Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Getting Book Reviews

If you've ever wondered how to approach a book reviewer asking for a review or other favour, here's an example of how to get my attention for all the wrong reasons: send me an unsolicited email like this (the message has been edited to remove identifying references):

Hello!

I am contacting you today because I would love your help in spreading the word about my latest eBook release “XX.” This is currently available on amazon for just $0.99!

Also, this Saturday (11/17) I am having a giveaway. Anyone who helps me spread the word about my “XX” can enter themselves to win a $50 Amazon Gift Card! Anyone can enter and all they need to do is help me spread the word through twitter, on their blog, or on pinterest!

I would love it if you could share this giveaway with your readers, and also if you share about “XX” on your blog you can also enter to win the $50 amazon gift card!

Below is the link to the giveaway post where entries will be taken (this post will go live on 11/17):
[deleted] 
You can learn more about “XX” on amazon here: [deleted]

I do appreciate any help you can give in helping me spread the word about my eBook “XX” and the giveaway!

Please feel free to email with any questions you may have.
Thank you! [contact details deleted]

My immediate reaction was to delete this, but decided that it might be better used as an object lesson of how not to approach reviewers. Here are my issues:
  • The email isn’t personally addressed, indicating that this is a blanket message sent to any email address she could find (and the author is female);
  • The writer didn't introduce herself;
  • There is no reference to how she came into contact with me or whether we have had any previous contact (I’m pretty sure we haven’t. And if we had some prior connection, she would be best to mention it to jog my aging memory);
  • There is nothing about how or got my email address (I assume through www.christianreads.blogspot.com, but could equally have been through any number of websites I have commented on);
  • I live in New Zealand. Sending an email like this when I haven’t specifically signed up to receive emails from you is actually illegal. Personal emails are fine, but unsolicited messages are illegal (not that I’m going to report her. That would be more hassle than it was worth).
  • I live in New Zealand (still). There is no such date as 11/17. It’s 17 November, November 17 or 17/11/2012 (again, make the message personal to the recipient. This might be getting nit-picky, but she’s asking a favour. Make it easy for me to say yes);
  • I don’t know anything about this product beyond the title. No blurb, no offer of a copy to peruse for myself, no publicity information, nothing. I’m expected to promote it for her without even knowing if it’s any good;
  • The message not relevant to what I actually publish on my review site, which is reviews of books I’ve read, not free publicity for unknown authors;
  • There is nothing about how this might benefit me (or my blog readers, Twitter followers etc);
  • There is nothing about why I might want to help her (apart from the bribe of a chance to win a $50 Amazon voucher);
  • The link she provided for entering the draw for the Amazon voucher doesn’t go live until 17 November (another three days, considering she means 17 November in the US). So I’m expected to do something for her, then trawl back through my emails to find the link to enter the draw);
  • Too many exclamation marks. It might be exciting to you, but you’ve got to make it exciting to the reader. 


The email is professionally written (apart from the irregular capitalisation of 'Amazon'), but with an underlying tone of desperation (probably a result of the overuse of exclamation marks!). I’m glad that she appreciates any help I might give her. She just hasn’t persuaded me to give her any, partly because the message is too impersonal and irrelevant, and partly because I have no idea whether her product is something I would be happy to recommend to others – because by blogging, tweeting or pinning about her book, I am indirectly recommending and endorsing her work..

Now, compare and contrast with this email I received yesterday. I’ve kept the details for this one, because I think it’s really nicely done, and I’ve already downloaded the book and added it to my to-review list:

Hello,

I just read your Amazon review of Godspeed: Making Christ's Mission Your Own by Britt Merrick and appreciated your insight and candor.

My name is Ken Hensley and I recently published a short ebook on leadership called "Leading with Heart: Faith-Filled Thoughts on Leadership." Being a leader is not easy, especially if you want to do it right. My hope in writing this ebook is that the reader will be encouraged and inspired to put their best effort into being a good leader.

Below is a link where you can download a free PDF of the book. If you are willing to write a review at Amazon, that would be great! [deleted]
To submit a review, the product page is: http://www.amazon.com/Leading-Heart-Faith-Filled-Leadership-ebook/dp/B00A46DJ8U

Thanks for your consideration!

Ken Hensley
Blog:
www.kenhensley.com
Twitter:
@kenhensley
Facebook:
www.facebook.com/kenhensley
So, again, a professionally-written email (although he still hasn’t addressed me by name). But there are some differences:
§  The author has done his research, in that he has looked for people who review products of a similar nature to his;
§  He compliments me on a review, which demonstrates that he knows something of my style (and makes me inclined to think kindly of him);
§  I know where he got my contact details (Amazon, which has my blog address in my profile);
§  There is a short blurb for his book, which acts as a hook to attract me as a reader;
§  There is a link to a free electronic review copy (note that many reviewers prefer authors ask first, and don’t just send the book or link directly. This also helps ensure that only people who have committed to review your book get a free copy);
§  He’s very polite about asking for the review. Although that’s almost certainly the only reason he has emailed me, he makes it seem as though this is an afterthought, something I can do for him as a small favour;
§  He’s also made sure to leave all his contact details.

See the difference? You can look forward to a review of this on www.christianreads.blogspot.com in around mid-January.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Do Writers Make Money?

Don't ask me why, but money seems to be on the minds of many this week. All figures quoted are in US dollars.

First up, Rachelle Gardner warns prospective authors that landing a publishing contract won't solve your financial problems (given that most advances are below $10,000, you'll be lucky if the first half pays your credit card bill after your agent and the friendly tax department have taken their share).

Then self-publishing guru Joe Konrath hosted Harlequin author Ann Voss Peterson, as she lamented that she earned just $20,000 on a book that sold 179,000 copies since 2002. (This was also linked to by Passive Guy, Scott C Eagan and Steve Laube. Agent Scott C Eagan posted in defence of Harlequin, but deleted his post after being roasted by Passive Guy commenters. Joe Konrath was tempted dissect Eagan's views, but instead challenged Steve Laube's.)

Christian author Eric Voss (author of the novelisation of the Fireproof movie, as well as several other Christian novels) shares how he earns only around $22,500 p.a. through writing - the reality of publishing is that it is not a get-rich-quick scheme, as he could have earned twice as much staying in his corporate role.

Finally, historical romance author Courtney Milan shares her Tale of Two Royalty Statements, in which she finds that she spent more money promoting her trade-published novella than she did promoting her self-published novel - but she earned more from the self-published work.

What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Marketing Basics Part 5: Promotion


Promotion is the third of the four P’s of marketing, after Product and Price, and it is a big issue for authors. Without promotion, no one will know to buy your books.

I have to admit that I have been struggling to write these next posts, because there is just so much information available on the ways businesses should be promoting themselves online that I was just getting lost in the detail.

Then inspiration struck: yes, there are many ways to promote. But the central question is: Why? Why do we promote?  What is the purpose of promotion?

To connect with customers and potential customers, to raise awareness of you and your product (your book) in order to influence them to purchase.

How do we connect with customers and potential customers? That depends on who they are and where they are. If they are on Facebook, connect on Facebook. If they are not, find another way to connect. If your customer is teenagers, then Facebook and Twitter are important. If your customer is middle-aged or retired people, then Twitter might be less important than a blog, an email, or even a snail mail newsletter.

Basically, the way you promote has to reflect who your customer is. You have to know your customer, and be where they are. You don’t have to be everywhere online – just be the places that your customer is, and places where potential customers are likely to see you and connect to you.

Over the next few weeks, we will look in more detail at the practical details of blogging, and the use of other social networks to build a platform.

Just don’t try and do it all at once. You’re supposed to be writing!

Friday, 4 May 2012

Blogging for Beginners: Why Blog?

I have been asked 'can you tell us about blogging?'. I'm no expert, but this post begins my attempt to explain the what, who, where, when, why and how of blogging for writers.

What (is a blog)

Blog is short for ‘weblog’, an internet-based diary or log.

Who (writes blogs)

Everyone. Students, parents, grandparents, authors, agents, publishers... any category of people you can think of.

Writes and authors who want a publishing contract, especially in non-fiction. Agents and publishers want to see evidence of a  ‘platform’ (which is a circle of influence, not a type of shoe). This means social media (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Goodreads) and a personal blog.

Where

The two main free sites are Blogger and WordPress. I currently use Blogger, which is pretty easy, but it does take time at the beginning to familiarise yourself with all the features (and when you think you have worked out everything you need to know, they update it).

When

Bloggers probably need to post two to three times per week. Less often, and you might be ignored. More often, and your readers might get overloaded (unless you have something really good to say). Examples: One Christian author I follow sometimes posts five times a day, and that is over the top, because most of her posts are about her and her life (and would be better suited to a social networking site like Facebook). Passive Guy also posts several times a day, but his posts are links to and comments on other blog posts about publishing, and sometimes news moves pretty fast in that area, so his are more likely to be relevant interesting (to me, at least).

You can schedule posts on Blogger, so that you can write a post and schedule it to post on a defined day. So, for example, you could write three or four related posts, then schedule them to post over the course of a week or a month.

Some bloggers make a big deal out of checking their stats to see which posts attract the most attention, then planning their schedule around that. Personally, I don’t have enough visitors to make that relevant! However, if this is something you are interested in, you would be advised to link your site to Google Analytics, which (apparently) gives more reliable statistics than the Blogger site.

What (should you post)

It depends. You need to think of what the focus of your blog is. Ideas:
  • Reviews of books you have enjoyed
  • Recommendations of good books/resources for writers
  • Interesting facts from your research to whet appetite for your book/novel
Whatever you decide, it should be you, but a slightly sanitised version of you. Your future agent or publisher will be checking, so no rants about incompetent agents, rude publishers or even how annoying your neighbour/spouse/child is.

Why (why I blog)

I started my first blog, a reviewing blog, to get free Christian books. I blog for several book blogging programmes, who offer free ebooks in return for me reviewing them on my personal blog, Amazon, and other consumer websites (I also review on ChristianBook in the USA, and Koorong in Australia).

I started my editing blog to promote and market my editing services by providing Christian authors with information on writing, editing, publishing and marketing.

I should also start a third blog/website for my ‘day job’ as a self-employed management consultant, but am wary of over-committing myself!

Why (you, as an author, might need to blog)

  • To build a platform for your writing
  • To find out what is happening in your target market – one of the features of Blogger is the ability to follow other blogs of interest, and have their new posts come up automatically on your dashboard (which is just like the dashboard of a car – a single screen with all the important information).
  • To connect with other writers and authors (received wisdom is that you need to connect to others so that they will also connect with you. Also, comment on other blogs with your own blog address, so people can track you back and follow your blog).
The how will follow!

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Marketing Basics Part 4: Price

How much should your paperback or ebook cost? If you are accepted for publication by a trade publisher, then they will set the recommended retail price for your book. The actual retailer may discount that price, but a good contract will ensure that royalties are based on the RRP, not the actual selling price.

Looking at the Christian novels on my bookshelf, most are priced at $12.99 (all prices in this post are quoted in US dollars unless stated otherwise), with prices ranging from $11.99 to $15.99.  Category romances are less expensive - paperback Love Inspired titles and Barbour novella collections are $7.99.

Now, obviously, I’m based in New Zealand, so the retail price I pay for books includes shipping from the US. Most full-price novels are NZD 24.99, NZD 27.99 or NZD 29.99, with some small-press books priced slightly higher than this – which means they might miss out on my purchasing dollar because I perceive a NZD 33.95 book as ‘too expensive’ – especially when I consider the price of e-books.

Ebook Pricing
I own both a Kindle and a Kobo, so can purchase and read e-books from all the major online sellers. New release Christian fiction generally retails for $8.99 to $9.99 on Amazon – or less than half the price of the ‘dead tree book’ at my local Christian bookshop, even with Agency pricing (a current debate which I will cover in another post).

Older Christian ebooks by established authors are even cheaper –  $3.99 and $4.99 are common prices, and the author may be getting a bigger royalty from that than from the full-price dead tree version. Joe Konrath (who reportedly makes $50,000 each month from Kindle sales) believes that the ebook pricing sweet spot is just $2.99. He makes $2.04 off each sale, compared to $2.50 off the sale of a trade-published $25 hardcover or $0.75 off a trade paperback.

If you are published through a small press, subsidy publisher or choose to take the self-published route, you need to understand what the market price is. You also need to understand that you have to charge less than this. Why? Because these tight economic times mean readers have less to spend, so they are more likely to spend their money on a known author – why pay $17.99 for a published or Print-on-Demand book from an unknown author, when you can buy a paperback from a well-known Christian author for less? Or an ebook for $2.99?

This is where the economies of scale and marketing presence of the trade publishers can have a positive effect. I might not know who Camy Tang is, but I can see that Protection for Hire is published by Zondervan, who also publish a lot of excellent Christian fiction as well as the New International Version of the Bible. On that basis, I might be prepared to spend money on a Zondervan book by Camy Tang, where I probably wouldn’t spend money on an unknown author from an unknown publisher without having had the book or the author recommended to me. Which brings me nicely to the subject of the next post… Promotion.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Five People You Shouldn’t Ask to Review Your Book

It is a truth universally acknowledged that good reviews sell books. And with online bookstores such as Amazon, everyone can be a reviewer. So who do you get to review your book to influence sales? Firstly, we are going to look at who not to ask for a review:

Yourself

It’s almost universally considered bad form to review your own books. After all, how could your review possibly be unbiased? Having lurked in various online book review discussions, it seems that the only group of people who don’t mind authors reviewing their own books are… authors who review their own books. It also is specifically not permitted in Amazon’s Conditions of Use and Reviewing Guidelines.

And don’t use the excuse that the reviewer is from Australia and therefore couldn’t post a review on Amazon. I have seen that one used. Seriously. The internet is global. Anyone with an Amazon account can post a review, whether or not they have bought something. The same applies at Goodreads, Christian Book, Koorong, Smashwords

Also, don’t think of getting clever and creating a fake account so that you can post a review under a made-up name. This is also against Amazon’s Conditions of Use. It’s been done before, most notably by the author of The Hacker Hunter, who posted 350 (count them!) five-star reviews of his own book on Amazon. They were all removed, proving that Amazon can track URLs to identify these fake accounts (often referred to online as ‘shills’).

Your Agent, Publisher, Editor or Proofreader

Again, no one who might benefit financially from the sale of your book should post a review.  Your Publisher can update the information in the Product Description and About the Author sections of your book page to add reviews and information about awards.

Paid-for Reviews

Again, these are against Amazon’s Conditions of Use. The only payment a reviewer can receive is a free copy of the book or product being reviewed, and this needs to be disclosed in the review under US FTC regulations.

Your Mum

No reviews from Mum, Dad, Granny, spouse, child or anyone related to you. If they post an unsolicited review, it might be best to add a comment saying ‘Thanks for your support, Mum. I love you!’ to make it completely clear that there is just the slightest possibility that the review might be biased. These are not specifically forbidden (unless there is a financial relationship), but they can damage an author’s credibility if people buy a book based on a glowing review, don’t like the book and then realise the review was from a relative or enthusiastic friend (such reviews are often referred to as ‘sock puppets’).

Harriet Klausner

Harriet was Amazon’s top reviewer under the old ranking system, which was based purely on the number of reviews posted (new rankings are based on a complex algorithms that take number of reviews, posting date and helpfulness). Just think about it: Harriet posts an average of 6-8 reviews each day, almost all of which are rated five stars. That’s more books each day than most people read in a month (and almost as many as my husband reads in a decade). I have no idea how you get a review from HK, but it doesn’t matter. They have no credibility.

So, that’s how not to get reviews. Next week’s post will be a little more positive – five places you can get reviews.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Marketing Basics Part 3: Product

First, and most important is the product: your book.

The single most important thing anyone can do to succeed in any job, in any profession, is to do the job to the best of their ability. Before you release your product, your book, onto the market, it needs to be the best you are able to produce. No excuses.

Keep working at it until you get it right. This means revising, editing, getting assessments and critiques from people you trust, more revising, more editing, getting more feedback from readers, still more editing, proofreading, editing those changes, then proofreading again to make sure the editing and proofreading hasn’t added any more errors. When you are 99% sure that this is the best you can do - that’s when you seek publication, either directly or through a literary agent

As I said in the post on Trade Publishing, if you are fortunate enough sign with an agent or get published with a traditional royalty-paying publisher, much of this will not apply to you. But if you decide to self-publish, you are going to be responsible for everything.

Once you have made the decision to self-publish, you then have to decide on the format: hardback, paperback or ebook. There is a view that you are not a “real” author if your book is not published in hardback. Virtually no Christian novels are published in hardback any more – the exceptions are large-print books and reprinted anthologies.

Your initial set-up costs (editing, cover design, book design) are the same as for hardcover, paperback or ebooks. If you decide to publish ‘real’ books, you have several choices:
  • Subsidy publishing, which I don’t recommend without serious investigation into the publisher;
  • Traditional offset printing, which has a lower per-unit cost but requires an initial print run of 1000 books or more, and you have to pay for them whether you sell them or not. Only recommended for those who know they can sell that number of books, e.g. publishing a non-fiction book that is a compulsory textbook for a university course so you can guarantee the sales;
  • Print-on-Demand (POD), from a company such as Amazon CreateSpace or Ingram LightningSource, which has a higher cost per book but no minimum print run.
Click here for a handy graphic that explains the economics of POD vs. offset. On that basis, the best piece of advice I can give you is: sell e-books. The more you know, the less likely you are to get burned.  Author Joanna Penn is firmly in favour of ebooks and POD (click here to see mistake 4 on her list).

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Book Review: Writing to a Post-Christian World


There are a lot of views around what is or is not 'Christian fiction'. The only consistent definition is that Christian fiction 'promotes a Christian world view'. If you have ever wondered exactly what that statement means, Ann Tatlock answers the question in this book.

I have to admit that I find Ann Tatlock's fiction a bit hard going. She doesn't do frothy romance or spine-chilling thrillers or romantic suspense that is a combination of the two. She writes fiction that makes you think - think about God, yourself and how the two relate. She brings this same style into the non-fiction realm, but I find it easier to deal with here, because this is what I am expecting. And this book is certainly worth reading.

Despite the long title, Writing to a Post-Christian World: Top Ways to Battle Revisionism, Relativism and the Muddled Thinking of Postmodernism with the Written Word is not a long book. It explains both what postmodernism is and why it is vital that Christian authors should not follow the literary trend towards postmodernism.

What is postmodernism? What does it mean that we’re living in a postmodern culture? In simplest terms, it means we no longer believe in absolutes. There’s no such thing as absolute truth. Everything is relative…In postmodern literature, the author isn’t saying anything. More accurately, the author can’t say anything… You, the reader, have to decide what the text is saying to you.

Based on this book I would say that if you are a Christian, your writing should proclaim a Christian world view whether you are writing for the Christian (CBA) market or the general (ABA) market. If it does not, then you are deceiving your readers and possibly yourself.  C S Lewis credits Phantastes by George MaDonald as opening his eyes to the possibility of holiness. American atheist William Murray credits Taylor Caldwell and her Dear and Glorious Physician. Fiction can change lives, so never be ashamed of writing it. You have no idea what seed you may be sowing, watering or reaping.

A must-read for Christian authors, and currently only USD 2.99 on Kindle.
.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Marketing Basics Part 2: Subsidy and Self Publishing

Subsidy Publishing
Subsidy publishing is also referred to as vanity publishing. Under this model, you pay all the costs of publication (including marketing), but the publisher may pay you a ‘royalty’ – but it would be unusual if you actually managed to earn back the amount you invested. Subsidy publishers should be approached with caution, as they frequently feature at well-known blogs such as Writer Beware and Predators and Editors (or just Google 'Publish America Scam', and think about the possibly apocryphal story that Publish America accepted a compilation of shopping lists for publication, despite claiming that their Acquisitions Editors will "determine whether or not your work has what it takes to be a PublishAmerica book").

If you choose to publish through a subsidy publisher, they will determine the price of your book, and will arrange for your book to be listed on the major online stores (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords), and in industry catalogues. But the responsibility for promotion will remain with the person who has the most vested in the success of the book – you, the author.

Self-publishing
Those who choose to self-publish will be responsible for everything. You will either have to do it yourself, or pay (or bribe or beg) someone else to do it for you. This involves a lot of decisions, and you would be wise to get advice from someone who has been through the process before (and recently – things can change very quickly, particularly when it comes to e-books).

In terms of the product, you will be responsible for decisions around whether to publish a paperback, an e-book or both, and for arranging external editing and/or proofreading, then formatting, preparing cover graphics and the back cover blurb, and getting an ISBN number, either yourself or with external assistance. You will need to arrange the e-book conversion, printing and distribution.

You will then need to consider Place: where you are going to sell (online or through shops), Price, and then get on with the hard work of building your platform and promoting your book at the same time as trying to manage your personal life and write your next book.  This can be a lot of work, but the rewards can be huge.

So, over the next few weeks, I will be looking at the basics of marketing books so that you understand just what it entails, and can begin to work towards your aim.

Monday, 12 March 2012

15 Grammar Goofs

Thanks to copyblogger for this reminder:

15 Grammar Goofs That Make You Look Silly
Like this infographic? Get more copywriting tips from Copyblogger.

(And, obviously, it's 'grammar', not 'grammer'.)

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Marketing Basics Part 1: Trade Publishing

I imagine that anyone who has ever done a course in marketing will have heard of The Four P’s that form the basis of marketing strategies – Product, Price, Promotion and Place. But how does that apply to publishing? This series will look at what you need to know about the Four P’s and what you can do to successfully market your book.

But before we get into the Four P’s, we need to look at the different ways to get published, because the publishing route you choose will dictate how much input you have into the marketing process. There are three main ways of getting your book published: trade publishing, subsidy publishing and self-publishing.

Trade Publishing
Trade Publishing is the accepted term for the traditional royalty-paying publisher (also referred to as a legacy publisher). You may receive an advance (particularly for second and subsequent books), and you will be paid a defined amount for each copy of the book sold. Actual terms will be outlined in a detailed contract, and for your own protection, you should have this reviewed by a professional before signing.

The Big Six publishers (Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin, Random House and Simon & Schuster, along with all their associated imprints) will almost always only accept manuscripts from a recognised literary agent. Unsolicited submissions are likely to be returned unread (or, worse, trashed unacknowledged and unread).

There are many small press publishers that still accept direct author submissions, particularly in Australia and New Zealand. However, while they do accept unagented submissions, they may well request that all manuscripts have been professionally edited prior to submission.

These small presses are a lot more likely to work with the author to develop the product, such as having a say in choosing the title of the book and the cover artwork (which means that your novel with a dark-haired heroine is less likely to appear with a blonde bombshell on the cover). However, they will not have the same level of marketing support, or the in-store brand recognition of Zondervan or other major Christian imprints.

If you receive a contract from a trade publisher, they will make the decisions around product, price and place (and you might even find yourself disagreeing with those decisions). The author will be expected to contribute to the promotion of the book, through a combination of organised promotional efforts, and through leveraging their own contacts. They are unlikely to publish a hardcover edition of a novel, but will almost certainly publish both a paperback and an e-book version.

My next post will look at Subsidy Publishing and Self-publishing.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Who Are The Big Six Publishers?

You will often see references to the 'Big Six' in discussions about publishing. Who are the Big Six, and why are they important?  The Big Six are important because they control around 90% of the books published in the United States, and (through their international imprints) a huge proportion of all publishing worldwide. They are:
  • Hachette;
  • HarperCollins;
  • Macmillan;
  • Penguin;
  • Random House and
  • Simon & Schuster
As The Writers Workshop points out, they are all subsidiaries of much larger media corporations, and each publish books under dozens of imprints. Several major Christian publishing houses are actually Big Six subsidiaries.

Within the US, the major Christian publishers participate in the annual Christy Awards. They are:
Abingdon Press
Baker Publishing Group (which publishes under the names Bethany House Publishers and Revell Publishing)
Hatchette Book Group USA (an imprint of Hatchette, one of the Big Six)
Howard Books (an imprint of Simon & Schuster, one of the Big Six)
Journey Forth, a division of BJU Press 
Penguin Group USA (a Big Six publisher)
Tate Publishing & Enterprises (subsidy publishing)
Thomas Nelson (an imprint of HarperCollins, a Big Six publisher). Thomas Nelson also have a subsidy publishing imprint, WestBow Press.
WaterbrookMultnomah Publishing Group (an imprint of Random House, one of the Big Six)
Zondervan (an imprint of HarperCollins, a Big Six publisher)

Harlequin Mills & Boon do not participate in the Christy Awards, but publish over 100 Christian romance novels each year through their Love Inspired, Love Inspired Historical, Love Inspired Suspense and Steeple Hill Women's Fiction lines. They have also recently taken over the HeartQuest imprint, which will add another four genre romances per month.

Faithwords, the inspirational imprint of Big Six publisher Hachette, is also not a Christy Awards participant. Hachette publish several big-name Christian non-fiction authors such as Joyce Meyer and Joel Osteen, as well as the world’s most famous Latter Day Saint author, Stephenie Meyer. Faithwords also provide distribution services for titles published by Windblown Media, a little-known company founded to publish The Shack.

This is not to say that Christian books are only published by American companies. There are a number of specialist Australasian Christian publishers, including:
HSM (Heart Soul Mind)

Many of these smaller publishers are also members of the Christian Small Publishers Association, a
network of over 100 small Christian publishers in the US and internationally.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Why Do Authors Need Agents?

Agents seem to be hot topics right now: Alan Rinzler, a veteran editor, has just posted an interview with four agents on why they think agents still have a role to play. Apparently, the bottom line is that agents remain the gatekeepers for the Big 6 trade publishers, so without an agent you will be unable to break into that market.

The article was referenced by The Passive Voice, and commenter Camille LaGuire makes a telling point:
"Barbers don’t go around telling you how important they are to you. They don’t tell you that you need a haircut, they just tell you how good they are cutting hair. Because it’s assumed that you know if you need a haircut or not. As soon as someone starts explaining how much they are needed, that’s a sign the battle is lost. It’s the end game."

The Passive Voice blog also gives a current example of a published author whose new book has been contracted under a nom de plume, in my opinion, solely because of the relationship the agent has with the editor at Doubleday.

But I think agents are less relevant for those seeking publication outside the Big 6 (e.g. publishing through small presses or outside the US). And what does an agent offer a self-publishing author? Do you have an agent? What do you think?

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

AAP Book Sales for 2011

The Association of American Publishers (AAP)  has just released the total sales figures for the 2011 calendar year, and there have been several blog posts commenting on this, at Shelf AwarenessPaid Content, Teleread and Passive Voice. 

Overall sales were down on 2010, but the highlight?

Ebook sales increased 117% over 2010. While the year-on-year growth for December was only (only!) 72.1%, that should be compared against a year-on-year drop of 3.5% for all categories of book sales. Only three categories of books experienced growth in 2011: ebooks, downloaded audiobooks, and religious books.

It should be noted that these figures are from the member publishers, so exclude self-publishing, which is dominated by ebooks.

So, authors of Christian fiction, you are in the right place (especially if you offer your book as an ebook)!

Monday, 27 February 2012

Ask an Agent

Sorry to anyone who thought I was talking about the ultimate agent, secret agent James Bond, but actually I meant another type of agent. Chip MacGregor, a well-known Christian literary agent, has recently been running an ‘Ask an Agent’ feature on his blog. Each week he answers two or three questions from the intelligent and insightful to the… umm… not so intelligent. The whole series has been very informative.

For those of who missed it, here are the links with the questions in each post:


How long does it take an agent to respond to a submission they requested?
Is it wrong to send submissions to several agents at once?
Why hasn’t the agent responded to my submission?

Is it normal for an agent to charge an up-front fee?
Is it true that the best place to contact an agent is to attend a conference?
Do I mention that a publisher has requested my manuscript when I query an agent?

When is the best time to approach an agent?
Do agents want to see part of my non-fiction book or the whole book?
Do I tell agents/publishers about my writing for e-zines and web sites?

What do you think of writing contests?
What do I do if my agent only represents non-fiction and I also want to write fiction?
Do I have to copyright my manuscript before I submit it?

Do I need an agent?
When should I get an agent?

When is it appropriate to enquire about the status of a submission?
Is there a rule about using the word ‘bestseller’ in their promotional materials?
How much should I spend on my website?

How will I know I need an agent?
What should an agent do for me?
What is the best way to find an agent?

I have a contract but no agent – should I get one?
Should I worry that the agent turned me down but referred me to his editorial service?
Is this legal?

There is some great advice in these posts (and also a couple of laughs).

What question would you want to ask a literary agent?

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Stuff Book Reviewers Say

I don't usually watch YouTube links, but this one caught my attention, no doubt because I am a reviewer too:

Monday, 20 February 2012

Christian Book Reviews: Why Do I Review?

One year at school, my teacher asked us to write a book review for every book we read. Even then I was reading at least two books each week, and I found this requirement onerous, to say the least. It meant that when we had 'Silent Reading' in the classroom, I was spending all my time writing reviews for the book I had finished at home the previous evening. This took much of the enjoyment out of reading and reviewing. As a result, I hadn’t reviewed a book since school. After I discovered Amazon, I started posting reviews because I found the reviews helpful and I liked having the opportunity to contribute.

About six months ago, I won an ebook which was delivered to me via NetGalley. I was interested in the concept of free ebooks in exchange for reviewing on a personal blog, Amazon and other sites, so I signed up. A bit of exploration found that BookSneeze® and Blogging for Books also provide free ebooks for bloggers. There are other sites that offer free paperbacks, but generally only to those living in the US. I’ve since reviewed almost 60 books, with more on the way.

In a recent blog post, Kaye Dacus talked about how her college professor made the class write a response paper to books they read, including why she chose the book, what her learning goals were before she started reading, what she got out of reading it, what she learned and if her learning goals were met (she then couldn't read a book for pleasure for years, let alone write a review!).

My reviews are not the in-depth critique that Kaye describes, because they are meant for readers. As a reader, when I am reading a review, I want to know the plot, and whether there was anything I will particularly like or dislike about the plot, characters or writing. This is often where the more negative reviews come in useful – if the worst thing a reviewer can say about a novel is that it is “too Christian”, then I will probably like it. If they are commenting about factual errors, I probably won’t like it. There is also the issue of whether or not it is ‘Christian’ to give a book a negative review, but that will have to be the topic for another day…

Do you review books? What do you think about the idea that Christians should only give positive reviews? Have you ever read a Christian book that truly deserved a bad review? What did you do?

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

How Much is Too Much in Christian Fiction?

I was browsing through the Amazon discussions, and someone asked me, as a reviewer of Christian fiction, “Is it important from the perspective of a Christian reviewer to have generally wholesome content, as well? How far does that extend? How much un-Christian behavior do you think is too much?”

My answer:

In my opinion... in real life, I expect Christians to hold to a Christian standard of behaviour. Yes, we all fail at times, but it is important to understand where we have failed, to express remorse and sorrow, and to attempt to make things right and not make the same mistake again (in Christianese, to repent and sin no more). But it would be unrealistic and unreasonable of me to hold non-Christians to those same standards.

For example, in New Zealand (where I live), prostitution is legal. It is legal to be a prostitute, to purchase the services of a prostitute, and to advertise your services as a prostitute (usually in the entertainment section, between the Garfield cartoon and the movie listings, which makes them hard to miss).

 I think the Bible is pretty clear in saying that engaging in prostitution (as the prostitute or the paying customer) is wrong, but it is not my place to judge someone for providing or using a perfectly legal service, no matter how unhealthy/undesirable I might consider it - if they are a non-Christian, because I can and should extend grace to that person. If that person claims to be a Christian, then a different standard applies. A married Christian man using prostitutes is committing adultery, and that is against God's law.

It's the same in Christian fiction.  I am more forgiving of unchristian behaviour from a non-Christian character, particularly as the plot often focuses on that character's journey towards becoming a Christian. But I don't need the details. You can tell me that he swore without telling me each word. You can have a murder or a rape scene or a sex scene without the graphic details (I'm married. I know what goes where). However, if Christian characters are sinning, there should be some remorse, some acknowledgement that this is outside God's law.

So I don't think it's so much a question of 'how much' unchristian behaviour as how it is presented, and whether there is remorse, repentance and a move to a growing understanding of or relationship with God.

I would also add that some readers of Christian fiction don't want any of this 'unwholesome' or 'edgy' behaviour in their books, and that is their right. As paying consumers, we all have a right to choose to give our money to those authors we like best.

What do you think?

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Will Amazon Destroy Publishing?



In a recent post on Amazon and the future of publishing, self-publishing giant JA Konrath says:


Treating authors like ****, when authors are essential to the process, is bad business.  Treating readers like ****, when readers are essential to the process, is bad business.  Bookstores and publishers and distributors are NOT essential to the process. You should have evolved.”

Wow. (Except for the bad word, which I’ve ****’d out. It wasn’t a really bad word, just one I don’t use, hence the ****).

That pretty much cuts to the chase, doesn’t it? Authors are important, because they write the books. Readers are important, because they pay for the books. But you can cut out at least two of the intermediate steps.

Christian literary agent Rachelle Gardner made similar points, commenting on the downfall of Kodak because they didn’t keep pace with the changing way consumers were taking and sharing photos.

As a reader who lives in New Zealand, these posts are relevant to me. Most of the books I’ve bought in the last year have been e-books (from both Amazon and Kobo), because they are cheaper. The paperback that my local Christian bookshop sells for NZD 24.99 to NZD 29.99 costs no more than USD 9.99 online, and many are free.

My Kindle has over 300 books, and I estimate I’ve paid less than NZD 50 for all of them. Now, I admit I haven’t actually read a lot of the freebies – but there sure is a selection of all kinds of books waiting for me. If I feel like serious Bible study, it’s there. If I want light-hearted romance, it’s there. If I want nail-biting suspense, it’s there. The only remaining advantage of a ‘real’ book is that I can loan it to other people.

So, will ‘traditional’ publishing last, or will Amazon (and other e-book publishers) take over?

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Writer or Reader?

Mike Duran has just published a link to a list of the Best Blogs for Writers in 2012.  While he acknowledges that this is useful, he also makes an interesting point:

Writing blogs potentially insulate writers from their real audience: Readers.

Now, I'm a reader, a reviewer and an editor, not a writer. I find the writing blogs useful for giving background information on the publishing industry, and for their debates into current issues like self-publishing. If you want to find out how to submit your work for publication, one or more of these blogs will tell you how (and Rachelle Gardner will give you the Christian perspective).

But Mike makes a good point: as writers, you need to be able to connect with your readers, your audience, your target market. You need to understand what readers want to read, what we like and dislike. Personally, I am over Amish romance novels with teenage heroines, but people continue to write them and publishers continue to publish them, so that might be just me.

However, I've just picked up an Amish mystery novel, featuring three Amish mothers. It's good, partly because it is a bit different. That is important to me. I don't want to read the same novel I've already read a dozen times before, only with different people in a different place in a different time. I want something new, something original, a story I haven't read before.

So, writers, there is your challenge. To write something new - and, as a Christian writer, to write the story God has given you.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Tips for Good Blog Posts

It is a truth universally accepted that an author with a desire to sell books must have a blog (with apologies to Jane Austen).  I follow quite a few blogs, mostly Christian authors or Christian agents. Many blogs post about blogging, as roundabout as that might seem, and last week, literary agent Amanda Luedeke blogged on ‘5 Rules of Blogging Well’.  That inspired me to go looking for other blogging tips from favourite bloggers:

Common Blogging Mistakes
Five Rules of Blogging Well
What Not to Blog About
Getting Topic Ideas
Building Readership Through Blog Comments

Amanda Ledeke and Rachelle Gardner are literary agents specialising in Christian fiction, Mike Duran is a Christian speculative fiction author who specialises in posts that attract discussion, and the daily blog tips come from various contributing bloggers.

What tip did you find most useful? What would you like to know more about?

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Writing Tips: The Perfect Pitch

In my 'other' life, I have just completed a proposal to write Position Descriptions for a client.  One of the hardest parts of writing a good Position Description is the Purpose Statement, a one-sentence summary of why the job exists.  It is hard because people spend so many hours of their week at work, and it can be hard for them to summarise all that effort into one short sentence.

It occurred to me that this is very similar to an author having to write a one-sentence pitch for their book. I have just finished reading Write Good or Die, which is currently available as a free Kindle download.  It is a compilation of blog posts by well-known mystery/thriller authors (or at least I assume they are well-known.  They have sold enough books, just not in a genre that I read). 

Anyway, two of the chapters focused on the perfect pitch, and gave examples.  Can you name these famous books?
  • When a great white shark starts attacking beachgoers in a coastal town during high tourist season, a water-phobic Sheriff must assemble a team to hunt it down before it kills again.
  • A treasure-hunting archeologist races over the globe to find the legendary Lost Ark of the Covenant before Hitler’s minions can acquire and use it to supernaturally power the Nazi army.
  • A young female FBI trainee must barter personal information with an imprisoned psychopathic genius in order to catch a serial killer who is capturing and killing young women for their skins.
You might not have read any or all of them, but I bet you know which books they are (the fact that they have also been made into movies no doubt helped).  What are the essential points of the perfect pitch?
  • The character of the protagonist;
  • The character of the antagonist;
  • The conflict;
  • The setting;
  • The tone;
  • The genre.
I also came across a post Rachelle Gardner's blog about One Sentence Pitches.  A couple of years back, she invited authors to submit a one-sentence pitch for their book, and she then critiqued them.  Her main points were:
  1. Use specific language (it can be tempting to be mysterious, but it seems this does not catch the attention of the agent);
  2. Avoid using words or abbreviations that can be confusing;
  3. Don't make the book sound uninteresting or depressing;
  4. Keep the word count down to 45 words or less;
  5. Avoid dialogue;
  6. Don't try to say too much or it will get convoluted;
  7. Don't use exclaimation marks!!
  8. Proofread. Spelling or grammar mistakes leave a bad impression.

Monday, 30 January 2012

What is Christian Fiction?

Believe it or not, there is no clear definition of what is (or what is not) Christian Fiction.


However, there are fairly clear definitions of what consitutes Christian Publishing. The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA) is an international organization of companies that are involved in the publishing and distribution of Christian content worldwide.

Content published by ECPA members must be consistent with their Statement of Faith, which is essentially the same as the Statement of Faith of the National Association of Evangelicals. 

The Statement of Faith of the Association is as follows:

I. We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.
II. We believe there is only one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
III. We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory.
IV. We believe that for the salvation of the lost and sinful, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential.
V. We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a godly life.
VI. We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost; they that are saved unto the resurrection of life and they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation.
VII. We believe in the spiritual unity of believers in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Further information is available at the ECPA website.  Other relevant industry organisations are the Christian Small Publishers Association, a network of over 100 small Christian publishers in the US and internationally, and the CBA (formerly the Christian Booksellers Association), the trade association for approximately 1,700 US Christian retail outlets. 

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Is Your Novel a Bestseller?

Well-known Christian agent Steve Laube posted a link to The Bestseller Code, which takes the first 1,000 words of your novel and gives you a score out of 20 to tell you whether your work could be a bestseller or not.

Steve tried it on a couple of proposals, and there are comments on his blog page from other authors who have tried it.  He does point out that this is not how agents and editors work, though!

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Introduction to Christian Editing Services

I offer freelance editing services, specialising in:
  • Christian fiction (all genres):
  • Christian non-fiction;
  • General Human Resources, management and leadership;
  • Magazine or newspaper articles;
  • Web pages (including website, blog and Facebook pages); and
  • Curriculum Vitae.
Good fiction, especially Christian fiction, is my passion.  As a reader, I am most interested in reading a good story, not in the grammatical correctness of the sentences. But often when I am reading, I find errors. These are not usually spelling errors, but using the wrong word (heroine vs. heroin), factual errors (Windsor Palace vs. Windor Castle) or typographical errors.

Some errors are amusing, some are annoying - but too many will take me out of the story, will affect my enjoyment and may well be commented on in a review. These errors might be in self-published fiction, but all too often I find them in traditionally-published books too. Why? Apparently, this is because the publishing houses don't edit books like they used to. If your publisher is not going to edit your book and correct your mistakes, then someone else has to.

Let me.

As I said, Christian fiction is my passion.  My personal library has hundreds of books, across all genres.  I understand what sells, what readers want, and I can share that knowledge with you.  As your fiction proofreader or editor, my job is to help you make your manuscript better, to polish it so you tell your story in the best way possible so that the reader is caught up in your characters and plot, not your errors. 

If you are interested in finding out more, leave a comment below or contact me at igoulton@kinect.co.nz.