Wednesday, 21 August 2013

New Website

I haven't done much with this blog for the last few months because I've been working on a new WordPress site which is now ready.

You can now find me at - I look forward to seeing you there.

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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):


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):
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, 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:


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:

Thanks for your consideration!

Ken Hensley
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 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.


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).


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:


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.