Throughout 2017, I have been doing a book review per day. I will end the year with a total of 365 reviews, which, when added to the reading I do just for pleasure, will mean that I will have read over 400 books this year. It’s been fun, and educational, but the press of other writing and non-writing projects have taken their toll. When I did my annual eye exam in late-November 2017, I was informed that, while my distance vision had improved, my lack of binocular vision, due to a childhood accident, meant that I’ve been reading with only one eye. Even with store-bought readers, that one eye was just reading enlarged text. I was given prescription reading glasses, which, to my surprise has made quite a difference. What it means, though, is that I need now to use reading glasses, not just for reading books, but when I’m on the computer as well.
Because of this, I have decided to set a new reading and reviewing schedule for 2018. Beginning in January 2018, I will only do one book review per week on this site. I still have to do a lot of reading as I research my own books, and I’d like my eyes to be able to reach the end of next year without any further degradation of visual acuity.
Thanks to all my readers who have reacted to my daily reviews, and here’s hoping you’ll keep reading the reduced schedule.
Experienced writers know, after tedious trial and error, that it is compelling characters that hook readers on what you write. One of the best ways to get readers to invest in your characters is to be able to show their emotional state. The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackermann and Becca Publisi is a handy list of ways to ‘show’ what your character is feeling, without having to expressly ‘tell’ your reader. Whether you’re a beginning wordsmith or a grizzled veteran, this book is a must-have for your writer’s reference library.
I purchased this book about four years ago from Amazon and made it part of my library. I’ve lately been going through these books and selecting those that I think would be of interest to those readers who are also writers. This one is a great time-saver that will give you loads of ideas to improve your writing.
I give it five stars.
Writing is hard work. But, getting published, and getting your book read is even harder. The Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy, Volume Three: The Author’s Grimoire edited by Valerie Griswold-Ford and Lai Zhang is a comprehensive guide to the networking and self-promotion practices that will help writers, from tyro to experienced, gain maximum exposure. Detailed guidance on approaching publishers and agents is useful for those deciding to go the traditional publishing route, but most helpful in today’s publishing world, are the hints on generating buzz for your work, which is quite useful to independent authors.
I purchased this book from Amazon several years ago, and still refer to it from time to time when I’ve just published a new book, as a reminder of the work that needs to be done to attract readers.
I give this book four stars.
Because I know that a lot of the readers of these reviews are authors themselves, and because, as a writer, I happen to have a large collection of books on writing, I’ve decided to review some of them as a service to my readers. One of my favorite how-to books, and one that has been in my library for some time, is How to Write a Novel the Easy Way by Jim Driver with Jack Davies.
A brief book by an author, editor, and publisher in the UK, this book discusses the pulp fiction method of writing, harking back to the 50s and 60s, the heyday of pulp fiction, when authors cranked out book after book, not exactly literary fiction, but well-crafted stories for the broadest possible audience. The authors describe easy-to-apply methods for writing stories that will entertain readers, which, at the end of the day is what we writers really want to do.
From character development to outlining and writing your book, you will find this a handy reference for your own shelves. They take the mystery out of mystery writing, and put the romance in your bodice-rippers. I purchased this book from Amazon so long ago, it’s no longer listed in my purchases. While I spend most of my time writing, or reading books for review, these days, I hadn’t picked it up in a long time, but when I did, I wasn’t surprised to find that there were still things I could learn from it.
I give it five stars.
Writing at Work: Professional Writing Skills for People on the Job by Edward L. Smith and Stephen A. Bernhardt is a comprehensive guide for anyone who wants to improve writing skills at work. It covers everything from grammar to improving the appearance of your writing. I use this book in connection with a summer writing workshop on professional writing that I conduct for select college seniors interested in careers in foreign affairs. I’ve found it to be a handy guide, in conjunction with a style guide, to assist students in the task of improving their writing skills.
Whether used for teaching others, or as an individual self-help guide, for the young professional, this book should have a prominent place in the reference library.
I give this handy reference five stars.
There’s been a number of articles on various sites about publishers who hook unwary authors into contracts that give nothing in return. Many indie authors have fallen into this trap—I include myself, unfortunately, in that number.
When I was working on my first book length manuscript, a book on leadership that I was encouraged to write by a young man who worked for me as my speech writer when I was U.S. ambassador to Cambodia (2002-2005). After slaving over the manuscript for nearly three years, I went searching for a publisher.
I encountered an ad from PublishAmerica, a Maryland-based small imprint that, unlike the many vanity publishers advertising at the time, touted the fact that they PAID authors for their work instead of asking for payment. Knowing, or at least suspecting, that the book I’d written would have limited appeal, it didn’t sound like a bad deal, so I submitted it.
A few weeks later I received an email advising me that my book was accepted for publication. Attached to the email was a contract. Naïve in the ways of publishing, I unwisely didn’t have that contract read by a lawyer before signing it. From what I’d read, it didn’t seem to bad – the advance was paltry (a mere $1.00), and I was locked into an 8-year commitment. But, the book would be published, so I figured I had nothing to lose.
It was published, but from that point on, it was a nightmare. The cover was somewhat amateurish—even then, just learning the art of designing book covers, I could’ve done a better job. The price was a bit high, I thought, but again, I was new to all this and didn’t know any better. I was encouraged to buy copies for myself at a measly discount from the inflated cover price. The royalties were also small; something like 8% of the cover price (compare that to the 75% you can get publishing it yourself through the Kindle Direct Program, or even the rather generous percentage you get when you publish a paperback through CreateSpace). They did, at least, list it on all the major book-seller sites; Amazon, etc.
Surprisingly, there were a few early sales, and I even got it included in a couple of libraries (The U.S. State Department Library, and my college library, to name two). A few people I met at conferences, who had read it, also informed me that they’d purchased copies to use in their management training programs. Despite this, my royalty checks over the past eight-plus years have yet to exceed $50. Looking back, when I compare this to the $100 per month I get through KDP, and an average of $30 per month through CreateSpace and other sales of paperbacks, I can see that what seemed at the time to be ‘too good to be true,’ in fact was just that.
The eight years in the contract are up now, and you would assume, as implied in the contract, my book rights belong to me. Guess again.
PublishAmerica changed its name to AmericaStar, in an effort, I believe, to attract foreign indie authors, but its practices remain the same. It does nothing to promote the books it accepts, beyond importuning the author regularly to buy copies, and lately it has done something that seals its fate as far as I’m concerned.
Over the past 60 days, I’ve been getting emails from AmericaStar nee PublishAmerica, informing me that the company is getting out of the publishing business and going full time to book promotion. In doing so, it plans to sell the rights to the books it holds to another ‘Indie’ publisher, but I can get them assigned to me for a modest fee of $199—it said in the initial emails that this was to cover the cost of removing it from selling platforms, etc.
At first, I couldn’t believe they would have the gall to do something like this, so I just ignored the first four or five emails. Then, they said, if I couldn’t afford $199, for a few days I could get my rights back for a mere $149. Again, I ignored them. A week later, another email, informing me that I had only two days to BUY my rights back, and they were doing me a big favor by reducing the cost to $99. Thoroughly steamed by now, I just filed the emails away and went on to other projects.
The latest are . . . funny, pathetic, I’m not sure how to characterize them. I now have 24 hours to obtain the rights to my own work for $79. If I fail to do this, someone else (as yet unknown) will own the rights to my book, and they can’t promise what the buyer will do with these rights.
Thankfully, I’ve self-published scores of books since my first mistake, and while I’m not on any best-seller lists, and not getting rich from it, I’m enjoying fairly regular sales, and getting some pretty solid reviews. As for buying the rights back to my own work—I’m in wait-and-see mode. If the last email is correct, I will probably be hearing from the mysterious new publisher someday soon with a request that I buy my book, or something equally ridiculous.
I’ve written that book off as a lost cause, and a lesson learned. Never were the words caveat emptor more appropriate.
If you’re an indie author, or are otherwise engaged in a solo entrepreneurial activity, you might think growing your business (or selling more books) means that you have to cram in more hours of work and learn a whole suite of new skills. Not so. With a minimum outlay of money you can do what many big businesses do; you can outsource the things you’re not good at and spend more time doing the things you do well.
Karen Banes’ The Savvy Solopreneur’s Guide to Outsourcing is a brief tutorial that will help you in the task of finding skilled people to do things for you, leaving you more time to spend on doing the things you love doing. Written in plain words and crammed full of links to resources ranging from dirt cheap to expensive, and with a clear-cut guide to setting your solo business up to take the best advantage of the many resources available, this is a handy reference book for anyone who desires to grow their solo business.
Whether you’re just getting started, or you’ve been at it for a while, you’re sure to find a useful nugget or two of information in this book, so don’t delay; get it today and start taking advantage of all that it has to offer.
This one is a five star addition to your reference library!
Bryan Hutchinson is a freelance writer who shares his views on writing in a blunt, no-holds-barred manner. In Inspired Writer: How to Create Magic With Your Words, he takes the gloves off with some down and dirty advice on everything from overcoming writer’s block to finding your muse (or perhaps it’s better to say, letting your muse find you).
This isn’t a how-to book. It’s a think piece for anyone who wants to write better. Hutchinson’s focus is on YOU the writer, and how to unlock your ability to get your thoughts across in the most effective manner.
If you want to write better, you’re the key, and this book can help you find the right keyhole. It is not the magic bullet that will guarantee your next book will be a best seller; just some no-nonsense advice on how to write what’s inside you in a way that will resonate with readers.
Review of ‘Marketing Your Book On Amazon: 21 Things You Can Easily Do For Free To Get More Exposure and Sales’
Have you written and published a book, but sales are depressing—or nonexistent. Maybe what you need is a way to get readers to notice your book. Marketing Your Book on Amazon: 21 Things You Can Easily Do For Free to Get More Exposure and Sales by Shelley Hitz is a short Kindle book that outlines in easy-to-understand steps a marketing plan for your book, using some of the handy programs on Amazon as well as other social marketing platforms. Hitz shows how authors can use the Amazon Author Page, use keywords effectively to enable more readers to see your book, and many other methods, some well-known to anyone who has published on Amazon’s CreateSpace or Kindle Direct platforms, and others perhaps not so well known.
Along with the handy hints, Hitz has also included in the book a link to a free video tutorial that takes you through the marketing plan—a great tool for the visually oriented learner. While these tips won’t guarantee that you’ll instantly become a bestseller, they will certainly improve your chances of selling more books, and building a following of readers for future books.
If you’ve been struggling to sell your books, this is a worthwhile investment. I’ve used several of the suggestions, and while not all have worked for me, I have seen an increase in book sales over the past several months, so I can say that some of them do work. The one thing that is definite, writing your book is just the first step; marketing it is the essential next step if you want to be read.
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. I give it four stars.
Bullies, Bastards & Bitches is a politically incorrect title (in today’s PC world), but it’s the absolutely correct title for Jessica Page Morrell’s book on how to write the bad guys of fiction.
Starting with an in depth description of the primal fears that motivate all of us, Morrell than proceeds to chart how to create memorable bad guy (or girl) characters that will keep readers turning the pages of your book, because they see in what you write the things they fear, and they’re afraid to stop reading.
Replete with examples of effective bad characters from classic fictional works, this book will help you bring life to your writing like no other. A total five star book.
Best-selling author James Scott Bell channels the Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu in The Art of War for Writers, a book of strategies, tactics, and exercises to help a writer navigate the terrain of creating characters and plots that will captivate readers.
Writing, Bell maintains, is a lot like waging war, and using the tactics of Sun Tzu, Bell takes readers on a journey through the campaign of bringing stories to life in a way that makes perfect sense. The final chapter alone is worth the price of the book; the writer must apply wisdom, sincerity, benevolence, courage, and strictness in the craft of writing, for it’s only through mastering these traits that truly great writing can be achieved.
So, be wise, and sincerely get this book for your reference library, and then have the courage to strictly apply the guidance contained therein to ensure benevolence in your writing.
I give it five stars.
Modern Mythmakers: 35 Interviews with Horror & Science Fiction Writers and Filmmakers by Michael McCarty is a gem. A collection of 35 interviews with some of the biggest names in sci-fi and horror fiction and film, this book is chock full of sage advice for those who want to write in these genres, or fans. It gives a down and dirty look at what drives or drove such greats as the late Ray Bradbury, Dean Koontz, and others who have given us books and films that have become classics.
This is a book that you’ll want to read again and again. It’s now in my reference library, and I proudly award it five stars–only because I can’t give it six.
It’s time for another posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. This is where you can see posts from a group of writers who share their success, fear, and advice with you on the first Wednesday of each month. This month, I have only a brief message; about a subject I’ve been avoiding, but there has been so much in the media about it the past several months, I’ve decided to be silent no longer.
In American politics, there are a number of topics that arouse intense debate whenever they’re brought up: immigration, gun control, gay marriage, social security, to name a few. In the publishing world, though, among publishers and writers, there seems to be only one subject that does this: Amazon.
The ‘Zon seems to be the third rail of the publishing world—especially when it comes to indie writers and publishers. Everyone has an opinion on it, and all opinions seem to be at one pole or another; Amazon is either a behemoth that is devouring publishing as we know it, or it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.
Let me give you my view, for what it’s worth. Amazon is big. It’s huge. And, while big is not necessarily better, it’s also not necessarily bad. Sure, Amazon’s a business, and the business of business is to make money. Amazon has become big because it’s been good at doing that. And, it’s made all that money by supplying what customers want. Along with the thousands of other products available for sale on Amazon.com and its other sites around the world, are tons of books in all forms, from hardcover to e-Book (to audiobook), all of them available at the click of a few keys on your computer; available, I might add, often at relatively reasonable prices. Reasonable prices attract more customers, which means more sales, which means more income—or so Amazon’s reasoning seems to be.
Now, one of the arguments against Amazon has been that it is creating a monopoly which will restrict the availability of books, which will hurt authors. Looking at what’s available for sale on Amazon and my own book sales over the past year, I have a hard time believing that argument. Will Amazon help or hurt writers, especially indie writers? I think the answer to that is, it depends. If you have a large backlist and your books are pretty good, I think Amazon’s business model will benefit you. Take my own case, for example. My books are so-so popular (I have a few diehard fans), and I have a backlist of 60+. Amazon’s new model, which pays authors for total pages read, has caused a 25% increase in my monthly revenue. Why? Simple really; the more you have available to be read, the more will be read. For example, if you have four books and readers read 75% of each, you still won’t do as well as I will with 60 and readers only reading 35% of each. Don’t believe me; do the math.
The same can be said of many of Amazon’s other business models, such as KDP Select, where you make a book exclusive to Amazon for a period of time. It’s easier to do that if you have several books, and can chose which ones you want to make exclusive, and which ones you want available on other platforms (and, I’m talking e-Books here, as paperbacks aren’t exclusive).
So, briefly put, Amazon is in the business of making money. If you’re an author, you should be in the business of gaining readers, and you do that by offering a wide audience of readers a wide selection of things to read. Amazon is the platform to do that. Not the only one, by any means, but a good one. So, rather than getting embroiled in the debate, get to writing.