Inside”.

A quick read of the first page of the prologue showed the book either hadn’t been edited, or had been edited by someone who doesn’t know anything about modern fiction. There was dialect. There were adverbs. There were creative dialogue tags. The proofreading was also substandard, with apostrophes that faced the wrong way, missing punctuation, and commas where there should have been full stops (or periods, for American readers). There was also a language glitch that distracted me: if she’s going into town with her brother, surely the reference should be to “their father”, not “his father”. And this is me reading with reader brain: editor brain would be far more harsh.

I feel sorry for this author, because she’s poured her heart and soul into this book (that much was obvious from her email), but she’s been shortchanged by a publisher who has given her a dirt-cheap cover that tells the reader nothing about the book. They’ve offered little or no editing, then slapped the book up on Amazon where it’s not categorised properly. To use my daughter’s current pet phrase, it’s nasty.

And she’s paid for this.

That’s what almost made me cry. This book is her dream, and the publisher she has trusted to nurture it and bring it to fruition has sacrificed her dream at the altar of the almighty dollar. Their website claims they have “editorial standards”. This book proves they don’t.

I don’t know how much she paid for her publishing package: it could be as little as $999 to as much as $6,499 (neither of which includes editing). I suspect this author paid for one of the mid-level packages, but didn’t opt for the additional editing (although the book sorely needs it). I guess after paying an estimated $2,999 for the publishing package, she didn’t have another $2,450 for their line editing.

I didn’t review the book.

I don’t want to give anyone the idea that this is a valid path to publishing, and I don’t want to be the person who breaks her author heart by telling her book isn’t good, and her publisher has wasted her money. Put simply, I don’t want to be the person who makes her cry.

But I’m upset. I’m upset that her publishing dream isn’t going to have the happy ending she’s hoped and prayed for. But most of all, I’m upset that a Christian author with good intentions and a story to tell has been financially and emotionally ripped off by a “Christian publisher”.

And this is why I don’t support vanity publishing.

No matter how “Christian” they claim to be.

This article previously appeared at Australasian Christian Writers.