Author’s Note: Hi all! I know I haven’t been around a lot, life has been extremely hectic. However, I do have a few posts I’ve been chewing over I hope to get to soon, about agency (eek!) and failure (double eek!). In the meantime, I’ve decided that in an effort to support other authors, I’m going to start doing BOOK REVIEWS! Woo! They’ll be sporadic as I intend to ONLY review those books I think deserving of five stars. Why? Well, because: (1) I want to support other authors; but (2) I like to keep it honest here, and I don’t five star like every single book I read; but also (3) I’m also an author who empathizes with anything less than five stars. So! I bring you my five-star only book reviews. To begin, I offer a review of Dhonielle Clayton’s, The Belles, which was my most anticipated read of the year and which definitely did not disappoint. Without further ado, here we go!
Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orleans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orleans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.
But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite, the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orleans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land.
But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie, that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.
With the future of Orleans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide: save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles, or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.
THE BELLES, Clayton’s first high fantasy novel, is a stunning take on the concept of beauty in society. THE BELLES transports the reader to the world of Orléans, a place in which beauty is bought and bartered for and those with the power to give the people what they so desire, The Belles, are revered.
Clayton’s prose is warm and lush. It drips and flows, so I want to drink in every word. Beauty is reflected in every aspect of the piece, but so is the price that must be paid to obtain “perfection.”
In addition to the take on beauty that permeates the page, Clayton’s depiction of female relationships was something that had me thinking for hours after I left Orléans behind. Her characters were relatable but not perfect. Never perfect. Camellia Beauregard (“Camille”), the story’s protagonist, makes decisions I cringed at, not because I judged her, but because her choices forced me to examine myself. Put in Camille’s shoes, I might have done some of the same things, and Clayton’s intricate use of language allowed me to make that connection both instantly and deeply, leading to a greater appreciation of Camille’s situation and the world of Orléans.
In short, I highly recommend picking up a copy, and I can’t wait to see where this series goes.
Buy Links (click me and buy Dhonielle’s book because it’s so good, and I want everyone to read it and love it):
Note: I haven’t been able to keep up here much lately because the launch of The Blood Mage is quickly approaching, but I hope to catch up with all you lovelies soon! In the meantime, enjoy a somewhat humorous story with a happy ending and a serious message.
A couple of days ago, my very enthusiastic mom posted a message on her Facebook page and tagged me in it. The message informed me she had obtained a free copy of my upcoming novel The Blood Mage.
She was excited, because she’s been dying to read the second book in my series. I was mortified because I had no idea how this had come to pass.
The thing is, the only people who have copies of my second book are reviewers. I sent out ARCs to book bloggers, bookstagrammers, booktubers, vloggers, etc. last weekend. Buuuut I sent out digital copies, meaning pirating is a thing that could easily happen. I trust 99% of reviewers to do the right thing with an ARC and not reproduce or redistribute it, but I was worried I’d made a bad call when I saw this.
My frantic, rambling thoughts went something like this: Holy shit, someone has pirated my book and put it on some website for people to download before it’s out. But how could this happen? I’m not famous enough for someone to pirate my book. Does this mean I’m a little bit famous now? Should I be honored? Alarmed? Oh. My. God. If someone with an ARC is responsible that means there is an uncorrected proof floating out there somewhere on the interwebs.
Seriously. My immediate concerns were not of a financial nature. I was mostly just concerned about readers getting their hands on something that wasn’t the best possible version. The Blood Mage isn’t even back from the copy editor yet. It was hard for me to to send ARCs out at all because I knew they were not final. It makes me cringe to think anyone is reading something that isn’t 100% as good as it could be (which is why I never reread my published works because as my writing evolves, the standard of “as good as it could be” shifts).
The only reason I finally DID manage to send ARCs out was because I talked to some book bloggers who convinced me y’all know what to expect when it comes to ARCs and even though it might twist my gut a little to send something not at its peak, I understand the economic advantages of doing so. Still, it was difficult, so to think someone had put an uncorrected proof out there for anyone to read at any time for ever and ever was horrifying.
Shortly after my mom posted this most of terrible of things, my brother sent me a text message demanding to know how our mother had obtained a book he, too, has been excited to read. I started to panic. Rapid fire messages were sent to my mom demanding to know who, what, when, where, and how she’d gotten this alleged book. I was halfway through drafting the DMCA Take Down Notice I’d need for when I figured out what website would dare host such a thing, when my mom informed me she’d obtained the “book” from a website called Instafreebie.com.
For those who don’t know, Instafreebie is a website where authors (most usually self-published authors) can upload their books or excerpts of their books to distribute for no cost to readers. I’ve used it in the past for running promotions and currently you can obtain an excerpt of The Blood Mage right here. Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that excerpt has been my pinned tweet for awhile.
My mom, bless her, thought she’d somehow downloaded the entire book but after inspection, realized what she had, was, in fact, only said excerpt. Crisis averted.
But this whole event got me to thinking: What does it mean to pirate a book?
I mean, book sharing is a definite thing in the book community. There are libraries, obviously, and you can exchange books on your Kindle, and you can trade books with friends. These are activities that are usually encouraged by authors, right? Plus, authors in general, but especially self-published authors, give their books away for free all the time. So what’s the big deal?
I’m being 100% serious when I tell you I legitimately asked myself this question yesterday. Mainly because I knew if I ranted on Twitter someone else would ask it eventually so I’d better have an answer. But I digress.
Okay. So what’s the big deal? Well… first of all, it’s stealing and that’s super uncool. If I decide to give my book away it’s a gift. If you decide to pirate it, it’s stealing. Pretty simple.
Right, but pirated or obtained through legitimate means, I still end up with a free copy so does the distinction really matter?
Well, as Lukas, one of the main characters in my new book (which I hope you will BUY) says, “Distinctions always matter.” But more than that, this particular distinction is about timing.
Promotions are run with timing in mind. Books aren’t given away for free or low cost whenever or wherever, forever. There are windows to create buzz or just to show appreciation. But they’re short. They’re short because people are mostly impatient. It’s why we’re not all taking the grocery stores for everything they’re worth like the savvy folks on Extreme Couponing. Most people don’t want to wait. Promotions are run banking on this fact.
Authors run promotions hoping some people will download their books for free and like them enough to talk about them to their friends, family, internet acquaintances, etc. and those people will eagerly buy the book at full price. Or, if they have a series, they hope they can give the first book away for free and people will enjoy it enough to continue the series. Simple. But if the book is pirated (the horrifying unproofed ARC issue aside), then it’s available for free all the time and the author loses out on the whole point behind targeted promotions and timing.
Key point here: The author loses out. Look, I grew up in the time of Napster (I’m dating myself, aren’t I? Youngins’, here’s a Wikipedia article), so I know the allure of free stuff and the counter-culture argument behind screwing “the man”. I get it. But when you pirate the work of an artist, you’re not only hurting the big corporations, you’re also hurting the little guy (read: the artist). You’re actually hurting them the most because they’re less likely to be able to absorb the hit when compared to a big publishing house or a record company or in the case of indie artists, many simply don’t make enough sales to afford to lose any.
And honestly, if you are into art, then you should support artists the same as you support anyone else. By buying their product.
In conclusion: Support artists. Don’t steal their things.
I think I promised to write a post about beta readers back in November when my first book came out and then… didn’t. Until now!
Let’s start with basics and branch out, shall we? I’m going to try another FAQ format, because I think that worked last time I used one.
What is a Beta Reader?
Beta readers are non-professional readers (read: not editors or sensitivity readers who are being paid by you or your agent, publishing house, etc.) who read your manuscript (your unpublished book) at varying stages in the process. Some people also use the term “alpha reader” which is basically the beta reader who reads your manuscript first. I don’t differentiate, so for purposes of this post, any non-professional reader will be referred to as a beta reader.
A beta reader is different from a critique partner. A critique partner is another writer with whom you exchange chapters and/or whole works. You scratch my back, I scratch yours, kind of thing. A beta reader does not necessarily have to be a writer nor does the relationship extend both ways. So a critique partner is always a beta reader but a beta reader is not always a critique partner.
When should you send your manuscript for beta reads?
Every writer is different and the timing of when to send your manuscript for beta reads might vary based on the way your process works and the time your beta readers can devote to the project. For me, I’ve come to a point in my writing career where I don’t send my manuscript out for beta reads until it’s finished and I’ve been through it at least twice. I take beta reads seriously (if you hadn’t noticed, I’m a pretty serious person). My beta readers are reading my manuscripts for free, meaning they’re spending their valuable time on my work pro bono. I don’t want to waste that time by sending them something I know isn’t as good as it could be. Also, if your beta reader is too caught up in gaping plot holes, or confusing description, he/she/they might be unable to really hunker down and get to the meat of your work. Basically, my thought is to treat a beta reader exactly as I’d treat an agent or an editor. I make the manuscript shine, then send it out, then I have the room to really grow and level up my work.
That’s how I do it. Others do it differently (obviously). I’ve been the beta reader for scenes, excerpts, unfinished works, etc. and that’s fine as long as I know what I’m getting myself into. Sometimes bouncing ideas off people and getting a new perspective before the work is complete can help you breathe new life into your ideas or help you get unstuck. I do send small scenes to my beta readers on occasion, mostly to share excitement and get out of my own head, but when it’s time to send the final thing, I want to try and respect the time of my betas by sending them a self-edited product.
How do you pick beta readers?
There are some great resources online about where to find beta readers. I just googled it and briefly perused. This looked like a good start. But that’s not how I found my beta readers.
I’m fortunate enough to have a lot of talented, bright people in my social network who read in my genre, so I put a post out on Facebook seeking beta readers. I had a bunch of responses. It worked well, and I’m extremely grateful for all the help I received on that first manuscript.
Now, though, I’ve narrowed my beta readers down to three. These three all bring something different to the table, but they share some commonality I think is important to have in a good beta reader:
Knowledge of the genre. Meaning they’re widely read and are up to date on the latest works. They might not be market experts, but they know what they like and they’ve read the big names of the genre. They know what a book in your genre is supposed to look like. Bonus points if they’re aware of popular tropes and themes and are willing to discuss their likes and dislikes and why they have those views.
Analytical readers. My beta readers don’t stop at “this is good” or “this is bad”. They all tell me why they like what they like in my work and why they dislike what they dislike. They know what world building is, they know some common pitfalls, and they have a good understanding of what good writing looks like, even if they don’t know the technicalities. Bonus points if they do know the technicalities.
Constructive Criticism. This one seems like a no brainer in a beta reader, but I’ve found that it’s not. I see a lot of writers default to beta readers who are “safe” for the writer. And by safe I mean they’ll serve as an ego booster to the writer. “My beta reader said it was great!” Is something I see a lot. My first thought when I see this is: “You don’t have a good beta reader.” I know, it sounds shitty, but in my experience, it’s true. “This is great,” is the least helpful “critique” you can receive. Nothing is ever perfect, not published works, and certainly not manuscripts. Having someone there to cheer you on is excellent and important for writers who tend to be a down on themselves lot, but a cheerleader is not a good beta reader. A beta reader is someone who will be willing to tell you the hard truths behind your work. The opposite end of the spectrum is a beta reader who only sends negative feedback through the line. Negative feedback is arguably more important than positive, but you need to know what is working, too. I like to have beta readers who understand how to provide both.
Enthusiasm. Not to be confused with “cheerleader” as discussed above. A beta reader should be enthusiastic about your work, but not to the point where he/she/they is blinded by said enthusiasm and defaults to “everything you write is divine.” True enthusiasm, as I see it, is a beta reader who enjoys your work so much she’s excited to help you make it better. One of my beta readers, for example, consistently kicks my ass on her critiques, but she was the first person to buy my book when it came out, and she was the first person to get my book into a real library. A good beta reader has some skin in the game, and is emotionally invested in your work because they helped make it what it is.
Growth. A great beta reader will become a better reader as you become a better writer, and you’ll grow together. When I learn something at a conference or workshop or read an article that sparks me or something happens on Twitter that makes me reflect on my own work, I share it with my betas. We all learn and grow together. It’s definitely a collaborative process.
How many beta readers do you need?
I think this is subjective. I currently have three, as I said. These three give super detailed feedback. I’m confident in their opinions, and I’ve created a close working relationship with them. I might seek more readers for the standalone fantasy I’m working on right now, but for my series, I’m content. I tend to prefer a smaller number of readers who will give me more detailed feedback than lots of readers who will give me small amounts of feedback, but there’s a lot to be said about many different eyes and points of view as well.
If you could do it again…
I definitely made some mistakes with my beta readers in the beginning, and my process is constantly changing as my knowledge of craft grows. The good news is that if you’re planning on doing this writing thing for a living, you have more books in you, so you can make some mistakes and still keep moving forward. I’ve been able to correct my beta reading process in subsequent manuscripts, but if you’re looking to maybe save time and do this a tad more efficiently than I did, here are some things you might want to consider.
Sending your manuscript too soon. See: When should you send your manuscript? I was so excited to share my first manuscript with the world that I sent it for beta reads before it was ready. As a consequence, I think some of my potential beta readers dropped out, and I might have lost some good readers. This was also a problem because for those beta readers who did stick around, a lot of time was spent discussing things I knew had to be fixed, which wasn’t especially helpful and was frustrating for both parties. Additionally, for the few beta readers who were willing to give the manuscript a second look after I’d made changes, some things became confused because they no longer had “virgin” eyes. They’d already read the work at that point and versions became confused, dampening the impact of some of my revisions.
Being specific. I am one of those people who doesn’t like to feel like they’re infringing on someone or being too pushy or sounding ungrateful. Beta readers are doing me a huge favor in agreeing to read my work, so when I sent my first manuscript out I was basically just a ball of excitement, fervent gratitude, wishful thinking, and “here it is.” This was… not helpful. As the writer, it’s your job to explain to your betas what they’re getting into, especially if they’re not a writer. You need to be specific: “This is not finished. There are going to be grammar errors.” Your beta readers aren’t line or copy editors, but they might not know that, so you should tell them. Specific instructions can help. “Please tell me the exact location where you stopped reading or felt thrown from the story.” “Please tell me where you became bored.” “Please tell me where confusion happened and what you were confused about, specifically.”
Thicken your skin. Seriously. This might sound callous, but I mean it. Criticism is hard, and it hurts, and thickening your skin is the only way you’re going to be able to protect yourself from it. If you want to be a writer, be prepared to take some hits. I joke that my beta readers are the toughest reviewers I have, but my betas are also people I know in real life who are aware they’re speaking to an actual human being on the other end of the keyboard, one they mostly like. The critique of your betas is nothing compared to hits your manuscript-turned-book will receive in the big, wide world, so consider this a test run.
LISTEN. You don’t have to take every bit of advice your betas give you, but make sure you consider it and consider it hard. Think past the sting and the pain it might cause you and really chew on it, then digest, then edit.
WAIT. Always, always let your critique rest before you start making edits. Do not allow yourself to be blinded by whatever initial feelings you might have about your critique. Give yourself some time to get over yourself (and your feelings) before you make a determination about any critique point. Bonus, as you grow as a writer, and as your relationship with your betas grow, a lot of your knee-jerk reactions to their critique and advice will fade and you won’t have to wait as long.
THANK. Do not forget to thank your beta readers. They are awesome, amazing people who have done you a great service. Put them in your acknowledgements, talk about them on your blog, bake them cookies, give them free copies of your book, bring them presents, and mostly, when your book is out there in the wild, make sure to remind them that their hands are on this thing, too, and you love them for it.
Today is the day everyone! So without further ado, please bask in the glory that is the cover of The Blood Mage. And make sure to scroll to the end for details on how to get a sneak peek and additional launch information!
Official Launch Date for The Blood Mage is July 18, 2017!
Y’all might have noticed I don’t have photographs of myself anywhere on my website. If you check out my author Facebook page, my Twitter, my Instagram, you won’t find them either. I hate photographs of myself. I always have. I imagine I probably always will.
But conventional wisdom says professional head shots are a part of this industry, so I finally caved to said wisdom and had head shots done. I figured I can no longer hide behind anonymity, especially with my second book coming out. I guess I’m really doing this.
Now, as I have mentioned before, I have PTSD. One of the symptoms of my particular brand of PTSD is that I have difficulty being touched, especially by strangers. Because of this, I haven’t had a haircut in three years. So last weekend, I bit the bullet and started with this small step.
Three hours of being touched even by a stranger with the best intentions (making me look like I actually care about myself), was emotionally exhausting, but I felt better having done it. Look at me! I declared to the world. I’m doing a thing! My therapist will be so proud.
Still, I knew better than to try and rush it, so I scheduled the hair appointment a full week before the photo shoot, that way I didn’t have to do everything in one shot. Turns out, this was a great strategy for my sometimes fragile nerves.
The morning of the shoot, I had my hair blown out (forty-five minutes of touching) and my makeup done by a professional (another hour of unwanted but necessary stranger touching and this was especially anxiety inducing because it was close up). By the time I arrived at the studio, I was already exhausted.
Here’s the good thing about photographers, however: they’re artists too and a lot of them choose the side of the camera they’re on for a reason. I was happy to have a sympathetic ear to the plight that is, “Why is this a thing for authors?” Seriously though, can someone answer this for me? Why is this a thing for authors? Does what I look like truly matter?
Buuut, a sympathetic ear couldn’t save me from the studio or the camera. In addition to a tactile issue, I also have difficulty making eye contact. As it turns out, this difficulty extends to looking into a camera. Bless Krista’s soul for patiently repeating 7,000 times to look at the camera (honestly, I had no idea I wasn’t, it’s just a thing I do!).
Another fun fact about doing a professional photo shoot for those who might not have been through it yet: it’s not as easy as it may seem. I used to think the models who did this were just naturally pretty (and they are) but there’s more to it than just looking pretty. A lot of the body positioning is subtle and somewhat awkward feeling. It involves muscles many of us don’t frequently activate, which confuses the body (or at least it did mine). In addition, most of the poses are counter intuitive. You want me to turn my chin down to avoid making it look like I have a double chin? I’m supposed to angle my shoulder in an awkward way to make it look natural? Huh? For a clumsy, awkward, shy girl who is already emotionally exhausted, a lot of things that seemed basic enough felt massively complicated. In short, I will never make comment on how modeling must be so easy ever again.
Which leads me to my point… for me, it was totally worth it to have a professional do these photos. Krista (website here) was sympathetic, kind, easy to work with, patient, knowledgeable and most importantly, talented. When she sent me the proofs later that evening (how about that for turnaround time, right?) it was like receiving my cover art for The Wheel Mages all over again. I got that tingly feeling and a stupid grin on my face. Not because I am enamored with myself (I still am not my own biggest fan), but because these photos said “Author” in the same way seeing my name on the front of a book cover for the first time did. Plus, we artists all need to support each other, right?
Okay, so without further ado… tada! A real life picture of me.
Today, I turn 29. I’m joking it’s the last birthday I’ll ever celebrate. I’m almost not a twenty-something anymore, and it feels a bit like losing a shield. But in all seriousness, it’s really just another day.
That said, it’s another day where I shall go ahead and do some self promotion. Because it’s MY day (also George Washington’s, any other Pisces in the house?)
I’m going to share with you all some of my favorite reviews of The Wheel Mages and hope to convince you that if you haven’t jumped into the world of the Sanctum yet, now’s the time (looking at you Maas fans, we have until May until her next book is released).
So… without further ado, here we go! Read to the end – there’s also NEWS. And sign up for my newsletter! I’m getting it all in today, y’all.
News! My trilogy is no longer a trilogy. I know, I know, I had reservations about this as well which I plan to completely outline in a post later this week or next week, but I promise the decision was not taken lightly and it was very thoroughly discussed and debated with my team of trusted beta readers as well as my editor. In the end, expanding the series was the best choice for the characters.
Do not think of today’s failures, but of the success that may come tomorrow.”
~ Helen Keller
Last week, I was ready to give up. This probably has something to do with the fact that my birthday is next week. I’m going to be 29.
Sarah Maas is 30 (8 books), Victoria Aveyard is 26 (3 books), Veronica Roth is 28 (4 books), Marissa Meyer is 32 (6 books). This doesn’t include novellas, compilations, short stories, collections, etc.
I felt too old to be only just starting.
I know, it probably sounds ridiculous. I shouldn’t be comparing myself to other writers, especially not those who are traditionally published and anyway, 29 isn’t that old! But I felt old and tired and exhausted and beaten and defeated and… broken.
I have wanted to be a writer since I could hold a pen(cil). I never really dream hopped. I didn’t want to be a veterinarian one day and an astronaut the next. If you asked me at age 6 what I wanted to be, I would have told you I wanted to be an author, ask me at 16, a novelist, at 22, a writer.
My dream has never changed, but I still managed to get so, so lost. For years, I struggled through a quagmire of mental health issues ranging from addiction to depression to agoraphobia to self-mutilation to panic attacks. I have insomnia. When I do sleep, I have terrible nightmares and night terrors. I spent years undereating only to then spend years overeating. My weight is in a constant state of confusion. I’ve weighed 106 pounds and 206 pounds and everywhere in between. Living is often exhausting for me. And last week, I thought, “You know what, this is hard enough as it is, why make it more complicated? Accept mediocrity. Accept that you’re never going to make it. It’s okay to be average. You don’t have to be special. You wake up every day and for someone with as many problems as you have, that’s enough. Enough is enough. Just stop.”
There is peace to be found in surrender. Peace sounded good. Surrender sounded good. Curling up under a comforter and never coming back out sounded good.
But none of those things are actually options. Not for me. Not when I feel so deeply that God has blessed me with a special gift—the gift of knowing what I want to do with my life.
I don’t talk about my faith very much, because faith is personal and controversial and for me, hard to nail down. But sometimes, usually in my darkest moments, it whispers to me.
I was not raised with faith. My mother has always identified as a Christian, but she didn’t really rediscover her faith until I was much older. My father is a scientist and like a majority of scientists, he is an atheist. While my mother read me fairy tales in the cradle, my father read me Darwin. When I was in the sixth grade, he bought me a copy of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (“Because it’s a good story”). I was brought up on the belief that religion is a crutch used by those who are desperate.
Maybe it is. Then again, maybe it isn’t. As the daughter of a scientist, I was encouraged to question, to be always curious about the unknown. Fostering curiosity is probably part of what led me to be a writer. It’s also what guided me to my faith.
I converted to Catholicism my sophomore year of college. I started attending mass because I was in love with a Catholic boy, and I wanted to impress him. I decided to convert because I felt like I’d found something that had been missing inside me, but I’d be lying if I said it’s been easy. I’ve struggled with my faith every day since the day I converted. I’m constantly questioning it just as I’m constantly questioning myself. But sometimes, I think I hear God’s voice, and it gets me through the day.
In that way, I guess my faith is a crutch. But a crutch helps those who cannot walk for themselves. A crutch helps broken people heal. It is exactly what I needed last week, and I clung to it until my knuckles turned white. And eventually, I found myself walking a little stronger, a little further. I found my despair easing its hold. Ideas started to flow again as hope sprang back to life inside me, a small ember at first, a tiny thing I had to nurture, but it was there all the same.
There’s something magical about being on the precipice of defeat and clawing your way back. There’s something empowering about being lost and finding your way again. There’s a reason the image of the phoenix rising from the ash is so popular, and it’s because never has there been a symbol that encompasses the human spirit so well. At some point in our lives, every single one of us has been the phoenix risen from darkness.
Last week, it was me. But I have risen stronger than before. My dream is more beautiful because it was broken. It will be so much more exciting when I make it a reality because I will remember the taste of the ash on my tongue and the burning in my throat as I fought my way back into the light.
As you all might remember, I’m in the process of querying for reviews. This is a long and ongoing process, but during it, I’ve come to realize something quite interesting: book bloggers and authors have a lot more in common than one might suspect.
The relationship between book blogger/reviewer and author should be a symbiotic one. From an author’s point of view, the book blogger is a valuable marketing tool who can open the book up to different audiences the author hasn’t been able to reach yet (especially in the case of us debut, indie authors). From the book blogger’s point of view (book bloggers, correct me if I’m wrong), the author is offering a free product the blogger enjoys (hopefully). The relationship also works both ways in that the author is pitching to the blogger, but the blogger is also pitching to the author.
A brief Google search tells me there are as many articles out there about how to develop a good book blog as there are how to market your book to book bloggers. What I didn’t see, though, was talk about this from the author’s perspective. My guess is this might be because it’s sort of faux pas for an author to discuss what she’s looking for in a book blog, but I try to be real here, so I’m going to go ahead and do that, and hopefully, we can learn some things together.
Okay, so for new writers who are reading this who aren’t reviewers, let me set this up very briefly: The author/publisher solicits to book bloggers via query asking the blogger to review the book. If the blogger accepts, the book is provided free of charge in whatever format the blogger desires and the blogger reviews it based on his/her review policy.
The part of this equation I want to hone in on is the part before the query—the part where the author/publisher searches for the book blog to query. This is the part I think book bloggers (especially those who are trying to develop their blogs) might be interested in. Because, just like you choose which queries to accept, we authors choose which bloggers to query to in the first place.
So… you as a book blogger want to attract authors to your blog, IG, etc.? Fantastic. I’m going to share with you the things I look for when choosing which blogs to query.
1. Review Policies – Have one, and make it readily accessible. A review policy is the very first thing I check on any book blog. The reason for this is because there are some bloggers who won’t accept indie authors. If you don’t want to solicit to us indies, that’s totally fine. I understand why you’re not interested, and it doesn’t hurt my feelings, but if you don’t take indies, go ahead and put that right up front. It saves me time and effort, and I very much appreciate it. If you do accept self-published books and authors, make sure to put that in there, too. Also, if you’re not currently accepting requests, please put that in your review policy (and keep it up to date). I keep a list of bloggers to check back with periodically, so I won’t forget you. No need to take on more than you can handle. It sours the experience, and I want you to love reading my book!
Review policies are both our friends. They make everything simple for both parties, and I’ll make sure to follow your policy to the letter. As an aside, I think you’re completely right for rejecting someone who doesn’t, and if I fail to, shame on me.
2. About – The “About Me” section of a book blog is the second thing I check. I personalize every query I write, and I want to know a little bit about you so I can figure out if my work is in your wheelhouse. I don’t want to waste your time (or mine). If you say you’ll read anything, but you actually like mystery, you’re either not going to like my book or you’re not going to read it. There are so many books out there, there’s no need for you to waste your time reading books you don’t like. Tell me what you enjoy. This is important from the author side too, because every book I send out costs me money, so I want to make sure every book goes into the hands of someone who at least enjoys the genre.
In addition to knowing what books you like to read, I also want to know about you—how old are you, where are you from, what are some of your hobbies? I want to learn a little bit about you so I can determine if my work will speak to you. An author who’s doing her homework will do her very best to make sure she presents you with something that’s enjoyable to you. You’re special, and a query should make you feel that way, so give me some material to work with.
3. The Website – I have, at this point, looked through literally hundreds of book blogs. I’ve queried to 22. I strike a lot of blogs at this stage, but because this is the most variable, I can’t really speak to what all authors/publishers are looking for in terms of website. I can, however, speak to what I’m looking for.
Links that work. This is important. If I click on a tab that’s supposed to take me to reviews, and I get a page unknown error, I will strike the blog. If I can’t get to your reviews, how are other people supposed to get to them and read about my book?
A clean and simple design. I am not a website designer (obviously), so I try not to make too many judgments, but I do like clean sites. If the website is jumbled and confusing or has too many tabs or topics, I will usually pass. Remember, this isn’t only a book I’m trying to sell, it’s a brand, and I want to associate it with clean, simple, accessible, professional.
Followers/Social Media Links. The amount of followers you have on your blog is not a deal breaker for me, but if you’re trying to solicit big names (especially publishers), it will be. Don’t despair, there are indie authors (like me) and authors from smaller presses who are willing to grow with you. That said, if you have a bookish Instagram or a Twitter or a Facebook or a Snap-it (sorry, was my disdain for Snapchat coming through there?) absolutely link it to your blog. I check that, too, and if you’re willing to share my work over more platforms than your blog, that’s a HUGE bonus to me.
I should probably note, too, that number of followers isn’t the only important thing, I also look at the number of people who are engaging with your posts in the form of comments and likes. Like I said, not a deal breaker for me either way, but I want to add it because if I’m noticing that, it would be a wise bet to assume publishers and agents and marketing professionals are noticing it too.
4. The Reviews – Are you surprised to find these so far down my list? Yeah, interesting that, isn’t it? Okay, so if your blog has made it this far, it’s time for me to really sit down and delve into things.
First, let me put this right out front: I do not expect a five star review from anyone, but I do expect my work to be treated with respect. If I see you trashing other authors from here to Venus, no matter how much I may agree with you, I will not query you. Plain and simple: Every time you trash an author there’s another author reading it and thinking, “That could be my book.” I’ve read this same advice given from very successful book bloggers to new bloggers, and I couldn’t agree with it more. Listen to the people who are doing it well. They’re right. This industry means we have to have thick skins, but we’re still people, and we’ve put a lot of time and energy and money into these books. When we send you a book, we’re not sending you a $10 lump of paper or a $3.99 chunk of internet ether, we’re sending you a piece of our souls, thousands of hours of time and, in the case of indie authors, thousands upon thousands of dollars of our own hard-earned cash. It matters to us, especially to those of us who are new to the industry. Anyone who has read this blog for any amount of time knows how much I care about honesty in all things, but I also believe very strongly that you can be honest and still respectful.
Okay, less heavy stuff:
Keep your blog up to date. If you haven’t posted a review in three months, I’ll likely strike you. I’ll also check to make sure the reviews are coming at a relatively steady pace. I completely understand you’re busy and it’s not perfect, and you’re not getting paid to do this, and I’m happy to wait, but if I see month-long gaps in posts happening regularly, I hope you’ll understand when I say there’s no guarantee you’ll ever get around to reading my book, so it’s better if I go to someone who will.
Along those same lines, make sure your posts are dated. If they’re not, I can’t determine the above, and I’ll err on the side of caution and hold on to my book.
Have some reviews of big names in the genre you’re reviewing. Even if you’re specializing in reviewing indie authors (you’re an awesome soul if you’re doing this), throwing in a few of the big names from the big presses can be helpful to an author trying to gauge what kind of books you like. I write young adult high fantasy so the first reviews I read on a blog are any written on anything by Sarah J. Maas, Leigh Bardugo, Cassandra Clare, Marissa Meyer, Kiera Cass, Victoria Aveyard, or Veronica Roth. I’ve read all the works of most of these authors and know how I would rate their work compared to my own, so knowing how you do it gives me a better idea of whether or not you’ll like my work. If you only gave Maas’ A Court of Mist and Fury 2.5 stars, I can pretty much assure you that you are not interested in The Wheel Mages, and I won’t send it. That is not to say your opinion isn’t valid, it’s just to say there are authors out there for you that aren’t me.
Side Note: J.K. Rowling is not on my list of big names because I almost never read reviews of J.K. Rowling’s work. Everyone loves it, so it isn’t a good indicator of preference for me.
Other than what I talked about above, I don’t really care about stars, except to see that not every book is getting five stars but some books are. Like I said, I don’t expect my book to get five stars every time, but if you’re not giving five stars to anyone, I’m leery. That said, if you’re giving five stars to everyone it’s also a red flag to me. I also want to add that I appreciate how hard your job is to assign ratings to something so subjective. It’s not one I think I could do – so kudos to you.
If you don’t give stars, that’s almost better. There aren’t many book blogs that don’t give stars, but I really like the ones that simply write a review. They’re refreshing and from the author’s perspective, a little less scary. Of course, readers probably feel differently, and you have to appeal to us both, so it’s all good either way.
Make me want to read the book you’re reviewing (if your objective is to say it was really good and everyone should read it). After I check for the authors I know, I will read a review about a book I don’t know that’s received a good review. If I walk away wanting to read that book, I’ll query you. You’ve done your job for me and that’s admittedly hard to do, so I know you’ll do it for others as well. There are tons of ways to accomplish this, but the way I find most persuasive is precise language with a spark of personality. I know, it’s tough, I’m telling you, I don’t envy you guys.
Review lists are great. I won’t strike a blog for not having a clickable list of reviews by title or author, but they’re awesome when I see them.
Wow, okay, this post is long, but I’m hoping helpful. I just want to add something really quickly here: This is obviously not an exact formula. Nothing about this industry is exact. It’s simply a set of ideas from the other side of the equation. And please note I realize I am not like every indie author. I’m sure there are plenty of authors who don’t put as much time into querying as I do, but I happen to think the amount of time I put into it speaks to who I am and what my book is. If you like that, this is how to catch someone like me.
Finally, I think I made it clear throughout, but in case I didn’t, I want you to know, book bloggers, that I appreciate you so, so much. I actually think authors might be able to commiserate with you more than most. We’re all writers who love books, struggling to make ourselves stand out in an over-saturated market, driving ourselves crazy in the process. So much love to you.
Keep on keeping on, and if you have anything you’d like to contribute or ask about, sound off in the comments.
Okay, so I said I was going to do it and here we are.
Things didn’t go well this month, people. I sold only 12 books. That’s NOT exactly going to pay the bills. And with a 130,000 word manuscript currently sitting in the editor’s hands, I’m not feeling super pumped right now.
But, I suppose this is a marathon and not a sprint, right? And things have been a wee bit crazy around the world this January, so I’m wondering if timing might have something to do with it too. It feels a bit frivolous to be marketing my book when social media feeds are dominated with much more pressing concerns, so I didn’t push as hard as I might have otherwise done. I’m preoccupied too. I get it.
Good news is this run-down will be short.
Sales Period: December 30 through January 29, 2016
Vendor: Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (Kindle)
Copies sold: 4
Territories sold: United States (3) and UK (1)
Royalties: 8.22 USD, 1.85 GBP
Vendor: CreateSpace (Paperback)
Copies sold: 4
Territories sold: United States (4)
Royalties: 4.64 USD
Vendor: Personal Sales (Paperback)
Copies sold: 4
Territories sold: United States (4)
Royalties: 20.64 USD
Total Copies sold in the second month: 12
Territories sold: United States (11) and UK (1)
Royalties: 33.50 USD, 1.85 GBP
Total combined copies (since launch): 70
Territories sold: United States (68), Denmark (1), UK (1)
Total Royalties: 170.31 USD, 2.18 EUR, 1.85 GBP
So… I have almost paid off the cover art for the first book, and I even received my first check from Amazon and CreateSpace, so that’s pretty cool (fun fact, if you go with the direct deposit option, they’ll send you royalties every month so long as you’ve made more than $10, if you ask for a check, they won’t send you anything until you’ve made $100, also good to note that applies to every currency, so I won’t see any royalties from sales in the UK or Europe until I’ve sold more there).
I still haven’t broken into that 100 copies territory, but I have hope (some days). More important than anything, however, this month I had readers really connect with the book and that to me is worth more than royalties. Royalties would still be cool though.
Short and sweet – there are a few things I want to keep you updated on regarding what’s going on in the world of the Sanctum, because right now, that world seems to be less dysfunctional than our own. Who would have seen that coming, right?
Author Interview: I did an author interview with Becca over at Shihtzu Book Reviews which you can check out here. We discuss my writing process (unhealthy), my characters, and some things to look out for in the future.
The Wheel Mages: If anyone is interested in receiving a signed copy of The Wheel Mages, I’m now offering those in limited supply. If you’re interested in receiving one, contact me through the website or send me an email at email@example.com.
The Blood Mage update: I sent The Blood Mage to the editor yesterday for its first review. Word count – 131,592 (uhhh…). I’ll be receiving critiques on that sometime in mid-February, so things are moving along, and I’m still shooting for a summer release!
Workshop: Some fun and exciting news! I’ll be doing a writing workshop in Reading, Pennsylvania in mid-February (the date looks like it’s going to be February 15th, but I’m waiting on final confirmation). Details about the workshop will be available soon.
Two-Month Sales: I’ll be posting those within the next couple of days. I’ve been swamped with work trying to get The Blood Mage ready for Katie, so I’m behind, but never fear, I’m still committed to remaining transparent with my sales.
It’s rough out there. Please everyone remember to be kind to yourselves and each other.