Thursday, September 17, 2009

Foreword Accepting Books for Digital Review

Need a review by a big-time, respected reviewer? Consider ForeWord's new (as of this month) review program.

The Need

Libraries and bookstores look primarily to the industry leaders in book reviews. Besides the main book review newspapers (New York Times, LA Times), here's the list:

Booklist (American Library Association)
ForeWord Magazine
Kirkus Reviews
Library Journal
Publishers Weekly
SLJ Book Review (School Library Journal)

So you just submit your book to these organizations and get reviewed, right? Typically, wrong.
An e-mail from ForeWord this week painted the bleak picture. Until this month, ForeWord had only enough space in their magazine to review 5% of the books they received. (To put it another way, we had a 95% chance of rejection. Hey, if there's a 95% chance of rain, it's gonna rain.) Many, many wonderful books simply couldn't make the cut.

The Solution: Offer Digital Reviews to Worthy Books for $99

Since libraries and bookstores tend to search their digital reviews, why not offer authors/publishers an opportunity to get into ForeWord's digital database, which doesn't have their "100 book reviews every two months" restriction? ForeWord thought it was a grand idea. So will many authors and publishers.

How It Works
  • Get the overview here.
  • Mail your book to them (specified to "digital")
  • If they believe the book is up to their quality standards, they'll put it on a page indicating that they'll review it.
  • If and when you see it on that page, let them know you want it reviewed and pay them the $99. (If they don't review you, they refund your $99.)
How Authors Benefit

1. You get a review by a professional reviewer at an organization that's respected in the industry. Use it in all your publicity.
2. "Approved digital reviews will be published at as soon as they are received and edited."
3. "The edited reviews will also be made available to librarians and booksellers at Baker & Taylor’s Title Source III, Ingram’s iPage, Bowker’s Books in Print, and Gale’s licensed databases under the ForeWord Reviews name."

While people who despise change will certainly whine (in King James English) about authors and publishers "paying for reviews," isn't this in reality a win for everyone? Only worthy books get reviewed. Professional reviewers get some money (aren't we looking for ways for professional writers to make money?). Libraries and Bookstores are able to access reviews about many more books.

I say it's a great idea and a good opportunity for serious authors. And if you're a serious writer who was recently downsized from your newspaper job and want to make some extra cash, why not apply for a review job?

What do you think?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Optimizing Your Blog

In looking for high traffic blogs to comment on, I noticed that author Tim Ferris had one of the highest traffic blogs in personal finance. Oddly, his blog isn't primarily about personal finance, although I'm sure he occasionally posted on some financial topics. In checking out his blog, I found a video of him teaching how he optimizes his blog.

It's called "How to Build a High-Traffic Blog Without Killing Yourself"

My Takeaways
  • He blogs once or twice per week (not the 6 times a day that some say you should blog) on his Wordpress blog and analyzes everything he does (Google Analytics) to see what works and what doesn't.
  • He doesn't follow other people's twitters. He tweets only for specific purposes, spending 10 to 15 minutes on it every day or two.
  • He can spend from 20 minutes to 6 hours on a blog post, depending upon its nature.
  • He doesn't blog for income or to directly sell books. Rather, he blogs to access people and resources.
  • Blogging fits his life purpose: to love, be loved and never stop learning.
  • Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday are the days that he gets most traffic to his blogs, so these are his optimum times to post. He may post on Friday night to have the post out on Saturday.
  • He finds interesting pics for his blog, free of charge, by going to the Flicker Commons area and searching the most interesting.
  • He reads all the blog comments, saving the most informative ones in an application like Evernote. Thus, he has a large backlog of information to blog at a later time.
Check it out if you want to get some practical hints on taking your blog to the next level.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Virtual Book Tours

What is a virtual book tour and how can it help authors publicize their books?

What Is a Virtual Book Tour?

Basically, during a time period, say, a month, an author gives interviews, receives book reviews and posts on relevant blogs. It's analogous to the traditional author tour, where you flit about the country doing book signings. But instead of physically traveling, you travel virtually, sitting in front of your computer, surfing from blog to blog.

Radio interviews and podcasts, if done from home, would also qualify as virtual, although I'll concentrate here on the virtual blog tour.

Does It Work?

For some authors, yes. I recall one author who rallied interested bloggers around his book before publication. When it came out, the bloggers made enough noise to make it into a major seller. I'm hearing other authors and experts saying that it's one of their favorite tactics for book publicity.

Would it work for all authors? I'd suggest that it's always good to get out there, making comments on blogs and asking for reviews on relevant, high traffic blogs. Since people blog about every topic imaginable, this should be one of the easiest ways to let people who are already fascinated with your topic find your book. The outcome will probably be dependent on the appeal of the book to bloggers, the author's skill at finding the right blogs, and the diligence of the author in contacting enough blogs to make it work.

Not only should this stir up interest for your tour dates, but since your interviews/reviews/guest posts/comments remain on the blogs with links to your book, surfers may find the posts months or years later and find your book as a result. If you do it right and get enough posts linking back to your book, then your book may become highly ranked in Google for key phrases that multitudes of people search.

According to virtual tour expert Dorothy Thompson, "The key to making your tour successful is to get on as many blogs as you possibly can."

How Much Time Does It Take?

Again, quoting Thompson, "The authors themselves put in an incredible amount of time answering questions and writing guest posts. If you do a month's worth of tours, you have approximately twenty interviews and guest posts to get done."

How to Do a Virtual Book Tour

1) Decide if you want to do it by yourself, or hire a professional. If you do the latter, you'll still need to put time and effort into the initiative. One author who's done both ways told me, "There are definite advantages to going with a PR firm (i.e., hitting hi-traffic blogs and getting the reviews), but if you have a strong network and are not afraid to get out there and ask for guest spots, it's absolutely doable."

2) Brainstorm the types of blogs you want to target. They may be:
  • Book blogs that target your genre.
  • Blogs on the topic(s) covered in your book. Examples: financial blogs for a personal finance book, pet blogs for a dog book, etc.
  • Blogs that aren't on your particular topic, but might include your topic: parenting blogs for a personal finance book, family magazine blog for your dog book.
3) Find key words and phrases that people use to search for your topics.

First, go to Google's tool for finding key words and phrases in Google Ad Words. (If the url has changed do a Google search for a phrase such as "find key words". Several sites have tended to offer these tools.) For my financial book, I did two searches, one on "money" and another on "finances."

I discovered, for example, that the phrase "earn money" was searched 368,000 times last month.

4) Find the most popular blogs in your subject areas. Here are several ways:

  • Visit Technorati , the most popular search engine for blogs. Search some of the key words and phrases you discovered. You'll notice that Technorati tells you the "authority" of each blog, according to how many other sites/blogs have linked to the blog.
  • See if one of Technorati's categories fits your subject matter. Click on the category and you'll find blogs listed according to their "authority."
  • Set up Google Alerts to e-mail you when someone has posted a blog or article on your subject matter.
  • Subscribe (with RSS) to the most popular blogs, so that you'll know immediately when they've posted something new. You'll need a free RSS reader, like Google Reader.
Tip: "I had 20 stops as a goal for my tour, and ended up with 18. Looking back I realize that I could have done less. It really isn't about the number of stops; it is more about the quality you put into each." (Kristin Callender)

3) Incorporate videos and podcasts

4) Make the most of accompanying publicity
  • Send out press releases about your book and the tour.
  • Announce each stop on writer’s boards and social networking sites.
  • Submit the interviews to other publications that might use them.
Helpful Article

Kristin Callender wrote a great article about how she did her virtual tour. Looks like she did it right and has left us with the specifics of how to pull one off ourselves.

Helpful Tools

  • Is a blog getting enough traffic to make it worth your time to pursue or comment on? To find out how much traffic it gets, download (free of charge) Alexa's "Sparky" . This toolbar lets you see the popularity of any blog or site that you're viewing. Warning: if the blogger didn't buy her own url, but instead has an ending like or, then don't get all excited if you see an Alexa rank of #1 to #10. In that case, it's ranking Blogspot or Blogger, not that specific blog.

    To give some indication of how many visits a blog or site might be getting, Alexa ranks my character education site as #741,000. That site gets from 500 to 600 unique visitors ("sessions" rather than "hits") per day.

  • Want to have new blog posts and relevant articles come to one, easy-to-view place? I use igoogle as my opening page in my web browser (Firefox). If you download it, click the "x" on every feature you don't like. Then, click "add stuff" on the right top of your screen to find free applications. Search for "Google News" and then customize it to send you news related to your topic. Download Google Reader so that all your RSS feeds all come to your browser page. Now you're alerted to new articles and blog posts on your topic, all together in one place - the place you first go to when you search the web!

1) Is there really any significance to packing a tour into a month or so? Is it just a way to help authors keep concentrated, or is there some reason that it's actually more effective done over a few weeks than spread out over a year?
2) Any other tips or questions concerning virtual tours?

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Many Styles of Writers

No, I'm not talking about their many genres and voices. I'm talking about the many styles of the writers themselves - the wonderfully varied ways that writers learn their craft and complete their manuscripts. If a young writer studies or mentors under only one or a small number of seasoned writers, she might assume that all writers should approach their craft in the same way. Yet, the more I read about great writers, the more variety I see in the way they approach their craft.

Today, I attended seminars by some very successful authors at the Decatur Book Festival - billed as America's largest independent book festival - and was struck by their differences. One spoke of the necessity of great research for his novels. Another said that, in his opinion, it was all about the story rather than the research - that an author, with his slight of hand or wizardry, uses his words to make people believe the story is true. If a person objected that he gave an Atlanta street the wrong name in his novel, he'd reply, "what do I care? It's fiction!"

I've heard some authors say, "Become a writer only if it's the only thing you can do." One author said that this was the case for her. Everything else she failed in. Yet, she had this great urge to write. Conversely, one successful author on a panel was a lawyer by trade. Another was a physician who taught in medical school. Obviously, they had talents besides writing.

Some authors are solitary folk; others love real-life relationships. Some authors write religiously from 6:00 AM till evening with few breaks. Others write at night, like Tolkien, after the kids are in bed. Some writers studied writing in under grad and Masters programs; others never studied writing, but simply one day thought, "I could write a better book than this crappy novel." They basically learned as they went, took criticism gracefully, and learned the craft. Some are in love with the words and the process. Others, like Mark Twain, said he wrote because there was money in it. Some write the novel start to finish on their own. Others, like James Patterson, collaborate.

I think that's a good reminder for all of us. Whenever an instructor or influential writer makes dogmatic pronouncements about "the way all serious writers write," consider that he might not know the wonderfully varied ways that writers approach their craft. Learn from the masters of your genre. Consider what they say. But in the end, do what works for you.