Writer Promotion: Reviews

Blog 88 ImageI’ve been posting about how self-published writers can promote their books. In my first post, I said, “Readers will buy a self-published writer’s book if they believe they’ll be entertained or get some other benefit. This means they have to know about the book and likely what other readers think of it.”

User-generated reviews offer some of the best promotion of a self-published writer’s book. As with any product or service, if a book’s reviews are independent and overall positive, there’s a chance potential buyers’ eyes will be caught.

Traditional publishers have long supplied copies of books to periodicals for reviews. However, periodicals generally don’t review self-published books. So what can self-pubs do to get reviews?

Write a Good Book. It always seems to come back to this. If readers like a book, some will be encouraged to rate and review it. This in turn builds an average rating and collection of reviews on sites like Amazon and Goodreads which other readers use in their purchase decisions.

Ask for Objective Reviews. There’s nothing wrong with a self-pub asking readers to review his book. So, in situations where the writer is selling or giving away copies of his book in person, he should add that any review would be appreciated. Some self-pub writers also include a review request at the back of their books. Because reviews can be so helpful, writers may be tempted to ask people he knows to read and review the book. It’s essential that the writer be clear that he expects objective reviews.

As long as they are unbiased, people whom a writer could ask to review his book include friends and acquaintances, beta readers, blurb writers and Amazon’s Top Reviewers/Hall of Fame Reviewers. Also, there are many bloggers who review copies of books given to them, but my experience is that it’s very difficult for a writer to have his book selected.

Reduce the Book Price. A writer can reduce the price of his book to encourage sales and hopefully reviews. Kindle Select allows books to be given away or sold at a discount if certain conditions are met.

A vast array of services has developed around publicizing the giveaways and discounts. Given the large number of self-pub books, services charging money should be viewed with scepticism. One service I’ve heard positive anecdotes about is Bookbub. It charges writers to promote price reductions of well-reviewed books to a database of email subscribers. The charges are significant and vary according to genre, so writers must assess whether they’ll be justified by increased sales.

Purchase a Review. Various organizations provide professional reviews for a fee. I’ve blogged about Kirkus Reviews here and other services here (and there are still more).

As long as the reviews are objective, I don’t see any issue with purchasing these services. But as with buying any promotional service, the question is what value the writer gets. I found validation in reviews I purchased for The Case for Killing (here) and False Guilt (here and here), which for me was important. However, my reviews compete with thousands of others and I’m unclear whether they had a material impact on sales of my books.

Lastly, believe it or not, there are “services” that will guarantee five-star reviews. Avoid.

Copyright © 2016 Peter Fritze

Buy False Guilt.

Buy The Case for Killing.

Follow me on Twitter @PFritze.

Visit me on Facebook.

A Protagonist’s Birthdate

Blog 42 ImagePeter Bradley, the protagonist in my first book, The Case for Killing, was born on July 20, 1960. It’s an interesting day to look back on. Eventually, it also causes Bradley some trouble.

From the July 21, 1960 Toronto Daily Star, we learn time-capsule things about July 20 like:

  • The Cold War utterly dominated international politics. Fears were growing of a new U.S.-Soviet clash in violence-stricken Congo; England’s Prime Minister Macmillan thought Premier Khrushchev had been particularly aggressive in the previous sixty days; and the wounds of the Cuban Revolution were raw and the seeds of the Cuban missile crisis sowed.
  • A Quebec divorce was front-page news. Divorce in Canada then required a salacious precondition like adultery. Quebec divorces were only available through private acts of Canadian Parliament.
  • It was warm and pleasant in Toronto, high 72 F (22 C) and low 55 F (13 C).
  • Measured by price, products were cheap. The newspaper cost ten cents; a sixteen-ounce jar of peanut butter was on sale for twenty-nine cents; a ten-piece bedroom set was on special for $159; inspected used tires were $4.95; and a Chevrolet Impala cost $2500-$3500, depending on the model and options.
  • Everything was much less connected. New Zealand had just introduced legislation to permit television. Two Toronto men became the first to travel by car from North America to Bogota, Colombia. In jungles, they lived on monkey meat, iguana and wild pig. People sold things using the classified sections of newspapers.
  • People worried how to fund the Toronto Transit Commission and that fare increases would worsen street congestion. Sound familiar?
  • President Eisenhower announced there would be a one billion dollar surplus for the year. A surplus.
  • The S&P 500 closed at 55.61. Last Friday, it finished at 2051.82. My parents should have bought and held.
  • In baseball, Mickey Mantle had the most runs in the American League; ditto Willie Mays in the National League. Like today, even in July, hockey figured prominently in Toronto sports news. Unlike today, news about horse racing did, too.
  • Suddenly Last Summer, The Battle of the Sexes and something called Cha Cha Boom played in the movie theatres.

Why does Peter Bradley’s birthdate cause him trouble? He may be Canada’s foremost anti-trust lawyer and quite engaging, but he’s also manipulative and arrogant. The type of arrogance that makes him believe he’s incapable of mistakes. He should have chosen a better online banking password, though. He keeps his wife, Amy, on a shoe-string budget and she’s after more cash. With her brother’s help, she steals Peter’s banking password then laughs at his choice: 072060PB.

Copyright ©2015 Peter Fritze

Where to buy The Case for Killing.

Follow me on Twitter @PFritze.

Reconnecting Through Writing

Blog40Last week, I tweeted that writing books is a great way to connect with people from one’s past. Many tweets have an untold background story. I’ve decided to tell the story behind my tweet.

My father was a Professor of Chemistry at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada. The Klaus Fritze Memorial Prize at McMaster is in his name. He came from a strong scientific pedigree, having been the graduate student of Fritz Strassmann in Mainz, Germany. Strassmann worked with Otto Hahn and Lise Meitner in the discovery of nuclear fission for which Hahn won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1944.

My father died much too young in 1980. My only time with him was when I was young. By his nature and through circumstances, he was withdrawn. I’ve been left with a picture of a man who was intelligent, inquisitive and introverted.

Several of my father’s former colleagues and graduate students are in touch with my mother. She told one about The Case for Killing, who told another, and both have bought my book. I ended up meeting the second and his wife last week.

What I got from a delightful afternoon was a new perspective on my father as a professor. I learned of his love for pure research; of his interest in bright minds from many countries; of an open door policy that led to a spirited exchange of ideas; and of help given to others so they could find their way in the world. I also learned that he was an independent thinker, sometimes to his detriment.

In addition, I heard details that drew me closer for the first time in a long time: morning and afternoon teas in his office; disdain for conservative politicians; neat laboratories; and handwriting which mine has followed.

A happy, unexpected result of writing a book!

Copyright ©2015 Peter Fritze

Where to buy The Case for Killing.

Follow me on Twitter @PFritze.

When is a Book Ready to Publish?

Blog 36I have a confession to make. I said that my second book, False Guilt, would be available this fall. It will be the first quarter of 2015 instead.

I really did think I would make the original deadline. One lesson I’ve learned is that, when talking about a future book’s release date, it’s better to say “soon”.

But there are other lessons, too. My book’s delay has some very good reasons, which I’ve decided to collect under the general question: when is a book ready to publish? These comments are geared toward indie authors.

When the Writer’s Gut Says So. I didn’t become settled with False Guilt as soon as I expected. Now I’m ready to stand tall beside the story and characters and see what feedback I get.

To me, this really is a gut decision, because dastardly voices speak in the writer’s head. One says, “Another rewrite won’t make any difference. Get the thing out there already.” Another says, “This book needs to be perfect. Plan on 2017.”

I think that the more a writer writes, chances are he becomes better at assessing when his book is ready for publication. His sense of plot, pace and character development grows keener. He understands better when more research is required. He learns tricks like allowing enough time to pass between drafts to bring a new perspective to his work.

Several Drafts After Beta Readers Have Read The Book. My last two blogs discussed how useful beta readers are. I’ve learned that, after beta reader comments come in, I need to do at least three drafts of a book before it goes to the editor.

When the Editor Says It’s Ready. A good editor will be clear with a writer if and when his book is ready for public eyes. Some of what delayed False Guilt was my editor questioning character development and interaction. An editor’s structural, stylistic and copy edit comments can take several drafts to sort out.

It’s possible a writer and editor will disagree on some points. So, really, the idea is that a book is ready to publish when the editor says so, setting aside carefully considered points of difference.

When the Writer Has a Marketing Plan. Discoverability is a huge challenge, so writers must actively promote their books. Better yet, a writer should have a marketing plan. Mine for False Guilt, including a Facebook and Twitter presence and upcoming pre-release reviews, is coming into shape.

When a Compelling Cover Design is Done.  Book covers can make such a powerful statement, it’s better not to rush them. I like the direction the cover for False Guilt is heading in.

Not Too Soon After the Last Book. I won’t pretend to know when the optimal time is to release a second book. I’ll just say that I think The Case for Killing, published in April, still has legs.

When Readers Have Time. An indie author needs to think about the time of year when he’s releasing a book.

Initially, I thought releasing False Guilt in the heart of the holiday season was a good idea. I hoped it would be a digital stocking stuffer. But then I decided people will be too busy to give the book any attention. Now I’m hoping that False Guilt will help with the February blues.

Copyright ©2014 Peter Fritze

Where to buy The Case for Killing.

Fifty Seconds of Terror

Blog 31 BCOn LogoFor budding crime thriller writers, it’s a challenge to connect with readers and other writers and to learn about the marketplace. That’s the reason for conferences like Bouchercon. I’m just back from the 2014 version in Long Beach, California.

Overall, I learned a ton. However, I arrived with apprehension after receiving an email inviting me to join the “Meet the New Authors Breakfast”. Did I want to stand up and tell readers and other writers the most important thing they should know about The Case for Killing? In fifty seconds? Along with fifty-two other debut writers? At 7:00 a.m.?

My instinctive response was to run. But I know I need to self-promote, so I agreed.

Long Beach hasn’t seen rain in months, but the first day there, the breakfast hung over me like a towering cumulus. When I arrived at the event the following morning, the same cloud obviously hung over other presenters. Faces were grim, breaths were deep and laughter was nervous.

I said things like “No one’s listening anyway,” and “Who’s going to be here at 7:00 a.m.?” Useless platitudes. A microphone and speakers made sure people had to listen, and the large room filled. I acquired an advanced case of stage fright.

Well, I certainly didn’t hit it out of the park, but the fifty seconds got done. It turns out that when you’re staring into the eye of a storm, they go by very fast. I wish I could have used humour like other presenters did. Sadly, it’s just not my strong suit in those situations. I did say I once practiced law and I’m told some folks responded with a gentle hiss. Yeah, I’m probably going to stop mentioning that.

Anyway, despite the panic, I’m counting those fifty seconds as a great experience. Mostly that’s because I met a lot of interesting debut writers. It’d be nice, though, if my heart returned to sixty beats per minute some time soon.

Thanks for the opportunity Bouchercon.

Logo used with the permission of Bouchercon 2014.

Copyright © 2014 Peter Fritze

Buy The Case for Killing here (Canada) or here (U.S.).

Self-Publishing Stigma

Blog 31 Raise the BarToday I’m posting a few thoughts about the stigma associated with self-publishing. I’m including the post in my series of blogs about what a first-time fiction writer should consider when choosing between traditional publishing and self-publishing.

Self-pub authors know the stigma I mean. It shows in many forms. Newspapers and many bloggers won’t review us. Many book stores won’t stock us. Occasionally, a traditionally published author looks at us askance. From behind our backs, we’re sure we hear, “Oh well, he had to self-publish because, you know, no publisher was interested.”

For this post, I’m not going to analyse the origins and current state of the self-pub stigma. Lots of others have done that; here’s a link to a good one. Instead, I want to make one of those points so simple and unoriginal, it’s almost embarrassing. A well-crafted story makes the stigma fade.

In the last few days, I saw this first-hand as it modestly applies to me. The father of a close friend whom I knew quite well sadly passed away earlier this week. I attended his visitation and service. In talking with others, the topic of my writing came up many times. My friend and his stepmother both read and liked The Case for Killing, and endorsed it to others. The result: not a whisper, to my face at least, of the stigma of being self-published.

I have no doubt that the varying quality of self-published books makes readers doubtful about investing the time and money to read them. However, knowing this, self-pubs should devote great attention to their story, and to the editing and design of their books. In fact, I’d say that they should set those bars higher than traditionally published authors in their genre do.

With really good work, self-pubs can clear those bars and leave the stigma behind.

Copyright © 2014 Peter Fritze

Buy The Case for Killing here (Canada) or here (U.S.).

More on Book Contests

Imagining ...
Imagining …

A few blogs back, I posted that I’d started thinking about entering The Case for Killing in book contests. I then discussed Canadian book awards for which self-pub thrillers are eligible.

This post is about international book contests in which a Canadian self-pub thriller can participate. Most are based in the United States and United Kingdom.

I imagined that this post would list four or five established, well-regarded international contests. I didn’t want more because they would take too much of my time to participate in and because the costs would run too high. But I’ve ended up with only two firm choices – and some confusion.

My starting point was the list of awards for crime fiction at awards.omnimystery.com. The Case for Killing wasn’t eligible for many contests in that list. Some had a residency requirement I didn’t meet; some exclude self-published books (e.g. the Edgars); and others are for a contest associated with a conference I’m not attending.

However, two contests for which Canadian self-published thrillers are eligible and which I’d heard of from other authors are the EPIC eBook Competition (by the Electronic Publishing Industry Coalition) and The Hammett Prize (by the International Association of Crime Writers/North American Branch). EPIC has a $35 fee and The Hammett has no fee. I think they have profile, perhaps enough to affect sales, and they’re affordable, so I’ll enter both.

Then I went to the list in the article “Book Awards for Self-Published Authors” at The Book Designer (a terrific resource if you don’t know it). Not all contests in this list are for thrillers. Then there are contests that cover many different categories but have significant entry fees. When you add postal costs to submit paperback copies of your book, which many contests require, the costs become significant.

That’s where I became confused. How do you judge the contests with higher entry fees? This article by Janice Hardy is useful. And from it, participating in next year’s Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards looks interesting.

However, as a newbie author, I feel I need to talk to more authors, publishers and agents to decide which contests have the profile that would interest me.

I’ll report back soon. But in the meantime, please share your experiences, especially about contests that helped book sales. Many thanks!

Copyright © Peter Fritze 2014

Buy The Case for Killing here (Canada) or here (U.S.).

Canadian Book Awards for Self-Pub Thrillers

Gold StarThe Case for Killing’s readership is growing – slowly. I’m getting positive reviews by email, or in a few cases, online. In a world where it’s so hard for an author to get discovered, these are wonderful baby steps.

Dreams create goals and you need goals (and a lot of luck) to succeed. This week I started dreaming about entering The Case for Killing in book award competitions – just to say I tried. So I started researching what awards exist for self-published thrillers.

This post is about Canadian awards. In three weeks, I’ll blog about international awards where I’ll choose from the great list of awards at Crime Fiction Awards.

The Arthur Ellis Awards for Excellence in Canadian Crime Writing are the obvious awards to participate in. They’re offered annually by the Crime Writers of Canada. For published works, two categories that interest me and that accept self-published works are Best Crime Novel and Best First Crime Novel. I’ll go for the latter.

After that, while there are many other Canadian book awards, the pickings for self-published thrillers are slim. Many awards don’t accept self-published entries. Don’t laugh, but I checked the Scotiabank Giller Prize on this. Others, even if they are open to self-published works, are specific to literary works or regions of Canada.

My book may qualify for the Toronto Book Awards. They were established by Toronto City Council in 1974 and honour authors of books of literary or artistic merit that are evocative of Toronto. The Case for Killing certainly is evocative of Toronto and I’d like to think it has artistic merit. Their eligibility rules do not specifically exclude self-pubs.

I was unclear if a self-published thriller qualifies for the Amazon.ca First Novel Award. I couldn’t find eligibility guidelines, and based on the award’s history, I’m guessing not.

If I missed a Canadian book award for which a self-published thriller is eligible, please let me know.

Copyright © Peter Fritze 2014

Professional Book Reviews for a Fee

How much shall I pay?
How much shall I pay?

In my blog post Is a Kirkus Review Worth It?, I discussed the review I purchased from Kirkus Indie for The Case for Killing. I decided to buy an objective review from a reputable organization because of the difficulty indie authors have in getting professional reviews.

Since I’m starting to think about promotion for my second book, False Guilt, I decided to create a list of organizations that provide professional reviews of self-published books for a fee.

My list is below. Please comment back if you know others. I only provide a brief overview of services; you should go to the relevant website for details.

None of the organizations below guarantees a positive review of a self-published book. When selecting an organization, remember it’s not only about price and turnaround time, but also reputation, where the review is distributed and any additional services provided.

Kirkus Indie: Kirkus charges $425 for a 250-350 word review of a self-published book in 7-9 weeks. For $575, it’s provided in 4-6 weeks. If you like the review, it’s posted to kirkusreviews.com and licensees, and you can use excerpts in marketing. If you don’t like it, it never sees the light of day.

ForeWord/Clarion: You can submit a copy of your book up to two months before publication to ForeWord and they’ll consider it for a free review in their quarterly magazine. If you don’t make the cut or have already published your book, Clarion will provide a 400-500 word review in 4-6 weeks for $499 and a 1-5 star rating. You decide if the review goes on their website and is licensed to book wholesalers.

BlueInk Review: Their Standard Review is $395 (7-9 weeks review time) and their Fast Track Review is $495 (4-5 weeks review time). Reviews are 250-350 words, and run on their site as well as being distributed to partners. You have 10 days to opt out of running your review on their site.

Self-Publishing Review: This team offers a 500 word review in 4 weeks for $109 that is permanently available on their website in their Book Reviews section and posted on social media. They also offer a 200 word review for $59 completed in two weeks and available on their New Releases page and social media.

IndieReader: The folks at IndieReader charge $100 for a 300 word+ review of a self-published book in 8-10 weeks. For an additional $50, they review in 5-6 weeks. Reviews are accompanied by ratings of zero to five stars, and are posted to their site. Books receiving a 4-5 IR review are automatically made available to third party outlets.

San Francisco Book Review: This organization has a Sponsored Review Program that guarantees an objective review for $125 (8-10 weeks) or $299 (3-5 weeks). The review is 300+ words and can be used by the author for marketing. The author chooses whether to accept or reject the review, and if accepted, it appears in one issue of the San Francisco Book Review digital magazine and is posted on CityBookReview.com.

Portland Book Review: They also have a Sponsored Review Program. Their rate for a review is $89 (6-10 weeks review time) or $175 (3-4 weeks review time).

Penn Book Review: Their basic service is $199, which provides a 300-400 word review and distribution on various websites. They also have more expensive services that provide broader blog exposure, advertising and various other promotional services.

I’ll also mention that there are other organizations that provide complimentary reviews. Typically, reviews are not guaranteed and depending what you order, may have other fees. See for example:

  • booklife, which offers many other fee-based writer services;
  • Midwest Book Review, with a $50 “reader fee” for certain submissions including eBooks; and
  • Readers Views, which sells publicity packages with complimentary reviews.

Lastly, there are many other reviewers who may comment on a book in exchange for a free copy and various lists are available online.

Copyright © Peter Fritze 2014

Speaking at the Dundas Public Library

On June 21, I had the real privilege of speaking at the Dundas Public Library about how to self-publish.

It’s a presentation I hope to give with a colleague at various libraries in the fall. My appearance in Dundas, my hometown, was the first run at it.

Dundas Public Library
Dundas Public Library

You can imagine my thoughts on the way there. No one will show. Copies of The Case for Killing will stay untouched. I’m going to forget what I want to say. The last problem didn’t bother me too much, though. I reasoned that, if no one showed, it didn’t matter that I was stuck alone at the front of the room, red-faced and searching for words.

Well, I arrived, and to my relief and great pleasure, fifteen people had registered. Most showed and a few more came impromptu. I gave away ten copies of my book and signed the front pages. I got through the presentation more or less unscathed.

However, what stood out for me was how welcoming and engaging the attendees were. They were interested in my book, struck up conversation, and listened with interest to my presentation and asked questions. When the presentation was done, there was great one-on-one conversation about fascinating projects, blogging, and the struggles of writing, including, yes, self-doubt.

Self-doubt seems to be the necessary evil companion of writing. For me, it’s a little voice in the back of my head that says as I write, “No one’s going to like this”. Public speaking also has an evil companion – fear of ridicule. Thanks once again to everyone who came out to DPL. You quieted both evil companions.

Copyright © Peter Fritze 2014