Jennifer Becton » Skidding in Sideways

Saturday, January 1, 2011

MOVIN' ON UP

My blog has moved here. Please join me at my new online home.

In case you forget or if you just enjoy using Blogger, I am still (sort of) updating here. Above this post, you will see links to all my new blog posts. Click there to read the new stuff.

I appreciate every reader, so please come on over.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Week of Whimsy: Meet My Cat

Before I wrote Charlotte Collins, I was--and still am--a freelance editor employed by contract by two small presses. As a freelancer, my motto has always been "feast or famine." Either I had too much work or none at all. So if work came along during holidays, I had to take it.


This year, however, I decided to take the week of Christmas off. It feels so decandent to take time off, and so, I've decided to have a week of whimsy here on Skidding in Sideways. No serious talk. Just fun.

So, without further ado, allow me to introduce you to my writing partner: Puttytat.

Puttytat literally showed up on our doorstep one winter night seven years ago. She was extremely skittish--and is still terrified of most other humans--but apparently, my husband and I were deemed acceptable, and she moved herself in. Actually, she took over the household. She also played a large role in the writing of Charlotte Collins; she sat in my lap for most of its composition and made sure I remained in front of the computer through several drafts. Her self-appointed task is to keep our property varmint-free, a job that she takes very seriously. She patrols the perimeter of our yard daily, and sometimes, she leaves us gifts on the sidewalk. She has assassinated bugs, lizards, mice, moles, birds, skinks, rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, and a bat. (Still trying to figure out how she got the bat.) She also fulfills the roles of alarm clock, court jester, and lap warmer.

I am so thankful that Puttytat decided to make us her humans.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Jane Austen Birthday Celebration

On this day 235 years ago, Jane Austen was born. Her life was short, enduring only forty-one years, and rather sheltered. She travelled little and spent most of her time with her family and a close circle of friends, and she only received one marriage proposal, which she turned down. By today's standards, Jane Austen was very sheltered indeed and not at all a person one would expect to make an impact on the literary world.

Still, Ms. Austen did something few people ever do: she created books that continue to touch people's hearts centuries later. Her novels may not be the stuff of big blockbuster special effects films or contain earth-changing commentary, but they deal with more intimate problems, smaller scale woes that all people in all generations face. How do we find love? How do we deal with money issues? Did we misjudge someone? Where is our place in society?

Ms. Austen reminds us that sometimes a larger impact can be made by focusing on what may seem to be the mundane details of life. In these small details, we spend most of our energy. These small details make us who we are and define how we relate to the world around us.

I am in no small way indebted to Jane Austen. Without Pride and Prejudice, I would not have written Charlotte Collins, and I would not be on the journey I am taking today. She has taught me that books do not need to be tragedies to be considered literature, and she has showed me that good novels can be written by people of any age and place in society.

So thank you, Ms. Austen, for reminding us what is truly important and for giving us so many wonderful novels.

In honor of Jane Austen's birthday, please accept a free copy of "Maria's Romance," my short story, for any eReader at Smashwords.com.

Also accept this Jane Austen Birthday Celebration Coupon and receive Charlotte Collins: A Continuation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice in any eBook format at Smashwords.com for only $0.99! Use coupon code: XL87H at checkout. This deal is good for one day only, so head over now and join me in celebrating Jane Austen's birthday!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Writing Fear Free: Reviews

After working on a book for months or years, finding an agent and publisher or going indie, and then seeing the book to press, you'd think the hard part was over.

Wrong. You still have to face reviews. You want people to like your book; that's why you put it out there for sale. What if book reviewers and online customers pan it?

That can be a scary prospect.

Really, there aren't many careers in which people are faced so directly with critiques of their work from so many sources. It's not like engineers have a web page devoted entirely to one of their designs: "The water line out on highway 21 gets water to my house pretty well, but if the engineer had used a 15-inch diameter pipe instead of a 14-inch diameter, it would have been a better design. And I really thought the installation crew should have worn yellow vests instead of orange. 3.5 stars." Can you imagine?

Some writers claim never to read reviews; some writers will respond to every single one. I fall somewhere in between. I read them, and unless it is an email thanking people whom I solicited for a review, I do not respond to them. I figure that my part in the review process was writing the book. Once it's out there, it's out there, and it's the reader's turn to weigh in.

There are two different ways your work will be reviewed. The first is by book bloggers and reviewers whom you solicit or who buy your book and review it for you. These fine folks do this as a hobby, and it is worth it to send them free copies, just as if you were a traditional publisher sending ARC's (advanced review copies). Book bloggers are to indie authors what the New York Times is to big-name authors. Even traditional houses solicit book bloggers. Their reviews are thorough and very professional, at least the ones who have reviewed Charlotte Collins have been. They include publication information, a summary, and a useful critique. They usually re-post their reviews on Goodreads, Amazon, and BN. I highly recommend all of my reviewers to anyone.

The second method of review is customer reviews. These are the ones that show up on Goodreads, Amazon, BN, and etc. from people who paid money to read what you wrote or who received it in a giveaway. These are reviews from your target audience, and they are just as important as the blog reviews. Because these people paid for you work, it's good to read what they have to say, especially regarding format and grammar. They may not like your plot or characters or theme, but that's the same chance everyone takes when they buy a book. But they deserve to have a quality product, even if they don't like the contents.

Here's a summary of what I've learned so far:

  • Well-written, unbiased reviews can be very helpful, even the ones that contain critiques. Authors should be open to hearing both praise and critique and growing from it.
  • Solicit reviews from book bloggers who enjoy your genre. Good reviews from them can mean lots of good exposure.
  • Expect a certain percentage of negative customer reviews. Not everyone likes the same thing.
  • Also expect some insulting reviews. Every author gets them.
  • Think carefully before responding to any negative review. No matter what you do, as the author, you are going to come off looking defensive and petty.
  • Some customer reviewers may not have finished your book, and their review may contain factual misconceptions as a result.
  • Worse, some people may not have even read your book before reviewing it. Many customers use stores' rating systems to protest price or even something like cover art, which is usually out of your control.
  • Not every reviewer uses the same star scale. Some will only give 5 stars to the Bible.
  • Not every review is going to be unbiased. Some are going to be predisposed to loving your work (your well-meaning family and friends); some will be predisposed to being critical.

Incidentally, that last bullet point is why I have chosen not to review books here, especially Austen-related tomes. As a writer in this genre, I can't say that I would be unbiased when coming to another sequel or anthology.

Also, would you even believe me? How do you know I'm not just saying nice things about a friend's book? Or that I'm not saying negative things about a competitor? It's a minefield I choose to avoid.

I'd rather just flat-out say, "This is my friend's book. Would you like to read it?"

So how do you face reviews the fear-free way? I don't really know. I'm still learning.

Monday, December 13, 2010

To Read or Not to Read

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One of the most fun things about book marketing is meeting people through blogs, Facebook, and Twitter. (And in person too, of course.) Marcie of the blog To Read or Not to Read reviewed Charlotte Collins and she has been one of the best people to know for both support and encouragement.

On her blog, she reviews fantasy, romance, YA, Gothic, supernatural, classic, historical fiction, sci-fi, PNR, and some biographies. And she does a great job. Each review comes with full publication information so the book can be found easily and contains a brief summary of the work. Then, Marcie offers her review of the book, including fair critiques and well-thought-out opinions. All in all, Marcie is a great reviewer, and I'm not just saying that because she liked Charlotte Collins.

So if you are interested in any of the genres she reviews, hop over to her blog and find some new books to read this winter. And don't forget to read my guest blog and sign up for a free copy of Charlotte Collins!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Not in This Alone, Part 2

A while back, I mentioned two fellow Austen sequel authors who had helped me in my journey with Charlotte Collins. And now, I have another to add to that list: Mary Lydon Simonsen.

Ms. Simonsen has been supportive of my clumsy efforts--but is in no way responsible for any of my missteps--and, though she claims not to be good at giving tips, she did offer lots of valuable advice. She even read my short story "Maria's Romance" and, lemme tell ya, having her read it made me nervous!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Nook Book Update

Thanks to Doug Pardee on the BN Book Club discussion board and Zoe Winters of IndieReader.com, the issue with the PubIt! edition of Charlotte Collins is now officially resolved.

 
As it turns out, my source file was somehow corrupted, either during formatting or in the conversion process. I'm not entirely sure which. But to be sure of offering the best possible product, I took the nuclear option and reformatted the whole text. Then, I downloaded a what-you-see-is-what-you-get epub editor to make sure it was exactly what I wanted. Now, not only is the page numbering more accurately represented (212 pages, not 1,000!), but I even improved the formatting of the front matter.

 
Does the nook version's page numbering now match the paperback's? No. It does not, but few ebooks match their paperback counterparts. Epub creates page numbers based on file size. My coding was messed up either during my formatting or during the conversion to PubIt and was displaying a page count 5 times larger than the file size demanded. Now, it is much closer to the actual file size and the paperback page count, but not exact.

 
I bought the old version. Can I get the improved one? Yes, you can, and you can do it free. I do not own a nook, so I'm not familiar with the process, but the BN Book Club Discussion Board says to re-download the book to your nook by doing this: 
  • Archive the book (either on the nook or online at bn.com).
  • Check for new B&N content on your nook.
  • Un-archive the book (again either online or on your nook)
  • Check for new B&N content on your nook.

I may be a self-published author, but I will always try to provide a professional book. And when a problem arises, I will also do my best to make it right. I regret that it took me so long to realize that my file was still inaccurate; I thought I had resolved it earlier. But now, it is fixed, and I have learned a great deal about epub.

 
Thank you to my friend who pointed out the problem and to Doug and Zoe for helping me solve it.