I’ve come across a few articles recently huffing and puffing about the awfulness of the concept of paying for book reviews. I can’t understand why some people get so worked up about it. What is so morally wrong about an author paying an experienced book reviewer to review their book and post the review in the relevant places, such as their own book blog if they have one and on Amazon, Goodreads, and so on? You’re not buying their opinion – just their time and expertise. You’re paying for a service, in the same way that you might pay an editor to edit your book, or an architect to design you a house.

Relying on friends, relatives and the general public to turn out reviews is usually very disappointing. It takes a very committed person to regularly turn in reviews voluntarily. Even if readers enjoy your book and thoroughly intend to write a review of it. often as not life gets in the way and then they forget.  And on top of that they may not be very good at reviewing. Book reviewing is quite a skill and not everyone can write interestingly about something they’ve read. The secret is to give a brief synopsis but without revealing too much of the story, and then to express a considered opinion of the book’s and the author’s merits. You need to touch on characterization, plot, language, pace and so on, not simply trot out a few sentences about what happens to the heroine.

Book reviews are considered very good publicity and no one complains about authors paying for advertising space on relevant websites or in magazines. That’s not seen as somehow underhand or disreputable. I think there’s a slight case of double standards going on out there.

If you’re prepared to pay for a timely, professional book review then that’s your choice and, in my opinion, it’s a very wise one.

Not long ago I featured a guest post byPeter Ubtrent, a science fiction writer I admire very much. I’ve now read two more of his books and wanted to share my reviews of them with you.

First up, Seed of Power, which is the second book in the Dark Pilgrim series.Ailanthus, Tethys and their rather unlikely band of friends, having escaped from the horrific penal colony of K’ar Krack’a, begin to attempt to build new lives. But the world they find themselves in isn’t really much different, full of criminals and liars all trying to steal credits and simply survive. There is conflict and tension everywhere – between The Church of the Blessed Prophets and the struggling Imperium, between some of the various alien species, and within the Imperium itself. Too many people are after personal power or revenge. Rohini becomes a key figure in keeping the Imperium’s collapse at bay since the new Emperor is neither popular nor diplomatic. And he needs Ailanthus’ help.

The dystopian view of humanity so evident in Dark Pilgrim Rising continues in this novel, so when loyalty, courage and honesty do appear, they shine like beacons. Familiar characters are further developed and new ones introduced. Unresolved issues and hints that surfaced in the previous book are dealt with, but new ones emerge to intrigue us. Themes and subplots weave through the story, carrying us towards the exciting conclusion that leaves us wanting to continue following this imaginative and epic science fiction adventure. This talented author plunges the reader into a rich, persuasive and fascinating alternate universe. He packs more into a page in terms of linguistic ability and sheer entertainment than many authors do in an entire book.

Next comes Dark Throne. This is the third book in the absorbing Dark Pilgrim series. “I am Bhasan Volans, son of Deneb Aquila Volans, and I am the Emperor of the Imperium,” announces Ailanthus during a meeting with the Druzsni leadership. He’s only pretending at the time. Whether he is or isn’t, and whether he can or cannot bring himself to be assume this role, is the uniting theme of this book, set in a very disunited galaxy. Ailanthus feels nothing but antipathy towards the Imperium. Can he really be expected to lead it? Can he bring peace to the huge diversity of co-existing lifeforms that include humans, Kroor, Dwad Mehstiv, Ynos, Morype Slugs, H’Chalk and Druzsni. If that’s not enough, the Lord Cardinals of The Church of the Blessed Prophet continue to scheme and complicate matters in their attempts to retain control of both the Church and the Imperium. Can Ailanthus control them?

If it’s possible, I feel this book is even more neatly structured than its predecessors. It open and closes with references to the Ynos, threatened at first but posing a threat themselves at the end. There is betrayal throughout, in small and big gestures. Not only does Ailanthus face it, but he knows he will perpetrate it himself if he is to unite the warring galaxy. In the prologue we see Marines spilling out of their ship “like a virus”. Another virus runs rampant both through the galaxy and the book. The epilogue closes with the observation that humans are chaotic, but this meticulously organised and tightly constructed novel suggests the exact opposite, at least from this human author!

Do check out Peter’s website at www.ubtrentbooks.com. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but his book covers are brilliant.

Peter will be appearing on the Author Show on 22nd March. Listen out for the interview.

 

I’m in a quandary and temporarily disheartened. I really don’t know what to do regarding promotion and marketing. I’ve been spending hours on Twitter and various author platform websites such as Author Outbreak, Goodreads, Library Thing etc. But I’m seriously starting to wonder what’s the point. It seems the only other people out there are other authors. I’ve bought some of their books, and a couple of people have bought mine – but if we only ever sell to each other, I don’t think we’ll do very well. Writers don’t get much time for reading on top of self-promoting and writing, and they’re not the wealthiest folk either.

How do you get out there to the readers? Maybe through reviews on Amazon and Smashwords? However, people will only find those if they look you or your book up i.e. they still need to know about you first. But how to get them to that stage?

I’m guessing that the personal website is the key starting point. If you can build up followers to your website that will hopefully turn into buyers for your books, then at least you’re spreading beyond the fellow indie author market.  So I shall cut down the time I spend on social media for a while and put more time and effort into my websites. And my writing. I still think it’s best of all to keep writing and fit the marketing activities around that, and not the other way round.

I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed reviewing books. I used to do it regularly for the Cork Examiner back in Ireland, predominantly children’s books. I’m doing it for myself these days regarding books about life in France – go to the book reviews section of this website. And, via Twitter, I’ve picked up on calls by publishers for people to review their books for their blogs. This has led to me reviewing Expat Women, and I’m currently impatiently awaiting a copy of Armand Cabasson’s The Officer’s Prey by Gallic Books to read and review.

I have also joined the Reader’s Favorite team of reviewers. The first book I reviewed for them was 33 Days by Bill See. This wasn’t a book I might have picked off the shelves otherwise, and that would have been a shame, since this is a very gripping, inspiring book. Here’s my review of it.

33 days by Bill See is the fascinating account of what turns out to be a life-changing tour by young, hungry rock group Divine Weeks, who get into their van in 1987 and go and look for fame. Dave, George, Raj and Bill, organized by Ian, yo-yo between gigs with a handful in the audience, to packed-out venues. One moment they’re having TV and radio interviews, the next they are literally begging for food. There are highs and lows, good times and bad. They meet some great people but brush shoulders with the sleazy side of life too. They give their all on the stage. They fall asleep at the wheel. Sleeping on floors or in the van, the band does what it takes to achieve this ambition of getting out there and being necessary, being relevant. Sure, there’s drinks and drugs and groupies, but the overriding note of this book is triumph and achievement.

Along the way, someone asks them what happens if the tour is a flop. The author replies: “We’re more concerned with what happens if we don’t try.” This is a book about going for it and giving it your all. It’s written in diary format that cleverly weaves in flashbacks to childhood times and reflects on moments in the author’s difficult relationship with on-off girlfriend Mary. It’s not just an account of a road trip but of a spiritual journey too. For Bill See, the tour was about “deliverance, redemption and transcendence”. Things would never be quite the same again afterwards.

This book contains swearing and adult scenes.

 

Book reviewing seems to be cropping up on various blogs at the moment (e.g. the Blood Red Pencil, Self-Publishing Advisor, Carolyn Howard Johnson’s Sharing with Writers – and that’s just in the last day or so. Authors are prepared to pay a lot of money for book reviews. The sort of sums mentioned seem scary and might swallow up a lot of royalties. But it shows the importance people place on an objective, or better still, a good review.

The reviewer misquoted me - I was mad!

I enjoy reviewing books. I did English at University and I don’t seem to have got out of the habit of critically appraising everything I read, from cereal packets upwards! You get more out of a book if you think about it as you read it, I find.

Here are my 5 tips for book reviewers.

  1. Read the book – every word. You owe it to the author. It’s not enough to read the blurb, the first chapter or so and then the last one. You can spot reviews that cheat. They’re vague and clichéd. I repeat, read every word. I once got a rotten review for my book Scooter Gang: Mobile Madness, but I wouldn’t have minded it half so much if the guy hadn’t misquoted me!
  2. Check out the publisher’s and author’s websites to get some background info about the person.
  3. Be interesting. Don’t kill a good book with a dull review.
  4. Be fair. Not many books are all bad. Even if you find you can’t stand it, there will be something good about it somewhere. OK the plot’s awful, but the author used good imagery. The characters suck but the dialogue is lively.
  5. Be professional. Write well, structure your review, do your research. The author put a lot of work into the book. Put a lot of work into your review.

 

 

I’ve finally found my first totally free Kindle book. I’ve been rather miffed to find that all the free books I’d seen advertised and tried to get hold of up until now were either unavailable to my Kindle in France, or had to be paid for (not much admittedly, a few dollars, but they weren’t free). However, idly looking up ‘Oakley’ (my maiden name) on my Kindle last night, I came across a book called The Princess and Joe Potter by James Otis and illustrated by Violette Oakley. And it was definitely free. I had to get it! But I can’t read it. It’s too nineteenth century with the lower class characters speaking in sentences like “He was willin’, so long’s I ‘greed to be careful about fire, an’ well … there’s nothin’ to keep you from comin’ down to-night and seein’ it” and “I s’pose we’ll have a high old time between now and mornin’, ‘cause that kid, sweet as she’s lookin’ jest now, ain’t goin’ to be quiet.” Way too annoying! And no illustrations by my possible distant relative in sight. I’m beginning to see why it was free now!

So I’ll carry on reading A Song for Europe by Simon Lipson on my Kindle instead, so I can do a timely review of it to coincide with The Eurovision Song Contest, compulsive viewing in our household. It’s a very funny, delightfully readable story that I’m enjoying no end.

Do check out the reviews on this site. I’ve just added one on Martin Calder’s A Summer in Gascony which is a really excellent book.

And now, time to get on with writing my own books for the Kindle…