The guaranteed way to gain reviews

12213308404_13e416c4ba_k

Reviews, reviews, reviews. They are something an author both craves and fears. We are desperate for reviews, both as confirmation that what we’ve produced is liked – though I’ll let you into a little secret here, no matter how many great reviews you receive, you’ll never get rid of the thought that people are just being kind and not really telling you what they think – but also as a means to attract new readers. At the same time we’re terrified of reviews, especially early in our careers, in case they confirm our darkest fears that what we’ve created is illegible rubbish.

In my case, about a week after I published my first novel I became afflicted by a kind of desperation as I waited for somebody, anybody, to review my book. I couldn’t understand why everyone was taking so long. What was the problem? Didn’t they know how important reviews were? I ended up doing something I really don’t recommend you do: I hassled my friends and family in the hope they would write a review. Most didn’t – thankfully – but I used up a lot of good will during those early days which in some cases I’ve still yet to regain.

So, in order to help those of you who have either just published or are about to publish, I’m going to give you tips on how to increase your chances of receiving honest reviews of your work, activities I would advise you avoid, and then finally the one guaranteed method of generating reviews, although I’m not sure you’ll like the answer.

Before I get there though, I need to mention one thing. Nobody owes you a review. If somebody has bought you book, or even if they got it for free, the only expectation you can have of them is that they received it. If they read it, that’s even better, and if they review it, that’s fantastic. But don’t get angry if the vast majority of people don’t review your book. They don’t have to and are under no obligation to do so.

Ways to increase the number of reviews

1. Contacting book reviewers

Book reviewers are the most wonderful people in the whole world, as I mentioned in a previous blog post here. They take the time to not only read your work but to then review and promote it afterwards, all out of the kindness of their hearts. Most, however, are inundated with requests so don’t be surprised if they don’t take you up on your review request. It’s not personal, it’s just that they only have a limited amount of time and with so many people approaching them, they can be choosy about what to read.

This approach isn’t easy. It’s a lot of work investigating each reviewer, making sure they like the type of book you’ve written and reading some of their reviews before getting in contact. However, what you do know is that if they agree to read your book, you are guaranteed a review.

2. Offering a free book in return for a review

You’ll see at the end of this post that if you sign up to my mailing list, you can get one of my books for free. All I ask is that I receive an honest review in return. Again, this isn’t a guarantee of a review  – but some of those who receive the free book will uphold their end of the bargain and write a review.

3. Leaving a message at the end of your book

At the end of each of my novels I’ve written a polite message thanking the reader for reading, explaining the importance of reviews, and asking if they would be so kind to leave an honest review. I’ve seen a small uptick in reviews since doing this, not huge, but it has made a difference.

4. Reviewing other books

I’m not talking here about review swaps – which I’ll come to in a bit – but one of the side results of me reading other self-published authors’ books, and recommending the books I’ve enjoyed, is that some of those authors, and even the readers of these recommendations, have read my books in return. And some of those who read my books enjoyed them enough to reviewed them, not because I’ve asked, implied or demanded them to do so, but because they understand the value of reviews and are happy to do so.

5. Running free book promotions

I know some authors hate the idea of giving your work away, but when you are starting out the biggest challenge is not writing or publishing your book but being heard. I run occasional free promotions on Amazon and every time, within a few weeks, I receive new reviews. There is a  down side to this approach. The best reviews come from people who have researched your book and like the genre or subject matter. Free promotions are picked up by all sorts of people, so your book could reach the wrong readers and receive low scores because the book wasn’t to their taste.

Ways I wouldn’t recommend to generate reviews

1. Pestering friends

I’m not talking here of politely asking a friend when told they’ve read your book if they wouldn’t mind leaving a review when they get a moment. I’m talking about asking them every time yo see them, boring them with how important it is to you, leaving whiny, passive-aggressive posts on social media, and generally being a pain in the arse. As I mentioned earlier, nobody owes you a review. You need your friends for many better reasons than as a personal review factory. Leave them be.

2. Paying for reviews

Really, don’t pay for reviews. I can see the attraction – trust me, I’ve been tempted, especially early on. A simple google search reveals a number of ways to gain reviews. Any service that offers X number of reviews for X dollars should be avoided like the plague. They are against Amazon’s T&Cs and could lead to your book getting banned. Some book reviewers offer reviews for money. I can understand it from their perspective – they’re spending time and effort reviewing the book, why shouldn’t they get rewarded? But as a writer what you want are honest reviews, and even though the final review could well be impartial, there will always be a suspicion that the rating was bought, which will tarnish the rest of your legitimate reviews.

I wouldn’t even recommend paying for your book to be reviewed via a well-known legitimate source like Kirkus, not because I believe the review would be dishonest, but because there are better ways to spend the $400 it costs to promote your book.

3. Review swaps

At some point you will be asked by an author to review their book and they will review yours in return. It’s very tempting, I mean, what could go wrong? The problem with review swaps is that no matter how honest either party is, there is a pressure on you to be more positive than usual because you know that they will be reviewing your book in return. Even if you both write honest reviews, there will always be the suspicion that you haven’t. This is why I never take on reviews and only recommend books I’ve paid for and enjoyed.

And the one guaranteed method of receiving reviews is …

Time. If your do some or all of the things I recommend above over a long enough period of time, you will get reviews. They may not come as quickly as you wish or be as many as you’d like. They may not be as nice, or as in-depth, as you were hoping for, but the longer your book has been published, the more reviews it will receive.

I long ago realised that while I could take action to encourage people to review my books, I had no control over whether they did or not, so I stopped worrying about it. And do you know what? I’m a much happier writer because of it.

So what about you? Do you agree with what I’ve written? Are there any other methods you’re aware of that help generate reviews, or are you not bothered in the slightest? I’d love to hear from you.

 

Do you like intelligent thrillers? If so, join my mailing list and get one of my 5-star rated near-future dystopian thrillers absolutely free. The mailing list is guaranteed spam free and I will only contact you if I have a new book launch or an exclusive short story to share. To sign up, please click here. 

Recommended Reads: Singled Out by Julie Lawford

singledout_kindle_656x1000px

Before we go into the review I need to make a few disclaimers. I’ve got to know Julie Lawford through social media and she has written some very lovely reviews of my books. Also, she beta read my second book and I beta read an early version of Singled Out. This has had no influence on my review but as a reader you I feel this is something of which you need to be aware.

That said, as anyone who has beta read a book knows, a book at that stage is a very different beast to the final product and I had a number of issues with it at the time. This meant I approached reading the finished version of Singled Out with some trepidation. Luckily, I needn’t have worried.

The Description

‘There’s something delicious about not being known, don’t you think?’

Brenda Bouverie has come on a singles holiday to Turkey to escape. Intent on indulgence, she’s looking for sun, sea and … distraction from a past she would give anything to change.

But on this singles holiday no one is quite who they seem. First impressions are unreliable and when the sun goes down, danger lies in wait. As someone targets the unwary group of strangers, one guest is alone in sensing the threat.

But who would get involved, when getting involved only ever leads to trouble?

Singled Out subverts the sunshine holiday romance, taking readers to a darker place where horrific exploits come to light, past mistakes must be accounted for and there are few happily-ever-afters.

A simmering psychological suspense laced with moral ambiguities, for fans of Louise Doughty, Sabine Durrant, Gillian Flynn, Elizabeth Haynes, S.J. Watson and Lucie Whitehouse.

The Review

In Singled Out, Lawford allows us to join a motley crew of mature singles as they head for a holiday on the Turkish coach. But as the opening scene in the book suggests, not everybody in the group are who they seem.
If you’re going on beach holiday and you’re a lover of creepy, psychological thrillers, then this is the book for you. In it, Lawford allows us to experience the full delights of a Mediterranean break, with the foods, the sights and the nightlife being described with a delightful richness to stimulate all your senses.
The characters are recognisable but not stereotypical, and with Brenda Bouverie the author has created a wonderful protagonist, very different from anybody I’ve read before. She’s wonderful combination of her the sensuous, with her love of food and drink; the steely, but with an underlying vulnerability that makes her a very special character indeed.
This is not, however, a book for the feint-hearted. The assault scenes in particular, while very well written, don’t pull any punches, but for me that’s as it should be. Horrible things should be portrayed as horrible. And it makes you all the more engaged in the search for who’s responsible.
What I loved most about this book is the exploration of moral grey areas. there is a particular dilemma that Brenda faces which you have no idea which way she will turn to almost the final page, and even then it’s difficult to tell whether the right decision was made, depending on your own viewpoint. This was very well done.
Overall, I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys their thrillers to be a little dark and edgy, but with some warmth thrown in. Oh, and foodies. This is a great book for food lovers.

To buy Singled Out from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy Singled Out from Amazon.com click here

 

Recommended reads are either independently published books – or those that are published via a small press – that I have bought and enjoyed. They are part of a commitment to ‘pay it forward’ to other independent authors by buying their work and promoting those that I have enjoyed, both here and on Amazon and Goodreads. I don’t accept submissions but instead focus on people who have helped or inspired me through their blogging or who actively support other writers, but I only recommend those books I have personally enjoyed. If you are an independent author I would encourage you to do the same and help pay it forward to the community. For more information please see my blog post here.

Recommended Reads: Claudia Must Die by T B Markinson

claudia_front

The Blurb

Claudia doesn’t feel like herself anymore–she feels like prey. Her husband’s hired goons have stalked her all the way to Boston and will only stop their pursuit once she is dead.

Divorce is not an option. Instead, she has stolen a bunch of her man’s money to disappear into another life.

In order for Claudia to live, someone else must die. A lookalike college student becomes the target capable of freeing her from an awful marriage.

The plan goes horribly awry. Instead of murdering Claudia’s double, the assassins shoot the woman’s lover who is the cousin of a powerful Irish mobster. Claudia becomes hunted by all involved. Can she survive. Should she?

The Review

You’re married to the mob and you want out. What do you do? Run away, find a double and arrange for them to be killed instead of you, of course! But when the wrong person is killed in error, the actions of the mob wife, and her ex-husband, will come back to haunt them.

Claudia Must Die is a fun read with plenty of twists and turns to keep the reader guessing. While the title focusses on Claudia, the wife, the true protagonists are Parker, the student and double of Claudia, and Francis, the ex-military cousin of Parker’s lover Ida. When Ida is killed, the two look to gain revenge on those responsible, but that’s just the start of their journey.

The book is well-written and mostly believable, although Francis’s mysterious contacts manage to get them out of one or two scrapes a little too conveniently for my liking, but the real strength of this story is the change in dynamics between the victims, the middle men and the perpetrators as the story unfolds. How the relationships ebb and flow is at the heart of what makes this book an engrossing read.

The only part where I felt let down was the ending. It was all a little too safe for my liking, I prefer my stories a little darker. However, overall this is an enjoyable read that I would recommend to any thriller fan.

To buy Claudia Must Die from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy Claudia Must Die from Amazon.com click here

Recommended reads are either independently published books – or those that are published via a small press – that I have bought and enjoyed. They are part of a commitment to ‘pay it forward’ to other independent authors by buying their work and promoting those that I have enjoyed, both here and on Amazon and Goodreads. I don’t accept submissions but instead focus on people who have helped or inspired me through their blogging or who actively support other writers, but I only recommend those books I have personally enjoyed. If you are an independent author I would encourage you to do the same and help pay it forward to the community. For more information please see my blog post here.

Regrets? I’ve had a few… My 5 biggest self-publishing mistakes

no-regrets

It’s been one year since I pressed the publish button and Second Chance took its first steps out into the big, wide world. Looking back, I realise just how lucky I’ve been to have escaped relatively unscathed from some of the mistakes I made. I’m not unusual in this, most self-published authors blunder at some point along the way, and I’m not talking about trying things that don’t work, but simple, elementary mistakes.

So, rather than keep these lessons to myself, I though I’d expose what I view as my biggest mistakes so hopefully you won’t do the same.

Regret 1 – Not reading up about self-publishing

Made up my mind to publish and after a few days had launched an ebook. I read voraciously, but not the right material. I read about how to format an ebook, good sites to purchase book covers, how to create a paperback book – the mechanics of self-publishing but not about self-publishing as a business. It was only a few weeks after launch that I picked up a couple of ebooks that changed my thinking completely.

The first was Write, Publish, Repeat by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant, the second Let’s Get Visible (and later, Let’s Get Digital) by David Gaughran. These books take you a step-by-step through the pre-launch, launch and post launch phase of self-publishing, giving good, simple advice all the way through without promising the world. If I’d read these books beforehand, I might not have made the subsequent mistakes I did.

Regret 2 – Not researching my categories and keywords

When I made the snap decision to publish I’d been blogging for 6 months, mostly about other aspects of my life. I’d made little attempt to generate interest in my book because I wasn’t even sure if I’d publish, and if so, how? So, when I published I bombarded my friends on Facebook (I’ve never had an author page), many of whom were curious to see what I’d written.

Because of the generosity of friends (or morbid curiosity) Second Chance spent its first few days in the high 4000’s in the amazon.co.uk charts. It was a great result for such little planning, but sadly nobody knew because I hadn’t set up my categories correctly. I’d selected a category (science fiction – dystopian) but had no idea how popular that category was. After the initial rush, my book disappeared from view.

It was only afterwards I found out about how to research sub-categories to see how competitive they are, allowing me to choose one that enhanced my chances of visibility. I set my book up differently and since then Second Chance has only spent a couple of weeks out total of the amazon.co.uk Science Fiction – Cyberpunk charts. However, if I’d had this set up from the beginning, it may even have got to no.1.

However, this turned out to be a bit of luck because…

Regret 3 – Not taking ownership of my text

I’d spent 15 months writing Second Chance, producing seven drafts in total. I knew the importance of getting the book right. I’d heard of issues with self-publishers not proofreading their work and knew I didn’t want to be one of ‘them’, so I asked a friend to give the book a ‘quick once over’ as a favour. He came back with some corrections, which I made, and I then published. The more experienced writers will know what’s coming next.

A few days later I was contacted by friends letting me know my book had a few issues with typos. They offered to note them down and a couple of days later sent through a list of 58 errors. I was mortified. The book had been checked through. How could this have happened?

The issue was that I hadn’t taken ownership of my text. Not only that, I hadn’t the first clue on just how much work was required and how many passes needed to get a pristine copy. Over the coming months I arranged a second thorough edit which identified another 200+ changes. Not all were typos, but it shows you how much more work was required.

I was lucky. I only received one review, on Amazon.com, knocking me down because of those typos. It is the review I regret the most, not because I have an issue with it or the reviewer, but because if I had taken full ownership of my text it would never have happened. What I don’t know is how many readers I lost because of those early errors.

I learnt my lesson. When publishing Absent Souls, the book was proofread by myself, then by my wife, sent to a copyeditor for his first pass,  sent to a proofreader, sent to a second proofreader, proofread by myself again, sent to my copyeditor for a second pass, then finally proofread twice more by myself. This isn’t to say it’s perfect, but I’ve yet to hear of any errors (and if I do, they will be corrected and the book immediately updated).

Regret 4 – Not setting up a mailing list

Many of my regular followers will know I have a mailing list. I’d been meaning to do it for some time but never got around to it. What made me change my mind? My damp squib of a launch for Absent Souls.

Mailing lists are great because the people who join up are interested in your work. Nobody is forced to join. These lovely people want to be kept informed about book launches. Studies have shown that promotions through “sign-up” mailing lists have a hit rate of 30-40%. This compares to 1-2% on a random mailing or 0.0001% via tweeting.

Because I hadn’t set up a mailing list, only a few people bought Absent Souls at launch (although I’m grateful to everyone who did). Since then, the sales of Absent Souls have grown, but I’m still approached by people asking when my next book’s out. These are people who are interested in my work but had no idea Absent Souls had already been published, exactly the type of people who would sign up to a mailing list. I’d lost the chance of having a bigger push, and therefore bigger visibility, at launch.

Now, with a growing mailing list, coupled with a special launch offer exclusive to those on my mailing list, I’m hoping my next launch will be a little different.

Regret 5 – Not starting on the next book straight away

After writing Second Chance I spent a couple of months basking in the warmth of having completed a novel. What I should have been doing was writing the next book. In fact, I should have started even earlier when I’d put my first draft to one side for a few weeks. That would have been the ideal time to start planning book 2 ready to start writing as soon as Second Chance was published.

One of the big lessons I received from Write, Publish, Repeat is that very few authors have great sales from their first book. The majority of authors who make a living from writing do so through moderate sales, with these sales multiplied across many books. They also publish new books on a regular basis to maintain visibility. Even though Absent Souls came out 10 months after Second Chance, I believe I could have knocked 2 months off that timescale if I’d been a little more organised. This would have given me more months of sales, but also meant I would be much further down the path of writing book 3.

You’ll notice there is one thing I don’t regret: publishing my book. Despite the hard work, the mistakes I’ve made and the fact I’ve not hit the bestsellers lists, I don’t for a minute regret doing this. It’s been one hell of a year and I can’t wait to see what happens during the next one.

So those are my biggest regrets. What are yours? Do these ring a bell or are there other things that you would go back and change if you had the chance? I’d love to hear from you.

Do you like intelligent thrillers? If so, join my mailing list and get one of my 5-star rated near-future dystopian thrillers absolutely free. The mailing list is guaranteed spam free and I will only contact you if I have a new book launch or an exclusive short story to share. To sign up, please click here. 

Recommended Reads: The Whisper of Stars by Nick Jones

The Whisper of Stars

A few months ago somebody recommended I should read The Whisper of Stars, saying it trod similar ground to my books. I put off reading it for a while as I was worried about being influenced by another writer’s ideas, but over the Christmas break I decided it was time to have a look. I’m glad I did. If you have read and enjoyed either of my books, I highly recommend you read The Whisper of Stars. It covers similar ideas to those in Second Chance and Absent Souls but in a very different way, and it’s a cracking read to boot.

The Blurb

The year is 2091. With accelerated warming and global population out of control, the survival of humanity hangs in the balance. On the brink of extinction, science delivers one last hope. Human hibernation.
Jennifer Logan is a tough cop in the newly formed Duality Division, tasked with enforcing hibernation. When she uncovers a memory, hidden deep within her mind, her belief in the system she protects is shattered. Together with an unlikely partner, and convinced that her past holds the secret to mankind’s future, she embarks on a dangerous search for the truth, one that rapidly turns into a struggle for her life. Pursued by the very people she once trusted, Logan must risk everything for answers to the mystery that unfolds. As her world unravels and the layers of deceit are revealed, she is forced to question everything and use all of her skills to survive. In The Whisper of Stars, author Nick Jones delivers a breathtaking, sinister vision of the future, where nothing is what it seems. He shows us that some secrets cannot stay buried, no matter how deep.

The Whisper of Stars is the first book in the Hibernation Saga. A fast-paced, futuristic thriller starring a tough, female protagonist. It features conspiracy theories, romance and intrigue and is set in a dystopian world, making it an ideal read for any fans of the sci-fi genre and also suitable for a young adult audience.

The Review

With The Whisper of Stars, Nick Jones has combined detective, espionage and near-future dystopian thriller genres to produce a cracking story that is both compelling and makes you think about the challenges we face in the future.

With Earth’s resources dwindling, the UN has taken control, forcing large parts of the world’s population to go into hibernation – sleeping one year on, one year off. Jennifer Logan is part of the Duality Division, ensuring people go into hibernation at their allotted time, but after a failed mission, old memories are awakened leading her to embark on a quest for the truth about what happened to her father many years before, a quest that has her questioning everything she knows about her life and the world she lives in.

This really is a great read. Each chapter draws you into the world Jones has created, one that is both futuristic and very, very real, with neural implants rubbing shoulders with a night down the pub with friends. As the story progresses Jones gradually reveals a dark vision of the future, where those in power are forced to make difficult decisions which in turn become further corrupted by the desire to manipulate and control.

All this on its own would make an interesting read but it’s with the character of Jennifer Logan that this book stands out. This is a strong, non-nonsense female lead who just doesn’t give up, using her own skills and ingenuity to overcome anything in her path. Once the search for the truth starts, Jones successfully ratchets up the tension chapter after chapter and I found myself staying up late just to reach the satisfying climax that sets up book 2 very nicely. If you like near-future thrillers, then you should read this book. Highly recommended.

To buy The Whisper of Stars from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy The Whisper of Stars from Amazon.com click here

Recommended reads are either independently published books – or those that are published via a small press – that I have bought and enjoyed. They are part of a commitment to ‘pay it forward’ to other independent authors by buying their work and promoting those that I have enjoyed, both here and on Amazon and Goodreads. I don’t accept submissions but instead focus on people who have helped or inspired me through their blogging or who actively support other writers, but I only recommend those books I have personally enjoyed. If you are an independent author I would encourage you to do the same and help pay it forward to the community. For more information please see my blog post here.

Reading Challenge

reading challenge

 

I wrote recently about how a good author needs to be a good reader. I read daily and have done for as long as I can remember, however I have been known to become focussed on books from particular genres. Since starting Pay It Forward – where I support indie authors and those from small presses by buying their books and recommending those I enjoy – I’ve found I’ve enjoyed books written in genres I previously wouldn’t have touched.

Now I want to take my reading to the next stage, with your help.

On today’s calmgrove blog there was an update on a reading challenge he started at the beginning of the year. The aim of the challenge is expand your reading habits by ticking off each of the 52 items on a list (shown above). I think it’s a great idea, so I plan to do the same, but combine this with Pay It Forward by selecting only indie published books or those published via a small press. Looking through the four books I’ve read this year I can already tick off 10 items, but that still leaves me with 42 items to cover.

This is where you come in.

I would love you to tell me ONE indie or small press books you’ve read and loved, that could help me tick off items from the list. It could be from any genre and by any author, but you have to have read the book and loved it yourself. The only other rule is that you can’t nominate your own book or one with which you have any commercial link. This is all about paying something back to the indie community.

I can’t promise I’ll read every suggestion but I will look at them all and if I think they fit the challenge and cover an area that hasn’t been covered, I’ll buy it and read it. I will even review and recommend those I’ve enjoyed under my recommended reads. If I don’t enjoy a book for whatever reason, the author will still have had my money and the sales uptick from my purchase.

So, it’s over to you. I can’t wait to hear your suggestions.

If you’re also thinking of doing a reading challenge, why not get a head start by joining my mailing list and get one of my books absolutely free? The mailing list is guaranteed spam free and I will only contact you if I have a new book launch or an exclusive short story to share. To sign up, please click here. 

Top reading tips for writers

reading

It’s coming up to that special time of the year all writers love: Bookmas. Yes, if you’re anything like me then the Christmas holidays are a book bonanza, either because you receive books as presents or – my particular favourite – you receive gift tokens so you can buy the books you’ve been wanting to read all year.

But for writers, reading isn’t just a chance to relax and enjoy ourselves, it’s also an ideal opportunity to brush up on your craft, so here are my top reading tips for authors.

1 Read often

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard writers say they don’t have time to read. I just don’t understand the sentiment. As Stephen King once said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

Reading regularly is one of the best ways to improve your craft. You subconsciously take in the structure, pacing and composition of a well written story. I read every night before I go to sleep and have done for nearly 40 years. There are some nights where I read a page before I wake myself with my book – or kindle – falling on my face, other nights I’ll read so late I’m tired the next day. No matter how tired I am, I always make time to read.

2 Read your genre

If you write in a particular genre it’s important you understand the particular quirks an traditions of the genre. I’ve said before I never set out to write science fiction, it was just the story and ideas I wanted to explore fit the genre, but I love science fiction and have bookshelves full of my favourite science fiction author’s work.

3 Read outside of your genre

That doesn’t mean to say you should read exclusively from within your genre. While my tastes will always lean heavily toward speculative fiction, I also love traditional thrillers, mysteries, political thrillers, literary fiction, historical fiction, non-fiction and so on and so on. There are many excellent writers out there in all genres and with ebooks you now have the opportunity to sample a wide spectrum of genres for relatively little cost. Since starting to Pay it Forward to the writing community, I’ve enjoyed and  learnt so much from reading books in genres I would never normally have tried. If you want to broaden your writing skills, broaden your reading.

4 Make notes of what works well

I read for enjoyment. I’m not analytical when I read because I like to be swept away into the world an author creates which I find difficult if I’m continually analysing the prose to find out how the author world their magic. That said, there are times when I’m reading that I can’t help but be dazzled by a well written phrase, a cleverly worked plot point or a scintillating piece of dialogue, so I always have a notepad beside my bed so I can note these down for future reference.

5 Make notes of what doesn’t work and why

On the other hand, there are also times where something doesn’t work or leaves me feeling a little let down. I like to look at why that is, try to figure out the underlying cause and identify what I would have done differently in the same situation.

6 Use what you’re reading to inspire your writing

Reading somebody else’s book can spark inspiration you may never otherwise have had. Many books have been inspired by others books, whether as an homage to the original or as a response. William Golding’s Lord of the Flies was famously inspired by The Coral Island, Golding clearly believing that a group of children shipwrecked on an island wouldn’t all work together happily.

My first book, Second Chance, was in part inspired by a book by Peter F. Hamilton, an author of whom I’m a big fan. In it, a character sacrifices themselves only to come back later on after being cloned. I remember thinking at the time, “but it’s not the same person, it’s a copy.” It annoyed me so much I decided to work out how you could clone people and it still end up being the same person, and Second Chance was born.

7 But don’t plagiarise

Most writers would be delighted to find their work inspired something you’ve written. No writers enjoy seeing their work copied. There’s a big difference between taking a story and moving it to a new and unique setting, to writing the same story but changing the name and facial features of the lead characters. Don’t go there.

8 Write a review

Any author will tell you how much they appreciate a review, but as a writer yourself, writing a review helps to crystallise your thoughts on what you appreciated about the book and where it could be improved, which in turn allows you to identify how to improve your own writing.

9 Contact author to say how much you liked their book

If you really enjoyed a book, contact the author. Many authors are now on social media, either Twitter, Facebook or blogging like myself, and I don’t know of a single author who isn’t thrilled to receive a note from somebody who enjoyed their book. I’ve done this a number of times myself and have formed great friendships with other writers, building a mutual support group which in turn has helped develop my writing.

This will be my last post before Christmas, so I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and look forward to catching up with you all in the New Year.

Did you know you could broaden your reading habits absolutely free by signing up to my mailing list by either clicking here or on the image at the top right hand side of my blog. In return, you will receive one of my e-books, of your choice, for no cost to you! 

What every indie author wants for Christmas

Christmas Present

I was going to write a long post on the best things to buy an indie author this Christmas but I hit writers block. It wasn’t that I’d run out of ideas, it was because one gift idea completely swamped the others in terms of relevance. What is it that most indie authors would like for Christmas?

That a book of theirs was given as a gift to somebody else.

Most of us are too modest – or think the idea too crass – to give our own work out at Christmas. We hate self-promotion at the best of times but even for those of us who have reluctantly grasped the marketing nettle, giving out our own work as presents to friends and family is a step too far.

However, this doesn’t stop us from gifting the work of our peers that we’ve enjoyed to our friends or family, or from you for giving our work as gifts to your friends either.

So if you have a writer in your life and you wish to give them the best Christmas gift ever, buy a book of theirs for somebody else. If you are a writer who has particularly enjoyed another indie writer’s book this year, why don’t you give that out for Christmas. It’s a double whammy, making both the recipient, and the author, very happy.

 

E-books

how-to-give-away-kindle-booksIf you live in the US you can simply click on a button, add the email address of the person the gift is for, add the date you wish the ebook to be sent, and it’s done.

Sadly this option isn’t available in Europe (please fix this soon, Amazon), but you can still give an Amazon gift voucher and email the recipient a recommendation of a book to purchase.

Paperback books

There is something about receiving a paper book that’s very special. If it was down to me, the only gifts I’d give are books*. A paperback is a great option as a gift, especially if you know the author (hint, hint to my friends and family) as you can also ask them to add a personal message to the recipient, making the gift extra special.

*It’s not down to me.

If you’re interested in finding out more about my writing, going my mailing list and get one of my books absolutely free. The mailing list is guaranteed spam free and I will only contact you if I have a new book launch or an exclusive short story to share. To sign up, please click here. 

The problem with reviews

5-star-reputation

I was having a Twitter chat yesterday with a good blogging friend about the recent controversy surrounding the author Kathleen Hale. Before you switch off, this post isn’t about the controversy itself (although if you want to know more, you can find a link to the original article here and an excellent response here) but a comment made during the discussion. We were talking about reviews in general and my friend said:

“As a reader and an observer of the self-publishing phenomenon: I don’t trust ratings of self-published authors.”

Unsurprisingly, the comment annoyed me, but as she explained her reasons it made me realise there is a problem with the review system, at least for new or first time authors (especially if they are self-published) of which we should all be aware.

Red Herrings

The issue is around the trustworthiness of reviews but not in the way you may think. I’ve read a lot of articles on self-publishing and many talk about authors trying to “game” the system; generating unwarranted reviews wither through the use of reciprocal reviews, paying for good reviews or even creating multiple accounts to award bogus reviews. I don’t doubt this happens (although I don’t believe this behaviour is restricted to self-published authors). However, the vast majority of authors I’ve befriended since I published my novels have been honest professionals working hard to build their careers as writers. I was approached once, many months ago, to do a reciprocal review (which I declined). To date this has been the only time it’s happened.

This doesn’t mean authors don’t, or shouldn’t promote other author’s work. I certainly do (via my Recommended Reads). I know some of these authors have read and liked my work in return. A cynic may view this as a reciprocal agreement, either by intention or through social convention, but I stand by every recommendation I’ve made. It’s not unusual to find a group of friends having a similar outlook, shared values and shared interests, especially if they me through a social media platform. I’ve once had a person – who had given  my book a great rating – upset with me because I didn’t like their book, but that could have been more to do with the clumsy way I approached the situation than with me not giving a review.

I don’t believe the majority of self-published authors, or even a significant minority, are trying to “game” the review system. I do, however, believe the majority of us are doing things, quite innocently, that are skewing the review system to the point where readers don’t trust it any more.

Proportionality

The issue has nothing to do with false reviews but whether the number of high-rated reviews truly reflect a book’s quality in the eyes of a regular reader. Let’s me use my book, Second Chance, as an example.

On Amazon UK, Second Chance has 30 reviews with a 4.8-star average. This is something of which I’m very proud. As with most first-time authors, the early reviews came from people I know personally.  Because of this, you might infer this personal relationship led to my book receiving higher ratings than it would otherwise have received. Knowing my friends, I would say this is highly unlikely. However, there is one level distortion I’m sure has happened. More of my friends bought my book than reviewed it. The reasons for this may vary (not read the book, not had time, forgotten) but for some it’s because they read it, didn’t like it but are too polite to say.

This isn’t just true of your friends. People in general dislike giving one-star reviews. I do. I know how much work goes into writing a book so if I don’t like it, I won’t leave a review (this is also why I call my reviews ‘Recommendations’ as opposed to reviews). It’s also becoming common for book bloggers to behave the same way, whether for the same reasons I don’t leave one-star reviews, or more worryingly because of fear of retribution. In my opinion this would be a bad thing, because if the review system loses some form of proportionality, us indie writers lose our greatest path to visibility.

The problem is this causes the review system to be skewed towards good ratings, especially so for newly released books and particularly so for newly released books by self-published authors. For many of us this is a nice little springboard to gain neutral readers and true reviews. What this also leads to is very poor books being rated highly, causing readers (like my blogging friend) to feel conned.

What’s the solution?

The simple answer is I don’t have one, at least not something that will fix the system, completely. I know Amazon are doing a great job in stamping down hard on those trying to “game” the system. At the same time, there are things we can do to help mitigate this effect. When you ask people to leave a review, always ask for an honest review. It doesn’t mean your friends are likely to pan your book, but it shows you are serious about understanding how good it is, or not. Send your book to bloggers for review. Don’t just send it to those you know, send it to complete strangers. For myself, it was only once I’d received my first independent review from somebody with whom I’d had no previous contact (thanks, Dave, I will always be in your debt), that I truly believed people might like my book as opposed to them just being kind. Also, be nice to book reviewers, even if they don’t like your book. Not liking something is just as natural response as liking something. It is not personal.

So what do you think? Do you trust the review system? Do you choose books based on reviews and if so, what is the deciding factor? I’d love to hear from you.

 

Recommended Reads: Yesterday Road by Kevin Brennan

yesterday road small-cover

I’ve been enjoying Kevin Brennan’s blog, What the Hell, for a while now. It has a great mix of articles on writing, his favourite music, as well as his occasional exasperation at the publishing business. Yesterday Road had always been on my ‘to read’ list but it wasn’t until it was recommended by Susan Toy on her Island Editions blog that I finally took the plunge and bought it. I’m so glad I did (if that isn’t an example on the power of word-of-mouth recommendations, I don’t know what is).

Yesterday Road tells the tale of Jack, an old man looking for something but unsure exactly what that something is. Jack has trouble with his memory. He can’t remember what happened the day before, and those images he can remember have little meaning. He has also lost his wallet and his ID; all he has is a cutout picture of a handsome young man in his pocket. Yet with the help of others – some kind, some less so – Jack undertakes a journey that not only helps him find what he is looking for, but also find out who he really is.

This is a beautiful book. In Yesterday Road, Brennan has created a unique tale that is warm-hearted and generous in spirit. As the story progressed it became very easy to form a bond with each of the main characters: Joe Easterhouse conveys the warmth and love like so many people with Downs Syndrome have, and Ida Peevey is the person we all hope we would be in a similar situation. But the true strength of Brennan’s writing comes is shown when we travel with Jack and see the world through his eyes. This combination of childlike wonder and regret at what he has forgotten, gives the story it’s warmth, humour and poignancy. There were a few moments where I had to put my inner-cynic to one side as Brennan clearly believes in the triumph of people’s better nature, but my experience was all the better for it, especially the latter part of the book which brought on tears of both sadness and joy. Highly Recommended.

While writing this post I’ve just seen Yesterday Road is currently on offer for 99c / 77p. This is an absolute steal. What are you waiting for? 

To buy Yesterday Road from Amazon.co.uk click here

To buy Yesterday Road from Amazon.com click here