Every new author does this. Why?

When I take on a new client–whether this writer has previously published, or is green–I can count upon one thing.

No, it’s not an emotional quirk, like fear, touchiness, defensiveness, resistance to change.

It’s not a need to educate about The Comma Formerly Known As Oxford, adverbs, show over tell, or other common writing issues.

It is not a need to impress the urgency of marketing.

It is so much more basic. It involves two keystrokes that are by custom invisible: the space and the hard return, and their misuse and abuse.

I get mss full of stuff that has been aligned on pages by just hitting Enter however many times. In some of those mss, the writer has also gaily aggregated five spaces at the start of each para, or more when the writer wanted to center something on a line. This is all stuff I end up fixing. Yes, I charge more for it, and no, I am not eager to find it nor to make the money fixing it, because it’s so avoidable. I would rather help my client tell his or her story, not clean up the client’s inability to grasp the word processor’s basics.

And no, this is not becoming a computer nerd. This is learning how to use the modern equivalent of your typewriter: the word processor, the writer’s primary tool of expressions. The writer who thinks s/he is too good, too artistique, too airy to learn to use the tool is like the painter who refuses to use the right lighting, or an auto mechanic with a wrench aversion, or a banker who won’t buy a suit. Doing it wrong doesn’t add to your charm and mystique.

Let us define. The single space is not an emptiness. It is a character. A character is one of the discrete letters, numbers, or symbols that make up the full set of little pictures one may cause to appear in one’s word processing software, blog platform, whatever. The space has a defined width in each typeface. (A font is not a typeface; a font is a combination of typeface and size, measured in points, of which 72 equal one inch high. Arial is a typeface. Arial 12 is a font.) Thus, when one hits the space bar, it is not the clever placement of a void. It is the placement of a symbol normally invisible to the reader. It can be underlined, for example, or struckthrough, and one will see it.

The hard return, or Enter, or paragraph break, is what you get when you hit the wide key at right of the keyboard that now goes by the name “Enter,” usually with an arrow symbol going down and to the left. Elders like myself, who took typing in high school, remember its origins: on the manual typewriter, it was a manual handle one had to pull after typing each line, called the “carriage return” because it returned the roller carriage to the left margin and rolled the roller one line downward. Then we got electric typewriters, and the carriage return became a key to the right of the home row. Then we got computers, and Return gave way to Enter.

Somewhere early in the computing age, Return/Enter became the key of choice for “make a selected thing happen.” Happily, word processing brought word wrap with it, which gave us the “soft return.” When you type to the end of a line, without hitting Enter, and the text begins a new line, the software has automatically inserted a soft return. And if you change your margins later, the soft returns will shift. To know how beautiful this is, one perhaps must have had to type all his college papers on an electric typewriter (three drafts per paper).

When you hit Enter in a word processor, you achieve precisely what we used to call a carriage return. When you hit it on a line that contains nothing, you begin a new line, leaving a line that has no characters other than a paragraph break. Yes, a paragraph break is a character, as surely as the e with an accent aigu (é) or octothorpe (#) or lower case p. When you hit the space bar, you type the character known as a space.

Also worth knowing: the software doesn’t see a page of text as a rectangle. That is just how the software presents it to the user. To the word processing software, everything you write is a straight line leading out toward infinity. We who used to use Word Perfect’s Reveal Codes function came to a very good understanding of this, as do HTML developers. To explain, let me write a sample para containing features, bearing in mind that this platform will not let me insert some mistakes (such as extra spaces or loose tab stops):

One may not normally underline text for emphasis, and bold is also bad form. Italics are correct, but are seductively easy to overuse. If I find

more than roughly one use of italics per chapter, it’s too many.

Here is how software is seeing that para, described in colloquial plain English rather than computerese, with hidden stuff in blue:

[Word wrap is turned on, so insert soft returns at the ends of lines] One may not normally [turn on underlining]underline[now stop underlining] text for emphasis, and [begin boldface]bold[shut off boldface] is also bad form. [turn on italics]Italics[shut off italics] are correct, but are seductively easy to overuse. If I find[para break in stupid place for demonstration purposes] more than roughly one use of italics per chapter, it’s too many.[para break in sane place]

Does that make more sense now? This is why, when I italicize something, I shut off the italics before I insert the next space. Have you ever meant to type after something that was in italics, and the stupid word processor thought you still wanted to be in italics? That’s because the writer, like nearly every writer, committed the error of hitting the space bar before turning the italics off. This way, if I put my cursor before the space, I’m still in italics. If I put it after the space, I’m out of italics, and won’t have to go back and repair it.

Just as there are soft returns, there are soft page breaks. If you want to force a page break, the software permits this. A forced page break is also called a hard page break.

Now, when we want to align text on a page, word processors give us tools for that. If we want to center our title on a title page, we don’t have to hit Enter a bunch of times until our centering meets the eyeball test. We just change the vertical alignment for that page from ‘Top’ to ‘Center,’ and it will align automatically. And since we did it that way, we do not need another dozen or so carriage returns in order to reach p.1. After our title, we can insert a hard page break (in Word it’s done with Ctrl-Enter). That is what we should do any time we want the software to begin a new page, most commonly at the end of a chapter. (As opposed to the lamentable yet common practice of just hammering the Enter key, inserting para breaks until one reaches the top of a new page.) Aligning it horizontally is even easier: there are buttons at the top for it. The spaces are cluttery garbage.

And when we want to move text a distance from the left margin–most notably, to begin a paragraph–that is what a tab stop is for. In the typing days, we had a little guide we had to drag to the right spot, then a key to set a tab stop. When we began a new para, having carriage returned our way back to the left margin, we would hit Tab to jump forward (indent) five spaces. This is also called indentation, but Word has confused the issue–and not for a bad reason. One may want to indent just the first line of each para, or one may want to indent an entire para (quoted material, for example), and the software needs to satisfy both feature needs.

So. If you’re a writer, and anything I am teaching you here is new to you, your word processor use is at the amateur level and needs to grow. And that’s okay. That’s why I wrote this, so I wouldn’t have to teach grade school stuff. Now that you understand how this all came to be, and why it works the way it does, please learn:

Space bar: between words. The standard is now one space after all punctuation, not two, no matter what Mrs. Nitpickering taught you in high school typing class. However: Tab (or indent or horizontal alignment): position text relative to left margin, right margin, both, or center.

Enter: to force the end of a paragraph. However: soft return will happen automatically when you are using word wrap (the normal default) and needs no attention.

Hard page break (Ctrl-Enter): to force the end of a page. You can display the para symbol (¶) to see these. However: soft page break will happen automatically when you hit the end of a page.

Know what is the first thing I do when I begin to edit a ms? I look at how the author aligned the title on the title page. If the author merrily spacebarred the title to a center position, I realize that my client doesn’t understand even the basics of how the software works, and I prepare to fix that. If the author blissfully aligned it vertically by just banging Enter a bunch of times, same conclusion. I will have to fix not only the writer’s English, but the basic misunderstanding of the tools, like a carpenter noting that someone did a lot of cross-cutting using the rip fence.

Then I do a global search for instances of two consecutive spaces, replacing each instance with one space. The older the client, the more instances there will be. Then I repeat the S&R, and again, until it finds no instances of two consecutive spaces, since there is nearly never a need for that. All those spaces the author merrily used to align his or her title (completely unnecessary at this point to begin with, but they all do it)? All gone. All those five-space fake indents? Reduced to single spaces.

There being no search criteria I can use to eliminate a single leading space at the start of each para, I’ll have to fix those manually. Every single one. Every para in the whole book, cursor to the start, hit Delete.

As I go, I will eliminate all instances of more than two consecutive hard returns. A good way to spot them is to push the button that displays para breaks. I’m okay with one hard return to end the para, then one to space between paras (though ideally I would do a little growing of my own, and use the software feature that will automatically insert extra space between paras, which I confess that I do not, but at least I’m a little ashamed of it). Any more than two is nearly never desirable.

I will also have to spend a lot of time unjunking the way the client did things like italics. If you want to add any kind of formatting (bold, italic, underline, strikethrough) that overlays the given typeface, do not include the leading and trailing spaces in the italicized area.

Here I am doing it right.

Here I am doing it_wrong.*

If means that if I want to insert a word after “it,” that word will be italicized as well. I will have to switch the feature off, and nullify underlining on the space preceding my new word. If I had done it correctly, as in the first example, I could simply begin my new word after the space following “it,” and my text would not be in italics. But what if I want to be in italics? I can just begin inserting text before the space, starting of course with a new space. Solved. That is why formatting continence matters, and one should not include leading or trailing spaces in formatting. Yet writers don’t know (or don’t care).

*Actually, the blog platform made it worse. It did not display the underlining of the trailing space, as Word does. It didn’t even show me the problem so that I might correct it. I had to cheat by typing an _ (underbar) in place of the space. How it looks here is designed to mock up what Word will do naturally.

And because writers blithely include the following space in their formatting, they make–and are charged full price for–a lot of extra work.

In the ideal reality, pride would demand a basic grasp of the software’s concepts. If that is not enough of a motivator, then perhaps money will do the trick. When clients garbage up a ms in these ways, I must and do charge them more, and not with any joy. If clients want to save a little money, there’s the path.

And if you have been making these mistakes, either with me or with another editor, it is okay. It really is okay. Push comes to shove, I can fix these forever. I would rather have a great ms to edit, yet junked up with loose spaces and flagrant hard returns, than a crummy ms done with fine technical acumen. I am not mad at you (can’t speak for other editors). But if you want to make me happy at you, you can start doing it right, so that I can start charging you a little less–and so that we can focus on big kid stuff like how best to develop your characters and present your ideas, and so that I can stop focusing on trivia that must be addressed yet represents mainly avoidable busywork.

By viewing our site, you agree to reams of crap

We see it all the time, do we not? “Use of our site constitutes agreement to [a massive Terms of Service that has probably been read once in history, by the paralegal who mashed it up for the lawyer’s signoff, and contains gods only know what].”

I am making the case for paying such TOS little to no heed.

Here’s my approach: I don’t recognize them. Yes, they probably in theory have the law on their side; no, I don’t care. I will not comply, and they can go to hell for trying to give me orders. Here is my reasoning:

  • No one put a weapon to the organization’s head and caused it to publish a website viewable by the random general public. The information now has the moral privacy rights of a billboard, or the side of a city bus, or the painted front window of a business.
  • I am not planning on misappropriating their information, nor plagiarizing it. If the site has downloadable content, it looks to me like a pile of flyers with a sign that says “take one.” Any information whose distribution they wish to restrict, they will put behind closed doors (requiring login and password, perhaps more). The New York Times does just that. In turn, I decided not to keep visiting the Grey Lady in her assisted e-living home.
  • If the site doesn’t like people using itself unless one allows all the data mining and other widgets to work, fine; have the designers break it for anyone who will not. Oh my heck, they say, but that results in a lot of complaints? Too damn bad, not my problem. If the company does not care about my problems, as evidenced by a bulky TOS, it gives me no moral reason to care about its problems. I have the loophole here and I see zero reason not to use it.
  • Absent some moral reason, only enforceable laws and claims matter. One can claim that someone ‘signed’ an agreement all one wants, but unless one is willing to sue to enforce it, and would win, it means nothing. If the law or claim cannot or will not be enforced, the question then becomes whether it has moral force. For example, taking too many napkins at the burger joint: how many is too many? Legally, it’s probably as many as you can pull out before being noticed and kicked out. Morally, it’s as many as necessary to maintain some semblance of civilized dining. Morally, the business has trusted you without putting up an admonishing sign, or putting the napkins behind the service counter, or trying to tell you that your eating here constitutes acceptance of these terms. Trust deserves validation.
  • The best case for a moral reason comes from sites which ask politely, but do not penalize anyone for declining. Fark.com is one. DuckDuckGo is another. In those cases, with no compulsion, the site’s offer has moral validity and deserves reasonable consideration (and will get same from me).

The same is true for license agreements. The law has let the software industry construct a bizarre situation which now allows, for example, a car company to install software in your vehicle and thus claim that you haven’t really purchased all of your vehicle, that you don’t really own it. In service of the legitimate cause of fighting piracy, the law has let them construe it that you don’t ever actually own anything tangible, just a license.

That’s crap. To me, morally, a piece of software looks more like a book (or a coffee maker, etc.) than like a legal right to do a thing. I believe that if I bought a copy, I own that copy. The law says otherwise, and I do not care. If I duplicate the book and sell copies, that’s morally wrong. If I copy part or all of the book and claim it myself, that’s morally wrong. But if I tear a page out of the book because for some reason I don’t like it, I see nothing morally wrong with that. And if I want to hack the software for my own use and purposes, I see no moral problem with that either. It’s when I rob the producer of sales, or misrepresent the producer’s work as my own, that I step over the moral line. If it’s shareware, though, I should (and often do) pay if I plan to use it.

It is an example of how corporations and government frame a situation the way they prefer, and we allow them to get by with it by speaking in their terms, acknowledging the moral legitimacy of their framing. We could cease to do that.

  • “The TOS says you agree to take cookies and not to block our ads.”
  • “That conflicts with my own TOS, which say screw you, since there’s nothing you can do about it.”
  • “But you made a legal agreement!”
  • “Great. Sue to enforce it, and see how well that works. I don’t recognize agreements done in slimy ways, like four pages of fine print written in legalese full of hidden gotchas. If you want us to make an agreement, make it up front, sensible, and readable. If it’s not stupid, maybe I’ll agree to it. If it’s stupid, I’ll just say screw you.”
  • “You can’t do that!”
  • “Then stop me. There are a lot of things I would stop you from doing as well, perhaps, but I can’t. Better hope I never can. In the meantime, tough; screw you.”
  • “But the ads are part of our revenue stream!”
  • “The implication is that I care about your future. I don’t; we all have our problems. If you feel that way, then break your site for anyone who blocks them.”
  • “That’s not feasible!”
  • “I’m still waiting to hear how your problem is my problem. Some of your scripts, cookies, and such serve useful purposes for site operation; some are just data mining and shoving stuff in my face. My own TOS, which are not written down but which I consider binding, say that I should avoid all data mining that I can, and that once your site attempts it, you forfeit all moral anything and I can use your site however I want provided I don’t damage it.”
  • “If everyone looked at this your way, we’d have to become a pay site.”
  • “No one held a knife to your neck and required you to publish a website. You think it looks like your office filing cabinet. I think it looks like a billboard. I can look at the billboard all I want, and I don’t owe the billboard any data about myself. And if the billboard demands data, I get to flip off the billboard. Do what you have to do, but I’m not letting you frame this from a standpoint of legal or moral superiority. Legally, there’s nothing practical you can do. Morally, you have done the opposite of establishing moral high ground, turning the gesture of flipping you off into a pleasing act of rebellion. Party on.”

The philosophy in play here is simple: we are not morally obligated to comply with a situation/agreement/TOS just because it has some tortuous legal basis. Law is not morality and shouldn’t ever be mistaken for it. And when we forget that, we are letting government and corporations define all the terms, set all the parameters, dictate right and wrong.

They’d like that, wouldn’t they? They do like that. They hope you will troop along in submission.

And what of my own website, this one? Well, I’m the maintainer, not the user. I can’t do anything about whatever rules WordPress imposes; it imposes some on me, and I have to abide by them or they’ll kick me off. I have no difficulty with that in an ongoing relationship as a trade for a permanent hosting platform, since I get something of value.

But perhaps some users don’t like something about whatever TOS WordPress may have. If so, someone will probably circumvent them, with a minor impact on me–one is user data. But how, then, do I feel about the missing visitor data? I feel great about it. My right to compile visitor data doesn’t reach the moral level of my readers’ right to privacy, and if I ever try to say that it does, someone needs to put me out to pasture. Therefore, if you are reading this yet blocking a bunch of cookies or scripts or what have you, okay. I have no opinion on it. If I were the type to set up hoops for you to jump through, I’d be doing that. I am not, and it’s not feasible, and you could just ignore them, so it’s a stupid discussion that we need never have. I am just glad you are a reader, and that you visited today, and I hope you come back again regularly. Thank you for not plagiarizing or misappropriating; those are all I do ask, and I appreciate that you do not do them.

I hope more of us, in more situations, will require a better reason for obedience than “because a corporation tells us so.”

Typifying headlines

Whether or not I place faith in the media, I feel I need to know what most of them are saying. In most cases, I do not find it hard to imagine a sample headline message that–while perhaps never to be seen word for word–sums up what I expect from them.

Here are some of the places I read:

Fark: “Dragging junk over prosecuting attorneys’ table in courtroom trifecta now in play. Fark: all perps are pregnant females”

Marketwatch: “Dow squats, strains, groans to reach positive territory”

Coaches Hot Seat: “Give those OVERPAID underworked LAZY upper-case-shirking PUNCTUATION-DEPRIVED fools HELL JOHNNY CASH! Even though YOU HAVE BEEN DEAD since 2003!”

Accuweather: “WIND ADVISORY: there will be slight wind, everyone take cover immediately”

Al-Jazeera: “This is what news looks like when America is not special”

Tri-City Herald: “Contractors to trim Hanford jobs, as usual”

Centurylink: “Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot found, no, really”

Oregonian: “New restaurant boasts pizza crust one molecule thick, competition vows thinner crust”

BBC America: “Americans mostly arguing about guns”

RawStory: “Woman fights to wear colander on head on witness stand”

Ehowa: “New online ammo shop now offering free breast pics with purchase”

Nextdoor: “We stupidly let our cat get out, now we want you to help us find it before the coyotes do”

Salon: “This just in: no matter what it is, whatever you are currently doing is the worst and most racist, sexist, homophobic, immoral thing you could possibly do”

Seattle Times Huskies: “Here’s your recap of everything you already learned from harder working sites”

ODOT Tripcheck: “If you came here, you already know the roads suck right now”

EW: “EXCLUSIVE VIDEO FROM AWARD CEREMONIES: actress gains two ounces…or is it a BABY BUMP?”

Fidelity: “We’ve redesigned our whole website to make it so you’ll have to rediscover all the same old clunky features you know and loathe!”

Yahoo NCAA: “#1 team’s best player pulled over for DWI, status for Saturday’s game uncertain”

ESPN NCAA: “Scientific proof that the worst of anything in the SEC is superior to the best of anything else outside the SEC, because SEC”

Amazon: “What the bloody hell will it take to suck you into Prime? We shall not rest until we have the freedom to charge you an annual fee to buy things!”

Addicted to Quack: “Booo hooo hooooo! We experienced a slight setback of the type that every team experiences, and life as we know it is over!”

Angieslist: “No matter what your search results said, you don’t get shit from us unless you pay; and when you do, shit is what you get”

Demystifying Editing and Proofreading

I wrote this for Ajoobacats, an influential and popular book reviewer. It was very kind of her to invite me to weigh in. Special thanks to Diane Anderson, who made the piece better in every way through editing. One of the best ways to learn that one needs an editor is to be an editor, write a piece, find oneself stuck, have another editor look at it and see the problems with ridiculous ease, and sigh with relief at the things she caught that I would not have.

Ajoobacats Blog

Many times, whilst I am reading a book for review, I find the pace varies, the plot stalls, there’s a lack of consistency in the narrative or it is full of little errors and I am left thinking that the book could have been much better if it had been proofread or edited.

However, editing for me is a subject I know little about so I was delighted when freelance writer, editor and proofreader Jonathan at The ‘Lancer generously offered to guest post and explain to me and my readers the technicalities of editing and proofreading in a clear concise and easily understandable manor.

I am honoured and delighted to learn from an experienced and candid literary professional and I hope you will find his thoughts informative too.

An Editor’s Thoughts on Hiring an Editor, by J.K. Kelley

Ajoobacats was so kind as to invite my thoughts on the value…

View original post 1,374 more words

Fun with car dealer service departments

Car dealerships do not get it.

My truck has, or had, a leak somewhere in the cab. My truck is a quarter century old, I am its only owner, and I like it. If someone gave me a free Rolls-Royce, I would sell it. No, I would never want to drive it just the once. I simply don’t get a kick out of driving new cars. Because my truck is that old, there are many potential failure points: rusted floorboard, deteriorating window seal, maybe even a drain line from the heater.

Unless I wanted my well-preserved truck to smell like mildew sooner rather than later, this needed handling. A post on an automotive forum alerted me to the possible causes, got me lots of encouragement to try fixing it myself (no, thank you), and did not get a single respondent answering the question: would I take this to a mechanic, a body shop, or an auto glass place?

So I ended up at the Toyota dealership where most of my fellow Beaverts, or Aloverts, would be likely to go. I made an appointment several days out, kept putting paper towel rolls on the truck floor, and tried not to drive when the weather went full Portland. No matter what I did:

  1. I could not see where the water was leaking in.
  2. It was definitely related to driving, as in, if left to sit in peace, it did not leak.

Clear as mud, right? Now, the Toyota dealer (a species often condemned by Martin Shkreli for low morals) had quoted me $110 to diagnose the problem. With no real idea where to begin, this seemed that rare situation where going to a Toyota dealer service department could benefit a customer, since a dealer has to be able to address (or job out) all the different issues that could arise with their brand. All right, if it costs $110 to figure out what the deal is, if I don’t like the repair quote, I can always take it elsewhere to get the work done. I pull into the service bay, where I sit in my truck reading a book for ten minutes before a service writer comes out to talk. I explain the problem and what I’ve observed so far.”

“How long are you able to leave it with us? We’d really like a few days.”

That got my attention. “I was under the impression you’d spend an hour diagnosing the problem.”

“It can take a lot longer. We have to pull up your panels, rugs, take out your seats, then basically run it under a huge shower and see where the water comes from. Sometimes takes up to eight hours.”

I did some mental math. “In other words, you’re suggesting that you might charge me up to $880 to figure out where the truck cab is leaking. This is not what I was told over the phone.”

“I’m sorry. They’re hard to find. But we–”

I rebuckled my seat belt and turned the ignition key. “You understand, of course, that this means I was deceived over the phone in just about every way. Therefore, I agree to no service today and will not be needing this appointment.”

He stepped back without a word and opened the far bay door, and that was that.

Then I went to the backup plan. When you use Toyota dealer service departments, you need a backup plan. I took it to a mechanic who had gotten a lot of good reviews as an honest guy. He suggested I take it to his favorite auto glass place, and tell them he’d sent me. I did that. They charged $68 to leak-hunt, determined that my windshield was sealed properly, and discovered that all the crud in my vents was preventing water from draining as it should, thus it was overflowing into the firewall. For $50, they would clean it all out. I said “please do so.” They did. $118, please. Here’s my Visa.

$8 more than what the dealer wanted to charge me for diagnostics, problem addressed.

I do not know why Toyota dealer service departments are so typically bad, so underskilled, so overpriced. I know I have yet to meet one I believe should remain in business. While this wasn’t quite as satisfying as when my wife told the sales manager in Hillsboro to go fuck himself (I still get a little misty with pride when I think of it), I’ll admit a thing. The reason I was okay with setting an appointment there was because I was going to benefit either way. Either I would get a solution to my problem, or I would drive off without paying anything, or I would give a Toyota dealership hell’s fire. Couldn’t lose.

In the meantime, everyone who loathes car dealerships can have a little glimmer of joy from today.

Guest post: So You Need a Book Review…

I have in the past offered advice to authors seeking book reviews. Until now, the advice came entirely from my own rather haphazard, quirky reviewing experiences. Clients ask me all the time for marketing advice, and since I am a marketing cretin, mine is not much good.

Today, I get some help from someone who likes reading at least as much as I do. Today we have the perspective of an acclaimed reviewer with an impressive body of work: ajoobacats, who seems to read and review about as many books in a year as there are business days. She has a significant audience, and authors seeking to promote their books are very fortunate to land on her reading schedule. In this guest post, she shares what you need to know and do–and not do–if you hope to shift into that promotional passing lane. Without further ado, and with my thanks for her willingness to share what she has learned:

So You Need a Book Review…

ajoobacatsI am a prolific reader and reviewer. In 2015 I read 235 books and reviewed the majority of them. I am ranked within the top 1000 Amazon UK reviewers. I have been receiving book review requests since I registered myself on various websites like Tweet Your Books, The Indieview, Netgalley etc in 2012. I receive a heavy stream of review requests from authors and publicists, the majority of which I have to pass on as there aren’t enough hours in the day. However, if you want your book to be in the small percentage of books I and other keen reviewers read and review, here are some tips on how to approach a reviewer.

Remember reviewers are voluntarily donating time to review your book to help you market them, simply for the reward of reading. Most of the reviewers you approach are enthusiastic bibliophiles, who have towering to-be-read piles of books and are inundated with book choices both free and paid from numerous sites on the internet. Those that like the sound of your book description really do want to like your book.

Firstly, and this might seem very obvious, but is frequently overlooked, see if the reviewer reads the genre your book belongs to. I get a huge number of review requests to read Non-Fiction books by writers who have obviously not read any of my blog including the guidelines page which outlines what type of books I read. Requests for such reviews often get deleted without even opening them. Why? Well, I don’t enjoy every book out there and in order to maximise my chances to spending the finite time I have on this earth to read on books I have a greater likelihood to enjoy I must limit my choices by genre.

Try to approach a reviewer like you would want to be approached by a stranger asking for your time. You’re more likely to get someone to read your book if you are personable. Rubbing people up the wrong way does not entice them to give you time or anything else. When you contact the reviewer do so according to guidelines given on their blog or profile. Just like you reviewers are busy and need to organise themselves in order to devote time needed to read and review. If a reviewer has given a certain email contact for book requests, please do use that email to contact them. Personally, when I get review requests by other means I’m less likely to accept and read that book. I compile my reading list according to the date I receive a review copy by email.

Make sure you understand the reviewers policy completely. Not all reviewers will leave a review if the book doesn’t appeal to them. I personally do not write reviews for books I would award two stars or less and do not routinely publish three star reviews on my blog. Reviewers who are accepting review requests are usually bombarded by review requests and for most their extensive reading lists are booked weeks in advance, but a lot of them do try very hard to get reviews published in time for book release dates, provided you give them a reasonable period of time (for me 6-8 weeks) to plan the review according to your book release schedule.

Please try not to heckle the reader. The majority have other jobs and obligations and if they keep having to answer emails from you about how the book is going it slows them down. Also, it can be very difficult to have your work criticised and I personally hate writing negative reviews and do so very reluctantly, so if the reviewer does not give you a favourable review, please just move on. There will be other readers who will like it, but if you give up based on a small sample of reviews you may never find those readers. If the same points keep coming up on review it may be prudent to find an alternative proof reader or editor. Unfortunately, it’s not a level playing field and reviewers reading your book are also probably reading big publishing house books too which have been expensively marketted, edited and packaged. The scale of rating your book will be the same as the one they apply to other books, so it isn’t realistic to expect typos, errors and other editing issues to go unnoticed because you’re an independent writer. If you’re charging money for your book, the reader has a right to a certain level of quality from your work.

In summary, marketing your book may not be your most favourite part of being an author but if you’re trying to reach people a little research and information about them will cut down in the time you spend effectively requesting reviews. You may do everything I’ve mentioned above and a reviewer still may not pick up your book, but with several thousand readers/reviewers out there and finding the right ones is definitely rewarding. Organising contact with a group of reviewers who share the same taste in books as you will pay dividends in the long run.


To read more of ajoobacats’ work, you can visit her blog, its Facebook presence, or Pinterest., I’m not very good at social media, and made an unsuccessful attempt to create a link to her Twitter presence, but the blog has one that I presume will work. I took the time to read a number of her more recent reviews, and was impressed with her insight. I believe you will feel likewise.


How not to solicit a book review

It’s gotten better, but a fair number of self-publishers still don’t grasp the reality: if your book doesn’t get a dozen or so reviews, real soon after publication, you can stick a fork in it. I counsel them over and over, and their lips say “yes, yes,” but their eyes say “sorry, marketing is yucchy, I am tuning you out now.”

If one wants to sell one’s book, one needs to locate and approach the right reviewers in a timely and effective fashion. I’m going to walk you through a recent one, with names and titles changed, and what it did wrong, and why its author won’t even get a polite “no, thank you” from me.


Dear Amazon Reviewer, [Translation: “I sent out such a massive mailing that I didn’t acquaint myself with your interests at all. I would like for you to know me by name, but to me, your name is ‘Amazon Reviewer.’ Got it?”]

My name is Jean-Norma Sphicolith and I have written a book called `Bulimic Diet-500 Thrilling Recipes for Weight Loss and Improved Health`. [And I don’t know how to convert text in an email to a link.]

I found a review you had written for a similar publication and thought that my book could be of interest to you as well. [I can’t tell you which publication, because in truth, I just gathered up hundreds of these. If you ask me what the ‘similar publication’ is, I can’t even start to answer you. I have no idea that you have only ever reviewed one single recipe book and that your main body of work is in unrelated fields.]

I would be truly grateful if you could check out my book and leave me an honest review. [Preferably one that doesn’t fault me for my adverb dependency. Preferably one that lauds and blesses me. I expect you to believe that I will be ‘truly grateful’ if you give me one star and a blistering pan.]

Your opinion would be highly appreciated! [It’s not as if I just said this.]

My book is available right now for only $2.99. (Here’s where she had the actual link.) [Of course, I hope you won’t make me give you a free one. I hope you won’t think of me as a La Cheapa, in spite of the evidence. Yes. It is my belief that the way this works is that you should pay me for the privilege of helping me market my book. I see nothing odd about this.]

I would also be more than happy to send you my book as a gift so you don`t have to purchase it. Please specify if you want the book sent directly to you or receive an Amazon gift card to buy the book yourself. [Oh, all right, all right, it was a longshot anyway. Now I hope to imply that it’s you who are the cheapskate by asking me for a review copy. I have no concept of the probability that you are committing yourself to reading a bad book, then trying to be compassionate to a lousy writer. I think only of my own situation and so should you. That is, you also should think only of my own situation. You don’t get a situation. You are only relevant to me to the extent that you are helping me market my book.]

Again, your feedback would be most welcome. [And I think third repetition is a charm!]

Jean-Norma Sphicolith
Author and Nutritionist [Because if I haven’t drawn you in by this point, my professional credentials should do so.]

Most of Ms. Sphicolith’s mistakes had to do with lazy research. She didn’t learn anything about the reviewer. She looked up diet books or recipe books, harvested a bunch of emails, and spammed us all. In so doing, she communicated that it wasn’t important to her if we responded. Okay, well, then it’s not important to me either. When people want a response from me, they call me by name and tell me the reason they’re asking for one.

She really blew a tire when she first tried to get the reviewer to buy her book, then reluctantly mentioned that if buying was a no go, she’d provide a free copy (but if you take it, she leaves the hanging implication that you’re cheap and not nice). Reviewers look at many mostly bad books, and suffer through a lot of bad writing. Their only compensation for it is the review copy. To deny them that shows no understanding of what they experience.

Then she didn’t show much in the way of writing chops. Reviewers are looking at the writing in the inquiry, deciding whether or not they want to commit to several hundred pages of it. If the writing isn’t very interesting, why should they think the book will be? If this is how the author writes when she is doing her very best to sell books, and it’s not that great, does one believe the writing in the book will be better? And it might.

But I will never find out. Nor will Ms. Sphicolith. Since my name isn’t Amazon Reviewer, that email wasn’t addressed directly to me, thus I don’t even owe a courteous decline.

Blogging freelance writing and life in general.


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