Do Readers Have an Obligation to Writers?

In a current writing discussion on Facebook, authors are trying to figure out why so few readers leave reviews of books, even books the readers loved. This expectation of reviews seems just another example of the upside-down book world that exists today. Writers have come to feel that because they publish a book and make it available for people to read that readers have an obligation to them, but readers have no obligations to writers.

Writers have obligations to readers, and they often fail to honor those obligations. Writers have an obligation to make sure what they write is readable and free of error. They have an obligation to present a finished product, one that has been edited and presented in the best possible manner. And they have an obligation to fulfill the promise of the book. If a story starts out strong, tantalizing readers with a wonderful premise, the author has an obligation to fulfill the implied promise of an equally dazzling ending, but so often books simply fizzle at the end, as if the writer ran out of ideas. (Many big name writers do this, yet people still continue to buy their books. Maybe they keep hoping that one day the ending will be spectacular? I’ve given up hope, and no longer read books by these authors, but considering their continued success, I can see I am a very small minority.)

Writers ask readers for their money, for their time, for their suspension of belief. Even if the book is a free download or a library checkout, authors are still asking for time, and time is worth more than money these days. So why should readers be obligated to pay for the book — again — with a review?

Not only do many writers expect reviews, they expect readers to critique their books, to tell them what works and what doesn’t. This is one of the many ridiculous results of the current anyone-can-publish-anything world — people do publish anything. They publish first drafts as if the drafts were finished books and expect readers to tell them what works and what doesn’t. It is not the readers’ obligation to help writers hone their craft — it is the writer’s responsibility to present an already honed product. (Writers have actually told me they publish their book to get feedback. And they charge readers for the privilege. There is something dreadfully wrong about knowingly publishing a first draft and selling it as a finished book.)

It’s amazing to me not that so few readers follow through with reviews, but that so many do. I am grateful for every review I have received, and I am thrilled every time someone tells me they love my books either via email or through a review left on Amazon or Goodreads, but I don’t expect it. I know readers have no obligations to me as a writer, just as I have no obligation to the writers of the books I read.

How Do You Discover the Books You Want to Read?

Two-and-a-half-years ago, I took an informal poll to find out how people discover new authors. I posted the following on discussion boards on both Goodreads and Facebook:

It seems as if there are as many ways of discovering books as there are readers, but I’m curious as to how you choose the books you want to read. Do you go by reviews? By recommendations from friends? Because you’re familiar with other works by the author? Do you ever read a book because of an ad you saw? Because of a blog article? Because of a mention on a website such as Goodreads? Do you cruise book stores, libraries, or online sites like Amazon? Do you find them some way I haven’t mentioned, such as gifts, perhaps?

Admittedly, the questions were loaded, but I still got an interesting and probably quite accurate overview:

Favorite authors or previously read authors: 36
Word of mouth: 26
Blog reviews/Book websites: 26
Goodreads/Shelfari: 24
Local bookstores: 21
Amazon/B&N/other online stores: 15
Library: 13
Publisher sites/newsletters: 5
Social networking sites like Facebook: 5
Book Clubs: 5
Author appearances/writing conferences: 5
NY Times bestseller list: 5
Offline reviews: 5
Yard sales/second hand bookstores: 4
Advertising: 3
Saw the movie: 3
Oprah: 1
Free downloads: 1
Gifts: 1

Recently, I posed the questions and got similar responses (though from a much smaller group):

books by favorite authors: 8
recommendations from friends: 5
browsing in bookstores: 4
libraries: 2
imprints (the trade name under which the book is published): 1
newspaper reviews: 1
blog reviews:1
recommendations from Amazon: 1
book clubs: 1

So, even with small independent publishing houses springing up like new forest growth, and self-published books proliferating like elm tree seeds, the means of finding books are still the same. That means, if you are an author looking for a readership, you need to be everyone’s favorite author and have your readers recommend you. An almost impossible task when most people already have their favorite authors.

What about you? How do you discover the books you want to read? Or rather where. (A lot of people said they found books to read by the front cover or the blurb on the back, but I’m more curious as to where they saw the cover.)

Brag Time!

I know I said my time for self-promotion is past, but I didn’t say I wouldn’t brag, and wow, is this something to brag about! I just saw a review on Goodreads.com for More Deaths Than One, and either Mickey Hoffman’s resolution for the New Year is to be kind to other authors, or she really liked the book. I’m going with the second option. Thank you, Mickey! I hope everyone reads the review. It’s the sort of review we all dream about and seldom see.

What are you waiting for? Read this book. Now. “More Deaths” is much better than any “bestseller” out there. The plot is constantly surprising and intricate, the characters draw you into the tale and the overall writing is top notch.” –Mickey Hoffman, author of School of Lies.

You can read the first chapter of More Deaths Than One by clicking on the More Deaths Than One tab at the top of this blog. You can also download the first thirty percent of More Deaths Than One free from Smashwords. Hmmm. Do you think I mentioned the title enough?

Book Blogs and the FTC

I was sitting here wondering what words of wisdom to dispense or, more probably, what subject to blather on about, when out of nowhere appeared inspiration: book blogs. Well, it wasn’t out of nowhere – I found a discussion of the new FTC ruling on a Yahoo thread. Apparently, many book bloggers are talking about having to give up reviewing books for fear of incurring the wrath of the FTC along with a fine of  up to$11,000.

The new rulings say that bloggers endorsing a product, such as writing a favorable book review, must disclose their connection with the publisher, author or whoever gave them the book to review, since the book qualifies as compensation (unless they return the book). This interested me primarily because I’ve been searching the net looking for review sites for Daughter Am I, otherwise it might have slipped past me as does most government shenanigans.

Today I received yet another notice from a reviewer saying that he couldn’t/wouldn’t commit to review my book. I console myself with the thought that at least I tried — I really hadn’t planned on going the book blogger/book reviewer route since I received favorable reviews for my first novels from people who bought the books and didn’t expect to get them free. Still, I thought it worthwhile to at least try getting reviews from book bloggers – I want to give Daughter Am I every chance of succeeding — and, in the process, I reviewed hundreds of book blogs. Apparently some reviewers receive tons of books (well, not tons, perhaps, but still a significant number) from the major publishers, and only give a token notice to those from small independents. Others will accept books from anyone without promising to read the book. Sounds like a racket to me.

Still, the hoopla over the FTC ruling is a bit premature. Almost all the book blogs post their review policy, and every one of them mention that they are given the books. If, in fact, the bloggers have some sort of arrangement with a publisher, they should disclose it in the interests of fairness. Authors should know up front they have almost no chance of being reviewed so they don’t waste their money sending their book into a void. On the other hand, if there is no arrangement, then there’s no problem. At the bottom of the review, bloggers can simply say “Author So-and-So send me Such-and-Such a book to review. I have no other connection to said author.” Problem solved. No FTC intervention.

Oddly enough, the FTC excludes newspapers from the ruling because a) newspapers are assumed to be unbiased and so are not “endorsing” the books they review and b) they retain the books, not the reviewer. Not so. Newspapers are much more biased than bloggers, endorsing books that no one in their right mind would read. Also, many newspapers have a review table where they dump books for any employee to take and review. And keep.

I wonder what theFTC ruling is on ebooks? Is that compensation? A reviewer is allowed to return the book so as not to have to disclose connection, but how do you return an ebook you’ve reviewed?

The FTC ruling seems to be just another phase of this year’s publishing industry upheaval. It will be interesting to see where it all leads.

DAIDaughter Am I, my young woman/old gangsters coming of age adventure, will be available from Second Wind Publishing in two weeks!

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Aaaarrrgggghhhh!!!!! Now I Have to Write a Review!

StaccatoWhile most of the world is talking about the new Dan Brown bestseller, Second Wind Publishing, LLC has quietly released a thriller of its own – Staccato by Deborah J Ledford. You won’t find all the elements that have become Brown’s hallmarks: cartoonish characters, amateurish prose, tin-ear for dialogue, internal inconsistencies. What you will find is a well-written, well-constructed story that will keep you enthralled.

The product description on Amazon says it better than I could: Performed against the backdrop of the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, Staccato transports readers to a behind-the-scenes glimpse of professional musicians, the psychological twists and turns of its characters, and in the end, retribution that crashes in a crescendo of notes played at the literary pace of a maestro’s staccato. The only drawback to Staccato is that it doesn’t come with a soundtrack — each meticulously chosen piece of music enhances the mood of the scene it accompanies, and unless you are much more informed about music than I am, you will miss some of the brilliance of this composition.

Readers are in for a treat, and me? Aaaarrrggghhhh!!! I have to write another review! Well, I don’t have to, but the book deserves all the attention it can get. So, I will add it to the stack of other books I’ve promised to review, yet haven’t:

Lacey Took a Holiday by Lazarus Barnhill
The Medicine People by Lazarus Barnhill
Steel Waters by Ken Coffman
Toxic Shock Syndrome by Ken Coffman
Mazurka by Aaron Lazar
Heart of Hythea by Suzanne Francis
and now, Staccato by Deborah J Ledford

Although all these books are much more literate, readable, and enjoyable than Dan Brown’s pap, the best I can come up with as a review for each of these deserving novels right now is, “Good book. I liked it and you will, too.”

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How Do You Choose the Books You Want to Read?

I took an informal poll to find out how people discover new authors. (Hmmmm. Wonder why I’m interested in that!) I posted the following on discussion boards on both Goodreads and Facebook:

It seems as if there are as many ways of discovering books as there are readers, but I’m curious as to how you choose the books you want to read. Do you go by reviews? By recommendations from friends? Because you’re familiar with other works by the author? Do you ever read a book because of an ad you saw? Because of a blog article? Because of a mention on a website such as Goodreads? Do you cruise book stores, libraries, or online sites like Amazon? Do you find them some way I haven’t mentioned, such as gifts, perhaps?

Admittedly, the questions were loaded, but I still got an interesting and probably quite accurate overview:

Favorite authors or previously read authors: 36
Word of mouth: 26
Blog reviews/Book websites: 26
Goodreads/Shelfari: 24
Local bookstores: 21
Amazon/B&N/other online stores: 15
Library: 13
Publisher sites/newsletters: 5
Social networking sites like Facebook: 5
Book Clubs: 5
Author appearances/writing conferences: 5
NY Times bestseller list: 5
Offline reviews: 5
Yard sales/second hand bookstores: 4
Advertising: 3
Saw the movie: 3
Oprah: 1
Free downloads: 1
Gifts: 1

I’m not sure exactly what this means in terms of promotion, except that ideally you want to become everyone’s favorite author and have them recommend you.

How do you discover the books you want to read? Or rather where. (A lot of people said they found books to read by the front cover or the blurb on the back, but I’m more curious as to where they saw the cover.)

The Book Reviewers’ Lexicon

I seem to have sidled into the book review business. Well, not business exactly, because no one is going to pay me, but a few people asked me to review their books, and I volunteered to review a few others, thinking . . . Who knows what I was thinking — I don’t have the slightest idea of how to review a book.

After having read more than 20,000 books, few seem original to me, fewer captivate my interest. So why do I read? Better to ask why I breathe. Even polluted air is welcome to oxygen-deprived lungs. But that doesn’t help the author who wants a review. “Not quite as polluting as others I’ve read recently” isn’t the most endearing review an author can receive. I considered writing curmudgeonly reviews, but unless they become popular, which would give the author a reverse (or perverse) sort of respect, they could only hurt. And I don’t enjoy bestowing hurt. I also considered using my own rating system, perhaps one Z for every time I fell asleep while reading, so a ZZZZZ rating would be a great book for an insomniac. The problem with such a system is that it would make me seem a) old; b) tired; c) sleep disordered. And that is not the image I am trying to portray.

I am not an effusive person, and I especially can’t gush about a book that barely impinged on my consciousness (or lungs if we keep up the air metaphor). So how can I write a review? By cracking the reviewers’ code. Now I can write an honest review using all the typical buzzwords. For example: when reviewers say a book is funny, what they really mean is that they think it’s funny the book was picked for publishing when their own was rejected. Here are some other words from the reviewers’ lexicon:

Fast-paced — Flipped through the pages at a very fast pace so I could be done with it.

Good read — Like a good feed, a good read goes in one end and out the other with little discomfort.

Page-turner — Couldn’t turn the pages fast enough to get to the end and be done with the torment. (See also fast-paced.)

Side-splittingly funny — I’d rather commit seppuku than read one more strained quip.

Sizzling romance — It really burns me that I wasted my time reading such tripe.

Sharp dialogue — lots of white space on the page making it easy to cut through the trite comments.

Witty — full of remarks so obtuse that you know the writer was trying to be clever though he or she didn’t quite manage it.

So, if I write a review that says a book is a side-splittingly funny page-turner with sharp dialogue and sizzling romance, you will know what I mean.

And if I say simply that I like it, without any effusion, you will know that I mean it.

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Cashing in on the Book Business

I’ve been looking for book review sites, trying to find places to send my books for review when they are finally released in January or February of next year. There are so many people with published books trying to get them reviewed that most of the good places aren’t accepting or else they charge exorbitant fees. Even the not-so-good places have a waiting list, and many of them charge a fee, too. (Rule of thumb: don’t pay for a review on a blog with less traffic than yours.)

The problem? When self-publishing first became popular, the authors were more or less satisfied with selling 100 copies to family and friends, but now they are learning how to promote. With the big guys making most of their debut authors do their own promotion, writers are beginning to wonder why they should bother with traditional publishers — if authors have to do their own promotion, they might as well get paid. Several bloggeries I’ve read mentioned an expected explosion of self-published books in 2009, and that a large percentage of those books will be aggressively promoted by their authors.

Makes me wonder if the whole book business could implode, with more writers than readers. Many of the people I’ve come in contact via this blog are readers as well as writers, but at least half of the writers I meet elsewhere do not read books. Nor do they buy them.

In the future, perhaps more money can be made reviewing books than writing them. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been toying with the idea of becoming a reviewer. It’s tempting — especially if I could find others who would be willing to review the genres I don’t read. It’s one way to eventually cash in on the superabundance of published, POD, and self-published books out there, and I’d never lack for reading material. I have only a few objections: I’d have to review for nothing until I could build up a reputation, and I’d have to give strangers my address. Also, I am so jaded when it comes to reading that I’m not sure I could think of anything nice to say about any book, and if I tried to say something positive about a book with negative appeal, would it harm my (so far non-existent) reputation? Even worse, all that reading would take me away from writing, and I have enough distractions as it is.

But still, it’s something to think about as I try to figure out how and where to promote my books.

Book Blogs, a Bibliophile’s Dream

I’ve been orbiting the blogosphere, looking for bloggers who will host my blog tour (if you’re interested, let me know!) for when and if my books are published. (The date has been pushed back another month, so I’m looking at sometime in December.) Most of the sites I found want a review copy, but they do not guarantee they will do a review, nor do they guarantee that it will be a complimentary one.

Sounds great — for the reviewer. If I still retained the thrill I used to get from reading (I lost it about 10,000 books ago) I would set myself up as a book blogger. Just think — I’d never have to buy another book; I’d have a steady stream of reading material; and I wouldn’t have to do anything in return unless I wanted to. And I’d get a gazillion blog readers. Well, maybe not a gazillion, but more than I get now. And, of course, it would be a great way to promote my own books.

Too bad I don’t have the spirit for it. But maybe you do. If you want to become a  book blogger/reviewer, you can find an article about how to write reviews here.

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