I spend more time tinkering with stuff than writing stuff

Some time ago, I read a post in the late Pat Conroy’s blog in which he thanked his publicity team from his publisher. No wonder he sells so many copies. His team was bigger than my neighborhood.

Most of us don’t have a publicity team, so we try to do it ourselves. Frankly, we like to think that our strong points as authors are the books we produce. Our weak points are creating ads, blog posts, and scintillating website copy. But we try.

I just finished reading an author’s book that came out several years ago from a sizeable publisher. When I checked her website, I was surprised to see that it had been more or less dormant for three years. Maybe she can afford to let it go until her next book comes out. But most of us can’t. So, if we have blogs, we try to post often. If we have websites, we keep tinkering with them in hopes that visitors will be lured back with fresh stuff to read.

Sometimes we have real news. I recently announced the new hardcover editions of Conjure Woman’s Cat, Eulalie and Washerwoman, Lena, and a collection of short stories called Widely Scattered Ghosts.

A few days ago, AudioFile Magazine posted a favorable review of the Audiobook edition of Lena.  Sometimes we have to rely on back-up materials, in my case, I often post pictures of the Florida Panhandle where my books are set and recently posted an opinion about the bankruptcy of white supremacy. Frankly, once we were out of the Jim Crow era, I didn’t expect to see it again.

Lately, tinkering hasn’t been enough. Book sales have been down for a while for many self-published and small-press authors. I’m glad it’s not just me, but knowing that doesn’t tell me what to do to fix it.  Some changes have hurt us. One is the fact that Amazon has changed its giveaways so that they work less well for small-press and self-published authors. GoodReads giveaways used to be free; now they cost over $100. Sure, both sites need to make money for what they offer, but they are doing so at small-press authors’ expense. That means, I can no longer afford to run giveaways on either site, and that’s a great loss of exposure.

Fewer people seem to be posting reviews of small-press authors’ books these days. Needless to say, this looks bad when prospective readers come to a book’s listing page on Amazon and see almost no reader comments. On the plus side, people are leaving more reviews on Audible than before, and that helps generate interest in our audiobook editions.

Some authors ask for reviews on their blogs, websites, Facebook, and Twitter. I don’t like doing that. For one thing, it seems amateurish. Well-known authors certainly don’t try to shame readers into posting reviews on GoodReads, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. Frankly, I don’t think readers should feel an obligation to post a reader review. While I wish they would, I don’t fault them for not doing it.

In the last year or so, many book newsletters that promote books on sale have been charging more, expecting a larger number of Amazon reviews, and–in spite of that–have brought lower sales. I won’t say this sales method has dried up, but it seems that way. Yet, telling readers I can’t get into newsletters because they aren’t reviewing my books seems wrong.

I do fault many media sites who talk about the best books of the year, post lists of upcoming books to consider, and in late summer start creating their top books of the year lists. Most, if not all of them, ignore small-press books. So what you have is the best books from publishers like HarperCollins, Penguin, and Hachette. Most publishers and their books are off the radar. These lists offer a lot of exposure throughout the year, though I have to say, they are promoting books that don’t need any help. Those books that could benefit the most from, say, a list of the best beach reads or best books of the year (so far), aren’t even considered.

To some extent, I think many small-press and self-published authors are in a hurry: the books are printed as soon as they’re finished and edited. Instead, they should have advance copies ready for review sites that expect to see prospective books four months prior to publication. Mainstream sites require this. Then, the hardbacks need to be issued first–which is standard–followed by Kindle editions and then many months later by paperbacks. Why? Because this is the way big publishers work and when we don’t do things this way, we lose exposure and look like also-rans.

What this all means for small-press and self-published writers is finding ways to cut back. Cutting back, of course, reduces their books’ exposure. One of the first things to go will probably be the website. If it costs more than an author makes from royalties in a year, it’s not pulling its weight. And of course, none of us wants to run in the red. In other cases, small publishers may close their doors because the time and expense of reading, editing, formatting, and publishing new titles are no longer viable. I think this is a sad thing for many reasons, among them, being allowing the conglomerates to publish/control the books we read rather than having a strong grassroots competition from indies of all kinds.

I read a larger number of books every year, most from BIG PUBLISHERS. Why? Those are the books I hear about and those are the books with a lot of Amazon and GoodReads reviews. Perhaps most of you find your books the same way. What I hope, though, is that when readers find a small-press or self-published book they like, they will tell their friends about it, mention on Facebook that they enjoyed it, say something in their blogs about it, and consider posting a review on Amazon, GoodReads, and Barnes & Noble. This support helps authors stay in business and write more books that will also catch your attention. And, it keeps the conglomerate publishers from controlling everything we read!

As those old two guys on the old Bartles & Jaymes TV wine cooler commercials used to say, “thank you for your support.”









GoodReads giveaway for ‘The Sun Singer’

TSSgiveawayThe paperback edition of my contemporary fantasy novel The Sun Singer was released by Second Wind Publishing under its Blue Shift imprint on August 17.

Now you have a chance to win a free copy of an uncorrected ARC by entering the GoodReads give-away by September 15, 2014. Five free copies are available to residents within the United States.

Click on the graphic and you’re read to enter.


GoodReads and the year in books

If you’re a regular GoodReads visitor, you probably got an e-mail in the last could of days called See Your Year in Books. Mine began: “Congratulations! You read 21 books this year!”

This told me one thing: I haven’t been very diligent entering the names of the books I’m reading at GoodReads, for that is a fraction of the real number. Nonetheless, it was fun to look back:


We tend to sum up our yearly joys and sorrows, don’t we, from major news events and all those “best books of the year” lists to our own career and family milestones. I look at all these book covers and realize that authors pulled my imagination in many different ways in 2013. I also see that I forgot to buy some of the books I couldn’t wait to read when I first heard about them.

If you’re an avid reader, perhaps you’re also surprised at some of the books you read and some of the books you forgot about. Perhaps I need to get more organized. Hmm, sounds like a New Year’s resolution, doesn’t it?


FREE (for one more day)
FREE (for one more day)

Three folk tales set in the swamps and flatwoods of the Florida Panhandle at the dawn of time. Why doesn’t the Florida Panther roar? Why does the Snake Bird need to dry its wings. And what unlikely food is the black bear’s favorite?

What do you expect from a book review?

A recent article in The Guardian, YA novel readers clash with publishing establishment, focuses on a recent book review flame war that raged across GoodReads and Twitter about reader reviews and author and agent responses. In the court of public opinion—which can be both a slippery slope and a bumpy ride—authors, publishers and agents risk a great deal by responding directly to negative reviews that have been published by readers on blogs, Amazon, GoodReads and other sites.

Regardless of subject matter, the consensus across the Internet seems to be that all opinions are equal. In one sense, this is true. Under our guarantees of freedom of speech and press, each of us has the right to say what we think about anything. When it comes down to basics, we all matter.

The confusion—and book reviewing is not the only place where this happens—is that when we say all opinions are equal, we then lose the distinction between the viewpoints of professionals and nonprofessionals. When you go to a doctor and get his opinion about your health, you expect his or her viewpoint to have more credibility than the mechanic at the local auto dealership. Same goes for almost any field we can name: except reviewing (as the term is used on GoodReads and Amazon).

Suddenly, many people are maintaining that anyone can say what they want about a book and label it a review, and then equate his or her best-intentioned assessment of a a book with that of a professional book reviewer who knows the genre, the subject matter, and the writing profession.

When my friends tell me they think I’ll like a certain book, they do that because they know the kinds of books I read and the subjects I care about. This counts for a lot. When they make such suggestions, the last thing I worry about is whether they’re an English professor or an expert in the themes and subjects in the novel. But, when it comes to a real review, I expect credentials and facts as well as opinions.

Opinions vs. Reviews

One of the hardest things to get across in an introductory journalism class is the best-practices standard that newspaper and magazine editorials are not only supposed to have verifiable facts in them, but are expected (by readers) to have been written by somebody with the credentials for offering an opinion in a publication.

If I get along with my auto mechanic and if we have similar views, I’ll probably enjoy hearing his impressions about the latest political debates or a book about one of the candidates. While some people claim friends talking to friends are an example of “preaching to the choir,” most of us value sharing our views with those we interact with day to day.

When something is put into writing and called an “editorial,” we expect (or traditionally have expected) something more. Basically, we expect an informed opinion. Perhaps it comes from a veteran journalist whose opinion is based on having covered hundreds of stories; or perhaps it comes from a long-time political analyst, corporate president, or teacher who has studied the field for years. His or her credentials, when coupled with verifiable facts in the editorial or editorial column, give weight to their opinions or analyses.

Book Revews are Journalism

Traditionally, book, movie, theater and other reviews have been considered journalism. As such, they are expected to meet the same standards as any other newspaper, magazine or broadcast media opinion piece. Some of the uproar behind the article in The Telegraph comes from the fact that the Internet now gives all of us a means of publication whether it’s a book we uploaded via Lulu or CreateSpace, a blog such as mine, or a review posted on Amazon or GoodReads. Those expressing their opinions about books have a right, I believe, to say their opinions matter.

I question whether those opinions should really be called reviews. Perhaps we need another terminology here that somehow distinguishes between the honest-to-goodness “man of the street” opinion about a book and the opinion written by somebody with many years of reviewing, journalistic training, or experience and education in the field the book is about. Perhaps Amazon, GoodReads and other sites should stop calling reader opinions “reviews.” While they are valid within the scope of the sites’ invitations to “speak our piece” about a book, a fair number of these “reviews” aren’t real reviews.

Perhaps we should call them Reader Commentaries or Reader Responses or Reader Dialogues. This way, we honor the readers and their opinions without discounting the work of professional reviewers whose work is supported by credentials, long-time experience with the book’s genre or subject matter, and a broad-based knowledge of the art/science/business of writing and publishing.

Most of Us Appreciate Reader Reviews

As a reader and a writer, I appreciate the reader opinions I find on Amazon, GoodReads and blogs. Talking about books on line is a good thing: it shows me that people are reading and that what they read has an impact on them. I do wish some of those opinions could be stated with a bit more care. It’s one thing to tell your best friend in private that author XYZ doesn’t know his head from a hole in the ground. It’s another thing to pick up a book you thought was a page turner, discover it’s literary fiction, and then go on a rant about it because it wasn’t (and wasn’t intended to be) your cup of tea. That’s not a review.

When the opinion is called “a review,” authors as well as readers should be getting something better than either a mean-spirited tantrum or a gushy splash of unwarranted praise.


Fantasy novel give-away on GoodReads

As the August 31st release date approaches for my concemporary fantasy novel Sarabande, I am celebrating with a book give-away on GoodReads. Three free copies are available. All you have to do is surf over to GoodReads, click on the ENTER TO WIN button and fill out the form. (If you’re not a member of GoodReads, registration is free.)

Sarabande is the 80,000-word story about Sarabande’s journey from her alternate-universe home deep in the Montana mountains to central Illinois in search of the once-powerful Sun Singer. She needs his help to rid her of the haunting ghost of her sister Dryad whom she killed in self-defense three years ago. She knows she has a 1,650 trip ahead of her. She does not know that the journey itself will be just as perilous as confronting the evil temptress Dryad.

Released by Vanilla Heart Publishing, Sarabande can be read as a stand-alone novel or as a sequel to The Sun Singer.  The e-book edition of Sarabande was released August 13 and is already available on Kindle.

Best of luck in the give-away. The entry deadline is October 1.


After her sister, Dryad haunts her from beyond the grave for three long and torturous years, Sarabande undertakes a dangerous journey into the past to either raise her cruel sister from the dead, ending the torment…or to take her place in the safe darkness of the earth.

Sarabande leaves the mountains of Montana for the cornfields of Illinois on a black horse to seek help from Robert Adams, the once powerful Sun Singer, in spite of Gem’s prophecy of shame. One man tries to kill her alongside a deserted prairie road…one tries to save her with ancient wisdom… and Robert tries to send her away.

Even if she persuades Robert to bring the remnants of his magic to Dryad’s shallow grave, the desperate man who follows them desires the Rowan staff for ill intent… and the malicious sister who awaits their arrival desires much more than a mere return to life.