Friday, July 24, 2015

How to Avoid a Tarnished Reputation as an Author

“This book was really good. But there were so many errors in it that I couldn’t give it five stars.”

This statement could be a formalization of an author’s worst nightmare. Imagine someone posting that review on your Amazon author page? It could mean your reputation as an author is already tarnished.

The recent buzz over the release of Harper Lee’s novel, Go Set a Watchman, was dampened considerably when news reports surfaced about missing pages in some printed editions. Many readers felt cheated, and others questioned why there seemed to be such a rush in getting it out. One thing is for sure: no one proofread the final galleys properly before the book’s release.

This can be a great frustration to readers. Imagine being excited about the release of a new book, such as was the case in the Harper Lee book scenario, only to discover that the book was not properly prepared for release. Readers can obviously get a bit miffed, particularly if they paid good money with the expectation of getting a high-quality product in exchange for their money. When readers purchase books at a store, whether online or at a brick-and-mortar store, they are paying for something they believe is worth their time and attention. The same is true for readers of self-published books. That’s why authors work with publishing companies in the first place. There is an unspoken expectation on the part of authors that the publishing house will do everything possible to make sure the content is up to standard, just as there is an unspoken expectation that readers will reap the benefits of all the labor that went into preparing the manuscript for publishing.

What do I mean by “up to standard”? Let’s go back to the scenario of an author seeking a publisher. The author will eventually work with an editor to get the content into good shape. He or she will read over the manuscript and correct anything that doesn’t look like a standard book, and then likely send it back to the author. The editor reads the manuscript again to make adjustments to any new content the author and/or editor may have added. Finally, after the manuscript has been typeset, a proofreader will go through the layout, just to make sure additional errors, such as formatting mistakes or pagination issues, have been taken care of before the book is published.

“There is an unspoken expectation that readers will reap the benefits of all the labor that went into preparing the manuscript for publishing.”

This is a critical step that many self-publishing authors don’t realize. It’s great to work with a really proficient editor when you are going through the publishing process; many authors are already hiring editors to work with them on flushing out the finer details of their manuscripts. In some cases, authors work with substantive editors, who can help them hone other details of the manuscript, such as character development or storyline issues. But, if authors are not also using proofreaders, before their books are published, they might be running the risk of sending out a product that is less than satisfactory. Unhappy customers mean sluggish sales… and could mean a tarnished reputation.

In order to maintain the highest standards of publishing, a manuscript is reviewed several times throughout the book production process. Self-publishing authors should not cut corners if they intend to produce high-quality books. This means simply that authors must be willing to work with both editors and proofreaders before launching a book project.

For some authors, an editor can double as a proofreader. If you are seeking one on your own, however, here are some things to consider:

  • Proofreaders are accustomed to reading galleys (proofs) in print or via an electronic PDF. They will make adjustments to the book either by marking up the hard copy or by using electronic editing tools (for example, Adobe Acrobat Pro allows you to make comments within the document). Make sure your book designer can create a PDF proof of your book.
  •  Look for proofreaders with book experience. There are many types of proofreaders, and each one conforms to a style of proofreading. Book proofreaders try to follow the Chicago Manual of Style closely while marking up copy. There are always a great supply of top-notch editors and proofreaders through the Editorial Freelancers' Association.
  • Familiarize yourself with standard proofreaders’ marks. There is a section in the Chicago Manual of Style that lists all of the marks. Book proofreaders may use these marks to make omissions, errors, additions, and to comment on layout and other issues. Knowing how to recognize them can help you both to understand what they mean and to be able to mark up the hard copy on your own.
  • Pricing. Book proofreaders typically charge somewhere between $2.00 and $4.00 per typeset page. While many editors charge a per-word rate, proofreaders base their rates on pages. The number of words per page will vary depending on the size of the book (the trim size), the size of the font, the line spacing, and any other content that may take up pages (graphs, charts, images, etc.).

By following these simple steps, you can save yourself the embarrassment of removing a title from Amazon or some other POD and then making the adjustments. By that time, you may have people commenting on your book, and you’ll have to work extra hard to win over readers who may have seen those less-than-stellar reviews posted online.

Now through September 7, 2015: professional book proofreading and Kindle- and Smashwords-compliant ebook layout for $299 (a $600 value). 

Friday, July 3, 2015

Amazon May Very Well Shut Down the Indie Author Review-Seeking Machine

Using the Right Avenues for Attracting Readers Can Alleviate Headaches

Imy Santiago, an independent author, posted on her blog recently about trying to post a review to Amazon. Without mentioning the name of the author or the title, the blogger discussed, with great dissatisfaction, how her review was not posted. Amazon eventually sent her a message stating that her review could not be posted because it did not conform to the review standards. After several attempts to rectify the situation, Amazon determined that Imy knew the author and, in an effort to filter out inauthentic book reviews, they would not post Imy’s review. Imy remains puzzled as to how she and the author knew one another. Her final thought is that Amazon’s “Big Brother” tactics have become too overreaching and all-powerful. She is encouraging her readers to fight back.

Amazon has come under scrutiny in the past about the way in which it receives and posts reviews of products, most especially books. Since just about anyone can upload a title to the platform and sell it, the site has become inundated with review seekers who are willing to do just about anything to get them. The common logic in the self-publishing world is that book reviews on sites like Amazon help customers make informed decisions. Instead of relying on a name or a brand to generate sales, these authors resort to soliciting reviews from any number of outlets. Amazon fired back and began screening reviews and reviewers to determine authenticity.

Other new changes to Amazon’s system, particularly where Kindle ebooks are concerned, can help perpetuate the notion that Amazon really is acting like Big Brother. In a recent blog article, I talked about how publishers who are enrolled in the Kindle Direct Publishing program (KDP) are now receiving royalties based on the number of pages readers digest. Instead of paying authors and publishers per download, there is now in existence a tiered royalty pay scale; when readers finish reading a Kindle ebook, the author or publisher gets the full royalty. When readers read less than 10 percent of the book, there is no royalty.

Amazon’s ability to track Kindle reader activity is worrisome to many, most especially the authors who publish and enroll in KDP. And, as Imy points out, Amazon’s cryptic practices for monitoring customer activity and, some would argue, using it to their advantage, means that the self-publishing world has become the new battleground in cutting-edge-technology snooping. If other independent authors, for example, cannot post reviews to other indie authors’ pages because they are discovered to be in the same Facebook fan page group, this could mean the end of author solicitation for reviews of their own titles.

Amazon's approach could very well be the most ethical way of dealing with the review conundrum. But what this means for authors and independent publishers is they will have to try harder to secure authentic reviews from genuine readers. By “genuine” I mean simply people who find independent titles organically, whether through advertisements, endorsements from others, or even native Google searches.

For all we know, the traditional publishing industry doesn’t have much problem with review posting. I don’t imagine that there are big publisher operatives out there trolling the internet, trying to convince people to both purchase and review a traditionally published title. The traditional publishing industry has a great deal of money and resources to get the word out for its titles, some might argue, and it’s that arsenal of resources that attracts readers who will love their books—and, more importantly, review them.

Self-publishing authors can learn to think more like traditional publishers even if they don’t have a gargantuan piggy bank from which to operate. Instead of seeking out reviews for self-published titles through means that Amazon might deem unfit, savvy authors are using other avenues to attract the right types of readers.

  1. Does your publishing company have a home on the internet? If you are an independent publisher with one or two titles available for sale online, you may have a small web page devoted to them. Without some hub for your titles, people will not know where to find out more about you and your work. Granted, there are author pages on Amazon and other sites, but the types of readers who will remain loyal to you will look for opportunities to connect with you outside of retail or commercial websites.
  2. How easily can people connect with you? Sure, you may have a Facebook page or a page on Goodreads, but how easily can people connect with you? People like books, but people love authors even more, especially good ones.
  3. How easily can people find you? The vastness of the cyber world means that independent authors have to try really hard to connect with readers. People are doing searches every day in topics very similar to your genre of writing, and they are constantly seeking new avenues of entertainment and education. But, if people can find you in the ways they are normally accustomed to finding out information, how will they even know that you or your titles exist?
  4. How often are you connecting with readers? Authors who have a well-established presence on the internet follow the same basic principles. They develop a hub where people can connect them, they make it easy for people to find them, and—here’s the kicker—they actually engage in dialogue with their readers! If someone comments on your book by sending you an e-mail or posting a note on your blog, this is a perfect opportunity to engage with them. Thank the reader for reaching out, and then invite him or her to share his or her experiences with the book to others. Invite him or her to review your title and post to his or her social media outlets.

Without a fresh approach to independent authorship, self-publishing will continue to languish in a relatively substandard nether-region between traditionally published books and unedited, careless social media posts. Independent authors would be wise to recognize that the cutting corners approach to gaining recognition and sales is going to die out. Instead, books that continue to receive authentic, unsolicited reviews will increase in stature. Self-publishing authors who want to develop a career out of writing and publishing will have to start acting like the pros, who are dominating the publishing market.