March 16, 2017

An Author Talks about the Value of Book Reviews

I’ve written many a blog post about writing book reviews.

Without reviews our books don’t get noticed. If you loved a book, write a review. That way others will notice it and read it. Why not?

After all, we took the time to write the book just to give you a few days entertainment. Why not say thank you with a review?

Why Genre is So Important in Today’s Amazon World

What I mean is in the past, we could browse the shelves of our favorite book store for potential reads. We’d skim the authors and the titles. Then we might wander over to another group of shelves.

We had access to all the shelves. That made browsing really a browse. Today, if we shop online for our books, browsing becomes more difficult.

If you tried, you’d probably never get anywhere. It’s almost impossible to browse all the books in a genre. I tend to be a shopper who is easily overwhelmed. It there’s too much out there, I don’t buy. I like a few choices or an opportunity to browse a few choices. Amazon, no matter how much we love the convenience and the service, will never be able to create that kind of browsing opportunity.

Of course, Amazon is trying hard to do so. You’ll see on your Amazon page, readers who looked at this book also looked at… Amazon also suggests books based on your browsing or purchasing habits. The problem is these hints often miss the mark. I shop for everyone in my family. If I purchase a heavy history tome for my husband, that doesn’t mean I want to read heavy history tomes myself. Furthermore, I’m often using Amazon for “research.” I’m looking for titles that may fit with something I’m writing. That doesn’t mean that’s the kind of book I want to read.

Here is where genre comes in. Genre has always been important. We as writers must identify our genre so readers will know what we are writing. In the past if we spilled over into another genre, the book store had to decide where to place our book.Once they did so, that book appeared on the shelf in that genre. But, my book might still be found by other readers because book store browsers can wander throughout the store.

For example, my first book The Clock Strikes Midnight is not a typical mystery. Some might say it was a suspense family saga; others might call it literary fiction; still others might call it Southern fiction. I had to place it in a particular genre, and I chose mystery. Fortunately most of my readers agree that it is a general mystery versus a whodunit. Nonetheless, the book also has elements of the other genres listed. I cannot remove it from the shelf of mystery, but I can add the other genre names when it appears on Amazon.

Identifying the genre of a book will place a book somewhere in the book cyber world. Giving it alternative genre or sub-genre will even better identify it. These are extremely important decisions. Some say if you select a limited genre, for example, Southern cozy mystery with a female sleuth, you will have a better chance to getting notice on Amazon.

The closer the target, the better the chance of finding that audience among all the millions of books and thousands of shelves a book store like Amazon offers.

What are your experiences with genre?

How to Write a Book Review for Ordinary Readers

Book Review Word CloudToo many of my friends and associates have not written #bookreviews on Amazon. They tell me they have never done so and it occurs to me they are reluctant. Maybe an English teacher somewhere in their past told them, “You are not a writer.” Or corrected their punctuation errors one time too many. Whatever, a vast majority of people seem fearful of putting their thoughts into words. For that reason, I’m going to share some tips for writing a quick, easy review on Amazon.

There, Amazon makes it very easy. You note the stars you wish to give the title. 1-5. They ask you to rate with stars several aspects of the book.

All that part is easy. The hard part comes with writing the actual review. That’s what stops people cold.

Granted, some professional reviewers write many paragraphs. But, that is their option.

Again, many professional reviewers do this. It is unnecessary on Amazon because the book jacket is there for everyone to read. Professional reviewers and bloggers post reviews elsewhere and they need to spell out what the story is about. You do not have to.

 You can say you liked the setting. Maybe it was set in a place you’ve never been and you enjoyed learning about that new location. You can say you liked the characters. Maybe they reminded you of people you know or work with. You can say you liked the plot. Perhaps the story kept you reading and wanting to know what would happen next.

 Perhaps the author gave too much detail. Or perhaps you couldn’t relate to the characters or to the storyline. You can simply say, “This book wasn’t for me because I had trouble relating to the characters.”

A good test of how much you liked a book is whether or not you’d read another one by this author. That you can say in one short sentence.

See how easy it is. Here’s an example of some short reviews I’ve received from The Clock Strikes Midnight.

“If you like a book that’s impossible to put down…
If you like a book with characters that leap off the page and into the seat next to you…
If you like a book that lives with you long after you’ve finished reading it…
then you’ll love The Clock Strikes Midnight. The story takes you for a wild yet oddly plausible ride, and is a fun twist on a murder mystery.” –Sandy Weaver Carman

“The Clock Stikes Midnight is a gripping mystery. You are immediately drawn in on the first page and want to keep turning pages to see what did and will happen with Janie and Marly.”–Natalie Peterson

 “I just finished reading “The Clock Strikes Midnight” and I enjoyed it very much. The story held my interest, it was suspenseful and I always looked forward to find out what happened next. Congratulations to Joan C. Curtis for an outstanding mystery novel. I look forward to reading many more.”–Flyn2High

Notice, how short and how different. The first one was very poetic. You don’t have to be poetic. The second one was straightforward and to the point. And the third, did a bit more but still very short.

So, see how easy it is… Now, click onto to the last book you read and write a review. The author will thank you!

Check out my latest mystery on this book trailer.

Reviews Controversy–What’s an Author to Do?

After publishing my first mystery, I begged family and friends to write reviews. I didn’t ask them to write five-star reviews, just to share their thoughts on Amazon. Most didn’t do it. Those who did had their reviews removed from Amazon because they were in Amazon’s opinion, family and friends.

All the people I asked had purchased the book. They were not given free books. One friend objected to Amazon’s policy. I am a verified customer of Amazon. Why did they remove my review? One of my colleagues, who is a librarian, had her review removed three times. Finally we posted it under her husband’s account.

business hand clicking customer reviews on virtual screen interface

Recently, I heard about authors paying for reviews (like people paying to get followers on Twitter). When I noticed a book with over 16,000 reviews and 5 stars, I was amazed and immediately purchased the book. Later I asked a friend if she’d read it, I was shocked when she said, “It’s a glorified romance. Really thin and not worth my time.” How could she say that. Sixteen thousand people liked it. I began reading the book and guess what? My friend was right. The book was terrible. Well, not terrible, but extremely weak. Worth maybe 3 stars. I am now suspicious about that author and how she got so many reviews.

They came from people who bought it that I might know but I had no idea they bought the book, from review bloggers I contacted and begged to review the book, and from review blog tours. I have not purchased any reviews. But, I’m looking at a service whereby you pay a fee and you can get reviews, but they are honest reviews.

Sitting here now, I wonder what people who don’t have access to the New York Times reviewers do?

Why don’t more general readers review books? The estimated percentage of buyers who review books is something like .0001 percent. Even books that won awards, like The Clock Strikes Midnight, can’t seem to strike home with reviews.

Any suggestions? What have your experiences been? Help!!

If you want to check out the e-Murderer before you buy and and hopefully review it, take a look at this book trailer.

Getting Reviews is Like Pulling Teeth

I do it because… well, why not? I enjoying having the opportunity to share my opinions about what I’ve read. Readers may or may not agree with me, but at least I’ve had my say.

business hand clicking customer reviews on virtual screen interface

Think back years ago when the only way we could share our opinions about books was through word of mouth. Now, we can give stars and speak our minds easily through the online outlets. Furthermore, we can read everyone else’s views. We can learn what people loved and what people found challenging in particular books. I use that information before I decide to purchase. Don’t you?

People who read my books come up to me and tell me how much they enjoyed it. “I loved the characters,” or “I really liked the way you wove everything together,” or “I enjoyed the setting and how the place came alive.” All these are great comments and I appreciate them very much. But, then I say, “Why don’t you write a review on Amazon or Goodreads or B&N?” They invariably say, “Well, I’ve never done that.” Or, worse, “Geez, I don’t know what I’d say.” Who is grading their review? There are no English teachers with a red pencils looking over their shoulders. All they need to do is put on paper what they told me.

Even though I assure them that they don’t need to write very much, but just enough for readers to get an idea of their opinion of the book, they still don’t do it.

We writers know how important reviews are. They are our bread and butter.

It gives us impetus to keep on writing. Writing isn’t easy. It’s even harder when there’s so little opportunity for feedback.

So, please, if you are one of those people who read reviews but don’t write them (now I sound like Ira Glass on NPR), get over it.

Books vs e-Books?

As the way we read books changes, I wonder what people like about reading books versus e-books. To me, what is most interesting is we are asking this question. Just a few years ago, no one read e-books. I remember when Amazon came out with the Kindle. Everyone thought the company had lost its mind. Why would anyone want to read a book on a gadget like that? Ha! Then came Apple with the iPad to compete with Kindle. But by then Kindle had grabbed a big chunk of the reading market. Nook came along but had trouble competing with Kindle. Indeed Amazon was a forerunner in the e-reader industry.

Now, more people have e-readers than don’t. More people read e-books than ever. But do we really want to take our print books and toss them in a pile of anachronisms along with fax machines and VHS players? I don’t think so. There are still many people who prefer reading books.

Let’s look at some pros and cons:

The phone apps like Kindle App enable readers to read their books wherever they are. Print books can never compete with that attribute.

They have tactical qualities that the e-book will never have. At least I don’t think they’ll ever have (one never knows with Amazon).

E-books can be read in the dark. Backlighting on the readers today enable people with poor sight to read anywhere. We no longer have to worry about proper lighting. Furthermore, e-books give the reader the option to change the font size. So, if you are in a place where you can’t see the small print, no worries. Just increase the print size.

The glare from the sun makes e-readers practically impossible to read. Even with all the glare-proof covers, it just plain doesn’t work. If you’re at the beach, take a print book. And, by the way, many people only read at the beach.

If you want to know what a word means, you no longer have to walk away from your book, find your dictionary, open the heavy tome, and look it up. All you do, is touch the word and poof, the definition appears.

Authors cannot sign e-books. If you go to a book signing event, you must have a print book with you if you want the book signed. So far Amazon has not figured out how to enable authors to personally sign e-books. But, I bet that is something that may be in the e-book future. (Remember you heard it first here).

E-books come to you instantly. When you order a book, you do not have to wait one second before it’s uploaded onto your device. Even UPS and Fedex cannot move that fast.

It’s easier to look up things you forgot or to skim with a print book. I’ve tried to go back and find something on my e-books, and it’s very hard. With a print book, you need only turn through the pages and find what you want instantly. You can put a page marker on the e-Book when you know it’s something you may want to go back to. But what about all those times when you don’t mark the spot and later want to go back?

When we purchase a book, sometimes we like to share that book with family and friends. Think about all the times when you took a bag of books to a person who was sick. How can you do that with e-books? Nope, not possible. You can give e-books as gifts, but that means buying the book again.

Access to more information is quicker with e-books. When reading historical fiction or nonfiction, many times I like to look up more information about the time period or the particular topic. That can be done instantly with e-books. With print books, I might ask questions as I read, for example, when reading Goldfinch, I asked myself, “Where is the painting hung.” Instantly I found out by Googling from my e-reader. In other words the potential to learn more is greater with e-books.

These are a few of my thoughts about the pros and cons with reading e-books or print books. From what I can see print books are not going away. There are too many pros for both reading print books and e-books.

What are your thoughts?

Tips for Finding Your Genre

Every writer hears from publishers and agents to write in a genre.

They tell us, “Book sellers like to know where to place your book on their shelves.” Okay that sounds fine, but what about sub-genres? And where are ebooks placed? Indeed many genres now have sub-genres. You can’t just write romance, for example.  Instead, are you writing Historical Romance, Suspense Romance, Medieval Romance, Gay Romance. In fact there are over twenty sub-genres to Romance. This is what makes finding the right genre complicated.DSC02093

Furthermore, what do the genres mean? You may think you wrote a military romance, but in fact you didn’t.

The last thing we want as writers is disappointed readers!

Because brick and mortar book stores are disappearing in most communities and the majority of books are sold online, where is your book placed. No longer on a bookshelf. Today, we have something called codes, BISAC codes. (Book Industry Standards and Communications). These codes help label your book for the right “shelf.” The publishers place them on their websites according to these codes and Amazon and Barnes&Noble sell your books with these labels.

Even more confusing to writers are the keywords. Online booksellers uses keywords to place our books. If, for example, you write a very strange book, “A Cookbook for Vampires,” you’ll want to be sure and use all the correct keywords. If you use cooking or vampires alone, you’ll be among millions of books. But if you use, the two together, you might stand alone.

Here are some tips to learn what genre you’re writing in.

1. Figure out the general genre first. If you’re writing fiction, that’s about as general as it gets.

2) Next, try to narrow your general genre down. Maybe you’re writing fiction for women under forty. That narrows your audience.

3) Think about your story. Is it a coming of age story? Is it a story that deals with sexual identity? Is the main character African American or Asian?

4) Take a look at the BIASC codes. Does your book easily fall into one of those codes?

5) Ask some Beta readers in the sub-genre to read your book. Get their take on the genre. Does it fit what they usually read?

In the example above we have a Fiction, Coming of Age story with an Asian protagonist who is wrestling with sexual identity. All of that information will go into the keywords on the back cover for Amazon.

The marketing is daunting to writers. Most of us don’t start with a genre. For example, we begin by saying, “I’m going to write a mystery.” But we may not know where that mystery will take us. Usually we know if it will be a Detective based or Police Procedural, but other than that, the story takes off on its own.

If you write more generally, it’s even harder. The best tip I can give is write your book.

What tips do you have for finding the right genre for your books?

Tips for Deciding What To Read

IMG_0188As a writer and a reader, I’m always looking for things to read. I tend to read many types of books. In the past, I’d browse through the book store, glance at covers, titles, look for favorite authors, read a few pages and make a decision.

 

In today’s world of electronic reading, we have much better ways to find good books to read. Here are some of my tips.

My friends, relations, colleagues, suggest books to me all the time.They know me better than Amazon does (Amazon also makes suggestions). Usually when they tell me about a book, I feel fairly confident, it will be one I’d like to read. Even with that, however, I check out the reviews and comments online. Sometimes my friends like things I do not. Nothing is one hundred percent certain, but word of mouth is the most reliable way to find good reading.

I’m an NPR junkie. I hear about reviews and listen to author interviews on the radio. I’ve found a number of wonderful books that way. Being a podcast subscriber to the NY Review of Books, I listen to reviewers talking about the latest best seller. Of course simply because a book is a best seller doesn’t necessarily make it a book for me (Gone Girl, for example). But, reviews are a great source for finding books.

Libraries are still a great book-finding place, whether online or in print. If you go to the library, you can flip through the pages like you used to. Browsing the shelves of books and finding old-friend authors is one of my favorite pastimes.

Often we read a book by an author and then we forget them altogether. We might remember the name of the book. But, who wrote it? It hurts me as a writer how quickly readers forget our names, but that’s the way of the world. If you write down the name of the author you like, it’s easy to find all their books, and that will be a great source for you. My mom reads lots of mysteries. She studies the stories in the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. When she likes a story, she searches for that author online to find books. Good idea, eh?

People complain that they don’t want to join a book club because they like to pick what they read. They don’t like someone else telling them what to read. If you can find a flexible club, one that doesn’t REQUIRE you to read the book, then that’s a great source for reading material. I’ve often been surprised to have never heard of the book selected and then to thoroughly enjoy it.

These are my tips for finding what to read. What are some of your tips? And, if you’ve just read a great book, let us know what it is! BTW, I just finished H is for Hawk by Helen M
cDonald. It’s an interesting read, very different… check out the reviews.

GimmeThatBook says The Clock Strikes Midnight Grabs You and Pulls You in…

Kyle says…

The-Clock-Strikes-Midnight-230x350px

Click to order. Just $2.99

This book is truly Southern Gothic—family secrets, manipulation, drinking to ease the pain of loss, plus guilt all around. This is a plot I can sympathize with–trying to right a wrong in your life before you die, knowing that even if you do accomplish murder, you will also be getting away with it because you only have three months to live.

Stepfather Ralph is a truly odious character, and I cringed every time he was around. The “bad thing” that makes him a target for murder isn’t explained until the end, but I was rooting for him to lose based on how Curtis described him, with his onion breath and mean eyes.

Even though Janie has murderous intentions, she is a sympathetic character and devoted to her sister, as the reader will discover as more of the plot is revealed. Suspense is generated via the reader knowing the clock is ticking both literally and figuratively on Janie’s life. There are a few close calls, and a flashback that will seem a bit out of place at the time, but once you get closer to the end it will all make sense. I’ll admit I was hoping for a different kind of ending (no spoilers here!), but I was satisfied how things turned out.

There is also love, strength, honor, and friendship. Almost all of the female characters are strong ones, trying to remain in control of their lives despite the curves thrown their way. The main thrust here is justice, a departure from the usual fare of girls chasing men under the guise of romance and pillow talk. Descriptions of Atlanta make you feel as if you are experiencing the town for yourself, and I could easily picture the characters in my head.

THE CLOCK STRIKES MIDNIGHT is a sleeper of a book; you turn the pages until you realized you’ve been hooked, quietly, and then you simply must see how things are going to turn out.

 Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

Read all Kyle’s reviews at GimmeThatBook.

Join us for a Twitter Chat on April 14 at 9pm EDT to talk about The Clock Strikes Midnight.

How Much do Reviews Mean to Writers?

After just releasing my first mystery, The Clock Strikes Midnight, I’ve been struggling to get reviews posted. As a reader I depend on reviews (or word of mouth) to decide what to read. I listen to radio reviews of the top bestsellers, and I also read reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. It helps me determine if a book is right for me. Not everyone likes what I like. That’s why I enjoy reading all the reviews. Then I often order a sample to taste the book before committing myself. My guess is many readers do the same thing.

bigstock_Enraged_Man_In_A_Dark_Suit_Hol_2751382

C’mon write a review!!

The one difference between what I do as a reader and other readers do is I write reviews. After I finish a book, I go to Amazon and Goodreads and post my thoughts. I do this as a way to pay back all those reviewers who helped me decide what to do. I suppose I naively thought everyone did the same thing. I have many reader friends, avid readers like me. I assumed they did as I did. Read and reviewed books. I was mistaken. My friends, colleagues and connections read, but they don’t review. So many people have told me they have read The Clock Strikes Midnight, but they haven’t reviewed it. Why? “I’ve never done that before.” Okay, is that like listening to NPR and never giving. Ira Glass might say so.

What I hope this post will tell all those people who read but don’t review is we writers cherish each view. Here are my thoughts on what reviews mean to writers.

 We have no other way to hear from readers. Not being bestselling writers, we are not hearing from people through fan mail. We depend on those reviews to see if all our hard-earned efforts paid off.

I’ve learned that my readers like the depth of my characters. But, some have said the characters were not all likable. Granted some of the characters weren’t supposed to be likable. But, I wonder which characters were considered unlikable. I do hope my main characters were likable in the end. This is something I would never know were it not for the reviews.

 When you write a pithy sentence in your review, I cut and paste it for my Tweets. I also talk about my book in those terms. Amazon compiles what is said in reviews most often. I use those statements to help people understand what readers are saying about the book.

We don’t get paid very much (or anything at all). It’s through the reviews where we get our pats on the back. Recently one of my writer colleagues posted an amazing review in our Yahoo writers group. She did this to spread the word about her book, but also because she felt so rewarded by the review. We all loved reading it and getting vicarious thrills up our backs.

Indeed we know not everyone will love our work. That happens. I’ve written bad reviews of books, but I’m very careful. I want readers to know what I liked and what I didn’t like, but I don’t want to crush the writer’s spirit. If you write a bad review, think about that lonely writer sitting day and night at his/her computer. That writer has no one to share the work with. He or she must go it alone and hope others understand what prompted a decision to g
o one way or another. Be kind, but be truthful. There’s no need to crush a writer. Just share what you liked and what you didn’t like.

 Bad reviews aren’t all bad. If the reviewer is honest, the writer can learn from that review and grow. In the end, as a writer we must expect that not every reader is going to love our work. But if they respect our work, it’s worth it.

Keep it up and remember your review means a lot to the writers and keeps us motivated to keep writing.