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Reflections on the #AtoZChallenge

by Donna Huber For the A to Z Challenge, I discussed different book genres/categories. Each day, I gave a few details about the genre/catego...

February 16, 2012

Tips on Thursday: Blog Reviews

English: A business ideally is continually see...
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There has been debate over how influential blog reviews can be for a book. I think a lot of that has to do with the inability to track sales that come from blog reviews. However, for self-published authors and independent publishers it is easier to see the impact as they do not have several marketing campaigns going at once. There have been several success stories and it has been largely do to book bloggers spreading the word about the book. The most recent success story will be appearing in Sunday's New York Times Best Sellers List - Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James (#27, paperback trade fiction). This is a title I promoted when I worked for The Writer's Coffee Shop. There was no major ad campaign, city tour, or any of the traditional methods used by large publishers. However, there were fans of E. L. James and a list of book bloggers. If you search 'Fifty Shades of Grey reviews', you will get page after Google page of book bloggers talking about it (everything from reviews, guest posts, and interviews to sharing their favorite lines and including it in weekly memes). Fifty Shades of Grey wasn't picked up by Publisher's Weekly until January of this year, eight months after it was first published. The reported 80,000 plus sales for the trilogy is greatly a result of bloggers and fans talking about it.

As I said, self-published authors and independent publishers know the importance of book bloggers. During any discussion I take part in with authors and publishers, I am almost always asked, "How do we get bloggers to review our books?" As a book blogger and someone who works in publishing, I know the difficulties of getting a book noticed. Even when the author or publisher does everything right, they still might not get a response. I recently sent out 12 pitches for a middle grades fantasy adventure series and have only heard back from 2.

While it can be a difficult task there are some ways to increase the chances your request will be accepted. I have encouraged in a previous Tips on Thursday for every blogger to have a review policy. Authors and publishers should pay attention to what the blogger's review policy is. If, after reading the review policy, you are still unclear if the blogger would be interested in your book, contact the blogger and indicate you've read the policy. Bloggers put a lot of effort into their reviews and blogs with little (no) compensation, so demonstrating that you put a little effort into your request goes a long way with bloggers.

I've collected some PET PEEVES from bloggers and here are the ones that come up the most, so steer clear...
  • Emails with generic greetings or the wrong name
  • unsolicited manuscript - sending it as an attachment in your pitch email. While this might save you time, it looks presumptuous on your part. Also, sending a link to your book on Twitter when we've never communicated is just spam in my book. (With the amount of malicious links out there, I'm not clicking on a shorten url in a tweet from someone I don't know).
  • No means no. If they say they aren't accepting pitches, then don't send them a review request. I feel bad when I say no to a review request, but I also only have so much time in a day. The sames goes for sending a request to a blogger who doesn't read your genre. If after reading the review policy you are unsure, check out their recent reviews or labels/tags - it'll give you an idea of what they read.
  • Not enough info. You don't have to send us a three page query, but sending an email that says "I would love a review, find my book at Amazon or Smashwords. Here's the link" is going straight to my trash folder. 
  • Don't ask to spam my friends. As I said above we put a lot of effort into our reviews and blogs and we expect the author/publisher to at least put a little effort into their request. Asking a blogger for emails of other bloggers they know is WRONG. I understand you are wanting to use our networks to get more reviews. A better way than asking for email addresses is to offer "if you have any blog friends who would also be interested in reviewing my book, please have them contact me." 
  • So many books, so little time. Book bloggers are in demand. I probably have 20 paperback review copies sitting under my coffee table and who knows how many ebooks. It is okay to ask to have a review by a certain time, but don't demand it. That is the nice thing about the changing publishing climate. Authors and publishers are no longer confined to 6 weeks to build buzz. Offering guest posts and interviews can help get the word out about the author/book while waiting for the reviews to come in.
  • Don't attack us. Bloggers give an honest opinion on what they thought of the book. True book bloggers are not out to destroy someone's career. When I read a book for review I feel I have two responsibilities. 1. Give enough info so a reader can make an informed decision on whether to spend their hard earned money on the title and 2. provide feedback to the author so that they may improve on their craft.
I'm going to expand a bit on that last point. There is often a second part to the question that is posed to me. "How do we get good reviews." (notice I did not say positive reviews, if you are only after positive reviews then you might need to shell out some cash). There has been some buzz around the blogisphere about "unprofessional" reviewers and bloggers who just want to be mean.  Here are a few tips on finding good, honest bloggers who are just as passionate about books as you are (though they still may not be as gung-ho about your title as you are):
  • Are they active in the book/blogging community (do they participate in twitter chats, offer advice either on their blog, facebook page, or twitter feed)
  • Read a couple of their posts. If they give star ratings, see what they say about their 1 and 2 star books. (A lot of bloggers consider 3 star books to be good books and encourage people to read them). 
  • Do they act professional. While most book bloggers are doing it as a hobby, the ones who take it seriously have review policies and nice looking blogs (I don't mean they have a custom blog, but some thought has gone into layout, widgets, etc).
And finally my last piece of advice on getting bloggers to review your books. Just as you get excited about the number of downloads your book receives when listed as FREE, bloggers get excited about the number of visitors/pageviews/comments their blog receives. Leave comments, send out a tweet, post on your facebook page or blog about the reviewer. Remember, bloggers put a lot of effort into their reviews and blogs, it really isn't wrong for us to expect the author/publisher to put a bit of effort in making request of us.

It's your turn! What advice do you have for authors and publishers to make their request stand out and not be immediately trashed?

Update: See the companion post about what bloggers can do to get noticed by major publishers.
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February 15, 2012

Karen Pokras Toz: A Day in the Life of ... (a guest post)

As I mentioned in Sunday's post, I've joined with a group of authors and bloggers for a Win with eBooks Event. It is great for you, my readers, because you can enter to win a Kindle Fire or $200 Amazon Gift Card (you can enter either on my Sunday post or at the Win with eBooks website). Also, you can meet new to you authors and pick up their books for 99 cents. Today, I have the pleasure of introducing you to Karen Pokras Toz, author of Nate Rocks the World. Welcome, Karen!

The smell of hot coffee wafts through my bedroom. I slowly open my eyes to see him standing next to the bed – tray in hand.

“I had cook prepare some crepes and coffee for you this morning,” he says lovingly – his blue eyes fixated on my every move. “I know you have a busy day today, so I also scheduled a massage for you just after you get back from your lunch meeting at the Four Seasons.”

What? Your day doesn’t go like this? Oh wait – mine doesn’t either!

My mornings usually involve child and pet wrangling. I used to try to get up an hour before everyone else to get some writing in, but now that my youngest is in Kindergarten, I’ve been able to move my writing schedule to later in the day.

8:30am is my magic number. That’s when the youngest of my three children get on the bus. It is then that I pour myself my second or third cup of coffee and sit down in front of my laptop – ready to temporarily hang up the mom hat and work as a publisher, author, and marketer. I hadn’t intended to be all three. I really only
intended to be an author, but somewhere along the way, I decided the other two were necessary, like it or not.

And so, for the next seven hours or so – I spend my time answering emails, tweeting, catching up on blog work, tweaking my website, making new contacts, advertising my book, taking care of the business end, and oh yeah – writing. There are days when I just have to stop everything else and remind myself that first and foremost – I need to write. After all, writing is what got me here in the first place.

When I first realized I would have seven hours to myself every day, I thought: Wow! I am going to get so much done! I’ll write books, I’ll get caught up on laundry, I’ll make fancy dinners every night – it’ll be great! The truth is (much to the dismay of my family) very little of that gets done. In the three months since I started my new schedule, I’ve woefully neglected the laundry and served my family the same old standby meals they’ve been eating for years.

Somehow – this little writing thing, turned out to be a lot of work - - - and I love every minute of it! So while there are no expensive lunches or spa appointments in my daily life, I wouldn’t trade what I do for anything. Dream big and rock on!

About Karen Pokras Toz

Karen Pokras Toz is a writer, wife and mom. Karen grew up in Orange, Connecticut and currently lives outside of Philadelphia with her husband and three children. In June 2011, Karen published her first middle grade children’s novel for 7-12 year olds called Nate Rocks the World. She is currently working on the second book in the Nate Rocks series, Nate Rocks the Boat, to be published in 2012. Karen is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI), Association of Independent Authors (AIA), and the Independent Author Network (IAN).

To Learn More About the Nate Rocks Series:

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February 14, 2012

I have a crush: The Egyptian

The Egyptian (Dominic Grey #2) by Layton Green
ebook, 327 pages
Published August 2011 by First Ward
ISBN13: 2940013033597
Read January 2012

Fans of Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan series or Jack Higgins' Sean Dillion will want to try out Layton Green's Dominic Grey series. I did not read the first book in the series (I didn't even know it was a book 2 until I looked it up on Goodreads), but that didn't diminish my enjoyment. Much like the two series I mentioned, these are stand alone books that are interconnected by the main character. There was enough mentions of a previous situation (presumably covered in the first book) that the reader could understand some of what the main character was dealing with, without having to rehash an entire book.

And what a character Dominic Grey is. He is the perfect male hero in my book. He's damaged, definitely carrying around extra emotional baggage. But he also has all those wonderful good guy traits, with a bit of a bad boy vibe. He is former military and seriously he could kill a person with just his pinky. I will admit that I had a bit of a crush on Dominic. I'm not sure if I've ever been jealous of a book character before, but I think I was feeling twinges of envy for Victoria. But only twinges as Dominic seemed as unattainable for her as he was for me.

The foreign governments and corporate espionage had me intrigued, but throw in the biotech and religious cult aspects and I was hooked. I learned quite a bit about Egyptian mythology, which I admit I knew nothing about before this book (I kept thinking back to the ArmchairBEA challenge on what is your favorite mythology). The science was indepth enough to give the characters an authentic feel (I work with a bunch of scientists so I know what they are like) without feeling like I was reading a textbook or reading in a foreign language. 

Usually I like epilogues, but I don't think it was necessary for this story. I thought the story had come to its natural conclusion and I didn't feel like every i needed dotted and t crossed. It is a suspense novel so it's okay that there are questions left at the end. The epilogue wasn't bad and it didn't ruin the story. I'm not sure how to explain how I felt.

I can tell you I need to find the first book in the series; I need another dose of Dominic Grey. I'm also hoping for more books in this series. I love having another great suspense writer in my pocket to pull out when I'm in need of a thrill ride.

I know a lot of people have "book boyfriends" but have you ever been jealous of a character?

Buy your copy of The Egyptian at Amazon. (Just checked it's only 99 cents what I bargain for a wonderful book).

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February 13, 2012

Video Blog #5: This week


Broken (Extrahumans #1) by Susan Jane Bigelow

In a post-war future world where First Contact has been made, humans are colonizing the stars, and the nations of Earth have been united under a central government, Extrahumans are required by law to belong to the Union. When a young man with visions of the future sets out on a mission to define the course of human history, he encounters a devastated former hero, a fascist dictatorship bent on world domination, and the realities of living in a society where affiliation is everything.Broken figured she was done with heroics when she lost the ability to fly and fled the confinement of the Extrahuman Union. But then the world started to fall apart around her, and the mysterious Michael Forward entered her life, dangling the possibility of redemption and rebirth.Michael Forward can see the future, but all he wants is to escape the destiny he has struggled against all his life. When the moment comes, though, he finds he can't refuse. Now he needs the help of a homeless ex-superhero to save a baby who may be the key to humanity's freedom.Monica had a good life with her large family, until two strangers and a baby showed up at her door. Now her family is gone, her life is in ruins, and she's on the run from the law.In a time of spreading darkness, when paranoia and oppression have overtaken the world, can three unlikely allies preserve a small ray of hope for a better, brighter future?  From
Hickey of the Beast by Isabel Kunkle
Connie thought freshman year might suck. She never thought it'd be literal.

Bad dreams? No big deal. After all, Connie Perez is starting her first year in the prep school her mom runs. Anyone would be a little stressed, right? When she starts dreaming about strange creatures and places that don't make sense, she doesn't think much about it: there's other stuff on her mind. Then she starts noticing that the people she dreams about get sick right afterwards.

Then everything gets weird.

There's something bad on the campus of Springden Academy. Something that feeds on students and warps their minds. And, as Connie and her friends try to figure out what's going on, it starts to look like she's the only one who can stop it.

Freshman year was hard enough without having to fight evil after class.

Hickey of the Beast is a hilarious look at coming of age in a school where there are no secrets, but plenty of mysteries, and where supernatural studies take on a whole new meaning. It's a story about all the things that make growing up hell: boys, history class, annoying little brothers, and saving the world from evil. When the supernatural comes to school, it's no field day - and that's before you factor in homework. From
Downburst (The Windstorm Series) by Katie Robison
Kit’s only goal is to stay alive. Right now, that means dodging brutal gangs while peddling fake I.D.s on the back streets of Winnipeg. But things get complicated when Kit sells a license to a girl named Aura—a girl who could almost be her twin. Caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, Kit is plunged into an underground society with heart-stopping surprises at every turn. To protect herself, she’s forced to assume Aura’s identity. But storm clouds are gathering on the horizon, and when Kit learns the truth about Aura, she knows she has to get out before the storm breaks. There’s only one problem: escape isn’t an option.

Suddenly, staying alive just got a lot harder. From
Doing Max Vinyl by Frederick Lee Brooke
Max Vinyl’s type of success story can only happen in America. Rising from humble beginnings, he has reached the height of the computer recycling racket. Problem is, he’s using Lake Michigan as his own personal profit center. Even that wouldn't have been a problem if his environmentalist girlfriend Tris hadn't found out his dirty secret. And while Max is devastated by his love crashing down around him, he’s about to learn that the rage of a woman scorned packs far more firepower and potential for destruction than he had ever imagined.

Iraqi War veteran Annie Ogden has spent three depression-filled months living in a cabin in a forest preserve trying to re-discover her purpose in life. When two of Max’s thugs threaten Annie’s sister, she is dragged into his corrupt world in an unwitting alliance with the environmentalist, Tris. And for Max, that’s really bad news. Will he hold up under the coordinated attacks of two angry women? Will Annie find the inner peace that has escaped her so far? As things spin completely out of control and complications mount, it’s all Max can do to stay one step ahead—until it’s all he can do to stay alive!

A farce full of hysterics and wholehearted chicanery, Frederick Lee Brooke’s first installment of the Annie Ogden mysteries is an incisive examination of corporate lunacy, greed and modern disconnection. Having received multiple four and five-star reviews on Amazon and, Doing Max Vinyl: An Annie Ogden Mystery is loaded with razor-sharp dialogue, ingenious plotting—and so much fun it should be illegal! From
 Attached by Amir Levine, MD and Rachel S.F. Heller, MA
In this groundbreaking book, psychiatrist and neuroscientist Amir Levine and psychologist Rachel S. F. Heller reveal how an understanding of attachment theory-the most advanced relationship science in existence today-can help us find and sustain love. Attachment theory forms the basis for many bestselling books on the parent/child relationship, but there has yet to be an accessible guide to what this fascinating science has to tell us about adult romantic relationships-until now.

Attachment theory owes its inception to British psychologist and psychoanalyst John Bowlby, who in the 1950s examined the tremendous impact that our early relationships with our parents or caregivers has on the people we become. Also central to attachment theory is the discovery that our need to be in a close relationship with one or more individuals is embedded in our genes.

In Attached, Levine and Heller trace how these evolutionary influences continue to shape who we are in our relationships today. According to attachment theory, every person behaves in relationships in one of three distinct ways:

*ANXIOUS people are often preoccupied with their relationships and tend to worry about their partner's ability to love them back.

*AVOIDANT people equate intimacy with a loss of independence and constantly try to minimize closeness.

*SECURE people feel comfortable with intimacy and are usually warm and loving.

Attached guides readers in determining what attachment style they and their mate (or potential mates) follow. It also offers readers a wealth of advice on how to navigate their relationships more wisely given their attachment style and that of their partner. An insightful look at the science behind love, Attached offers readers a road map for building stronger, more fulfilling connections. From

Going Solo by Eric Klinenberg
A revelatory examination of the most significant demographic shift since the Baby Boom--the sharp increase in the number of people who live alone--that offers surprising insights on the benefits of this epochal changeIn 1950, only 22 percent of American adults were single. Today, more than 50 percent of American adults are single, and 31 million--roughly one out of every seven adults--live alone. People who live alone make up 28 percent of all U.S. households, which makes them more common than any other domestic unit, including the nuclear family. In GOING SOLO, renowned sociologist and author Eric Klinenberg proves that these numbers are more than just a passing trend. They are, in fact, evidence of the biggest demographic shift since the Baby Boom: we are learning to go solo, and crafting new ways of living in the process.Klinenberg explores the dramatic rise of solo living, and examines the seismic impact it's having on our culture, business, and politics. Though conventional wisdom tells us that living by oneself leads to loneliness and isolation, Klinenberg shows that most solo dwellers are deeply engaged in social and civic life. In fact, compared with their married counterparts, they are more likely to eat out and exercise, go to art and music classes, attend public events and lectures, and volunteer. There's even evidence that people who live alone enjoy better mental health than unmarried people who live with others and have more environmentally sustainable lifestyles than families, since they favor urban apartments over large suburban homes. Drawing on over three hundred in-depth interviews with men and women of all ages and every class, Klinenberg reaches a startling conclusion: in a world of ubiquitous media and hyperconnectivity, this way of life can help us discover ourselves and appreciate the pleasure of good company.With eye-opening statistics, original data, and vivid portraits of people who go solo, Klinenberg upends conventional wisdom to deliver the definitive take on how the rise of living alone is transforming the American experience. GOING SOLO is a powerful and necessary assessment of an unprecedented social change. From
Amongst My Enemies by William F. Brown
Inside an old German U-Boat rusting on the bottom of the Baltic are millions in gold bars, stolen art, and a secret that could tear NATO apart. The only one who knows the truth is Mike Randall, a battle-scarred American who survived four months in the frozen Hell of northern Germany at the end of the war. When he does speak up, he puts a target on his own forehead, one which the Russians, the West Germans, the U-boat’s former owners, the Israeli Mossad, and even his own government quickly take aim at. Some want the gold, some want him dead, and some want proof about a high-ranking spy inside NATO itself. Randall’s wants are much simpler. Caught between the Kremlin and a new, deadly, 4th Reich, he wants revenge and to satisfy some old debts with a steel-jacketed bullet. From
Weekly Memes:
In My Mailbox hosted by The Story Siren
It's Monday! What are you reading? hosted by Book Journey

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February 12, 2012

Authors & Bloggers Unite for the Readers

I've joined with a group of authors and bloggers who run a monthly contest - Win with eBooks! Bloggers have been featuring the various authors and books involved and authors are offering ebooks for 99 cents at Amazon. You can find out more about the event including live chats with the authors throughout the week at

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