Sunday, April 25, 2010

Potty Training for Self-Published Authors

In case you haven't figured it out by now, I love book bloggers. I love how they tirelessly read and read and read and selflessly share their insights with the rest of us. They spend a lot of time and money on this hobby, and a wonderful side effect of their efforts is publicity for authors. Free publicity, mind you, except for the cost of the book and postage when you send them a review copy, if they didn't already buy the book themselves. It's a beautifully symbiotic relationship: we write the books that feed their voracious appetites for good stories, and they blog about our books, giving us exposure to hundreds of followers in one go.

Given the remarkable service bloggers are providing to us, you would think all authors would treat bloggers like the royalty they are. Right?

Wrong. There is an astonishing number of authors--sadly, many of them self-published authors--who seem to feel that just because they wrote a book, they are entitled to sit back and enjoy watching their book go viral without any effort on their part at all, and that the world somehow owes them reviews and publicity and fame and fortune. They treat our beloved bloggers with disdain, badgering them with emails asking why their review hasn't come out yet. And they harass booksellers--a publicist recently told me that an independent bookseller she knows gets 20 to 30 self-published authors a day coming in asking them to carry their books. Mind you, these are often the same authors who didn't bother spending the time or money editing their books, expecting that readers will not only send them feedback if anything is amiss, but that they'll actually pay for the privilege. (It reminds me very much of software companies who put out buggy software and simply expect users to do the quality testing for them...on their own dime. But that's a whole separate rant.) It's no wonder so many people in the book industry frown on self-published authors. We're a very mixed lot.

So how can you separate yourself from the unprofessional authors and set yourself apart as one of the shining examples of what self-published authors can be?

1. Always be courteous.
It's ridiculous that this needs to be stated, but it does. I can't believe the stories I hear about authors who request that a blogger review their novel, only to then send the blogger nastygrams because they haven't reviewed their book yet or they didn't like the review once it came out. I don't care how bad a review is--if someone took the time to read your book and comment on it, extend them the courtesy of a professional response, or just don't say anything at all.

2. Do your homework.
Again, it makes me cringe that I have to point this out, but there are authors who find a list of bloggers (which someone took the trouble to compile) and then simply spam them all with a blanket request to review their book, regardless of the fact that a) those lists usually say which types of books the blogger is interested in, and b) most bloggers also clearly spell out their review policies/interests on their blog. Why on earth would you want someone who doesn't care about your genre to read and review your book? Don't be lazy and expect other people to do your homework for you--only send requests to bloggers, reviewers, and bookstores who are actually interested in your genre.

3. Edit your work.
I've brought this one up several times, and I can't stress it enough. Do NOT expect your readers to edit your work for you, or worse, try to pass off horrible grammar and punctuation as "a unique voice." And if someone is kind enough to point out a typo in your book, for heaven's sake fix it and upload a new version. That's one of the key advantages of print-on-demand that we self-published authors have over our traditionally published colleagues who have tons of stock they can't just up and replace. I don't care if it costs you another $30 for a proof copy and you have to stop production for a few days--do the right thing and put the highest-quality work out there that you can.

4. Be gracious about interviews.
Recently, I read a comment from an author who was all up in arms about bloggers asking questions about her book that had already been covered a million times in other interviews and for asking stupid questions like what's your favorite color. Again, most bloggers are people who do this for a hobby. They are not paid professionals. If it annoys you so much to answer a question that's already been answered, copy and paste your answer from a previous interview. If you don't like the more mundane questions, just don't answer them, and maybe suggest some other questions that might be more thought-provoking. But remember--every blogger has a specific following, and while one blog's followers might be very interested in hearing you wax philosophical on how your book is a searing indictment of human frailty, another blog's followers might be much more interested in hearing which flavor of Ben and Jerry's you prefer. Either way, be gracious about it, and better yet, be a good sport and just answer the questions.

5. Be patient.
This overlaps with the other categories, but really take this one to heart. Do you see how many books a blogger lists in his or her "In My Mailbox" post each week? They're busy, they have a lot of books to read, and they'll get to yours when they can. It's fine to send them a brief email to confirm whether they received your book that you sent them, but then drop it. Yes, there are some bloggers out there who are only after free books, who request a review copy and then never review your book. But these are very few and far between, and unless you FedEx'd a copy to Timbuktu, you're not out that much money. So be patient, set up a Google alert with your name and book title so that you get an email alert whenever a post shows up about your book, and then let it go. Whenever a review appears about Rising Shadow or Merger, I see it as a gift--a wonderful, happy event that always makes my day, rather than my God-given right simply because I spent $10 sending them a copy of my book.

So there are my top five tips for setting yourself apart as a professional self-published author. Please leave comments if you have other tips to share...bloggers, here's your chance to share the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Finding Balance When Receiving Feedback

If there's one thing I've learned from being a technical writer for the last 19 years, it's to have a thick skin when it comes to getting feedback. I am so used to having my drafts come back covered with red ink that I no longer labor under the illusion that my words are somehow sacred or divinely inspired. Instead, I get really excited when people give me feedback, because it means they took the time to read what I wrote and paid enough attention to give me comments. I think developing this attitude toward getting feedback is absolutely essential for a writer.

That being said, you must also be careful to take all feedback with a grain of salt, and part of what helps you with this is getting many different people to read your work. If you have only two people read your book, you can get wildly different opinions and not know which way to turn. But if ten people read your book, and seven of them tell you your dialogue is too stilted, chances are you should listen to that feedback.

A couple examples of this came up for me recently. Two of my favorite bloggers sent me fantastic and detailed feedback on Merger, the second book in the Soterians series, which I just released. They both liked it, but one of them felt that there wasn't enough romance and she missed the interactions between Kai and Ashlyn that had been more plentiful in book one, Rising Shadow. The other blogger, on the other hand, said that there was too much romance for his taste and that he wished there'd been more action. I value both of their opinions very highly, and knowing that they represent two different audiences for my book, I felt that this critique meant that I had actually gotten it just right. If I'd just paid attention to one or the other, I might have been tempted to take my next book too far in one direction, so getting this type of varied feedback was very useful.

The other example was the feedback I got from the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. Rising Shadow made it to the second round, where two judges read an excerpt from your book and give you feedback. Their opinions were again pretty different; the first one liked it a lot and said she was left feeling like she wanted to find out more, whereas the second one said it left her feeling like "so what?" The second judge acknowledged that she'd just read another entry very similar to mine and that it might have impacted her impression of my book. The vibe I got from the first judge was a lot of energy and enthusiasm, whereas the second one just sounded tired, making me wonder if my excerpt was the last of the 250 she'd had to review. This is incredibly important to remember: no matter who is giving you feedback, they are people, and as such, there's no such thing as a completely objective review. Their feedback will depend on what else they just read, how they're feeling that day, even (as one agent said about her process of sifting through submissions) what they had for lunch.

So the upshot is that when you receive feedback, it's important that you a) put yourself into as centered and receptive a mood as you can, b) listen deeply without being defensive and try to see where you can improve your writing based on the feedback, and c) take it all with a grain of salt, because no matter how well-regarded or brilliant your reviewer happens to be, there are many factors at play that affect their perception of your work.

In other words, keep in mind that neither your words nor those of your reviewer are sacred. Once you truly grasp this, you'll find receiving feedback is actually a wonderful experience--or, at the very least, slightly less painful.