Thursday, December 29, 2011

An Interview with a Reviewer: Fran Lewis

This week, I am glad to interview Fran Lewis, radio host, book reviewer and author of many books, including Because We Care, Memories Are Precious, and many other titles. Visit Barnes and Noble to learn more about Fran's books.

Since book reviews are an essential part of book promotion, Fran is here to answer some questions about what authors should know about how to get reviews for their books.

What type of books do you review?I review fiction, non-fiction, memoirs, children’s books, YA books, self-help, biographies, murder/thrillers, legal thrillers, romance novels that are not graphic, science fiction and humor.

Ten books is a lot of books to read in a short about of time. Do you read the whole book, or just sections? I read every word in every book. I never read sections because I might miss an important of the plot development. I have learned to speed read. If the author includes too much scenery that is not needed for me to complete the review I might skip it. But, otherwise I read every page and every word. I take notes while reading a book to make sure I have the important plot and character information I want to include in my review.

How’s the best way to get your book reviewed?An author can email be at with a short summary of their book, genre and title. If the author understands that my reviews are detailed and what I write stands then I will review the book. My reviews will never give away the ending, include any spoilers and I never pan a book. If I feel a book does not warrant five stars I will provide the author with a detailed summary of the book and not give my opinion.
What’s the best thing to put in a query for a book review that will make you want to read a book?A summary of the book, a press release, information about the author and what genre the book is in. The type of review you are looking for and if you want something shorter I will provide an endorsement. An understanding that what I write stands and that I will post it. I always, as a courtesy, send the review to the author after reviewing the book. But, I will post my review.
Is it a good idea to include reviews from other reviewers in a query letter to a reviewer?That is up to the author. I prefer to read the book and create a review based on my own opinion and what I think about the book.
I’ve heard about phony reviewers. What are phony book reviewers and how can an author spot them?A phony reviewer will not summarize the book but say I like it but give very few reasons based on the plot as to why. A phony reviewer will not have a regular website, a following of authors that they review for and sites where you can read their reviews. When requesting a review the author should ask where the reviews are posted to get an idea of the reviewer’s style and what type of review they write.
What about paying for reviews? Is it a good idea for authors to pay for a review of their book?I never ask and never will ask any author to pay for a review that I do. It do not think anyone should have to pay for my opinion. Reviews are subjective and each reviewer has his/her own style. I have never gotten paid for my reviews and I review books because I enjoy helping authors get their work out there, spotlighted. It has helped me grow as a writer to learn from the outstanding work of other authors.

Do you have any other suggestions for new authors looking for book reviews?Ask someone who has given you a review that you feel is fair and just to suggest other people they might know to review their books. I review for Book Pleasures and any author can fill out the submission form and get a review from an outstanding reviewer on that site. I often recommend other reviewers that have reviewed by books to review books for some of my authors.
Thank you very much for your time, Fran!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

What Can Indie Authors Learn from the Tortoise and the Hare?

My post last week caused a slight stir on Self-Publish Review. Ironically, it wasn’t authors versus publishers arguing. Rather, my post caused a debate among independent authors on the matter of publishing a high volume of books fast versus publishing a lower number of quality titles.

You might call this the debate of which is better: The slow and steady Tortoise or the fast and furious Hare?

Since I average one book every nine months to a year, you can guess where I fall on this debate. My last book, Old Loves Die Hard went through thirteen drafts and two editors over the course of nine months before its release in April 2011. My work in progress, Stages of Murder, will take one year because I’m doing a rewrite that I have chosen to do on my own in order to improve the plotline.

Why should I, an independent author, care if you, another self-publishing author, release six so-so titles a year instead of one high-quality book? What does it matter to me if you’re churning out books that have gone through three drafts, run through a spell checker, proofed by your administrative assistant for a hundred bucks (Like in this economy she’s going to tell you the plotline is laughable?), and posted up on Kindle with cover art whipped together in Photoshop by your thirteen-year-old son? It isn’t like I should care about writers in forums pasting links to your book on Amazon and poking fun at your cardboard characters. (I’ve seen this done.)

I care because your poor quality books are negatively affecting my and other independent writers’ efforts to be taken seriously by readers and the publishing community.

Plain and simple, it’s a numbers game.

Let’s take three authors who work long and hard on their books. Call us the Tortoise Authors. Between drafts, we step away in order to come back at our manuscript from a different angle with fresh eyes. We write and rewrite. We hire editors and stay up at night thinking about just the right cover for our book. At the end of twelve months, the three of us will produce five quality independent books of which we are very proud.

During that same year, three other independent authors are churning out four books each, one book every three months. (One author told me that a blogger had recommended four books released per year for independent authors, more if possible.) We’ll call them the Harey Authors. I’ll give these books credit and say that they have been proofed for grammatical errors and typos. Granted, while the Harey Authors may admit their books aren't of Ernest Hemingway quality, they will argue that their stories are enjoyable reads and they have every right to be equally proud of them.

However, personally, I’m not optimistic in believing that a well written book can be produced from story idea to release in ninety-days. I doubt the ability of any writer to put together a strong plot, create fully-developed characters, put in the research necessary for believability, and compose a whole book without leaving any loose ends in such a short time frame.

Now, I know someone is going to come back with examples like Nora Roberts who churn out title after title. But for the sake of this post, I’m talking about self-published authors who don’t have people working for them to take their rough drafts and turn them into published books. The Harey Authors are those writers sitting at their laptop in the lunch room trying to squeeze out that last paragraph to finish the chapter before it’s time to go back to their cubicle. You know, he’s like the rest of us.

Let’s get back to the numbers. Between the Tortoise Authors and the Harey Authors, we have a total of seventeen books. Five are quality books. Twelve are not. That’s a whopping seventy percent worth of self-published junk!

This, some within the book community argue, is why they’ll not even consider self-published books for reviews, or invite independent authors to sit on author panels, or promote self-published books on their blogs or in their magazines. There are some public libraries that won’t allow self-published books on their shelves.

This being the case, the Tortoise Authors, even though they have worked hard on their five books, are paying the price for the Harey authors publishing junk. The Harey writers are not only hurting themselves by publishing second-rate books with their own names on them, they are damaging the reputation of all self-published authors.

Yes, we indie authors argue, there are a lot of well written, high quality books produced by independent writers. If you flip my scenario, that’s thirty percent of quality books. But, as one reviewer who refuses to consider looking at a self-published book argues, “It’s like finding a needle in a haystack.”

Looking at these numbers, that can be believable.

The danger is, as more independent authors jump on board and start churning out books because they can, the battle to change the perception of self-published authors being second rate can get harder instead of easier.

Granted our numbers of independent authors will rise, but if most of them are churning out garbage at an accelerated rate, it won’t do much for our cause. It’s unfortunate that at a time that technology has made it fast and simple for any writer to see their book come to life, that authors serious about their careers and the future of self- publishing have to hold up our hands and say, “Whoa, Nellie! Not so fast!”

What’s the solution? Education (mixed with begging, threatening, with some tough love thrown in) for the independent author.

Just because you can type up, upload, and release your own book at lightning fast speed, doesn’t mean you should. If you want to be taken seriously as an author, put on your brakes.

That is not to argue that Harey Author's books should never have been published. On the contrary. I believe Harey's books could very well be outstanding books--if Harey practices patience and takes the time to make his books the best they can be.

This is easier said than done. During the process of writing and producing a book, for every book, for every author, there comes a time when he is sick of seeing it and just want to “Get ‘er out!”

It’s not unlike a woman in labor. You’ve been pregnant for nine months. For months you’ve been planning and thinking about this baby that is so close to being a reality. Then, you’re in labor and now all you want is to get it over with and show your prize to the world. But, if you rush your way through labor, the cord could get wrapped around the baby’s neck. Without the doctor or mid-wife there telling you to wait, your dream can turn into a disaster.

It is the same with publishing a book. After writing and re-writing and nurturing your baby, it can be hard to listen to an editor suggesting that you take a second look at your research, or make a change to a character that doesn’t ring true. The temptation to turn a deaf ear to those suggestions can be pretty strong when you could see your name on a book cover in only thirty days.

As an independent author, that is why I am virtually reaching out to slap you on the back of the head and say, “Don’t, do it!”

Consider this:

Take a lesson from the Tortoise and the Hare.

Everyone knows the story. (Please tell me you know this story!). The Tortoise (Turtle) and Hare (Rabbit) are set up for a race. Everyone knows that rabbits are fast and turtles are slow. The gun goes off and the Rabbit speeds off. Knowing he is fast, he gets cocky and goofs off during the race while the turtle goes along slow and steady. The Tortoise thinks about every move he is taking every step of the way.

By the end of the race, the Hare blows it. He’s the loser.

The Tortoise wins, because he took his time.

That’s the only way independent authors are going to change the perception of us as second rate—by taking it slow and steady and running a quality—not quantity—race.