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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Amy Edelman – founder of IndieReader
Tahlia Newland – author of A Matter of Perception
Naomi Blackburn – co-moderator of Sisterhood of the Traveling Book
Jonathan Gould – author of Doodling
Greg – founder of Ereader News Today
Roz Morris – author of My Memories of a Future Life
Stephen Windwalker – founder of Kindle Nation Daily
Susan Salluce – author of Out of Breath
Pandora Poikilos – founder of Orangeberry Book Tours
Michael Burns – author of The Horn
Terri Giuliano Long’s ‘Ode to Book Bloggers’
Donna – founder of Girl Who Reads
Kathy – founder of I Am A Reader, Not A Writer
Rachel Thompson, author of The Mancode: Exposed
Adam Charles, founding Director of iWriteReadRate.com
Christine Nolfi, author of The Tree of Everlasting Knowledge
I have to say I agree with pretty much all these views/answers. I read for review and love to support indies but have had to quit early on with many due to lack of editing. Even ardent author pro's need editors, why do some feel arrogant enough to think otherwise? I with put my own book through two rounds of beta readers, my own edits and then one final edit. I know it will never feel 'done' but I will have given it the best shot I can afford.
Great to meet you Naomi. X
My question suggestion: Do you feel it effects your overall writing career to become an indie author? Would you advise trying for the larger publishing houses first?
Sharon, I have the same compaint that you do with the editing. That is why I think it is so sad that many Indie authors are lumped together with people who write as a hobby or for the heck of it and because publication is as easy as a “file upload” and slapping a price tag on it. I do finish the book and then nail the editing component in the review. It is funny, I just wrote a guest blog for another author and pointed out the fact that I do look at the editing component in reviewing a book. I have to say that I had one response to the blog and it was another reaming me for adding that component to my review. But here is my take and I have asked many an author this. The book is their baby…an editor can make suggestions and such, but in the end, the book is theirs. Why wouldn’t that hold true for the editing component. There is a saying about Big dogs and staying on the porch if you aren’t one. I think the entire quality of a published work is what seperates the professional authors from hobby writers.
I will admit that I am in the process of writing a book (shhhh, it is a secret!!). I will not go the route of a big publishing house, at least not at this point. I am really far from that part of publishing a book, but I have the chance to speak with a ton of authors. I have worked with one who told me that he had about 157 letters of rejection from the large publishing houses before he went the Indie route…funny thing, his books have a cultish following now and are really, really well written. I stick with the idea that I have read too many books that I couldn’t believe they made it through a large publishing house and wanted to write to the publisher and asked who had the brilliant idea to purchase that manuscript and won’t sell myself short nor the book I have put so much love and attention into not to look at all publishing options. I like to rile things up, but I am a bit too cowardly to take it that far! ;) One big example I am reminded of is another Sisterhood Author Member, Darcie Chan, author of The Mill River Recluse. I happened to check on her Amazon published book a couple of days ago and noticed that she is now a NY Times Best Selling Author, as well as a USA Today Best Selling Author. I can remember when her book came out. Hmmmm…who would have thunk it out of a little Indie ebook? I just can’t remember for the life of me who her publisher was.
One last point that I think helps to open up indies to libraries and such. I can remember asking my librarian years ago if she could order a book which was published by an indie author. She came back and told me that it would be difficult for them to do so because of the accessibility, payments and such. With Amazon and companies like them, this has really opened up ways for libraries to buy indie books thereby opening up accessibility and visibility to the general public. Again, more competition…I love it!!
Sorry for the late response…I swear I just received notice of the post!
Very good points, Shah! I have taught writing for 16 years and certainly know the rules, but often the fingers get ahead of the brain, spell check makes errors, or my own idiocy (I'm a poor speller) results in typos. I also agree that, no matter how hard we work or how conscientious we are, the work never really feels done. I've found that when I'm just tweaking, changing a word here or there, it's time to let go.
Thank you for stopping by!
I keep thinking about that analogy I gave you, Terri about make-up and the Bride of Frankenstein. Try to make too many changes and you totally change the piece of work, maybe not to something as pretty!
Great post Naomi.
I especially like the point raised about editing. I take my books through numerous drafts before even considering publishing them. The stigma attached to self-published writers is unfair but those that don't make the effort with editing are dragging down the writers that do a professional job and it's such a shame.
Responding to reviews is a subject that has come up in forums on Facebook in recent months. I recently received some 2 star ratings for my novel on Goodreads. I was disappointed not with the ratings but with the lack of feedback. I was always want to know what readers think whether it is good or bad. It's the only way I will improve as a writer.
I agree with you and it is sad that there are authors who obviously put in so much into their books are lumped in with those who have not. I do wish there was a way to seperate the books by quality, but I guess that is what we hope we have with reviews.
I also agree with you on the shallowness in some review. As a reader, I have gone in to look at reviews on some books I have been interested in and have seen the two stars with little or no review attached. I as a reader depend on the reviews almost as much as the reader. Is the book a two star because it is poorly written or because the storyline didn't interest the reader?? Those are the full spectrum of reasons for low ratings. One would affect me as a reader, one wouldn't.
I also wish it were easier, Naomi! Reviewers, like you, who are very articulate and specific, can make a real difference for writers and readers. A specific, thoughtful review is also one a reader can trust. I wish all the sites would require reviewers to list their real first and last name. (I understand that some whacky people would probably try to contact them, and that's why they don't). But I think if names were required and reviewers know others could ID them, reviews in general would be more reliable.
Oh, I agree with you Terri..it will never be easy and, alas, it will never change. I find reviews run the gamut of spewing out book moments with nothing else to nothing at all. A reader, such as myself, and the author have to look for those little gems that identify real feelings about the author's works. I like to think of it as a "diamond in the rough"…you have to work through alot of gunk on top to get to the beautiful gems.
I'm with you, David! Reviews with some explanation, whether great or terrible, are helpful, because they let us know if we're reaching & touching the reader or if we failed, and if we failed then why. I also tuck the info away in my brain for next time. Of course people have different tastes, so there is only so much stock we can put in reviews. It's easy to get caught up (I certainly can), but that's not really healthy, of course. I also agree that pointing out egregious errors lets people know if they are in the hands of a professional, particularly if, like Naomi, the reviewer is both articulate and specific.
Some really helpful pointers there, Naomi. I'm an indie author – represented by literary agents but can't find a publisher to back my quirky style of fiction. My novel (which is professionally presented because I've been in publishing 20 years) gets good reviews, but because it's non-genre it's a struggle to find the right places to reach new readers who might like it. You've given some useful tips here and I'll definitely follow them up.
I'll also pass them on on Twitter, because the indie world goes round with us all helping each other. Thank you for what you do with the Sisterhood.
Thank you so very much for taking the time to join us, Roz. I've admired you from afar for a long time, so it's particularly wonderful to have you here!
Thanks, Roz..I must say that sometimes, I think that books get too “typecasted” into genres. As I mentioned in my post, I don’t tend to look at genres per se although I do see categories I tend to favor. I am a big reader of book jackets…that tends to be what sells a book for me. I have read numerous books that I think if they tried to attach one genre to them, the author would miss a number of groups who would have enjoyed the author’s work just as much. One author I think of in particular is British writer, Rosen Trevithick. Her book, Straight Out of University, was placed in the Gay/Lesbian genre. In reality, her book would have worked in either chick lit and women’s lit, just as easily. Until she changed her genres to add those two, she was missing a whole audience. I am seeing much more traffic to her very talented writing and I am thrilled!! She is an example of an author I would take over some of the big house authors any day!!
Brick and mortar book stores are quickly going the way of the camera shop. Publishing Co.'s are grabbing up 85-98% of the take while the Indie author/ publisher can get between 35-70% by doing it themselves. The big difference is the advertising and honestly unless you as an writer want to dump $7-$15K in a "deal" with the sharks you have as good a chance as any by just doing the publicizing on your own. I agree your book is your baby, I proofed my book 4 times, then asked someone else to do it and then did it again. I still find mistakes and it's in it's 5th edition. But I also happen to know that the first couple editions of "Gone with the Wind" were full of errors as well.. Support the Indies. The author did the most work he or she should be the one to paid the lion's share not some corporate publishing giant. You can find out lots of hidden little secrets in my e-book, "A Fly on the Wall, a Bartender's Perspective", hopefully it puts a smile on your face. http://secretsofabartender.wordpress.com/