If I give you a book, do you owe me a review?

This was a discussion that started in my Facebook feed last week and I’ve been thinking about it, ever since. Not surprisingly, I suppose, there were many varying views on this question.

The original post went something like this, “If you are given a free book, you are obligated to post a review.”

As an author, I certainly agree with the spirit of the statement. All writers hope to get reviews, positive ones, but even negative reviews are helpful. And it is a difficult task to get reviews. I don’t know if there are any statistics on it but it seems that a very small percentage of readers actually post reviews on anything they read.

However, the question for me is if I give away one of my books freely is the receiver obligated to write a review?

In my case, no. I make no assumption that giving away one of my books will result in a review. I would certainly be happy if that were the case, but it isn’t something I expect. Just as I wouldn’t expect my buddy Zelda to buy me a latte this week because I treated her to one last week.

Why do authors give away books anyway?

There are many reasons authors give away books, certainly the hope of getting reviews would be one of them. Probably because they’ve been told by a marketing ‘expert’ that giving away books results in getting reviews, will skyrocket them to the top 100 list, make them super visible to potential readers, somehow make them a best-selling author, etc. I know plenty of authors who would disagree with that ‘conventional wisdom.’

But an author may also give away a book to:

  • Entice you to sign up for their mailing list
  • Get you acquainted with their writing and become a fan
  • Increase their rankings in various bookstores within Amazon and on other online book retailers
  • Encourage you to buy and read their other books
  • Otherwise increase their sales stats
  • And probably some reasons that none of us would think of

However, regardless of the reason that an author may give you a free book, does that obligate you to give them something in return?

I don’t think it does. And if it does, perhaps it should be called a trade rather than a freebie?

What about you? Do you believe that if an author gives you a free book that you are obligated to review it? Do you typically review the books you read? If not, how come? Is the offer of a free book intriguing to you or a sign of desperation? What do you think about free books? Feel free to share your views in the comments below.

The Unvarnished Truth – Do We Want it?

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Porter Anderson wrote a very thought-provoking post on Writer Unboxed the other day: Truth Be Told? Truth Is on Thin Ice.

He opens with a formula for ‘authenticity’ as developed by branding expert, Marc Ecko, which is this:

Authenticity is equal to your unique voice,
multiplied by truthfulness,
plus your capacity for change,
multiplied by range of emotional impact,
raised to the power of imagination.

And then Porter uses this formula to springboard into the main topic, which is truth in publishing. And poses these questions:

How good are you at truthfulness? Why don’t we tell the truth more in publishing? And especially in writing?

He answers them in part by using his own experiences from an event called Author Day that he put on in London. Long story short, during the conference things were said that were kind and encouraging, afterward criticism was launched from the same people that was not so kind.

And then he makes the point that many of us have made. We say things that we don’t mean about books we don’t read, to be nice. Or write reviews that a more glowing than they should be, and so it goes. And it’s of course, something that all of us have done. We have our reasons. Maybe to be nice. Maybe to avoid conflict. Maybe because we’re worried that if we are totally truthful, someone may turn around and do the same to us. And each person has their own version of truthfulness, and some versions can be quite devastating.

The Truth Bureau – are we ready for it?

Ultimately, Porter suggests developing what he calls the Truth Bureau. A group of anonymous readers who agree to give the unvarnished truth about books that are submitted for their critique. The books of course would be anonymous too, with no clue as to the author or any other identifying data that might give a clue. This would then ensure that we could learn the real truth about our books. It would possibly be set up as a service for which authors would pay. All from the view of course, of improving their work.

I found this to be a very interesting idea. Certainly on the face of it, there is a lot of potential to opening the doors of truly improving our work. And I don’t know any writer who is serious about their craft who doesn’t want to be better than they are. It’s a natural desire for any artist to strive for improvement – otherwise, you are in essence just phoning it in. And what writer worth their weight in words wants that?

Of course there is the bugaboo of having yet another thing that we indies must pay for. And you can’t swing a dead cat (sorry cat lovers) without hitting some guy with a service that guarantees he will realize your writer dreams. There’s even one guy out there promising people he will make you a best selling author on Amazon – even if you hate to write. Think about that one for a minute. Gives one pause, doesn’t it?

The other main stumbling block, I believe to something like the Truth Bureau is I think, human nature. We can be quite cruel to one another, especially when anonymous. The Internet is teeming with trolls and flamers and people who love to visit their hatred on poor unsuspecting strangers. The whole review system online is problematic. There are so many concerns people have; if they are authors they know that whatever they say online can be found and used against them; writers are cautioned against responding to negative reviews; and conversely I’ve seen writers attack reviewers, which only ends up making people think twice about writing them. And the list goes on. And what’s to say that people wouldn’t sign up to be an anonymous reviewer just to get their hate on?

Likely a service like this would have better oversight than Amazon, where anybody can lob hate bombs with impunity, but there would still probably be damage done before they were removed from participating.

What about a co-op?

Personally, I do like the idea of a Truth Bureau because it has great potential to help authors and thusly readers. Perhaps a co-op of writers and readers who are not completely anonymous but instead are committed to truthfulness. With a list of criteria to follow in their critiques, to avoid the feedback from becoming personal would work. The names of the authors could be left off, so that wouldn’t act as influence and perhaps the reader picks a genre that they read and gets a choice of 3 or 4 titles to choose from. Or perhaps I’ve just described a critique group. Not sure.

I do agree with Porter though, who I believe to be one of the good guys out there, telling the truth as best he can. We need more truth online in general, and in publishing specifically. The current review system is broken. Is is unpoliced and you honestly have no idea what you’ll get. Good. Bad. Hate. Love. It’s all up for grabs. And a crap shoot at best.

In the meantime

But in the meantime, given the way things are currently I will probably still continue to give overly nice reviews. Sorry but I’d rather be safe than sorry. Even with authors I don’t know, I am ever aware of the fact that if I’m too honest I will be attacked whether by the author or their fans or someone else. So, for now, I won’t write the unvarnished truth. Is this wrong? Perhaps. But in my experience, it is the rare person who wants the total truth about their creations. And sometimes a little truth goes a long way.

What about you? Are you totally truthful in critiquing another’s work? Are your reviews/critiques overly nice? Short and sweet? Any ideas on how a Truth Bureau could work? Feel free to tell us what you think in the comments.

Note: I’m offline for a few days but will happily respond to any comments when I return.

Annie

How to be a Squeamish Marketer

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I’ve freelanced for several years now and marketing almost always plays a part in my work. I write copy for a living, and most copy is marketing copy. Whether it’s in your face and obvious or subtle – it’s marketing.

Even before I became a freelancer, I worked in small businesses and almost always, marketing fell to me. I guess that means I get it, or I’m good at it and there are results that show at least in part, that’s true.

However, when it comes to my own stuff. My own products and services I became a sniveling, whining, scaredy-cat at the mere mention of marketing. Suddenly it all becomes so personal. Ask people to buy my stuff? My God, what would they think of me?

Shouldn’t art be its own marketing sphere?

Self published authors in particular seem to have this problem. Perhaps because the work is creative and feels so personal – and in fact, is personal. To then turn around and market it may feel like you’re cheapening it. Reducing it down to the level of a handy dandy vacuum bag. And art is well art, right? Shouldn’t people just gravitate toward art? Toward the beauty, the aesthetics, the passion within? Isn’t art its own marketing sphere?

Sure, why not? Let’s go with that. And this is the marketing plan you come up with basically entails what every other author is doing:

  • Incessantly tweeting and getting others to incessantly tweet your books
  • Posting the buy links on Facebook
  • Writing blog posts about your book on your blogs (or maybe a friend’s blog, if you have any friends with blogs).
  • Badgering your friends and family to buy your books, then spread the word.
  • Rinse and repeat

Yep, that’s about it. That’s about as far as you can take it if you choose only to work safe venues with people who know you and won’t think poorly of you for trying to sell your stuff. Or at least will be too polite to say you’re irritating them.

Then there is the magic approach

We’ve all read the blog post where a successful author claims they didn’t market at all. They sold twenty books the first month and then lo and behold, the next month they sold 100,000 books. It just sort of happened. It was magic.

We squeamish marketers like that approach, no actually, we love that approach, because it means that we don’t have to do anything. That the universe will just reward us for all our hard work. That the cream will automatically rise to the top (of course our books are the cream). That there are no dues to be paid. No hard work involved. That we can continue to live in the rarefied world of the author who does nothing but imagines, inks up her quills and ponders the deep meaning of life within her world of story.

Meanwhile, other people are selling books

Meanwhile, the authors who recognize that they are not only writers, but also publishers, publicists, and marketer, promote the heck out of their books. They blatantly embrace commercialism, run promotions, pay for advertising, email market, experiment with marketing approaches, and take every opportunity they can find to tell people about their books. Guess who ends up selling books? And lots of them.

Not the squeamish marketer. Not the one who worries about what people will think of them. Not the one who prays the world will step in and just make it happen for them. Yep, it’s those hacks who understand that they are their entire team. That it’s up to them to spread the word, through whatever means possible. That they wear more than one hat as authors. That when they aren’t writing, they aren’t writers – they’re publishers, marketers, and the sales team.

There is an art to marketing

For some reason, marketing has gotten a nasty rep. It’s crass, it’s pushy, and it’s just not cool. I beg to differ. Ever watch an Apple commercial? Millions of people tune in every year to watch the Super Bowl, just to see the commercials. Millions of dollars are spent every year creating movie trailers. Art galleries spend months putting together marketing for exhibitions. And people will talk about an effective marketing campaign, promo, or commercial as much as they’ll talk about the product they promote. Some of them even go viral.

There is an art to marketing. And if you approach marketing as yet another art form for you to master you may get onto something that will, guess what, sell books.
Personally, I don’t like to run with the crowd. Doing all the same things that everybody else is doing. And right now, I’m learning what works and what doesn’t. But I’m really looking for something new, different, creative, and workable. Something that doesn’t just blend into all the white noise of every other author who is selling a book. I suggest you do the same.

However, here are a few tips that might be helpful:

  • Run different promos rather than the same one over and over. For example, run a 1-day freebie and promote the heck out of it. Then later run a freebie without telling anyone. Compare the results.
  • Keep a log of all your promo actions. Whether it is a book reading, a free promo, a contest giveaway, a personal appearance, a special on a book promotion site, etc. By keeping a log, you are more likely to be able to track cause and effect of your promotions. For example, if you spoke at the ladies auxiliary about botany on Friday and then on Sunday saw a big spike in sales, it’s reasonable to think there is a connection. This will help you to determine what is effective and isn’t. And encourage you to do more of what works and leave what doesn’t work behind, so you aren’t spinning your wheels.
  • Change your point of view. Part of the thing that makes marketing hard for us is that it’s personal. We aren’t objective. So every win feels bigger than it is and every loss does too. Try to take on the project of promoting your books as though you had nothing to do with creating the product. What would Suzie the publicist do? Or Mark the marketer? It’s not easy to do this, but if you can pull it off, you’ll be amazed at the stuff you might come up with.
  • Never give up on a project. Or in your case, a book. Case in point, my first book was published five years ago and frankly went nowhere. When the rights reverted back to me, I took that book, tore it apart, edited, revised and essentially rewrote it. My plan was to use it as my promotional book. Run a free promo then drop it down to 99 cents after the free promo. In the hopes that it would create visibility for my current books. I had ten times as many downloads as I expected and to my surprise, I’ve sold copies of the book every day since the promotion. I’m not going to retire on the proceeds from the sales but it amazed me that I book I essentially had decided to write off is now doing better than it ever did before. So…you just never know.

Whatever you do, do something

We all want to believe that the universe is just going to simply reward us for all the good things we do and all our hard work – and unfortunately, that rarely happens. So sitting around and doing nothing will typically get you nothing.
If you feel squeamish, weird, odd, floopy in the area of marketing that’s okay. Acknowledge that and then do something. Anything. As long as it results in more people knowing about your book. Start small. Then do something a little bigger. A little more daring. If you can just make yourself get through those first few icky beginnings of marketing, you may find that marketing is nothing to be squeamish about. You might even like it.

How about you? Do you have a hard time marketing? Have tried and failed? Have tried and succeeded? What works for you? What doesn’t work for you? Ever done anything outrageous that paid off? Tell us your marketing tales in the comments.

Annie

Free Book Promo Weekend – Results

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As noted in my last post, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, I relaunched my first book False Witness by offering the book for free. For years, I’ve read of the impact and effect that a free book/give-away can have and was itching to give it a test drive.
When the rights to my book reverted back to me, I felt it was the perfect opportunity to try out this whole free thang.

So this is what I did prior to the freebie weekend:

  • Designed a new cover
  • Wrote a new blurb
  • Revised, edited and rewrote the book. The main problem with the original book was that there was a lot of head hopping between characters, which was probably a left over from my days of writing scripts. So the simple edit I expected to do turned into a major rewrite, while not changing the path of the story. It was a challenge and half the time I felt like Psycho Writer Girl, but when I came out the other side of it, I knew I’d made the right decision.
  • Assigned new ISBN
  • Did key word research
  • Uploaded the new manuscript, cover and book blurb to Amazon
  • Spent 2 days communicating with KDP about migrating my existing reviews to the new edition
  • Scheduled the promo
  • Created a promo email to my mailing list
  • Created and scheduled a Face Book post
  • Wrote and scheduled a post on my blog about the freebie
  • Put together an excerpt (guest) post here
  • Then we let her rip

It’s like a drug

I told myself that I would then go about my business and check the sales dashboard once or twice a day. Sorry, writers are just too obsessed to act that rationally. And yeah, I checked every ten minutes for the first day. It was like a drug, watching that stat graph go up, up, up. I just couldn’t do anything else. It was exhausting, but also very cool. By the next day I was able to only check every hour. By the last day I checked in a few times. Aside from seeing my graph going up the things that were cool:

  • I hit page one for sub category ‘cozy mystery’ in US, UK, DE & AU
  • I ranked #368 in the Free Kindle Store

So, the book was ‘visible’ for a few days. And that was very exciting.

Today I received an email from what appears to be a reputable book promotion site, asking me to do a promo deal with them. That’s a first. LOL. And I’ve decided to think of it as a win.

Expectations

I’ve seen blog posts where writers talk about thousands of books being downloaded during free promotions, but I had no such expectations. Though I certainly would’ve been delighted had that happened, I tried to be realistic maybe even pessimistic in my expectations. So I was pleasantly surprised that nearly 1,000 books were downloaded.

I write this post not to brag but to possibly help other writers see what they might be able to expect when doing their first free promo. If there are any other developments that come from the free promo, I will update you.

How about you? Have you done a free promo with any of your books? How did it go? Were your expectation met? Were you surprised with the results or disappointed? Feel free to share your war stories in the comments.
Annie

False Witness 2.0 – Free this Weekend

 

 

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When a publisher accepted my murder mystery, False Witness, several years ago for publication, I was thrilled. So thrilled in fact, I let her publish it as is, without a thought to editing, cover design or marketability.

Since then, I’ve learned a lot about both the business and creative side of publishing. And between you and me, I cringe a little that I was in such a hurry to throw the book up. And I always hated the cover – even though the photograph used for it was one I took myself. A lot of shouldas, wouldas, and couldas.

So when my publisher told me that she was moving on and the rights to my book were reverting back to me, I was excited at the prospect of revising and editing the book. And making it the book it should’ve been. I believe that the edits and revisions have made False Witness a better, deeper, and more cohesive story – and hopefully a better read.

And to celebrate its new life, I am offering False Witness for free for the next three days. (Oct 2, 3 & 4). If you previously purchased False Witness, Amazon should automatically send the new edition to your Kindle, so don’t be surprised if it just magically appears. However, if it doesn’t magically appear on your Kindle or you haven’t read it and might be curious enough to give it a try, then please be my guest and grab yourself a free copy here.

And…we now return to our regular programming…

Annie

Copyrighting your book – nuts & bolts

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Great news. Like just about everything else, you can now file a copyright claim via the Internet. The not so great news is that it still takes approximately 8 months to receive your certificate, but trade-offs are a part of life.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover how easy the whole process is. But since I spent a fair amount of time actually looking for a post that easily explains the steps and was unsuccessful, I thought I should write one myself for poor unsuspecting authors who are looking for a little  help.

Steps to copyrighting your book:

Before you go to the site have your ISBN number, the text file of the manuscript and  your book cover handy. That will just make it easier for you.

  1. To to: https://eco.copyright.gov/eService_enu/
  2. Register an account. This is like setting up an account at most any other site, except that the Username section was a little confusing and when I clicked on the help screen it sent me to a page that was unrelated. Basically just create a user name and move on.
  3. Your password should contain both upper and lower case letters, numbers and one special symbol that is not an Ampersand.
  4. Register new claim. Once you have registered you will see a left hand sidebar, click on “register new claim”
  5. Verify rights. You click each box to confirm you have the right to register a copyright with the material.
  6. Type of work. Click on “Literary Work”
  7. Title of Work. Type in the name of your book and answer whether the book has been published or not.
  8. Publication information. Fill publication info, including your ISBN
  9. Author info. Fill in author information as appropriate
  10. Address info. Enter your address info
  11. Rights & Permission. Fill in the info of the person who has the right and permission to manage and/or grant permission use of your work. It can be a person you’ve appointed like an attorney or business manager or yourself.
  12. Correspondent. Fill in the contact info of person who the Copyright office should contact if they have questions about the application. It can be you or someone you’ve appointed.
  13. Mail certificate. Contact info for the person to whom the copyright certificate should be mailed.
  14. Special handling (optional). If you need special handling on the claim there is a considerable fee and strict parameters. Read instructions, if they don’t apply go on to next screen.
  15. Certification. On this pay you certify that you have the rights to the material – check the box and type in your name.
  16. Review. You are then sent to a review screen to ensure all the information entered is correct. If you need to correct something, click on the appropriate screen in the left hand column to return to that screen.
  17. Once you’re sure it’s all good to go, click on ADD to CART.
  18. Then click on CHECKOUT
  19. Verify. Again verify the info is correct and that payment is $35. After this you will be redirected to the government payment site.
  20. Select payment method (electronic check or credit/debit card payment), fill in  your financial info, then click on CONTINUE
  21. Next screen will ask for email so confirmation can be sent, fill in email address and click on box authorizing payment
  22. SUBMIT PAYMENT. Once payment has been made you will go back to fill in the info on the material and upload files. Click on CONTINUE
  23. Instructions are easy, just follow them. You can select multiple files at the same time (such as manuscript and book cover) and click upload. Usually takes about 1-3 minutes.
  24. Once files are uploaded, click on green button to the right to COMPLETE SUBMISSION.

And that’s it. You will receive confirmation emails on payment and your submission and then you wait until the cert comes in the mail. Note: on most screens you will have to click on the CONTINUE BUTTON in the upper righthand screen – though not always. It’s best to just take your time and ensure you’ve filled out the current screen completely before you move on. All in all though, it is a very short and pretty convenient process.

Now, go get that copyright baby!

Annie

 

Reviews – so far, so good

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Well, I’ve survived my first month as a self-pubbed author and the first reviews for Coffee & Crime are trickling in. So far, nobody hates it. I’m still waiting for the first bad one to see how much chocolate and coffee it will take to revive me.

So I thought I’d share.

“So, about the story: Scotti Fitzgerald has not had an easy life. Abandoned soon after her birth, she grew-up in the California foster care system. She had one friend, Zelda Carter, who was also a foster kid. The experience made her a cynical and suspicious adult, but it also taught her self-reliance. Now Scotti and Zelda are working as waitresses in a diner owned by “Manny the Cuban”. Scotti’s claim to fame in local circles is her culinary skill, especially when it comes to deserts, which she provides for Manny’s diner. Tired of living in California, and anxious to get home to his native Miami, Manny has agreed to sell his diner to Scotti. Her benefactor is George Manston, an affluent personal injury lawyer that admires her tenacity, as well as her brownies, and he has agreed to help her finance the purchase of the diner. But when George dies unexpectedly, Scotti and Zelda are thrust into a complicated web of deceit and murder. As the mystery unfolds, we discover there are many suspects, including Scotti, who is desperate to clear her name. Coffee and Crime is a fun read, and a real page-turner, as we piece the clues together with Scotti and Zelda to ultimately bring the villain to justice.

So, about the author: I think Anita Rogers is an excellent writer and story-teller. She presents Coffee and Crime as a first-person narrative, which I find very bold. Too often first-person authors get so lost in didacticism, that the reader is bored to tears. Ms. Rogers isn’t one of these authors! She masterfully creates drama and context by weaving Scotti’s thoughts and words into the descriptive panorama of the world seen through her eyes. We discover her personality, as well as those around her by the way she experiences their interactions. Sometimes she’s right, but sometimes she’s wrong, which grounds the story in reality, and lends plausibility to the plot. I’m a sucker for the old pulp fiction crime stories, and Ms. Rogers writing is reminiscent of those, but with a modern twist.”
Jody

“This is a fun book. Even though it’s a mystery and a good one, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. I loved Scotti Fitzgerald, the heroine and narrator. There were several places where I chuckled out loud at her jokes and comments. Lots of colorful writing and characters. A good read.”
Andrea K

“The first in the series, Coffee & Crime introduces you to Scotti Fitzgerald and her friend Zelda. Their quirky attributes make them real, like friends you’ve known all your life. The author’s pithy writing style incorporates colorful descriptions that are very graphic and get to the point quickly.

With an engaging pace, jockeying humor and mystery, the book was hard for me to put down. Scotti was prone to rash decisions but very street smart, easily discerning clues that kept leading her more and more into harm’s way. Her character worked well for plot development and creating suspense. You couldn’t help worrying about her yet admiring her courage and drive to seek justice. Was there a bit of “fools rush in where angels fear to tread”? Oh yes, indeed, but it was so in character, plus you could relate to that kind of flaw. We’ve all been young and fearlessly foolish at times. Later we look back and marvel at how we’d managed to survive.”
LB

“I’m not done reading the whole book yet, but I can’t put it down. Love Anita Rodgers style of writing. Easy fun reading with an “I wonder what is going to happen next” excitement.”
C Sarg

“a very good read, so much so, that i forgot about dinner in the oven – which fortunately switched itself off.”
Atir

Coffee and Crime new release

Live From Kindle…

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For those three or four readers who’ve been anxiously awaiting my mystery series, I’m happy to tell you the books are officially published and up on Amazon. (click on pictures to view Amazon page.) I hope some of you will give them a try and that they provide a happy reading experience for you. If you have a Kindle Unlimited subscription, you can read the book for free. If you’re curious but not sure, you can download a free excerpt (the first 7 chapters) to you Kindle device or Kindle app.

Next up

I’m revising and editing my first novel, False Witness and will be publishing it under my own moniker. I believe it will be a much better read and I’ve got a better cover too.

After that, I’m digging into a new series – which I hope to have ready for release within the next year.

Thanks so much for reading and commenting on this blog. It means the world to me that people want to read the words I write.

God Bless,

Annie