Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Odyssey Reviewers... Our Lessons Learned

Once again, Odyssey Reviews is posting a 'harshicle'. Having read a good measure of self-published books for this review site, Odyssey reviewers have learned that there are several common mistakes that a self-published author makes when generating their product. These mistakes will affect your sales, your reviews and your marketability as an author. The more we read, the more compelled we are to note these issues. Gird your loins, authors--and read on. These may seem harsh, but they are helpful tips.

When submitting your book for review:

~ Your query summary should be as compelling as the copy on the cover. Don’t fill it up with character names and silly, irrelevant details that give the whole story away or hang out of context like dangling, freak-limbs. Hack them off.

~ Edited query: If you cannot submit a query that is somewhat free of grammatical errors, it’s likely we won’t want to read the book itself.

~ Please try to form a coherent sentence. Disjointed summaries don’t bode well for the book they’re pitching.

~ Follow the basic guidelines for submissions. We didn’t put the submission guidelines up there as suggestions. No attachments please. Ever.

When you’re hoping to sell your book:

~ Too Much Title
* No matter how much work you put into your book, your title can be an instant turn-on, or turn-off. Having a title that is an epic novel in and of itself is not a good choice. Generally, if you require punctuation in your title, your book either be self-help or probably be re-titled with something catchy and strong.

~ Ridiculous-sounding title that makes no sense...
* Bad idea. What might make 100% sense to you may sound like blather to someone else. Run your title by objective people before you settle on it.

~ Bad Cover Copy
Not unlike your review submission summary, this is what is supposed to sell your book to the reader. If it’s badly written, you’re in trouble. Refer to this post for more details.

~ Bad Cover Art
* I’m sure it’s charming that you have a child or a friend who can do some basic graphic ‘art’ on Photoshop who you'd love to credit; or you have a low-resolution picture of something—you need to put a lot more thought into your cover than just throwing it together. Your cover is your ‘shop window’—it’s what’s supposed to draw your eye. If it looks pixilated, is a Photoshop hack-job, drawn by a second-rate artist or whatever, it will detract from your book more than you can possibly know. Don’t make it too busy, or too over-thought. It needs to make some sense in context of the book too.

There are examples of both really great, and really bad book covers on this review site. Browse away. I’m sure the design alone affects how many people will click the link through to Amazon from here. See these posts for more tips on cover design: Cover Art Article, Interview with a Cover-Art Designer.

~ Lack of editing
* Editing is an old song here at Odyssey Reviews. We are anti-unedited books here. Our belief is that since POD books are more expensive than standard commercial publications that authors owe it to their readers to insure that what they’re paying more for is a professional, well-presented package. MSWord is a fairly helpful tool for spelling, however it misses a lot. You need to come up with creative ways to clean up your manuscript before you publish. Here is a post with some suggestions. We also interviewed an editor who gave some very helpful tips.

~ Lastly, be realistic and objective about your own work—because if you don’t… the reviewers will.
* Ask yourself this: Are your friends and family just being nice? Is my book really any good? It could be like American Idol; where the singer sounds like a cross between a dying cat and a police siren, but their well-meaning family hurts them more than helps them with their encouragement and kindness. You need to know that there is a strong possibility your book just isn’t very good. It could be entertaining to you, but could be impossible to get through for another. Can you look at your book from a marketing perspective? Can you picture people resonating to it?

Be prepared. Reviews can be harsh. Sometimes we will receive a book and it’s so bad, we cannot review it. We’re not haters here at Odyssey; but we are realistic—and we are honest in our reviews, BUT we will not post a review with a less than a 2 medallion rating because we don’t want to be evil. Your book could be that unreadable, that is a distinct possibility. Sometimes, if authors send us a book, and don't see a review, it's probably because the book rated very low. No amount of money paid to marketing companies is going to make it good. It’s painful and harsh when you get bad reviews—but instead of taking it personally, you should take it as a reason to improve as a writer, and reevaluate your style and your voice.

Some people write entirely for themselves; and discover the hard way that other people can’t always sync with their imagination. We recommend all authors considering self-publishing to do a few test-reads with complete strangers; preferably people who know what they’re doing, and allow the readers to give you a strong, objective review. Take classes. Join a writer’s group. Subject yourself to growth—don’t ever assume that just because you wrote a story from the beginning to the end, that you are instantly qualified to publish your book. You owe your book-buyers a little more consideration than that—especially since you’re asking them to pay a lot more for your book than normal books cost.

Read this post to be aware of what's in store when you submit a query to this or any other review site.