Monthly Archives: July 2011

What’s in a Book Review?

A funny thing happened on my way to “birthing” my fifth book: I began to seriously consider the value of book reviews. This may seem odd, because many authors believe book reviews are crucial to the success of their book. They aren’t…directly. I’ve had several of my books reviewed in key places in the past and I can probably count on one hand the number of copies that were sold as a direct result of the review. So, what’s the point?

Actually, books reviews play a very important role in the marketing of your book even if you can’t expect them to translate into many direct sales. The idea is to raise awareness of your book to create a platform that will then generate sales.

But, back to book reviews….

First of all, let’s distinguish between endorsements and book reviews. Endorsements are statements, usually solicited by the author or publisher, explicitly designed to sell or promote the book. In marketing lingo, this would be consider “unearned” advertising. The endorsers usually understand and know the game and they will provide you with a quote–an “endorsement”–that you can use for this purpose. They aren’t independent and they aren’t objective. They nevertheless serve a very important role (and in many ways may be more important than book reviews), but I’ll talk more about endorsements in a separate blog post, but right now I want to focus on book reviews.

Book reviews are essays by independent (hopefully knowledgeable) readers who evaluate the content of your book. They give recommendations. While a few book reviewers carry a lot of weight, most toil in relative anonymity. Authors covet the book review because of where it will appear (e.g., The New York Times, the local newspaper, a key magazine, etc.) rather than the personality.

The most important goal of a book review is to help legitimize your book through an independent source. This is particularly important for new authors or established authors branching out into a new genre (as I am with my fiction). Several companies provide these reviews for free, including Bookreview.comMidwest Book Review, AllBooksreview.com and Readerviews.com. For examples of book reviews from some these companies, plus a few specialized ones, see those for my first novel, The Pirate of Panther Bay.

Then, brace yourself. As much as you might love your book, there’s no guarantee that reviewers will. But, that’s okay. If you’ve produced a quality product, you’ll get a decent review with a few choice comments you can use for your broader marketing effort. So, for example, The Pirate of Panther Bay was strong enough that reviewers called it a “swashbuckling tale of piracy, action, and romance,” a book that “remains true to the real world of pirates and Spain’s desire to reign over the new world.” Not bad!

These are quotes that can be used in flyers and other promotational materials.  They are all positive and independent voices weighing in on your book. And that builds legitimacy for your books and your position as a author.

For more on book reviews, take a look at Irene Watson’s comments over at Blogging Authors.

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Putting the Squeeze on New Authors

Previously I’ve discussed how the modern publishing world has changed, and authors need to understand what these changes means if they want to be successful. I have a guest post over at Blogging Authors that discusses this issue in more depth. Using the case of a close friend who recently secured a publishing contract with an established publisher, but was turned down by a literary agent, I note in part:


The key point is that mainstream presses have largely abandoned the “small” (niche) book market; they are signing authors with wide name recognition or marketing “platforms” that can guarantee initial press runs in the tens of thousands of books. Agents have found their money in matching publishers with potential big sellers, not cultivating new talent.

The implications are pretty important for authors, particularly new ones, who now find themselves with fewer and fewer options among established publishers.

Take a gander through the complete blog post over at Blogging Authors as well as my previous posts on this blog here and here.




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Female Characters in Children’s Fiction

I recently read an article co-authored by Florida State University sociologist Janice McCabe about gender in 20th century children’s literature in the journal Gender & Society (June 2011). After examining the contents of 5,618 books, she and her coauthors found that male characters were about twice as common as female characters. Fortunately, more recent books tend to have more female characters, but it struck me that this imbalance is out of whack with contemporary culture.

Her research struck a chord with me because I’ve always tried to incorporate strong female characters into my stories. In fact, I find the female characters most interesting, perhaps in part because their values and actions go against traditional type. (This is certainly the case with Isabella, the teenage captain who is the lead character in The Pirate of Panther Bay.) This is also true for for Lucy, a critical member of the trio of heros in A Warrior’s Soul.

Ironically, Huffington Post assistant editor Laura Hibbard published an article on the same subject, but with a different take, in the context of Hermione’s character in the JK Rowling Harry Potter book series and films. Hibbard is particularly grateful of Hermione’s strong, intelligent character and her platonic friendship with Harry.

Nevertheless, I think it’s more important that the characters be layered, integrated well into the story, and drawn overall well in the context of the plot and relationships. So, it’s important not to put too much stock in a numbers game; it’s not how many female characters a book has that’s important. So, it would be odd, implausiable historically, and likely unbelievable if Isabella were captain of a ship of female pirates. The story is richer because she is a lead character trying to wrestle with the problems of a male-dominated pirate and broader colonial culture.

I discuss this issue in more depth in a video log I posted on my Youtube channel.

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