An Open Letter to Authors

Dear Author,

First, let me start with this: I absolutely love being given the opportunity to read your book or short story.  I know that asking someone to read and possibly review your book is a difficult thing to do.  You love the story (or you wouldn’t have written it to conclusion and then published it), but you have no idea if it will actually stand on its own.  Sure, there will be people who love it, but there may be more who don’t. Its a scary conquest you have to undertake to get your book in the hands of readers all over the country/world.  I completely get that.

Because the process of getting your book reviewed can be a bit daunting, I wonder if I may be so bold as to provide a few pointers. Over the last few months, I’ve received many e-books for review, and there are a few things that consistently happen that makes me wonder if people are aware of the missteps they are taking.

E-Book Reviewing
When you are looking through the many book review sites trying to find possible reviewers who will like your book, take note of the type of e-reader they have.  If they talk about their kindle, or nook, or some other version, take note of that.  This is extremely important when you get their acceptance to review your book.  [For the purposes of this post, I’m going to use the Kindle example because that’s what I have.]

In the past, sending a normal formatted pdf made from a word document was enough, because reviewers would either choose to read it on their computers, or they’d print it out.  However, with so many people having e-readers, there is another option – sending the file to their device and reading from any place other than where their computer is.

It is extremely important to realize that if you are going to send a pdf, you need to make sure its formatted for an e-reader; i.e., make sure the font is big enough and readable (font style).  Its best if you take the time to send them a .mobi file (this is for Kindle only).

If you don’t have the ability to send a specific format (and really you do, but may not realize it), then you MUST go back and format your original document (the one the pdf was created from) – increase your font size and make your font style readable.

I know, I hear you…”but Rachel, the Kindle has the ability to increase the font size and change whether you read horizontal or vertical. Also, you’ve talked about how you send pdfs to your kindle for easy reading.”  To which my reply is:

First, when I send a pdf to my Kindle, I always reformat it for my viewing pleasure.  Second, having to scroll across the screen to read your book takes away from the story. If the file is not easy to read, by which I mean, having the ability to just flip from page to page rather than scrolling across pages, I’m going to put it off until I have time to manipulate it for easy-readability.  Two things may happen, its possible I may never get it or I may have put all the work into making it readable, and then really not like your book; and then instead of reviewing the finer points of your story, I’m talking about the disappointments of the book as a whole. (It should be noted, I probably won’t, but other reviewers might.)

This is a change in thinking about how to present books to the ‘book blog reviewers’ that authors (and frankly, publicists) must make if there is ever to be successful marketing of e-books industry wide.  MUST MUST MUST.  Of course, this requires you to believe in the book review blogger as one of your biggest asset when marketing.

Marketing Your Book
The advent and popularity of e-readers allows for all authors to be published without the overhead of traditional print publishing, and if they want to publish in traditional print formats, they can use programs like CreateSpace.  No longer does an author really have to sift through rejection letters from big publishing houses – they just don’t. A new author has the ability to go to much smaller presses, who are dying to get good books published with their imprint. Frankly, if one is self-publishing, gone are the days of waiting for a small press will decide whether or not they will publish a new book.  An author really has the ability to do every aspect of the process, from the first word written to the first royalty check collected, themselves with little overhead, and greater return.

Its really important to note that whichever route you choose to go, you seriously are the only one that is going to best market your book.  These days, even marketing your book results in a low overhead.  In reality, your time should be the absolute most expensive part of your marketing venture.

So, what am I talking about? As an example, I’m seeing so many new authors paying other people to put together blog tours for them.  You don’t really need someone else to do this for you. This is completely something you can do yourself, with no financial cost to you (it just takes a little time and planning). When you are looking through all those book blogs for someone to review your book, don’t just offer your book – offer a guest post; offer an interview; offer a book to giveaway. This gives the reviewer the ability to still showcase your work without having to like your story/book.  THIS IS IMPORTANT.  Many reviewers will not even mention a book they don’t like; however, if they have a guest post from an author, they’ll most likely post it.  The simple reason for this is it creates content for the reviewer without having to write every single day.  Content creates keyword strings which then creates page views.  Some book bloggers use their advertising money to support their reading habit; some book bloggers are stay at home workers who depend on their advertising money to pay the bills here and there.  The more content = the more pageviews = the more ads shown = the more often checks come in.

Okay, so that helps the book blogger, how does it help you, the author?  Well, let’s say instead of a “bad review” of your book coming up on the first page of a google search, someone runs across five links to your guest posts prior to getting to someone’s bad review of your book in the search engine returns, and likes what you have to say.  You have more of a chance that person will pick up your book based on them liking what you have to say and liking your writing style than by reading bad reviews all over the place (or not finding your book at all, except on a publishers website).  This is especially likely if you don’t just cut and paste guest posts, and send each book blogger a unique post.

Couldn’t you have your own blog where you can write and develop a following?  Yes, certainly… and you should have this too (with today’s technology the overhead for this is no more really than the cost of server space). However, many blogs showcasing your writing style and how you think is better than just one where you are the only person showcasing you; and the inner-connecting network that you’d be developing is great for page ranks in search engines.  A note on your own blog/website: don’t just use it to sell your book – use it to sell yourself.  The ratio of selling your book vs selling yourself should weigh higher on the selling yourself side.  Remember, you are the expert.  You have written and published a book, so be the expert – your book has done nothing but sit there and been dressed up. There’s nothing worse than being dressed up with no place to go.  You have to give your book places to go. You have developed characters; you have designed scenery and developed plots; and you’ve known when the end is near and how to make it final.  These are the things that are really going to get your book sold – not the cover, and probably most certainly not the blurb on the book jacket (ps. please believe that what your book is really about is most likely not reflected on the two paragraph blurb on the back of the book). Your book will be sold because of something you’ve done, not based solely on the book itself. True story. This is probably most true for newer published authors, and those that specifically are self-published or published at small presses.

A word about social network marketing: Join them…but remember, the goal is not to advertise for the social network, the goal is to use the social network to get people to your site and ultimately buy your book.  Keep this in mind.  Really.  To use it effectively, assuming you have a website, set up an rss feed that puts a summary of your posts on the social network and then send people to your site with a read more link – doing this will cut down on how much time you have to spend posting on every social network. Or if you’d prefer not to do this, when you do a new post on your website or someone else’s, make a quick little blurb on your social network page that says something like “Check it my post about whatever here (with link to your site).” If you have a post on someone else’s site, you could say “So and so was kind enough to feature a guest post by me, check it out (with link to the post).”

Again, no one will return if every single post is about selling your book.  You want to write interesting things on your blog to get people to visit once and then come back.  I know this is vaguely contradictory to what the “experts” say, but trust me – just having a social networking page for people to go to from your website isn’t effective marketing. Use the social network to advertise for you and your book, not the other way around.  The other thing to remember here is think about who you’ve “friended.”  If you intend to use the social network to advertise for your product, then make sure your network of “friends” are actually the market you are hoping to reach… if they aren’t, then you are wasting your time and effort – if they are not interested in the correlating genre or the process of writing, then chances are, they are not going to buy your book. Think long and hard about where you are going to find your audience (audience is defined as niche market of readers who read the genre of books yours would be classified in).  Maybe GoodReads is better than facebook.  Just a thought.

Editing/Content Review
The last and final thing I want to impress upon you is your need to get an independent editor.  I’m not talking about someone who can make sure your words are spelled correctly and your punctuation is used in the right places.  Find an editor that can go through your story and tell you where the inconsistencies in the plot are; someone who can tell you that there’s no way “this” could actually physically happen; and someone who can tell you when your characters are out of character.  In this day and age where anyone can be published, having an editor that can bring more than just the spelling and punctuation to your attention prior to publishing is what will set you above and beyond others.  Honestly, if you are self-publishing, this should be your most expensive part of this whole endeavor, next to your expenditure of your own time.  And, you need to be willing to spend it.  (PS.  There are people out there who will recognize you are a not at all able to pay top dollar, will take whatever you can afford (probably with a payment plan) AND will still do a fantastic job for you.  You just have to look and inquire.) You can’t afford to let your story suffer due to technical problems in your writing. Book blog reviewers are a generous bunch and will overlook, for the most part, issues here and there if the story is a good one – even if they aren’t particularly well versed in your genre.  However, they will not overlook technical plot and character errors if the story is lacking.

I hope I have not overstepped my bounds, dear author.  I simply want you to be as successful as possible.  I want you to be read, and I want your voices to be heard by the masses.

Good luck to you, and may your books be as successful as you hope they will be.


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