Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Serious Reading, a serious book review/promotional company for authors, or not?

This is NOT a sponsored review of Serious Reading, a book review company for authors. These opinions are my own and are based on my experience with www.seriousreading.com All information, and ratings were accurate at the time of posting. 

 


Why hire a review/promotional company?

I think I can speak for the vast majority of indie-authors when I say we would ALL love our novels to be featured by companies like Book Bub. If you haven't heard of it, Book Bub is a book promotional company that has solidified its place in the literary world with it's reputation. Many unknown authors skyrocketed to Bestsellers status with the help of this company. Sadly, the cold hard fact is that most of us will never get our wish; whether it be because of their entry criteria or because of the cost of running a campaign, which starts in the hundreds. I don't know about you, but as an indie-author, I certainly can't afford that; especially not after paying for a cover and everything else that goes along with self-publishing.

So how can we, the little people of the booming book world, reach the same lofty goals as the literary giants we stand beside? How can we climb the ladder of success whose rungs were made too big for our gait? That is the challenge that I faced when my book, The Paladins of Nareita, was released this year. With little experience, and a bucket full of gumption, I started off the same way every other self-published author does. I began to build my platform. By dabbling in every social media platform available to me, my social reach began to grow. I even got my book onto the shelves of two book stores, Books on the Square in Rhode Island, and Brookline Booksmith in Boston. But I noticed that my online following was mainly other authors.

This led me to ask the same question every author asks, how can I reach readers? After exhausting my brain and researching where many readers found their next reads, my blog, Books and Authors, was born. But I soon realised that there was only so many times I could talk about my own book... I know, I couldn't believe it either. So I began to interview other authors as well. I wanted to showcase their talent, to bring their works of art into the light too. I also wanted the best for them. So, I toiled long into the nights, rose early in the mornings, took time away from my own writing and family, and broke through different barriers of the blogging world to get it to a fairly descent level in five months, (about 5 to 7k views a month). People started commenting on my posts, my Facebook page had lots of interaction, and my twitter account notified me on all the re-tweets and likes. Even my Google + page views skyrocketed, and my Pintrest pins got re-pinned all over the place.With it, notoriety of my own book too.

Sales went quiet well. On average I was selling about four to six books a week. I'm told that's pretty good for a debut author. But still, I felt like I was preaching to the choir, that I was only reaching other authors and the occasional non-author, and that audience would soon run out. Not that I wasn't grateful for them, I was, beyond belief. But an obsession had taken over me... as it does, on occasion. Reaching readers became my own personal enigma I had to solve. However, I soon came to understand that I couldn't do it on my own. I was only one person, a debut author no one had ever heard of.

So, I scoured the web for affordable book review and promotional companies. Someone with more clout then little old me. I came across many and couldn't decide which one was better. They all sounded so appealing, so promising, but I was skeptical. I scrutinized their testimonials and tried to find an unbiased opinion on whether or not it was worth investing in these book review companies. I found very little actual reviews on the net, so I decided to do one myself.

Thus entered Serious Reading

Serious Reading

Serious Reading, at only $49 for a campaign, looked most promising of all. They don't advertise themselves as a promotional company per say, rather as a book review company. But they do say that they will promote your book too. This is what drew me in. I wanted to witness the power of their mailing list and 150,000+ strong promotional power of fans, followers and subscribers. And when they were done, I wanted to shout from the roof-top about how good they were.
But I was to be disappointed.

To be honest, I was tired of self-promoting around the clock, and was really hoping for someone to help me, to give me a little boost. For $49, here's what they promised. (Please note, the red is my experience on how they did with what they provided. If I didn't comment, it means that they did exactly as they stated.)

**"1.We will publish a review of your book.
Within 2 weeks we will publish a review of your book. (My review took nearly three weeks)The review includes 3 parts: author bio, short description of the book and overall editor opinion with a rating. As an editorial review, it can be used on your Amazon or Goodreads page as a means of promotion. (Serious Reading does not put a review up on Amazon for your book)

2.We will publish an interview with you, the author.
Readers love to get to know the author better. This is how they end up following and reading all your existing and future books. (But yet my interview featured NONE of my contacts, not my website, not my facebook page, not my twitter) We will publish an interview with you on our platform.
We have prepared over 200 questions for you to pick from. We recommend answering a minimum of 20 questions.

3.We will promote your book.
Your book will be recommended to our over 150,000 subscribers, fans and followers. Not only we will publish your book on our Facebook wall, but will also include it on our biweekly newsletter.

4.We will include your book in our recommendations.
Every-time a reader sees a review for a similar book (or a book from the same genre as yours), your book will be recommended too.

5.We will include your book in our libraries and book stores catalog.
Every few months we release a recommendations catalog to over 5,000 book stores, academic and public libraries. That is your best chance of getting your book ordered in bulk by the hundreds. Your book will be there!

6.We will Feature your book on our Homepage
We will feature your book both on our Homepage, giving it maximum exposure, but also at the top of each category your book fits into."

They also now have an fabulous online magazine out, check it out here.


My Expectations. 

It all sounded wonderful, but my expectations weren't overly high. I knew I wasn't going to hit the Bestseller's list anytime soon. I also knew there was going to be some things on this list that I could not check for the purposes of the review. But I was determined to give Serious Reading a fair review on the things that I could.

What I was hoping for? To see a quality review of my book, and, despite a couple of typos, I was pretty happy with it. I was also hoping to see my interview, complete with my contact details (ie website, twitter handle, something so readers could find out more about me). I expected to be featured on the pages they promised, to see some kind of interaction on their posts, and, although not promised, to see an increase of sales. After all, why else would any author pay for a review company if not to increase their visibility and therefore increase their sales?

To make sure that I didn't taint the results of the sales, I stopped all my self-promotion. But that was never going to be a permanent state of being. I had to resume my promotions at some stage, or see my book drown amongst all the others. So I gave them the same amount of time I dedicate to my own authors, one week. As they linked my book on their website to only Amazon, this is the platform I based my sales results on.

What happened?

My initial experience with Serious Reading was a good one. Their website worked well; no broken links. They used Paypal, which meant I had some security when it came to claiming money back. Even though they promised that my review would be up "within" two weeks, it wasn't. I don't blame them, however, my book is quite long. When I contacted them to ask what had happened, they were polite and responded quickly. This was very reassuring, and they get full marks for this.

In my review, however, they scored my book at 96%. Ninety-six percent of what, exactly? There was no info given on criteria or where the number came from or what it's for. Does it mean that it's 96% a good read? I guess we'll never know. Not that I'm disappointed with 96%, I'm not, I just don't know how they came up with that number. As with my review here, I expected some kind of breakdown. But that was only a minor issue in an otherwise wonderful service so far.

As someone who is only just beginning in the blogging world, I can see the importance of linking authors with their audience, and I do so on every one of my author spotlights. It makes life so much easier for the reader to be able to click on a link to connect, rather than having to search through the internet for the author. For me, this is networking 101. But yet, neither my interview nor my review had any links to me, and I found that quite disappointing. More so, I noted that there was no comments section on their posts. With my own blog, and I am aware the review isn't on a blog but I'm pretty sure a comment section could be added, I get in excess of 20 comments on every post. It's a good way to demonstrate your followers interactivity. Without this, I have no idea if it's just me reading to myself, or not.

It was only after Serious Reading posted my link to their Facebook page, that I also realised 100k+ of their 150k+ followers, came from there. This didn't bother me so much, because I use Facebook for the very same thing and I know it to be a powerful tool. But my posts often have 10+ comments on each, and many more likes. I was expecting some kind of reaction from their post (actually more because I only have 600+ followers on mine). But I was disappointed again. To date, there are six likes and no comments. Granted, this is more than the average author post on their Facebook page. Likes and comments aren't the success at which I gauged my entire experience, but they do give a good indication as to how much interaction Serious Reading has with it's audience. It is also a good indicator of how sales might go from my investment.

I tried to find Serious Reading's twitter account, to see if they had posted about my article. I was gobsmacked to find that they don't have a twitter account. In fact, I couldn't find any other social media outlet for Serious Reading other then their website and Facebook page. Knowing the power behind twitter posts (as I get most of my blog views from there) I couldn't fathom why they didn't harness that outlet. When they email you with the links to your interview, they give you a twitter handle to use when you (and I stress YOU) tell the world about your interview, @seriousreading. But when I looked at the tweets that were used with this handle, I saw it consisted SOLELY of the author's own tweets about the article. Not only that, but the handle wasn't attached to ANY twitter account at all. Serious Reading, aside from the one Facebook comment and the invisible lists they promised to put me on, did not do any promoting of my article or interview. This, to me, was a huge letdown.

And now, for the all important question that every indie-author wants to know, how did all of this change my sales? The week I stopped promoting, the same full seven days I gave to Serious Reading, I sold three books. One of those books I know came from a direct sale from me as the buyer emailed me to say they had just bought it. The other two I couldn't tell you where they came from. There are some lovely authors friends of mine who post about my book and help me promote, so those book sales could have come from them. However, in the interests of fairness, I will assume they came from the readers of Serious Reading. My sales, therefore, are down significantly this week.

The results of my review. 


Initial contact 1/1*
Concerns/questions answered quickly 1/1 *
On time delivery 0/1*
Completed as promised 1/1*
Visible Interaction on posts 0/3*
             Facebook 0/1*
             Twitter 0/1*
             Comments 0/1*
Response to campaign 1/3*
             Were there any sales? 1/1*
             More sales than normal 0/1*
             Was my investment returned 0/1*

Total score for Serious Reading was 4/10 stars. 

My conculsion

Do I believe my investment was returned? No.
Do I believe I had just paid for a lovely article on a pretty website? Yes.
Would I use Serious Reading again? No.

I truly would love to give Serious Reading a better score. I had much higher expectations for this company than they produced. Although there may be some residual sales produced from their promotion, I will not be able to determine the origin of the sales once I restart by own promotions. I believe a week is a fair trial time.

There certainly is a need for good, inexpensive promotional sites for indie-authors who just want to be heard. I know there are many other promotional companies out there who might get better results, and I am open to hearing about them. Heck, I might even review them. I am so dying to find that 10/10 star company. If you have had experience with a good book review/promotional company, comment in the comments below and I will certainly look into them.

**All credit for this quotation/information goes to seriousreading.com

I acknowledge that my experience is my own and other authors may get different results.  


Sunday, April 24, 2016

Shattered Lies, a contemporary women's fiction by SJ Francis



In this weeks Author Spotlight, I met up with the hugely talented, S.J. Francis, author of Shattered Lies, a Mainstream, Women's Fiction novel.

What is your book about?

Officially, Shattered Lies is women’s fiction/mainstream, but that is just the label the publishers gave it. For me, Shattered Lies is also contemporary, family saga, epic. In fact, I hate the labeling since everyone can read this book.

Shattered Lies is about a family torn apart by secrets and lies and the aftermath of those secrets and lies coming to light. Shattered Lies focuses on a family and the aftermath of what happens when long buried secrets and lies surface:
She wants to know the truth, but some secrets might be better left alone…
Kate Thayer has a good life as a veterinarian, running the family horse farm—until she uncovers an act of unimaginable treachery by those she trusted most and learns that everything she knew about herself was a lie. Her paternal grandmother, the woman who raised her, is behind a number of devastating secrets Kate is compelled to discover. But the deeper she digs, the more betrayal she finds, changing her life in ways she could have never foreseen.

What inspired you to write this book?

Oh, I wish I had a magical answer for this one. There was no inspiration for Shattered Lies. It was just an idea, a one line sentence I came up with. What if? What if a young woman in a seemingly perfect family with a perfect life was to discover her entire life was a lie? That’s how a lot of my ideas form. I think of a question and before you know it, I have a book idea. Shattered Lies was always going to be set down south. I just never knew where until I moved to Mississippi. When I moved there, Shattered Lies basically wrote itself. The end result of it all could never have been foreseen from what I imagined it would be.

Who is your favourite, and least favourite, character in the book?

In a way I love all the characters for their individuality, their strengths and their weaknesses. To answer the question, though, my favortite character in Shattered Lies has to be my protagonist, Kate Thayer. Her perfect life is turned upside down, she carries her own secret, but through it all, she has to do the right thing no matter what it costs her. You can't help but admire her.
My least favorite character is definitely Gary Edmonton the lawyer.

What draws you to this genre? Do you write in any other genre?

I didn’t choose the genre. I think the genre chose me. I’ve actually written more than a dozen novels over the last several years, but Shattered Lies, a women’s fiction/mainstream/family saga is the first one I actively sought to publish. All my novels seem to fall into this genre and they all share the same dynamic: Families, families with secrets and lies. Not necessarily conventional families, but all families.
They say to write what you know, or write what you want to know. I write both and what I care about. I care about people, people in families, and families with secrets and lies. Hence, my genre chose me.

Is this a standalone book, or can we expect more?

It's a stand-alone book with a stand-alone sequel forthcoming. One doesn't have to read one in order to read the other.

Tell me about you and what drew you to writing? Are there any authors who inspired you to become a writer yourself?

Actually, I began writing for publication before any writers ever inspired me. Afterwards, though, every writer I’ve read has had an influence, somehow on my writing, including the guest authors I’ve hosted on my writing blog, but the biggest influences was the late great Jackie Collins, romance author Leigh Michaels, and Multi-Published author Heather Neff. They’re all distinctly different in their writing styles, but all are great writers that inspired me.

Other than your own book, what is your favourite novel?

Oh my, that is a difficult question. I love so many books. I have no one genre that I prefer over another. I love to read everything and anything that interests me. Therefore, I find I can't choose just one. I enjoy books by Jackie Collins, John Grisham and Agatha Christie to name a few.

Have you written other books we should know about?

To date, I’ve written over a dozen novels, but Shattered Lies is the first one I actively sought for publication.

If you could advise aspiring writers on only one aspect of authordom, what would your advice be?

Though, I’ve been writing since 1983, I’m still learning. Never stop learning. Never stop reading. Never stop writing. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t. As long as you believe you can write, you can. Discouragement hides behind every corner. You are going to want to quit. Don’t. Never give up. Never let fear win. Never. For the day you do, you will give up. There are so many ways to get your work published now. There’s no better time to write than now. As the late, great Jackie Collins once told me when I needed encouragement the most, “Keep your writing passion on fore.” Never let life get in the way of your writing.

Where can we find your book?


Kobo 

Where can we find out more about you?

and of course My blogs - 



Old Wine & Black Hearts, a science fiction & fantasy collection by L. Joseph Shosty



In this weeks Author Spotlight, I met up with the wonderfully diverse L. Joseph Shosty, author of Old Wine & Black Hearts, a Fantasy & Science Fiction (Story Collection)

What is your book about?

Old Wine & Black Hearts is as a mash up of two previously published works.  The first is my debut, Hoodwinks on a  Crumbling Fence, published back in 2000.  The other is Swallow the Evil, a fiction sampler I created in 2014 to test the waters of self-publishing.  By putting the two together, I’ve created a retrospective of nearly two decades in the field, twenty stories for twenty years.  The Old Wine section represents my older work, and is mostly urban fantasy and magical realism with some light sf.  The Black Hearts section is my more recent work, and is mostly dark fantasy and horror.

What inspired you to write this book?

Money.  Filthy, stinking lucre, and all the fame and fortune that writing short fiction brings.

Who is your favourite, and least favourite, character in the book?

My favorite is the nameless woodcutter in “The Words We Speak Have Power” because, aside from his profession, he has the power to literally bring the stories he tells to life, though he has no control over them once they’re birthed into the world.  Most writers can relate to this bit of fancy, but anyone who has ever gotten in trouble or inadvertently inspired someone with what they’ve said will find much to sympathize with in this character. My least favorite character is the goat man from “That Time of the Month”, and if you read that loathsome story, you’ll understand why.

What draws you to this genre? Do you write in any other genre?

I write a little of everything.  Mostly I do fantasy and science fiction, but I’ve written two mysteries, Herbie’s Diner and Gomes & A Murder of Confessions, as well.  There’s also a few horror stories, a steampunk novel, a mainstream novel called Ataraxia & Aponia that’s going to press next year, and a supplemental text for fiction writers that should be hitting the bookshelves in February.  I’ve also a book of haiku in the works for the four or five people in the world who still enjoy the form.  Put my work on a shelf, and it looks less like a single author’s career and more like a tiny bookstore.

Is this a standalone book, or can we expect more?

Before collecting Old Wine & Black Hearts, I discovered I had nearly one hundred previously published stories to which I owned the rights sitting around, gathering dust.  Writing is a business as well as an art, and a smart businessman doesn’t allow assets to do nothing when they can be out there making money for him.  Old Wine is part of an on-going effort to get as many of those stories into print as possible.  There are four total story collections planned for release.  The next up is Wizards for the Immediate Cheddar.  It’s an unofficial companion to the first collection, hence the wine and cheese theme.

Tell me about you and what drew you to writing? Are there any authors who inspired you to become a writer yourself?

I started writing at age three, and what inspired it was a terrible book.  My mother read it to me one night before bed, and I sat up and said something to effect of, “That book is terrible.  I could do better than that.”  My mother told me to put my money where my mouth was, and over the next few nights I dictated my first story to her.  It was something dreadful about my dog, who I imbued with magical powers, but I was hooked.  I’ve lived a pretty easy life because I’ve known what I wanted to be since then.  Never a worry in the world what I wanted to do with myself.

Other than your own book, what is your favourite novel?

Ha!  You presume that I like my own writing!  I do love this book, yet, given that the Black Hearts portion was written during a painful stretch, it’s proof I don’t always like the subject matter.  My favorite book of all time is The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco.  A close second would be A Midnight Clear by William Wharton.  Honorable mention would be The Sterile Cuckoo by John Nichols.

Have you written other books we should know about?

Well, if you’re going to twist my arm…haha!

Abattoir in the Aether: Amazon - Barnes & Noble and Untreed Reads 
Herbie’s Diner: Amazon - Barnes & Noble and Untreed Reads
Gomes & A Murder of Confessions: Amazon         
Operational Costs: Amazon         

If you could advise aspiring writers on only one aspect of authordom, what would your advice be?

There’s an old adage which says, a book is not written, it’s re-written.  Whatever your opinion of yourself and your skills, your first draft is rubbish.  You needn’t get angry about that, for it’s true of us all.  A real writer emerges in the editing room.  Being brave enough to cut a brilliant piece of writing because it doesn’t fit is only part of the ordeal.  You have to be willing to strip away every unnecessary word and/or phrase from your work, no matter what.  Sometimes, entire chapters must go.  That requires being truthful with yourself, which is not a writing matter, but one of introspection.  “Does every piece of the manuscript fit, or am I feeding my ego with something I’m including?”  A good rule of thumb is to do a word count as soon as you type The End on the rough and resolve to cut 10% of that count before you consider letting another living soul, like an editor, see your work.
Another great adage is that a book is never finished, it’s abandoned.  How do you know when you’re finished editing?  Cutting 10% is fine, but you’re really done when you would rather kill yourself than read through the manuscript one more time.  When that occurs, read it again.  After that, abandon the book to posterity.
This last part is particularly for those of you who are self-publishing.  Hire an editor.  I get it.  My mother told me I am a genius, as I’m sure yours has said the same of you.  They do that.  And you might be the finest editor in the world.  I don’t know.  I do know that I’m a freelance editor, with many years’ experience on my side, and I still hire one for each of my books.  It doesn’t matter how good we are, having a second (or even a third) pair of eyes whose job is producing polished manuscripts is essential.  If you’re reading this and thinking you’re the exception to the rule, you’re actually the person who most needs to be taking this message to heart. 

Where can we find your book?


Where can we find out more about you?


Twitter @AccurateComics