Category: books

Boise State University announces renewal of a new partnership with old friends; working together to produce and market the second edition of a book that profiles the lives of some of Idaho’s great entrepreneurs; with all book-sale royalties going to an endowed BSU scholarship fund.

BSU’s old friends are the author, former State Senator Hal Bunderson, who in his professional career was a CPA and an audit partner in the international public accounting and consulting firm of Arthur Andersen & Co. – Los Angeles, Atlanta, Boise and Salt Lake City offices. Over his career, Bunderson worked with nearly a hundred entrepreneurial businesses. Randy Stapilus is the president and publisher of Ridenbaugh Press.

The first edition of “Idaho Entrepreneurs” was published in 1992. Bunderson wrote the book at the behest of former BSU President John Keiser who wrote the Introduction. The Mary Kay and Hal Bunderson – Arthur Andersen Excellence in Accounting Scholarship Fund is an endowed fund that has been awarding annual scholarships since 1994.

The book’s second edition is titled, “Idaho Entrepreneurs Five Case Studies of How Six Entrepreneurs Became Successful.” Bunderson said, “While these entrepreneurs are from past generations, the underlying principles that defines the character and performance of a successful entrepreneur are similar in every age. Reading about these entrepreneurs can help us all. We can see, with hindsight, the benefits of choosing wisely and the adverse and sometimes devastating consequences of poor choices.”

Bunderson dedicated the book “To every person who has a business idea that they believe can become a thriving enterprise, and Act!” On the same page, Bunderson lists 12 characteristics of successful entrepreneurs.

Bunderson said, “This is a history book. It has as much to do about Idaho and United States history as it does about successful businesses. The work and influence of all of these entrepreneurs, their families and employees have had profound effects in Idaho, surrounding states, the nation and in some cases, the world.”

Bunderson concludes by posing and answering the question, “Can anyone be an entrepreneur? The answer generally is yes, if they want to follow the relevant ethical and business principles exemplified by our profiled Idaho entrepreneurs. Become an expert in a chosen business, nourish innovation and creativity, enjoy the work and, most importantly, never give up, in spite of setbacks.”

Bunderson quotes Jack Simplot on the topic how to be successful, “… be disciplined in financial matters; get a ‘taw (a marble player’s shooter),’ add to it all the money you can, keep it wisely invested and do not spend any of it. Simplot points out that over time that investment and its compounding appreciation will make you a millionaire.”



Some writers say that what they have to say to their readers is all in the written word – the book, the article, the formal press release. Res ipsa liquitur.

For many readers, though, and many authors too, the author-reader relationship goes deeper, and should. The reader wants to seeking out the writer and find out more about him or her. The advantage, from the self-publisher’s point of view, is that as readers invest time with the author, they’re more likely to connect with him or her and want to buy their next book. It is usually a win-win relationship.

This doesn’t mean completely opening yourself up to the public.

Authors, like everyone else, already have a number of online tools for engaging readers personally and directly, such as Facebook, Twitter and personal web sites (with comments enabled). There are also some big-organization tools that can help expand your reach.

On Facebook, authors can of course set up their own pages. But third-party pages oriented around an author, with the author’s cooperation, can be even better. A group of fans of the author Dana Stabenow, calling themselves the Danamaniacs, offer one example of a lively author page.

Patrick Brown, who worked on author marketing at Goodreads, suggested at this year’s BookExpo America, “Whether you are willing to answer questions for a day, or for a week, please let your readers know your parameters. Maybe you only want to answer questions about your new book; make that clear. You’re not obligated to answer all questions, but you do need to be a good citizen and let your readers know what kind of questions you’ll take.”

He suggested questions focused around the writing process and the specifics of finished works, and that some thought – and personal writing style – be used in crafting answers.

Goodreads has an “Ask the Author” feature on its website. Writers who participate on Goodreads in their author program can enable it, but they need to switch a toggle authorizing the service from “off” to “on.” Goodreads notes that, “This will activate the Ask the Author section on your author profile, allowing readers to ask you questions. It’s a good idea to add a personal message letting fans know when or for how long you will be available.”
A number of other services let authors communicate directly with readers too. has long had Author Central that authors can use as a sort of mini-website to show off their personal information as well as their bibliography. It allows you to link to, and include feeds from your social and web media. That means you can connect your Facebook and Twitter feeds, plus the feed from your blog (presumably you have one) into your Author Central site. That gives you a series of ways to connect with readers directly.

Smashwords has a similar author marketing tool, which it describes as “author pages with bios and listings of published works, individual book pages for each work, support for embedded YouTube videos so the author can promote the book in their own words, member contributed reviews, author “favoriting,” and integration with social bookmarking and social networking sites.” There are some indications these one-way services (two-way if you can move your traffic toward social media and personal websites) may be expanded, because Smashwords also said, “In the months and years ahead, Smashwords will provide even more tools to help authors reach their readers.”

Communication between author and reader can run in other directions as well. Smashwords is also beginning to offer interactive widgets. At, a Smashwords book widget can be downloaded and plugged into WordPress-based web sites. It “Displays one or more random book covers of a Smashwords author. It can be used by authors to display their work, by fans or by affiliate partners.”

Selling books and engaging readers work together: The more engaging readers you do, the more books you can sell, and the more happy readers you will have, book after book.

(Adapted from an article originally appearing on Bookworks.)

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No author is an island, or at least should not be.

Above the commonplace and never-disputed pieces of advice – in this case, because it’s so sound – is that every author needs to have at least one person who will give the book a sound external edit. That’s one, or more.

Before it gets to that point, when the manuscript is beyond a first draft and starting to look as if it actually seems to be coming together, there’s space for another good outsider to offer some help. This would be the beta reader.

Many people are more familiar with beta testing in other contexts. I’ve beta-tested some software over the years, for example. Most large corporations, planning a big product rollout, first test it to see how audiences react. Movie producers do it too.

This is different from a line edit, which is the removal of error and sometimes a reorganization. What you’re looking for here is a reader’s reaction: Does this thing work? Does it grab you? Does it entertain or inform or otherwise serve its purpose? Is the purpose worth the reader’s time?

Basic questions.

Mark Coker, the founder the e-Book site Smashwords, wrote a fine piece on book beta readers for Publishers Weekly, published a little over a month ago. It’s worth reading in full.

Coker (focusing here mainly on fiction, though most of the points are more widely applicable) suggests a dozen or two dozen beta readers, if you can get them. Social media is the main route he proposes for finding them – simply putting out the call and making the request, often to friends of acquaintances, to help ensure a layer of brutal honesty where needed.

He advises not to simply send out copies, but encourage people to apply. (The applications, he said, might be set up on Google forms.) The application can be attached to a survey form (or, the survey can be attached to the ms) with specific questions and space for answers. I like the idea of a link to an online survey, a SurveyMonkey kind of thing.

Taking the results from that survey, an author should be able to pick up useful feedback – in most cases useful enough to tinker with the book.

If you can get the readers, get honest reaction from them, and analyze their reactions intelligently, there’s almost no way your book won’t wind up the better for it.

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Anyone wondering how Ridenbaugh Press, which until now has published only nonfiction and mostly reference books, came to publish three novels by an author deceased for a dozen years, can take a look at a piece (“Passion Projects“) out today in the Spokane Inlander.

The author was not just any novelist: Syd Duncombe was a revered political science professor who deeply influenced a generation of Idaho leaders. And his books are about Idaho – and with the passage of time, look like prescient time capsules.

“What most of his friends, colleagues and former students didn’t know about Duncombe, who died in 2004, was the literary heart beating inside the man. That aspect of his life was only recently rediscovered and brought to life through the efforts of his daughter, a curious Idaho historian and a small publishing house,” the paper noted.

Read on in it for more about how all this happened, and the role of another Ridenbaugh author in serving as spark plug. – rs



What’s the least you have to spend on electronics to produce a book?

Many writers who happen not to own the latest and greatest of personal computers ponder the question. Writers on the CreateSpace board days ago asked, “What is the cheapest laptop I can buy that will run everything I need for publishing on CreateSpace?” and “Will a chromebook do everything I need to publish in CreateSpace?”

There are benefits to spending more than the minimum if you can afford it. Faster computers with more memory will help speed the process, and the best software can be a good investment. You may have special software needs if your book is unusual in design, or relies heavily on artwork or special layout. Many people will find a new midrange Windows laptop computer, at about $300 to $700, a practical price. Bear in mind that some of the software you may need, such as Microsoft Word and anti-virus programs, could double that cost.

If this is your first book or if you’re planning complex or artistic design or layout, you’d probably be better off spending the money working with a good professional designer (thereby making use of their equipment).

Most books, including nearly all adult fiction, have simple design needs, and word processing doesn’t require much computing power.

What are the must-haves for your computer?

Get you online. It should come equipped with a web browser (like Internet Explorer or the newer Microsoft Edge, or Safari or Firefox or Chrome) to allow you to visit and interact with websites, and exchange messages including email. You need this for everything from research to most kinds of marketing, as well as transmitting your book files for production.

Produce a file in the .doc or .docx (Microsoft Word) format. Documents in this format are the preferred way to submit files for many types of e-Books (for Kindle, Apple, Nook and others) and some print books. A text saved in .doc format is the first step toward publication.

Microsoft Word will produce documents in these formats, of course. If it isn’t already there, you don’t necessarily have to shell out for a new license. Several other word processing programs will convert documents from their own format to the familiar .doc (or even .docx). If you don’t have word, you can pay a monthly fee to use Office 365, which is the Office suite (including Word) online. There’s also the simpler, and free, Googledocs, which lets you save your documents in several formats including Word. It will work for writing text, but not well enough for design.

Another free and definitely useful option is LibreOffice, which includes a batch of programs similar to Microsoft Office – and for free. For almost a decade I’ve used LibreOffice more than anything else for my writing and book work. It does most of what Microsoft Word does, and it can read Word (.doc) files and create them as well. LibreOffice works in Windows, Mac and Linux operating systems.

Produce a PDF file. You need to be able to produce PDF files – portable document files which consist of images that can be read on almost any kind of computer. Making PDF files can be a little more costly, especially if you buy the full Adobe Acrobat program (and not just their widely-used reader). Software for reading the files is available for free in all sorts of systems. For Windows, the reader produced by Adobe Acrobat is the standard. The Mac (pple) version of Microsoft Word does include a PDF converter.

There are free alternatives. LibreOffice is one of several applications that lets you create a PDF with a push of a single button. PDF files are the preferred way to submit many kinds of files, such as the interior and cover files for CreateSpace print books. And there are online PDF converters, which allow you to upload a Word file and get a PDF file in return. PDF Converter, Online2PDF and Docupub are among the more popular conversion services.

Manipulate images. If you’re starting out with your first or second book, you may simply hire a designer to help with your art work. But at some point you probably will need help with manipulating images – cropping or re-sizing them, sharpening them, adding text, or doing other things. If your needs are simple, simpler image programs can help. A downloadable free option available for nearly all computers is the Gimp Image Editor, which does much of what expensive programs like Photoshop can do.

For basic image work, you can use free online image tools. My favorite, a regular stop, is called Pixlr Express, which lets you crop, brighten, sharpen and otherwise adjust photos and other images.

Paper printing might be helpful but often not necessary. If you’ll only be needing a very limited number of copies, consider putting your file on a thumb drive and printing them at an office supply store (like Staples or Office Max) or a copy shop.

You can do all this with a small, inexpensive laptop computer. We’re not quite to the point that a smart phone could do the job, and most tablets would would not support all the software you need – standards are changing, however. Good used or refurbished laptops often can be had for little more than $100 on places like Craigslist. Get a demonstration, especially of their wifi capabilities, before buying.

What about Chromebooks? These are small, mostly inexpensive computers which rely heavily on the Chrome browsers (produced by Google), which are intended to be used mainly in connection with online sites. New Chromebooks with smaller screens often are priced below $200.

Chromebooks are unusual among laptop computers: They are designed to be used almost exclusively online.

On the CreateSpace board, one writer suggested, “you might decide that using a Chromebook to support a publishing venture is a bit like using chopsticks to eat soup. However, if you do go down this path, you will probably end up looking at The people there have a business model in which they provide cloud versions of free open source software like OpenOffice, LibreOffice, Scribus, GIMP, Inkscape and Sumatra (to name a relevant few) for a small monthly charge.”

Suppose you have an empty (but functional) computer, and no software, and a very tight budget? You can – for free – load the operating system called Linux onto your computer, and it comes with word processors, browsers and many other kinds of software already loaded in. (LibreOffice, for example, is included as a standard feature in most versions of Linux.) I’ve been using Linux and its software for most of my work for more than a decade.

Getting what you need on the skimpiest of budgets can require more work, but it can certainly be done.



For the millions of people who use their smartphones more than they do laptop or desktop computers, a major and popular smartphone-specific – and useful in practically all smartphones – app aimed directly at books is growing on the scene.

It is free, and easy enough to use that I started posting on it within five minutes of downloading and installing.

It’s called Litsy, and it feels like a mashup of ideas other apps and websites have made popular.

It draws from Twitter its simplicity, an emphasis on short messages and limitations on what you can do there; but it does include extensive searching and hashtag capabilities. It gets from Goodreads an exclusive focus on books, but is even more tightly aimed: While you can follow other people and authors there, the site is organized primarily around specific books, not authors.

Like Instagram it is biased toward including pictures and other artwork alongside the words; Litsy is highly visual. Someone at Instagram several years back had the idea of appealing to book readers, and set up #bookstagram, a widely used hashtag on Instagram. Bookstagram emphasizes images relating to books, and like Instagram it is easy to use on smartphones. However, a librarian who reviewed it and compared to Litsy noted an important limitation: “Litsy saw the issue with bookstagram, and that was that you would see a book you thought was interesting. And then have to go and look it up on GoodReads separately. But with this app, you just click on the title in the picture and you can read a synopsis, see posts aka what other people think, and add it to a “to read” list. Something that Instagram lacks.”

The emphasis on individual book titles may provide some help to new authors who might have only one title available. In many other book-related sites focusing more on authors, those with many titles under their belts tend to stand out more prominently.

Other services may be added over time. In their new-signup welcome email, Todd and Jeff (no last names given) said, “Litsy is in its infancy. There are bugs to be squashed and features to add. So it goes. What we have today will evolve, and the way you use Litsy helps pave the way forward.”

The app is available through the iTunes Apple store and the Android Playstore (where I obtained it for my smartphone).

Signup is quick and painless. I established my account using my Facebook information; approached that way, the signup forms were only three lines lines. You can also sign in with email address, and that was only about twice as long.

There’s no cost. The site’s revenue stream eventually may come from advertising.

Once inside, you encounter a feed something akin to Twitter or Facebook, but all book-oriented. The feed including plenty of images, short reviews of and quotes from various books,

Your options for engagement are limited but powerful. You can follow other users (and get lists of others).

A review on Bookriot said, “You can basically do only three things to add content to your page: quote from a book you’re reading, blurb a book you’re reading, and review a book you’re reading. Litsy forces you to tag a book title for every post, so this keeps the community focused on reading in a really satisfying way. Each one of these posts can be a picture, or text, or both.”

Bookriot also advised: “No privileged author space. There’s nothing stopping authors from joining the community and posting their books, but it’s set up to be reader-focused first. I would probably stop following someone who only ever posted about their own work, and then I’d never have to see their posts if I didn’t seek them out.”

That would also be good advice when marketing through any kind of social media. The lack of division between authors and readers can be an advantage in personal communications.

Litsy also uses algorithms to measure books and users. Its site suggested, “Measure Litfluence to discover your ‘bookprint’ in the world. Explore recommendations from readers, not algorithms.”

In March 2014 we wrote about four apps useful for writers which worked on smartphones. Those, however, were more useful for people in the early stages of researching or writing a book (or something else), rather than authors with a finished product.

WriteChain concerned, and still does, the “WriteChain challenge” to write every day, using a smart phone app to help keep track of word counts. The TextExpander offers custom keyboard shortcuts, which are more easily put to use on computers and tablets than on smartphones. Those apps can be used on most smartphones, but the other two appear to be available for Apple only. These are the mind-mapping app iBlueSky, useful for writers but also other users, and Wikipanion, which provides short cuts for people using Wikipedia.

Many book-related smartphone apps are available for services or retailers based primarily in the computer world. Goodreads and Amazon, iTunes and Barnes and Noble, among many others, have developed apps for smartphones to offer easy use of their conventional websites.

Litsy, by contrast, points itself directly to people who interact with their smart phones more than any other devices, may be well positioned to capture a significant market. Indie authors would be well positioned to pay attention.


stapiluslogo1 is making some big changes. Some of them, like its big push into India and its new app for childrens’ stories, may not affect you much as an indie writer and publisher. But if you use CreateSpace to print and Kindle Direct Publishing to develop your e-Books, another Amazon development may affect the way you bring your books to the world.

It is called KDP Print. It is now in experimental development, and it may change the way authors use CreateSpace and Kindle. It seems intended to help writers create print and e-Books at the same time, or even print books from e-Books.

I say “it seems” because Amazon has released little information about KDP Print.

Much of what we know comes from a few writers who, checking into their Kindle Direct Publishing bookshelf, have observed this notice: “You can now publish paperback versions of your books with KDP Print (beta). Learn more about the beta.” Only a few Kindle authors so far have gotten this message; most have not.

Until now, Amazon has developed CS and Kindle as separate units.

When in 2005 Amazon’s executives decided to start printing as well as selling books, it bought a company called Booksurge, one of the most popular early providers of print-on-demand publishing. Renamed CreateSpace, it kept many of the procedures and price points Booksurge had, and established a system and user interface – dashboard and related pages – customers have used ever since.

Amazon’s launch into e-Books was different, starting with the 2004 directive from CEO Jeff Bezos to beat the competition in creating an e-reader. In 2007, soon after the Kindle reader went up for sale and the Kindle Book Store began stocking books, Kindle Direct Publishing was launched to allow authors to convert their book manuscripts into e-Books.

Since then, the two services have had only a limited connection with each other. Authors who develop a print book through CreateSpace do encounter a page near the end of the process suggesting they to convert the book into Kindle format and make it available in the Kindle store.

Now, Amazon appears ready to link Kindle Direct Publishing and Createspace closer together, possibly merging them. That may mean letting authors use both the print and e-Book service in a single dashboard user interface. However it evolves, the new unified system is being called Kindle Print.

A notice from Amazon shared by one KDP user says, “We’re excited to offer the opportunity to publish paperbacks in addition to Kindle eBooks. We’ll be adding even more print-related features in the future, like proof copies, author (wholesale) copies, and expanded distribution to bookstores and non-Amazon websites. Publishing a paperback can help you reach new readers. KDP prints your book on demand and subtracts your printing costs from your royalties, so you don’t have to pay any costs upfront or carry any inventory.”

It then cites several benefits of using the new KDP print on demand, most of which are similar to CreateSpace. One difference seems to be in the details of the royalty payments, which refer to payment for “up to 60% royalties on the list price you set, minus printing costs.” CreateSpace also offers its own store, where the comparable royalty is 80%.

The process for using the new system seems to be similar to CreateSpace too, with a big exception that only PDF files, and not Word documents (which CreateSpace allows), would be accepted for processing into print books.

There are also reports in the boards that CreateSpace may be absorbed within KDP. One commenter on Goodreads suggested that “You’ve probably noticed that the CS UI [user interface—its dashboard] is ancient. That tells me that Amazon isn’t really investing in CS. Once KDP Print gets out of beta, I bet you’ll see a push by Amazon to get people to move from CS to KDP Print.”

That’s one speculation. Here’s another from the same board: “CreateSpace is not the same as KDP and likely, one will not replace the other. CreateSpace and KDP are both owned by Amazon, but they are separate services. More likely, KDP will be a bare bones printing option since at the moment, they are limited.”

But on October 11, the GoodEReader website said “the consensus seems to be that Amazon may be shifting its print arm to this model rather than CreateSpace. And it noted, “Until more authors are brought in to test KDP Print’s process and more information is shared with the publishing industry, the full scope of the program—as well as its merits and flaws—won’t be known.”

The website The Digital Reader described the plan as a “combined interface where publishers can manage both their ebooks in the Kindle Store and their POD books in CreateSpace.”

This system is still new, undergoing beta testing. Amazon has not gone public in announcing it, and seems to be offering it only to scattered users for testing. When I tried to reach it, I got the message, “This page is unavailable.”

The selection of tester authors seems almost random, On September 29, for example, a writer named Michelle posted on the CreateSpace forum, “I logged into my KDP account this morning and have noticed KDP has a Beta program for POD [print on demand], and that you can migrate your CS titles over. Could this mean that CS and KDP will eventually merge?” She quick drew a crowd of responders, all saying they had seen nothing similar.

On the KDP user board, writer James McKinney, who had entered and explored the new system but said he never had used CreateSpace, said “It’s actually really streamlined, pretty much a simple WYSIWYG wizard type of thing, and it makes fantastic looking books straight from your already published eBook – the only thing I’ve found that I DON’T LIKE about it is the lack of a page-numbering system.”

Plenty of writers are waiting eagerly to see what more Amazon has to say about all this.


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About once a year and again in this season one or more writers will assertively inquire in the writer boards: Why do I need chapters in my eBook? Can I do without them? Why can’t I get rid of the Table of Contents—it seems like a lot of work to produce? Or why can’t I move it to the back of the eBook?

Ebooks seem to be so flexible as to handle almost every creative challenge we throw at them. But doing away with chapters, or front-of-book tables of contents, are a bad idea.

You will see arguments to the contrary.

A year ago author Kevin Lomas wrote on the Lulu self-publishing board, “Not everyone wants chapters. There are none in my print fiction books.” The idea of eliminating chapters or tables of contents seems limited mainly to works of fiction, and the discussion seems to be centered around eBooks rather than print.

On September 27 this year, author Lala Corriere sparked heavy discussion on the Murder Must Advertise board when “I would not print my softcover books without chapters. But I finally asked my readers. So far, NONE of them look at, need, or want a TOC in an eBook. As a READER, I agree. Who cares?”

The concept of experimental formats, at least, isn’t foreign to traditional book publishers. Book editor Erin Lale said four years ago that, “In modern times, not all books have chapters. Most nonfiction books which naturally have sections, such as different historical periods in a history textbook, do still have chapters. Most fiction novels also have chapters, although some comparatively recent books have a modernist deconstruction of chapters. There are books with one word chapters, and books that begin with a Chapter 1 label and have no further divisions. There are books with nonconsecutive chapter numbering, books with backwards chapter numbering, such as ‘God, A Users Guide’, and even chapter numbering systems that border on a parody of the form …” Variations on these ideas have only expanded since.

In contrast, the provenance of the chapter is ancient. A 2014 “New Yorker” article about the history of book chapters argued that, “The chapter is tied intimately to our notions of literacy … More than this, the chapter has become a way of looking at the world, a way of dividing time and, therefore, of dividing experience. Its origins date back to long before the printing press or even the bound codex, back to the emergence of prose in antiquity as both an expressive and an informational medium.”

The chapter may have been developed then, as it still serves now, to help divide masses of material into easier bites, just as paragraphs do. Imagine reading this article as one unbroken paragraph … or, better, don’t.

But there are still other compelling reasons for sticking with the normal approach, including the technical and commercial.

One of the Murder Must Advertise writers recently advised, “If you publish with Amazon exclusively, they require a ToC, and they want it up front. I just got a notice to change a ToC from the back to the front of my book.” MMA authors warned in the same conversation that books might be flagged (on their online sales page) as technically deficient, or even removed from sale, if these chapter and contents rules aren’t met.

Amazon includes this in its Kindle formatting directions: “A working table of contents allows your readers to jump directly to the chapter or section they want. This feature is so important to Kindle customers that Amazon requires all Kindle books with chapters or sections to have a working table of contents. You can build one using Microsoft Word.” That same page includes detailed instructions for setting up a table of contents.

Other eBook providers have imposed similar requirements. Production requirements for Ingram-Spark eBooks reference requirements for the table of contents as well.

On top of all that, authors who try to skip the use of chapters may be bypassing a useful commercial tool.

Many fiction authors title chapters only by number. (That’s one of the reasons some authors disdain tables of contents for those books.) But effective chapter names can help you sell your book – even your fiction book.

In my first article for BookWorks, I wrote about chapter titles: “The cover and the title will persuade someone to peruse your book – but if you’ve titled the chapters, they can help turn a browser into a reader. A table of contents tells a prospective reader what to expect from the reading ahead.” It described a list of compelling chapter names as a series of hooks to help pull the reader into the book.

There was the example of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’, which used only chapter numbers. One online editor suggested chapter titles, such as “Chapter 1—The Truth of the Green Light,” “Chapter 2—Among the Ash Heaps,” “Chapter 3—The Host.” “Chapter 4—The Pursued, the Pursuing, the Busy and the Tired” and “Chapter 5—Ghostly Heart.”

My reaction: “Had those chapters been so named when I first considered reading it (at that time, and for some years, I passed), they might have drawn me in sooner.”

I still think so.

Chapters may be the traditional approach, but that doesn’t mean they’ve lost any of their usefulness, or necessity.

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The weeks just before and after you launch a book are full of to-dos, but few items on your list are more frustrating, stressful or essential than collecting an early round of book reviews.

Don’t be surprised that a whole industry has grown up to fill that need, or charge fees to people who think they need the help. But don’t be surprised either than this is a need you can fulfill on your own.

Your need for reviews begins soon after your launch. You need them to provide credibility to buyers, add heft to your book customer pages, and to qualify for various kinds of book listings and reports.

The reviews you want fall into two categories. There “institutional” or professional reviewers. Some of these work for large publications or companies (like Publishers Weekly or Kirkus Reviews) but many others write for independent web sites. I covered many of these review options in an earlier BookWorks post. Another post by Carla King discussed web sites where authors can get professional paid-for reviews (though the payment is no guarantee of a positive review).

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The second group of reviewers, at least as critical to your book marketing, are the individuals who submit reviews to places like and Goodreads. The more reviews your book gets in online retailer sites, the better it looks to buyers and the more prominence you receive overall. But getting these reviews, because these individuals are so scattered, is not always easy. Amazon disapproves of authors bringing in friends and relatives, or of paying for customer review books. (It will allow reviews from people who receive a review copy of the book, however.) As Penny Sansevieri wrote here last year, Amazon has become more aggressive about yanking customer reviews its staff conclude violate its standards.

So how can you get those precious reviews up there?

The answer is to obtain, and then parse, a data dump: Find or create a list of people who review books, isolate those likely to be interested specifically in your book, and then get in front of them. You either can hire out much of the work of doing that, or do it yourself.

The biggest commercial name in the field of finding reviewers is NetGalley, a division of Firebrand Technologies, and whose slogan is “Feed your readers”. Started in 2008, it found a niche in distributing to reviewers and to many libraries digital copies of books not yet released. Big 5 publishers including PenguinRandomHouse and Simon & Schuster use them, but so do many indie publishers.

NetGalley also carries a hefty price tag. Its basic service, called Marketing-Plus-Title-Listing (including some marketing services in addition to reviewer outreach), has a standard price of $599. There are lower-cost options and membership in some organizations can bring discounts, but NetGalley should be considered a high-end option which in some ways works more efficiently with larger publishers.

Here’s a quote from their web site: “We cannot guarantee any reviews or requests for your title, since the NetGalley service primarily provides a platform for publishers/authors to connect with professional readers.” That’s largely true of all such services.

A newer and highly popular option, sought out by many indies, is HungryAuthor, founded by novelist Rebecca Hamilton.

Its review service (HA offers others as well) is relatively inexpensive. For $25, its web site said, “a team of reviewers who will read your book and post honest reviews to Amazon and Goodreads. Generally, you can expect 5-20 reviews, though some titles have garnered as much as 30-50 reviews.”

In January, a writer (possibly Hamilton but using a pseudonym) speaking for HA said on a forum for authors, “my review list started with my personal arc readers, and of course my arc readers are people who love books! They read to escape, not to critique, and they do have a positive review attitude. But that does not mean their reviews aren’t honest. We have seen 3 star reviews from my team as well, but as we ask that since they are getting these books for free (and therefore opening themselves up to books they normally wouldn’t read) that they only review the books they finish. This allows them to be honest without putting the author at risk for the kind of reviews common with freebie downloads.”

Author and book consultant Bryan Cohen said in August, in a podcast report on his own experience launching a novel, that he used HungryAuthor’s and received a number of reviews. HA has become popular enough that it is now booked months in advance. Its website cautioned, “Some books may be passed over if they do not meet our quality standards for editing, design, and formatting. Please submit your best product.”

A third operation, aimed even more specifically at reaching reviewers, is Book Razor: “You write … we look for potential reviewers”. They provide a list of carefully-chosen reviewers: “You want to email as few people as possible while getting as many reviews as possible. That’s why we only browse through the reviews of similar books you provide to us, and not through the entire genre and/or related genres. While it limits the number of potential reviewers we can find, we’ve found it greatly increases the response and review rate.” They charge about $30 for 50 potential reviewers, with increasing rates topping at $250 for 500.

How well does it work? Author Kevin Kruze reported last year that “For my newest book I tried out Martin Meadows’ service. Basically, this is a service where they’ll research the names and email addresses of people who left Amazon book reviews on books that are similar to yours. Then it’s up to you to reach out via email to see if these active reviewers would be interested in reviewing your book.”

However, all of these services are explicit in saying they cannot guarantee a specific number of reviewers, or eventual reviews.

You could do the same thing they do, at more time and less financial expense.

It’s time- and labor-intensive, but the process will be more fully in your control if you do it that way, and you may learn a lot about your book’s marketplace.

Go to Amazon and look up a book as similar to yours, in subject matter and approach, as you can find. Go to the book’s customer page, and scroll down to the customer reviews. (If the book has none or very few, move on to another book.)

Scan the first review. Does this sound like someone who would like your book? If so, click on the reviewer’s name. If you can easily spot an e-mail address for that person, put the name and address on a list. Then move on to the next reviewer, and then the next most-similar book.

How many reviewers you collect this way is up to you; remember that only a fraction are likely to produce an actual review. Lean toward those providing what look like proper names (as opposed to “Amazon reviwer” or “anonymous”). Lean also toward those with higher reviewer ranks, preferably within the top 100,000, because they’re more likely to generate a review. (The overall number of Amazon reviewers runs into the millions.) When you have your list, send each person on it a note reminding them of their interest in the book they reviewed, your publication of a new and similar book, and the offer to send them a for-review e-book copy of yours. Then see what happens.

You may also get some reviews through book giveaway programs, free book download events and other activities. But approaching people accustomed to reviewing books online probably is the best way to get solid, well-crafted book reviews where you need them.



Before you send your masterpiece out to the world, consider publishing a sub-masterpiece first.

I’m talking about an additional book, smaller, not lesser in quality, just in size and scope. It should be a good piece of work containing most of the attractive elements of the mothership, in a smaller package you can deliver quickly and promote in advance of the big book. This smaller book would be made available for free, as a promotional product. A number of authors, and marketers, call these “funnel books”—books that send readers through a marketing funnel to their main and for-sale product.

It’s an old concept, and not limited to publishing. You see it at your grocery store where companies offer free tastes of food and other products. (The shampoo I’ve used for many years first came to me as a free sample.) One web site on general marketing ideas said, “When companies introduce a new product to the market, whether it’s a perfume or a pizza, they often give away free samples. They hand out product to consumers and send free coupons in the mail. They offer free coupons to people who ‘like’ the product on Facebook. While people may be hesitant to try something new if they have to pay for it—if they’re disappointed, they’ll have wasted their money—many people will try anything once if it’s free. If the product is good, they’ll want another pizza or more perfume.”

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The advantages of free have been suggested over and over by authors and marketers. No marketing tactic has an airtight success record, but the results on this one are strong. The reason is simple: Free attracts people easily, and if they see strong quality—what they’re looking for—in the freebie or cheap piece, they’re far more likely to invest actual cash in your writings next time.

This can work especially well in fiction, if you offer a series or a group of otherwise similar books. Many authors offer the first full book in a series for free, finding that satisfied readers will be highly likely to pay for the second, third and beyond.

The idea is to create a “funnel book” that is shorter than a full-priced book but still provides most of the same reader experiences: The same major recurring characters, similar setting and atmosphere (if these are consistent), and the same kind of emotional charge. If you have a series in mind or have started one and you have a story or novel idea that isn’t quite complete, isn’t enough to sustain a full-scale book, this may be the place to use it.

The novella, long thought to be an outlier in commercial fiction, has found a whole new use in this area.

Author Nick Stephenson is among the writers using this approach as a standard method. He first creates a funnel book designed to bring in readers and ease them to the next step; the funnel can be an already-existing book set permanently for free, or a new short book also set for free; sometimes he gives readers two free books in a series before charging for one. In addition to earning the trust of the reader—that you will deliver an enjoyable or useful book—you can set up the delivery system to capture the reader’s e-mail as well. (You could send the free book to the reader by an email autoresponder.) That way, you can let your reader base know about new releases.

Stephenson said he pulled in a thousand new readers after first embracing this approach, and over several years has developed an estimated 15,000 new e-mail addresses.

Sean Platt and Johnny Truant, hosts of the Self Publishing Podcast, report that, “the most frequently visited topic [on their podcast] is how to build funnels.”

Another thing you can do with funnel samplers, if you’re still planning and developing your series, is to test your options. Some authors send out several sampler funnel books, all drawn from the same prospective series but varying in key respects: Pacing, the number of characters, locations and atmosphere, or other variables. If you can write three or four brief funnel books and send them all out to the world, you can see which generate the best reception.

Writer Derek Murphy tried this with four short titles. “All are pretty similar, in pretty similar categories, with similar covers, [but] only one has really taken off,” he wrote.

Murphy reflected, “I could have done the normal thing and wrote a series, then another series, then another series … I might spend 5 years before I wrote a popular series that could actually make money. Instead I wrote four 50K half novels, as a market test, to see which of my ideas was most marketable. Obviously, I have my answer.”

One of the authors I work with tried the funnel book approach on a small scale for a local non-fiction book about how a city park was created. I suggested he develop a smaller free book, providing a tour of the park area, that could be promoted in advance, develop a readership base and link him to the subject of the park system. When time came to release the main book, his audience seemed to be a little more ready for the full book than it otherwise might have been.

You can release free funnel books in eBook rather than print format; the out of pocket costs for doing it this way are minor. You will need to create and obtain the eBook files for your books (mobi files for Kindle, for example) so that they’re easily obtained by readers. Bear in mind that even though they’re free, your funnel books still need promotion so readers will know they’re there. Follow your usual book marketing approaches for doing this.

Distribution of free books is generally easy through most eBook channels. Kindle has several categories that can distribute at low cost (usually meaning 99 cents), and it will distribute free in special days in the KDP program. An alternative, or an addition, is to work through Smashwords, which actively encourages use of free samples as part of their distribution program.

If you want to keep track of exactly who is ordering your free book—and this is helpful for building e-mail and other lists—you can store the books on Google Drive or Dropbox, or a similar service.

Another approach, which comes with a small fee (starting at $20 a year), is a third-party distribution service like Instafreebie or Bookfunnel, which stores the books and simplifies downloading, through a single click, for readers. Because they can handle significant volumes more easily than an author website usually could, some large-selling authors use them. (I spotted a new Janet Evanovich title on Instafreebie this month.) For new authors, however, the issue of handling big volume generally won’t be a big consideration.

Some authors dive into the marketplace with full-sized novels and find success. But a softer entry, with the chance to review what works and what doesn’t, may be the surer route to success.

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