Saturday, July 31, 2021

Making Books Starred Favorites

Occasionally I wish I'd done something differently in a book, but mostly I like what I write. Readers (and reviewers) seem to appreciate them, too. So why don't I have 1,000 reviews for each book?

I don't work hard enough to seek reviews. It's a process that builds, and I need to make the foundation stronger.

With most emails to newsletter readers, I mention that authors love reviews and I would appreciate theirs. But, I rarely reach out to individuals.When I first published the Jolie series in 2011, friends, former neighbors, and work colleagues were quick to read Appraisal for Murder and many offered reviews. Perhaps it made me compacent.

If I had paid more attention the next year, I would have modeled my behavior on author Karen Musser Nortman. She emailed me to say Amazon indicated people who read her books also read mine.Would I consideer reading and reviewing one of hers? Sure. 

What I Do 

1) Offer review copies to those on my email list. 

2) Remind people they no longer need to write a recommendation on most book review sites. They can simply give a book the starts they believe it deserves.

4) Spend a little money giving away paperbacks or ebooks. 

5) Introduce readers to Smashwords, an aggregator, which lets me provide coupons for free books. I give newsletter recipients a short lesson in how to do this, because sometimes people worry they might still get charged.

6) Ask readers to leave reviews (or stars) on sites beyond Amazon, especially Goodreads. Millions of readers look to Goodreads for recommendations. (Note: Amazon bought Goodreads a few years ago, but review rules are less strict than on the retail site.)

7) Rotate books as freebies. After a book has been out for a long time, reviews slow or pretty much stop. This year, I began periodically offering books in the Jolie Gentil cozy mystery series for free for a month on Amazon and all sites. This can garner 50-75 reviews -- from more than a few thousand downloads. A few are three stars, but most are four and five-star reviews (or simply stars). Again, these are older books. I want people to buy the new ones. Added reviews do lead to more sales later.

Some Things Not to Do

1) Don't ask people in your household to write reviews, even if they are not relatives. Websites can tell you use the same Internet ISP, and the reviews will be removed.

2) Don't ask the same people to review every book. Amazon may see patterns and remove what they believe to be "friend reviews." Other sites do less of this.

3) Don't imply people can give you a review even if they haven't read a book. It is not a personal endorsement of you, it's a way for potential readers to learn something. 

Things I Recently Learned

The Indie Author Project recently presented a webinar with James Schwartz who gave good advice on seeking reviews. While this was free, he also has a firm that (for fees) can help with many aspects of self-publishing.

1) For new books (or older ones with new editions) ask up to ten people per week to do a review. Schwartz suggests contacting people who have reviewed similar books or are in Goodreads groups that feature books like yours.

2) Develop a common "ask" note to modify for the requests.That will reduce the workload.

3) Track the requests and their results. Not everyone who- agrees to review can follow through, so you you may not want to send them a free book or coupon the next time around.

4) Recognize that a bad review is beneficial because it may keep some people from reading the book and leaving their own bad review. This was the most surprising point of the seminar (to me), and it makes sense.

Things I Should "Know Better" and Do Consistently

Sometimes I kick myself for not being more persistent, about many aspects of marketing. Make no mistake, bringing in book reviews is marketing. I want to write, not market.

1) Wait a few extra weeks before releasing a new book. I go through my wonderful critique group, work with beta readers, and pay a proofreader. But I don't allow enough time to send advance review copies (ARCs) to potential reviewers. Doing this means more reviews the first week a book is released.

2) Use local media. I used to drop copies of new books with all local print media and send press releases to radio and TV stations. For some reason, I do less of this. (Chalk it up to working on new books immediately.) I've moved several times in the last few years, which means I have few personal media contacts. Too bad, just do it.

3) When people on a newsletter list ask for review copies, go to them for all other books. (You can ask if this will be okay.) I put these requests in an email folder, but have not always gone back to them.

4) Ask people who review similar books to review mine. It can be hard to find contact information, so if  I can't, I'll move on. People in sales say the most important perspective is "next." 

Seek Reviews Even if You Work with a Publisher

A larger publisher will send review copies well in advance of publication. Yay! They may even pay the fees for review in Publisher's Weekly or Kirkus. Big yay!

However, you still need to work your networks and ask readers for reviews. Publishers have lots of authors and limited marketing budgets. At some point, they need to move on. Coordinate with the publisher, of course.

I'll report back on results in a few months. Feel free to offer your own ideas.

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To learn more about Elaine, go to or sign up for her newsletter

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Shared Experiences and "Do You Remember" Discussions

The other day, my husband asked me if I remembered the television show Bonanza. I immediately began to sing the theme song, a rhythmic beat that almost mimics pounding horse hooves. My immediate response brought to mind the relevance of shared culture in entertainment.

I like living in a world of "unshared cultures" -- new things to learn, new foods to try. But shared experiences (even if only through common media) can be fun. The "do you remember" familiarity among friends.

How does this relate to books, more specifically, to writing them?

I constanly think about whether readers will 'get' idioms or understand a reference. If a character says something is "bupkes," a reader may know the term -- especially if their father was born in 1915 and used it (as mine did). If they've never heard the word, they might get it from context. 

Unfamiliar terms or references to little-known events give readers pause. You don't want to make them stop and say "huh" too often. By the same token, you don't want to write to the person with the most limited vocabulary.

It's More than Word Choices

In the 1980s, a popular organizational training video discussed the idea that your frame of reference was established by your environment in roughly your teenage years. "Who you are now depends on where you were when." We referred to them as the Massey Tapes, and I just looked them up. The presenter was a man names Morris Massey, and he still does motivational speaking.

The theory was that we see the world from our teenage lenses -- not just our personal experiences but what was going on in society around us. We'll pretty much always do that unless what Mr. Massey termed a "significant emotional event" changes some aspects of our perspective. 

Mind you, I'm talking about this from memory, but I believe it's a fair recollection of the Massey philosophy.

If you grew up in an area that was culturally diverse when you were young (not as uncommon now), you were used to people of different races holding hands or to hearing many languages in the grocery store. I grew up in the DC metro area. The Giant grocery store was like a mini-UN. 

I went to college in an area not as racially diverse and it was...weird. Now, think of the reverse.  If you went from small-town Midwest to Chicago, DC, or New York, you'd wonder what happened to a sense of shared culture. It isn't racist or any other bias. It's just getting used to a lot of differences.

If you stay in the larger city, you eventually realize you don't need to be "alike" to enjoy the same activities. Humor may take a little longer, and you may not regularly eat the same foods or read the same books. But you appreciate the differences.

I think about this as I write mystery series in very different settings. The vocabulary and humor in my Jersey shore mysteries (the Jolie Gentil series) are different than than in the stories set in rural Iowa, along the Des Moines River (the River's Edge series). Especially the analogies and metaphors.

In the Iowa series, I could refer to someone a bit different as a volunteer (a reference to a tall cornstalk amid a bean field). In New Jersey, that would be as unfamiliar as speaking Swahili.

Still, common media bring us together. Not everyone watches reality shows, but people everywhere (in the U.S.) know the TV show Jeaopardy and make jokes about it. Millions of people also commiserated about Alex Trebek's illness, and auditions for his replacement are even noted on television news shows

I've digressed from Bonanza, but I like where my thoughts wandered. I think I'll ask my husband if he remembers the theme song from Cheers.

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To learn more about Elaine, go to or sign up for her newsletter

Thursday, July 15, 2021

My Web Page Enters the 21st Century

What could keep an author from posting for more than two weeks? Marathon sessions to recreate her webpage, which I believe I began building in about 1999,

The initial design was busy and used a builder that didn't lend to a modern look. I had postponed an upgrade because it is soooo hard for me to learn new technologies. I should not have waited so long.

However, I've learned more about my writing, and can now describe it better. As you'll see, I have much more to learn, but now has a clean look. I like it.

Why Now?

The redesign did not happen on purpose. First I had bad luck, then very good luck. My host (who will remain nameless because I won't give them publicity) cancelled the proprietary software they provided. No email warning. They said if I had logged into the host panel I would have seen announcements. 

Why would I do that? I write books and update a webpage. I only go into the panel to pay my bill. (Make that past tense.)

I bit the bullet and transferred my hosting contract to WordPress, which I've never been able to learn. Bought two books. Still could not do more than title a page. There's a certain amount of operator error, but I just don't find WordPress intuitive.

Here's the very good luck. I posted a note on my church Facebook page, and a wonderful friend stepped up. She taught me a lot, but also did a good portion of the design and template building. And gently corrected my mistakes. 

She introduced me to Elementor, a developer tool specifically for WordPress. I can do enough to be dangerous, so to speak.

Learning New Technology

Learning new software has never been easy for me, but I usually jump in. I bought a Toshiba laptop when they had 50K (yes, K, not even megabytes) of memory. You loaded (and used) software on floppy discs. I think this was the late 1980s. (Yes, I'm old. Seventy next month. Going strong.)

I could absorb new software because I worked a lot for a nonprofit, and they graciously let contractors attend training when they bought new software. They also had very patient staff two generations younger than I who answered questions. Even if asked three times. 

Repetition is my personal key to learning new software, but now I work alone. I may find a course about WordPress or Elementor. I need to keep learning.

The personal aspect of learning new things works best for those of us (at least me) who memorized multiplication tables in the days before calculators.

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To learn more about Elaine, go to or sign up for her newsletter