Today’s Writing Tip

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Your book’s interior should be formatted for readability. Both Create Space and Smashwords have “How To” documents you should read and follow. Poorly formatted books lose readers and mark indie writers as unprofessional. Learn how to do it correctly or hire someone to do it for you. Your readers will appreciate it.

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I don’t enjoy giving poor reviews, but…

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I’m not sure where to even start reviewing this book, because I’m having a very difficult time deciding how to rate it using the conventional 5-star system. I hate to leave a poor review, because I know they can be painful. They can be useful for new writers, however, when they are thus motivated to find ways to improve. It was a 3-star review that really got my attention and drove me to re-edit one of my books with regard to comma usage. Writers tend to be blind to their own work, making it difficult to improve unless specifics are pointed out for them to work on.

I do try to find the positive elements in a story and recognize the thought and effort that went into it. However, when I don’t particularly enjoy a book, even find it a chore to finish, I tend to break it down into what I expect from a 5-star story to see how it measured up and thus give it what will hopefully be a fair and somewhat objective rating.

I realize (and so should you) that all reviews are subjective. What one person loves, another abhors. I admit I’m not a big fan of vampires and zombies. I’m also a grammar Nazi and a long way from being a young adult, this story’s target audience. (Nonetheless, I’ve read some YA vampire and zombie stories that I’ve enjoyed and awarded 5 stars, largely because they were well-written, original, kept moving, and drew me into the characters. Therefore, my age and interests don’t mean I’ll automatically give a book a poor rating, but will compare it to others in that genre that I’ve read.)  To its credit, this one was clean as far as language and sex are concerned. It’s definitely in the PG range, maybe even G.

Thus, in this case, I’m reverting to my scientific training and breaking it down to the many things I consider important when rating a book. That will help me understand my own reaction and its rationale as well.

So let’s see what the numbers say.

Plot: This story had a new twist on the somewhat worn-out vampire/paranormal themes as Casey, a young woman in her late teens, begins the physical transformation process into something that isn’t at first clear, to either the protagonist or the reader, since the story point of view is first person narrative. This was fairly well done. You could understand her concern and relate to her confusion and worry about what was happening to her. The sense of mystery and suspense started out well. Information about who the strange people surrounding her really were evolved naturally, as the novel progressed. The structure of the vampire culture was well-developed and it was interesting how certain individuals were linked in different ways. These were supposedly decided in previous lifetimes. So far, so good.

However, as the story progressed and by the time it ended, these original parameters were not always the case. I don’t feel as if there was adequate explanation for some of these diversions. There was also at least one major, unanswered question, that I won’t specify, because it would constitute a spoiler. Maybe it will be answered in the next book, but it seemed like a question that the main character should have been asking, too, since it related to her parents.

How the ending fit into the established cultural order was also vague. If there was as much predestination as implied early on, it seems the other characters would have been aware, even if the protagonist wasn’t.

Rating: 3.0

Character Development: Most of the characters had discernible personalities, though I never really connected emotionally with the protagonist, even with the book written in first person. I could sympathize with her, but only in a general way. Some of the others were annoying, the way they got so spun-up, specifically Takota, but given they were teenagers, this was in-character. Just because I didn’t particularly like all the characters is no fault of the author’s. We don’t like everyone we meet, and they are real enough.

The adults were pretty flat, which is forgivable in a young adult novel, but Dr. Avens was a major character and not fleshed out much better. However, through the eyes of a teenage girl, I suppose discerning where an adult may be coming from may be expecting too much.  In that case, I would expect the main character to have more concerns that he was such an enigma. Getting back into Casey’s deepest feelings is the issue again, and the lack of rendering the depth of her emotions about what was happening to her.

Rating: 2.5

Cover, formatting and interior design: The cover is intriguing and well-designed, the interior nicely done with glyphs before each chapter. The appearance over all was pleasing and looked professional.

Rating: 5.0

Quality of Writing, i.e. editing, grammar, spelling, style, and word use: I was nearly overwhelmed with typos, grammar, missing words, and wrong words. With regard to the writing style in general, the story could have been told in a lot less pages. There was too much irrelevant detail, economy of words was lacking, and it needed some serious line and content editing. There were so many mistakes I was continually jolted out of the story, especially when the wrong word was used, such as canape (an appetizer) instead of canopy (such as over a bed) and shutter (window protection) used instead of shudder (shake with fear or emotion).  The usage of adverbs and adjectives was overdone as well. This undoubtedly affected my entire reaction to the story because it was distracting and downright annoying. A simple spell-checker or grammar checker would have picked up the majority of these, which tells me such details were entirely off the author’s radar. As a reader, they are not off mine.

Rating: 1.5

To determine if a story is well-rounded, I look at five elements I remember by the acronym IDEAS, i.e. imagery, dialog, emotion, action, and suspense.

Imagery: Clearly the author has a very vivid imagination, such that she can describe scenes in vivid detail. However, in many cases it was too much physical detail which slowed down the story. I could have used a few reminders about what some of the characters looked like; some may have never been described. It was okay to describe a place or room in laborious detail once and then drop in a few reminders later, but in some cases it was reiterated too many times and slowed down the story.

Rating: 3.0

Dialog: For the most part, this was well-done and convincing. Conversations were authentic, though sometimes there was confusion with regard to which character was speaking. This can be done without constantly saying “he said” or “she said”, such as by using action such as pacing, or describing their expression or reaction. Including the other person’s name in the dialog itself, is another technique.

Rating: 3.5

Emotion: My ultimate judge of a book, which will earn a story a high ranking, is whether it makes me laugh, cry, or seriously worry about a character. I never became emotionally connected with any of the characters. While they displayed emotions, they were not rendered in an effective enough manner to draw me in. Feelings weren’t ignored completely, just described with a modifier as opposed to rendering what the character was really going through, which is what generates empathy or at least sympathy. There was a lot of anger, but no heart-wrenching emotion, which would have been appropriate in various situations.

Rating: 1.5

Action: There were some scenes that dragged on and on, such that I got so tired of them that I would actually put the book down until the following day, right in the middle of something that should have had me tearing my hair out with regard to what was going to happen. Instead, many times I found myself tearing my hair out with frustration, thinking, “Get on with it, for heaven sake!” It was actually painful to finish this book, between the typos and slow-motion action.

Rating: 2.0

Suspense: The suspense, as defined as wondering with some level of concern what was going to happen next, was moderate, but as noted under “Action”, not developed or sustained enough to drive me to read into the wee hours of the night. There were plenty of questions to be answered, some of which were, others that weren’t. The fact I even finished the book is testimony that there was enough suspense for me to wonder how it would end, so I’ll give it credit for that. The ending was moderately unexpected, but also lacked a certain level of credibility. However, since this is a series, I assume such things will be explained in subsequent volumes.

Rating: 3.0

SUMMARY

So, by rating the various story elements on a 1 to 5 scale as noted above, including plot (3.0); character development (2.5); packaging (5.0); quality of writing (1.5); imagery (3.0); dialog (3.5); emotional impact (1.5); action (2.0); and suspense (3.0), the average came out 2.78. or a weak 3.

This book has potential, but desperately needs copy, line, and content editing to pass muster and even possibly be viewed as a professional work. This is one instance where judging a book by its great cover is very misleading to what lies within.

Attention, Authors & Readers!

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If there’s a story in you that’s not coming out, then you need to register NOW for RRBC’s 2017 Writers’ Conference and Book Expo!

Whether you’re an author or an avid reader, don’t miss out on this exciting event sponsored by Rave Reviews Book Club. The general public is invited, so whether or not you’re a member, right now, before you forget, mark your calendar for October 22-28.

THIS EVENT WILL HELP YOU:
*Get inspired and get to writing
*Market your work to avid readers
*Strengthen your craft of writing
*Network with like-minded individuals

It doesn’t matter if you’re a stark beginner or seasoned professional, there’s something for you! Get inspired, learn new writing skills, how to manage your time or social media, create a press kit, or dozens of other juicy topics. Enjoy browsing the Author Booths for books written by RRBC members as well as the many services available through the Vendor Booths. I’ll be attending several conference sessions, presenting one of my own explaining how you can use astrology to bring your characters to life, and also have an Author Booth to showcase my Star Trails Tetralogy and my latest release, “The Terra Debacle: Prisoners at Area 51.”

If you want a booth to showcase your own book(s), you need to be a member. So, if that’s what’s in it for you, now’s the time to join. (If you do sign up, be sure to mention my name  since we get brownie points for recruiting new members!)  Club services are vast, everything from a radio show and online magazine to a means to support fellow members through social media, reading, and reviewing. You can join here.

General Conference Info

Registration Info

Registration Packages & Pricing

Registration Page

Check it out! I’ll see you there!

#RRBC #RWISA #RaveReviewsBookclub #writers #amwriting

Amazon’s Review Policy Explained

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Most indie authors have encountered, either personally or vicariously, some of Amazon’s gestapo review policies. When reviews are so important to a book’s ranking, it’s no wonder that restrictions are frustrating and often confusing. More than anything, I simply wondered what was behind it? Clearly Amazon’s goal is to sell product, so why would they institute rules that compromise sales? It seems that “fake reviews” should be recognizable to any intelligent person and be discounted with an eye-roll as opposed to throwing out the baby with the bath water and tossing legitimate ones.

Well, I attended a free webinar the other day entitled “3 Catastrophic Marketing Landmines That Can Get You Into Serious Hot Water With The FTC Today: And What You Need To Know… ” that provided a classic “Aha!” moment that explained what’s more than likely behind Amazon’s review policy.  If you hurry, you can listen to it until June 4, 2017 here. [NOTE: If you should join their program, note that I am NOT an affiliate and will NOT receive any compensation. Rather, I’m sharing it because I feel it’s information that others can benefit from as I did.]

So what’s the deal? Why is Amazon being so ornery about reviews? Not surprisingly, it’s none other than our friend (?) the US Government, more specifically the Federal Trade Commission, a.k.a. FTC. Like the IRS, this is another government agency you don’t want to tangle with. They have strict rules regarding deceptive testimonials, which includes whether there was any material compensation involved; in other words, a paid affiliate needs to be disclosed, with what constitutes payment a somewhat grey area. Deceptive testimonials, another no-no, can obviously include reviews from friends and associates who may claim something is the best thing since the cell phone when in reality it’s not. We’ve all read books from time to time that had multiple 5-star ratings that were clearly undeserved. So, being compensated for a review in some manner or an inflated testimonial that is unlikely to represent the opinion of others are to be avoided.

In other words, the bottom line is Amazon is covering their butt against consumer complaints to the FTC, which is the prudent thing for a business to do. If you have a website where you offer products to consumers, there are various alligators in the water regarding disclosure with which you, also, should be aware. As with any government regulation, ignorance of the law is no excuse and failure to comply can get you into serious trouble. All authors need to be aware of such regulations, especially if they have a website where they have affiliate links or sell their own books.

But my main point here is that Amazon is not doing this to make our lives difficult, but to protect their interests and comply with government regulations. It’s no wonder they ignore our complaints since we certainly don’t wield the punch of Uncle Sam.

That said, I can’t help but wonder what the FTC would do if authors complained about the way Amazon handles trolls?  Undoubtedly it’s covered in our contract to their benefit, but as our sales agent, if they allow trolls to jeopardize our sales, it would make for an interesting conversation….

The Best of Times and the Worst of Times

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Forgive me for borrowing the title from Dickens. As you may have guessed, the context, however, is entirely different. I’m talking about publishing.

Truly it’s the best of times for those of us who burned out trying to find a commercial publisher. I remember how excited I was when I found out you could publish your book on Kindle and even more excited when Create Space came along so you could actually hold your book in your hands. Long ago I discovered that, like so many other parts of life, finding an agent, much less a publisher, was quite political. I’m sure you’ve encountered books that were commercially published that sucked worse than a day-old calf. Just the memory of a few I remember is enough to make me shudder. So bringing the DIY world to self-publishing without the thousands of dollars required for a vanity press was like a gift from Heaven.

However, there was definitely a downside. First of all, there’s the competition. In the days when books were only available in, well, bookstores, there was limited shelf space. Thus, most books had a shelf life of about six weeks with a print run of a few thousand copies. Then they were remaindered, i.e. sent back to the publisher, sold to the highest bidder or perhaps the covers ripped off and tossed. Bookstores could only hold so many books and your chance at fame were thus limited.

Now, thanks to e-books as well as print on demand (POD) publishing, books are available ad infinitum, both in time and number. This is a good thing because it gives you all the time in the world to hawk your book. It’s a bad thing, because now there are literally millions of books competing with yours.

Of course when a market is saturated, that also drives down the price. It’s never been easy to make a living as an author and it’s even more difficult now. Readers have come to expect their books to be free, maybe 99c for an author they love. Even if they pay more, especially if it’s someone who prefers print books, selling a print book via Create Space’s “expanded distribution” usually earns you something in the neighborhood of $0.18.

Yeah.

And if the book is used, the author won’t even get that. Bear that in mind the next time you buy one.

As if that’s not bad enough, it costs money to be an author. Having a computer and word processor software is assumed in today’s world. But unless you can do everything yourself, there’s a matter of line editors, content editors, copy editors, book interior designers, and cover designers, perhaps even voice actors. Then there’s the expense of maintaining a website and a presence on social media, which seem to be spawning new platforms like mushrooms after a spring rain. There are book promoters, book fairs, and marketing classes, plus, to maintain your sanity, you may need to hire a personal assistant to keep up with it all. The bad news is that everyone makes money but you. The good news is that it’s a good tax deduction. Just don’t ever make the mistake by referring to it as a hobby with the IRS.

blackboard_writer2So why on Earth do we write? Because we have to. It’s something inside us that needs to come out. It’s that creative spark of self-expression that makes us feel alive. If we can share it with others, all the better. But the fact is, it’s something we’re born with and can’t deny.

Yes, it’s the best of times and the worst of times.There’s a whole lot to bitch about. But when all is said and done, being able to hold your book in your hand is priceless. The only thing better is finding a five-star review.

5 Quick Tips for Indie Writers: Formatting

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One complaint I’ve heard about Indie novels is lack of proper formatting. While this is usually one of the services provided by a publisher, when you’re an Indie you’re on your own unless you want to hire someone to do it for you.  Otherwise such oversights, ignorance or perhaps laziness contribute to a poor reputation which hurts everyone. Here are a few simple formatting tips which will help your work shine:

  1. The first paragraph of a new chapter typically begins with a letter that is larger than the others and called a “dropped cap.” This gives it a more professional appearance. This does not necessarily work for some formats, however, where this larger letter will increase the leading (e. spacing) between the lines. For print format, however, this is the convention.
  2. The first paragraph of a chapter is flush with the left margin; it is NOT indented. This is also true for each new section and provides a stronger visual clue than doubled spacing, which is sometimes inadvertently introduced into ebooks by a page break in the original file that doesn’t necessarily indicate a new scene or viewpoint has begun.
  3. Along these same lines, it’s easier on the reader if you demarcate the end of a section with some sort of indicator whether it’s a few asterisks or some other design.
  4. Speaking of section breaks, when you change viewpoint from one character to another or start a new scene you should start a new section unless the entire book is written in omniscient point of view that switches from one person to the next continually. Remember, however, that you don’t necessarily have to get into everyone’s head to know what they’re thinking. Describing a character’s expression or body language can convey what they’re thinking or feeling just like it does in real life. Clearly is you’re writing in first person you can’t read another person’s thoughts directly and would use visual clues.
  5. Book design refers to the fonts used for chapter headings and text, your paragraph indentation style, line spacing, page number and heading placement, and so forth. Paying attention to these details gives your book a more professional appearance. For ebooks these details don’t show up but if you’re publishing in a print copy they make a tremendous difference as far as presenting your work as that of a professional.