Feedback Frenzy

My pocket chirrups as I descend the steps from my bank. The text message asks me to rate my recent customer experience. This happens to be one of a hundred or more perfectly routine transactions I’ve made at that bank.   

FreeImages.com/Simon Stratford

Irritated, I delete the text.

At school, there was a girl who was forever checking what people thought of her. Sadly, the answer was ‘not much’, but this didn’t stop her beaming at everyone and trying to decipher their expressions.  When she couldn’t read the emotional temperature, she would ask what we thought. I wince to report that we thought our classmate stupid. Looking back, however, she was well ahead of her time.

These days, Waitrose sends me emails asking how my groceries were. Would I rate and review them?

waitrose-redcurrant-jellyI get similar requests after almost every commercial interaction of the day. If not during it. A text thanks me for travelling with Addison Lee, and invites me to rate the driver. I get this message before I’ve even reached the destination.

Ditto Moonpig, who want to know how everything went with the card I ordered. It’s not even scheduled to be delivered till next week. Stop asking me!

Now an email thanks me for collecting my parcel from the Spar in Chesterton Road, and asks me how I would ‘rate the service in store’.

The bottom line? It was fine. I got my parcel. Had the guy behind the counter not found it, or handed me a damaged parcel or something entirely different like a Mars Bar or a lottery ticket, you can be sure I’d have let someone know, loud and clear.  FreeImages.com/Tony CloughFeedback can certainly be useful. Book reviews, for instance, help guide the author as well as people looking for their next read – though it’s worth noting that the most useful reviews have actual words in them, not just a star rating.

Evaluations from the students I teach can also be valuable, if they help improve the outcome for the next lot.

For feedback to be most useful to others, it pays to ask the right questions. One pension provider invites me to rate my recent dealings with them. A more pertinent point might be whether I was happy with the return on my investment.

Nowadays, detailed feedback from patients is an integral part of a doctor’s appraisal process. It’s a two-page form that demands a certain level of literacy and attention. That makes it difficult for many patients, especially those who’ve just had bad news or been sent to hospital.

Feedback from colleagues is even harder to come by. In smaller practices, family doctors may resort to asking people they haven’t worked with for years, just to make up the numbers.

National Health Service logo

Feedback shouldn’t be just about collecting all the data we can, because we can. To have any value, it needs to be more selective, and to ask the right questions at the right time.

***

If you’ve read a book you enjoyed lately, please think of leaving a review on Amazon or your favourite reading site. It doesn’t have to be long, just your overall impression and anything you’d like the author and prospective readers to know.

Here’s more detailed guidance, should you feel like it: How to write critical book reviews – and why I think you should, by Debbie Young.

bookshelf crop

How to Write a Book Review

For starters, what tempts people to review books at all? If it’s for a prestigious magazine or newspaper, it could be money, though rookie reviewers are often happy to review in return for a free book and a chance to raise their profile.

bookshop

It can also be a chance to preen, to get in as many bon mots as possible, and to dazzle readers with a vertiginous vocabulary. If there’s room to slip in a lethal knife wound as well, so much the better. Will Self’s review of Julie Burchill’s Unchosen is often quoted as the epitome of this type of review:

“I can’t really dignify her latest offering with the ascription ‘book’, nor the contents therein as ‘writing’ – rather they are sophomoric, hammy effusions, wrongheaded, rancorous and pathetically self-aggrandising.”

He goes on to cite “Burchill’s repugnant gallimaufry of insults and half-baked nonsense.”

One snag is that it wasn’t a review as such. Still, it’s pugnacious stuff, and entertaining to read. Unless, perhaps, you are Julie Burchill.

Accusations are the stock-in-trade of many reviewers. In The Scotsman, Allan Massie says of Craig Raine’s oeuvre The Divine Comedy: 

“It isn’t a novel, no matter what author and publisher choose to call it. There is no real narrative interest and the characters are no more than names.” 

He goes on to give evidence for his view, leaving the public in little doubt that Allan Massie is a more riveting read than the book being dissected.

FreeImages.com/Davide Farabegoli

For a short while there was even the Hatchet Job of the Year Award. But several things have happened since then. Firstly, jokes about hatchets are a bit tasteless in a troubled world. Secondly, there are now more reviews on blogs and book review sites, far more than you’ll find in mainstream publications.

Online reviews like these are more workaday, and may serve their purpose better than the virtuoso variety. old-books1

Reviews just have two main tasks: guiding potential readers to their next book, and helping authors write what readers love most.

More readers could leave reviews, but I know that many feel inhibited from doing so. Yet the rules, such as they are, are pretty simple.

1 Short is OK, though preferably not as short as the one-word review “Book”.

2 Never include spoilers.

3 You don’t have to be a smarty-pants. In fact, it probably detracts from the value of your feedback. Just concentrate on what might help readers like yourself. 

4 Did you like the book? If so, say you did. You could also describe briefly what kind of book it is. “It’s a fantasy story about a girl who finds herself in an alternative reality which contains talking animals, strange new rules, and a lot of fun, some of it clever.” That’s not the most erudite description of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but it’s enough to guide people, and it doesn’t give away the plot.

5 If you didn’t like it, don’t be rude. 

6 By all means add whether, in your opinion, the story is fast-paced, has lots of characters, is full of suspense, contains wonderful dialogue, and so on. It is your opinion, not the opinion of an English Lit professor, but it should be founded on evidence.

Your evidence should come from the contents of the book, and not depend on whether you liked the shoes on the cover, or whether Amazon delivered it to the wrong address. Here’s what one recipient wrote of a second-hand book:

“The book was in much worse condition stated, it would have been nice to have been warned about the blood stain that ran through several pages. Not happy at all as had to buy a second copy.”

7 If you feel like it, you could say which characters you liked in the book. Were they well drawn? Did their dialogue ring true? And so on.

8 Try to mention who might be the ideal reader. “Fans of cosy mysteries may enjoy this book.” It doesn’t hurt to mention other authors of books along the same lines, if any come to mind. But there’s no need to wrack your brains.

There’s a lot of really helpful advice on this blog post by top 1000 Amazon reviewer (and author) Debbie Young. If you’ve never written a review before, just come on in. The water’s lovely.

***

I still have a soft spot for this spoof review of Orwell’s 1984, by a reader called So-Crates. As feedback it’s not that useful, and you need to know something about 1984 to appreciate it, but it does show that jokes don’t have to have a butt.

“Do not buy this book if you’re expecting to find out anything at all about 1984, as this writer seems to have been living on a different planet. I was trying to do a bit of research into the influence of New Wave on cross-over dance music in the Mid-Eighties, but I found “1984” a complete waste of time… Jackson’s “Thriller”? (the soundtrack of the summer, and the biggest selling album of all-time) – not mentioned; Frankie Goes To Hollywood (their breakthrough year leading to world pop domination) – not a whisper.”  

You can probably guess what he says of The Road to Wigan Pier.

bookshelf crop

What Not to Say to an Author

It’s wonderful being an author. While there’s rarely much money in it, you get to do what you love. It’s probably the most fun you can have with your clothes on.

There’s also the sheer joy of opening a box full of copies of your shiny brand-new book. That, as novelist Helena Halme points out, never gets any less exciting.

Helena Halme's latest book

And it’s a thrill meeting readers and getting feedback, especially when you find out your words have made a real difference.

But there are people who say the most inane things to authors. So, with the help of one or two fellow writers, I’ve compiled a roundup of things that really grate:

1 “Are you published?  Will I have heard of you?”

Well, yes, the author generally is published. Otherwise they’d probably not call themselves an author. As for hearing of that person, it depends. I know several people who never heard of Kahlil Gibran, yet his book The Prophet sold tens of millions of copies.

FreeImages.com/Mana Media

2 “Why don’t you get your book made into a film?”

If it were that easy, I think we’d all be knocking on Hollywood’s door. It’s not, which is why, until we get the call, we’re selling our books at around £7.99 a pop (or less; usually much less for the ebook). Not quite a direct route to the Walk of Fame.

3 “I do a bit of writing myself.”

I mustn’t scoff, because occasionally someone like David Lodge says this. More often, though, the follow-up is “I wrote a letter to my local paper once” or “I’ve written a 100,000 word novel from the point of view of a slug. Could you read it for me and help me get it published?”

FreeImages.com/Jurga R

4 “I’d write a book too if I had the time.”

The implication is that their life is far busier than the author’s, and that no talent is required.

5 “When I retire, I’m going to write a novel.”

Usually uttered by someone who’s never even written a shopping list. See 4.

6 “As you’re at home all day, could you just babysit/pick up a parcel for me/come out shopping with me?”

Because writing books is some romantic thing that just happens when you click your heels and make a wish. It’s not like it’s a proper job, right?

FreeImages.com/Kia Abell

7 “Where’s my free signed copy?”

Because, obviously, authors are happy to work for free.

Many thanks to my fellow writers, especially Vivien Hampshire and Georgina Penney, both from the Romantic Novelists’ Association.  If you ever meet one of us, you know what not to say.

How to Plan a Box-Set

Today’s post is from a fabulous British author called Jane Davis.

By fabulous, I don’t mean she writes fables. In case you don’t know, her six novels to date are all wonderfully real character-led stories. This Saturday, October 3, she’s at Barton’s Bookshop in Leatherhead from 10.00am to 4.00pm for the launch of the new ‘bookshop editions’ of her novels.

And let me tell you that when you get to Barton’s at 2 Bridge Street, Leatherhead, you know you’ve arrived.

Here’s Jane with her advice on how to plan a box-set.

Jane Davis

In 2014 I experimented with producing two box-sets, first releasing my own three novel box-set, and then collaborating with six other authors on a multi-author limited edition box-set.

I called my own box-set Second Chapter as it contains what I consider to be the second chapter in my journey as an author. My first novel, Half-truths and White Lies, was published by Transworld after it won the Daily Mail First Novel Award in 2009. Second Chapter contains three full-length novels, I Stopped TimeThese Fragile Things, and A Funeral for an Owl. The idea was simple. I wanted to attract new readers by offering three books for the price of two.

Second Chapter

Single author box-sets are the perfect solution for authors who write a series, and they’re great for readers too.

As JJ Marsh explains about her European crime novels in the Beatrice Stubbs Box Set: ‘Readers often say that after reading one, they immediately want the next in the series, so a box-set is a handy way to get three at once.’

My collaboration with six other members of the Alliance of Independent Authors was more unusual. While collaborative efforts have become more common among genre fiction authors, we weren’t aware of other multi-author collections of contemporary novels. Of course, several of the issues highlighted here also apply to single-author box-sets.

Why do it?

Simple. We wanted to explore the power of the group. A box-set aggregates reader bases and the theory was that our combined reader bases would result in cumulated sales. But we also wanted to demonstrate the tremendous quality of fiction that is being self-published.

These Fragile Things

Who to collaborate with?

The group needs to share the same values and aims. These should be set out in an agreement (more later) which, when the going gets tough, can serve as a useful reminder of why you started out on this journey.

Make sure you’re happy to champion the other authors’ books as you would your own. We were fans of one another’s fiction before we teamed up.

No two books should be too alike, but they should appeal to the same target market. Our decision was to focus on our characters and the boundary-breaking nature of our fiction.

Make sure that the other authors are eligible to participate. Better to discover sooner rather than later that they’re signed up to KDP Select.

Find out if all of the books have been professionally copy-edited and proofread. You will save time by asking this very simple question.

Do the books have a high number of 5 star reviews? You may find it very difficult to garner reviews for a box-set, especially if it is only available for a limited period, so it’s a good idea to have a stock of headline quotes to draw from.

I Stopped Time

Outline Agreement

Now comes the nitty gritty. Even though you may want to operate on trust, certain issues should be nailed down at the outset.

Set out your main aims. How else will you measure your success? 

Decide how you’ll work on a logistical level.  Will one person act as overall leader or manager, or will each author take responsibility for a different area? What issues will you put to the vote, and how will you make decisions if you are up against time limits?

There should be written agreement that each author will retain his/her own rights, but grants consent for the party taking responsibility for uploading the e-book to publish it. This really is a key responsibility. That same person will receive all of the proceeds from sales and must act as treasurer for the team. We are so grateful that Jessica Bell took on this mammoth task.

Release date – print magazines put their books and features pages to bed three months before publication. Newspapers have a faster turnaround, as do radio and TV, and two months’ notice may well suit them. While you may not have aimed for publicity via these channels when writing as an individual, don’t underestimate the power of the group. We featured in a number of major publications, The Guardian, The Sun and New Edition to name but a few.

Pre-orders – now available on most platforms. Our experience was that people want e-books instantly.

A Funeral for an Owl

How long will the box-set be available? Consider the appeal of a limited edition product v the benefits of having the product available in the longer term. If some of you have published only one or two books, they may be less keen for the box-set to remain on sale. We decided on a period of 90 days only.

How will the product be priced? Box-sets are usually value-priced, meaning that the box-set costs the reader far less than purchasing all the books individually. Generally, the more limited availability is going to be, the keener the pricing needs to be. We settled on a price that represented a discount of 75% off the price of the books if bought separately, which represented tremendous value.

What is each member is expected to contribute, both in terms of money and time? I was simply blown away by the skill-sets within our team. Having a cover designer, interior formatter and website designer in-house meant that we didn’t have to pay other professionals for these services. And there was surprisingly little overlap in skills, so we were all able to play to our strengths.

How each member will be paid and when (Pay Pal is useful).

A general statement of commitment to summarise what is expected of everyone.

Women Writing Women Box Set Cover_finalGIF (1)

Branding

Title – As well as capturing the theme that links the books together, it’s a good idea to mention the word “box-set” in the title, together with the number of contributing authors.  

Cover design – 2D v 3D? As instructed in the Smashwords Style Guide, Smashwords can’t accept ‘3D’ images (a digital rendition of a three dimensional box-set). And they are not alone. If you wish to publish on any platform other than Amazon, and you only want to have one cover image, it must be 2D. NB: All authors should be listed on the e-book cover image.

Your brand will extend to author photographs, memes, Facebook banner, website domain name and design, all the way to any Twitter hashtags you adopt. Ours also included video trailers and promotional giveaways. 

Formatting and Interior layout

You’ll combine the multiple books into a single e-book file. A Table of Contents becomes crucial for box-sets.

We listed each book and author name, and included a short bio, blurb and headline quotes after each title page. You might also add “Other books by Author Name” or “Connect with Author Name,” with electronic links.

Proof-reading – It is vital to ensure that errors have not been introduced during the formatting process. As a minimum, each author should proof their own book and one other novel.  Set a clear realistic deadline.

Communication within the team

We found it very helpful to set up a closed Facebook Group, as well as a shared Google spreadsheet which was effectively a diary of all of our marketing. This ensured that we didn’t duplicate efforts and that we weren’t all asking favours of the same contacts!

Joni Rodgers

Publicity Campaign

We were fortunate to have our product endorsed by respected industry professionals, including Alison Baverstock and Dan Holloway, who gave us amazing quotes which we were able to use on our cover and in press releases.

We utilised social media to full effect, adopting #womenwritingwomen as our hashtag, setting up a Public Facebook Group and targeting reader groups.

Press Releases – we designed three separate press releases with slightly different emphasis in order to suit the bias of the publications we intended to approach.

We wanted a fresh idea for giveaways that would cost very little but treat the winning readers to something of genuine value. Joni Rodger’s daughter (Jerusha Rodgers of Rabid Badger Editing) created a fabulous digital swag bag that included a critically acclaimed novel by Joni, a free music album download by Jessica Bell and a host of delightfully fun and artsy surprises. We also gave away a couple of Kindle Paperwhites. Giving away upscale prizes in a promotion builds awareness, and brought us email addresses and other benefits.

Joni is also experienced in audio editing, so she created our book trailer – again using one of Jessica’s songs. She also made a 60 second review for each book in the set.

Blog tours – we adopted a dual approach, pulling in favours and paying for a blog tour.

Jane Davis

What we will take away from the experience

Joni Rodgers: ‘I’ve learned a lot about marketing and production, and that’s something I’ll gratefully take with me when our 90 days is done.’

Roz Morris: ‘Certainly I learned that promotion in a group gives you more courage. I find it agonising to write assertive press releases on my own behalf, but it was dead easy for our ensemble. I’ll channel that when I start bumbling through a release for my next book.’

ooOoo

A big thank you to Jane. Here’s more about her:

Jane Davis’s first novel, Half-truths and White Lies, won the Daily Mail First Novel Award and was described by Joanne Harris as ‘A story of secrets, lies, grief and, ultimately, redemption, charmingly handled by this very promising new writer.’ She has since published five further novels.  Compulsion Reads describe her as ‘a phenomenal writer whose ability to create well-rounded characters that are easy to relate to feels effortless.’

Visit her website: www.jane-davis.co.uk and subscribe to her blog
‘Like’ her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JaneDavisAuthorPage
Follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/janerossdale
Follow her on Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/janeeleanordavi/boards/

And don’t miss seeing her at Barton’s Bookshop on October 3.

 

Want to Self-Publish Your Book?

I can hardly keep track of the number of people who ask me how to self-publish. They hope it’ll be short and sweet, or so I’m guessing by the fact that they ask at parties, or when I’m cooking, or crossing the road…

Sure, I write for The Sun, but that doesn’t mean I can condense a complex process like self-publishing into three sentences.  

For that, you’d need 140 pages. These 140 pages, in fact: Jessica Bell’s latest addition to the Writing in a Nutshell series. Jessica is a successful author, designer, and friend, so I’m happy to help her tell the world about her book. 

Self-Publish Your Book will not overwhelm you with all information available—it will tell you exactly what you need to know, without the faff, by following a foolproof, cost-efficient, time-efficient, extremely easy-to-follow, step-by-step self-publishing method.

Want to go from manuscript to a professionally published book within just one week? Then start here. 
Self-Publish Your Book

You’ll learn how to: prepare your manuscript in Microsoft Word, design your paperback and eBook cover, prepare your front/back matter and blurb, format your paperback interior & eBook, proofread your designed pages, register with desired retailers/distributors, export your eBook to a retail-ready file and upload your paperback and eBook to retailers/distributors.
 
Not only will this book save you time and money, but it will also save you from inevitable stress. Grab a copy of Self-publish Your Book today!

It really is how to self-publish without giving yourself a hernia or bursting a blood vessel.  Let me know how you get on with it.

Commercial break over. Now where’s that road I was trying to cross?

Is There Such a Thing as Awesome Free Stuff?

Can you really get awesome stuff for free?

Course not, silly! As a smarty-pants friend always reminds me, the preposition ‘for’ is redundant here, and ‘for free’ is incorrect.  But I just threw it in for, like, free.

I’ll keep this short because you may need time to hunt for free stuff (see how ‘for free’ is correct here, Ms Smarty Pants?).  Here’s what I bagged this week.

1 The best thing was this bike, courtesy of a lovely friend of mine.

Universal Ladies' Bicycle

I hadn’t cycled since my teens, but, with a bit of encouragement, off I wobbled.  As well as the bike, I got three bonus bruises and a grazed elbow. Yep, this could be the gift that goes on giving.

2 Advice from a hairdresser.

Thanks to a cut-and-blow-dry on Wednesday, I’ve absorbed a ton of knowledge. Did you know acupuncture could cure hair loss? I got so much free info that I may have to start a new blog. Maybe haircourse.wordpress.com or headteacherblogspot.co.uk.  

3 Two free pillows from a bedding shop.

I know what you’re thinking. Yes, there was a snag. You had to be in Geneva to get them.

Geneva, Switzerland

4  The Indie Author Fair at Foyles.

It’s a free event at the iconic Foyles bookshop in central London, with loads of indie books, authors, and refreshments. Who wouldn’t want to be there? It’s on Friday April 17 from 16:30 to 19:30, so it’s still up for grabs. It’s unticketed, and did I mention it’s free?

Indie Author Fair 2015 at Foyles

Whether you go or not, you can also enter a free draw for a huge number of prizes, including an awesome digital swag bag from the OUTSIDE THE BOX team. It includes a novel, music, a printable “Reading is Bliss” poster, inspiring wallpapers for your desktop, phone or Facebook, and all manner of playful surprises. You can enter the draw right here.

Women-Writing-Women-Box-Set-Cover_finalJPEG (1)See? There are awesome things to enjoy for free.

 

9 Reasons Why You Should Not Read These Books

In case you’ve somehow missed my bragging, seven of us indie authors have got together to create an ebook compilation called OUTSIDE THE BOX: Women Writing Women. Some literati types like Dan Holloway and JJ Marsh love it already, but what do they know? I think it’s only fair to slap on a great big warning and tell you it’s not for everyone. 

Warning about Outside the Box

Here are nine reasons why you might want to steer well clear of OUTSIDE THE BOX:

1 You don’t like reading.

Maybe, like Kanye West, you are not a fan of books.  Kanye adds, ‘I would never want a book’s autograph. I am a proud non-reader of books.’  If this applies to you too, you’ve read too much already. Stop right now and go rinse your brain with the finest hip-hop until you’re out of danger.

Kathleen Jones

2 You only read books written by men.

Well, that’s your prerogative. As far as I know, there’s no book police yet, though there are traps like the works of George Eliot, George Sand, Ellis Bell, AM Barnard, JD Robb, Isak Dinesen and JK Rowling/Robert Galbraith

Jessica Bell

3 You like one-dimensional characters.

In that case you will probably hate the woman who’s accused of killing her father, the young woman fleeing from the shadow of her infamous mother, the prima ballerina who turns to prostitution to support her daughter, the wife of a drug lord who attempts to relinquish her lust for blood to raise a respectable son, or any of the other unforgettable people featured in OUTSIDE THE BOX. This, it should be noted, is fiction about independent-minded, unconventional women. (Though you will also find quite a lot about the lives of men, children and animals.)

Carol Cooper

4 Strong language offends you.

Or maybe you think ‘sex’ is what goes on a form when you’re asked whether you’re male or female. As there isn’t the equivalent of a British Board of Film Classification, there should be an alert here. These books include swearing and even scenes of an intimate nature. The authors did not write these books to please their parents or Mother Superior.

5 You only ever read books in one genre.

Oh, dear. Authors like Joanne Harris and Jane Davis have seriously over-estimated you because they believe readers like a diversity of writing.

Jane Davis

6 You avoid books by independent authors.

Maybe that’s because you haven’t read any yet? More and more books are self-published. Literary agent Andrew Lownie believes that in five to ten years, 75% of books will be self-published. The revolution in publishing has brought a brand new crop of indie writers willing to take risks. We’re no more alike than are authors published by the Big Five. But, as Roz Morris says, we seven have all proved our worth already with awards, fellowships and, of course, commercial success.  Now’s your chance to get a toe wet.

Roz Morris

7 You fight shy of weighty issues, even when they’re lightly treated. 

Caution: this box set covers the full spectrum from light (although never frothy) to darker, more haunting reads that delve into deeper psychological territory. Maybe best stick to books where the biggest crisis is a broken fingernail or a scuffed Manolo. 

Joni Rodgers

8 You have way too much to do as it is.

Perhaps you’re busy creosoting the fence, bathing the kids, or honing your Oscar acceptance speech. I hear you. Luckily a book is like a true friend, one who knows you sometimes need to be elsewhere, who doesn’t make demands but is there for you whenever you find the time.  By the way, Eddie, your copy is on its way, and we’re rooting for you on Sunday.

9 You prefer comic books.

POW! Nuff said.

For those who haven’t been put off, Outside the Box: Women Writing Women is an e-book box set of seven full-length novels for £7.99 (or about $9.99). It’s available from February 20 for just 90 days.

Orna Ross

 

Related posts:

Self-Published Authors, eh? What are they LIKE?

Are You Ready to Venture Outside the Box?

The Magnificent Seven