My Early Christmas Present: the B.R.A.G. Medallion For After The Sucker Punch

All gussied up with a B.R.A.G. Medallion!
All gussied up with a B.R.A.G. Medallion!

One of the most challenging aspects of being an indie author is the sheer volume of tasks related to marketing your own book. What traditionally published authors look to their publishers to offer, or at least implement, in terms of promotion and marketing, indie authors do all by their lonesome, unless they are fortunate enough to be able to work with a publicist (which I’ll be doing on my next book!). And given the staggering number of books flooding the self-publishing marketplace (reportedly 500,000 in just the US in 2013), finding ways to get your book pulled out of the rumbling pack is a tug-of-war like no other!

So when you get a boost from a group, an organization, that is not only well-regarded in the publishing industry, deeply involved in promoting self-published authors, and very selective about the books it chooses to award their prestigious B.R.A.G. Medallion, you feel a little bit like Christmas came early. Which is how I felt when I got the news this week that my debut novel, After The Sucker Punch, has been selected for a Medallion.

IndieBRAG was founded by Founder and President, Geraldine Clouston, with a mission statement to “to recognize quality on the part of authors who self-publish both print and digital books.” From author Alison Morton’s interview with Ms. Clouston at Roma Nova:

One fearsome, but in a way reassuring, statistic is that IndieBRAG rejects 90% of books that it considers. Not quite two years old, it already has an excellent reputation as a serious “Guardian at the Gate”. At the recent Self-Published Book Expo in New York, IndieBRAG presented an authoritative report on self-publishing and was the only panel out of 17 filmed by C-SPAN’s Book TV

What is the background to you starting IndieBRAG?
Several years ago my husband and I attended the Self-Publishing Book Expo in New York City for the first time. We were, of course, not surprised to find many self-published authors at the Expo who were looking for help. However, we were surprised to discover that after these authors had published their books very few of them knew what to do next. We quickly realized that with the explosion of self-publishing, it is very hard for an indie author to get any attention for their book. And more to the point, given that much of what is self-published is not worth a reader’s time or money, it is a major challenge for a good self-published book to rise above the rest.

Tell us about your process for evaluating self-published work.
After a book is nominated through our website it is subjected to a rigorous selection process. This entails an initial screening to ensure that the author’s work meets certain minimum standards of quality and content. If it passes this preliminary assessment it is then read by members drawn from our reader group. We have over 150 readers in 11 countries who regularly read self-published books for us. They judge the merits of the book based on a comprehensive list of criteria, the most important of which is whether or not they would recommend it to their best friend. If a book meets our high standards, we award it our B.R.A.G. Medallion and present it on our website.

There are two important things to note about our process- First, we are not agents, literary experts, or publishers. We are simply ordinary people who are passionate about reading books; the same people who buy books. And second, we do not permit any contact between our readers and authors, or other readers. This gives the reader an opportunity to make a decision without any undue influence from anyone.

[To read the read of the interview, click here.]

I’m not only deeply honored to have my book in such good company, I’m delighted to be part of a “family” so passionately focused on independent authors putting out excellent work and raising the bar on what can be expected from artists working outside the traditional publishing paradigm. It’s encouraging to me as an individual author and it’s empowering to the entire indie movement. Suffice it to say, I’m thrilled!

I encourage you to go to the IndieBRAG site not only to check out my page, but to view and explore the work of the many other  authors who’ve been selected for this distinguished honor. I know many of you are avid readers always looking for the best in books  to add to your libraries; IndieBRAG is a great place to find titles that have been carefully vetted and selected with the highest standards in mind.

Thank you, IndieBRAG, for honoring my book. A very Merry Christmas to you too!

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OK, Let’s Discuss This Whole Book Review Thing… Please

read your novel

I spent some time chatting with a group of writers today, discussing a topic that seems to not only be tripping up indie authors in a variety of ways, but contributing to the persistence of stigmas and attitudes about the self-publishing “brand” in general:


Coveted, powerful, manipulated; misguided reviews.

It was a spirited debate — though, in truth, everyone was in agreement — focused squarely on the corrosive effect of what some in the discussion called the “5-Star Circle” and the “Review Swap Gang.”

For those unaware, the 5-Star Circle is that loose contingent of indie author who will automatically award 5-star reviews to colleagues regardless of the quantifiable merits of their books. This is done, purportedly, to show support for fellow self-pubbers, but there’s also an unspoken quid quo pro element at work, assuring that the 5-star-wielding reviewer will be gifted in kind. The Review Swap Gang is essentially an off-shoot, a more organized venture whereby authors agree to write reviews for each other and I don’t think anyone need guess how rife with corruptible possibilities that deal might be!

I expect a holler at this point, an insistence by some in the self-publishing world that they will and do and always give honest, authentic reviews regardless of how swappers review their own books, and, hey, it’s possible. But what’s also possible (and likely probable) is an inherent awkwardness to the set-up, the politics involved if, say, they give you a good review and you don’t return the favor. In fact, I spoke to one author who confessed that he often gives weak, inept books much higher than deserved ratings for the sake of group politics. Another spoke of feeling pressured within professional friendships to do the same; someone else mentioned not wanting to spark trollish behavior from disgruntled authors unhappy with their “swap.”

And the result of all this? Far too many poorly executed and amateurishly written books sporting a raft of undeserved 5-star reviews from gushing (or, perhaps, intimidated) “friends” who apparently don’t see the value of creative accountability; a fact that has the long-term effect of misguiding readers and perpetuating negative attitudes about all self-published writers, even those whose work is worthy of the accolades.

There’s a book blogger I happen to like, Tara Sparling, who regularly offers sharp (and very funny) analysis of the self-publishing world on her blog, Tara Sparling Writes (check out her posts about book covers, fonts, and what compels readers to choose — or not choose — self-published novels). She recently wrote a piece on the topic of reviews, Why 5-Star Book Reviews Are Utter Rubbish, that triggered a strong reaction from readers on the title alone (my response is in the comment section). Tara offered seven reasons in support of her thesis, some of which echoed my own points; for example:

“One 5-star review is ok. But, if there are only 7 reviews in total and all of them are all 5 stars, I don’t believe a single one of them.”

OK, I’m not sure I wouldn’t believe a one… maybe, but she lost me a bit on the next sentence:

“So I disregard the lot and vow never to read the book instead. Which rather defeats the purpose.”

I got her point, but took umbrage with the resolution. Since I am not a swapper, nor a review solicitor, I can’t control what reviewers end up saying about my work and certainly don’t want to be discounted out-of-hand — by Tara or anyone else — if the lot of them happen to honestly like my book! I made this rebuttal in my comment; she graciously took the point, as well as similar points made, allowing that, yes, if a book truly deserves 5-stars, wonderful. But the more salient issue is that, like me, like others, she finds solid reason to raise a ruckus on the topic, a shared impulse that indicates just how transparently corrupt this reviewing thing has become.

Look, the value of reviews to anyone selling anything — whether a toaster, movie, restaurant, or book — is indisputable. But the politics of reviews has turned the process into a sort of creepy, virtual-payola scenario that’s about as manipulative as A&R thugs dropping cash-packs and trip tickets into the laps of slick fingered radio programmers. And when we’ve got countless threads on Goodreads hawking “swap requests,” Yelp choked with either phony take-downs or BFF gush-fests, and Amazon battling some version of the same on all kinds of products (including books), we’ve lost the point of the endeavor… for honest people to leave honest responses to just how much they did or didn’t like something. Period.

Here’s my personal stance: I do not want ONE, not one, review on my author page that is not authentic or honestly felt. Whatever “star” rating or review comments you think my work warrants based on your truthful, visceral response to my book, that’s what I want you to leave. Don’t troll, don’t be irrational or other-agenda’d; but don’t feel obligated, under any circumstances, to leave a puffed-up, bullshit review. If you’re uncomfortable about what you might honestly have to say, I’d rather you not leave anything than an unauthentically positive review. And I mean that. An unearned “star” should mean nothing to any of us.

To my indie author colleagues: Please understand that I will not leave a 4- or 5-star review on work that does not warrant it based on my experience and perceptions as a writer and my response as a reader. It doesn’t matter how famous you are, how much I support your efforts, how well I like you, or how much you’ve done for me. But, taking into account the shared obstacles and challenges of being in this self-publishing game together, the best I can agree to is that I won’t leave a decidedly negative review on your page (which, in this world, appears to be anything below 4- or 5-stars!). If you know I’ve read your book and want my response privately, I will be happy to share it with you.

And one more thing: PLEASE, please, indie authors, do not rant on social media about your negative reviews and do not ask fellow writers to go to your Amazon page to make any response to them. Both the rant and the request are not only distasteful, but utterly unprofessional. As is presuming a negative review is automatically undeserved, unauthentic, or written by a troll. Let’s please, for God’s sake, have some grace and dignity and take our hits where they come. Every reader has the right to their honest response no matter how many reviews they’ve written. And if you truly believe a troll is having his/her way with you, handle it privately. Don’t play creative-victim in an effort to engage fellow writers to circle the wagons; we all have to stand by our work, good, bad or in-between.

The impact of all these shenanigans is that readers — the very people we’re hoping to engage — can no longer count on reviews to guide them to what they might enjoy or find excellent.  Personally, I’ve now downloaded far too many books by self-published authors — abundant in stellar reviews — that were, ultimately, poorly written. I’ve spent my money and my time only to either not finish a book, or to put it aside with a shake of my head and a growing uneasiness about what all of this is doing to the self-publishing world at large.

For now, though I’m being much more selective about the books I buy, I still believe in the movement and will continue to support my indie colleagues, particularly those who’ve earned my reader loyalty, as I hope they will support me. But I will continue to candidly address the issues we face, holding out hope that we as a group learn from our mistakes and honestly strive to be better. More professional. More demanding. Of ourselves… and our fellow authors.

Related articles: 

• Who Do We Have To _____ To Get a Little Respect Around Here? 
• The Persistence of Self-Publishing Stigmas and How To Transcend Them

Cartoon by Kudelka

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Who’s Reading What and IS Self-Publishing Dropping? What Ron Knight at UPAuthors Has To Say

books and more books

Who’s reading what and is self-publishing dropping?

The answers to those questions might surprise you, given the current and conventional wisdom that ebooks and self-publishing are a tsunami of change flooding every corner of the literary landscape. It turns out there’s some statistical nuances to that perception that might inspire, perhaps, a rethink, not only in how one views the publishing industry as a whole, but in how each individual writer approaches their own “industry.”

The information I’m about to share comes from an interesting post written by Ron Knight, whose site,, defines itself as follows: is a collaborative effort, founded by marketing expert Melissa Powely and author Ron Knight. This advisor program was developed to give authors a way to share resources and provide economically priced opportunities. These opportunities arise in the ability to have an inexpensive web presence with search engine optimization, the use of social media networks, sharing of like minded contacts, and a variety of resources that can help you along the way in developing your book and your career as an author.

As as independent author open to any new and innovative ways to market and promote my work, I was interested to explore their site and see what they might have to offer someone like me. In doing so, I came upon an article Ron put up last week titled, Why did self-publishing drop 46%?

That title alone caught my attention, as I’ve been led to believe that self-published titles, particularly in ebook, are a growing market trend, with ever-increasing numbers and a burgeoning audience eager to purchase those titles. Ron’s research, it turns out, has led him to a different conclusion, one that appears to be supported by statistics:

In 2010, there were 3,844,278 self-published books. It was a time when people started going on their own to find other sources of income. They put up their own website, uploaded a book to Amazon, signed up for Facebook, and realized that publishing and marketing was cheap.

That turned out to be the problem with self-publishing…cheap.

Books were rushed and poorly written.

Publishing was rushed, which flooded the markets with first-time authors.

Marketing was rushed, producing low results.

In 2012, self-publishing dropped to 2,042,840 titles and in 2013, self-publishing dropped to 1,108,183.

I’m not great at math, but that’s about a 50% drop each year, which means by 2016, there may only be 130,000 self-published books.

Now, having only embarked upon my own self-publishing endeavor in the last few months, I cannot in any way intelligently counter these statistics, but given what I’ve already learned in that short period of time, frankly, they don’t surprise me. What I’ve found most discouraging about the self-publishing industry are the same things Ron cites as reasons for its current downtrend, particularly the quality issue. As one who holds myself and my work to the highest bar possible, it’s dispiriting when, by simple BEING a self-published author, one is automatically categorized, sight unseen, as someone whose book is “rushed and poorly written.” This translates to literary media and journals that will not take submissions from self-published writers, literary contests that exclude self-published books; review sites that will not respond to queries from self-published writers, and so on. Their rationale? Most likely the familiar meme of “books were rushed and poorly written.”

But the downtrend is about more than that, according to Ron. It’s about MARKETING. About how we self-published authors tend to market – or not market – our work:

What’s the main reason self-publishing is fading away?

[Han] Huang, [Director of Product Management for Data Licensing at Bowker] an expert in product management said that self-published books are, “Marketed almost exclusively online.”

Traditional publishing uses multiple ways to market, along with focusing on specific areas to market which is based on the author’s genre, storyline, and characters.

Self-published authors attempt to market books to the entire world via Amazon, social media, and their website.

Ain’t that the truth?!

But for a self-published author who hasn’t rushed a poorly written book into the marketplace but, instead, has a professionally produced, well-edited, and very worthy title to sell — but not a lot of money to spend on big-time marketing and promotion — what is the path to success? We might want to break out of exclusively online promotional options, but what are the affordable choices? Ron has some good suggestions:

Here’s the good news!

Every self-published author that continues on this trend [exclusively online marketing]  will fade away. It’s not my opinion…it’s a fact.

For those of you that want to succeed at self-publishing, then you can succeed by following traditional marketing methods.

Here’s a list of traditional ways to market. Remember that you don’t have to do all of this at once. Mix and match, invest what you can, but this is your only way to survive and eventually sell millions of books.

~ Target Market Research (Knowing which cities would purchase your book. Also, which cities have the highest income and education rates.)

~ Book Conferences

~ Events

~ Book Signings

~ Book Clubs

~ Media Coverage

~ Advertisements (Billboards, Newspapers, Commercials, Movie Theatres)

~ Press Kits

~ Book Reviews

~ Reading Samples/Serialization

~ Speaking Engagements

The next stage should be…

~ Placement of books in big box stores

~ Placement in bookstores, both chain and local (Especially bookstores that report numbers to the Bestsellers List)

~ Placement of books on the end-caps of bookstores and big box stores

~ Film Adaptation (There are resources for film adaptation. See below.)

Some authors feel it’s great news that self-publishing is fading away. This opens the door for authors that are going to stick it out and adjust their marketing. Meanwhile, the authors that rush a book on Amazon will soon fade away.

Start a budget for marketing, even if it’s only $50 a month. This simple adjustment will propel your career, while other authors find a different career…

“There’s a big gap between you and the all-time bestselling authors in the world. Inside that gap are billions of potential readers.” ~ Ron Knight

OK, Ron. Since I intend to be one of those authors who will stick it out and, therefore, will adjust my marketing towards a goal of longterm success, I’m paying attention. And given the wide range of options listed, with assurances that one is not obligated to do it “all at once,” I’ll start making my own list of what to tackle first. I appreciate the information.

If you’d like to read the full piece, which I suggest you do, click over to Why did self-publishing drop 46%?. The UPAuthors site looks to be a very useful resource for any author looking for marketing assistance and information, so be sure to take a look at that too. I plan to avail myself of it in whatever ways I can… dammit, I ain’t gonna be one of those crashing statistics! 🙂

And to those of you new to me and my work, I hope you’ll take a moment before you leave to read through other articles at this blog, as well as acquaint yourself with my published work (After The Sucker Punch, a novel; She Tumbled Down,” a short story), details of which can be found via my Amazon Author Page HERE.

Thanks… and let’s all keep raising the bar!

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