Sunday, July 8, 2012

A book blogger and an indie author walk into a bar ...

... and the blogger turns to the indie and says ... and says ....
Dang, I still haven't come up with a good punch line for that. Maybe by the end of this post I'll have one—something witty or profound.
I'm willing to bet, however, that if you're a book blogger, an indie author, or simply an avid reader who follows literary blogs, you might have a few punch line ideas of your own.

Okay, here's one for ya: What's the difference between indie and self-published? Answer: Spin.
Personally, I tend to refer to myself as indie more than self-published. Indie reeks of maverick. "Yeah, I chose this route. Goin' rogue, baby. I'm a free-spirit, I control my own destiny." While self-published screams, "I couldn't get an agent." Truthfully, both realities apply to me, but you can see why I lean toward indie.
Here's a good one: How many indie authors does it take to screw in a light bulb?  Answer: Just one, but they need several literary bloggers to help them reach the socket. True story.
There's a symbiotic new relationship that's emerged from the publishing revolution; that of the literary/book review blogger and the indie author. Sadly, it appears this still-budding relationship is quickly being pushed to its limits. Bloggers are breaking up with us at an alarming rate. Why? Because a lot of what they've taken a chance on simply wasn't worth their time. And they're being inundated with daily review requests for more of the same. 
For a while there, indies were the intriguing new kids on campus. Now it seems our reputation has become more than a little tarnished. Some are whispering not-so-nice things about us and it's possible we have no one to blame but ourselves. (That and maybe a few nasty rumors written on bathroom walls by agents and publishers.)
I can't help but want to step in and offer some relationship counseling. I'm convinced there are some things we as indies can do to ensure book bloggers don't break up with us for good. With that in mind I'd like to offer my version of the THREE  R's. (Only in mine, they all actually start with the letter "R" - that always troubled me.)
As you contemplate going indie and self-publishing your novel or non-fiction book, remember, you are representing me and every other indie out there. That's why I'm begging you, don't pull the upload trigger until it's really, REALLY ready.
Let's face it, the first several incarnations of any book start out as, well, crap. It's what we as writers do with that steaming pile, that counts. You've probably read it elsewhere but apparently it needs to be repeated whenever possible: Do not write "the end" and immediately upload it for sale. If we want literary bloggers and their followers to treat us as equals to the their favorite traditionally published authors, the burden rests with us to produce material of that caliber or damn close. This means having our work edited and proofed by others. The new publishing revolution has spawned a ton of individuals ready, willing, and able to help take self-published books to the next level—beta groups, proofers, editors, formatters. Find these people and use them—no excuses.
All indie authors are currently dealing with the fallout from a deluge of poorly written and unedited self-published books flooding the market. Stuff people banged out over Easter break, slapped a lack-luster cover on, and uploaded for sale. Suddenly, bloggers who were initially open to reviewing indies are shutting their doors to us in droves.
Can a turd be polished into a diamond? In the writing world, the answer is, YES. And we damn well better. While the bulk of us didn't land a publishing deal, it's our responsibility to make sure our work looks like we did. The goal of every indie author should be to deliver a manuscript that makes people say, "I can't believe this book didn't land a publishing deal!"
RESPECT—It's a two way street.
When approaching a literary blogger to review your shiny new diamond, take the time to actually READ THEIR BLOG! I can't tell you how much I've learned from all the YA book blogs I've visited while querying with review requests.
Read the blogger's “About” page. You'll learn all kinds of interesting things about them, maybe even something that tells you why they are indeed a good match for your book. Always check out some of their reviews, you'll not only end up with a great TBR list of your own, you'll get a feel for what they love. And what they don't.
Most important of all: READ AND ABIDE BY THEIR REVIEW POLICY. These people started blogging as an extension of their passion for reading. Let's not F that up for them. Most now find themselves bombarded daily by emails from authors seeking reviews—some from the traditionally published but most from indies. You can bet a good portion of these betray the fact that the author didn't bother to read their blog OR their policies. Really, you expect them to take a chance on you when you're acting more like a spammer than a professional author? Get a clue. Oh, and get in line behind me—'cause I just sent off a short, clear, and concise review request that shows I spent some time on their blog.
If you're self-published like me, there was likely a time when you were querying agents, and maybe some publishers. If you've gone indie (and you're savvy) you realize who now holds the keys to the kingdom. That's right, literary bloggers are your new gatekeepers. Several solid reviews, author interviews, and guest posts on book review blog sites can go a long way to spreading the word about your book.
Unlike agents, literary bloggers do not get paid for finding the next great book - it's purely a labor of love. Most of them are backlogged with stacks of books to review but are still willing to help promote you in other ways. Take them up on it, and have gratitude for whatever they are willing to do to help you, then cross-promote them in your own social media marketing.
Since relationships require effort on both parts, for book bloggers, I'm going to recommend the  THREE C’s.
A lot of bloggers already do this but it really helps if you have a very clear and easy-to-find “Review Policy” on your site. If its got its own tab and page, even better. I would even go so far as to recommend that it be separate from your "About" page. Personally, I appreciate reading about the blogger as a person, separate from the business end of things (contest & review policies, etc.).
Most YA review blogs I visit have a lot going on. In addition to reviews, there are boxes, links, and buttons galore: memes, challenges, book tours, contests, grab-my-button, followers box, and so on. If your review policy is hard to find, it only encourages the lazy to fire off a review request to you regardless of your policies. In their mind, it's a case of "What have I got to lose?" Sadly, a lot. We all lose when bloggers get inundated and kick indies to the curb.
Make it really clear whether or not you accept ebooks. If you do, great. If not, that's fine too. Just put that info. in your "Review Policy" so those with ebooks only know where they stand. And it need not be a lengthy, emotional dissertation. Personally, I liken the physical book vs ebook debate to The War Between the North and the South. It's over. In this case the winner is not one or the other—it's both. And I highly doubt there will ever be staged re-enactments of the battle between the physical book and the ebook.
Good fences make for good neighbors. If you do decide to take a chance on indie authors, decide on your boundaries as well. That way you won't get overwhelmed and end up closing to self-published authors altogether. I've seen a few bloggers state something like this in their review policy: "I accept a limited number of indie authors. If you'd like me to consider reviewing a self-published book, please include the first chapter in your review request." This is smart. If a review request arrives with no first chapter, you know they haven't read your review policy. And hey, if I can't hook you with the first chapter, then I'm not for you and this dance is over.
If you are open to indie authors, you obviously have a bit of that maverick spirit yourself. Fly your freak flag. There's nothing I love more than seeing the button "I Support Indie Authors" which was started by blogger Alex Bennett of Electrifying Reviews. Seeing that button on a blog is like a welcome mat in what can feels like an "Indies need not apply" blogiverse. And for those bloggers who are relatively new to the game, accepting and promoting indie books is a great way to stand out from the crowd. I'm starting to see more blogs that focus exclusively on reviewing books by indie authors.
A lot of YA book bloggers are self-proclaimed nerds—the weird kid, the bookworm, the last one picked for teams. Yet, when it comes to their take on indie authors (who happen to share that "outsider" label) a lot of them suddenly sign up with the popular kids (literary agents and publishers) in snubbing indies. 

If you do have a negative opinion of indie authors, I hope it's your own. I've read a few that sound suspiciously like they were cut and pasted from a literary agent or traditional publisher's website. We've already had our share of rejection from the popular click. If you're not currently accepting indies, that's cool. A simple, well-crafted statement that doesn’t make us feel like literary lepers is best.
SO, with all this being said, if indie authors step it up and do our part, will book bloggers and their followers continue to stick with us? Still on the fence about indies? Let me help. One of the more whimsical spots I've done on YA blogs is the “This or That” interview. Maybe we should do one now to determine if you're willing to take a chance on a few indie authors.
Pavement OR Off-road?
Charted course OR Huh, wonder where this road leads?
Well-stocked trout pond OR Deep sea fishing?
Book that everybody and their brother has reviewed OR Book the rest of the pack hasn't heard of yet?
Building an ark out of ARC's OR Don't need trophies, just good stories?
Straight up OR Rocks?
(Ignore that last one. This post was tougher than I thought and I could use a drink.)
So, how will our story end, this relationship between the literary blogger and the indie author? Can we salvage this thing and have a future together? You tell me.
Here's my version: A book blogger and an indie author walk into a bar, and the blogger turns to the indie and says .... I loved your book! I can't believe it didn't land a publishing deal. Can I buy you a drink?