On Getting it Wrong, in the Wake of Mardi Gras--veinglory

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Back in August of last year I thought an open poll might be one way to see which e-publishers have good reputations. Within a few days Mardi Gras was in 3rd place and by the time I took the poll down they were winning by a landslide, by May of this year I was warning of problems and by this August they were clearly on the way out. Commentators on the initial poll mentioned the down side of popular polls including ballot stuffing and people voting based on the high of being accepted rather than any real knowledge. And I rather ignored these points and suggested that presses able to inspire that many authors must be doing something right.

Oops.

But now the dust has settled I wonder if any authors for Mardi Gras and other failed presses might have experiences to share about how they do manage to inspire such enthusiasm, and what the first signs are that there is a lack of substance behind the glitter? Please drop us a comment or email.

As a p.s. I looked through publisher-related googled words over the last month to see what the googlers are interested in or worried about. Here are the top ten, make of it what you will:

* lady aibell, lady aibell trouble
* "mardi gras publishing", mardi gras publishing bankruptcy, "mardi gras publishing" problems, mardi gras e-publishing closure, mardi gras e-publishing closure, mardi gras publishing bankrupt, mardi gras publishing rumor, "mardi gras publishing" "veinglory", "mardi gras publishing" and closing down, "mardi gras publishing" negative, piers anthony mardi gras
* ocean's mist press, oceans mist press, "ocean's mist press" blog, "ocean's mist press" blog, 0cean mists press, ocean's mist press closing, ocean's mist press in trouble
* ellora's cave publishing inc., ellora editor earn, ellora's cave books, ellora's cave ebooks available in nzn ellora's cave quality, ellora's cave rwa, ellora's erotica, free ebooks ellora's cave, most profitable e publisher ellora's cave, similar to ellora's cave, carol lynne, ellora's cave
* eredsage, e-red sage, eredsage book cover, redsage publishing "show me the money"
* silks vault, "silk's vault" royalties, silk's vault banktruptcy
* resplendence publishing, "resplendence publishing", resplendence publishing 2007
* stardust press closing, stardust press, stardust press is closing
* patrcia fuller shadowrose, patricia fuller, erin gordon, shadowrose publishing- patricia fuller
* cacoethes publishing

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Penta-pinion: Cassandra Curtis

Saturday, September 29, 2007

I just added the 60th erotic romance e-publisher to the PLIST. There is something about large round numbers that drives home the impossibility of the task of really, thoroughly researching that many options. Obviously there has to be a way to create an initial shortlist. There obviously is no perfectly valid and reliable way to do this but I thought one thing that might be useful is the top picks of a various of people engaged in the genre right now. So I posted the question...

What would be your personal picks of the top 5 erotic romance epublishers that you would suggest to a talented novice writer in this genre? I also asked that they not list presses they are published with.

Here is my first response from Cassandra Curtis author of many novels including Shifting Tides: Beneath A Midnight Sea (Book One) and I Put A Spell On You Eppie Finalist) both available from Amber Heat.

Yes, that would be difficult not to list AQP (my own publisher), but if I had to leave them out, I would list, in no particular order:

Samhain
Phaze
Red Sage
New Concepts Publishing
Wild Child/Freya's Bower
EC

I've had the opportunity to read and review a wide selection of books from these publishers and I've heard good things about them all. Oh and I realize I have six on my list. Oh well, consider it a bonus. ROFL.


If you really want to list your own publisher, please do.

...yep, gotta add Amber Quill Press/Amber Heat.

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Why I Write Romance--By Pepper

Friday, September 28, 2007

This semester, I'm taking a fiction workshop class. The way the English department works at the University is that all the classes are open to MA, MFA, and PhD students. Also, MFA students are required to take literature courses, and literature students are more than welcome to take workshops as their one or both of their 2 electives. So that is how I find myself in a fiction workshop class with 5 MFA students, and another MA student (like myself).

Now, everybody in this workshop is really talented. Everybody has really good suggestions. Everybody is really supportive and it's clear they all love what they do. But I have a massive inferiority complex because, before being accepted into the MA program, I was rejected by the MFA program. And I know how grad school works. I know how the committee works. I know people on the committee. The English department is very small. I know a lot of stuff feeds the decision, and it's not all about my talent (or lack thereof) as a writer. But this is a rejection that I have internalized. It honestly has affected me more than any other rejection ever. Vivien gets to hear my angst about it all the time (and she just thinks I'm crazy, but she's patient with me).

Tuesday we'll be discussing my fiction in the class. I brought in the first two chapters of Engaging Carol. It was one of the 5 finalists in Harlequin's Epic (now Everlasting) line contest, but the sort of changes the editor requested before it could be published left me stymied. For example, it is absolutely crucial that Carol be arrested in San Francisco in the mid-fifties for possible Communist ties---but she wanted the book to end in 2007, instead of 1988. I had no idea how to switch the time frame by 20 years. I still think about it, and I still haven't worked out the riddle. But now I do have a complete novel sitting on my HD that I would sure like to do something with--including the possibility of making it a mainstream novel instead of a romance. Of course, as soon as I passed it out, I was struck with the complete, utter, unwavering certainty that their reaction will be "This story is bad and you should feel bad!"

My point is that I often feel self-conscious when offering my work in the workshop because I write genre. I am the only person who writes genre (I'm also the only person with some 40 publishing credits to my name. Make of that what you will). And worse still, the genre I write is romance. Horror might have been forgivable. But paranormal romance? Urban fantasy romance? Erotic romance?! So as I was grappling with my sometimes crippling insecurity, I had epiphany, so to speak.

I'm always going to write romance because the subject is the one thing I'm most interested in. How two (or maybe more) people meet and decide, "Yeah, I absolutely want to improve my life by merging it with yours." The courtship, the seduction, the wooing, the initial meeting, all of it. I love everything about it. I want to hear every person's story, and I'm endlessly fascinated by the possibilities. It is the most interesting thing to me in all my books. Because of Vivien's influence, I'm happy to write another plot alongside the romance plot, but honestly? All I really care about is how the characters get from point A (being alone) to point B (being together). And I'm not sure there's really anything more important than that.

--Pepper

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Hunting Data from the Big Dog--veinglory

Thursday, September 27, 2007

You know my friend the wiggly graph here. Well it is about to get some friends. I have enough data for several publishers to begin to track the sales levels of books specific to that press. But in order to really demonstrate the range I would be very interested in getting more data relating to publishers at the upper and lower end of the scale.

So far authors at Loose Id and Liquid Silver have been the first to step up, representing almost half of the total data set. These are the 'upper middle list' publishers and I think tend to produce an average that is maybe a little higher than is typical. In fact this is already some evidence for this in that the mean first month sales are 176, but the median (the sales of the book that falls in the middle when they are orders from most to least sales) is only 94 copies.

It is all a matter of statistics really. It may be that 80% or more of ebooks make less than the current average of 176--but some of the books that make more, make a whole lot more. I am thinking here primarily of Ellora's Cave. The average first month sales I have for them is based on a small and highly variable data set--coming in at 1440 copies. This Makes Elloras Cave apparently quite literally in a class of its own.

So in the interests of getting a clear picture I want to specifically encourage authors at Ellora's Cave to send me your sales figures so we can start to track just how ahead of the pack they are, and how the gap varies over time. I would also encourage those of authors publishing with smaller, newer presses to send me your information to help balance the picture. Just email veinglory at gmail.com with as much as you can of the following: first month samles, first year sales, total sales to date, sales to end of contract.

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Community Spirit--veinglory

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Sometimes community spirit strikes me as being a little like the girl with the curl:

There was a little girl who had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead;
When she was good, she was very, very good,
And when she was bad she was horrid.


We each have our favorite blogs, forums and lists. There is a natural instinct to rush to the defence of 'one of your own'. But many of us belongs to several (or scores) of these places and end up seeing it from both sides. Major psychosis aside, it take two people not giving the benefit of the doubt to create a real handbags-at-dawn argument.

Some things to keep in mind are:
* If some one does the wrong thing they are more likely to be dumb that malicious. (Myself included).
* Hitting and criticising people doesn't make them any smarter. (And the pleasure you get from it is fleeting).
* Hammering the issue in public doesn't make it any easier for them to realise their mistake. (And is embarrassing if you then realised the mistake was your own).
* If something needs to be said, less in more--in terms of content, emotion and size of audience. Say exactly what needs saying to the people who need to hear it, and never press 'send' whilst angry--just save the draft for tomorrow when the world might look a little different. (Extreme brevity, understatement and surface courtesy is actually more cutting anyway).
* If you want to vent do it with your friends via email. Lists and forums are semi-"public" and many of them appear on search engines (forever).
* Let your friends know if you are just whining (whining, ranting and tantrums are very therapeutic but some people mistake them for a call to arms). If you actually want them to do something let them know what it is (Put down the machete, Bob. I just wanted some advice).

Unless someone disses EREC, of course. Then I expect you to go for them like a pack of ravening were-kittens ;)

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BOOK REVIEW WEEK, 7 [the end!] An Editor's Perspective--Sandra

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The topic of reviews always seems to be a touchy one. From newspapers claiming they are losing money by having reviews, to authors not knowing what to do when they get a bad review, the subject can get quite heated. From this publisher's perspective reviews serve a couple of purposes.

1) Publicity
Some argue that any publicity is good publicity. I disagree. While it is good to get your company name out to the public, it is much better to have your name spoken with positive vibes than negative. Perhaps bigger companies can stand the hits better, but no one wants to have something damaging attached to their business.

With so many reviews available on the Internet, the review doesn't go away to be forgotten in the archives of a newspaper or library. Readers may not have a long memory, but the Internet does and readers know how to search for those reviews if that is a factor in their book purchasing.

Aspen Mountain Press will use reviews when appropriate and available for new releases as a means of enticing a reader to read something else by the author (their backlist). We only use the portions of the review that reveal an author's positive qualities and/or rating, and then showcase the book in a positive light.

Being reviewed at different sites can be an excellent way for an author to get their name out to prospective readers. It can certainly help an author build their web presence. I'm not convinced reviews help sales, but it could be because readers are getting inundated with reviews that lack substance. A negative review, on the other hand, could hurt an author's sales depending on how well known the author is.

In my experience, books are purchased because someone knows the author, the story is excellent and word of mouth spreads the news, their story or name comes up under a keyword search on the Internet, or the blurb and/or excerpt have caught a reader's attention.

2) Teaching Tool
Legitimate reviews, ones where the reviewer tells the audience what they liked and didn't like about a story are excellent tools for teaching an author and an editor. This presupposes that a reviewer is truly reviewing a book and offers criticisms that can be used. Perhaps there isn't enough detail for a reader to understand the world the author has created. An author can use this tool to improve their writing. Perhaps a reviewer mentions a glaring number of spelling mistakes. An editor should take this to heart sharing it with the appropriate people responsible (line editors for instance). Reviews can open a constructive dialogue between an author and editor on how to improve future works.

A smart editor and a smart writer should be able to pick up on common threads from review to review. It's rather like ice skating at the Olympics. Each judge gives a skater a score. Sometimes there is a huge disparity in scores, others the scores are within one tenth of a point of one another. If a common thread recurs over and over, that could be one the author needs to carefully examine for either what they have done right, or what they could have done better.

As an acquiring editor, I don't look at reviews in determining the acceptance of a story. Each piece sells itself. I determine how much work the piece is going to need and if I or one of my editors has the enthusiasm needed to see a project to publication.

Reviews though, are often very confusing to the authors. I understand their frustration. If a book is reviewed in glowing terms, doesn't mention an area that could be improved and then is given a three star/heart/flag/cup score the author feels lied to. Which is the truth? The reviewer's words or the score?

For many authors they go through a doubt-filled process, often commencing with the actual writing. Is this crap? Who should I submit it to? How many rejections do I have to have before someone buys it? Are they crazy for contracting it? Oh, god, the editor hates it; there are so many corrections to be made. Why did they contract it in the first place? They hate it, that's why it's not on the release schedule yet. God, is it really going to be released? Will anyone buy it? What will the reviewers say?

There are so many strong emotions involved with the creation of a piece of writing that they often overcome common sense. Writers, despite admonitions to the contrary, to frequently look at their work as their "baby" and who wants to be told their creation is "ugly" in some fashion? It takes a while to see the value of a good or negative review. Sometimes it just hurts too damn much.

Again, this is a great opportunity for a writer to work on communication with her editor to determine the value of a particular review. If there is a legitimate complaint, they can work on the issue together, finding a way to strengthen that area of weakness.

A publisher can use reviews to gain publicity and to teach their authors and editors. In the end, though, it is still the author who must decide what to take away from a good or bad review and how to use it to improve themselves and their craft.

Sandra
Aspen Mountain Press
Adventure, Mystery, Passion

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Monday, September 24, 2007

* Dark Eden Press is now accepting submissions for mainstream romance novels. Preferred word count is 45,000 words and above that fit our romantic and sensual heat levels.
* Romance epublishers I have come across recently include LLDreamspell and Eternal. Do you want the full Mistress Emily analysis or can we take that as read now?
* Cobblestone Press have been banned from posting calls at Romance Divas.
* Postcard voting: Please send the number of your favorite card in the subject line of an email to ERECmail at gmail.com, with your name or pen name in the body of the message :) Please note there are NEW ENTRIES! Voting will be open for two weeks.

p.s. I have one more review week post pending and should get it up [oh, er] within a day or two :)

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BOOK REVIEW WEEK, 6: And Now For Something Completely Different--Jennifer McKenzie

Blogger is making life very difficult for me. I have crossed all my fingers and toes and hope this post from the inimitable Jennifer McKenzie will somehow go though.




And Now For Something Completely Different.

I read the other posts by the other contributors on this subject and realized that anything I wanted to say about doing reviews, getting a review or reading a review, has been said. And much better than I could say it.
So, I'll write what I know. In this instance, all I know is my own experience.

I'll tell you about the five stages after receiving a bad review. (I stole them too)

1. Denial
My first reaction to seeing a negative review or even a negative SENTENCE in a review is "That's not my book." When it is clear it IS my book, then I'll deny they read the same book I wrote. Denial can also manifest by being an author who refuses to read any reviews at all. Of course, this last form of denial can actually be healthy and effective.

2. Anger
This usually consists of "googling" the reviewer and finding out "who" they are. What right do they have to say such things? Never mind that I, the author, sent the book to them. If the reviewer is well known, every error they ever made in their online life is raked over the coals again for self righteous fodder. Phone lines and/or keyboards heat up as the recipient calls his/her "peeps" to talk about how "unfair" the review is and agree that the reviewer is "on crack".

3. Blame
This is an ugly stage. Brief, for some, it can create problems if it becomes serious. It involves pointing the finger at one's editor, one's publisher, one's critique partner and finally, in a fit of desperation, one's spouse and family. "If I'd been able to write the story I'd intended all along...." is the deadly beginning of a long, ugly game that no one wins. Well, except AT&T as our fellow authors talk us down from posting some inflammatory post somewhere.

4. Bargaining
"I swear next time I won't write the word "move" five times in one paragraph." "I swear I'll plot the next one if the reviewer doesn't note my three plot holes." "I swear I'll never write a nasty review, even if they deserve it, if they're nice to me now."

5. Acceptance
The author comes to a place of understanding. Reviews are subjective. Yes, they have an influence. But is a bad review going to make me quit writing? Hell no!!!! So who gives a fuck, really?

The truth is I'm an author. I'm a reviewer. I'm a reader. So, I know a reviewer has a tough job and when a book is awful, it's an opinion, not the end of the world. I know other writers struggle through rewrites, edits, fear, contracts etc., so I keep that in mind as I'm writing a review. (That means no smoke up their ass, but not kicking someone between the eyes if possible). And I'm a reader. I bring all my baggage with me to a book. It creates reactions, feelings, snarkiness, skepticism.

Reviews are READERS giving an opinion. That's what I want. Read my book and tell me what you think. Two years ago, no one read my shit. Now, I get to angst over people who do. What's wrong with that?

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Saturday, September 22, 2007

* All About Romance has had some website issues for some users, they are looking into it.
* Having parted company with Amazon, Borders has a beta version of their own online store up and running.
* Any submissions sent to Drollerie Press over the last two months may have been lost in a computer failure and should be resubmitted.

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The Postcard Contest--veinglory

* Postcard voting: Please send the number of your favorite card in the subject line of an email to ERECmail at gmail.com, with your name or pen name in the body of the message :)

1: EXPLORE THE PASSION by Kendra Egert

2: SIT BACK, RELAX by Celia Kyle


3: BETWEEN THE LINES by Celia Kyle


4: ALL TIED UP by Haven Rich



5: NEXT BEST REASON by Haven Rich


6: ROMANCE SO HOT by Haven Rich


7: CELEBRATING SENSUALITY by Pepper Espinoza



8: WHATEVER WAY YOU PLAY by Anne Douglas


9: STEAM by Haven Rich


10: LIKE IT LIKE THAT by Haven Rich

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BLOG REVIEW WEEK, 5: Dealing With Reviews--by Pepper

Friday, September 21, 2007


Ed: This is the big moment!

They read the review with a growing look of horror

Bunny: What does that old queen know? She didn’t even show. Sent her copy boy to do the dirty work. Screw you, Ms. Crowling!

Dolores: Do I really have a face like a horse?

Paul: What does ostentatious mean?

Ed: Hey, it’s not that bad. You can’t concentrate on the negative. He’s got plenty of good to say here. ‘The costumes are very realistic.’ That’s positive! I’ve seen much worse reviews before! Some reviews don’t even mention the costumes!

Later

Ed: I just did a show in Hollywood, and Victor Crowling himself praised its realism!


I love Ed Wood. It’s a movie that makes me happy every time I watch it, and I try to watch it fairly often. I think it is, without a doubt, Tim Burton’s best film, and I think it’s one of Johnny Depp’s best performances. I think the movie makes me happy because it inspires me. It keeps me positive. If Ed Wood can remain optimistic and search for the positive, then so can I. Of course, in the film, Ed Wood is barely self-aware. His optimism and his vision blinded him from the realities of his work, and he just kept pushing forward. Even when he went through a moment of extreme doubt and confusion, he found the strength to stay true to his vision.


I don’t want to get into an analysis of Ed Wood. I could probably write for pages and pages, and that isn’t what this blog is about. This particular blog is about dealing with the stinging, maybe even humiliating, reviews. And every author, every author is going to have to deal with it at some point. Because everybody has an opinion, and you’re not going to make everybody happy. And I don’t just mean professional reviews, either.


First, don’t respond! It’s going to be tempting to defend yourself. It’s going to be tempting to defend your book. Hell, it might even be tempting to defend your friend, or an author you admire. But this move isn’t called “The Author’s Big Mistake” for nothing. When Anne Rice responded to reviewers on Amazon, her impassioned defense actually made the news. And she looked crazy in the process. It happened three years ago and "You're interrogating the text from the wrong perspective" still cracks me up.


There’s no way to win. There’s nothing you can say to defend against a bad review. “That’s just like, your opinion, man” isn’t even innocuous. Unless you’re The Dude and you can say it without a hint of irony. Your books are not your children, and ultimately, they don’t need to be defended. Also, keep in mind, Romanceland is a small, small world, and should you give in to the temptation to denigrate the reviewer who dared say less-than-glowing-things about your book, people will notice. And they will remember.


Second, stay positive! If there’s nothing in the review—not even a compliment on the reality of the costumes—then keep in mind that somebody offered you a contract, and that person is also offering to pay you for your work. Somebody, somewhere along the way believed in you and your work.


Sometimes, it’s not easy to stay positive. In those cases, I think of another Johnny Depp film, Dead Man.


Bad Guy 1: Fuck you.

Bad Guy 2: Fuck me? Fuck you.



And then he shoots him. I have adopted this has my motto. It works well for the sting of bad reviews and of rejections. Of course, it loses something when simply transcribed. It’s the way he says it before he shoots the first guy that really makes it work. Yeah, I’m saying the third recourse you have available to you is pure belligerence. Sometimes, that’s all I’ve got going for me. That, and Johnny Depp movies. What helps you get through the occasional stinging review?

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BLOG REVIEW WEEK, 4: You Don't Know Me--BookMom

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Book Utopia is a newer, no frills blog. But to my eyes it has all the qualities of a useful review site, one I check daily. So I was happy to hear from BookMom about her reasons for embarking on her journey as a blog-reviewer.

--veinglory





You don't know me.

I'm the 13 y/o girl you saw hiding between the library stacks, sitting cross-legged on the floor with a book in my lap and a pile at my side.

I'm the English student who sat in the back of the room, in crush with her sexy teacher for 20th Century American Literature but too shy to say a word.

I'm the mom who smiles and nods when she drops off her kids at school, then goes home to face even more.

I'm the lurker in the reader groups, the one who always thinks of something clever to say after the fact but who sees every word typed. You won't know who I am because I very rarely speak up, but that doesn't mean I'm not there. I'm here a lot more often than you might realize. That's one of the side effects of choosing to be a stay at home mom.

I have always been a voracious reader, but when I opted to give up my career in order to raise a family, some of my reading derailed. It was harder to get out to the book store, and waiting for Amazon orders gets frustrating when you want to read a book now. E-publishing helped me tremendously, but I hit a roadblock in my search for new books. I have always been the kind of person who reads multiple reviews of things before buying, from movies to consumables. That doesn't mean I'm going to heed to every word I read, but it should mean that I'm informed about what I might be going into. I don't want to hop in and see an action movie when I'm in the mood for something softer. Books have usually been the same way.

But when I went in search of romance reviews online, I got stopped short. It's not that there aren't reviews out there. It's that the vast majority of them don't give me more than a lengthy synopsis of the book and a sentence or two of, "Ohmigod, this is the best book ever!!!" They read like marketing blurbs for the authors, which is great for the author, not so great for someone like me who wants something meatier. How am I supposed to take a reviewer seriously when she loves nearly everything she's read? I don't know readers like that. I'm certainly not a reader like that. It takes a lot to sucker punch me into those kind of superlatives, and honestly, I don't trust reviewers who throw those kinds of words around willy nilly.

So I decided to write my own. I debated briefly about signing up at one of the sites, but in the end, if I was going to take the time to write up something about the books I read, I wanted to do it my way. That meant I was going to break down how exactly I gave a score, not slap a 5-something on a review and call it good. Reviews are more than offering an opinion; they are telling readers what to expect, because often blurbs and excerpts just aren't enough. Different readers look for different things. Some readers are more forgiving of annoying heroines if they can fall in love with the hero. Some don't care about plot. Some just want the sexy scenes. But if a review only says the story is the best thing since sliced bread, how is a reader going to know?

There is a line to be drawn in reviews, however. I think some people see writing reviews as entertainment. Being snarky for the sake of snark, or lashing out against an author on a personal level. The reviews that matter to me, though, are the ones that know it's about the story, not the author. If I find something to criticize in a story, I do everything I can to explain why it didn't work for me, within the context of the book I bought. People who cross that line don't do anybody any favors.

I'm going to admit, I'm hard to please. I hate headhopping, for instance, and technical mistakes are nearly guaranteed to pull me out of a story. Out of curiosity, I once went back and looked at other reviews for a story I read that was riddled with enough spelling errors to make my second-grader cringe. Most of them called it wonderful; not one of them pointed out what should have been caught long before it was sold to the public as a professional product. While I know typos and mistakes happen in the best of books, even in print, finding them lowers your reader's trust in you. In a world where you're already competing for a reader's attention, why would you do that if you didn't have to?

I haunt e-publishers and Fictionwise, looking for the next book to grab me by the throat and refuse to let go. I buy a minimum of three e-books a week, always after reading both the blurb and excerpt, because I want to be seduced, scared, stimulated. I have 23 e-publishers bookmarked on my computer, each vying for my attention, and I want to make the best choice possible in selecting which ones to lose myself in.

Puff reviews don't help me with that. Honest ones do.

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BLOG REVIEW WEEK, 3: Reviewer and Author: Happy Partnership or Uneasy Truce?--Cathy Clamp

When veinglory posted up a notice on a site we both frequent that she was looking for guest bloggers to talk about book reviews, I was intrigued. Authors have sort of a love/hate relationship with reviewers that crosses genre and category boundaries. Good reviews make us want to jump around the room and can keep us giddy for days. Bad reviews can elicit anger, embarrassment or even depression in some authors who are on the sensitive side (I’m not one of them, FWIW.) The bigger the status of the reviewer, the bigger the elation or let-down. For a paperback paranormal author such as myself, a good review in RT, PNR, Locus or Science Fiction Book Club is the equivalent of the New York Times for a hardback literary author. Authors know how valuable good advance reviews can be toward print runs, and how quickly a bad review can mean the end of a book (and possibly a career.) So, we send out our books with hopeful trepidation, wishing for the five stars, five blue ribbons, five champagne glasses or whatever the magazine/newspaper/website or blog uses, but fearing a three star “average” rating or worse—the dreaded one star. Yikes!

But do reviews mean anything in the real world? Are readers even looking? This is a question that’s coming up more and more often in the industry. Newspapers like the LA Times, Boston Globe and Chicago Sun-Times have cut their formerly hefty Book Review sections to a ghostly shadow of their former selves, and some genre magazines have eliminated them altogether. The October, 2007 cover story of Columbia Journalism Reviews discusses the matter at length. Review sections are a losing proposition to newspapers. As the author stated:

“In his illuminating 1985 three-part series in the Los Angeles Times on how newspapers go about reviewing books, David Shaw, the paper’s late Pulitzer Prize-winning media correspondent, quoted Mitchel Levitas, then the editor of The New York Times Book Review: “We lose money, and we always have, but I don’t know how much.” At the time, Levitas’s section at the Times had a staff of twenty-one, The Washington Post had four, and the Los Angeles Times made do with two full-time editors. Shaw reported that in the mid-1980s, The Washington Post was losing nearly $1 million a year on its Sunday book section. In 1985, the San Francisco Chronicle was expecting to lose just under a quarter million dollars on its weekly twelve tabloid pages devoted to books.” ( see here for the full article)

Of course, newspapers are all about making a profit, and few publishers have the budget to advertise in that medium to help pay the costs. Bookstores found it more economical to advertise where they would find casual buyers, from the news section to sports and even flyer inserts. So, without a profit margin, the sections have slimmed and trimmed until they’re little more than recitations of the back cover blurbs with little substance that will talk about the nuances of language or plot.

And readers are noticing. Those readers accustomed to detailed accounts of books from authors they’ve never encountered before are lamenting the lack of coverage. Something is missing over coffee on Sunday morning, when leisurely discussions about arts were commonplace. Authors are both frustrated and concerned about disappearing reviews because we understand that the lack of noise about the book before release can mean diminished sales. After all, if a reader doesn’t know the book exists, they can’t be expected to go buy it.

Fortunately, readers were frustrated enough that they began looking elsewhere. When they couldn’t find reviews in newspapers or magazines, they started to look to a different medium for the information they craved. The internet has come to the rescue of both readers and authors. Genre book reviewers flourish on dozens, if not hundreds, of websites, RSS feeds and blogs. Some reviewers are paid, while others do it for the simple love of books and wanting to share them with others. As I write this post, I’m looking at another screen where I have a list of over thirty-five book review websites where I dutifully send copies of our books to be glorified or slaughtered (ask me sometime about the well-known reviewer who wanted to throw one of our heroines “face first into a wood chipper” and you’ll understand the slaughter comment. LOL!) Some sites have thousands of monthly readers, while others have just a dozen or so devoted fans.

A number of other authors have asked why I do it. Why do I spend the time to create PDF versions of our books to send out to dozens of reviewers? Why do I spend the postage to mail out more dozens of Advance Reading Copies (ARCs) to others? The simple truth is that I know the kind of reader who likes our kind of books DOES read reviews, and we’re new enough in the game that plenty of people have never heard of our books. So, the more reviews that are out there, the more readers are exposed to our books, and the better chance for the reader to get an unbiased view of the book.

Ah, yes—now we’re into the meat of the subject. Are reviews biased? Have reviews become more author promotion than reader education? Rumors are whispered on reading loops and groups, wondering whether a book that received praise from a favorite reviewer, but flames from readers, was based on the amount of dollars spent on the flashing banner ad on the front page. Are reviewers influenced by money or editor pressure? After all, some magazines will review a book ONLY if money is spent on an ad, and even respected review veterans like Kirkus are taking heat for allowing “paid-for” ads to appear on its pages.

Recently, I spotted a discussion on one of our Amazon pages about a particular review. I’d never before seen comments ABOUT a review, so I clicked to look. The comments accused the reviewer (which is one of Amazon’s top 100 reviewers) of bias, of not reading the books being reviewed because there was insufficient time to have read and reviewed it on the first day it was offered to the public and of inaccurate reviews. Naturally, I stepped in, because those commenting didn’t understand about the mailing of advance copies of the book to reviewers months before release, nor of Amazon’s policy not to post reviews until the opening day, even though written and submitted much earlier.

But one question by a poster caught me by surprise. It asked whether I felt the review of my book was fair. The reviewer had given our book an excellent rating, but I know for a fact that the reviewer read the book. In fact, she sent me an email the previous fall, asking if such-and-such error she spotted would be fixed in the final version (Advance copies are often made before editing is complete. The error in question had been caught.) I replied flippantly on the Amazon site that naturally I felt it was fair—it was a good review. But in reality, that wasn't the only reason. The review posted discussed elements of the book that weren’t obvious without thorough reading and talked about minute characterization details. So yeah, I felt it was fair.

But readers look at reviews for different reasons than authors, so the question of bias is valid. Authors are looking for sound bites . . . favorable bits of the review that can be posted on future cover jackets, touted on websites and grace advertisements. Readers are looking for the “down and dirty.” They want to know the negatives, from plot holes to “too stupid to live” heroines. They want to be convinced that the book is worth their hard-earned money. When plot elements are taken from the back of jacket covers on ARCs, it shows. One early review of our first book had the wrong person becoming a werewolf, and for the wrong reason. Another about a soon to be released book believed an early (and incorrect) distributor blurb and gave the wrong job to the wrong person.

Reviews do a disservice to readers when the plot recitation in the review makes it obvious the book wasn’t read in full (if at all.) They have no value if they only have fluff inside, when terms like “brilliant” and “mesmerizing” are used in conjunction with a 3-star ranking. Romantic Times long ago eliminated the 5 star rating. When I asked a senior reviewer why the highest review that could be obtained is a 4-1/2 Gold, the answer was simple. “No book is perfect.” And as much as we authors hate to admit it, no book is.

Then comes the question of whether an author actually wants a fair review. Well, of course we do! Even the most sensitive among us don’t want false praise. It’s like having confetti thrown on you every day you show up for work. Sure, it’s nice and flattering for a while, but quickly gets old. It also diminishes your true achievements. When you really do go above and beyond the call, what’s left to say? How will a reader know a true masterpiece from a “fun beach read” when the same words are used to describe both? How will a true masterpiece that will someday be compared to Jane Austin or Margaret Mitchell be found if the reviews give the wrong plot details? So, reviews do have value. The words have the power to sway.

The problem is with bad reviews that so many authors keep silent about it. Very seldom do I hear of authors who actually contact the review site or magazine management to complain about a WRONG review. I’m one of the few that actually does. Because if a character name is spelled wrong or a detail is way out of whack, it doesn’t just affect the book, it affects the good name of the review site. The more errors that occur that are allowed to slide, the more readers will find the reviews on that site to be valueless—all the reviews.

Overall, I think reviews matter, and since reviewers are really in the service of READERS, then their relationship with authors will always be an uneasy truce . . . of the very best kind. :)

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BLOG REVIEW WEEK, 2 : Self-Published and Small Press--Dawno

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Hi, I’m Dawno, the review co-ordinator for PODPeople, a blog that reviews self-published POD books from places like Lulu, iUniverse, etc. I’ve also begun dabbling in occasional reviews of small press books, which I started doing because we don’t review books submitted to PODPeople which aren’t self-published.

I’m not an author, self-or-otherwise published. I like to write, but I find at this point in my life, that occasional blogging pretty much satisfies me. I don’t have any immediate desire to produce a novel (or even shorter works) for publication. My only credentials for what I do at PODPeople are that I’m an avid reader who has been devouring the printed word for over 45 years and I’d like to think that I’m helping to get information out to other readers about books they might otherwise not hear of.

At PODPeople, we’re reviewing books from mostly unknown authors that have put their books in print without the support of the commercial publishing industry – large or small presses. I think there are about as many reasons why self-published authors do this as there are self-published books, so I won’t go into that – fortunately, PODPeople has published some articles about why some people chose to go that route, so if you’re interested, you can read about it there in our archives.

Regarding why we exist, here’s a bit from a post Emily wrote back in April of this year:

“And it was as a reader that I discovered self-published books were often pretty bad, sometimes rather good and occasionally magnificent. This was something I wanted other readers to know. The only thing I wanted other writers to appreciate was that self-publishing has its place. It isn't on a pedestal or hidden down in the basement. Self-published books should be able to find a place on our bookshelves according to their merits. That was the only reason that I first started this blog and the associated website--out of a respect for good writing and a realisation that good self-published writing starts out at a distribution disadvantage because readers have to learn about it, they have to actively seek it out. And good self-published writers, who are considerably less lazy then me, deserve a little recognition.”

With self-published POD books, readers basically have to take a leap of faith anytime they purchase one. Readers, have come, for good or ill, to depend on commercial publishing to put books in bookstores that have gone through a vetting process which, one hopes, provides good stories, well written and worth our hard earned money. I’m not to saying that commercial publishing always gets it right – that’s a much longer and different discussion. However, with self-published POD, if readers know anything about it at all, they probably know that the traditional vetting process hasn’t occurred prior to publication.

PODPeople, and other self-published POD book review sites, give readers an opportunity to hear about a book from someone who isn’t the author or his best friend. And we are trying to make a little dent in that vast lack of information over at PODPeople – getting the word out about the good books available from self-published authors.

Our site has published over fifty reviews since January of 2006. Does it make a difference? I don’t know – it’s beyond my ability to do the research, but I like think that it can.

So why do we write these reviews? None of us are paid; we don’t have an obligation to an employer to put out regular reviews, so why bother? I can really only speak for myself, and see reviewing as a way to start a conversation about something I’ve enjoyed (or not) with people who share my interests. I write my reviews to inform the reader, but also, to give back a bit of feedback to the self-published author. I hope give the reader enough information to know whether or not there’s something in the story that they will enjoy and I hope to give the author information that will help them with the next book they write.

Some of our other reviewers seem to write exclusively for the reader. Both are good approaches. For me, however, since the self-published POD writer has not gone through that vetting process mentioned earlier, I mention the things that took me away from the story – difficult to follow changes in POV, too many typos, holes in the plot (come to think of it, that probably helps the readers make an informed decision, too). If the next self-published POD book is technically better, that’s one small step towards removing the stigma, fair or not, attached to these books.

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BOOK REVIEW WEEK, 1 -- veinglory as usual

Monday, September 17, 2007

My thoughts on the subject of book reviews are disorganised and generally unsatisfactory. I know I am dissatisfied, annoyed and confused. I know that I don't really 'get' what is happening with book reviews and the whole reader-writer-reviewer dynamic. That is why I invited a few people to come and give me their thoughts in the hope it might help me arrange mine...

But I am going to open the week with my usual babbling and a collection of talking points in no particular order.


1) Blogs Didn't Kill Professional Reviewing, Professional Reviewing Did.
The book review sections of major newspaper never sold much ad space, and never made any money. Apparently they never felt the need to. Apparently they were wrong. Commentators blamed sliding literacy, publishers for not buying ad-space, newspapers for their venal priorities...and blogs. Economic reality came crashing down on the pro reviewers heads around the same time as the rise of the blogverse but the cause was their persistent lack of interest in readers--their readers, the readers of books, any readers. If pro reviewers can't interest readers, can't do it better than amateurs, what the hell do they expect?


2) You Can't Milk a Golden Goose
So if you are trying to publish a professional review magazine or webzine you do need to have readers and sell advertising. But am I really naive to think this can be done without deliberately short changing the readers? I just received my first every copy of Affaire de Coeur magazine. The graphic presentation was a little awkward but not ugly--but I don't care much about that. But I did find it odd that they were paying for full cover printing but the review pages have no cover art on them. Cover art is extremely useful to the reader in remembering and finding books and there is plenty of whitespace on these pages where cover art could have been shown. Then I noticed that a handful of books do have cover art shown--you guessed it, the one for authors or presses who paid for ads. So the other reviews are deliberately made more ugly and less useful to provide a perk for paying advertisers? And most of the few articles are also related directly to advertised products. I get that review publications need to make money but as soon as this is done at the clear expense of providing readers with content because it is of interest and presenting it so it is attractive and useful to the readers, then that undermines the basic business model of reviews being for the benefit of readers (especially in formats where the readers muct actually pay for the magazine).


3) Don't Underestimate the Intelligence of Readers
A few comments about book reviews from readers at the RomanticTimes forum:
"I personally never pay any attention to the reviews posted by "professional" reviewers. I like to see what other every day readers think."

"One thing I will say is that I want reviews to say more than "I loved this book, you really need to read it" or "This book was awful, don't waste your money". There are ways to give reviews without giving away spoilers. And the reviews don't have to be favorable, but at least give good, sound reason why the story didn't work - I honestly want to know."

"I definitely check out the reviews – both professional and reader – before I buy a book. I check out as many reviews as I can and I have a list of review sites that I frequently visit. Where I live, the price of a typical new paperback novel is equivalent to 3 lunches, so I try to minimize mistake buys by being as informed as I can be about a book I’m interested in."

"I ... don't like to see spoilers unless it reveals that there is no HEA or that the hero or heroine dies. If there is that type of twist I want to know."


So... that is enough from me--except that I need to go down and update the 'death of StarDust press' post. So if you are on a feed you might want to check into the blog for the updated version. Coming up, posts on book reviewing by reviewers Dawno and BookMom and writers Jennifer McKenzie and Cathy Clamp!

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Stardust Press -- veinglory

Sunday, September 16, 2007

StarDust Press will be closing.

November 27, 2006 -- September 30, 2007

RIP


Thanks to Moondancer for providing confirmation in the form of an email from the publisher, Raine.

On the matter of a ten-day-old epress circling the orphaned writers to the point of soliciting them via Moondancer's blog--my skepticism is predictable. I will do a full review of Eternal next week but until then I hope authors cast adrift by the failure one new, small epress might think twice before going straight to another without having a good look around first. I would note a few red flags, Eternal charge for POD and the website has a few issues. The mention of "unique anti-piracy measures" makes me wonder if they use reader-unpopular DRM ebook formats?

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"But I did proofread!"

Friday, September 14, 2007

Last week, my students handed in their first, diagnostic essays (Well, some of them. Apparently, I need to beat the concept of deadlines into their thick skulls). Since they're 17/18, and they're still technically in high school (though I teach a college course), and it's the first essay of the year, I actually wasn't expecting much.

And woo boy, that's what I got!

Out of like 17 papers, only 2 were anywhere near acceptable. When we were going through the postmortem, after I passed the papers back, I asked how many of them proofread their papers before they handed them into me, their new teacher who they supposedly want to impress because I hold an awesome amount of power over their immediate future.

90% of the class raised their hands. The rest looked chagrined.

Now, at this point, there are really only two options. They're lying to me. Or they really thought they proofread their papers. Being a charitable, kind soul, I'm more inclined to believe the latter. Also? I make the world's stupidest mistakes all the time. I honestly would not be surprised if you have picked out one or two already, and you better believe I proofread this before posting.

The simple fact of the matter is we're too close to our work. Your brain will fill in the blank spots. Often, Vivien will point out utterly ridiculous, entirely avoidable errors to me and I will be shocked because I honestly didn't see it. Then there are other problems. Many people don't know the difference between words like "affect" and "effect" or "advise" and "advice" or "then" and "than" and what's worse is, they don't know they don't know the difference--I picked those examples because they are my favorite mistakes to make. For years, I couldn't hear the difference between "then" and "than" because in Utah, the words sound exactly alike. Since moving back to Utah, I've had trouble picking out the difference between other words that never used to give me grief before.

I also have a problem with rambling. Have you noticed?

My point is, ultimately, you will be held responsible for every single word you write. It doesn't matter who "beta reads" it, and it doesn't matter who the editor is, or the proof-reader, or the final line editor. In the end, your name is affixed to the cover, and you will garner all the blame for any and all mistakes. So here are some strategies I've used in the past to avoid looking like an idiot (and the same strategies I teach my students):

1) Do NOT rely on Word to catch all the errors. That should go without saying, but somehow, it never does.

2) Read it out loud. Preferably to a sympathetic ear. Sentences that look perfectly find to you on the page might sound completely wrong. Also, if you read it out loud, you're forced to evaluate the words in new ways. In other words, you won't see what you're expecting to see.

3) Read it backwards. Start at the bottom with the very last sentence and read the sentence backwards. Go through the whole document like that.

4) Print it out (Yeah, I know). But it's different with a pen and paper than it is on your screen.

5) Walk away from it. You need space. It needs to breathe.

6) If you can get away with it, find somebody who is anal retentive and loves you enough to read it. I do ask Vivien to go over my edits--even the stuff that I write on my own and she has nothing to do with.

These are just the options I can think of off the top of my head. I'd love to see what other people do to make their work sparkle and shine!

--Pepper E

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A Prose by Any Other Name -- veinglory

Thursday, September 13, 2007

At some point everyone has to decide whether or not to use a pen name, or several. I would be interested to hear from authors who have been published for at least a year or two on whether they think the made the right choice, the up- and down-sides of the name they chose.

In my case I am glad I chose to use a pen name. I ended up in a moderately serious sort of job where I wouldn't want the subject of homoerotica to come up with every casual Google search. I must say though, with my first trade paperback novel coming out there would be more offline avenues for promotion of I was doing it as 'myself'.

I went with a relatively, well, silly name. But on the whole I think that worked out fairly well too. I get a lot of hits to my website from people googling for my pen name so I am thinking it is somewhat memorable. A few people get a wrong by spelling it correctly, but on the whole it has worked out.

I am still toying about whether to use a second pen name for MF but on the whole I probably can't be bothered. Keeping track of two personas is keeping me busy enough....

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New Publisher: Caged Heart / Vanilla Heart

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Caged Heart Website--two books by Jarod Lojeck (Author) and Michelle Devon (Editor), released August 22nd and by Olivia Faulker, August 2nd--Olivia also works on the website and Cafe Press items
Vanilla Heart Website--one book by by Michelle L. Devon (Author), Accentuate Services (Editor), released August 6th. That would be Accentuate Services: "owned and managed by author and editor Michelle L Devon."

Communications come from a "Kimberlee Williams" who ostensibly co-founded the company with "Steve Williams". I don't know but suspect there are more names here than there are actual people. Caged Heart is also a fee-charging BDSM lifestyle website. Which is an area that could use a niche publisher but I am not convinced that this is it. Caged Heart appears to be a small POD press not an epress so it won't go on the PLIST. But I thought it was worth mentioning the following:

1) On the main website there is an unnamed (non-existent?) parent press, unnamed owners, unclear if the owners and authors are the same people, yadda yadda. You know what we think about that.

2) From an email sent to an author: "If, however, you are not established, you have never been published, or your manuscript will require much work, rewrites, revisions and editing in order to make the book marketable, and if you are a book marketing novice, then Caged Heart Publishing may charge a fee comparable to the cost of the editing and printing of your book in order to publish it. But don't worry too much about that ..." Cough. You know what we think about that.

3) Lots of little things like errors in the web copy and classy Amazon reviews such as: Michelle L Devon reviews Michelle L Devon's book and gives it 5 stars! Wow! And 1 person rates the review as helpful! I wonder who!

My guess, self-publishers trying to get into the publishing biz. Anyway, from there I just get unjustifiably bitchy so I will stop now. And besides, the website has gone down--and not in a good way. It says: "We hope you will come visit our new and improved websites on Tuesday, September 5, 2007." [checks watch, thinks again, checks calender]. Damn, I will stop now.

veinglory

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A Short Housekeeping Post

Next week (17th-23rd) this blog will be having a themed week on the subject of book reviews. I have lined up a few fascinating people to share their thoughts on the subject. If you would like to join in just drop me an email.

The postcard contest could really use a few more entries [insert puppy dog eyes here]. But in any case I will wind it up on the 24th and post the sexy entries that we have :)

For the benefit of those reading via a feed could I get y'all to please sign posts to the EREC blog. The poster is named on the blog but less than obvious via a feed.

veinglory

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Promo: One Author's Thoughts

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

I'm definitely not an expert this arena, but after reading Em's post the other day, I thought I'd share what little I know about the elusive art of self-promotion.

Most epub authors put a lot of stock into their websites, but do you know how effective your web presence is? Of course, sales are the ultimate way to see if any promo efforts are working, but if you do a blitz of different things immediately after a release, it's tough to know which were the most effective. Do you have a good web statistics tool? If you place an ad and link it to your site, it's important to know who's giving you traffic. And I don't mean hits, because many web savvy folks now say hits don't count for much. You want to see if you're getting "sessions" or "visits" instead.

I'm a big fan of the free stat tool, AWStats. It tells me how many unique visitors really came to my site each month, how long they stayed, how many (and which) pages they visited. Did anyone add me to their favorites? And most importantly, what link out there in cyber-land got the visitors to my site? AWStats has real-time reporting that will tell me if someone has blogged about me or whatever before Google or Technorati reports it. Of course, the link to my site has to be the connection here, so no linkage, no trace on AWStats. There are similar tools out there, so check them all out before making your choice--or use more than one. Also, since AWStats lets me see what sites brought in a visitor, I can try to keep up with reciprocal linking. Frankly, I don't get many visitors through reciprocal links, but it's nice to know where those links are. Sometimes they'll surprise you.

A lot of people talk about web rankings. If you're interested, check out Tawny Taylor's A Girl's Guide to Google Rankings for more about this strategy.

The whole chat and chat loop thing. My chat experiences sucked. Mainly because I suck at chatting, but basically here's how it went down -- the authors would show and the moderator, then maybe two potential readers who often turned out to be unpubbed authors looking for submission tips. Finally, an actual reader would show, but all they wanted was to win a download. Defintely not for me. I do chat loops very seldom, and I only do those that offer targeted days. Participating in a generic erotic romance day on a loop will give me crickets (unless I offer a contest that requires participation, of course). Try to find those that 1) aren't the same loops you've been doing; and 2) have a niche focus (like an MM day or interracial romance day only). Does the loop have a substantial amount of members? Is the loop active? In the future, I may try to find some special interest loops related to my subject matter that aren't made up of writers and readers per se.

Think outside the box a bit. I check my stats neurotically and one day in July I saw a HUGE jump in visitors. Lo and behold, a risk I took about six months prior paid off (at least in terms of exposure). This risk was to submit my site for review to Jane's Guide (NWS). Jane's Guide was known to me mainly for their rating of porn sites (um, research, yeah...) but turns out they also review writer sites. And guess what? They apparently have a lot of viewers. So my normal "real" visitors tally about 17 to 70 daily, but when my site's review hit Jane's, that number climbed to 247, then 296 the next day, before slowly decreasing. These numbers are probably laughable to bigger authors, but for little ol' me who doesn't put out a lot of stories each year, I was thrilled. The review was favorable and my numbers, though lower than that initial bump, are consistently higher now, plus the majority of my visitors still come via Jane's.

My future plans include... advertising in Washington DC's City Paper. They've very liberal and have personal ads that are quite freaky. My kind of folk ;) If your area has a "wide-open" media outlet like this, you may want to try a short ad and see what happens. Another thought is reciprocal linking and/or to write reviews and articles for a sex toy company, which I'm trying to line up now. I want to reach not only ebook readers but people who like sex--bottom line. If they're looking for something hot be it a toy or "a sexy amazonian SWF who deserves to be worshipped" then maybe they're horny enough to take a chance on an ebook.

Paid, targeted campaigns. ManLoveRomance is a promotional co-op that brings in a lot of visitors to my site as well. Laura Baumbach does an amazing job of reaching out to audiences erotic romance authors usually can't tap into on their own, like expensive banner ads on sites like The Advocate and presence at several conferences per year. If you're considering a paid promo co-op, talk to members first to get feedback on the group's effectiveness. The link from MLR generates the second highest number of visitors to my site.

Offer something extra. The reviewer at Jane's mentioned the erotic doodles on my site, even though I asked for a review as a writer. I think anything that sets you apart from the crowd and offers a "bonus" to your readers can generate interest. Some writers worth mentioning in this area are Kate Willoughby and the writing duo Anne Cain and Barbara Sheridan. Kate offers epilogue blogs (written by her characters) and "behind the scenes" extras (including deleted scenes), plus she's given workshops. Anne offers plenty of her gorgeous art and a yaoi calendar on their Dragon's Disciples web site. Look for unique ways to connect with your readers.

Contests. I have mixed feelings on this topic, but it does bring activity. If you're new to epublishing, try to drive all contest participants to your site (maybe to answer a question or two) or to your Yahoo loop or whatever to gain members. If you're chatting on someone's personal loop, though, you don't want to steer people elsewhere (unless maybe to answer a question about your site and come back to answer -- depends on the loop. If in doubt, it's best to clear it with the loop owner). After you get a backlist, of course give those titles away instead of your latest release so people won't hope to win the new one instead of buying the book. I personally like giving away epub gift certificates. This way maybe the winner will buy one of mine.

Finally, stay focused. And I cringe writing those words, because I never do. As we all know, the best promo is writing another book and getting it out there. So staying focused on writing every day is essential. Strike one for me. Successful writers seem to stay focused on one or two genres. Strike two. They also give good word count -- novel length or at least a chunky novella every time. Strike three. If I could stay focused on one genre and on getting a fully fleshed-out tale, then I think I'd do much better in sales. When I see who makes the bestseller lists at my pubs, it's the people you can count on to deliver a certain type of tale, well-written, at a consistent heat level, and generally a certain length. You buy author X, you get what you expect. Call it brand loyalty or whatever, but it will make an author in my opinion.

Geez, what a long post. Sorry to ramble. Of course, all this is just my personal experience. If you love chats (or differ with anything I said above), please share why. I'd love to hear any other thoughts on this subject.

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If you want to self-publish an ebook...

Monday, September 10, 2007

If you want to self-publish your ebook, don't jump on the first offer that comes along. Do your research into self-publishing, just as you would with conventional publishing, because the packages on offer vary widely in quality and cost, and you could find yourself with a self-publishing outfit that is poor value for money, or an outright scam. If you're paying an upfront fee and/or more than 20% of an ebook's cover price to a storefront site, you could do better.

Several erotic romance epublishers have gone under in the last few months, and you can expect a flurry of new publishers setting up to provide a home for the authors who've suddenly found themselves without a publisher. There have also been the usual suggestions that authors will be much better off if they self-publish, and at least one new self-publishing outfit set up in the wake of the recent bankruptcies and closures. Self-publishing does look tempting for some, but take your time and look into what self-publishing entails and what a reasonable fee is.

I haven't got time this morning to do a full-on article about this, but there's one url you should look at as an absolute bare minimum of research before signing up with a self-publishing outfit, and that's Lulu's terms and conditions for digital media:
http://www.lulu.com/help/index.php?fSymbol=download_faq

Lulu have a track record of five years, so there's a good chance they're going to stay in business. There is no set-up fee. They charge 20% of the cover price for ebooks downloaded from their website, giving you 80% (with a minimum fee of 19c, although they'll waive that if you give away the books for free). If you wish you can also make the book available in print or as an ebook on CD, although those options will cost more because of the physical production costs. There is no set-up charge for the print and CD options. That price includes a storefront hosted on their website, and they handle all the details of collecting payment. They don't take any rights to your material, and there is no minimum contract length.

If the self-publishing outfit you're considering isn't offering you a pricing deal as good as Lulu's, ask yourself what else they're offering to make up for it. If the answer is "making me feel warm and fuzzy and part of a family" -- how much money are you willing to pay for that feeling?

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Awards and the Awarding Awarders who Award Them

Sunday, September 09, 2007

I was reading through some research papers when I hit this abstract, specifically this line: "The gender effect was greater for writers of popular than award winning fiction.” I dig deeper and realise that in this paper ‘award winning’ is a synonym for ‘literary’—and ‘popular’ is a synonym for all other genres (or as they call it ‘genre’).

It is entirely implicit that literary fiction wins awards and genre fiction does not; that the only awards that exist for fiction are that a book was“recommended by literary reviewer, or was short-listed for or awarded national literary prizes.” The ‘genre’ actually written by the popular writers is never specified and unsupported sweeping assertions are made: “award winning literature is arguably read by, and intended for, readers with a greater level of education than popular fiction …authors are likely to want to portray themselves as highly competent writers ... [and so] may wish to eradicate displays of their gender …” As opposed, of course, to those of us who write for the under-educated, revel in displays of ineptitude and like to wave our vaginas around at every opportunity.

This got me thinking. For the people who wrote, refereed and published this paper all of this was so obviously true as to require no reference or justification. The only awards are literary awards, national awards—and kudos from professional reviewers. And is this what genres like romance are trying to emulate with peer- and industry-judged awards like EPPIES and RITAs?

Awards like the Booker or Katherine Mansfield award (literary awards I am aware of as a Kiwi) have gravitas with readers of literature because this genre is driven by ‘experts’ and readers, although autonomous, are attentive to their opinions. The wider community cares only to the extent the genre is seen as prestigious. Literature is seen as a defining quality of a culture like other high arts. And besides, book editors and professors are literally paid to drive interest in it though classes and published commentaries. The experts give award to writers, readers heed the awards due to their widely acknowledged cultural worth.

Despite being a much larger portion of the market genres like romance and erotica simply do not hold the same position. There is not a widely recognised cultural worth of either genre. Some industry professionals and a large number of other writers effectively give genre awards to each other, but the reader buy-in is not there. The awards are not discussed in general media, or even very extensively in the genre-specific media. I think we need to think about what awards do, for everyone involved.

1) The author has their book picked out as high quality
2) The awarding body has positioned themselves as qualified to make that judgement

Now so long as author and awarding body believe this they are happy with a bit of mutual back slapping. But what about:

3) The readers must believe 2) in order to believe 1) in order to increase sales of an award winning book. IMHO if it costs money to enter an award it should yield money to win one, by this mechanism of reader recognition and belief. This works because people are impressed with literature, with Hollywood, with Nobel Peace prizes and any effective award. Nor is it impossible to do this with other genres as other traditional ‘low brow’ enterprises like Soap Operas and pop music. You just have to break the circle and realise that even when judging is done by experts, the general public is the focus.

It is not necessarily that awards need to be given by public vote, although we could use a MTV music awards of romance as much as a viable Oscar. But readers, romance and otherwise, need to be part of the equation. Writers and publishers are already in bed with each other—time to make it a ménage a trois? The problem is that our ostensibly ‘less educated’ romance readers aren’t going to be sucked into the idea that they need ‘experts’ and pro reviewers to tell them what is good and what is not. So how would you get them to care what happens on the romance red carpet?

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Amazon and Mobipocket Get Hard (Hardware, that is)

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Just as I find my first novel on Amazon, I am reminded why Amazon annoys me so much. It started with the great and largely unremarked upon 'vanishing' when all non-Mobi ebooks were removed from Amazon in many cases without advance warning. In fact when I asked several small publisher about their thoughts on this several assured me their ebooks were still available on Amazon (they were not).

This was clearly a first move to allow Amazon and their acquisition, Mobipocket, to try and capture the growing ebook market. After all, they make a double profit from Mobi and Mobi-formatted (for a fee) books. Now they are rubbing it in by releasing a new ebook reader that can read only Mobiformatted books.

"instead of using the open e-book standard backed by Adobe it will use proprietary "Mobipocket" software. This means that the e-books to be available as downloads on Amazon.com will only work on their reader."

IMHO this all makes about as much sense as a company trying to trademark and control paper. Except that it seems to be working. Amazon has a tight grip on me as both a producer and consumer--in terms of print books. But I hope the ebook market continues to elude their grasp. I truly think that if epublishing is to remain a haven for niche and small press books the first ebook reader to really take off needs to use interchangeable formats such as pdf.

Edited to add-- And Createspace, Amazon's answer to Lulu.com, only allows sales through Amazon and doesn't seem to include an ebook option at all?

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Patience, grasshopper...

Friday, September 07, 2007

Way back in 2003, I officially finished my first novel, New Frontier. I was 21, eager to publish, and a sophomore in college when I finished it. Naturally, I thought it was a brilliant novel, and everybody else would love it, too. (I have no idea if everybody does love it. It's not exactly a best seller). But I read enough romance novels to know that it did not fit the needs of places like Harlequin--and I was scared. I read it and edited it and read it and edited, and by the end of 2003, I felt I was ready to submit.

A friend of mine sent me links to various epublishers, and I began to sniff around. Ellora's Cave was the obvious choice, but they rejected me--there wasn't enough sex! I was shocked by this rejection--though now knowing what I know about EC, I am not so much shocked. But nobody has ever told me I didn't have enough sex in my stories, you know? Well, with EC out, I needed to find a new publisher. But I wanted to be careful about this.

I began looking at Liquid Silver Books around the beginning of 2004. I thoroughly read their guidelines. I registered at their forum. I did google searches on their authors. I checked the website every single week. What was I looking for? Did they update weekly? Were their covers decent? Did they have a variety of authors? Were the books decent? Was the editing decent? I was a new author, with a new book, but I wasn't going to get locked into a bad publisher or contract. I checked places like Absolute Write, Writer's Beware, Preditors and Editors, and various blogs. I looked for any mention of Liquid Silver Books---positive or negative, and I took note.

Finally, in Nov 2004, I felt confident in submitting to them. I was eager and excited. And I was in Italy in January 2005 when I received the offer of a contract from the editor, Raven.

What was the point of this very long story? Well, I'm glad you asked.

I knew that epublishing was (and is) an infant industry. I knew I had to be smart about this. Even though I was so eager to get published, I took my time. There are so many epublishers right now, with more popping up every month. Some people have what it takes to run a successful epublishing company. Some people don't. Some outfits don't have any editorial standards. They just don't--some editing makes me literally embarrassed for the author, for the publisher, and for myself as a reader. Epublishing gets a bad rap because some of the books look awful. Some publishers are fly-by-night operations. Some publishers are just out to scam you--and the scamming publishers will look more appealing than the others because they are trying to take your money. And they are trying to take advantage of you. Some are not malicious at all, but they will still hurt you in the long run.

Be patient with your books if you're new to epublishing. Take the time to do this right. There is nothing like that first sale. There is nothing like signing that first contract. It's a rush, and it's wonderful, and it's validating. Don't just be so eager to get published that you'll go with any ol' publisher. Find a place that's well established, that has books you like to read, that has authors you respect. Find publishers with a reputation for quality. Find publishers who will be there tomorrow. Read contracts before you submit--most publishers have sample contracts available.

I've never had a publisher fold, and I've never signed a contract I've regretted. But I've never submitted to a publisher I haven't thoroughly researched, either.

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Promo in and Sheep's Clothing

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Okay, so this is a Ranty McRant. Feel free to disagree ;)

As writers what we want most is readers. Ebooks are about 1% of the market and a lot of people are writing them, therefore the wolf-to-sheep ratio is not all that favorable. Not that I am comparing readers to prey. Not, not at all—readers are loving, beauteous, plump people… who go well with onions. Writers on the other hand are tough, stringy and taste of creosote. Why then, do so many writers seem intent on eating wolf? I think it is a strange combination of facts that mean not only are wolves currently easier to catch than sheep, but a lot of wolves are gamboling around in the paddocks with fleeces stapled to their backs under the impression that all the *others* are real sheep.

1) Don’t hunt sheep in the forest
In my humble opinion of your promotional efforts are catching more than 50% wolves you need to change them. Chats that are full of other writers are not promotional events, they are social mixers—that fine for fun but less than optimal if you have a profit motive. If you Google the name of your prize winners how many are authors? Yes, you might suggest authors are readers too—wolves are animals too but they make a very lean and chewy casserole. If you keep catching the wrong animal, hunt elsewhere. i.e. find out where the sheep go and try and get in there. It may be harder, but it will be worth it.

2) Stop hunting wolves
So I emailed an author, about something, maybe. We’ve probably both forgotten what it was. I don’t want to hear about their book, or join Quechup, or ever receive any mass mailing whatsoever from them. Thank you. This mail-everyone-everything approach is a good way to get your email listed as a spam address meaning your next submission to a press goes straight into their spam filter if it arrives at all. I send people my email to use for the specific purpose of that communication only. Do not harvest it, do not send it to other people. If you want to use it to get in touch with me because you remember who I am and have something specific to say that you really think would interest me, please do. Do not subscribe me to your newsletter without asking or send me generic promo because, strangely enough, your emails with no longer get through to me after that.

3) Don’t act like a sheep
One of the reason people don’t realize how few sheep are on lists is because the wolves are bleating. I know I already sound like a total grinch, so I may as well go all the way. I would suggest that writers other than the ones being featured at an event for readers keep quiet, at least for a while (say, the first half hour of a chat?). Sure, if you go to the event and there are less than three readers actually there you might do what you can to avoid your fellow writer being horribly humiliated. But not too much. Writers tend to have clique-y and somewhat different discussions from readers who are not writers—too much writer discussion may actual impede the development of reader participation. Also, if the sheep are simply not there, that reality needs to get through not only to writers but to the publishers and webmasters who perpetuate the culture of hunting for sheep in the forest. Nothing will do that quicker than a little well-placed silence. I would also suggest not entering contests unless you are a genuine money-paying potential customer for that author. And if someone spams you and you don’t appreciate it just reply and asked to be removed from their mailing list, immediately. This is a polite and appropriate response that is actually helping the author target their message to the right people. Yes, you will get a few nasty replies but there are worse fates and it is fairer than just spam blocking them without warning.

The bottom line: We need to foster a culture of promotion as communication--where people send tailored messages to specific people and groups for stated reasons of interest to them. We need to realize when the message is going to the wrong group, and failing to go to the right group, and pissing off a lot of people. (And yes, I have been there. I have spammed, I have made some pretty gi-normous mistakes. And I thank the people who told me about it). We need to improve the content and targeting of the messages we send. Promotional communications can be like a sniper rifle or like a shot gun, but please, please don’t point that thing at me.

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Updating the Publisher list

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

So, I confess, I am not the most adept website maker in the world. So I tend to just cobble things together as I go. The crucial page at EREC (other than the blog) is the publisher list, or PLIST.

I am aiming to list all erotic romance genre presses that are primarily e-publishers. Currently the list includes 57 live publishers. If you can tell me of another one I will give you a cover spot on the PLIST page. Also let me know of any errors of out of date information, please!

Give your answer as a reply to this post so I can see who gets a new press first :) -- send covers and links to ERECsite @ gmail.com (133 pixels wide preferred).

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I'm pleased to announce that Pepper Espinoza is stepping in to help out with the EREC blog. Please give her a warm welcome!

Pepper Espinoza has been publishing with various epublishers since 2005. With fourteen published titles, she began collaborating with Vivien Dean in 2006 and publishing under the name Jamie Craig. Jamie Craig has had six releases in 2007, with another dozen slated for the next several months. When Pepper isn't brainstorming, editing, and writing, she is completing her Masters degree at the University of Utah.

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More on the Wearing of Hats

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

In today's review Jane says to the author "I’d like to thank you again for sending me a copy of your latest book to read. However, when you read my review, I don’t know if you’ll still wish you’d sent it." I know the feeling, from both sides.

To be honest it would be easier if publishers were just publishers, writers just writers, reviewers just reviewers etc etc. But e-publishing is a cozy community. One reason I don't say publishers shouldn't be authors (although it is a conflict of interest) is that I am both a writer and a reviewer (although it is a conflict of interest). Both situations are not necessarily a good idea, but there is room in my philosophy for a lot of things that are not necessarily a good idea--just to keep life interesting.

The only groups that should be the same are readers and reviewers. And reader-reviewers don't get an easy life either because we are so used to reviewers giving sweetheart promo reviews that one that is mixed or tear-a-strip-off critical tends to come as a real slap in the face. One thing we should all remember is that the slap was to the book, which really should not be a proxy for any part of one's anatomy or extended family. If your book feels like your baby it is really not a good idea to post it to people you met over the internet--whether you think they are your friends or not.

So when a fellow author and acquaintance or friend (depending on how you measure relationships conducted entirely over the internet) sends me a book to review I get out my reviewers hat (it is black and very pointy) and I get something of a sinking feeling. I really hope I will like the book, but if I don't I'm not going to lie about it. When reviewing one must act like a reviewer, whose duty is to the readers of fiction, not its writers. (And okay, I don't like negative reviews of my books either but I try to sulk in private.)

That is why once I have cleared my to-be-read pile I will be avoiding that particular nexus of obligations. I'll still review, but never, ever books by people I know--at all. I swear, I need to either read less or make less friends because finding M/M ebook authors that aren't at least acquaintances is becoming pretty difficult these days.

So my bottom line is, be aware that giving critical reviews my lose you author friends, and sending books to reader-reviewers may lead to someone telling you you have an ugly baby.

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Monday, September 03, 2007

Some publishers-behaving-badly satire by the inimitable Mrs. Giggles

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E-Publishing and the Wearing of Hats

Things really are buzzing in the epublishing blogverse right now. Dear Author has written a lengthy and interesting post to which there are some equally lengthy and interesting comments.

I would like to pull out one particularly remark to expand upon: Does the publisher have his or her own books in the catalog and how many?

Many publishers are also authors with their own press. But the order in which these professions are listed is extraordinarily important. It is far harder and more demanding to be a successful e-publisher than to be a successful e-author. Signing up with an author who is also a publisher is probably a bad idea--to be a good publisher they need to be a publisher first. And signing up with a failed author who started a publisher mainly to distribute their own books is almost always disastrous.

How can you tell? PPs (primarily publishers) release other people's books first, more often and on the same terms as their own. PPs make sure their authors know the pen names they use. PPs write well enough that they raise the bar rather than lower it. PPs welcome questions and, when in doubt, make their own books second class citizens in favor of outside authors' books. The very top epublishers do have owners and editors who also write for the press but it is a conflict of interests that requires monitoring, management and transparency.

I have personally have stuck my foot right in it by asking authors who are also owners to dish the goss on a press, and asked questions on "author-only" e-lists where owners were present under their pen names--only to recieve scolding emails direct from the powers-that-be. In the incestuous world of epublishing this is going to happen to a lot of people. PPs understand the moment it starts to happen, pull all their hats out of the closet and provide all the information the author wants. A considerate owner or editor might choose not to join the author e-list to make it a safe 'author only' zone so that the authors can bring issues to the publisher in their own time and only after full and frank discussions.

As a final point the idea that an erotic writer must keep that utterly secret to get any respect as a publisher (as mentioned in the comments at dearauthor) strikes me as overly cautious at best and disingenuous at worse. We sign contracts with our real name, address and tax ID number--a full list of the publisher's pen names doesn't seem like too much to ask in return.

Enough authors have been embarrassed by not having the full picture that there are already lists of publisher's and editor's 'secret identities' being passed around on the down low. Many things become a problem only because they seem to be hidden and are so assumed to be illicit. Having picked up books by some of my publishers who openly shared their pen names I can say it raised my opinion of them to find that despite being "also an author" they are very good authors indeed.

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