When I first started writing I made a lot of mistakes. I still do. I'm also cheeky enough that if I think something looks weird, and I know it shouldn't be there, I'll put it in anyway (my title to this post has a no-no). My major problems stem from bad habits. For example, when writing dialogue, I tend to use a lot of exclamation marks. I know I shouldn't. I know that I'm going to have to go back through my manuscript and edit them all out. But, when a scene is exciting, I forget and fall back into my 'old' ways.
I was thoroughly chastised once by a fellow writer, who read an unedited chapter of a novel I was working on. He counted 25 exclamation points - and that was just one chapter! I'm so embarrassed to admit that! Oh my gosh! There I go again! Ack! I can't help myself!
I love exclamation points. They allow me to express myself in ways that a period cannot. And that is the problem. If I have to use an exclamation point, I am telling not showing.
Exclamation points, along with several words that I've learned to cull from my vocabulary are, unfortunately, a no-no in the literary world. My writer friend told me that editors will allow four per novel. Now, I don't know if that's true, but I can tell you one thing - there is no way in a blue moon that I am going to be able to limit myself to four exclamation points in a 300 page novel. It's impossible! See? There I go again.
For what it's worth, I no longer have 25 exclamation points in that chapter. I have zero. I'm heartbroken. I'm also wondering why my English teacher never told me someday I would have to give up these little wonders. I mean seriously, why make them at all if you can't use them? Who decided to cut them out anyway? I may just stage a protest in defence of the lowly exclamation point. But not now, I have to make sure the following words and phrases are not used either. I will protest their demise at a later date. And yes, I used a few of them in writing this post. I'm a writing rebel. I can't help myself. (I got this list a long time ago from a book on grammar and punctuation in writing. I cannot remember the name of the book, but I kept the list just in case):
Get rid of the following words and phrases:
These are all words that have to be done away with if you are a writer. Some of them are filler words. For example: I just went to the supermarket, is better said - I went to the supermarket. See what I mean? "Just" is not needed.
Lesson for today: Go through your manuscript and weed out the above mentioned words and phrases. Oh, and one more thing - don't forget to get rid of your exclamation points!
You've heard the saying, "never judge a book by its cover" but in the world of books that's exactly what many people do. It's that eye-catching title and cover that stands out on the shelf that makes a reader walk across the aisle of the store to investigate. The design, the colour, the picture and the font all play a part in capturing a potential reader. Even the texture and feel of the book can play a part.
But if you think it's just the front cover you have to worry about, think again. You've got them to walk across the aisle to pick up the book, but if the cover on the back of your book is not equally as captivating, they'll be putting it down and walking away.
For a fictional book, your "back blurb" should have the following elements:
As an example, the following is the back blurb on author Laurie Alice Eakes book, Lady in the Mist:
Terri Blackstock gets all these elements in a different format. Can you find them in this back blurb of Distortion?
A husband’s lies can have deadly consequences.
When Juliet Cole’s husband of fifteen years is murdered before her eyes, she thinks it was a random shooting. Devastated and traumatized, she answers hours of questioning, then returns home to break the tragic news to her boys. But a threatening voice-mail takes this from a random shooting to a planned, deliberate attack.
Juliet realizes that she and her children are in danger too, unless she meets the killers’ demands. But as she and her sisters untangle the clues, her husband’s dark secrets come to light. The more she learns, the more of her life is dismantled. Was her husband an innocent victim or a hardened criminal?
You've spent months (maybe years) on your book, now make it sell and give it the best possible cover you can. Which leads me to where you can go to get that great cover. If you are traditionally published you don't have to worry, as your publisher will have in-house designers. For self-publishers, I highly recommend 99 Designs. They did the cover for my latest book He Who Has an Ear and have done the covers for quite a few of my author friends as well.The best part is they are affordable!
Here's how it works - you tell them what your book is about, what you are looking for in the cover. This is where your writing skills pay off because you really want the designers to understand your vision. Within 24 hours you will have designs from various designers all over the world submitting you a cover idea. I paid for the bronze package (the lowest price). I was told that I would receive no more than 40 designs. I received 80! The books at the top of this page were just some of the designs. And boy was it hard to make a decision, but it was also fun. I was able to get my readers involved in the choice for my next cover by showing them my choices via a poll and they got to vote on their favourite.
Why do the designers do it? It's a competition. The winner gets the money with a percentage going to 99Designs. And you end up with a fantastic looking cover. The picture below was my winning design.
What About Non-Fiction Books?
Non-fiction books work the same way. Here is what I have on the back of my book.
More than two thousand years ago the Apostle John had a vision he received from the Lord. He was told to write seven letters to the churches of Asia Minor. Out of the seven churches only two received commendation from the Lord. The rest were letters of warning. Compromise and disobedience, combined with a lack of knowledge of the Word of God, has placed the 21st century church in a precarious situation. These letters to the seven churches are a message for this generation during these last days. He who has an ear will know what to do and act accordingly.
I have the introduction and purpose. The genre indicates it is about prophecy and that we will be looking at the Bible, so it covers eschatology and theology as well. I did not use any questions in the cover but it wasn't my choice. So, don't be afraid to use them. I had a few questions in my original draft, but because of the picture we used on the back I had to shorten things up in order to make room for my bio and picture. The summation on the back lets the reader know how important the letters in Revelation are to us today and hopefully will intrigue the reader enough to buy a copy.
One final thing you need to remember when designing your cover - don't neglect the spine of your book! Yes, the majority of people are buying online but there are still quite a few people who prefer "real" bookstores and holding the book in their hands before they make a decision. If you are lucky and your book is facing out on a bookshelf your cover will drag them in. However, not everyone is that lucky and you will probably have your book sitting on the shelf with its spine facing out. So make sure that title pops off the spine in big, bold letters.
Remember, you want to capture a reader's attention and you especially want to make a good impression on a reviewer, because they will consider your cover and its appeal in their final review. Put as much effort into it as you did into writing your book. A professional design says you care what your book looks like and it sends a message to reviewers and readers that the inside might be just as good as the outside!
So you have sent your ARC (Advanced Reader's Copy) out to bloggers and professional reviewers. But you still have one more hurdle to jump - getting an endorsement. Not many self-published authors seem to think about this, but it is something all traditionally published authors have. So why shouldn't you? I had so many questions about endorsements - how to get them and from whom - that I was initially quite afraid to ask anyone. But then I realized something on my journey to publishing - it never hurts to ask.
But you may wonder, how exactly do I do that? How do I ask a well-known author or even a celebrity to write the foreword in my book or give me a one line endorsement? How do you that? The answer is real simple, you just ask them. There is nothing more to it than that.
For my Bible Study Learning from the Master: Living a Surrendered Life I sought out Rick Larson, the creator of The Star of Bethlehem DVD. I wanted his endorsement because part of my study talked about the star of Bethlehem. Because my study is appropriate for groups and if started in September it will coincide nicely with Christmas, I recommended in the study that watching the DVD would benefit everyone. So I contacted Mr. Larson, told him about my book and asked him if he could endorse it. It was as simple as that. I did not ask for a foreword because I knew he was a busy man. He was very generous and emailed me quite a few times with what he needed. I sent him a PDF file of my book and waited. When I did not hear back from him after two weeks I contacted him again. He apologized to me because he had been swamped, as he was working on another film (I knew he was a busy man) but he said he did get a chance to briefly read the study. He said, however, that in order to give it a meaningful endorsement he would have to read the whole thing and he just didn't have the time. But he didn't want to discourage me, so he asked me to send him a few lines about what I would hope he would say. He asked me not to go "too far" (I'd be tooting my own horn after all) and so I kept it simple and to the point. He wanted it to be something he could attribute to himself. In the end we ended up with, "Learning from the Master will guide those who read it into a deeper understanding of what it means to live a surrendered life." He responded with, "That's exactly what I needed. You may attribute it to me. Blessings! You go, gal!"
I was thrilled! I had my endorsement and in the end, Rick did something else very special for me. He contacted me again and made his DVD's available to sell with my book! You can get them for half price here. Not only did he bless me with his endorsement, but I was able to bless him by getting word out about his DVD.
Do you see what happened here? I asked him and he said yes. I ASKED HIM.
As I was about to write this post I came across an article written by Joe Gregory of publishingacademy.com. He made the very brave move of approaching one of the dragon's from The Dragon's Den to write a foreword in his book. He never spoke to the dragon but through his secretary. After sending in a requested ARC (a good sign) and waiting a few weeks for an answer, he contacted the dragon again. He was told that Mr. Bannatyne (the dragon) was very busy and would consider writing the foreword if he had the time. Not a good sign. So, he contacted Mr. Bannatyne again along with a draft of some ideas he could adapt. Within a few days the reply came back – yes! – along with a copy of the foreword for inclusion in the book.
Like me, Mr. Gregory had to send in some examples or ideas of what Mr. Bannatyne could use. So, I wondered if this was the norm and apparently it is. Most well-known people don't have time to sit and read your entire book, and prefer a "helping hand" when writing an endorsement or foreword. So, the following are some pointers on what to do when asking for an endorsement.
Endorsements give your book credibility. Don't be afraid to ask for them. You never know what can come about because you weren't afraid to ask.
One of the most important things you can do to promote your book is to get reviews. If you are lucky and have a publishing house behind you, they will more than likely send out ARC's (Advance Reader Copy) months in advance of the release date. Most of these ARC's have not been through a final edit. They do this so that when the book comes out there will already be reviews (hopefully good ones) out there to recommend the book. It is also an opportunity to take one-liners from a review and include it in the book. Another reason for an ARC is to request an endorsement for a book. These endorsements would come from people whose name has clout behind it and would be included either on the cover or inside the book. We will talk about how to get an endorsement at a later date. But today, I want to talk to those self-publishers out there who need reviews and aren't sure how to go about getting them.
Fortunately, there are many options out there for you, but take a page from the publishing houses and do what they do - get your reviews in place before your book comes out. I have made the mistake of not doing that and I really think it harms the sale of your book. If I had done my homework I would have had over 20 reviews in place before my book came out. As it stands now, reviews are trickling in but they are coming in. So, the months leading up to your release date should be all about your marketing campaign and getting reviews and endorsements. But where do you go to get them?
After you select the reviewers that interest you, the program will begin to generate a list of reviews for the books selected (which you can export to excel). Some of the reviews will include emails and a website where you can contact the reviewer and get a better idea of their interest in your genre. This is an incredible time-saver! You don't have to go out and search for your potential audience - they come to you! This list kept generating names and stopped at 19 reviewers. As you can see from the example below, each reviewer's name comes up with a website or email or both. Now all you have to do is contact the reviewer and ask for a review in exchange for a free copy of your book. How easy is that?
Finally, you have probably noticed that I didn't tell you to go to your family and close friends for reviews. There are two reasons for this:
One of the hardest things for authors to refrain from doing is defending their work. I know because I've been trying to refrain from it for over a month. And let me tell you, it is not an easy thing to do.
Unfortunately, not all the reviews you get for your book are going to be glowing. There is going to come a time when you hit a nerve and people are going to respond - badly. There are different kinds of bad reviews though. There are the ones that pick apart everything you said and demand that you justify and explain yourself (they are just plain mean). Others will be legitimate complaints about your editing job. I have read books that made me sit back in stunned silence wondering why the author did not invest in an editor. When I get a book to review like that, I contact the author privately to let her know why she won't be getting 3 stars. Not every reviewer however, will do that. A wise author will make the investment in an editor or suffer the backlash of bad reviews. And let's not forget the cover. If it screams self-published you will hear about it.
So, how do you respond to a bad review? What if the reviewer misunderstood what you said, or simply didn't "get it"? Should you go on Amazon and explain yourself? The answer is no. I reviewed a book on Mormonism once (I can't recall the title) but the author, an ex-Mormon, was getting thoroughly chewed out for calling Mormonism a cult. Many admitted to not reading the book, but only went on to encourage people not to buy it and they left a few choice words for the author. Yes, some people are vindictive and if they are prepared to hate your book, you will never be able to convince them otherwise.
Mark Twain once said, "Never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference." Keep that in mind if you are thinking of responding to a bad review. However, if that doesn't convince you, take a lesson from author Katherine Howett, who responded to a bad review on the reviewer's website this way:
"You obviously didn't read the second clean copy I requested you download that was also reformatted, so this is a very unfair review. My Amazon readers/reviewers give it 5 stars and 4 stars and they say they really enjoyed The Greek Seaman and thought it was well written. Maybe its just my style and being English is what you don't get. Sorry it wasn't your cup of tea, but I think I will stick to my five star and four star reviews thanks."
Katherine then went on to post three good reviews she had received for her book, to which others began to respond.
Anonymous said: "Wow...you blame the reviewer for not going and getting a different copy, dismiss his review, then post three more reviews from various places? Uh, can we say petty? The professionalism here is just astounding."
Anonymous said: "The author's response is a real turn-off. I'll pass, thanks."
While the comments by the author have been deleted on the original site, I remember them quite well. She then proceeded to tell all those responding to ... well... she dropped the F* bomb and elicited so many responses that at last count there were 308 comments, all negative and aimed at the author and her childish, unprofessional behaviour. The author later wrote an apology, unfortunately the damage was already done and her book started to get "trolls" on Amazon. She has since removed the book and it is no longer for sale.
What are trolls? Some are people that love to give bad reviews, like this guy who has written 276 negative reviews for Amazon. Others just like to make fun of the product/book they are reviewing. Amazon has enjoyed these types of trolls so much they have a link to them at www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?docId=1001250201
Of course, this then begs the question - where do I find reviewers who can be counted on to give an honest review? I'll talk about that in my next post.
In the end, bad reviews for authors should be a learning experience in which they can improve themselves. If it is just a hateful review, it isn't worth the author's time of day so don't respond to it. Negative reviews are not fun, but if the reviewer gives a legitimate reason they can help you grow as an author.
I love to read and I am blessed to have a job that allows me to read books and review them. I have been doing this for a little over seven years now for my own personal enjoyment and now I get paid to do book reviews by an online Christian newspaper. I think I can safely say that I know how to ask for a review and how not to. But unlike most professional reviewers who work for big magazines/newspapers (who can receive up to 50 review requests a day), I work on a much smaller scale and I can take the time to respond to each and every email. Keep in mind however, that when approaching magazines and newspapers for reviews, they don't have the time to decipher your requests. It is much better to just send them a press release.
For the most part however, you will probably want to target your audience and ask them for reviews. We'll discuss where to find your audience at a later date. Today we'll start with some of the things you shouldn't do when asking a book reviewer to review your book. These rules don't just apply to professional book reviewers either, I'm sure book bloggers would appreciate you use them too.
Many of the emails I receive have only one sentence, "Would you review my book?" The author then signs their name and gives me no other information. They do not tell me the name of the book, nor do they give me any hint on what the book is about. NEVER do this. Professional reviewers will probably delete your email and bloggers will either forgive you for being so absent-minded or they'll delete it too. Reviewers do not have time to drag information out of you.
Once again the author forgets to tell me the name of their book. This type of question makes me feel like I'm being asked out on a blind date, "Do you want to go out on Friday night with what's his name?" The answer is no.
This is getting a little better. At least the author remembered to tell me the name of their book and the genre, but do they want me to review their book or go on a scavenger hunt? If you can't send me all the information in one email, why bother sending me anything at all? This is discourteous to those you are approaching. By making them search for your information you are implying that your time is more important than theirs. That will not help your review at all.
This is much better. The person tells me right off what genre of book I'm dealing with, what the name of the book is and what it's about, as well as how to reach the author. Perfect! Except for one thing — I don't like epic fantasy thrillers. Before you send out a request to a book reviewer, make sure you know what kinds of books they like to review. Otherwise, you are just wasting their time and yours.
Excuse me? You want me to review your book and pay for it too? Well, that takes a lot of nerve I must say. And yes, I have received a few of these kinds of emails. Never, ever ask someone for a review and then tell them they have to pay for the book first. It is standard practice for reviewers to receive a free complimentary book. They should never have to pay for it. Look at it this way, you are asking them to do something for free that will help you. You are asking for an honest review. If you are approaching a well known group like Kirkus Reviews for example, you would pay upwards of $400. Be thankful for those who will read your book and post a review for you, don't insult them by making them pay for it.
When you are looking for someone to review your book, whether they get paid for it (like Kirkus reviews) or not, keep in mind reviewers are very busy people. Most of the people you contact, are probably bloggers. However, even though they are not professional reviewers they are still taking time out of their schedule to review your book. So be kind, be gracious and give them all the information they will need to make an informed decision about your book.