Monday, August 31, 2015

Online Reviews Are the New Word of Mouth

Founder & Chief Executive Officer, American
Homeowner Preservation LLC and Author of Burn Zones: Playing
Life's Bad Hands

If you still find it possible to fathom that there was a time before the Internet, you may recall the days when books were either New York Times Bestsellers or not. That was it. But in our modern era, you're likely to read a friend's Facebook post crowing that his or her book is "Number 432,896 on Amazon!" and asking you to go on the site and boost it a little with a review.

Book reviews aren't only crafted by tweedy, professorial types in their wood-paneled libraries. Everybody's a book reviewer now, just as the Internet has made everyone a food critic, a medical expert (thank you, Dr. Google), and a sports analyst. As the writer of a new self-published book, Burn Zones, I've been learning that reviews are the breath and blood of Internet book sales. 

It's a key characteristic of our Internet-infused era. Rent vacation lodging through Airbnb and not only will you be asked to review the accommodations, but the host will get a chance to review you as a guest, for the reference of future hosts. Uber drivers and passengers have the same symmetrical relationship: they review one another, each helping or hurting the other's profile for future uses of the service.

Reviews--positive or negative--are critical to your online profile. Just look at what happened to the Minnesota dentist who was identified as the killer of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe in July. People who were opposed to what he'd done inundated his dental practice's Yelp page with scathing comments about him, his hunting, and even his skills as a dentist. 

Positive reviews and postings on social media are just as powerful. Witness the love that the Internet lavishes on Rosa's, a Philadelphia pizza place that encourages patrons to buy one slice for themselves and one for a homeless person. Scroll through its Yelp reviews for a few minutes, and your faith in humanity will be restored, if only temporarily. 

About 88 percent of online shoppers read reviews, according to a 2014 study by BrightLocal. That was an increase of three percentage points from the group's 2013 study. On top of that, according to the survey's more than 2,100 respondents, the most common number of reviews read is four to six. Almost a third of respondents said they read that many reviews. 

Here's an intriguing finding in the study: while in 2011, 33 percent of respondents said they didn't trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, by 2014, that had dropped to 13 percent. The share of people saying they do trust online reviews as much as they trust their friends' recommendations has been growing. Online reviews carry more weight now than we might have imagined just a few years ago. 

That's why I emailed 166 of Amazon's top reviewers to offer a copy of Burn Zones in exchange for an honest review. I got 21 responses, of which five said no and 16 said yes. I sent the books in June, but so far, only one of the 16 has reviewed Burn Zones

However, one of the reviewers shared a more potent response. She wrote that she loved the book and proposed two options: First, she could pitch reviews of Burn Zones to some magazines and journals. That's the slower route, because print vehicles take longer to produce and would insist on having first rights to the review, meaning it couldn't be used elsewhere for as much as a year. Also, she opined that self-published books are often ignored in magazines, so there was a decent chance that no one would publish her review. 

On the other hand, she advised that "if you want the reviews posted immediately and everywhere, I can hit Amazon US and UK, Goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari, Barnes & Noble, and whoever else carries it, as well as talk about it on Facebook, my website, and Twitter. That could be done by this weekend."

In a sweep of posts, she would get Burn Zones onto about nine different platforms. Nevertheless, I tend to swing for the fences in life. Thus, I agreed with her that attempting to get a magazine review published would be the way to get the most exposure for my book. 

In the meantime, I'd encourage everyone who has read Burn Zones to review it on Amazon, and maybe even on Goodreads and other sites. Because that's what we do now: review one another.


You can find the original article at:

Monday, August 24, 2015

Is it the beginning of the end for online comments?

Vibrant online communities? Or cesspools of abuse? Have comments had their day?

The debate about comment sections on news sites is often as divisive as the comments themselves. Recently outlets such as The Verge and The Daily Dot have closed their comments sections because they've become too hard to manage. And they're far from alone. Moderating comments is a full-time job (or several full-time jobs) at many news organisations. Officiating comments on a BBC News story requires knowledge of more than a dozen different disqualifying categories. Alongside shouting, swearing and incivility, comment sections can also attract racism and sexism. BBC Trending recently found evidence of the latter when looking at live streaming app Periscope.

That's the downside. But it's also worth remembering that many news organisations - including the BBC - have used comments sections to make real connections with audiences, find stories, and turn what was once a one-way street into a multi-headed conversation. 

So are comments on news websites still useful, or have they had their day? Trending asked The Daily Dot editor Nicholas White and Marie Lyn Bernard, aka Riese, of the LGBT website Autostraddle for their, um, comments on the issue.

Nicholas White, editor, The Daily Dot

In our experience, our community hasn't evolved in our comments. It's evolved in our social media accounts.

To have comments, you have to be very active, and if you're not incredibly active, what ends up happening is a mob can shout down all the other people on your site. In an environment that isn't heavily curated it becomes about silencing voices and not about opening up voices.

For us, it's partially a question of where to put scarce resources. I can't point to any specific comment and say it's the straw that broke the camel's back. There was no point at which somebody said something which was so vile and horrendous that we said: "That's it, we're done!" It was more that we weren't seeing the conversation happen on our site. It wasn't bad comments rather than a lack of conversation. 

Our "favourite" type of comment is from people who clearly haven't read the article. When our users start trolling us, we gently troll them back. Although our guideline is that you should always act as a journalist. So if someone is saying something that's absolutely wrong, we'll answer back with something like "If you observe in paragraph three, the point that's made there directly contravenes what you said." We try to be journalistic trolls and we do it with a bit of a wink.

That said, there is a line, and there are people who are absolutely vicious, who we ignore and block and don't engage.

Riese, co-founder and editor-in-chief, Autostraddle

Comments have been a big part of our community from the very beginning. I started out as a blogger and so did many of the founding team. For us, comments were always key to what we were writing.

For our community, a lot of what they go online for is to connect with other people like them. The comments section is a place where people make friends, and where we get valuable feedback and build community among our writers and readers. From the start, we never considered not having comments. 

I completely understand why The Daily Dot wouldn't want to have comments - or in fact why most websites wouldn't want to have comments. I think 75% of the time they're more trouble than they're worth, and for us it's still a lot of work to keep up on. 

Not all of our users are necessarily on Facebook or are out as gay on Facebook, or are comfortable talking about queer stuff on Facebook. We keep comments on the site which is a safe space for people to exchange ideas - and that's a big factor for us.

Conversations about comments sections seem to concentrate on the most awful trolls who say things like "You're fat", "You should die" and that sort of thing. But actually those are easy to deal with, because you can just delete the comment, and block the person. There's another category which is more difficult, which is people who didn't read the article, but have some sort of personal agenda and a point to make. There's always going to be people who have things to say which just aren't productive. 

Nicholas White and Riese were in conversation with Anne-Marie Tomchak on BBC Trending radio - if you want to hear more about this story stream the programme or download our podcast.


You can find the original article at:

Monday, August 17, 2015

Give Me a Self-published Author Over One From a Traditional Publisher Any Day

Journalist, crime writer (The Agatha Christie Book Club, Ghostwriter Mystery series), political ranter, feminist, news junkie and mum.

So there I was, a budding author with two manuscripts clogging up my hard-drive, an enthusiastic literary agent, and a phone that was ominously quiet. Depressingly so.

Despite phlegmatic assurances from my agent, I couldn't get a book published to save my self-esteem. On two heart-stopping occasions we got oh so close. Each time, we'd jump the first few hurdles with gusto, managing to impress not one but two official 'readers' assigned by a publisher, then the publisher herself, then make it to what is euphemistically termed an 'Acquisitions Meeting'. That's where the marketing/distribution people at a traditional publishing house have their say, and in both cases they said, "No way."

Despite two separate publishers (and four speed-reading lackeys) loving it, the number crunchers thought it stank.
"Can't sell it," claimed one.
"Got too many books just like it this year," declared another.
One didn't bother with explanations. He might as well have put a finger to his throat and made a slashing motion.
And so I was left back at square one--a budding author with two manuscripts in my hard-drive, an enthusiastic literary agent, and a mockingly quiet phone.

That's when I decided to take a little peek at the world of self-publishing. For the briefest of moments I felt like I was holding up the white flag. After all, anyone worth their weight in printing paper knows, self-publishing is for losers who haven't got a book worth publishing, right?

It didn't take long to turn my view around. 

Deciding to do a little research, I logged onto Amazon's book page, went straight to their 'Mystery/Thriller/Suspense' section and clicked on the 'Best Sellers' button. Right at the top, in the number one possie, with a cover that looked a little like something my teenage son could've whipped up, was a book called One Deadly Sister by a bloke called Rod Hoisington.


I'd never heard of him, yet there he was at Number One, out-selling traditionally published Crime Gods like Harlan Coben and Janet Evanovich.

Impressed and intrigued at the same time, I logged into Hoisington's web site and found he had provided an email, the foolish, foolish man. So I tried my luck and sent him a quick note, telling him I was a budding author and asking for some advice--if he could manage to find the time. Feeling emboldened, I also tracked down a contact email for Coben and sent him a similar request, not expecting a reply.

And from Mr Coben, none was forthcoming but Hoisington couldn't have been more accommodating. Within hours of receiving my email, he sent me a three-page reply crammed with all the tips and tricks he could muster. He told me how to format my manuscripts into digital versions and where to upload them. He suggested promotion sites and wished me all the best without asking for payment or even suggesting I buy a single book. And he did it knowing I was a mystery writer who might one day be his competition (not that I knew that then, of course, my ego was pancake-flat at that stage).

Rod offered me help without any expectation of return, and it's an experience that's been repeated over and over now that I am fully immersed in Self-publishing Land (I have now freed eight manuscripts from my hard-drive and they couldn't be happier zinging their way around the digital globe). 

I can't speak for all genres of course, but in the world of crime fiction, you'll never meet a nicer bunch than those who have gone it alone.

I've had total strangers reach out and offer me advice--how to target my blogs, find a good editor, post giveaways online. I've been invited to join online mystery support groups and had my tweets and promotions reposted over and over by other authors whose only motive is wishing me more sales. And I've reciprocated, paying it forward to those I encounter and offering advice to newbies like I once was.

Self-published authors are an incredibly generous, supportive bunch. I wonder whether those in the Big Five Publishing Houses can say the same? I don't know, I wasn't invited into their club, but I know this mob and they're a terrific bunch.

Perhaps it's because self-published authors have fewer airs and graces--we've all been rejected in one way or another--or perhaps it says something about the kinds of people who go ahead and do it alone? Who don't sit around waiting for a few men in marketing to determine their path.

I know, now, that if a traditional publisher did phone and offer me a publishing contract, if they could convince me they'd get me through a dreaded Acquisitions Meeting with my self-esteem intact, I'd say thanks but no thanks.

Why would I bother, guys? I'm doing a Rod Hoisington and I'm succeeding on my own.


You can find the original article at:

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Self-Published Authors Standing On Your Lawn


Print journalism's death rattle

Let us all bemoan the demise of the intrepid reporter, that guy or gal whose job it was to doggedly suss out an Important Story, do the necessary background work, meet the informants, verify the facts, and stand up for The Truth and speaking that Truth to Power.

Alas, his/her job was taken by the nerdy, obnoxious blogger, trader of unsourced gossip, unverified facts, and inventor of lies about good people to get page hits, unconcerned with Truth in favor of what will get attention.

Now... let's turn off whatever movie we're watching and rejoin reality.

For reasons I've never been entirely clear on, when the newspaper industry began its slow decline, the very best version of the professional journalist was compared to the very worst version of the Internet blogger, and somehow--perhaps we recently watched All the President's Men--we all went along with it.

The truth (or Truth!) is, newspapers failed to adapt quickly enough to the Internet as a medium of information. The people who used to buy the paper to get their news were going online instead, where it was A: free, and B: faster. 

I think what happened next is instructive. If we can imagine, for a moment, that the institution of newspaper reportage spoke with one voice--I personally hear the voice of an old man who wants me off his lawn--that voice would say these things:
  1. "Bloggers don't have the training or connections like we do! Nobody will read them to get The Truth!"
  2. "Okay, maybe SOME people will read them! But not our core readers! Our readers know Quality! People who get their news from the Internet are idiots!"
  3. "Fine, most people are getting their news online, which is proof of the decline of modern civilization, and it's the bloggers' faults!"
  4. "We'll go online, dammit, but we'll charge for it. Of course people will pay, because we're better than the free news and everyone knows it!"
  5. "What do you mean, that didn't work??"
I'm actually here to talk about the publishing industry and not the newspapers, but I'm bringing up newspapers because the slow death rattle we've been hearing for about a decade from print journalism sounds an awful lot like the one we're hearing now from the big publishing houses.

Bad comparisons

Today's ongoing discussion regarding traditional publishing versus self-publishing is being framed in more or less the same way as that of the intrepid fictional reporter against the venal fictional blogger, and for more or less the same reasons.

Self-published authors, we are led to believe, are scheming "writers" who aren't good enough to land an agent or a publisher, have no interest in improving the craft--and show no respect for that craft--eschew editing they are badly in need of, and, in short, don't deserve to be published, period.

In contrast, traditional big market publishers are producers of high quality curated works that have been thoroughly edited and expertly marketed, and are in every sense superior for it. 

There are a lot of problems with both of these concepts, and we'll be touching on them, but first I want to point out that these two aren't even remotely like one another.

We need to stop comparing the very best example of one category with the very worst example of another. It is absolutely true that there are self-published authors in dire need of improvement, an editor, and a better understanding of how to write. Also, there are indeed books put out by big market publishers that are of the highest quality, and that may not have otherwise existed were it not for this industry. 

But let's keep in mind that it's equally true that big publishing can produce pure dreck, and high-quality novels can spring from self-publishing. For some reason we aren't comparing quality-to-quality and dreck-to-dreck.

Let's talk about money and quality

A lot of the arguments against self-publishing are of the best-vs.-worst variety, even if they don't sound like it at first. The money argument, for instance.

The claim is as follows: "most self-published authors--with a few exceptions--don't even make any money."

Here's the problem. If you're going to point to the people who don't make money self-publishing, without also talking about the people who got traditional publishing contracts and saw their books backlisted forever (because the contract they signed is for the life of the copyright), you're being dishonest. Those authors--and I promise you, there are a lot of them--aren't making any money either.
Also, when we're talking about actually making money, we may mean different things. "Nothing" may mean "practically nothing" or "not enough to live off of" in these arguments. And it is certainly true that most self-published authors don't make enough to quit their day jobs. Of course, it turns out that neither do most traditionally published authors. 

What I'm saying is, if money is the subject and you want an honest comparison, don't compare Douglas Preston to someone writing donkey porn for free. (Note: I have never read Preston, but I am assuming he does not write donkey porn. I am willing to accept the possibility that he does, however.) Instead, compare a midlist author with a big publishing house with a midlist author who is self-published. 

The same applies to the quality argument. Not to pick on donkey porn again, but if you're comparing that to the next massive Donna Tartt volume, you have to stop. The appropriate comparison isn't Donna Tartt, it's Fifty Shades of Grey

Yes. If you're in the habit of bad-mouthing self-publishing and Fifty Shades is any part of your argument, take a step back and slap yourself a couple of times, because you're wrong. Fifty Shades was never self-published, and it is incredibly likely the only reason you've heard of it is because it was bought from an indie publisher and released--unedited--by big market publisher Random House. It belongs on big publishing's side of the chessboard, warts and all. It is also a stellar counter-argument to the claim that traditional publishing is a source of quality manuscripts, if you feel like cherry-picking things to make a point.

And if that doesn't work for you, we can talk about the train wreck that is Go Set A Watchman.

The pattern

What's happening in publishing right now is following the same pattern as what already happened in the print journalism industry. 

For publishers, the change in the market was the development of e-books as a viable publishing option, and most of what we've heard in the industry since has sounded a lot like old man journalism yelling at us to get off the lawn.

First, they accuse self-published authors of being unworthy of readers. When that doesn't work, they blame the readers for not recognizing quality. When that doesn't work, they blame the medium itself--which is in this instance means blaming the inventor of the e-book market (Amazon) rather than the medium, but it amounts to the same thing. 

To make their point, they're presenting themselves as paragons of quality, and self-published authors as uneducated hacks. It's untrue, and unfair, and it's poisoning the entire debate.

Gene Doucette is the author of The Immortal Book Series, The Immortal Chronicles, and Fixer. His latest book is Immortal Stories: Eve


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Monday, August 3, 2015

Will Traditional Publishing Retain Its Dominance by Mandating That Its Authors Keep Their Distance From Self-Published Authors?

by Publisher of She Writes Press; President of Warner Coaching Inc.; Author of 'What's Your Book?'

Imagine my dismay this week to discover that one of the Big Five houses has a policy that bars its authors from endorsing print-on-demand books. Sadly, it's not surprising. Traditional publishing actively works to position itself against nontraditional publishing yet has no issue whatsoever with scooping up self-published success stories. Double standard? Yes. 

I've written previously about discrimination against POD here, and against independently published authors here, but this takes things to a whole new level.

That a traditional publisher would institute a policy against blurbing POD books suggests a few things: 

1) They're equating print-on-demand with self-publishing. Inaccurate. Many self-published books are not print-on-demand, and many traditionally published books are flipped to POD status, oftentimes as soon as a year following publication. During my years at Seal Press, I sat in on countless meetings where we decided, based on sluggish sales, which books should become print-on-demand, since it makes no business sense whatsoever to reprint 500 books (what offset printing requires to benefit from economies of scale) for titles that aren't moving. And I know for a fact that the big houses practice this as well.

2) They're operating from the worst kind of scarcity mentality. They must believe that endorsing POD (or self-published) books will shine a negative light on their authors. Guess what, Big Five--you are shining a negative light on yourselves with your own acquisitions choices: turning Duck Dynasty into a literary dynasty and publishing such standouts as Growing Up Duggar (even before the recent scandal, this should have been red-flagged as a problem book) and Fifty Shades of Grey (which admittedly made Random House tons of money, but does anyone really think this was a good series?). 

Peruse the deals listed on Publishers Marketplace any given week, and you'll cringe at some of what the big houses are buying. I'll never forget what one New York literary agent said to me back when I worked for Seal Press about a book she'd sold to a big house that she knew had little literary worth: she called it "cannon fodder." So help me, god, I thought, the day I acquire something I consider cannon fodder should be the day I get up and walk out. To this day, I've never felt that way about any book I've acquired or published. 

3) They're distancing themselves from their own bad decisions. Simon & Schuster has a self-publishing imprint called Archway, run by Author Solutions (of very questionable ethics who've been sued by authors and whose track record you can Google), which, awkwardly and oddly, is owned by Random House/Penguin. (Apparently Simon & Schuster has no qualms about the self-publishing arm of their business being owned by their biggest and direct traditional competitor.) One of the great promises of Archway is that you might get published by Simon & Schuster--if your book sells well enough. But their traditionally published authors apparently can't and won't blurb you. So there you go--you're the pissed-upon little sibling. They happily run a self-publishing imprint, but they do whatever they can to distance that "subset" from the preferred children. 

I wish I could just take a breath here to calm myself, but I'm angry. Why? Because this information came from a traditionally published author after she'd already agreed to blurb a book that my hybrid press, She Writes Press, is publishing. She checked in with her editor, who pulled the plug. And it's clearly not because the book, which we intend to print offset, is POD. Instead, the traditionally published author said, it boils down to a difference in values, because she fundamentally believes that publishers should invest in authors, and that authors should not invest in themselves. 

I started She Writes Press with the goal of being transparent about what we do and how we do it: the author pays to publish but retains drastically higher royalties. For years I have witnessed traditional houses cutting all kinds of creative deals--where authors pay production and print runs; where creative royalty splits are negotiated. This is not new. And yet being up front about it automatically classifies us, in some people's minds, as "vanity press," a term I despise, by the way. That traditional publishing is actively engaged in undermining emerging and valid models by slandering them propagates a lack of transparency in the industry. As one fellow publisher (who cuts hybrid deals) recently told me, "We don't like to advertise it, because, you know, of the stigma." I suppose the author who invests in herself behind closed doors qualifies for endorsement consideration without having to justify her process. 

I've been arguing since the conception of She Writes Press that what should matter about a book is how well written it is--not the author platform or brand or how many followers a would-be author has. And yet, from a business perspective, of course it makes sense that this is what publishers today must focus on--or risk decimation. I left traditional publishing after a particularly symbolic experience, when I was actively discouraged from acquiring a book I believed in wholeheartedly but then met with excessive enthusiasm (and a large advance to back it) for a proposal propelled by a fancy agent, celebrity endorsements, and a whole lotta hot air. It wasn't cannon fodder, and it ended up doing well for the company, but I'd compromised. I left three months later.

If you are asked to blurb a book, what should matter is whether you believe in it. If you don't, you don't blurb it. If you care enough about the author or the book, you offer your endorsement. End of story. It's your choice. A blurb is a gift to the author. Authors do not pay for blurbs. They work hard to get them because the industry tells authors that they matter, that they sell books. She Writes Press authors have scored amazing blurbs--blurbs from New York Times best-selling authors and champions of people's dreams. A publishing company, in my opinion, does not have the right to mandate whom its authors advocate in an attempt to control its reputation or to distance itself from "the other." To do so smacks of elitism, one of traditional publishing's lasting and detrimental flaws. We've already arrived at a place where people judge books on the writing, not on how those books make it into the marketplace. It's time for traditional publishing to catch up, to pull its head out of the sand. That it's lost sight of publishing's mandate--to champion good books--speaks to its values. And those are values I certainly don't share.


You can find the original article at:


Monday, July 27, 2015

Becoming a Publisher: A Positive Choice for Authors


The book is written, proofed, edited and re-read until you feel as if your eyeballs will bleed, you've "sent it out" and now the wait begins. If you have chosen to go the way of traditional publishing, you have either submitted through an agent where you have discovered that most agents contract your work for a minimum of a year in which time they actively send a proposal concerning your manuscript to acquisition editors at publishing houses. Or you have submitted your work through a submissions section of an established publishing house, one that accepts un-agented manuscripts.

While you've gone this route, you are completely aware that there are lots of great books that don't get picked up by the industry and many authors who feel disempowered by rejection responses. However you are also completely, all right almost completely, certain that your book will be an "exception to rejection" and you will have a best-selling novel. You know that many writers going the traditional route never sold a thing, but those who did have their books chosen by the big publishing houses received affirmation as a writer, received an advance, and had a chance at being the author of a best-seller. You have to take the chance. And, I firmly believe that you should take it. I did and after my share of rejection letters, six of my books were traditionally published.

In less than a year, reality sets in. Your novel is either picked up for publication or you receive a polite rejection letter or email. After the initial hurt,(You rejected MY novel? Two years of my life and blood, sweat, and tears! Why, oh why? hair-pulling, teeth-gnashing, crying), you take a breath, decide to regroup your resources, and look around for other options, one of which may be to find a new agent. That's starting all over again on the crazy merry-go-round of sending out your work. Okay, fool around with the idea of self-publishing. Let's face it, you believe in the book. You have years of "creation" left in you and you definitely want your books to be published. So why not do it on your terms? You have to ask yourself these questions: Is this a book in which a traditional publisher really might be interested? and Is this a book over which I want to relinquish control? Should I self-publish?

Now I know a few authors who self-publish their books. Some are successful, some not so much. You need to do your homework very well before venturing into the realm of self-publishing. I highly recommend checking the web site Preditors & Editors. It is a legitimate, well-known web site that gives information on a large number of publishers and agents as well. You will learn which ones are recommended, which ones are not, and, most importantly, which ones to avoid at all costs. Vanity publishers are ones to be avoided as they are, to put it bluntly, thieves. They sell you services they aren't competent to provide and they overcharge you for what they do. Steer clear!

So now what? Rather than becoming self-published, a very good option is opening your own small or boutique publishing house by yourself or with other authors. I do recommend that you have at least one other person in this business with you. Doing it alone is not a good option as there is a lot to do.You also have to remember that this requires a cash outlay and a lot more attention to detail, as you are responsible for the financial aspects of your book from the purchasing of the ISBN number to the printing of the books themselves. You also need to purchase a domain and set up a professional looking website and obtain a tax ID; this makes your publishing house a real business and you a real publisher. 

Your best move as a publisher is to hire legitimate custom publishing professionals who will provide the services of editing, marketing, cover design, printing, warehousing, and distribution. A good custom professional and design studio is a Godsend to you as the publisher. Your boutique publishing house is a smaller version of the big league ones. Make yourself knowledgeable about publishing and have the skills to do some of the work and the ability to hire smart people to do what you can't. It's a business, treat it like one. Many professional novelists are opening small publishing houses to republish the out-of-print novels they wrote years ago for traditional publishers. 

The final thing you have to do, one that many authors with the bigger publishing houses have had to largely do on their own is marketing and publicity. This is easier with social media; use it well.

The world of publishing is changing dramatically and rapidly. Authors are looking for ways to get their books published and boutique publishing houses look very attractive because of the personal touch afforded by a smaller house. You may start out small publishing books of your own and a select few other authors and stay small or expand later on. Becoming a publisher is a wise choice for an author.

Happy writing!

Grave Misgivings, the second book in A Cate Harlow Private Investigation series will launch on July 15, 2015 and will available where all books are sold.
©copyright 2015 Kristen Houghton The Savvy Author all rights reserved


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Monday, July 20, 2015

Innovative Novel Formats


Generally, novels are very similar in terms of page layout, the amount of words on a page, and the the splitting of chapters. Words form sentences, sentences join together to make paragraphs, and paragraphs build to create a chapter. Rinse and repeat a few dozen times, and that is the consistent format of most novels. Readers and most writers do not pay much concern to the way the writing looks on the page, but there are daring authors that provide meaning to their work through the use of unique and innovative formatting. Sometimes, these books can be recognized purely by looking at the formatting without reading any words, a feat that the standardly designed novel cannot claim. Here are a few novels that reimagined what a novel should look like within its physical binding:

Joshua Cohen's Book of Numbers

Starting with the recently released novel from the thirty-four year old that is so prolific that he has multiple collections of his heavily researched short stories at bay waiting for publication, a draft of a followup to the book that came out just over a month ago, and still finds the time to write incredibly detailed reviews of new books for venues such as Harper's. His prose is dense, intricate, full of words that require a dictionary, and researched to an almost obsessive degree. He makes the average literary writer look lazy in comparison when he consistently releases big works of writing that obviously took a large amount of time and dedication. Cohen's dedication to his craft has reached a whole new level with his latest novel, Book of Numbers. At first glance, the novel seems to be formatted like any other novel, but Cohen implemented a mind-boggling level of detail for readers that study novels as if they are complicated puzzles. Following the complex math and technological themes of the story, Cohen as the writer decided to set certain rules to its structure. Each section of the book has an even number of paragraphs and each paragraph has an even number of sentences. Diving further in, "every sentence has a number of syllables metered to work out to fulfill certain metric principle," says Cohen. He adds that even though most sentences add up to an even number of syllables, the ones that he wanted to rhythmically stick out have an odd number, but the number of odd syllable sentences add up to an even number in their respective paragraphs. Joshua Cohen has taken formatting to a level that is unparalleled, and his writing is staggeringly intelligent and beautiful, showing that he is a novelist that strives to make readers think and read closely.

The Fiction of Mark Danielewski

Mark Danielewski is best known for perhaps one of the only truly frightening novels of all time, the modern cult classic, House of Leaves. Any type of unique formatting that you can think of is present within House of Leaves. The way words are arranged on the page is never the same as the previous page, font size and style varies throughout, and the disjointed experience is jarring, adding to the suspense and mystery surrounding House of Leaves. There are many ways to interpret the story, in large part because each reader will consume the novel in a different way because of the formatting. Masters of style tend to be highly ambitious, and Danielewski has embarked on what will become the longest novel of all time in terms of page count with The Familiar. Volume one, an almost 900 page tome with the the unique Danielewski style apparent on its pages, and volume two will be released later this year. The story has a long way to go as it is a projected twenty-seven volumes, making Danielewski as prolific and dedicated as any writer around, along with being one of the most daring.

The Fiction of Jonathan Safran Foer

Jonathan Safran Foer's most well known novel, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, might sound familiar to those who saw what is commonly called the worst movie to ever be nominated for an Oscar, but the novel that it was adapted from is astounding. Foer is one of the best young writers working in America, and his style of writing is one of a kind. Combined with his unique prose, Foer added an innovative style to his writing as well. Novelists abandoning quotation marks is nothing new, take a look at the work of one of the greatest living writers, Cormac McCarthy, but Foer's implementation of it makes the look of the novel change. He uses short, snappy dialogue that a lot of the time, abandons tags, allowing it to come to life. Some pages have just a few words, others contain pictures, but the narrative flows seamlessly together to form one of the most impressive novels of the century, with the most precocious narrator in many years. His 2010 work, Tree of Codes, was a passion project as it revolved around his favorite book, The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz. The novel is not written by Foer, instead, he cut words from the pages to carve a new story. It had a limited release due to each copy having to be hand cut, but the ending result was a work of visual art that could be read in numerous fashions. Foer has shown that he can innovate with his own prose as well as reimagine the work of others through artistic pursuits and a clever imagination.

S. by Doug Dorst and J.J. Abrams

The J.J. Abrams conceived idea turned fictional experiment written by Doug Dorst was one of the most interesting book releases of 2013. S. was released in a slip case that needed to be cut open in order to pull out the novel that stated it was actually Ship of Theseus by V.M. Straka. The book stands as one of the most inventive meta-fiction, story inside a story, novels in recent memory. It follows two college students that are trying to figure out the identity of the mysterious author. Throughout the novel, there are handwritten notes in the margins of the work of fiction inside of another work of fiction by a fictitious author that Dorst and Abrams are writing about. If that was confusing, try jumping down the rabbit hole that Dorst and Abrams created. There are random postcards, pictures, and notes inside the pages of the book that are used as clues, and they are not images, they can physically be removed from the book as they are loosely wedged in at various points in the narrative. The novel was as much a literary experiment as it was a work of art. It was designed for people who love and cherish books and shows fervent passion towards its subject with the help of the vastly unique and revolutionary format. It really is a treasure of a book for those who love physical books, all the way from the way it appears on the outside as a library book with dewey decimal system labeling on its spine, to the immersive and personal touch of handwriting in the margins, and the complexity of its formatting. S. demands to be read more than once, and the experience that it delivers is due to its brilliant form.

There are other novels that have stretched the standard constraints of formatting, but the works of Cohen, Danielewski, Foer, Dorst and Abrams are some of the most innovative examples released in recent years.


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