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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

****SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT****

Those who publish on Amazon Kindle may now have an option to receive 70% of the selling price as royalty instead of the 35% they had been receiving previously.

If you have a Kindle Seller Account, log in to see if you qualify!

And here's a link with the Amazon announcement.

That's it for now.

John

Thursday, June 24, 2010

An Open Letter to Amazon.com -- Revisited

A few weeks ago, I posted an Open Letter to Amazon.com in which I advocated for a method to separate high quality self- and indie-pubbed books from lower quality ones. I have taken some of the suggestions from readers and incorporated them into this revised letter to Amazon.com.

There are lots of great self- and indie-published books out there . . . we just need help finding them.

Dear Amazon.com:

I am a self-published author of several books for sale at Amazon.com. During the publishing and early marketing of my books, it has become apparent to me that there is a major barrier between my writings and my audience.

Book buyers have no realistic way to rate the quality of the large volume of self- and indie-published books on your virtual shelves. This is a problem for me, and for Amazon, since few reader's will purchase self- or indie-published works with no reliable reviews or rankings to validate their quality.

I write this missive to suggest an easy, inexpensive and effective solution to this dilemma.

THE PROBLEM

The advent of Publish on Demand printing has made authoring and printing one's own book a task that nearly anyone can achieve at an affordable price. This is a fantastic thing for society and culture in general. Interesting and evocative stories will be told; histories and memoirs will be written; opinions and arguments will be made widely available; all in greater depth and detail than was before possible for the average person.

So why is there a problem?

Many of the books that are self- or indie-published will not possess professional-quality appearance or content, or will address topics so individual (like family histories) or obscure (such as Oklahoma farming methods during the Dust Bowl years) as to be of little interest to the vast majority of book buyers.

The book publishing and distribution business is going through the same sort of growing pains that the internet has gone through (and to an extent, continues to experience) as it has expanded from the "information hiking path" to the "information super-highway." Much of the information available on the internet is tremendously useful and enlightening. A much greater proportion is of little value to most people. The sheer quantity of information available is simply too great for anyone to process without the help of an organized system.

In the case of the internet, for good or bad, search engines do the organizing for us. We can "Google," "Bing" or "Yahoo Search" any subject we wish, and the search engine will deliver to us at least some information related to our request. Search engine developers continue to refine and improve on search logic for the purpose of returning to the searcher more relevant and more refined search results. But at least the system is in place. For the most part, with a little creativity, we web-surfers can sift through the internet's vast mounds of information relatively quickly, easily and effectively, and find the answers we seek.

PRESENT SOLUTIONS INEFFECTIVE FOR BOOKS

Unfortunately, at present, there is no analogous way for potential readers to sift through the huge mounds of newly printed self- and indie-published books. The reader (read as "potential book buyer") has only book covers, jacket blurbs, sample passages and reader reviews to aid her in distinguishing the published gems from the rubble. (Kirkus and The New York Times don't review self- or indie-publications.) Such tools might seem sufficient, until one considers that there are a million or so new book covers and blurbs to view, samples to read and reader reviews to consider every year.

No single reader can process this huge amount of information. The result is self-pub gridlock.

Amazon and many other web-based businesses have implemented an aggregate reader rating system to address this volume problem and to aid those seeking new books (or music, or auto parts, etc.) in ranking the quality of the product. For instance, Amazon has its "Star Rating" for each product it sells.

For many products, customer ratings are useful tools. If lawn mower 'A' gets Five Stars from its prior purchasers and lawn mower 'B' gets only Two Stars, the rational buyer will strongly prefer mower 'A' in making her purchase. Unfortunately, this sort of customer ranking/rating system, while inexpensive and accessible, is not effective in the case of self- and indie-published books for two main reasons:

1) Most of these publications seldom get enough customer ratings for the ratings to be useful. The mountain of newly pubbed books is too high for the lone product to gain traction. So there aren't enough reviews of many books to be meaningful to the potential buyer.

2) As soon as their books are published, most self- and indie-published authors, if they are smart, will begin "padding" their customer review ratings. Friends, relatives and acquaintances of the author will all weigh in with their Five Star ratings and their glowing reviews. (This "padding" routine seldom happens with lawn mowers.)

Now I'm not saying that this "padding" practice is in any way dishonest -- or even inappropriate. Everyone is entitled to utilize all legal marketing tools to promote their book. And all readers are allowed to express their opinions as to the book's nature. But this rating method is just not unbiased enough to be helpful to book buyers.

THE NEW SOLUTION

If only there could be an unbiased review ranking system to allow book buyers to sift the wheat from the chaff -- wouldn't that be great!

But how could such an unbiased rating system be developed without great expenditure of time and resources? There are so many new books!

If only the customer could be assured that reviewer rankings were not unduly biased by the ratings of the authors' friends and relatives -- if only, buyers could know that the reviewers were truly independent! If only there were a RATING SYSTEM in which the reader's could have confidence!

Herein lies the solution . . . a legitimate, unbiased, informed system to sort through the newly published books for all of us -- readers and authors alike.

Dearest Amazon, the information and resources to construct such a system are ALREADY IN YOUR DATABASES. Here's how you could establish and implement the "AMAZON SELECT INDIE BOOK INDEX."

THE AMAZON SELECT INDIE BOOK INDEX

Every day, hundreds of thousands of Amazon customers read tens of thousands of newly-published books. A large number of those books are self- or indie-published. Many of those same Amazon customers, voluntarily and without remuneration, post their unbiased "customer reviews" on the Amazon website. All Amazon needs to do to create the SELECT INDIE INDEX is to separate the qualified independent reviewers from the biased ones.

I'm sure, Dear Amazon, that your market analysts and computer programmers can come up with something even better than I propose. But my suggestion is that you create your new -- additional -- rating system based upon the ratings of only those Amazon customers who read many books and submit many reviews. This process would negate the "friends and family effect" that plagues self- and indie-pub customer rankings, and would establish a whole new, bona fide, independent system for book rating.

In essence, there would be a new group of "above-the line" reviews, while still retaining the always useful customer reviews you already post.

You already know, Dear Amazon, how you could identify these "qualified" or "certified" or "above the line" book raters. But I will explain so all may understand.

Whenever a reader leaves their book review Star Rating on Amazon, any Amazon customer can look at that reviewer's other book reviews to evaluate that particular reviewer's experience and independence. If the book reviewer has only reviewed a single book, well, that reviewer is probably of the "friend and family" sort.

But if the reviewer has previously reviewed scores, or even hundreds, of previous books, that reviewer is a good source for unbiased, independent opinion. Although readers cannot realistically be expected to search through all the reviewers and their read/review histories, Amazon's computers can do it in a heartbeat.

If you have an aversion to separating Indie books from other books in creating this new ratings system, go ahead and include ALL BOOKS in this new "above the line" reviewer rating. Good Indies will compare favorably with traditionally-published books in such a system.

So Dear Amazon, as an author and book buyer, I believe you and I and millions of book buyers could gain access to a wealth of high-quality self- and indie-published books if you would only implement this new rating system to aid us.

We hope you are able to do so soon . . . before Google or B&N beats you to the punch!

Thanks for listening and I hope we can continue to do profitable business together well into the future.

Cordially,


John L. Betcher

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Where to find reviewers for your first book

The sources for reviewers of self-published books are growing exponentially. And there is no better source of credibility for your book than a bunch of INDEPENDENT positive reviews.

Today's post provides you with the latest sources I have been finding on the Web:

-- Getting Book Reviews - Submission Guidelines for 21 Top Book Reviewers http://ow.ly/1YZT9 from Paul Krupin (REALLY GREAT -- though some reviewers won't accept debut books or fiction!)

-- Join the Reviewers Roundup Group on FaceBook and check out this Discussion link for FREE reviews: Reviewers Roundup

-- Try Readers' Choice Reviews here for a FREE review. You may then want to widely distribute the review for a very modest cost. I had a great experience with these folks.

-- BookPleasures.com is a source for possibly multiple FREE reviews. I also had good experiences with the people who review for this site. Many of them have their own blogs as well.

-- As I mentioned in a previous blog post, Amazon Top Reviewers can also be sources for great FREE reviews. NOTE: Please remember these are not professional reviewers -- so treat them nice! Check out reviewer bios to see if they read and review your genre -- or even books! Maybe they review electronics. You need to spend some time here. But again . . . my experiences have been almost universally positive.

-- Check out the list of BlogCritics.com "BC Recent Contributors" near the bottom of this page. (There are literally dozens of book review blogs listed here.) Or email Blogcritics.org at: eolsen@technorati.com for more information on submitting to BlogCritics.

There are going to be more and more review sites popping up all over the place. Use your web browser and search for "book reviews self-published" or something similar.

Well . . . as short as this post was, I'm willing to bet that you can spend hours submitting books to many of the above reviewers. Just follow their review submission guidelines . . . and be patient!

That's it for today. Pithy, eh?

John

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Focus Groups and Pre-Readers

Lately I've been spending some time visiting with impromptu focus groups and select early-draft pre-readers concerning aspects of two WIPs. I have found this part of the writing process to be helpful. So I thought I'd share with you a few things I found out.

WIP #1 -- The 19th Element, A James Becker Thriller

This is the second book in a mystery/suspense series. Reviews of the first book had indicated a divergence of opinion about whether the relationship between my husband and wife main characters was a little too perfect. Some reviewers wanted more conflict between them, or to see more of their weaknesses. Other readers liked them just the way they were.

I found that, in the opinion of the focus readers for the second book, I seemed to have struck a better balance, with everyone expressing affinity for the husband and wife relationship. That was very helpful to me, as the author, to know that my target market was now in greater agreement about the plausibility and likability of two of my main characters.

I also discovered from a person who read my book on Kindle that I needed to shorten the indents on the paragraphs to eliminate screen white space. Three spaces is sufficient indent -- instead of maybe five, which would be considered a full tab.

I also learned that too many short chapters can be distracting on a smallish digital screen. So I found a few chapters that I was able to combine into a single chapter -- thereby avoiding all the white space leading into the extra chapter numbers -- by using asterisks as scene change indicators. That was easy, and it greatly improved the visual appeal of parts of the book for those who read digital versions.

WIP #2 -- A Higher Court


A Higher Court is not part of the mystery series. It addresses arguments surrounding the existence or non-existence of God.

My early-readers gave me input regarding whether I was striking a fair balance in presentation of the arguments on either side, whether any of the characters or scenes were distracting the readers from the main points of the book, whether they were able to "suspend reality" sufficiently for the action to proceed comfortably, and which aspects of the book the readers found most interesting.

Each of the readers had been able to follow the arguments (which is no small relief to me given the advanced science and philosophy involved). So I was happy about that. The writing was clear and understandable.

Each reader focused in on one or two particular scenes -- or even sentences -- as being most intriguing or compelling to them. Lots of those were surprises to me.

Some choices were in keeping with my vision for the book. So I could build on those. Others distracted the reader from more important points. So I needed to work on minimizing or eliminating those issues. The various parts of the book readers selected as most interesting were surprises for me. So I need to give all of those scenes/scenarios some more thought.

Conclusion

If you have access to a couple (or more) people who represent parts of your target market, and you can coax them to give your WIP some attention during the writing process, you can end up with a book that more clearly conveys your message(s) and is more appealing to your readers as well. And as we all know . . . if the book doesn't appeal to our market, it probably won't sell!

I know today's post was, perhaps, more introspective than directly helpful to you folks in terms of self-pub tips. But I truly hope that by sharing my experience, I can help a few of you have better and more successful writing experiences of your own.

That's it for today.

Cheers!

John

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Proofreading Tips

I'm at the stage in my next novel where the editing is done. The plot is cast in stone. The characters are as developed as they're going to become. And the formatting is determined.

Even though I have had help from friends reviewing the manuscript, and they have all done some proofreading for me, I still need to proof read the manuscript one final time. Ugghh!

Do you ever get to the point in writing, re-writing, re-re-writing, etcetera where you begin to wish you had never begun the cursed manuscript in the first place? If you're writing for Random House, by the time your book gets to the proofreading stage, you are probably out of the loop. Someone else has taken on the task. A professional. And probably someone who hasn't already read your book 'til they're sick to death of it.

But if you are a self-publisher, your work isn't done until that manuscript is as close to perfect as you can possibly make it. So you need to proofread it yourself, one final time (or possibly several "final" times).

I find proofreading one's own book to be an extremely challenging task. How do you keep your brain from reading the beginning of a sentence and then completing it based on your memory of how the sentence is supposed to read -- with no useful input from those proofreading eyes? Your brain already knows how the sentence ends. If you have left a "the" or an "it" out in this draft, your brain will probably fill in the blank and your eyes will miss the error -- at least this will happen too often for my liking.

So, short of hiring a very good proofreader, what can you do to improve the quality of your finished product, minimizing those unmatched quotation marks, misplaced apostrophe's and pesky homonyms? I have four suggestions that help me a lot.

First of all, when I am proofreading, I set the document "view" to "margin width." This makes the words and punctuation marks huge. It's much easier to see when you've subbed a comma for a period, or vice versa. And the words present a more imposing presence in a 25 point font. It's like that extra brake light they added in the middle of your back car window a while back. It's something new. Your brain pays more attention to it.

Second, your word processing software (Word, or WordPerfect or OpenOffice) has a spell checker. Use it. This may not catch many of the errors; but it will eliminate some of them, and it's super-quick and easy.

Third, your word processing software also has a grammar checker. Use it as well.

If you write fiction, this process may be labor intensive. The grammar checker will find all sorts of incomplete sentences, "unusual" word usages, and word selections that "may be offensive" to business readers. So you'll have to look at each instance where the grammar checker stops you to manually decide if a change should be made.

Many (maybe most) times, no changes are needed. But SOME times, the grammar checker will locate that omitted word, or that word you typed twice in succession, or the sentence where you changed verb tense and left a straggling extra verb fragment. In my experience, it is definitely worth doing this check -- even though it may take several hours. This tool WILL CATCH errors your eyes alone would have missed.

Fourth, and this is a new technique for me, I recommend having your computer read your manuscript to you out-loud. I can do this in my version of Adobe Acrobat. I'm sure many other programs offer a text-to-speech feature as well.

Okay. Your book sounds like Stephen Hawking is reading it. And some of the contractions are pronounced pretty weird. But as your eyes read along with the voice, you will also notice some errors that your eyes alone would have missed.

On top of using two senses instead of one to proof your book, it is strangely relaxing to hear that odd voice reading your book to you. You even get used to "very" being pronounced "wary." And "I'll" be pronounced "ill." In fact, sometimes the computer pronunciations are quite humorous.

Bottom line though . . . you want the most polished book you can present for printing. Since your staff is sitting in your chair with you -- wearing your pants -- you need all the help you can get. Might as well use the free tools at hand.

Maybe you have some favorite proofreading techniques you'd like to share? Please feel free to comment with other suggestions.

That's it for today. Thanks for checking in.

John

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Just Write

I was visiting with an acquaintance of mine -- presently a banker, but unbeknownst to me, formerly a trade journal editor. He asked me about my new book and how I managed to complete it. He had always wanted to write a novel, he said. In fact, he had started to write one several times, but never managed to complete the task. What was the secret, he wanted to know.

"Butt in chair," I said.

"I beg your pardon?"

"Sit down at your computer every day and write. Keep doing this until you reach what seems like the end of your book."

He had heard that advice before. But he had more questions.

Did I prepare a chapter outline before I started to write? Did I write character studies for my main characters before they appeared in the book? Did I know my character arcs and complete plot line from the outset.

For me, the answer to all of these questions was "No." Sure, I had general ideas along those lines. But I never formalized them. My brain just doesn't work that way.

I believe all of the above writing tools are very helpful -- and perhaps even necessary -- for some writers. I applaud those who have developed these valuable writing tools to a science. It's just not an approach my brain is willing to embrace.

"I got to know my characters better as the story progressed," I said. "They began their existence as composites of people I have encountered, speaking in rhythms that were familiar to me, displaying characteristics akin to those of people I had met. But as they interacted, the characters took on lives of their own. As I wrote, I found my self asking 'What would ______ say in this situation?' And I followed my character's lead."

I told him that my approach would always end up with a manuscript requiring substantial revisions. (In the case of my first manuscript, I actually threw out the first ten chapters.) But then, all first drafts require substantial revision, don't they?

He found my approach interesting and freeing. He had never gotten started with the book he "had always wanted to write," because he had gotten bogged down in the preparation. He said his mind tended to work like mine -- operating more off-the-cuff, so to speak.

I repeated to him the prevailing wisdom that to write a book, one needs to begin writing, set daily goals for words written (whether 500 or 5,000), and then keep writing through bad writing days and good ones. The bad stuff can be fixed later.

After all, there is no great writing . . . only great re-writing! Was that Oscar Wilde? Sounds like him.

One other thing I told my banker friend about my writing experience -- every time I edit my books they get longer. I know this is backwards editing. Most people write 125,000 words and pare it down to 80,000 or 90,000. I write 60,000 words, then add detail and imagery until I am satisfied.

Since my writing is fairly minimalist, and the action in my early drafts moves too quickly, this approach works for me. I'm not suggesting you emulate my writing technique. I just want to let you know there are different approaches to writing. You should find one that works for you.

So there's my self-pub advice for the day. The one constant --butt in chair. You have an idea. Put it on paper (or computer) and keep on writing. You can't edit something that's never been written. And you can't publish something unless it's been edited. One foot after the other. All the rest of the process is up to your personal preferences and skill set.

Just write!

Thanks for stopping by.

John