• David Frazier's memoir of Vietnam, "Drafted!", is multilayered - from the days of war in the 60s to return visits as a photography - and as complex as the place itself.
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Writing a book is hard enough. Getting book reviews can drive an author to distraction.

One of our members, C.M. Huddleston, brought our attention to a frustration many authors share: “I have spent two days trying to market my books and get reviews. So far I feel my time has been wasted. Any ideas out there?” One of her books has been out for three months, the other for more than a year. The concern is practical, obtaining good reviews is one of the best ways to generate book sales.

There are pathways through the thicket.  I wrote about some good indie review sites, and some well-established reviewers as well, my October 30 post.  But there’s much more to cover in the area of reviews, and starting with this post, members of the BookWorks team will be talking about some of the ways and places for you to go after them.

HOW TO GET THOSE ELUSIVE BOOK REVIEWS

I’d like to start with Goodreads book reviews, which in some ways are simpler and more useful for authors than those at its corporate mothership, Amazon.com.

Goodreads reviews lack proximity to the actual “buy” pages that you get on Amazon, but Goodreads reviews are well worth the effort for other reasons.

It’s an enormous system, hosting more than 10 million reviews of an estimated 700,000 titles.  Those reviews are not limited in use to Goodreads, either.  They also are syndicated and referenced and show up at Google books, USA Today, the Los Angeles Public Library, WorldCat, Better World Books and other locations.

You can also display them on your own site, too.  Once you have a book in the Goodreads system, you can take advantage of the reviews in another unusual way, slapping a review widget on your website, or your book’s landing page.  Goodreads lets you designate a book (by its ISBN number), provide a header text for it (an example on their site provides “Goodreads reviews for The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”), specify the size, and then post the Goodreads reviews – even new reviews as they come in, in real time.

Goodreads book reviews by Randy Stapilus for Bookworks.com
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Goodreads said on its site, “With our community of avid readers, Goodreads can deliver quality reviews on a scale that no individual bookstore or service can match.  By providing added content on nearly every book page, your site becomes more engaging, entertaining and informative, guaranteeing your customers will stay on each page longer.”

Writer Michael Kozlowski in August listed GoodReads as one of the best book review places on the web, saying,  “There are millions of reviews and people buzzing about new books coming out.  It has a strong social media vibe, with some books generating thousands and thousands of comments.  GoodReads is basically the Facebook of books.”

GOODREADS BOOK REVIEWS vs. AMAZON BOOK REVIEWS

As on Amazon, the more reviews you get, the more visibility you get.  And, as on Amazon, there are “top reviewers” on Goodreads who can be worth contacting directly, and pitching your book for review, if you find one who matches with your subject area.

But the whole subject of getting reviews on Goodreads is a lot different than Amazon – in most ways simpler and with a lower bar to entry.

Goodreads links itself where it can to Facebook, and there’s some encouragement for cross-linkages through the two systems.  The site Appadvice notes that, “Once you have set up an account and connected your Facebook account to Goodreads, you can see which of your friends use the app.  You can also invite friends who you think would love the app as well.  This can be done with Facebook friends or even contacts you have stored on your device.  Your friends can easily find you too and send you requests to be added to your friend network.”

Goodreads’ policies on who is allowed to review a given book appear to be less restrictive than Amazon’s.  Even authors are allowed to post reviews of their own book (though many wisely pass on that).  You may encounter fewer review take-downs at Goodreads than at Amazon.

There are limits, which do help with reader credibility.  Goodread’s guidelines on reviews say, “Commercial reviews are not allowed and will be deleted.  If you received a free copy of the book, you are required to disclose that in your review in compliance with federal law.”

Amazon and Goodreads have distinctly different review results, maybe in part because of the ways the two are structured.  An academic study at McGill University released earlier this year found “Amazon reviews have characteristics indicating that review writers are trying to ‘sell’ the book, while Goodreads reviews tend to reflect the content-orientation of the platform.  The vocabulary of Goodreads reviews favors words that highlight attributes of books, or of the experience of reading; reviews tend to be shorter and more journalistic.”

On balance, Amazon reviews were reported to be a bit more effective in selling (or discouraging purchases) of books, but that may vary according to the type of buyer reading the review.

A wise author may seek out reviews in both places – and we’ll be back shortly with suggestions for getting reviews on Amazon.

BookWorks columns

Note the new book to the right by Nathalie Hardy – Merry is Optional, Christmas Chaos with the Hardy Boys.

If you liked Raising the Hardy Boys, Nathalie’s first collection of columns about motherhood, you’ll want to pick up on this one right away.

The new book is out in e-book (Kindle) format only, but easily ordered through Amazon.com. Click on the book cover and it will take you right there.

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If you think of Amazon’s book categories – all books on Amazon.com are placed into subject categories – as either crowded or lightly populated, where would you prefer your book to be?  The answer may not be as obvious as you think.  You’ll find more customers in the fast lane, which is where the highest-ranked (for popularity) books can be found, but your book may be lost in the crowd there.  The reverse is also true: there are fewer readers in the less-populated categories, but your book is more likely to stand out there.  If you’re not an established author, standing out is probably essential to selling your book.

stand+out+from+the+crowd+illuminatedMany readers scan the categories as they search for books to buy, and Amazon helps them by listing the 100 top selling (or, at least, ranking) books in each category.  The books toward the top of those lists get the most attention.  That also means getting your book toward the top of one of those lists is a brilliant marketing move.

If you can get your book to number one on a list, you can use that as a promotional talking point, describing your book as “number one on Amazon” (explaining somewhere that this was a category record).  You may gain sales simply by hitting the upper reaches of a category.

The most and least popular categories should come as little surprise if you’ve examined the books on offer at a bookstore or even a supermarket.

The top popular category, persistently (the rankings change a little over time), is Romance ->Contemporary.  Most of the rest of the top ten are romance categories too, and moving down the list you find mystery, fantasy, young adult, science fiction and, after a while, general literary fiction.  This is partly because there are fewer fiction categories than nonfiction, but it also reflects fiction’s popularity.
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The least popular categories tend to be technical and scientific, and nonfiction.  When TCK Publishing.com earlier this year put together a list of the most competitive and least-competitive categories, it said this was the least competitive of all: “Nonfiction -> Science -> Experiments, Instruments & Measurement -> Microscopes & Microsocopy.”

You can find opportunity here if you discover which categories relevant to your book are more or less popular, and then get your book placed in those which give it the most visibility.

How can you easily tell which categories are more popular?  Look at the entry for the book which is number 1 in the category and scroll down to find its “Amazon Best Sellers Rank,” which is its ranking among all Amazon books.  If you compare that ranking for the books most popular in various categories, you can easily see how competitive the category is – and how easy or difficult it may be to rise toward the top in that category.

Amazon automatically assigns categories to books, but you may be able to change those selections.  If you want to change your category – which is often possible – you may be able to improve your rank, even if you’re not selling more books.  And simply changing your ranking (through getting into a less-competitive category) may make your book more visible, which in turn could lead to selling more books.  Moving your book to a category that doesn’t match it would be a bad move, whatever the statistics.  But more than one category may reasonably match your book.

What if you’re writing fiction, where so many of the categories are crowded?  Look into the subcategories, and consider aiming for a place two or three levels down from the top.books cropIf the available categories don’t include the one you want, pick Non-Classifiable and look at the bottom of the page for the Contact Us link.  There, you can advise Amazon which category you think is best for the book.  Amazon will not add a category to accommodate you, but generally it will shift books between existing categories upon receiving a (reasonable) request.

Anthony Wessel, who published a 30-page book about his father, shared online a part-amusing, part-inspiring story about the power of categories.

“Recently I took this book (not really a book – sold one copy – to myself) and went through the process of putting it into categories. I contacted Amazon and told them how I wanted my book categorized. They responded twice within 6 hours each time. ‘One Minute Washington D.C. Travel Stories’ is now an Amazon Bestseller – in a very small category. I used 2 of my KDP select free days. Promoted it on our The Top 100 Best Free Kindle Books List. Gave away 251 copies. Initial rank was 756,256. After my free days it reached an overall rank of 244,849.”

BookWorks columns

Former Idaho 2nd District Judge John Bradbury read The Intermediary by Lin Tull Cannell, and offered this comment about it:

Lin Tull Cannell’s book, The Intermediary, William Craig among the Nez Perces, is a prodigiously documented, well written and much needed account of a man who played a pivotal role in the Nez Perce people’s struggle to keep their land and their traditions. As the beaver market collapsed in 1839 – 1840 mountain man Craig brought his Nez Perce wife Isabel and their children to the heart of Nez Perce country at Lapwai Creek.
Cannell describes the Indians’ complicated relationship with the missionaries that led to the killing of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, Craig’s role during the treaty negotiations if 1855, the Cayuse and Yakima wars that followed and resulted in his eviction from Lapwai. Craig returns and continues his role as a true intermediary as the gold discovery in the Clearwater hastens the white migration into the Nez Perce reservation and forces a new treaty.
This is a balanced account of the era that ushered in the changes that forever altered the lives of the Nez Perce and of a man who finally gets credit for his role. It brings new and refreshing insight to the fate of the Nez Perce people and the cast of characters who were a part of it. It is a must read for anyone interested in the history of the Inland Northwest.

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A pleasant morning in the Spokane area. Chris Carlson and I dropped into the brightly refurbished Davenport Hotel in downtown, breakfasting with Bert Caldwell, the editorial page editor of the Spokane Spokesman Review.

A string of stops followed, over at the Gallatin Group (Chris was a founder, and for years worked in the Spokane office), over to the Inlander alt-weekly (where editor and publisher Ted McGregor kindly spent a few minutes with us on deadline day), ad then to a new book shop in Coeur d’Alene, the Well-Read Moose, which is only about a year and a half old.

We’re heading south.

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Chris Carlson (Eye on the Caribou) and I (Crossing the Snake) hit spots in St. Maries and Coeur d’Alene on Monday, and we’ll be moving on to Spokane, Moscow and Lewiston Tuesday.

St. Maries was anchored by the PaperHouse, where we did a book signing and talked for a bit with Dan Hammes, publisher of the local Gazette Record (home base for Chris’ weekly columns, which also appear on Ridenbaugh Press). St. Maries seems to be hanging in there, keeping busy.

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Coeur d’Alene seems much more so, with loads of new or refashioned businesses, and a very busy downtown, well into the evening. We stopped first at Java on Sherman Street, there meeting a group of readers (many political activists) and joining up with Mike Blackbird (One Flaming Hour). We talked about our books and some some copies.

We also visited with Dave Oliveria of the Spokane Spokesman Review, talking about books and politics.

Tomorrow: Visits in Spokane and Moscow, and an event at Lewis Clark State College in Moscow. (top photo)

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Crossing the Snake page page

Crossing the Snake, the collection of Randy Stapilus columns about Idaho over the last decade, is now published, and we’re highlighting it with a tour around northern Idaho this coming week.

A tour around southern Idaho will follow a few weeks after that.

We’ll be stopping by Coeur d’Alene, Spokane, St. Maries, Moscow, and Lewiston, from Monday through Wednesday.

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On the Cusp of Chaos page

The third Ridenbaugh Press book by W. Scott Jorgensen is out, and Jorgensen is traveling around the state, speaking to groups in communities large and small – and selling copies as he goes. Next week, he’ll have a book signing at the Oregon State Capitol.

From the Introduction.

This book has three main themes. It’s a look inside Oregon’s state capitol, its urban-rural divide and the last days of former Governor John Kitzhaber’s administration.

The main title refers to the tensions that exist in these settings and the challenges faced by our public institutions and the people in them. It’s about everything that goes into keeping it all going on a daily basis.

This work consists of observations from inside and outside the capitol as I made my way around the state, and the very obvious disconnects between what happens in those places. It also includes various columns I’ve written and some speeches I’ve given that matched those general themes.

Every effort was also made to include those concepts in the front and back cover art. I wanted to capture the feel of being outside of the capitol and looking in, as well as from the inside looking out to represent that sense of duality.

I also realized, as this book was coming together, that I had several pictures that could shed further light on the look and feel of the capitol building during a legislative session. Those are included in a photo section in the middle of the book.

One of my other goals in writing this was to make sure that no more than half of it took place in Salem. There are chapters from literally all over the state to further illustrate the many differences all over.

What follows is a look at two regular legislative sessions, one special session, one short session, a primary election and a general election, all of which took place in the space of two and a half years.

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The Stuck Pendulum page

The book Paradox Politics was written in 1987 and 1988, and published in that latter year – which, as this is written, was 27 years ago. Considering that it was intended as a current, up to the minute, review of Idaho politics and how it had gotten that way, that makes it heavily out of date now.

It’s been out a long time, but it’s not entirely forgotten. While most of its sales came in the 80s, it has sold copies ever since; Amazon has moved copies this year. That’s nice to see. What’s less easy to contemplate is that some of those people may think that Idaho politics in this new century is anything like what it was in the last one, and that would be a problem, because it isn’t. I think, generally, it holds up as a good review of the subject as of the time it was written. And I think it may have helped prompt a spate of Idaho political memoirs and biographies that cropped up in the years following.

But since then, much has changed.

Hence, The Stuck Pendulum. It’s a standalone book that also functions as an afterword – even a coda – for that earlier one, intended to bring up to date people who may have relied on Paradox for a look at Idaho politics. It doesn’t unearth a lot of secrets and not much in it will come a a big surprise to people who have followed Idaho politics in the last quarter-century or so. But for those new to the subject, or who may have wondered what has happened since 1988, I think it can be useful.

I have gotten requests from time to time for a sequel for Paradox, and it’s not just the passage of time that has increasingly made the point compelling. As the title suggests, Idaho politics, which once wandered across the political spectrum, driven by an electorate often willing to take a flyer on something different and didn’t trust anyone too damn much, has changed, locked in place, adjusting if at all only to whatever seems to be the hardest right alternative at hand.

How it got there, and especially after how it changed so drastically right after the best Idaho Democratic election year in a generation (1990), is much of the subject of The Stuck Pendulum. But there are overviews of more, of the Larry Craig incident, the fierce battles in the first congressional district and the recent splinters in the Republican Party.

For the moment, it’s priced for free, so get your copy if this sounds like your area of interest. We’ll attach a price (not a hefty one, though) a little later.

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