Should book reviewers charge fees?

money-backgroundI know many indie authors and others in the literary world have vastly opposing opinions on the matter of whether book reviewers should charge fees for their services. I struggled with this issue a lot myself as a book reviewer. On the one hand, you want your reviews to be unbiased, honest and taken seriously. However, on the other hand, as a reviewer, I know that it does take a lot of time to read and review books. Each book, depending on the length can take anywhere from 30 minutes (short picture books) to a few hours to read through, especially when you are reading with a critical eye to be able to give a fair review. Add to that the time it takes to write up the review, post it online and promote the post and you can easily spend many hours creating a good book review.

For a long time I did offer free or donation-based reviews. The trouble was that I became so overwhelmed with all the time and effort of reviewing everyone else’s work that I started to slack off on my own writing and book promotional duties. For a while I tried to balance it all, but eventually realized that if I were to justify all the time I was using writing reviews, I should ask for at least a small compensation for the time and effort on my part. I never did approve of those reviewers that charge ridiculous reading fees up to several hundred dollars and think that many of them exist simply to take advantage of excited indie authors who are having a hard time finding reviews. I decided right away I WOULD NOT be one of those guys. So I decided to charge between $15 and $25 for reviews, depending on the length of the book. I still generally don’t even earn minimum wage per hour for actual time spent reading and reviewing, but I’m ok with that because I do love the work.

I know not everyone agrees with my decision and I’m ok with that. I definitely believe everyone should go with their gut when it comes to doing what feels right, but I hope they can at least understand my point of view as well. I should also mention that I do sometimes still do unpaid reviews. I occasionally trade reviews with other authors if their books are in a similar genre and I still do some reviews just because I love a book or an author and I want to share my thoughts.

Even with the reading fee, I am still careful to pick books to review that interest me too, after all, there are some genres I just don’t feel like I can do justice to in a review, because I don’t know enough about the genre. That is why I tend to stick to children’s, young adult, women’s, nonfiction and poetry genres.

Well, that is my view on things. Feel free to leave a comment below and express your opinion.

Happy Halloween!!! Now get to writing!

First off, Happy Halloween to all of my fans, readers and fellow lovers of everything spooky! Halloween is probably my favorite holiday, and not just because my birthday falls close to it. I love creepy, dark and dreary stuff, so maybe that explains why my favorite authors are Edgar Allan Poe and Emily Dickinson.

Anyhow, Halloween is a great time to sit down and let your imagination run loose as well. If you love to write, feel free to take one of the following Halloween-themed writing prompts and make it your own! You can use these prompts to write a story, poem, journal entry, Tweet or anything else your little heart desires. Have fun!

*If you could be anyone or anything this Halloween, who or what would you be? Why?

*Use your senses. Brainstorm a list of all the Halloween sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feelings you can think of.

*Pretend you are a symbol of Halloween. Describe Halloween from the point of view of a jack-o-lantern, bat, witch, spider, candy bar…or anything else you think of!

*Do you agree with schools banning the celebration of Halloween due to the religious or spiritual roots of the holiday? Why or why not?

*What is the best trick you have ever pulled on someone? Or the best trick pulled on you?

*Make your own witch’s brew. What would go into it? What would the concoction do?

*What really scares you? Write about it.

*How has Halloween changed since you were a kid? Do you miss the way things used to be?

*Should adults be allowed to trick or treat?

A warning for those who want to be published writers

Currently I am reading a book entitled Bird by Bird – Some Instructions on Writing and Life, written by Anne Lamott. This book is considered a classic as far as books about writing go, and now I can see why. It is full of truth, wisdom and encouragement for novice or even experienced writers. There is one passage in the introduction that really struck me, one that I think any beginning writer should be told –

“…I tell my students that the odds of their getting published and of it bringing them financial security, peace of mind, and even joy are probably not that great. Ruin, hysteria, bad skin, unsightly tics, ugly financial problems, maybe; but probably not peace of mind. I tell them that I think they ought to write anyway. But I try to make sure they understand that writing, and even getting good at it, and having books and stories and articles published, will not open the doors that most of them hope for. It will not make them well. It will not give them the feeling that the world has finally validated their parking tickets, that they have in fact finally arrived. My writer friends, and they are legion, do not go around beaming with quiet feelings of contentment. Most of them go around with haunted, abused, surprised looks on their faces, like lab dogs on whom very personal deodorant sprays have been tested.”

Honestly, I’m not sure truer words have ever been spoken about the writing life. Don’t get me wrong, I love to write, I would never quit…but sometimes the actual business of writing and publishing can make you as miserable as it makes you happy. Bad reviews, marketing failures, endless editing, lonely book signings (where you feel ignored), low sales…all of these things can bring a writer down quicker than you might imagine. Plus, for 99% of us (or more), it seems to be a struggle to pay any of our bills with what we make writing, let alone live a comfy lifestyle.

So why continue to do it? Why not throw in the towel and quit or just write for yourself? I can’t answer for every writer, but for me it is because…

A) I love to read & write

and

B) I really want to share that passion and my own creativity with others.

Next to those reasons, all the small stuff doesn’t seem quite as important. At least not to me.

Some of the best books ever written were self-published

It seems like there is a lot of condescension in the literary world about “self-published” authors. This annoys me. First off, because I have many friends who self-published excellent books, and secondly, because I have self-published two ebooks (even though my print books aren’t self-published).

So where does this bias come from? Is it because throughout history self-published books have been crappy? I highly doubt that. In fact, many of the best books ever written were self-published. Don’t believe me? Well, here is a short list of some self-pubbed classics:

*Beatrix Potter’s “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” was turned down by six publishers, but this didn’t get the young authoress down. She decided to self-publish the book. One of the publishers who had turned down the project saw the completed book, changed his mind and offered to publish the next edition of the book.

*Mark Twain, fed up with his previous publisher, decided to self-publish “Huck Finn”. Ironically it became one of his bestselling books, perhaps because he implemented a door-to-door marketing campaign.

*Edgar Allan Poe (my favorite writer of all time by the way), self-published his first book “Tamerlane and Other Poems”, thus effectively launching his career (even if he never did get the money or respect he deserved while alive).

*Charles Dickens self-published “A Christmas Carol” after having a fight with his publisher over the earnings related to a previous book.

*Some great authors like Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters even struggled to get publishers to publish their books “all expenses paid”! In fact, Jane Austen’s family offered a publisher the opportunity to publish Jane’s first published novel, Sense and Sensibility, on ”behalf of the author who will incur all expenses”. Not only did Jane’s family pay for publishing costs, but they also had to pay a commission to the publisher for each book sold! Sounds like a rotten deal to me, but she did ok in the end.

*Ever read Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”? Neither have I, but it was self-published too.

*Even the manual that many writers use as their Bible was first self-published. Where would we be without William Strunk’s “The Elements of Style?”

*Some other authors who are said to have self-published at some point in their careers: Benjamin Franklin, Walt Whitman, e.e. Cummings, Carl Sandburg, Ezra Pound, Stephen Crane, Rudyard Kipling, Alexandre Dumas, Henry David Thoreau (plus many, many more, but I really don’t want to type all their names, so Google it if you are interested).

In the end, I’m not going to say that all self-published books are good, any more than I would say all traditionally published books are good, but I do think all books deserve to be judged for their literary merit, rather than their publisher.

Interview with Children’s Picture Book Author Carol Gordon Ekster

Carol Gordon Ekster is a writer who uses her creative abilities to discuss real world problems with kids.  From divorce to cleaning up a messy room, Carol finds fun, entertaining ways for kids to deal with the issues in their lives.  Ready to learn more?  Then on to the interview!

Q: When did you first decide that you wanted to be an author? What made you want to choose this career path?

A: My desire to write surprised me.  It seemed to come out of nowhere.  I worked with children on their writing as a 4th grade teacher for 35 years. I had writing workshops and conferenced with each child individually to give them feedback on their work.  When I started writing, I certainly had empathy for my students.  Getting feedback, at first, was not easy.

Writing just came to me one day on the beach when I was fifty years old.  I needed to write.  I went to the car and got post-its and a pen and started my first story.  Until then, I had always found writing a difficult skill.  It is difficult…lots of skills are needed to do it well.

I stepped into the life of a writer, joining SCBWI, becoming passionate about the craft, reading many books on writing and joining critique groups.  I stuck to my new path and never looked back.  It was wonderful to be able to share my journey of becoming an author as well as the writing process with my classes. Now that I’m retired,  it is the writing that allows me to continue communicating with children.

Q: Who are some of the authors that greatly influenced your writing style? What were some of your favorite books as a kid?

A: I believe I have my own writing style, but I’ve read so many books and respect and admire countless authors of children’s books and adult books. I found picture books to enhance all areas of the curriculum when I taught.  I usually read a few a day to my students…so I was preparing myself for becoming a writer.  I knew what I liked…beautiful language and a story well told.  When I was a kid, I loved Nancy Drew books best of all.  Now I rarely read mysteries.

Q: Did you have a hard time getting your first book published?

A: My first book, Where Am I Sleeping Tonight?-A Story of Divorce, Boulden Publishing, 2008, was published about two years after I started sending it out, and less than two years after I started writing.  It was bought by the 12th publisher I sent it to.  That was the 20th manuscript I had written.  My second book, which is expected out this fall, Ruth The Sleuth and The Messy Room, sold the 16th time I sent it out.  It was the 30th story I had written.  I also sold the 24th manuscript I wrote to a magazine.  The second time I sent that out, I got a request for a rewrite.  Then the publisher said they were interested in the rewrite, but they ended up changing offices and staff, and I never received a contract.  So after about 20 other tries to get it published as a book, I decided I just wanted the story shared with children and accepted that it was time to let it go as a magazine piece.  I try to stay focused on working on my craft and enjoying the submitting process, and if something sells, well that’s a bonus.  Sometimes, I still get disappointed when I get a rejection, but mostly I prepare to send it out again to another publisher.

Q: Assuming that you write for children or young adults, what made you decide to write for those age groups? Do you still feel connected to your “inner child”?

A: I definitely feel connected to my inner child, but I believe it’s the teacher in me that pushes me to write for children.

Q: What are some of your hobbies, other than writing?

A: I love doing yoga, aerobics,  and going bike riding.  I love to vacation and be with family. And of course, I love to read.  I always have a book on CD that I’m listening to in the car, and one near my bed.  I also enjoy cooking healthy meals.  When I taught, I spent a lot of time looking for new teaching ideas and web sites to use with my students.

Q: Do you have any sage advice for new authors who are just entering the field?

A: Most importantly, writers must persevere and not get disheartened.  Continue working on your craft and submitting your work.  You must belong to writing groups or have other writers give you feedback.  We do not write alone.

Q: Do you hold any other jobs outside of your writing? If so, do you find that this helps your writing or gets in the way?

A: Being retired now allows me the time I need to write and promote my books.

Q: If you could meet one author, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

A: Carolyn Keene, because she made me love reading and understand the power of a good book.

Q: Do you have any other information you would like to share, such as a website, author page, awards won, etc.?

A: www.carolgordonekster.com

Self doubt

Do any other authors out there struggle to believe that what you write is actually worth writing?  For the past few months I’ve been able to make a fairly successful living off of my copywriting and ghostwriting clients, plus I have had publishers show real interest in my creative writing, however, I still doubt every day that I will be able to write anything other than a page full of nonsense. 

It’s almost like I fear that talent is like an ancient muse who will simply show up and leave whenever he wants to.  I don’t trust myself to succeed.  Every day I take at least two assignments from clients, and with each one I doubt that I will be able to complete the work to their satisfaction.  This fear makes no sense, after all, I have never had a client reject my work or rate it poorly, and many of these clients are returning customers who have purposefully sought me out because they like my style.

Is doubt something that accompanies creativity?  Do artists and musicians experience the same kind of distrust?  I sincerely hope that I’m not alone.  I worry sometimes that I am just some neurotic soul with an inferiority complex.  Maybe the fact that I actually worry about being neurotic makes me even more so…

Just so you know…

All of the articles that I post here are written by yours truly.  I know some people thought I was just posting random articles I like, but they are actually my own words…so if you love ’em or hate ’em, you have only me to blame!  I would write more original blog posts if it weren’t for the fact that I spend so much time writing articles for various online sources. 

On a personal note, life has been rough the last few weeks.  One of our foster kids is leaving soon and it’s not a happy parting…in fact, things are tense here and the child is bound and determined to make our lives miserable while he can.  If you are a praying man or woman, please send one up for me and my husband, Steve!  This foster care thing is a hard row to hoe sometimes!