Monday, April 24, 2017

Why Getting Great Reviews Is Your Job - Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Today we have the honor of hosting a special excerpt from Carolyn Howard-Johnson's new book. Getting great book reviews is something we all want to know how to do, right? Well, Carolyn is here to tell us why it's our job to get them.

Take it away, Carolyn!

**Excerpted from Carolyn’s new How To Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically: The ins and outs of using free reviews to build and sustain a writing career

You need this article! Here’s why:

In spite of a contract or even an advance your publisher may not be a true publisher. True publishing includes the marketing of a book, Think big names like HarperCollins, Knopf, and Writers’ Digest, the publisher of Nina Amir’s new Creative Visualization. They assign a marketing budget to your book and an actual marketing department complete with actual human-type marketers who are trained in the specialized field of not just marketing, but marketing books. Except for those who write only for pleasure, there is no reason to publish a book that doesn’t get read.

The sad part is: Even those big publishers need the authors’ help. There is no free lunch when it comes to the marketing of a book—including the getting of reviews.

Some publishers—even traditional publishers—may not respect tradition, be uncooperative or goof. One of my writing critique partners was published with a fine press. When she learned they had not sent advance review copies of her literary novel to the most prestigious review journals before their strict sixteen-week deadline, she was naturally upset. They explained it was a snafu that could not be fixed. That was no comfort at all. It did help her to know that because thousands of galleys sent to the important review publications lie fallow in slush piles, the chances of having a book reviewed by a major journal—even one published traditionally let alone getting a glowing review—is remote. Because she had me to nag her, she moved on to alternative marketing and review-getting strategies found in Chapter Six of this book. Using those methods, she was still able to schedule several major bookstore appearances that tend to favor established names and rely on big-journal reviews in their decision-making process. Nevertheless, it’s not the kind of loss any author wants to face.

These days most small publishers have no marketing department—or marketing plan. In fact, many admit that when it comes to marketing, you are on your own. No offense, publishers. I know many of you do a terrific job considering the profit margin in publishing these days. Let’s face it, you can use help, and you don’t need to deal with disappointed (irate?) authors. And, authors! We are ultimately responsible for our own careers. Sometimes when we wait to take responsibility, it is too late in the publishing game.

Some publishers charge the author an additional or separate fee for marketing. Many who offer marketing packages do not offer a review-getting package. If they do, the review their authors get is a paid-for review, which is definitely not the route you want to go. More on that later in this chapter.

Many publishers do not even have lists of people to contact who might help your marketing with endorsements or reviews. Further, many big publishers are relying on bloggers for their review process more and more as print journals and newspaper book sections shrink or disappear and as they begin to understand that grassroots publicity—reviews or otherwise—can produce a very green crop. And bloggers? Well, that’s a resource pool you can easily plumb yourself.

My first publisher supplied review copies only upon written request from individual reviewers. They did not honor requests generated by their authors’ initiatives. This meant that I could not count on them to supply books to reviewers I had successfully queried for a review. Unless the reviewer accepted e-copies (and many reviewers don’t!), I had to order copiesdirectly from the publisher and then reship them to my reviewers. This method is slow, cumbersome, unnecessarily expensive, unprofessional, and discourages authors from trying to get reviews on their own.

Publishers should offer review copies to a list of reviewers—even unestablished grassroots bloggers—who have been responsive to their authors in the past. And they certainly should not charge an author for review copies. Publishers have a profit margin and publicity obtained by their authors (including reviews) affects their bottom line, too. They should send their author a thank you (or a red rose!) along with encouragement to keep up the good work

Publishers should also market their books. That means that even if they are too small or underfunded to have a marketing department, they should have a list of reviewers to query for reviews, a list of influential people to provide blurbs for your cover, access to book cover designers (not just great graphic designers) who know what sells books, and a whole lot more. Ask potential publishers about their marketing process before you sign, but—even if you feel assured after having that conversation—it’s best to assume you may be on your own.

And here’s more: Big publishers are relying on bloggers for their review process as print journals and newspaper book sections shrink or disappear and as they begin to understand that grassroots publicity—reviews or otherwise—can produce a very green crop. Bloggers, you say? Well, that’s a resource pool you can easily plumb yourself

So, the marketing part of your book that includes finding the right reviewers to read and comment on your book will—in most cases—be up to you and well within your skill set after reading this book. And even when you have the luxury of a marketing department behind you, those authors who know how to get reviews on their own can keep a book alive for an infinite amount of time after their publishers relegate their books to a backlist or their contract expires. 
Note: If it is too late to apply this information to the process you use in choosing a publisher, tactfully take hold and guide the publisher you have through the review process. There are lots of ways to do that in this book. I love Nike’s advice to “Just do it!” only I add “yourself” to the motto. Many publishers are in your employ. You may be paying them for services. At the very least, when your book sells, it makes money for the publisher. You don’t have to ask for permission (though it never hurts to listen to their reasoning before you make a decision).

Carolyn Howard-Johnson brings her experience as a publicist, journalist, marketer, and retailer to the advice she gives in her HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers and the many classes she taught for nearly a decade as instructor for UCLA Extension’s world-renown Writers’ Program. The books in her HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers have won multiple awards. That series includes both the first and second editions ofThe Frugal Book Promoter and The Frugal Editor won awards from USA Book News, Readers’ Views Literary Award, the marketing award from Next Generation Indie Books and others including the coveted Irwin award. Her next book in the HowToDoItFrugally series for writers will be How To Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically.

Multi award-winning novelist, poet, and author of the HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers.

Twitter: @FrugalBookPromo

Thank you for sharing your insight on book reviews and how to get them, Carolyn!

Please leave Carolyn a comment. :)

Monday, April 17, 2017

Three Publishers Weigh in on Queries, Marketing, and the Publishing Model

Please welcome the following publishers and their founders:

Describe the setup and function(s) of your publishing company.

At Acorn Publishing we combine the benefits of traditional publishing with the freedoms of self-publishing while allowing our authors to keep the rights to their work.
By choosing to self-publish, you are able to maintain control of every aspect of the process, but by doing it with us, your work assumes another level of legitimacy with the cover appeal and expertise of an established publisher. Traditional publishers take a cut of each sale, as does the retailer & agent. With Acorn Publishing, you pay us a flat fee in the beginning and that’s it. If you make 100,000 sales, you keep whatever profit you make.
Submission guidelines:

Dancing Lemur Press, LLC is a traditional publishing company. We accept direct queries for several genres - sci-fi, NA, mystery, Christian, non-fiction, fantasy, etc. We produce print, eBooks, and audio books and pay royalties quarterly. We also have an imprint, Freedom Fox Press.

This year, WiDo’s 10th in business, we opened a hybrid publishing imprint called E.L. Marker to meet the large demand of writers interested in self-publishing, while still wanting the security and know-how of an established publishing team behind them. With our experience, WiDo is in the ideal position to fill that need. We have 10 freelance editors to do the content editing, copyediting, and proofreading of our manuscripts, whether WiDo or E.L. Marker. The books then go to the cover designer followed by professional layout and typesetting to prepare them for print and distribution. Our distributor, Lightning Source, has worldwide distribution to all online as well as brick and mortar bookstores.

What does your company offer over self-publishing?

Vetting Process
By being selective about the books we include in our imprint, we ensure that our catalogue is of good quality. Our books are set apart from the vast amounts of self-published work flooding the market.
You get the support of a team of professionals to help you along the way. We promote your book, represent your work at numerous book festivals, and answer any questions you may have about the process.
Even though behind the scenes you will technically be self-publishing, to the rest of the world your work will appear “traditionally published” with a branded logo and “published by Acorn Publishing” on all retailer websites.

An established brand and image; a large network; professional editing, formatting, & cover design; marketing materials, and experience. (There is a clout that comes with traditional publishing - for instance, self-published books aren’t reviewed by Publishers Weekly or Library Journal.) Our imprint even offers higher royalties for authors who are promotional savvy. All of it is at no cost to the author.

Our company, both the traditional WiDo or the hybrid E.L. Marker, offers the clear advantage of having a seasoned, professional team on your side. From editing, layout and typesetting, cover design, print and distribution as well as marketing support, we're there to help you make your book a reality.

What turns you off in a query letter?

Really horrific topics and/or bad writing. That’s pretty much it.

One that lacks what we clearly state in our submission guidelines as requirements. (Those who start off with “I want you to publish my book” are a big turnoff, too.) Writers who don’t learn how to do a proper query letter or don’t include requested items only demonstrate that they can’t follow directions - and will be a nightmare to work with.

People who don't even bother to make an effort: Forwarded mass letters going out to dozens of publishers at a time. A brief statement like "here's my book, please read" with the chapters attached. Or no letter at all, just the attached chapters.

What catches your eye in a query letter?

Good writing and an original topic.

Sadly, what catches my eye first is one that’s actually done correctly.
After that, a synopsis that is straightforward with a refreshing story catches my attention. If I can see the potential, it has my attention. I also look at writer experience, although a solid marketing plan and online connections will offset no experience.

We look for polished manuscripts with exceptional stories and identifiable characters. For WiDo, we also expect a strong, well-established marketing platform. A query should summarize the book along with information about the writer, especially what makes you the best writer for this book. Including pertinent information about your marketing plans is key if you want publication with WiDo, as it is with any traditional press. Please see our website at for information and submissions guidelines for both our companies.

What do you expect your authors to do as far as marketing?

Their best…we do a lot, but you have to be willing to put yourself out there as best as you know how. We guide our authors and put them in touch with blog tour managers and book clubs etc., so with us you’re never out there on your own trying to figure out what to do.

We expect them to market online, using their social sites and connections to reach a wide audience. We want them to make physical appearances where possible - book signings, conventions, libraries, etc. Since we also produce bookmarks, postcards, and other promo materials, we expect author to distribute them. We guide our authors as much as possible.
Freedom Fox Press authors are expected to do a large portion of the marketing. (The trade-off for higher royalties.)

We expect them to care as much for the success of their books as we do. What is disheartening is when we've invested time and money into creating their book, with the trust that the author will then carry out the marketing plan they submitted, and then after the launch they do a couple things then give up.

What advice would you give writers when they are seeking a publisher?

Try to get the agent and the big deal, but remember A LOT of it is luck. If it doesn’t happen for you, it doesn’t mean your work is unworthy of publication. There are other avenues where you can be just as successful.

Do your research first. Compile a list of publishers who accept your genre and then check their listing on Preditors and Editors. (If you see red, run away.) Read AND follow their submission guidelines. (As I’ve already stated, you really will stand out when you do that.) Finally, never, ever pay a publisher to produce your book. That is subsidy publishing - neither self-published (you don’t own the ISBN, they do) nor is it traditionally published (because you paid.)

My best advice for landing a publishing contract is to submit the best, most polished manuscript that you can. But don’t edit out your own voice and emotional investment in the process. Put your heart into your work, along with all the talent you possess, then submit with a professional, informative query.

Any questions for these publishers? Do their answers surprise you?

Monday, April 10, 2017

Genetics, Research, and the Science in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Today we welcome author Dan Koboldt, founder of #SFFpit! If you write speculative fiction and want to know about research, genetics, and the real science in science fiction and fantasy, Dan is your guy.

How did you get started writing?

I’ve been an avid reader for as long as I can remember, and always fancied the idea of writing. About nine years ago, I decided I should devote some serious effort to it, so I signed up for an “Introduction to Fiction Writing” class at the university where I worked. It focused on short stories, which are an excellent form for learning the basics of the craft. It also served to take me down a peg, because I came into the class thinking that I’d probably be pretty good at it. I’d done a lot of blogging and nonfiction writing. I figured it would come naturally.

Every student wrote two stories and provided them to the rest of the class for critique. I quickly learned that I (1) had no idea what I was doing, and (2) wasn’t very good at it. I was also the only student in the class interested in writing science fiction and fantasy, which brought its own complications when getting critiques. My first short story felt awkward to write, and proved equally awkward to read.

On the bright side, the class’s Clarion-style workshop was very good. It helped me not only improve my own work, but learn how to read others’ work critically and offer feedback. I went on to take the 202 class with the same instructor and many of the same students. We got to know one another’s styles, and watched one another improve over time. The best part is that we still keep in touch and occasionally critique one another’s work.

In class, one consistent piece of feedback I heard was that my submissions felt like a pieces of a much larger story. I figured that was a sign that I should try writing longer-form fiction. Somehow I came across National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), a crazy event in which participants try to write a 50,000-word novel in the month of November. I really found my passion with longer-form fiction. I’ve done NaNoWriMo every year since. My 2012 project went on to become my debut novel, The Rogue Retrieval.

How much and what kind of research do you do for your stories?

It depends on the type of story. When I’m writing fantasy, I tend to do more research because I’m weak on history. Topics like medieval technology, military strategy, and weapons tend to send me down the research black hole, so I limit myself. For science fiction, I’m lucky enough that my day job affords me exposure to a lot of state-of-the-art and near-future technology. I still have to do some research to fill in the gaps, but my science fiction usually comes from things I already know pretty well.

For example, I’m working on a novel about a company that designs custom-made dragons for use in the home. Genetic engineering plays a central role, so I draw a lot on my experience as a working geneticist. My job is to identify the genes that underlie rare diseases in newborns and children, so I spend most of my day trying to figure out what different genes do. That’s something we haven’t entirely figured out, by the way, since the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2001.

So, when I’m writing science fiction, the parts that deal with genes and genetic modification come easily. When it comes to differences between human and reptile anatomy, however, I need to do some legwork. Nobody’s an expert at everything. I’m fortunate to have met many experts in a variety of fields, many of whom are writers themselves, and I try to tap into their expertise when I need to.

So, you're a geneticist, eh? Are there a lot of things that you see authors getting wrong about genetics?

Oh, all the time. It’s not just authors, either: I see mistakes on television, in movies, and elsewhere in the media. The trouble is, we’re fed a lot of information about genetics (and about science in general) in our everyday lives, and not all of it is technically accurate.

I suppose the major public misconception concerns the predictive power of genetics. You know, the whole “The baby has blue eyes and Jim has blue eyes, so he must be the father” idea. Yes, children do tend to look like their parents, but most physical characteristics are what geneticists call complex traits, meaning that they’re influenced by multiple genetic and environmental factors.

Eye color is a deceptive trait because it seems to follow the basic rules of Mendelian inheritance that we learn about in high school biology: brown eyes are dominant, and blue/green eyes are recessive. Unfortunately, it’s not so simple: eye color is determined by the amount of melanin present in the iris, which in turn is influenced by at least a dozen different genes in our genome. Furthermore, I think we all know that not all brown eyes look the same, nor do all green eyes. Iris color is a spectrum, and thus it doesn’t make a good paternity test.

Incidental side note: most babies of African, Asian, or Hispanic ancestry are born with dark eyes that stay dark, while most Caucasian babies are born with blue eyes that often change to a different color after a few months. For more genetic misconceptions, you might want to read my article Eye-based Paternity Testing and Other Human Genetics Myths at Apex Magazine.

Is that why you started your "Science in Sci-fi, Fact in Fantasy" series? What are your plans for that?

Yes, very much so. Science in Sci-fi, Fact in Fantasy is a blog series in which we discuss the scientific/technological/medical aspects of science fiction and the historical/cultural/military aspects of fantasy, with help from an expert in the field. Each article addresses common misconceptions about a certain topic, and offers writers tips for getting it right.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve posted more than 70 articles by engineers, historians, scientists, and other experts. Many of them are writers themselves, and all are fans of the SF/F genre. That makes it particularly useful to aspiring authors who want to craft realistic speculative fiction. However, I think it also has broader appeal to writers of mystery, thriller, and other genres.

My plan for the series is basically to keep it going, to make it as comprehensive as possible and reach a wide audience. I’m always looking for new expert contributors, by the way. If any of you IWSG members have a specific area of expertise that you’d like to share with the writing community, please drop me a line.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Dan Koboldt is a genetics researcher and fantasy/science fiction author from the Midwest. He works for the Institute for Genomic Medicine at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, where he and his colleagues use next-generation DNA sequencing technologies to uncover the genetic basis of pediatric diseases. He has co-authored more than 70 publications in Nature, Science, The New England Journal of Medicine, and other scientific journals.

His debut novel The Rogue Retrieval – about a Vegas magician who infiltrates a medieval world – was published by Harper Voyager in 2016. The next installment, The Island Deception, will be released on April 11, 2017. The final volume is due out in February 2018.

Dan is also an avid hunter and outdoorsman. Every fall, he disappears into the woods to pursue whitetail deer and turkey with bow and arrow. He lives with his wife and three children in Ohio, where the deer take their revenge by eating all of the plants in his backyard.
Find Dan here - Website, Twitter, and Google+

The Island Deception
Available April 11, 2017
From Harper Voyager
Find it at Amazon, iTunes, Barnes and Noble, and Goodreads

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Insecure Writer's Support Group

It’s time for another edition of The Insecure Writer’s Support Group, founded by Ninja Captain, Alex J. Cavanaugh.

The awesome co-hosts today are Christopher D. Votey, Madeline Mora-Summonte, Fundy Blue, and Chrys Fey!
April 5 Question: Have you taken advantage of the annual A to Z Challenge in terms of marketing, networking, publicity for your book? What were the results?

If you’ve not had an opportunity to join yet, the IWSG Goodreads Book Club just selected its first writing book. You have until the end of May to read it, so there’s still time.

The IWSG Twitter Pitch - #IWSGPit takes place July 27. The list of participating agents and publishers continues to grow and it’s a great opportunity for writers. Join us for the event in July - Twitter pitch parties are a lot of fun.

In less than one month, the next IWSG anthology will be released - Hero Lost: The Mysteries of Death and Life. Twelve fantasy stories involving a lost hero from twelve talented authors.

Follow the Lost Hero blog and please support the Thunderclap campaign. They need just a couple more supporters. 

What are your insecurities today? Are you taking part of the A to Z Challenge?