Reading Deals Book Reviews: An Update

Back in April I wrote about Reading Deals book review program. I’ve now received all 10 of my reviews on Amazon for Goddess so I can give other authors who need more Amazon reviews an honest review of their services. Here’s my take:

  1. The reviews take a long time to come in. I placed my order for 10 reviews on February 16. I received an email today that my 10th review has finally been posted. Six months sounds like a long time and was more than I expected, but in retrospect, I don’t think it was unreasonable. The reviewers aren’t paid (which is a good thing), so their only incentive to finish a review is so they can get another free book.
  2. The reviews varied a great deal in quality. I never expected NY Times quality reviews. A few of mine were thoughtful, others were barely more than a sentence. It would be good if Reading Deals required reviewers to write a minimum number of words.
  3. The reviews were almost all positive. I don’t necessarily see this as a plus for the service. I’d prefer a thoughtful negative review to a slapdash positive one. The people who didn’t like the book were turned off by the adultery theme. But they still admired the writing, which is just fine by me. I knew the book would be controversial.
  4. They keep you apprised of the reviews coming in. Each week I received an automated email telling me how many reviewers had downloaded the book and how many reviews I’d received. I really appreciated this.
  5. The price seems reasonable. I don’t remember what I paid but the current price is $79. The $129 for premium placement might speed up how fast the reviews come in. Frankly, I’ve spent more and got back less advertising Goddess, so I thought it was worth it.

The bottom line is, if you need more reviews for your book, I think Reading Deals is worth it. It’s certainly more ethical than paying for positive reviews, and I think it’s also more honest than getting your friends and family to review your book.

If you’re considering this service and want to do more research, here are links to all my Reading Deal reviews:

https://www.amazon.com/review/R6824R97NTNEE/ref=pe_1098610_137716200_cm_rv_eml_rv0_rv

http://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R2NYAVSJWZTH32/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_rvw_ttl?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B015JVAF54

http://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R3GGMJUWASAUQN/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_rvw_ttl?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B015JVAF54

https://www.amazon.com/review/REKD0MGHHLX3K/ref=pe_1098610_137716200_cm_rv_eml_rv0_rv

https://www.amazon.com/review/R103U1Z0RQG4SA/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

http://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R1Z8AR8DPTR10N/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_rvw_ttl?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B015JVAF54

https://www.amazon.com/review/R1HICLJJZ7R2CY/ref=pe_1098610_137716200_cm_rv_eml_rv0_rv

https://www.amazon.com/review/R1BOMBCN672018/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B015JVAF54

https://www.amazon.com/review/R2LFOYWO9PS696/ref=pe_1098610_137716200_cm_rv_eml_rv0_rv

https://www.amazon.com/review/R158GIRCS30I6R/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

Happy writing!

Kelee

Raising the Stakes in Your Romance Novel

When you’re a screenwriter, “raise the stakes” is a command you hear often. Put your hero in more danger, make failure more cataclysmic, get your audience on the edge of their seats and compel them to stay there.

Raising the stakes can be difficult in a romance novel. After all, what’s the worst that can happen? Girl doesn’t get boy? Most readers and publishers insist on an HEA ending, so that’s probably not going to go over well.

In GoddessI raised the stakes high by making my heroine a married mother of three daughters. She has a lot to lose by getting involved with another man, no matter how incredibly hot he is. Some readers didn’t like the premise, but other reviewers wrote that they couldn’t put the book down. Nobody said high stakes were pretty. They shouldn’t be.

I was thinking about this last weekend after watching the movie Two Days, One Night. It’s a French drama written and directed by the Dardenne brothers. Sandra, the heroine, has the weekend to convince her co-workers to give up their bonus so their company won’t lay her off.

There are some inherent stakes already built into this premise. We learn that Sandra and her husband have escaped public housing thanks to her job. If she gets fired, they’ll have to go back. Still, it’s not like they’ll be out on the street.

But the Dardenne brothers raise the stakes even higher. Sandra has missed a lot of work because she suffers from depression. (That’s the unspoken reason the company wants to get rid of her.) She’s recovering, but still on shaky ground. If she loses her job, it could push her over the edge.

But wait, as the telemarketers say, there’s more. Sandra now has to talk to each of her co-workers and convince them to vote on Monday to give up their bonuses. Some of them say they’re in financial situations as bad as hers. Others just won’t give up their money to help what they consider to be a lazy co-worker.

Obviously, there’s a lot of drama in this simple situation, and yet there’s one more level of stakes built into the story. Sandra has to keep depression and despair at bay while reluctantly talking to sometimes hostile people. She pops Xanax constantly to get through this ordeal. She’s on the verge of losing not just her job, but her husband, her sanity, even her life. Now those are some high stakes!

You can see how, even in premise as simple as the one in Two Days, One Night, or in a romance novel, there are many ways to raise the stakes organically, without resorting to mob hitmen, natural disasters, or terminal illnesses.

It’s something to think about when you’re outlining your next romance novel.

Happy writing!

Kelee

 

Getting Amazon Reviews: A Success Story

I’ve written earlier about my struggles to get reviewed on Amazon. I definitely wasn’t going to pay for good reviews (Unethical!) and I decided to avoid asking friends and family to review my book. (I’ve read too many books with rave reviews that turned out to be terrible. We all know where most of those reviews came from.)

Call me crazy, but I wanted to actually earn my good reviews. While doing research on where to advertise my next sale on Goddess, I stumbled across Reading Deals. They advertise book bargains, but they also offer a service to send your book out to people who are interested in reviewing it. Yes, you do pay for the service (I paid $39 for 10-15 reviews.) but the reviewers themselves are unpaid and there’s no promise that the reviews will be positive.

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I’ve now received seven reviews through Reading Deals, and along with the reviews I already had, my book is averaging 4.1 stars. Compared to the many books with 5-star averages, that’s not fantastic. But I suspect most of those 5-star reviews were written by the author’s mom and best friends.

The reviews themselves are mostly well thought out, though far from what an author would get from a professional publication. But on Amazon, I think that’s the best we can expect. Overall, I’m pleased with my experience with Reading Deals. I would definitely recommend them to other authors searching for reviews.

Best Wishes,

Kelee

Using Foreshadowing in Your Writing

I’ve been reading Anthony Doerr’s wonderful novel, All the Light We Cannot See. I could say so many things about its powerful story and evocative prose, but the first thing I thought of is how he uses foreshadowing to build tension in the story.

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What is Foreshadowing?

Foreshadowing is something introduced in the first part of a story – an object, a line of dialogue, even a characteristic – that only reveals its significance much later on. Foreshadowing shouldn’t be obvious. If a character says at the beginning of the book, “I’m going to kill John.” and then does kill him later, that’s not foreshadowing.

Here’s a very simple if crude example: At the beginning of a story, we’re introduced to a single mom who has two young children she’s raising. One of the children finds a trophy buried in the back of the closet. The mom admits that at one time she was training to be a champion marital arts fighter, but she gave it up when she got pregnant by a man who’s no longer around. At this point it’s just an interesting bit of character background. It has no significance in the story. Perhaps one other time in the book it’s brought up. (Foreshadowing usually works best if we see it a couple of times before the payoff.) Maybe one of the kids is frustrated because he can’t find a saw to cut a board, so the mom breaks it in two with a wicked karate chop. (I told you this was a crude example.)

The real story kicks off when the mom witnesses a murder. Now hired killers are out to get her. She’ll protect her children at any cost. The killers break into her house and threaten her kids. She summons everything she knows about martial arts to kick their asses. Hooray!

What if there was no foreshadowing in that story? What if the mother just suddenly started beating up these tough guys? We would think it was ridiculous and probably give the book a swift kick into the trash. Foreshadowing helps make the impossible possible.

Foreshadowing in All the Light We Cannot See

Now for a much better example. (And if you haven’t read the book yet, you might want to rush out and do that now, because this will contain minor spoilers.) Near the beginning of the novel, Doerr introduces us to a Nazi treasure-hunter, Sergeant Major Reinhold von Rumpel. He’s on the hunt for a magnificent gem, the Sea of Flames. Most evil Nazis are portrayed as brutes who use violence because they’re impatient to get what they want. But van Rumpel is the complete opposite. He gets the French museum director to reveal what happened to the gem by using extreme patience. He makes the director wait for hours with him in his office until the director can’t stand it anymore and breaks. It’s a brilliant, vivid way to turn what could have been a stock villain into a unique, memorable character.

But it’s not until the climax of the book that this foreshadowing pays off. Marie-Laure, a young, blind girl is the heroine of the book. Her father worked at the museum, and he’s the one who kept the Sea of Flames for safekeeping. After he and all the adults in her life are either dead or arrested, she is left alone in a large house with the gem.  She has a very clever hiding place for herself and the stone, created by her uncle. No ordinary person would be able to find it. But as we’ve seen, thanks to foreshadowing, that van Rumpel is no ordinary villain. He doesn’t know that she’s in the house, but he’s patient enough to continue his search long after others would have given up. Marie-Laure is running out of food and water. The situation seems hopeless for her. We know all about his patience, but Marie-Laure doesn’t. The tension is excruciating, thanks to foreshadowing.

How Not to Use Foreshadowing

If you’ve ever seen M. Night Shyamalan’s movie Signs, then God help you. But it is an excellent example of foreshadowing overkill. Mel Gibson’s family is introduced at the beginning of the movie. His son has asthma and his daughter has a strange habit of leaving unfinished glasses of water around the house. Meanwhile, his brother is a former baseball player who couldn’t make it in the majors because he swung at too many pitches.

Other than the fact that the family is struggling none of this is significant until aliens invade. They spray a deadly gas. Nothing can stop them. Finally, they break into Gibson’s house. How will the family survive? Well, the son happens to have an asthma attack just as he’s sprayed with the deadly gas, so he can’t breath it in. Meanwhile, it turns out water is deadly to the aliens, so all those glasses of water become weapons. Finally, the brother who couldn’t stop swinging his bat uses it to kick alien ass.

When I first saw this movie I’m sure my jaw hung open in disbelief. Talk about foreshadowing overkill. The problem is, if you use foreshadowing too much, it backfires and becomes ridiculous and unbelievable. I could almost see Shyamalan rubbing his hands together, thinking how clever he was. Guess what? He wasn’t.

Use foreshadowing wisely and it can do wonders for your story. Good luck!

Best wishes,

Kelee

 

Big Two Week Sale on Goddess

Yesterday, I kicked off a two week $.99 sale on Goddess with ads in Betty Book Freak and Buck Books. I’m also starting to garner some more reviews on Amazon. Goddess is available on all platforms, so go out (or stay in) and get a copy!

Best Wishes,

Kelee

Free Review Copies of Goddess

You may have read my post a while back about my struggles to get reviews for Goddess without resorting to asking friends and family. (“Really, Kelee,” said my Aunt Agnes. “Erotic romance? Maybe you should bake a nice apple pie instead.”)

Paying people to post reviews felt as unethical as a soliciting a slew of 5-star reviews from my friends. Then, while looking for places to advertise my next big sale, I came across Reading Deals. They don’t advertise erotica, but they do have a side service called Review Club. For $39 an author can get 10-15 reviews on Amazon, plus tweets promoting your book. Yes, it does cost money, but it doesn’t go to the reviewers and there’s no guarantee they’ll give me good reviews, so I felt like it was ethical. I’ll let you know how it works out.

And if you’d like to join Review Club as a reviewer, you can get a lot of free books, including mine:

http://readingdeals.com/free-review-books/goddess-by-kelee-morris

Happy reading, everyone!

Best wishes,

Kelee

Lucia Berlin: A Master Class in Prose

I like working in Emergency – you meet men there, anyway. Real men, heroes. Firemen and jockeys. They’re always coming into emergency rooms. Jockeys have wonderful X-rays…Their skeletons look like trees, like reconstructed brontosaurs. St. Sebastian’s X-rays…The first jockey I met was Munoz. God. I undress people all the time and it’s no big deal. Takes a few seconds. Munoz lay there, unconscious, a miniature Aztec god. Because his clothes were so complicated, it was as if I were performing an elaborate ritual.

Wow, was my first reaction when I read that passage. If I had read that description in a romance novel, I would be hooked on that author for life.

Lucia Berlin‘s writing is so compelling because it can be passionate and romantic, but it’s also achingly brutal. Berlin’s life was tough, and it’s on full display in her short stories. She was an unrecovered alcoholic for much of her life. She also suffered from scoliosis. She wrote sporadically, publishing seventy-six stories in her three decades of writing, mostly in smaller literary magazines.

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I would never nominate Berlin as a template for how a writer should live her life, but I wish more writers had her gift for vibrant imagery and surprising use of language. I very rarely see that in romance and other genre fiction, which is why I sometimes get bored with them. Perhaps most readers don’t want to be challenged, but it’s what I enjoy most. I find unflinching honesty is often be the best way to approach a love story.

Here’s another favorite passage of mine, from Berlin’s story, “Melina.”

Beau had been a sandwich man in San Francisco…One day he had pulled his cart into an insurance office and he saw her. Melina…She was very tiny and thin. But it was her skin, he said. It was like she wasn’t a person at all but some creature made of white silk, of milk glass.

Beau didn’t know what came over him. He left the cart and his customers, went through a little gate over to where she stood. He told her he loved her. I want you, he said. I’ll get the bathroom key. Come on. It will just take five minutes. Melina looked at him and said, I’ll be right there.

I was pretty young then. This was the most romantic thing I had ever heard.

For a fascinating lesson in how to write amazing prose, I’d highly recommend picking up the newly published collection of Berlin’s stories, A Manual for Cleaning Women. It moved me, and I’ve learned a great deal from it. It’s certainly challenged me to reconsider my own style, and how I can touch my own readers in surprising, compelling ways.

Best wishes,

Kelee

Should You Offer Your Book for Free?

My first three months with KDP Select is winding down, and I was considering whether to take advantage of their free book promotion (up to five days) before the end of January. I started to do a little research, and the first thing I learned is how difficult it is to offer your book for free on Kindle outside their exclusivity agreement. My understanding is that it’s fairly easy to set your price at free on other platforms. If you published through Smashwords, all you have to do is notify them and they’ll do the rest. But for Amazon, you first have to change your price on Nook and other distributors, and then convince them to match it. Perhaps running through an Amazon warehouse naked will get you noticed, but otherwise, it can take a lot of time and effort.

But first things first: is giving away your book a good marketing strategy? Being a list-making kind of person, I read a lot of author blogs where they shared their experiences and came up with reasons why we authors should and shouldn’t give away our work.

Four Reasons You Should Definitely Give Away Your Book

  1. You can gain a lot of new readers. Authors report that, with a little advertising, they often get thousands of book downloads. That can translate into readers who will love your writing and eagerly buy your other books.
  2. You can score some new book reviews. Some of those new readers are (hopefully) going to post reviews of your book. Reviews mean future potential sales as you gain visibility and credibility for your work.
  3. It can be a great way to launch the next part of a series. Offering part 1 for free just before the next installment is published can mean more readers will be clamoring to buy it. This is especially true if you wrote a cliff hanger.
  4. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there. Competition is stiff. There are hundreds of thousands of book published every year. Your only hope of getting noticed is to try to get your book into as many hands as possible, by any means possible.

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Four Reasons You Definitely Shouldn’t Give Away Your Book

  1. Downloads don’t necessarily translate into reads. Yes, thousands of readers have downloaded your book, but how many of them will actually read it? There are no exact figures, but based on what others have reported, very few. Readers who like free books tend to download a lot of them. Without having to put any money down, those files may sit in their Kindles for years until they can’t even remember why they downloaded them in the first place. Then, all they have to do is hit delete. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
  2. Downloads don’t necessarily translate into reviews either. Many authors report being disappointed by how few (if any) reviews they get from those thousands of downloads. It could be that people haven’t read the book, or that they’re as lazy about reviewing books as they are about buying them.
  3. Worse yet, those downloads can mean bad reviews. Say a sci-fi fan downloads your free contemporary romance novel without much thought because he likes the babe on the cover. He reads 10 pages and gets so annoyed by the dearth of sex that he leaves a one-star review on Amazon. That certainly won’t help recruit paying customers.
  4. Offering free books perpetuates the belief that everything on the Internet should be free. I pay for web access to the New York Times because I demand good writing. I don’t want to get my news from Yahoo or some other crappy free site. Offering books for free means we don’t value our writing, and readers won’t value it either. If you want to make even a tiny living at writing, somebody is going to have to pay you at some point.

Charging even $.99 can force readers put a little skin in the game. In the long run, I think everyone will benefit. But I do see number 3 in the first list as a good reason to offer a book for free. I especially like the idea of offering a free book through an author’s own website, where your followers have already expressed an interest in you and your writing.

Whatever path you choose, good luck! I’d love to hear the experience of other authors who gave away their books.

Best wishes,

Kelee

 

KDP Countdown Confusion

The KDP Countdown seems like a good deal for authors. You get to run a special for your book (.99 in the case of my book Goddess) while retaining the 70% royalty rate of the regular price. (My regular price is $2.99.)

I ran my first countdown deal just after Thanksgiving and wanted to give it a try again. That’s when I discovered the fine print. While doing a little research, I learned that because I had already run a countdown deal last month, I wasn’t eligible to run another one in the U.S. Fine, I thought, I’ll run the deal in the UK and change the price manually for those of us in the New World. I wouldn’t get the same royalty rate, but that didn’t seem like a big deal. I did my due diligence and read that I must change the price before the countdown deal began. Unfortunately, what I didn’t discover until it was too late was that I had to change my U.S. price 24 hours before my UK deal began.

So, bottom line, I am running a countdown deal, but only in the UK. Oh, well. Merry Christmas to my tea-loving readers. Everyone else will have to wait of for my next special.

Best wishes,

Kelee

How Many Books Can One Writer Juggle?

I’m generally a goal oriented person. When I’m working on a book, I try to stay on task, whether it’s the first draft or tenth. I want to get to the end, cross the finish line, put a checkmark on my to-do list.

But sometimes moving a book forward makes me feel like Sisyphus, with my damned rock stuck in a crevice. I try to stay focused, but all I’m producing is uninspired crap. It’s not long before I realize I’ve spent the last hour of my writing time looking at cute cat videos on Facebook.

While I was trying to interest an agent in my first novel Goddess, and when I subsequently prepared to publish it myself, I felt very disconnected from my creative side. My writing time was spent sending out query letters, working with a designer on a cover, and asking (i.e. begging) advance reviewers to take a look at my book. I know being a writer is at least 80% marketing, but it didn’t feel very satisfying.

To make myself feel better, I read through a screenplay that I wrote a decade or so before called Anywhere’s Better Than Here. It’s about an ambitious television reporter stuck in the most nowhere town in America. Her only hope of making it back to a major television market is by landing a big story with the help of a local yokel cameraman.

The script never quite worked as a straight comedy, but if I emphasized the two characters’ love/hate relationship more, I thought it would make a great romance novel. I worked on the script-to-book translation in my spare time. It was relatively easy – mostly fleshing out the characters and scenes. More importantly, it felt creatively satisfying. I almost finished the first draft of the book by the time Goddess’s publication date arrived.

But then I felt like I needed to start on book 2 of the Goddess trilogy. After all, I didn’t want to leave readers hanging, especially since I’d written a cliff hanger. I wrote an outline and the first few chapters, but I just couldn’t get inspired to go further. After beating my head against the wall for almost a month, I decided I needed another break. Anywhere was calling to me. I was still excited by the characters and the story. I was itching to keep writing. It felt right.

Now I’m part way through the second draft. It needs work, but I’m very pleased with most of what I’ve written. I feel a little guilty that I’m not working on Goddess, but being inspired is too great a high to let go.

Who else likes to have more than one iron in the fire? I’d love to hear how it works for you.

Best Wishes,

Kelee