Friday, September 18, 2020

What Do Reviews REALLY Mean?

 Writers obsess over reviews. Their book comes out and they want to see people say amazing things about their work. Look, I get it. We all want to have great praise from someone. There is not a better feeling! Add in the fact that your editors can now add some of those great quotes in the front of your book talking about how amazing you are. Hey, if you are ever having a bad day, just go back and read those great quotes. But let's talk a bit of reality here. 

For so many readers out there, those reviews do not matter. Heck, most readers never even see those reviews. 

I want to start first with those AMAZON reviews and stars. As an agent, I could care less about those stars. We know that many writers out there have what are known as a "Street Team." These are friends and people who are there to flood the reviews with great things about the author's book. Are these people biased? Of course they are. So, when we see reviews like this, we often discount those.

Now, what about all of those book reviewers out there. Unless you are a follower of those book reviewers you won't even see the comments. Take Romantic Times. When this was coming out, it was the writers, editors and agents who subscribed to it. The everyday reader spent their money on the books, not a list of reviews. Yes, places like Good Reads really tries to promote this, but most of your sales are not going to come from people who follow that. Your average reader just does not see it.

If we want to talk about the major lists such as the New York Times or USA Today, these are lists based on sales and not those of people who like or don't like the book. So, scratch that one off the list. Yes, having the ability to say you were on one or both of the lists is great, but it does not make someone buy your book more or less. 

I am betting, that even those cover quotes and the reviews listed in the front of your book are often overlooked by the readers. By the way, have you ever noticed that those reviews were for other books the author wrote and not that one? Makes you think, huh?

Now, do I think you should avoid getting reviews? No way! Any thing you can do to pick up at least one more reader is great promotion. Just remember, in the end, it is the quality of the book that sells and not the review of someone who already liked you.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Making Your Book For Everyone Will Not Happen

 I see a lot of authors in their query letters talk about how their books reach out to a wide variety of people. Mostly, I see this as they try to argue that their book crosses so many different genre lines. While cross genre writing does work, attempting to make your book reach everyone is not often going to work. 

Think of it this way. People who read historical fiction like this genre because of the nuances it provides. People who read sci-fi like it for the same reason. In many cases, readers frequently do not shift between those genres. As you write your stories, trying to blend those genres might often work against you. 

Along the same lines, if you are thinking that your book becomes more marketable if you can meet so many different populations, it might sound good, but again, realize that your story really does have a target audience and focusing in on that is going to be much more effective.

As an agent, I love to see an author know exactly what their story is and who it targets. This really does demonstrate your knowledge of the business. When I see someone someone throwing everything out there, this really tends to demonstrate someone who is just hoping something "sticks." In many ways this is like those authors who send out a mass email to every agent or editor. 

Don't try to reach out to everyone. Focus, focus, focus! You'll be much happier.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Using "Comps" In Your Query Letter

 As you write your query letters to editors and agents, you want to showcase how your story fits within the current market. This is also a chance to really showcase how your story is competitive and why the editor or agent would want to read more or sign you as a client. Of course this is really a difficult challenge because you are trying to keep the initial query short and sweet. One of the best ways to work around this is through using "Comps" or Comparable Stories to show a bit more of your project.

Essentially, "comps" are stories from other established authors that you can say your story is really similar to. This might be similarities in terms of themes, characters or voice. When you do this, you are essentially riding on the coat-tails of the other author. 

For example, you may have written a women's fiction piece about a couple of women trying to find their place in the world. Together, the two of them learn things about each other and about themselves through their adventures. This is a pretty common trope. But you can add to this by saying it has similar elements as seen in something like THELMA AND LOUISE or BOYS ON THE SIDE. Using these give the agent or editor something that he or she might be able to relate to.

But here are some things that I want you to consider.

First, you have to take the time to explain WHY your story is equal to those projects. If all you have is that these are road trip movies and your story is to, that is not enough. Show us a bit more in terms of depth talking about themes or messages.

Secondly, make sure that you are picking projects that are pretty familiar. While editors and agents do read, we might not be reading that obscure Argentinian author from the 1960's. 

Finally, make sure that your comps are not all over the place. You will notice I used two similar movies to make the comparison in my example. What I see a lot of is something such as:

My story is very similar to the Harry Potter series, Gone with the Wind and Sponge Bob Squarepants.


Now, do you have to include comps? Absolutely not. If you really cannot make a comparison, then don't force the issue. 

Monday, September 14, 2020

What Are You Doing To Fix The Problem

It is amazing, but in today's world, it is so easy to throw the blame at a lack of a solution, or the reason a problem is occurring. We see this in politics now. It is the Democrats' fault. It's the Republicans' fault., it is ... I think you get the idea. In education, we blame the teachers or blame the students, or blame the environment. And yes, the same thing happens in publishing.

I do not go a single day without seeing some post by an author on social media blaming someone else for the lack of their book getting picked up by an editor or agent, or blaming someone else about book sales. While these might be the reasons for something not happening, it is always important to ask yourself:

Am I part of the problem too?

If you are not liking how the sales are going on your book, what steps are you personally taking? For example, if you publisher does not seem to be pushing your books as much as you want through social media outlets, aren't these things you can also do? You have the same access. You can do the same art work with your covers. So, step it up!

Let's talk about book covers and titles. If you don't like what you see, are you bothering to say anything about it? I know the publishers I work with have the authors provide extensive suggestions and consider those ideas. If you feel that you don't have any say, you are really mistaken here.

Now, let's talk about submissions. If you are getting a lot of rejections, I hate to break it to you, it is not the world working against you. There is likely something you are doing. Submitting to the wrong person? Not working to a market? Not reading the guideline? (NOTE: Most of my rejections come from these problems).

The deal is, you ARE part of the equation. Spending all of the time complaining about things is not going to get you anywhere. Blaming other people is not going to get those book sales going. You have to take charge.