How do you and the Sisterhood decide what to read next?
Sisterhood~ Nominations come in multiple ways – from recently read books by the nominee to Goodreads’ buzz books. Once we’ve compiled a list, a poll is conducted to select our Book of the Month. The top two vote getters are named the next the books of the month.
Me~ normally I have lists that dictate how my books are chosen. I am getting more requests from authors to review their books, plus I do a lot on Netgalley. Can’t forget my challenge books, as well as books I get from the library.
What is, for you, the most important aspect of a book?
I would say interesting storyline first. I don’t limit my genres at all, so character development and attention to the details of plot and development of the storyline are really important to me. Recently, I have noticed a lot of grammatical errors in books. This is really starting to drive me crazy. I am not sure, if an author or publisher is going to invest time and money in publishing a book, why one wouldn’t invest in the services of an editor? Plus, a book is an aspect of who the author is. Why would anyone put a book out there that is laden with errors and looks sloppy, unless it is just laziness?
Do you have a preference between self published and traditionally published books?
It depends. Normally, I just grab a book and don’t pay attention to the publisher. On that note, there are authors I absolutely will no longer read and publishing houses whose books I won’t read. I do find that I tend to veer off more toward self-published or small publishing house books. I usually find the works to be refreshing and ‘new.’
Because of the marketing dollars the large publishing houses have behind them, more often than not, especially if they find a ‘cash cow,’ they subject readers to substandard work or shove dried up authors down consumers’ throats. There was a famous historical fiction author I used to love reading. I could read her books in less than a day (and these weren’t small books). With her last 3 books, I noticed that the quality of her writing slipped with each one. Finally, when I finished the last one, I could no longer remain quiet and absolutely panned the book.
In my opinion, once the author has hit some level of fame/notoriety and has established an audience/fan base, the quality of writing becomes sloppier and sloppier – yet fans accept it with no questions asked. I have noticed this more times than not. Unfortunately, in today’s society, when it is reported that the average American reads only 11 books per year, work is often accepted willy-nilly and quality standards aren’t set high. Smaller publishing houses haven’t achieved that ‘status’ yet, so they seem to hold their marketing dollars a bit closer and the works appear to be vetted a bit more.
Do you find a quality of difference between traditionally and self published books?
I think, for me, the difference is that editing is often sorely lacking in self-published books. I have read books and literally felt as though the author woke up one morning, spewed out a bunch of thoughts and then threw the book up on Kindle that afternoon. Although I have seen this in books from large publishing houses, I don’t see it nearly as often.
Do you feel there is a stigma against self-published writers?
In one word, yes. However, for the reasons I mentioned above, sometimes I think it is earned. For those who treat their books with the respect they put into writing it, no. Unfortunately, readers don’t differentiate those careful authors from the first group, which is really sad for the authors writing quality books. I have read self-published books and books published by a small publishing house (Indie) that could run circles around books published by some larger publishing houses. When I discussed this with the author, I was told that the author had almost given up on publishing their book because the larger publishing houses had turned it down. IMO, thank god for the smaller publishing houses which give not only authors, but also readers more choice.
For Indie authors, getting reviewed is one of the biggest challenges. Do you have any advice?
I would seek out sites like Goodreads and such. Also, search book blogs for bloggers who write about books that are similar to yours in style/genre, especially new bloggers. New bloggers don’t have the backlog of books to be reviewed, and they come up with some really creative ways to market their blogs. A piece of advice, though: if you contact bloggers, or especially if you contact groups on Goodreads, make it a point to get involved with them. With Sisterhood of the Traveling Book, when authors established themselves, which means being part of our group and participating somewhat regularly, more people sign up to read their books. For example, Bette Lee Crosby, author of Spare Change, recently put her new release, The Twelfth Child, on Sisterhood for review. Within 5 hours, 12 people signed up to review it for her.
Many of our members have book blogs of their own, plus we require that reviews for author-placed books be posted on Amazon.com, as well as Goodreads. That meant a ton of reviews for Bette, which she wouldn’t have had otherwise. Terri is another example. Both she and Bette had their books up for Book of the Month for Bookbundlz.com and other sites. Without prompting or solicitation from the author, members came in and voted diligently to help out the authors and give them much-needed votes. On the other hand, we had an author whose first book was placed on Sisterhood of the Traveling Book and was well received. Once the book was placed, she never participated in the book club. She recently released another book and again asked the Sisterhood to review it for her. This time, no one signed up. The moral of this story is: the more you put into your own marketing efforts, which includes relationship building, the more you will get out.
The proliferation of self-publishing and Indie publishers means authors are now a dime a dozen. Really, anyone can publish a book. Some look at that as a negative, I happen to look at it as a positive. Now that the big publishing houses have competition, the rules have changed and, like a building, it is no longer a ‘write it and they will come.’ This means that the author needs to do his/her own work to stand out.
There are a couple new options for getting your book out there, opening up more opportunity for gathering reviews. All readers I know currently use Netgalley as a way to get new books. Proper etiquette states that if the author/publisher gives you the book to read, you need to give a review in return. This doesn’t guarantee a positive review, but it does give the author more visibility.
I have also been utilizing Pinterest to promote books reviewed on my blog, as well as books that I feel deserve attention. Numerous authors use Pinterest to reach potential readers, as well.
In today’s literary world, creativity in marketing is the key!
Anything else to add?
Yes, and this is probably the most important thing. Be gracious about reviews, good or bad. There is nothing worse than an author who attacks a person who has written a negative review. I am not talking about a review that is written as a personal attack. I am talking about a review that offers constructive criticism. I tend to be really honest in my reviews. I let the author know this up front, so if they don’t want honesty I may not be the best reviewer for them.
No one’s work garners straight 4/5 star reviews and it is unrealistic for authors to think they will. The example that I always give is Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriett Beacher Stowe. This little book, which is credited with launching the Civil War, was panned by a lot of people when it first came out; even 150 + years later, it has a Goodreads’ rating of 3.68 stars. As an author, do you really feel that you are better than Harriet Beecher Stowe??
Another word of warning: there are readers who look for authors to misbehave. These readers have blogs, threads and such on popular sites such as Goodreads and Amazon. I know this because I know a lot of these readers! As an author, one wants positive publicity, not negative. It is harder to overcome negative publicity. Most readers seek out ways to help an author who is positive in their approach, even when the criticism stings.
Naomi Blackburn is co-moderator of Sisterhood of the Traveling Book on Goodreads, as well as the Nordic Noir group, dedicated to discussing Scandinavian mystery writers. Goodreads has ranked her #29 on their list of top reviewers in the US and #35 globally of all time. This year has topped the list at #11 for top reviewers on both the US and global lists. She is also on the Goodreads list as the #46 top reader in the United States. To further celebrate her love of reading, Naomi reads and reviews books for her blog A Book and a Review (http://abookandareview.blogspot.com/) , which is a “just the facts, ma’am (with her opinion thrown in)!” book blog.
She holds an MBA and has 12 years experience in healthcare business development. Currently, she works as a healthcare consultant/independent contractor in the areas of business development and marketing.
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