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World Book Day: What makes a review?

World Book Day: What makes a review?

Happy World Book Day to one and all. I have fond memories of book-themed occasions having received annual book vouchers at school and prize book gift vouchers when I achieved in my subjects. Yes I was that geeky student waltzing off to his nearest WHSmith to cash in for previously un-bought Hardy Boys, Sharpe, or Robert Ludlum story depending on my age. Reading is wonderful, a medium that interacts with its consumer in a way movies cannot. The writer can spell out every little detail he likes, but what those mean to the reader is completely individual. Therefore every person has a slightly different encounter with a book. With the movies, an extra few layers of our imaginative powers is removed. Forsaken for million dollar special effects budgets. That’s good too. But it doesn’t beat your imagination…

So while I hope everybody is enjoying the various events that have been ongoing across the web and in libraries and community centres I have a reading themed question to ask.

You may already know that my short story The Lazarus Experiment was available for free last weekend as part of an anniversary celebration – one year since I submitted the former #tuesdayserial weekly tale to my publishers Books to Go Now. It’s now back on sale in the Kindle stores at its regular price (77p in the UK.. 99c or $1.22 in the US.. the website seems to keep showing me different prices, but I’m not American anyway…) which, lets face it, is the price of a chocolate bar and cheaper than a cup of tea in most places. One of the bonuses for me as a writer, and my publishers, this week has been the sudden appearance of reviews at last!

One reviewer over on Amazon scored my tale about Frank Swan with 4 stars, suggesting whilst she had received it free it would have been worth paying for. Jackpot! Cannot ask for more from a reader than satisfaction and endorsement like that…

The other reviewer over on the UK Amazon however scored the World War 2 set science fiction tale with just one star. One. Uno. Jeden. Een. This is the intriguing part however… the review is largely positive – crediting the plot and wanting more. However it is the lack of the more which hurts the review. With this reviewer saying if he had paid for such a short story he would have been very unhappy.

Quite the contrast between the two reviews eh? Ah, the life of the author…

I have politely pointed out that Amazon does indeed show how short the story is, and that it is tagged and promoted as a short story, but have thanked the reviewer anyway for what I feel is a fair review. It is short after all! I only responded to the review because I did not want people to think myself or my publisher to be trying to con people – it is clearly marketed in a similar way to other short stories available on the e-book market and anyone following my twitter or Facebook streams knows I am at endless pains to include the #shortstory hashtag. Short stories are back in vogue like they haven’t been since the pulps of the 30’s and 40’s or Dickens before them. I am happy shouting from the rooftops that I write them.

And yet… it has got me thinking about what goes in to a review?

What makes a story 5 stars, and another one 1 star?

It’s certainly a question with unlimited answers but to go on the second reviewers apparent scale, then War and Peace, the famously long tome by Leo Tolstoy, would be a five-star extravaganza… even if its mode of writing bores the tears out of you (as it does me). Likewise the movie Godfather may struggle to get 1 star because people prefer the 90 minute feature, despite its unquestionable status (go on i dare you…) as one of the finest films of all time.

When I review something I do it from the perspective of how the book, music, movie makes me feel. Did I enjoy it? It’s as simple as that. Obviously i expand on that notion. But if it gave me great pleasure, if I went to bed each night early just so I had more time to read more of the book…then I give a positive review. Even if it’s not technically perfect or dare I suggest it, it’s too short.

So what makes you give one star, three stars or five stars to something?

Do you start in the middle at three stars and add and detract as I do?

Or do you have some arcane method that involves the slaughtering of a turkey and the drawing of a circle in front of your bookcase in its blood? Hey, it takes all sorts…

Please leave your thoughts in the comments, and feel free to tweet me on twitter or drop a message on the Facebook page!

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Posted by on March 1, 2012 in Reading Initiatives

 

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The Lazarus Experiment: An Anniversary Special

The Lazarus Experiment: An Anniversary Special

It was over a year ago in January 2011 that I began serializing my short story The Lazarus Experiment on a weekly basis. Four parts, each around 1,000 words long was my contribution to the #fridayflash and #tuesdayserial community on Twitter. The response was positive with some readers intrigued to ask where exactly the line between fact and fiction was in the story (its stranger than you may think see my article on the research that went in to the story). It gave a great shot of adrenaline to this websites traffic and when I came to complete the serial at the start of February I was enthused to submit it to a few electronic publishers as a collected 5,000 word short story.

A couple of publishers were interested and I’ve been very happy with the support (including in polishing it up in a pre-release edit) and advice that my chosen seattle based publisher Books To Go Now have given me. You can get The Lazarus Experiment from a wide range of websites including the Kindle platform, Nook shop, and even UK stalwart WHSmith. You can download it from the Android marketplace, where its been most popular with people on the go looking for a quick read, or you could even borrow it in American library. The pricing has even been revised to a figure I’m comfortable with (77p in the UK, about the price of a chocolate bar).

Now, a year on from starting that journey with Books to Go Now they have continued to support it by offering it FREE this weekend only on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. To get it all you need to do is load up your Kindle App (also Free on Phones and computers) type in Christopher Michael Bell or The Lazarus Experiment and download for your reading pleasure.

And should it really be a reading pleasure, please don’t forget to leave a little review on either or both of the Amazon websites… and tell your friends!

The Lazarus Experiment, Free this weekend on KINDLE!

Image: photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 
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Posted by on February 25, 2012 in Publishing

 

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State of the Experiment: An Update on Lazarus

State of the Experiment: An Update on Lazarus

On the 11th March 2011, www.Bookstogonow.com a Seattle based epublisher released The Lazarus Experiment on to the US and UK Amazon Kindle stores and the Barnes and Noble Nook Store. It remains a great point of pride to have someone look at your work, edit it with you and want to publish it (and publicise your talents). I have enjoyed the experience of going through the revision process with them – a first for me as my work for Ether Books didn’t go through a third party editing process. I had been nervous about it, not being sure how far I could push the defence of aspects of the story against the editors axe. I wanted to be published, but I wanted it to be my story that was published. The Seattle company were fully understanding and engaged on a reasoned debate. I gave on certain issues for them and they accepted my defence of other passages. The finished story, available to buy today, is undoubtedly superior, tighter and more polished than the one that debuted as a free Tuesday Serial in January. Publishing a story is only half the battle.

Does anyone actually want to read it?

I have an ideological perspective on this question. If you are interested, somebody else will be, its natural. It boils down to finding that person and getting that story in their hands. The big publishing houses will blanket advertising hoardings, subway trains, bins, web advertising, television and radio slots to find those people who are interested. For most of the small outfits and the Indy publishers, they don’t have the luxury of such a war chest. The strategy becomes refined even further to targeting each individual sale. I have used Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Shelfari so far to promote The Lazarus Experiment. I have discussed it with strangers and friends of friends in bars when watching Champions League soccer and seen a direct consequence of it being a sale. They in turn have discussed it with friends and lecturers at the local University. I have reached a lot more people than I had thought possible on an advertising budget of £0.00. Not being the publisher I do not have sales figures but have been able to use the Author Central websites for the UK, US and German Amazon sites to track the sales ranking.

My Amazon.co.uk sales ranking has looked like a dodgy heart monitor, stuttering up and down every week since publication. The good news is this tells me that there are sales being made, that if I link the days when I spike (to a highest of 9,271, low of 81,363 and as of posting current rank of 26,502) then I can relate it to my marketing activity. The Amazon.com sales figures sailed consistently down since publication, giving me the distinct impression of irony that my story which was published by an American company wasn’t selling in America. That changed this Thursday when I must have shifted a fair few downloads as I lifted from an all time low of 346,821 to a four week high of 66,511.

I have learned two things from this. On the one hand not to despair when the blue line seems to be going consistently down, you won’t lose your shelf space after all, when the customer turns up they will find it. Secondly, twitter is an incredibly powerful niche marketing tool. Yes we’ve heard it before, social media is great for marketing. Its still nice to have proof in the return of dollars/euros/pounds though isn’t it?

I embraced the book trailer rather after the fact and more as an experiment than any serious effort. I realised that having a discussion page on Facebook and an advertising/networking platform on Twitter was great, but I had no presence on that other behemoth of social media – Google’s YouTube. I have no software besides the abysmal Windows Movie Maker, and no funds to purchase images so I was limited to using just the book cover, scrolling text and a voice over.

I scripted several voice overs to dramatize the plot without giving anything away and lucked out in being able to turn to my voice over producing, international DJ, father Jonathon Wesley over at www.cjmq.fm. We worked back and forth for a week on getting the sound and pacing right, his voice certainly lending considerably more credibility than my squeaky pitch. I then put everything together and published it to my Facebook profile and YouTube account. It was a good learning experience. What do you think of the effort?

I mentioned the German Amazon website. I have to thank the Mad Pulp Bastard Bill Cunningham over at Pulp 2.0 for pointing out that his recent release Frankenstein Lives Again! had surprisingly gone live on the German kindle store. I had a quick search and found my own baby The Lazarus Experiment on sale there too! I will be sure to nudge my publishers to ensure that their eBooks go out on the other Amazon sites. Even without translation there is a large English speaking audience just waiting for our material in those countries.

That pretty much sums up my activities promoting The Lazarus Experiment in the last couple of months. Remember if you are having a story published or publishing one yourself – never stop marketing it, the problem particularly with ‘streams’ is that your audience may simply not be looking one week when you plug your baby. Be proud of your accomplishment and don’t let modesty get in the way of a possible sale when your out and about. Writing is like having a kid. Takes you a set amount of time to create the thing, but your left being responsible for it for the rest of your life. Don’t neglect it!

Do you have any suggestions for ways/places I could be marketing The Lazarus Experiment?

 
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Posted by on May 8, 2011 in Publishing

 

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The Short Form: Brief history, Prosperous Future

gutenberg When Johannes Gutenberg perfected his printing system in the 1450s he triggered a revolution in media. For the first time you could mass produce books (importantly for him, the bible included) rapidly allowing for an easier distribution of ideas and news. However whilst productions of texts like the bible and law codes were certainly undertaken it was the short stories, histories, plays, announcements, testaments etc which were the main beneficiaries. As the process became more developed, the technology for printing advanced and the manufacturing process of the paper became cheaper the long form gradually established its dominance. Now publishers expect texts to be a certain length to justify a certain price. Market forces and all that.

As a result short fiction, essays and the like have found themselves in an uncomfortable position. Unable to find publication outside of anthologies or journals except in rare cases. It has proven a major headache for students for decades being forced to purchase or borrow (from an under resourced university library) texts which they only need access to one article out of 500-1000 pages.

The information technology age always promised something different. Theoretically you should have been able to access individual articles, stories, essays instantly over the web. For various reasons – outdated distribution models, copyright systems, stubbornness – this has only been to limited effect. After all, the people teaching students never had these resources so aren’t familiar with it themselves. Now I am doing the vast majority of my essays for my PGCE by accessing articles on the Athens network, some of my colleagues haven’t touched a computer. People have their own preferences, always will. However the advantages of instant access, no waste, no risk of loss are finally becoming ever more prominent in further education. Middlesbrough College has even uploaded ebooks to their ‘Blackboard’ network cutting the need to own twenty copies of the same book. With the kind of cuts we’re seeing in education budgets, this use of alternative techniques can only be encouraged.

Yet through all this, short fiction has until recently continued to be marginalised. Now however several options for writers has appeared thanks in large part to the popularity of smart phones and e-readers such as the Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook and Sony Reader.

Ether Books are one such company who are publishing short form (1,000-15,000 words) writing directly to mobile phones through their APP. Currently only on the iPhone system they have plans to move to Android, Blackberry and other operating systems as they grow and expand. Think about this as a writer. How many people have Smartphone’s? How fast is that market growing? People do not need to go to a shop, or pick things off a shelf at home. Most people keep their phones near them. Publish on the Ether Books or similar system and you have instant access to a market of millions at no cost to yourself. They handle the distribution and admin, you drive traffic to yourself with an online author platform and collect 20% royalty on each sale. For writers starting out and trying to build that platform, its a fantastic means of getting out there in a crowded market. I also cannot think of a better incentive for continuing writing than to see people actively buying your work for a nominal fee and not just reading it on your blog for free. Though I personally recommend if you have built up a following thanks to something such as twitters ‘#fridayflash’ phenomenon then to continue publishing those stories for free online and use it as leverage for sending traffic to more ‘exclusive’ stories people might be prepared to pay for.

Amazon have also got in on the act this time for academics and those researchers out amongst us. Their “Singles” platform aims to directly solve that student pickle over needing an entire textbook for one article. They have also cited the perfectly good research which never sees the light of print because of its length. There are some criticisms of this as with any kind of self-publishing in that peer review may not take place but the online space is quite efficient in self regulating via reviews and ratings. I myself have a personal research project on a lifetime history of psychiatric nursing, which I intend to base on oral testimony of former and current nurses working in psychiatric care. It will never be a long enough piece for full book publication but may be an appropriate size for the Amazon Singles. Amazon are looking for non-fiction works in the region of 10,000 to 30,000. Email them if you have a work you’d like considered.

So far no word from Amazon’s competition, but it would be limited the scope of their business if they didn’t follow suit in some form. Of course, you can always self-publish any length of work with Amazon’s DTP.

I’m an optimistic guy. I am a huge fan of 1930s-1950s pulp fiction. The quick, unpolished, high drama works that appeared in the likes of Black Mask Magazine. The current moves to once again commercialise the short form of both fiction and non-fiction makes me believe that a prosperous future lies ahead. At least we don’t have to all get bogged down writing The Novel, which after all, is a fashion itself.

What do you think of short form publishing? Have you used the Ether Books APP or contacted Amazon Singles? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

 
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Posted by on October 21, 2010 in Publishing

 

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