Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What They Got Right

This is the first time since December 2010 that I have not had a deadline looming within the next thirty days. I have written, formatted, designed, marketed, promoted, and published four books in the past eight months. Seriously. So that’s why you haven’t heard from me in awhile.


I currently have 18 books under the Blue Merle Publishing logo, and I am finally beginning (and I do mean beginning) to feel like a real publisher. And let me tell you something: it’s hard.

There are people who have been doing this far longer than I have, and who have far more claim to expertise than I do, so I don’t pretend to set myself up as an authority on the subject of independent publishing. However, with all the rockets buzzing around the internet about what traditional publishing has done wrong, my recent experience in indie publishing, juxtaposed against twenty-plus years in traditional publishing, has pointed out to me that there is a reason why traditional publishing has survived for over a hundred years, virtually unchanged. As much as I hate to admit it, they got a lot of things right. Here are a few of them:

1) Give the people what they want

There is a reason why you can’t pick up a book today that doesn’t have a vampire, zombie, angel or wizard on the cover. This used to outrage me, until I was faced with a choice: a solid fan base who was begging for the continuation of my mystery series, or my own literary leanings toward something more daring and esoteric. Suddenly I understood why publishers had declined to take a chance on some of my more creative proposals, and I no longer held them in quite such contempt. Once you have a proven audience for a product, it is very scary—and foolish-- to turn your back and walk the other way. My decision was to go with the proven product, and I don’t regret it for a minute.

2)Know Your Strength

Over the course of my career I have written under seven different pseudonyms and in every fiction genre known to man. Great for the resume; bad for the sales figures. Again, I didn’t understand why my versatility didn’t command the respect that was clearly its due until I was the one who had to reconcile the bottom line. When one series outsells the others three-to-one, it really doesn’t matter how well-reviewed, innovative, or close to the heart the other books are. You publish the books that sell. Everything else is collateral damage.

3)It’s Not Personal, it’s Business

In the “It Only Hurts When I Laugh” category… my pet project was highly praised and ultimately rejected by a dozen of the top literary agents in New York with the inevitable disclaimer: I love this, but I can’t sell it . I finally decided that, rather than turn the book into the shredded wheat that would please the New York publishing community, I would publish it myself, and guess what? I couldn’t sell it either. Well reviewed? Yes. Commercial success? Hardly. Will I continue the series? Not a chance in hell. Nothing personal, fans. But this is business.

4)It’s All About Marketing... and Budget

Not to continue to beat the poor dead horse whose screams we’ve all been hearing for years now, but (to mix another colorful metaphor) it’s not the steak but the sizzle. And yes, that pisses me off now as much as it did when I was Number 11 on the Top 10 Bestseller List in the world of traditional bookstores and traditional publishers… not because my book was any better or worse by merit than #10, but because someone, somewhere had randomly decided to put more money into front-of-store placement, magazine and trade advertising, book tours and promotional spots for #10. (To be fair, next year, the same random decision might be made in my favor and I will be #10…or 9…or 7) This is not a merit-based industry. How many times have I heard that? Yet, until I was the one who had to actually come up with the cash that would make the difference between a book that faded into obscurity and a book that would receive the attention it deserved, I never truly appreciated how brutal and dispassionate was the view from this side of the checkbook. I discovered that I am not nearly the risk taker I thought I was… and that’s while dealing with my own money, on behalf of a product that I passionately believe in. How much less willing would I be to gamble with someone else’s money, for someone else’s book? Suddenly the decisions made by my former publishers about my marketing budget don’t seem quite as stupid as they once did.

5) Timing is Crucial.

When the new Harry Potter, Grisham, or Stephen King is shipped to brick and mortar bookstores, it is very likely in a box marked, “Do Not Shelve Until…” with a date. Years of experience have taught traditional publishers the value of a “crisp lay-down” to build buzz, maximize presence, and yes, inflate sales rankings and bestseller lists. Despite the fact that, as so many indies happily proclaim, e-books are forever, if you want to give your forever-book a chance to make itself known in the e-book jungle, following this simple practice from traditional publishing is the easiest and most cost effective thing you can do. Launch with a bang. Build your product page first and have it filled with reviews before announcing your release to the public. Arrange contests, Goodreads giveaways, discussion groups, blog tours, ad campaigns and reviews all to fall within a two week period of publication (Resourceful authors will plan to repeat this process in a few months, as sales start to fall). The more visible your book is, the more popular it seems,and the more popular it seems, the more popular it actually becomes because its very popularity will nudge it onto Amazon’s also- bought list, which will in turn push it up in the rankings. The higher in the rankings your book goes, the more visible it becomes, which means more people buy it, and so on and so forth. This is, believe or not, pretty much the same process that traditionally published print books have been undergoing to make the various bestseller lists for years. There’s nothing new under the sun.

6)Holding its own is not good enough.

This was perhaps the most painful and difficult lesson for me to learn. I have complained ad infinitum about the publisher who canceled my mystery series while Book #2 was on a bestsellers list, and the publisher who canceled my women’s fiction series while Book # 1 was approaching a 95% sell-through. Their reason for doing so, in both cases, was that Book #3 had failed to live up to the sales numbers generated by previous books. Here’s what they got right: it’s not enough to maintain your readership. Unless your fan base continues to grow, you cannot sustain a series.


What they got wrong (among many other things)

The assembly-line mentality upon which corporate America was built does not work in the Arts. Simply put, when a book fails to live up to expectations in a Big Six house, it is cut, cast off, arteries severed; it is tossed, still writhing with life and screaming protests, into the teeming sea like so much chum. Moving on; next project.

When a book fails to succeed in my house, I want to know why. Did it fail to give the readers what they want? Did it fail to find its audience? Was it marketed incorrectly or not at all? Bad cover? Bad blurb? Wrong price? Did it have enough time to succeed? What can I do to change its fate? If I believe in a book I will do everything in my power to give it a second chance… and a third, and even a fourth, if I have to. I will find out what I did wrong, and I will fix it. I will accept responsibility for a less than stellar performance, and I will correct flaws in marketing, design, pricing and placement. I will beat the bushes for new readers, come up with innovative ad campaigns to draw people in, go for markets I hadn’t considered before. Only when I have done everything that I can do, as a publisher, to help a book a find its audience—and , if necessary, when I’ve done it again and again—will I give up. This is my book, you see. I care what happens to it.

And that, in the end, may be the most important thing I’ve learned from the Big Six. Bad things happen when you don’t care. Good things happen when you do. I’m glad I finally found a publisher who cares.

Me.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Million Dollar Deal That Ruined My Career

Now available at Amazon.com
Before Harry Potter, before Twilight, before the hundreds of thousands of vampire , wizard, demon, zombie, angel, fairy and just-plain-strange books that proliferate the marketplace today, I wrote a book about werewolves. It wasn’t, in my humble opinion, just an ordinary book, and these were not ordinary werewolves. It was at that time the best book I had ever written. Believe it or not, I wasn’t the only one who thought it was pretty good. The Passion (and its sequel, The Promise) sold after a ten–day auction for a phenomenal amount of money (to be strictly accurate, it was not quite one million, but by the time sub-rights were sold the difference was negligible, to me, at least). Within the week, offers for audio, foreign, and large print rights were pouring in. James Cameron and Stephen Spielberg were both interested in film rights. And then it all went to hell.
For reasons I still don’t entirely understand, the publisher abandoned the book. Possibly it was caught up in inter-company politics; possibly the publisher genuinely did not know how to publish it. While logic would suggest that no publisher wants to lose money on a book, the only way this publisher could have lost more money on this book would have been not to publish it at all. I remember screaming at my agent at one point, A million dollars is not worth an entire career! –which turned out to be eerily prophetic. In a desperate effort to save the project, I personally invested a disastrous amount on promotions, which resulted in the development of a small cult following (thank you, readers!) But in terms of the commercial sensation The Devoncroix Dynasty books were meant to be, the project was a monumental failure.

After that, no other publisher would touch me —primarily because it makes no sense to invest in an author and/or a series on which a previous publisher has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars, but also, I think, because what I was writing at that time was crap. I had spent ten years perfecting my craft, publishing anywhere from three to six books, in various genres across the board, a year. I routinely received awards and made lists and, perhaps more importantly, had been pulling in six figures a year for most of my writing career. But none of that mattered at the time. Because when I finally got the break every writer dreams of, the Big Contract for the Great Work, I blew it. My best wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t a writer. I was an imposter. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to write. It was that I couldn’t. I was broken from the inside out. I went from writing 500,000-700,000 words a year to not writing a single word for the next five years. Broken.
Eventually, with no other marketable skills and with homelessness becoming an ever-increasing possibility, I forced myself to start writing again and found a publisher willing to take a chance on me—for $8000 a book. Meanwhile, readers were still e-mailing me, wondering where the sequel to The Promise was. My new series was canceled (while the second book was still on a bestseller’s list) and after a couple of desperate years I found another publisher and another series and yet another genre. Meanwhile, reader mail continued to wonder what had ever happened to my werewolf series.
Despite an enormously enthusiastic editor, a fair advance, and an initial display of support from the publisher, I knew in my heart of hearts the new series wouldn’t last long. Every word I wrote was excruciating. I envied my friends with real jobs. I hated my life. And just before the series was inevitably canceled, I started secretly fooling around with an idea for re-launching in the Devoncroix Dynasty werewolf series, and I discovered something profound: it wasn’t writing I hated. It was the business of writing.
Two years later, Renegade was completed, and it turned out better than I thought it would. Because it was a stand-alone book that was not necessarily dependent on the previous ones, I thought it had a real chance of, not only impressing the powers-that-be in New York, but of finding the audience this storyline deserved. And yet the more I thought about surrendering this work to a publisher, the tighter my gut got. I faced the future with bleakness and dread. I kept hearing my own voice screaming, A million dollars is not worth a career! And I think what a meant was, It’s not worth a life.

Fifteen years ago, the breakthrough deal on the original Devoncroix Dynasty books represented what every writer works toward: that moment of sublime validation that will lead to a lifetime of creative freedom and financial security. It led instead to a monumental personal and career crisis, severe depression, and financial ruin. Poised on the brink of doing it all over again, I realized that the price of the Big Deal was, for me, entirely too high.
The only real validation of a work comes from readers, and the only creative freedom I had ever had was when I was not writing for a publisher. So here is Renegade, ten years in the making. I am the author, publisher, and distributor. I wrote it for readers, because in the end, is there any other reason to write? And I wrote it for me, because this story was the love of my life, and it was time to tell it the way it was meant to be told. If you buy it, I hope you enjoy it. If you don’t, that’s okay too. Because now that I am in charge of my own career, I have plenty of projects in the works. And I’ll just bet that one of them is the story you’ve been waiting to read.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Reader's Prayer

Tell me a story.
 
Hold out your hand, take me on a ride.  Entertain me, transport me, amuse me, inspire me, educate me, uplift or enlighten me. Engage me. Tell me a story.
 
Don't waste my time with pretentions of grandeur.  Save the world on your own dime.  I'm here to be delighted, enraptured, moved and transformed.  I want to believe.  I want to be transported.   Make me angry, make me weep, make me afraid, but for heaven's sake, make me care. Tell me a story.
 
Keep me awake at night, turning pages. Haunt me through the day. Draw me in to your world, wrap me in the shimmering, glittering colors of your imagination, let me drown in your words. Make me never want to leave.
 
Take me, I'm yours.

Tell me a story.
 
--Donna Ball

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Writing Without a Net

It's hard to believe that it was only eighteen months ago that I first starting dipping my toes into the chilly waters of e-publishing. For the first year I was still under contract with my print publisher, and I experimented timidly with uploading some of my backlist titles to Kindle. All the time I kept daydreaming about sitting down and actually producing a new title-- an entire book--exclusively for self-publication. Finally, in May of this year, I got the courage to do it. And everything changed. Three weeks ago I actually withdrew a book from submission because a) I realized I could make more money by publishing it myself b)the book was too important to me to see it massacred, as so many other of my books have been, by the Big Six publishing system.


So wow. I guess I am now officially on my own. Papa Publisher is no longer there to pat me on the head, tell me what's best for me, and make all my decisions. My safety net is gone, and it's a long way down.

In my career with New York publishing have written (not even counting category romance) over fifty books in four different genres. Fifteen of them have made one bestseller list or another. I have been doing this for a living since the time of carbon paper (that would be the good old days when editors actually edited and the only reviews that were worth mentioning came from Publisher's Weekly or the New York Times.) I am what you call a professional fiction writer. And up until now, I have been completely addicted to The System.

This is how it goes: I write a proposal for a novel and send it to my agent. I wait, grinding my teeth and pacing the floor-- sometimes literally banging my head against the wall, until Agent reads my proposal and decides which editors to send it to. This process can take days with a good agent, or months with a bad agent (about the three month mark is where it reaches the head-banging stage). Agent sends the proposal to editors. I get rejections, which I receive with disdain (what do they know, anyway?), anger (how stupid can these people be?) and depression (I'll never sell another book. Just kill me now). Eventually I get an offer (usually within three months) and the euphoria is so high that all the previous agony was totally worth it. Someone loves me! Someone wants me! I am a genius!

If this dynamic sounds familiar to anyone, that may be because it's based on the same psychological principle used to torture prisoners of war.

My new editor heavily reinforces my genius status, of course, and showers me with adoration, thus ensuring my dependency on her. Sometimes she even sends me flowers or champagne! More importantly, she totally "gets" my book, and we spend hours e-mailing back and forth and talking on the phone about how to make it better. I am in heaven. Finally, I can settle down to write, knowing that when I have written the last sentence someone out there in the big bad world is literally waiting with hands held out to read it.

The writing process takes six months or so, during which time I am in heaven. Someone loves my work. Someone loves it enough to give me money for it (sort of). Someone loves it enough to make artwork out of my story, and write letters soliciting quotes, and have meetings at which my book is on the agenda. I get notices of advance reviews. I get e-mails from my publicist, setting up this book signing and that interview. Every single e-mail, every phone call, every request is another hit of adrenaline. My brain is flooded with dopamine. I want more and more and more. E-mails from readers start trickling in; you know the ones that begin, "I was in Borders the other day and was attracted by the cover on your book. So I picked it up and..." Livin' the good life, baby, livin' the good life.

Then I turn in the proposal for my option book. By this time the first-quarter sales figures are in (keeping in mind that my book may have only been on the shelves for three or four weeks) and, well, they are somewhat disappointing. Unfortunately, the publisher will not be picking up my option at this point. The crash is hard. The withdrawal is severe.

And the whole torture phase starts again.

I have lived like this for over twenty years. Day in, day out. Willingly. I was so brainwashed that even when I was offered an escape I wouldn't take it. How could I write a book when no one was waiting for it? How could I afford to write a book that no one had paid for? Who would even read anything I wrote unless someone in New York told them to? It seriously never occurred to me that the people who were really waiting for my book might be readers; that long before the pennies-per-copy that the publisher paid me actually trickled down into my hands, some reader had paid them twenty dollars, or that a writer with fifteen bestsellers to her credit might have accumulated a few readers along the way.

For me the hardest part about writing without a net was realizing that I don't need a net. Once I got over that initial, paralyzing conviction that, since no editor was waiting for this book it couldn't possibly be worth writing, I was amazed at how easy it was. Writing actually became fun again. My style was not inhibited by the constant balancing act between pleasing the editor and pleasing myself. The only person I'm trying to please now is the reader, and much to my surprise I've discovered that my readers almost always like what I like. Who would have thought?

Of course there are struggles, and of course there are downsides, and sometimes it's scary out there. But the important thing is that I've broken the cycle of addiction; I've escaped my own personal Stockholm Syndrome. And freedom tastes good. In fact, it tastes great.

I could definitely get used to this.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

One More Time



Words written since last post: 57,323
Words deleted since last post: 17,201
Words rewritten since last post:  way too many!

Okay, back to a semi-regular schedule after tornado recovery, internet failure and yes, in the midst of all this, the completion and publication of my very first original e-book!

On that subject, I am still getting e-mail from readers complaining about my decision to publish digital editions of my books.  Some of these are a little snippy.  Some are simply hurt and confused.  Have I abandoned books?  What will become of those who don't have, or want to have, e-readers?  Don't I care about my reading public?

These letters are particularly disheartening when they begin by saying, "I just got your last three books from a used book store/book exchange/friend or relative..." since, as we surely all know by this point, neither authors or publishers receive money from these sources and a lack of money is precisely why publishers don't buy books-- and why authors are starving. 

So one more time, let me try to explain.  The following is in fact a quote from a response I just wrote to a reader who contacted me expressing her disappointment over the fact that my latest book (a novella) was not available in print.  I have said it before, to other readers:

No one loves books more than I -- the smell, the feel, the weight of them in my hand, the way they look on my (far overloaded!) book shelf.  But I also love stories-- the telling of them, and  the reading of them.  Perhaps even more importantly, I love writers, who deserve to make a living at their craft, and readers, who deserve to be able to read good books at a price they can afford.

Please keep in mind it was the publisher who canceled the Raine Stockton Dog Mystery Series , not I.    For years I read the e-mail from readers begging for another installment, and my frustration grew.  Once a series is cancelled, no other publisher will take a chance on it.   I considered self-publishing, but the technology available at the time was a huge learning curve, and the profit margin so small that even if I sold every copy--difficult to do without a distributor to get the books into a bookstore--I would barely be making minimum wage for the time I spent writing and producing the book.  And that was IF I sold as many copies as a big NY publisher,while the truth is most self-published novels sell about 100 copies.

Enter e-publishing, and a whole new way to make books available to millions of readers for little or investment--and with up to 70% of the profits going directly to the author!  With those kinds of numbers, writers could afford to price their books below the cost of a paperback and still make more money per copy than they would if their book had been published by a big NY print publisher.  And readers could buy 4 or 5 brand new titles (sometimes more!) for the price they would have spent for one book at a used book store (where the author of the work receives absolutely no royalty whatsoever).  It's a win-win for everyone.

I decided to publish Bone Yard, Book Four of the Raine Stockton Dog Mystery Series, as an original e-book novella to test the waters.  I have been publishing my backlist for Kindle for over an year now, but this was my first genuinely self-published novella.  The response has been overwhelming.  It turns out that readers really did  want another installment in the series, even after waiting four years, and most of them were delighted to have it in digital form.  Now that I know I have a real reader base who are willing to actually buy these books, I am encouraged to continue the series.  And for those who weren't  delighted that Bone Yard was an e-book exclusive, good news:  Amazon's Create Space program has overcome the learning curve even for the techno-challenged like me, making it possible for me to publish and distribute print copies of subsequent full length novels in the series  (as a novella, unfortunately, Bone Yard is too short to bind). 

So one more time, this is why I, and so my authors like me, are so excited about e-publishing:

1)Price
      Our ability to keep prices under $5.00 means that more readers can buy our books.  Good for you, good for us.

2)Royalty
       The fact that 70% of the price of the book (as opposed to 8% of the price of a traditionally published print book) remains in the author's hands means that writers who otherwise might never have been heard from again can afford to continue telling the stories you love.

3)Availability
        The e-publishing option means that no series needs to be abandoned simply because the publisher could not make its P&L statement balance.  Your favorite characters do not (as in the case of the Ladybug Farm series ) have to be left standing in the midst of their ruined vineyard wondering what they're going to do next-- and neither do you!  Writers you have loved, abandoned by their publishers for reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of their books, can continue to tell their stories-- and they can get them to you faster, easier, and cheaper than ever before.  This is huge, people.  This is mammoth!   Embrace the future; it is yours.

And one more time-- yes, of course my books will still be available in print.  They may be somewhat difficult to find, though, with so many book stores closing.  And they will be far more expensive than an e-book.  But if you look hard enough, you'll find them.  Because I love books.  And I'll get mine to you however I can.

 I couldn't resist:
Bone Yard (Raine Stockton Dog Mystery)



$1.99 for your Kindle!










By the way, what am I reading?
In paper: The Traveler by Stephen Twelve Hawks 

Monday, April 25, 2011

Confessions of an Introvert

So here’s the thing: I have danced with my dog on stage in front of three thousand people and a television crew. Swear to God. I have been featured on television talk shows, news broadcasts and documentaries dozens of times. I’ve stood before audiences in aggregate of the tens of thousands over the years to give speeches, workshops and key note addresses, and my heart never skipped a beat. I am not shy. In fact, some people might even say I shine in the spotlight.


Most of the time.

You see, I am at heart an introvert. That means, among other things, that I spend more time thinking than acting. That I value my privacy. That I give one hundred percent of myself to every experience and because of that, I choose my experiences carefully. And that I suck at social media.

I have to point out that I am not talking about the comfortable, day-to-day interaction with my readers through e-mail, my blogs and discussion groups.  I  could not live without the encouragement from  and contact with my "people".   If I don't hear from readers daily I desperately start dialing tech support to see if the server is down.  Seriously.  Don't stop writing to me.  I'm referring here to all the time consuming extraneous things writers are expected to do to promote their books that most of us, myself included, simply are not suited for.

Shrinking Violet Promotions did a wonderful post on dispelling myths about introverts, and I don’t think I can improve on that. Basically, what it boils down to is that introverts can dance on tabletops (or onstage in a top hat with a dog), give knock-dead speeches in front of stadiums filled with people, and host our own reality television shows if required, but at the end of the day we really just want to close the door, take a deep breath, and gather ourselves. Alone. We don’t want people all up in our biz-ness every single minute of every day.

I became a writer, in part, because I am in introvert. I can work for long periods in isolation without ever hearing the sound of another human voice. I can create something out of nothing, all by myself. I am comfortable with my own thoughts. I enjoy keeping to myself.

I recently read that in order to be successful at promoting a book, a writer should update his Facebook status 2-3 times a day, Tweet 3-5 times a day, blog once or twice a week. Minimum. Additionally, of course, said writer would also be expected to reply to all relevant tweets, post on everyone else’s Facebook wall, and comment on 12-15 blogs a week. In order to do that, it seems to me that the writer would spend half his life just thinking of things to say!

Here are my status updates:

1) Woke up

2) Walked dogs

3) Wrote some stuff

4) Wrote some more stuff

I’ll be back with more updates when I have something to actually report.

I’m not shy. I’m just a writer. Please buy my books anyway.


Friday, April 15, 2011

In Review

Long, long ago book reviews were an elite art form. They were written by professional journalists and established writers who were considered masters in their field—Mark Twain reviewing James Fennimore Cooper, for example, was a masterpiece in itself—and carried an appropriate amount of weight. The majority of book reviews appeared in newspapers, magazines and trade journals, and most readers never saw more of the review than the pull quote placed on the book cover by the publisher.


The internet has changed all that. Today the self published or small press book is likely to be reviewed by the same blogger who reviews top selling hard covers from major publishers. A hundred great customer reviews can easily overrule one mediocre review in the trades—and let’s not even talk about what a hundred one-star customer reviews can do. So in this time when everyone has an opinion about everything, and anyone with an internet connection has the means with which to express it, it might be a good idea to keep a few Rules of Responsible Behavior in mind before you sit down at the keyboard.

For Reviewers:

Be Honest. Don’t write a review on a book you haven’t read. Don’t give a book a one-star review because you thought the price was too high, because the author snubbed you at a conference or failed to answer your e-mail. An honest review takes the book as a whole, measures the positives against the negatives, and concludes with an overall impression of the reading experience.

Be Fair. Personally, I will not give any book less than three stars out of five. The reason is that if it was a two-star (hated it) or one-star (barely readable) book, it clearly wasn’t worth finishing, and as mentioned above, no review should be written on a book you haven’t read. If you feel you must post a review on a book you hated, be very specific about why. It’s fair to say, “the heroine was shallow and unbelievable”, not so helpful to say, “I hated the heroine so much I want to throw the book across the room”. I know, we’ve all felt that way. But sometimes it’s best to keep our feelings to ourselves.

Be Concise: A book review is not a book report. You can always tell an unprofessional review because it reads like a story outline: This happens, that happens, then something else happens and in the end other things happen. Never give away the ending. Never give away crucial plot points (also known as spoilers). The worst review I ever got was actually a five-star review that gave away both the unexpected plot twists and the ending of my book. I repeat: Don’t do that. Writers will hate you for it, and so will readers. A good book review gives as much information about the book as the back cover copy does, or no more than could be discovered if the reader downloaded a free sample for her Kindle (about 30% of the book). The rest of the review should concentrate on your reaction to the book—what you loved, what you didn’t—and why.

Be Quotable: This of course only applies to those of you who are doing professional-caliber reviews for blogs or print, or if you are an author asked to review a colleague’s work. The reason writers and publishers submit their work to you for review is so that they can quote you. This would seem to be self evident, but I am frequently amazed by reviewers who genuinely seem to like a book but whose writing style is so clumsy, or who are simply so rushed or careless, that there is absolutely nothing we can use to let readers know they liked it. We like pithy quotes. “This book reminds me of the long lazy novels of Jane Austen, in which the much-besieged heroine is pitted against the dark brooding hero in a deeply complex and troubling way” is nice. Who doesn’t like being compared to Jane Austen? But there is nothing, absolutely nothing quotable there—unless we want to try to pull “complex and troubling”, which might not portray the book in its best light. Why couldn’t you just have said, “Wonderfully reminiscent of Jane Austen” or better still, “The new Jane Austen!”. Toss us a crumb, guys.

For Authors

There really are only three rules for authors regarding reviews

1)Do not respond to reviews

2) Do not respond to reviews

3) Do not respond to reviews

I don’t care if the reviewer was so stupid he got the name of your protagonist wrong and misspelled yours. I don’t care if he reviewed your SF novel as a romance. I don’t care if he thought your techno-thriller was non-fiction. Do. Not. Respond. It’s unprofessional. Period.

Okay, here’s one more rule: If you submit your book for endorsement (which is different from a review request) to another author, or if your agent or editor does, and if that author takes the time to actually read your book and to craft, in his or her own inimitable prose, a publishable quote and allow you to use his/her words to promote your book—send a thank you note, or an autographed copy of the published book at least. Even if you get so many quotes from big-name authors you can’t possibly use them all, even if this author’s quote was the least memorable of them all… send a thank you note. It’s only good manners.

And one last note: If you think customer reviews don’t matter, think about the last time you considered purchasing a product you didn’t know much about. Chances are you looked it up on the internet, and were directed to a page filled with customer reviews (probably from Amazon.com!) designed to sway your buying choices. How likely you are to buy a product that no one has endorsed? Customer reviews do matter, and writers—and readers—depend on them. So if you’ve read something you liked recently, by all means, take the trouble to leave a review on one of the internet sites. If you read something in which you were disappointed, it’s okay to let us know that too—but do it in an effective, professional manner.

So go forth and review. We’re waiting to hear what you think.