Friday, May 31, 2013

Schizoid Beginnings

Like Latayne, I'm preparing to start a new novel. But unlike Latayne, I'm going solo with Patti-specific ideas. Beauty or beast, the ideas are all mine. Let me explain how I feel about that.

Rather schizoid, actually.

Party Patti wants to believe her ideas are effervescent in their beauty. They are the perfectly dressed woman who walks into a party, and everyone there wants to talk to her--men and women. She has a wide-eyed intelligence and a sense of welcoming that makes her approachable and endlessly entertaining. 

Party-Pooper Patti knows her ideas are old chestnuts that should have been taken out with the trash. So she lurks in the kitchen, hoping no one will notice she arrived in the blouse she has worn all day or the spots of spaghetti sauce on one breast. She trembles over being asked what she's working on. Her elevator pitch is three pages long! Her plot is convoluted. The premise...well...what is the premise?

I hope I'm not the only one.

Am I?

You will admit that you're a bit schizoid, too, right?

This is the truth of it. We all want to be heard, but the part of us that is looking for a campfire where we can tell our fabulous stories (publishing contract?) is at odds with the part of us that fears rejection, exposure, and humiliation. 

This is the tension we must face to start a novel, or if you prefer a more dramatic metaphor: These are the demons we wrestle to get to the computer to muss that first page on the screen. This may be the very phenomenon we're calling procrastination. 

What are we to do?

I would tell you to put your butt in your chair and start writing, but they're telling us that all this sitting is killing us. We should be writing as we walk on a treadmill. Now, we have a fear of falling to overcome. (Picture included, so you'll know I'm not lying.)

Do you feel this tension when starting a novel? (Please say you do even if you don't. My dentist already called me neurotic this week. Honestly, I could use a pack of co-ninnies around me just now.) How do you work past the tension (demons!) to start your novel? Is anyone out there walking and writing at the same time? Is that wise? 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Novel Writing Dream Teams

I’m in the throes of a new novel idea—actually, a series of novels. But the idea wasn’t mine. It’s the idea of a friend of mine, who is a licensed professional counselor who works with traumatized kids.

She has the brains, I have the brawn (writing brawn, that is; kind of like writing about the archaeological discovery of Sodom.)

Her job in the collaboration is cool: calling on bits and pieces from the times she has testified as an expert witness, from heartbreaking counseling sessions, from case files and a lifetime of research into the depths of the human condition, remembering the ways people find their sanity and hope for the future in situations that would bring you and me to despair.

 Many people combine their expertise with the writing talents of others. I’m thinking of Tom Clancy’s novels co-written with others. In the Christian fiction realm, we’ve seen that recently with the collaboration of Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee.

What is your favorite novel-writing collaborative team? Or, if you don’t have one, what would be your dream team? Whose technical or experiential expertise, and whose writing skills? 

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Carpe Annum Interviews: Nicci Jordan Hubert, Freelance Editor

We've declared 2013 as Carpe Annum--Seize the Year! It's our way of encouraging you as an artist/writer to find your own path, listen to your inner iconoclast, and be set free to explore your true writer/reader/human self.

We've handpicked authors and other industry professionals to come onto the blog and share their Carpe Annum experiences. This month we are thrilled to welcome Nicci Jordan Hubert to the blog. 

Nicci Jordan Hubert is a freelance editor based in New York City. She is the proud editor of several New York Times best-selling authors, and the equally proud editor of many more authors who plug away every day, without the glory.

(Full discloser: Nicci was my [Bonnie's] editor on Talking to the Dead, and we've remained in touch since that intense, hilarious time.)

Novel Matters: The theme this year on Novel Matters is Carpe Annum: Seize the Year! Tell us about a turning-point time in your journey in publishing when you took hold of your career. 

What did that look like? 

Nicci Jordan Hubert: You know, I have many flaws, but taking charge isn’t one of them. Or rather, maybe it is. I’d argue that taking charge is something I do a little too easily. Just ask my husband.

Anyway, I can think of two turning points.

Since college (which now seems forever ago), I knew what I wanted. Not specifically, but I knew that I wanted to be in charge. As a publishing intern, that meant announcing to my bosses in a meeting—with several other interns in attendance—that I was determined to work with them permanently, that I wanted to run the place someday. Later, as a new editorial assistant, and as a result of the “entitlement generation,” I made it clear that making copies was not something I would agree to for long. My bosses must have chuckled incredulously behind my back—the audacity! What I hadn’t anticipated was that, although I was a smart kid, it couldn’t make up for my lack of work ethic—I was an assistant and I would have to pay my dues. After almost getting fired for what boils down to total arrogance, I took charge in a new way: I began to work hard and learn the ins and outs of publishing. I decided that whatever I’d gleaned from a liberal arts education wasn’t enough. I had to become a publishing expert. I started coming in early and staying late. Soon enough, I was promoted to senior editor of a new, burgeoning imprint. I was 24.

NM: My hat is off, Nicci. By age 24, I’d learned exactly nothing. What happened after that turning point?

NJH: A couple years after that incredible experience, I was hired as at one of the largest publishing houses in the world, located in NYC. It was a dream come true… until my first day of work. It would be only a matter of days before I learned that the woman and executive editor I worked for was that woefully stereotypical NY editor: cruel, unhelpful, and sabotaging.  After only about half a year, I left my post at the house, took a job as a receptionist at an Upper East Side day spa, and swore off publishing forever. It was, undoubtedly, a turning point.

NM: A head spinning turning point. First you dig in, then you have to bail just to save your sanity. You didn’t stay away from the world of publishing for long, though.

NJH: Some things are just in your blood, are they not? For some reason, I can’t seem to escape publishing. Not even a year after I quit the publishing house, I secured a freelance editing gig that would change my career forever. Nearly ten years later, I am still working as a freelance editor, and now I edit for just about every major publishing house in the industry.

NM: Just the sort of editor every hopeful writer wants to work with. What is the process for an author to come under your direction as their editor?

NJH: Unfortunately, I do not typically accept clients who haven’t been given a publishing or agent contract. There are a few reasons for that. Number one: I hate charging people whose chances of getting published are slim. Number two—and this is the brutal truth: amateur authors often require a heavier hand, a longer editorial process—in other words, much more work from me. And since I can’t convince myself to charge an individual more than a publishing house, I end up working a lot harder for a lot less money. That being said, it brings me a great sense of joy when an author requests me to be their editor, once they’re signed. Other than by author request, I am usually hired by the editorial staff, who pair me with the authors and projects they believe are good fits.

NM: Publishing is changing on every front. What is the biggest change you've noticed in the last few years? 

NJH: Publishing has changed dramatically, to be sure. But to be honest, I’m on the sidelines. As a freelance editor, I’m not in those meetings where the discussion about digitalization and social media takes place. My job—my only job—is to help authors make their books the best they can be. And that process will never change.

Which is what I tell people when they ask me what I think about the future of publishing (which almost never happens, by the way…. Most people don’t care about my freelancer opinion…). I suggest that although the medium may change, the relationship between authors and readers will never change. There is no “end of books.” Books will live forever, of course, whether they’re read on paper, an iPhone screen, futuristic computer-glasses, or perhaps some kind of cool osmosis process.

NM: As an editor, what are always hoping to see when a book crosses your desk? Can you spot a book that has the "it" factor?  

NJH: Almost every editor will tell you that we can spot whether a book is publishable or not within the first 50 pages. Typically, we’re looking for either that “it” factor, or, better yet, just a great book.

NM: Writers tend to hate that phrase because we all think we’re writing a great book. But you mean something specific, right?

NJH: A great book is simply something that’s well conceived and well written. But the “it” factor, that’s a different story entirely. Of course, a classic example is the Twilight series. I devoured Twilight in one sitting, as I’m sure many of you did. I loved it (of course the rest of the series is another matter). But was Twilight a great book? Not really, right? But it certainly had that “it” factor. Which explains why some books, like Twilight, have not only been published but have gone on to sell bazillions of copies. It’s the greatest mystery of publishing.

NM: As much as it drives us all mad, we love the mystery of it all. I think that is what drives so much of the industry; chasing after the mysterious “One”, that novel that will capture the imagination of millions of readers. Should hopeful writers nurture that part of their craft?

NJH: Although there are certainly writers who have “that something” that simply can’t be taught—writers who manage to tap into that it factor without even trying—for those of you who are still aspiring writers, I’d like to suggest you don’t try to go that route. I hate to tell you this, but it’s highly unlikely that you’ve got a barnburner on your hands. You might, but it’s doubtful. You might be the kind of writer whose writing is magical. But you’re probably not; I hate to tell you.

NM: Just give us a moment while we breathe deeply into a paper bag. We. Can. Recover. From. Horrid. Truth. 
Okay. Back on wobbly legs. What if we’re not magical? What if we can't find our unicorn? What’s left for us?

NJH: If you really want to be a successful writer, there are no short cuts. Okay, if you’re related to a celebrity, you’ll have an easier time getting published, but for the rest of you… There is only one path to becoming a good writer: Reading lots of good books. Studying the craft of writing. Practicing writing a lot. Self-editing ruthlessly. And seeking out honest feedback.

NM: Do the work, ask people to kick our butts. Feedback is so often a butt kicking, right? Do we really need it? Isn't it just confusing to a writer's relationships?

NJH: The honest feedback part is important. Don’t ask your friends to edit your work, of course, and make sure the people you do ask have a sense for what makes a good book and will tell you the truth about your work. The last thing you want is to be one of those contestants on American Idol whose best friends told them they were amazing and, yet, they sound like a hyena who just got shot.  Right?

NM: Kapow! (That’s Bonnie imitating a gunshot in a desperate and lame attempt to ease the tension that Nic’s truthful answers are producing.)

NJH: One of Stephen King’s classic lines from On Writing goes, “…while it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.
” Take that advice to heart, and you will either see your dreams fulfilled, or you will save yourself a lot of time and hardship.

That’s a long answer to a short question. So here’s the short answer: the “it” factor that editors are looking for is a book that is either excellent or magical… or both.

NM: I’m just going to go over to the corner here, and have a little cry.

NJH: So don’t. Cut. Corners.

NM: One of the many reasons I love working with you, Nicci, is your ability to tell the truth (even if it stings a little), and your ability to lead by following. You never told me what to do with my story, instead, you offered ideas, you led gently, and when I hit on what I knew would work for the story, you dug in and made it shine. I recall an early morning phone call (someone had forgotten the two hour time difference) after we’d finished the edits on Talking to the Dead, but you were up early rethinking several small but important issues in the manuscript. I recall sitting in bed (it was that early), rather dazed (I repeat, it was that early) and thinking: She’s every kind of brilliant. What kinds of influences do you credit for developing your skills, instincts, and talent as an editor?

NJH: Influences? Well, there are the people I give ALL the credit to in terms of my success. Dan Rich, Terry Behimer, Don Pape, Beth Adams. Then, there are the books I’ve read. The Shining. Bram Stoker’s DraculaPride and PrejudiceFranny and Zooey. The Poisonwood BibleThe Time Traveler’s WifeLife of PiWild. Genre be damned, these books taught me about literary magic.

In terms of instincts, I credit God for that one. I’ve had to trust my gut—along with my experience—in every project I’ve done. Most of the time, it works out okay.

NM: You're a Carpe Annum woman—I know you jump into every year full of enthusiasm and drive. What are you doing this year to seize the year, professionally, personally, or both?

NJH: Well I don’t know if I jump into every year full of enthusiasm. It’s more like fear and trembling. Will I get enough jobs to sustain me financially? Will I continue to grow as an editor? Will my stock rise? A typical NY transplant, I am ambitious to a fault. We’ll see how this year goes. As my best publishing friends here in NY say, “We’re Big in 2013.” 

Thanks so much, Nicci, for taking time to appear on the blog today!
Well, dear reader/friend, have you recovered from the interview? There's nothing like a kick in the truth to motivate a writer. I know that every word from Nicci is delivered with love: love for writers, for readers, and for books.

Thoughts? Reactions? 

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Alure of Blue Foil

Back in 1996, I spotted a paperback book on a rack near the drugstore checkout counter. The cover was a delicious, milky cream, with a color-tinted polaroid on the cover, and the most dazzling blue foil around the edges.

I couldn't stop looking at the blue foil.

One glance at the back cover copy told me all I needed to know about the story. It was a sappy romance, and that meant that I would not like this book. So I put it back, bought my basket-full of stuff, and went home.

And thought about the book with the beautiful blue foil.

Any surprise that I later went back after it? Or that I did not like the story? But that hardly mattered; I'm a sucker for a pretty face.

I bought Dust by Arthur Slade, in part because of its cover, the haunting image of a child exhaling butterflies. The story was everything that child made me hope it would be.

I read Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey on the Facebook advice of John Blase, but also
because of the child hiding behind the aspen in the snow. Another beautiful story.

I'd read any book by Madeleine L'Engle, of course, but  The Ordering of Love insisted I own the graceful
portrait of the author herself that graces its cover.

I've loved the covers of my friends books here on Novel Matters. I love the soft, tender creepiness of Talking to the Dead by Bonnie Grove, the beautiful colors of Patti's Garden Gate series - which she photographed herself! I was delighted to see the beautiful amber cover on Latayne's soon-to-be blockbuster, Discovering the Lost City of Sodom. The watercolor grass-field of Debbie's Raising 
Rain. The beautiful
dancer on my own To Dance In the Desert. And of course, the covers for Sharon's novels, three of which I was honored to design myself.

And Susie Finkbeiner's Paint Chips, with its rose petals and aqua blue.

On my to-read-one-day list are several that called me from across the room with beautiful colors, striking images. Among them are Makeda by Randall Robinson, and of course - get ready for the blue - Indigo by Catherine McKinley.

What book covers have called to you? Please provide links so we can see them ourselves.

We love to see what you like to read.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Summer Reading Bookbag

We’re fast approaching the time of year when we pack our suitcases and carryon bags and travel to our favorite vacation spots. Whether we’re cruising to exotic locales, pitching a tent by a mountain stream or loading up the station wagon for a family reunion, we’re all focused on the same objective: to escape from life’s worries and stresses, if only for a short time.  And books fill the bill soooo well.
I recently returned from a sun-filled, sand-between-the-toes kind of getaway.  In the six days we were gone, I achieved that objective. Ahhh.  In that time, I finished two books and started two more. 

The first book was The Scarlet Pimpernel.  I found this classic at Target for $2.99. It was so different from my normal type of read - a rakish rogue saves innocents from the guillotine in the nick of time, with style and the love of a beautiful lady. I decided to save it for vacation.  (For awhile, I fought the impulse to read ‘P-P-P-Pumpernickel’ instead of ‘Pimpernel,’ thanks to Daffy Duck’s telling of the tale.) The book was a page turner and I will probably watch the movie (Leslie Howard, Merle Oberon) if it ever comes to Netflicks.  This story was the perfect escape, but I’m a sucker for characters like Robin Hood and Zorro.

From plot-driven to character-driven, the second book couldn’t have been more different: Sense and Sensibility.  I enjoyed this one, but Jane (Austen) made me work for it.  It’s amazing how much action she can create in her stories when you consider the lifestyle of her characters. Basically, their options for activity are walking in the lanes and fields, working needlepoint, visiting with neighbors, reading aloud and occasionally going to dances. But their futures are at stake, and she uses these largely sedentary activities to create tension between characters through dialogue, misinterpretation, expectations and misunderstanding.  I’ll admit, I did skim a teensy bit, but I was anxious to find out who the sisters ended up with.

Vacations give you permission to read something out of the norm.  To read a book in a flash, because you can.  With nothing pressing on the horizon, no job to interfere, no responsibilities to break up the flow, you can completely immerse yourself in the time period or the story world or the chain of events that make for great stories.

What books are in your summer reading carryon or loaded on your Kindle?  Do vacations give you ‘permission’ to change-up your reading choices? We’d love to hear.

Monday, May 20, 2013

If This Is What I Want As A Reader. . . A Novel Matters Roundtable

I'm trying to catch up on my TBR pile. I don't read long fiction while I'm writing a  novel because, inevitably, the novel I'm reading gets tangled up in the one I'm writing making for messy re-writes. This readathon happening at my house has made me realize that I've been living a double life. One as a reader, the other as a writer. What I look for in a novel and what I write (particularly in that lousy first draft) suffer disconnect. It's time to bridge the thinking gap and bring the reader and writer in me together!

If this is what I want as a reader: A story that introduces me to can't-look-away characters I fall in love with the moment I meet them,

 How come as a writer I: Piddle around with the opening of the story, adding all kinds of backstory, moody and unnecessary details about the weather, or long narratives from a god's-eye-view that don't bring the characters close?

Here's another one. If this is what I want as a reader: Complex novels that deal with human struggle on several levels at once.

How come as I writer I: Try to make myself think that a single problem should have a single answer? It's good for a novel to have a central question (theme), but it's yawnsville if I write as if the question has only one good answer.

Alright, ladies, 'fess up with your reader/writer disconnects. I'm not alone in this, am I?

Oh boy, Bonnie, I'm right there with you, but I'm asking the question a bit differently. As a reader, I don't pick up genre fiction. Yes, I read historical fiction, although I prefer near-history, but not historical romance. I'm most interested in a good story historical or not with complexity, like you, that challenges me to look at what I thought I knew differently. I do try to write those stories but never as well as I want to.

I'm ready to start my next project. All through the marketing of my present release, I've been frustrated with having to pigeonhole the story into a genre of two categories and seven keywords, so readers can find it. What I write doesn't fit the prescribed vocabulary of marketing. I'm so tempted to chuck it all and embrace a genre. But which one? Shouldn't I write what I read, even if I don't do it as well as I want to?

So, Bonnie, I'm definitely conflicted, and I'm at a crossroads. Please send chocolate.

Wow, this is more difficult than it sounds, but I'll give it a try.

If this is what I want as a reader:  Complex plots that are interwoven between compelling characters,

How come as a writer I: write novels with simpler plots, focusing on the problem of one major character? Answer: because complex plots are dang hard to pull off! I don't take the time to develop all, or most, of my characters to the same level. But when you think about it, each one has his or her own drama going on, his or her own catastrophe, his or her own long-fought-for success. Each character should have the potential of The Main Character, and yet I narrow the scope of my stories when it comes to the supporting cast. I know that about myself, but the problem is that I'm not good at juggling. Maybe with my new WIP I'll be more mindful of what's going on in the lives of my other characters and see how good I can become at weaving.

I love this exercise, Bonnie - thanks for bringing it up. So my question is: If what I want as a reader is characters who take my breath away (think Corrigan in Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann) - well, I do start with the character, and with practice, may yet write a Corrigan one day.

I'll start over, and better this time: If what I love best is a high wire act*, a lavish risk that achieves the spectacular when it succeeds (think The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak) then why do I take so few risks when I write? I'm working on becoming fearless.

Pray for me.

Okay, so I want exotic, mysterious, suspenseful, rich, multilayered characters and settings. I want people with secrets and secrets with landscape. I want the rug pulled out from underneath me at least twice and as I sit rubbing my bum, I want to tell myself I should have seen it coming. And then step on another rug without looking at it.

That's what I want. That's what I try to write. But I certainly don't do it up to my own expectations of the writings of others-- or of myself.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Ever Come Unraveled?

I was speaking to a small women's group soon after Unraveled was released. As a way to lead to my introduction, the moderator of the meeting went around the tables and asked the women to say something that makes them come unraveled, which I thought was a clever and innovative way to begin. Mostly the women stated their pet peeves rather than describing something that really rattles them. So after my introduction, before I got on with what I'd prepared to say, I told a story that, a few years earlier, had caused me to come unraveled, in a big way. As a fun way to spend our Friday together, I'm sharing that with you today.

I have to say, the one unanswerable question in the universe is, "Where is a man when you need one?" The answer for me might be Jamaica, Cuba, Siberia ... anywhere but home. When this particular story occurred, my husband was in the Philippines. It was the mid-nineties and Rick and I were brand new empty-nesters. My husband, who is a builder, decided he wanted to live in the country, so he built us a beautiful home on five acres a few miles out of town. We lived there three agonizingly long years. I wrote "Back Side of the Moon" as my return address on all correspondence, because that's how it felt to me -- like I was living on the back side of the moon. It took 15 minutes at 60 mph one way to get a gallon of milk. It was definitely not my cup of tea. But Rick was in country heaven and decided to fulfill a longtime dream: he began growing a herd of Texas Longhorn cattle. Moo.

So we got a couple of Longhorn cows ... that we named after our granddaughters. Don't you know those were the safest cows in the county? They weren't ending up on anyone's dinner plate. Every morning and evening Rick would go out and feed them, and put a special blend of oats in their feeding trough. Then he'd bang the can and they'd come running from whatever corner of the pasture they were in to enjoy their treat.

Whenever he was away, it became my job to do this. But I wasn't quite so cozy with our cows. No, I'd wait till they were in the furthest part of the pasture, then I'd tiptoe to the feeding area, pour their oats into the trough as quietly as I could, and hightail it out of the pasture before they got a whiff and came running. Remember, they had horns. Long horns.

Well, as I said, my husband was in the Philippines for a few weeks doing some sort of ministry, and one morning the phone rang at 6:00, waking me from a dead sleep. A woman on the other end of the line said, "Your cows are in my yard," then she hung up. I laid there half-asleep, trying to make sense of the call. Your cows are in my yard ... your cows are in my ... Wait! What?! "MY COWS ARE IN YOUR YARD?!" I jumped out of bed, threw on some clothes, popped my contacts into my eyes, grabbed my keys, and hauled out of the driveway. Then I hit my brakes and thought, "Wait. Who called?
Whose yard are my cows in?!" I had no clue. So I did the only thing I could think to do. I drove around looking for two runaway cows, feeling like Little Bo Peep, because I. Can't. Find. Them! Anywhere. And the things I was saying out loud to Rick ... well, I won't repeat them here.

I looked everywhere I could think to look, but no luck. So I drove back home, wondering, What do I do now?! I no sooner got back in the house when the phone rang again. This time it was my neighbor who lived on the acreage to the south of us, and who was the self-appointed, unofficial Neighborhood Watch Captain, because she knew everything about everything that went on anywhere within range of her binoculars. And she said to me, "Sharon, are you looking for your cows?" I swear, I'm not making this up. I looked at the phone in my hand. Am I looking for my cows? Are you serious? How could you know this?! "Yes, I am. I'm looking for my cows." And she said, "They're in so-and-so's yard." So I drove down there, and sure as the world, there were Haleigh and Katelyn in so-and-so's yard.

So what do I do now? I am not a country girl. I don't even own a pair of boots. Nor am I the Pied Piper. And they are not going to fit in my Explorer. And then it hit me. One of the guys who worked for my husband was a cowboy! A real one. With a horse and everything. So I called him. "Choya!" (He was even named for a character in an old western his mom had liked.) "You have to help me." And he did. He drove twenty or so miles to get from his place to ours, rounded up the herd, and got them back in our pasture. Then he mended the fence and made sure things were good the rest of the time Rick was away. God. Bless. Him.

Well, that's the kind of thing that happens regularly when Rick is on a trip, and it's one of the things that unravels me.

We sold the place shortly after that.

What unravels you? Share and I'll put your name in a drawing for a copy of Unraveled.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Shh, Marketing Books Through Reviews

Many thanks to Ariel Lawhon for Monday's post on Reading Rules. She set a lovely tone for doing our part in talking about the books we read.

Shh. This knowledge is for Novel Matters readers only: Goodness and Mercy is now a "real" Kindle book and ready for purchase. I couldn't be prouder or more relieved. After all, I survived self-publishing, so far.

Now, on to marketing. I couldn't be more intimidated.

Word on the web and in the myriad of marketing books I've read on the subject is that two things sell ebooks. The first are reviews by bloggers, especially bloggers who specialize in ebooks.

People who prefer indie books flock to these blog sites for what's latest in ebooks. But these specialized bloggers won't post about your book unless you have the second key ingredient in your marketing plan already in place: reviews on Amazon.

As for reviews, I have none. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Ugh.

But only you know the book is up and ready for sale, so I'm not too worried...yet.

My plan was to give away 50 ebooks to Novel Matters readers and ask you to write a review for Amazon--only if you liked the book (more on that later). But if I give away books to potential reviewers, the reviews won't have that "Verified Amazon Purchase" label that adds credibility to the  review.

So I posted the book for the next best thing to free. It's .99 through Sunday.

Since some of you are considering self-publishing, let me share why these reviews are so important and why I thought of you, the Novel Matters readers as the best people to ask to write them.

Let's imagine we're together (Wouldn't that be a treat?) at the checkout counter at our favorite coffee shop, The Novel Matters, where there are free wi-fi and ergonomic chairs for all novelists.

There's a tip jar at eye level with a few dollars and some shiny coins in the bottom. We think, People who buy coffee here are tippers. We should drop something in the jar.

Fact is, savvy waitstaff will seed the tip jar with a few dollars and some shiny coins because they understand the power of social proof.

Social proof is how humans give behavioral cues. A healthy number  of reviews on Amazon is social proof that a book is worth reading and worth writing a helpful review for.

But only if you like the story.

Of all the people I could ask, here's why I chose you: First, the goal is to provide honest reviews of Goodness & Mercy, warts and all. Over the years, I've learned you are honest about books because you care so much about the craft and art of storytelling. Second, I want insightful comments about the story and characters. You people are brilliant! And I'm not just saying that to butter you up.

To help you along, here are elements of a great book review:

  1. Brief synopsis with no spoilers
  2. The basic theme or themes of the story
  3. A judgment on writing style
  4. How did the book make you feel?
  5. What you loved or hated and why
  6. Whether you would recommend the book to others

Obviously, I'm hoping to average 4.5 stars as I have with my other novels. That means you won't all give me 5 stars, and I hope you don't. No book is perfect, even the ones we love. I just finished Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. I've recommended the book with no reservations, even though I thought the middle dragged a bit. Did some skimming. But I LOVED the story. 4 stars!

Is this ethical?

All businesses understand and use social proof, whether they do so consciously or not. We own a garden center. Every year, the local newspaper publishes a survey on which are the best restaurants, hardware stores, beauty parlors, and garden centers (among many other categories) in town. Readers vote and the winners are announced in a flashy insert in the newspaper. We've won the Best of the West Peoples Choice award for garden centers year after year.

Until two years ago. Home Depot won! Two years in a row! Boo! Hiss!

So we started asking our customers to consider voting for us as best garden center. (You can bet Home Depot encouraged their employees to vote.)  I'm happy to report that Goliath fell this year. Our customers were more than happy to vote for us because we know them by name, we help them grow great gardens, we carry superior products, and we know how to use them.

So, if you think I've written a story worth recommending, would you consider writing a review on Amazon? If you think it's a stinker, kindly keep that to yourself. If you're too busy to write a thoughtful review, I would happily receive a Yipee! 

Also, I promise to be very, very quiet about Goodness & Mercy from now on. Thanks for listening and thank you for considering helping me this way.

Remember, Sharon Souza and Latayne Scott also have new releases on Amazon and would love a positive review. And if you've enjoyed a book by anyone, the best thing you can do to vote for that books--besides buying the book--is writing a review. A review is a kiss on the lips for authors.

Kiss an author today!

Besides offering the book for free on it's release date (6/12) and occasionally thereafter, my plan is to pray that the book will end up in the hands God wants. Period. I'm too eager to get back to writing to overdo this marketing thing. BTW, the paperback will release on the same day...or whenever I get my act together. Find Goodness & Mercy here.

Is giving you a lower price and asking you to write a review (4 or 5 stars only) ethical? Is there a better way to garner reviews? What have you done that worked? Didn't work? What marketing have you seen that piqued your interest in a book enough to buy it? How important are reviews to you in the book buying process? 

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Reading Rules--Guest Post by Ariel Allison Lawhon of She Reads

There’s a game I play with my children every time we sit down to read. I call it “The Reading Rules” because the four boisterous children I’ve been given need reminding of what is (and is not) civilized behavior while reading a story.

Consider this recent episode:

Me: “Boys, what are the reading rules?”

Boy #1 (ten-years-old): “No talking while you read.”

Boy #2 (eight-years-old): “No asking questions til’ you’re done.”

Boy #3 (six-years-old): “No hitting.”

Boy #4 (four-years-old): “I tooted.”

This, as you can imagine, sent the entire conversation down the toilet (pun intended). Spasms of giggles. One child plugged his nose and rand around the couch. Someone else flailed on the floor. But now they were inspired. And hyper.

Boy #1: “And no picking our nose.”

Boy #2: “And no eating our boogers.”

Boy #3: “Boogers taste yucky.”

Me: “Please don’t tell me how you know that.”

Boys 3 and 4 had, by this point, twisted off to the point where they were unmanageable and had to be sent to bed. It took an additional five minutes to corral the attention of the older two back to the task at hand: learning which of the four houses the Sorting Hat assigned Harry Potter. They are sensitive enough to plot even at this age that they rooted for Gryffindor. And of course, by the time we reached the end of the chapter, they were not disappointed.

What does this have to do with a literary blog you say? As a novelist, avid reader, co-director of a national book club, and a contributor to this fine establishment, I wanted to suggest that my children are not the only uncivilized readers out there. Many of us could use a few Reading Rules as well. Here a few that come to mind:

Rule #1: No Judging A Book Unless You’ve Read It

I will confess I’ve done this very thing. I’ve read reviews and heard my fellow writers/readers pan a book and formed an opinion on something I’ve not so much as held. This rule can be tricky considering my role at She Reads. I have the opportunity to read dozens of books every month. And the truth is that I often find myself in the position where I do not care to finish them. But if I’m being honest, that does not put me in a position to judge the entire book – only the portion I’ve read. I could name more than one novel that began better than it ended. Or vice versa. Recently I was so irritated by the first line of a novel that I snapped it shut and haven’t picked it up again. By doing so I disqualified myself from all intelligent conversation on that novel. So the rule that I apply to unread or unfinished books is to say, “I’ve not read the novel,” or “What I read didn’t interest me.” And I leave it at that. Anything less is unfair to the author and the book.

Rule #2: Think Before You Review

This rule could also be stated “think before you request.” With programs such as Amazon Vine and mass blog tours, readers are now in a position to acquire books they would normally never purchase. Not always a bad thing perhaps, but it’s easy to request a novel when there is no personal cost, only to toss it aside later or give it the dreaded one star rating because it fell outside the bounds of personal taste. I could give you a list of novels and authors and genres that I go out of my way to avoid. But to do so would be unfair. See Rule #1.

Rule #3: If You Don’t Like A Book Tell Us Why

There are few things less trustworthy than a book reader/reviewer who loves or hates every book. I’ve found some blog tour participants to be guilty of this and I would wager it has to do with workload. Much easier to slap up the book cover and a few sugar/acid coated thoughts about the novel. Yet honest critique is invaluable to an author. If we’re going to publically critique the work of another let’s be honest, intelligent, thoughtful. And fair. 

So what do you think? Do you disagree with any of these rules? Or feel others should be added to the list? For the advancement of civilized reading, please do share!