The Down and Dirty on Getting Book Reviews

Spring daffodil - Guenette photo

I remember once bemoaning my lack of book reviews with a close friend and she told me –

Real readers don’t write reviews. Think about it? Did you ever write a book review before you needed one yourself?

Good question and my answer was no.

Garnering my first book reviews was painful. The process involved trawling a limited pool of readers and that pool often seemed covered by thick ice. I chipped away at the following groups:

Other self-published authors. I was aware of my need for book reviews and I recognized that same need in others. Since publishing an ebook and starting to read on a Kindle, I discovered a host of great new authors. I wanted to be supportive. By fishing in this pond, I hoped others felt the same.

Future self-published authors. I solicited in this pool to catch authors who were hoping to build up future review capital. Yup – once again – reciprocal obligations.

Members of authors’ review circles. This is a type of group where reviews are either exchanged outright or there is an arrangement in which  A reviews B and B reviews C on down the line. A review in one of these circles can be powerfully echoed across social media on the Facebook pages and Twitter feeds of the various members. But whichever way I chose to drop the line, I was on the hook to provide reviews to get reviews. Do you see a theme emerging?

Book review bloggers. The best sites were absolutely not looking for any reciprocal activity but the competition to have my book work its way to the top of a blogger’s pile was fierce. Hooking a high-quality book blogger doesn’t happen every day.

Periwinkle - Guenette photo

Suffice to say, I wasn’t catching many reviews for the effort involved in baiting my line. But I knew the numbers mattered. I wanted to qualify for various promotional opportunities and I needed those reviews.

In my last post, I wrote about the number of ways the self-published author is vulnerable to those who seek to make their money by taking ours. Many sites offer book reviews in exchange for cash. But purchasing reviews is not an advised practice with perhaps the exception of the big bucks required to get a Kirkus review. Amazon seems fine with those. Ignore the unfair reality that publishing houses pay top dollar to get high-quality reviews for their authors. No one said the life of the self-published author would be fair.

I have learned the hard way to avoid trading reviews with other authors. Amazon is onto this practice and they frown upon it. I know of one self-published author who has had most of her reciprocal reviews pulled down. A lot of effort for no gain on either side. But Amazon regulations aside, reciprocal reviewing put me in a tight spot. If the other person gave me a 5-star review, no matter the number of times I jumped up and down and sworn I would only review honestly, I did feel swayed to give a great review in exchange. This is human nature and if I’m anything, I am human.

I have recently heard of a new Amazon review policy, meant to stop the seemingly unstoppable tide of phoney reviews. Readers must have spent a minimum of $50.00 as an Amazon customer to place a review. Many have screamed unfair and shouted for the rights of the reader who has only bought one ebook ever and has developed a burning need to review that book. Too bad, so sad. Amazon wants reviews written by committed readers – not one-time only buyers, not bots or anonymous voices in the wilderness filling in blanks on a review template provided for them by a company who charged the author big bucks to get that book 50 reviews.

First rhodo bloom - Guenette photo

So – what is the self-published author to do? How is he or she to get those all important initial reviews? How do you find genuine fans?

Do beat the bushes the best you can. Solicit book reviewers and bloggers. Make sure your contact email is at the back of your ebook. Invite readers to contact you. Offer them an incentive for making the effort. When a reader emails you, ask them politely to put their thoughts about your book in writing on Amazon if they haven’t already done so. Let them know that reviews can be as simple as – I love this book because ____________. They can fill in the blank and they’ve often done just that in their email to you.

Getting these initial reviews isn’t easy. It won’t happen overnight. But you don’t need hundreds. I snagged my first BookBub promotion with 33 reviews.

So – let’s talk about the genuine fans. They do exist! I didn’t catch them until I started commercial fishing in the great lake of readers who discovered my books through my first BookBub feature. This promotion meant wide spread exposure to a targeted audience of ebook readers who were interested in my writing genre. Since then, through various other promotions, I offer the first book of my series free and I’ve managed to introduce my writing to new readers and create a halo effect of sales over all my books.

It turns out real readers do write book reviews and post them on Amazon. At last count, reviews for Disappearing in Plain Sight (first book in the Crater Lake Series) have zoomed up to 163. And reviews still matter. I’ve discovered that even when I offer one of my books FREE, people still check out the latest reviews before downloading the book.

First Rhubarb - Guenette photo

There you have it – the down and dirty on book reviews for the self-published author. Please weigh-in on this issue. Let me know what you think, what you’ve tried and how the act of getting book reviews makes you feel.

Storyboards and a Free Book!

Giving up the Fight

Well, the storyboard is up on the wallSmile Serious work on the 5th novel in the Crater Lake Series has begun.

If you’ve been following my Author Facebook page or my Twitter feed, you’ll know that this weekend you can grab the 4th book in the Crater Lake Series FREE! No Compass to Right is just waiting to be downloaded to your Kindle device or app. Go for it and Happy Holidays.

Five Star Amazon Reveiw:

Wow, I went through this series unable to stop, in love with the setting, each and every character, their stories, their hopes and dreams, and wishing there was yet another book. Lovely writing, Ms. Guenette! Thank you.

Amazon.com link

Amazon.ca link

Amazon UK link

NO COMPASS TO RIGHT corrected version with corner alignment grid (original Jpeg )

What Sort of Writer are You?

Little hummer takes a break

Recurring theme – someone asked me a question the other day: What are you working on now? I just stared. With a definite uncomfortable squirm in my chair, I responded, “Nothing.”

In another era, I wanted to be one of those women who had specific days when they did household tasks. You know the type – geez, you might be the type! Bathrooms on Monday, floors on Tuesday, dusting on Wednesday. I was more the madly try to clean up everything on the same day because company was coming woman. I could be seen running around in a state, dusting with one hand and pushing a wet rag with my foot over the dirty floor. Hoping for the best – cleaning with a lick and prayer, so to speak.

When I’m confronted with the question of what I’m currently working on and the answer is – nothing – I get a similar feeling. I want to be one of those writers who writes consistently. Like Stephen Leacock out in his boathouse every single day from eight until noon without fail. But I’m not. I’m the write until I drop and then fall into the doldrums believing that I will never write again type.

At the beginning of my master’s program, I read a book about writing your thesis or dissertation in fifteen minutes a day. It sounded wise but it was something I knew in my heart I could never accomplish.

My grandma used to say – You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. There is truth to the belief that one thing can’t be another no matter the effort put into transformation. I can no more write on a consistent and specific daily schedule than I could clean that way or create a dissertation in fifteen-minute blocks. It simply isn’t me.

When I’m not feeling uncomfortable with this state of affairs, I celebrate it. This is the fallow time. This is the gathering time. This is the time when impressions, ideas and connections incubate and grow until they burst forth in writing fury.

But there is still a part of me that feels like the sow’s ear and not the silk purse. What do you think? How do you manage your writing? Is it a daily, disciplined endeavour or is it an all out writing fury? And let me know how your garden is growing? Ours is doing not too bad Smile 

How is your garden growing

Enjoying the Forest

Spruce Bay old growth forest, April 10, 2010 - bruce witzel photo

When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest. (Stephen King)

Forest trail - Guenette photo

Stephen King’s words caught my eye this morning. I’m gearing up for life after the completion of my latest novel and I feel plagued by all the emotions that go along with the ending of any major project. I brought a ragtag and often chaotic assortment of threads, ideas and character voices into being through writing, rewriting, editing, proofing and formatting. I produced a book that I feel confident to launch into the world. Finishing such an endeavour is cause for celebration and, at the same time, leaves me feeling at loose ends. It is indeed time to step back from scanning and identifying the trees to look at the forest.

View from the repeater tower (2)- Bruce Witzel photo

Time to enjoy the fruits of my labour, celebrate the accomplishments and move on! Sounds like a plan.

Crater Lake Series promo photo

How do you cope with the ending of a major project? Jubilation, conflicted emotions, uplifted, let down?

Shout-Out for Writers Helping Writers

Shout out Time - google image

I want to take a moment today to shout-out a writer’s blog that I never miss – Writers Helping Writers: Home of the Bookshelf Muse.

Emotional Thesaurus cover

The creators of this blog are also responsible for putting together the incredible writing resource book – The Emotional Thesaurus. But they didn’t stop there! They have added The Rural Setting Thesaurus and The Urban Setting Thesaurus, The Positive Trait Thesaurus and the Negative Trait Thesaurus. They are currently at work on a character trait thesaurus that I’m certain will be every bit as good!

 

 

There are so many great things to say about this resource blog. Practically every post is interesting and informative and the site is well set-up for finding archived material.

Writers Helping Writers logo

I’ve been going to this site for at least a couple of years and only this week caught on to the fact that I can feature their neat little logo on my sidebar and shout them out to other writers.

Here’s a bit about the bloggers on the site:

Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling.

Angela Ackerman is an international speaker and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also enjoys dreaming up new tools and resources for One Stop For Writers, a library built to help writers elevate their storytelling.

Becca and Angela really walk the talk when it comes to sharing. They are very generous with the material they put on their blog and often their responses to comments are as informative as their posts.

Writers – follow this blog! It will be time well spent on the internet.

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The Hermeneutic Circle and My Writing Process

Snow day - Guenette photo

(View from my writing desk this morning – stunning!)

Definition: The hermeneutic circle (German: hermeneutischer Zirkel) describes the process of understanding a text hermeneutically. It refers to the idea that one’s understanding of the text as a whole is established by reference to the individual parts and one’s understanding of each individual part by reference to the whole.

As I write furiously on the first draft of the 4th book in the Crater Lake Series – 43,000 words so far and going strong – I am struck by how appropriate the above definition of the hermeneutic circle is to my writing process.

I can list many of the parts: character and setting sketches, research notes, outlining, storyboarding, scene blocking, quiet time for visioning and listening to character voices, to name just a few.

A description of the whole is a more slippery. At some point in the process, the parts begin to coalesce. Waiting for that moment, a moment I have never been able to plan for or anticipate, is agonizing. Embarking on this journey for the fifth time doesn’t mean it’s any less agonizing. But I have learned this – when the moment comes there is no stopping the story from moving forward.

It’s the moving forward that fits the definition of the hermeneutic circle. All the parts are in my head and I work and work for hours on end; the words pile up; the page count rises and it all seems unstoppable. But it isn’t. I reach a saturation point. I jump from my chair, leave the computer and run out the door for a walk or a ride on the stationary bike.

When I return, I pick up at a different spot on the circle. It is time for the whole to feed back into the parts. I might write snippet setting descriptions, review character sketches, update my chapter-by-chapter outline, revisit my storyboard. Then I reread everything I have of the first draft. Only then am I ready to move forward with the parts all tuned up to inform the whole.

So it goes. I must say, I do love what I’m doing. Let me know if any of this resonates. Maybe you have a completely different take on nailing that all important first draft. Feel free to share. I’m always open to tweaking my process.

Snowy Feb Hellebore

A Writer Must Write – Enough Said – Full Stop

I have discovered that there is a lot written about the process of writing. You should write what you know – no wait. You don’t have to be limited to writing what you know, but if you don’t write what you know, then you better do the research so you know what you’re talking about. But hold on a minute – don’t burden the reader with the voluminous details of your research – don’t let anything get in the way of the story. Unless of course you’re a James Michener, then you can get away with it. 

I picked up a cute little maxim the other day – be yourself – unless you could be a unicorn. Then of course, be a unicorn. Right – you get what I’m saying here. If you could be James Michener, go for it.

You should always show, not tell. In the words of Anton Chekhov, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; Show me the glint of light on broken glass.” Holy take my breath away, Batman. That is genius – thank you Mr. Chekhov.

But wait – if all you do is show, the story might race ahead of the reader at such a pace that he or she never manages to get to that essential place of emotional connection. OK – you better do a bit of telling, too.

Be careful how you bring in the back story of your characters. You mustn’t let it get in the way of the present action. But wait – unless the reader understands your character’s motivations for doing what they’re doing – well – the story won’t really make any sense. So you better figure out a way to get some of that back story in.

First person, third person, omniscient narrator – point of view is the crux of the story. No wait – it’s all about the characters. No wait – plot drives the story. Holy lost in the steamy swamp, Batman. And lest you have yet to despair of ever getting this writing thing right, consider this:  “The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say.” (Anaïs Nin). Thanks, Nin – that’s really encouraging.

Sometimes I feel as though I’m running through a tangled jungle, like I’m trapped in a scene from the movie, Apocalypse Now.

At the same time – I’m glimpsing patterns of light through the darkness – threads that have the possibility of coming together to create something I will feel proud of having brought to life.

Good thing. “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”(Maya Angelou). Who needs that kind of burden?

 

“I find that most people know what a story is until they sit down to write one.”(Flannery O’Connor). Amen, Flannery.

My reading about writing turns out to be about knowing more, then doubting that I know more, and finally realizing that there is always more I’ll need to know. Writing takes courage. It doesn’t allow me to hide anywhere. I reveal myself, but the reward is that I might produce something that others will pick up and read and in so doing, find themselves revealed. They might ask – how did she know my story so well?

I know what writing it is for me – being lost for hours on end in a world of my imagining that feels more real at times than the actual world I inhabit. It’s easy to get weighed down under the combined load of all of the words written about what writing should be. I try to remember what Thomas Jefferson said: “In matters of style – swim with the current. In matters of principle – stand like a rock.”

The past two nights I have gone to sleep and dreamt of a scene in the sequel to Disappearing in Plain Sight. I wake up repeating to myself a little chunk of dialogue that is meant to represent an entire conversation between two of the characters, complete with setting and various character attributions – all worked out and perfect within the dream. I repeat this little piece of gold over and over as I awake, but soon the words seem like nonsense and then they simply disappear – like the proverbial poof of the genie as he or she slides back into the bottle. I know though, in that liminal time between dream and full awakening, I believed I had it all worked out and that those few words could help me remember everything – I could tug on that tiny line and the entire fabric of the scene would be pulled forward and shaken out in front of me like a crisply dried sheet fresh from the clothes line.

A writer must write. Whether it’s a flash story, short story, novella, novel, all the way up to an epic tome weighing in like War and Peace – a writer must write. Ernest Hemingway is credited with writing the shortest piece ever: Baby shoes – for sale. Never used. Talk about slamming the reader against a wall with six little words! Holy rip your guts out, Batman. Mr. Hemingway – we salute you.

“Your tale, sir, would cure deafness” (William Shakespeare, The Tempest – Act I – Scene II).

 

 

“Everything you can imagine is real.”(Pablo Picasso). And you better believe Picasso knew what he was talking about.

So go for it – imagine, find out what you don’t know and look for the answers. Discover that the more you find out the less you will think you know. Accept there is always more to know. And keep writing. A writer must write. Full stop!

Bruce and I posing in front of the Hemingway Cottage at the Billingsley Creek Lodge and Retreat in Hagerman, Idaho. Apparently, Hemingway spent whole summers in this cottage, writing. When he wasn’t out taking advantage of what Hagerman has to offer in the way of fishing!