Thursday, November 15, 2012

Too Good to be True?

I got a very interesting, and frustrating, question the other day about self-published* books. The reader asked:

Last week was my birthday and my wife gave me a new kindle.  I was ecstatic and wanted to see what new stuff I could download and read.  I went to Amazon’s marketplace, searched under fiction and found a plethora of titles. I further searched under 'fantasy' to narrow the results and sorted them by 'most popular'. 

The first seven were all old tried and true favorites of mine; number eight, however, was a new book I'd never heard of. It had a nice cover and the summary sounded promising, so I went down to the reviews.  It had an average score of 4 out of 5 stars. Then I read the reviews and of the 120+ that it had, the vast majority gushed about how great the story was. I spent about an hour looking over reviews and only found one or two that didn't make the book sound like the greatest novel on earth, but even those said that it was a fair read and great for younger readers.

As it turned out, it was [horrible].  There were grammar mistakes, bad dialogue, non-existent story. I felt cheated and angry…. I bought this book instead of something [else], so that is at least one less sale that could have gone to a more deserving book.  

My question is, does this kind of under-handed marketing help or hurt more (in respect to the author and the industry in general)? The market is getting flooded with self-published works and most of them seem like they are okay but then something like this comes along and it really makes you think twice.   

This happens all the time, and has been happening for some time ( remember hearing about some weird bird book scam a few years ago). Not just with reviews; authors find ways to “beat the system” and bump their books up to #1 using technological glitches.

Some fabulous talent has been found from self-published work; true, maybe some fabulous unpolished talent, but authors who, nonetheless (and despite whatever quality) truly resonate with readers. Take Fifty Shades of Grey; ok, yeah, not the best written thing I’ve ever read, but you know what, I was totally addicted. My husband and I had friends over the weekend I decided to pick it up and read, and I was constantly sneaking away for ten minutes at a time just to read.

For these, I think self-publishing is wonderful. There is a known disconnect between what is bought by publishers and what readers will read, primarily because what publishers buy is based on what bookstores will stock and what they think they can sell, that self-publishing can help gap.

For the latter, however, authors who decide to take a more manipulative approach to the top, it’s just frustrating. I absolutely hate to hear that a reader is not only turned off from trying any more unknown authors, but wary of all e-books period, now, AND that a good debut author did lose a sale to something that was manipulated as great rather than really great.

To directly answer the question, YES, for all the reasons above and more, it DOES hurt more than it helps, and not just for the industry; an author can’t count on a fan base or repeat customers by forcing bad books to sound good, which means the author’s sales will eventually dry up. 

So, I thought I’d cobble together a list first, on how to help decide if the book is self-published or not:
  • Publisher is CreateSpace, Amazon Digital Services, iUniverse, PublishAmerica, Xilbris, or any other vanity press
  • Publishing house is owned by the author of the book (Google it if you’ve never heard of the publisher)

And what would give me pause before purchasing a “too good to be true?” book (other fab posts on it here and here):
  •  The 1-2 star reviews complain about grammatical errors and lots of typos
  • There are very FEW bad reviews, and the bad reviews there are are very mild (books are so subjective, no way is a book that perfect)
  • The 4-5 star reviews indicate that the author has paid for good reviews (or, alternately, solicited ONLY good reviews – it is ok to give away books for review or hold contests, but not ok to only ask for good reviews)
  • The 4-5 star reviews themselves are full of typos and grammatical errors, or sound like the same person wrote them, and are way too overly gushing
  • There’s a mention of “for the price, it’s not half bad” (I’d want to hear: I expected this to be ok for the price, but it blew me away!)
  • There are a ZILLION reviews, most of them fabulous, and yet it isn’t within the top #500 in Kindle Paid or top #100,000 in books
  • A zillion reviews, period (way too many gushing reviews is pretty suspect)

Definitely not fool-proof, but if you’re just not sure, and it’s more than you’re willing to pay, don’t buy it. I really don’t want to discourage trying on new authors, though, and so worst case scenario, you give it a shot and you’re out a dollar.

Regardless of the outcome, whether a book is falsely touted or not, I strongly encourage you all to leave honest reviews – even more so, of course, if you do end up loving the book!

*After posting this, I can understand how this would appear to be an attack on self-publishing, which was not my intent. Any author, whether traditionally published or not, can use a manipulative approach to the top, and it's those authors, not any method of publication, I wanted to caution readers to. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

NaNoWriMo 2012 Resources

I’m either participating in, being asked to share links to, or hearing about quite a few awesome NaNo things, so I thought I’d just sum things up in one post:

The program will continue for the entire month of November (Monday – Friday) and will spotlight subsequent weekly themes that aim to guide the NaNoWriMo participant through the novel writing process. The schedule includes:

Nov 1-2: Creativity / Idea Generation
Nov 5-9: Story Structure / Plotting
Nov 12-16: Character
Nov 19-23: Inspiration
Nov: 26-30: Endings / Revision

Every day of November (and even a few late-October prep days), YA Highway will be sending out an e-mail note of something inspiring. A blog post that helped one of us get through a rough writing patch, or a picture of a sloth clinging to a llama*. A daily dose of advice, motivation and camaraderie to remind you that we're in this writing game together, and when you succeed, it makes the world of kidlit better for us all!

1st place: $50 gift card to and 10 page novel critique by LM Preston
2nd: 1 year Premium Membership and 1 member book of their choice
3rd place: 1 member eBook of their choice 

Check this out for daily tips and blogging posts!


January 4-6th: Designed to facilitate a discussion between authors, agents, editors, and aspiring writers all about the importance (and how-to) of revision, post-NaNoWriMo.

(I am contributing to a Q&A and writing a post on revision)

During the first week of December, will to focus on tips for revising that NaNo novel. I hear rumors of a post of your favorite agent quotes/ideas. Be sure to check back at their blog to check it out!

If there’s things I’ve missed (I’m sure I have) and you want to add, feel free to shoot me an email or post in the comments!

PS – Just for fun, check out this Time article on the whole deal.