Saturday, February 22, 2014

Editing: Why Your Brain Can Be Your Own Worst Enemy

We've all been there before. Whether it's a beta reader, ARC reviewer, or even friends and family, someone has undoubtedly pointed out a typo or missing word in your novel. No matter how many hours, days, weeks, or even months you or your editor spent slaving over your manuscript, it's almost a natural law of the universe that you will have missed at least one. It's a typo you must have read over perhaps even hundreds of times and never saw it, but now that you know it's there, it's so glaringly obvious that you wonder if you might be going blind after all. Even traditionally published books have them

The culprit? Working too late/long, too many distractions? Maybe, but the suspect at the top of the list is your own brain. Your brain has a natural tendancy to fill in the blanks when you're reading. If a word is missing such as "the," "of," or "and," you will read it as if it's there. As for misspellings, especially of simple words, as long as the 1st and last letters of the intended word are spelled correctly, then you will see/read the word as if it were correct. Don't believe me? Here's an example paragraph that demonstrates this annoying phenomenon:

"I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid. Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Amzanig huh? Yaeh and I awlyas thought slpeling was ipmorantt!" - anonymous

It's the same reason why you can read a word that has been split for formatting purposes at the end of a sentence without slowing you down in the least. So don't despair! Just remember - your brain was just made to work that way, and if you publish with a POD distributor, Kindle, Apple, or Smashwords, you can always submit a corrected file...

Until next week!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Sock Puppets and Disappearing Amazon Reviews

It wasn't until I experienced firsthand the phenomenon of the "disappearing Amazon reviews" that I became aware of the term "sock puppet." Just a couple of weeks after I published The Supreme Moment, I checked its Amazon listing page, and lo and behold, where there had been ten reviews, now there was only one! Distressed, but mostly puzzled, I emailed Amazon Support and received what amounted to a form letter response stating that the reviews had violated their Terms of Service, and that was the end of it. There was also a suggestion that the reviewers could address the problem and re-submit the review. However, a subsequent email sent to Amazon for more information resulted in a response saying Amazon couldn't tell me exactly what was wrong with the reviews because I wasn't the one who wrote them.

Now, the majority of the removed reviews were ARC reviews, so I was able to ask them to re-submit. But, as they haven't reappeared by the time of this post, I don't think they were accepted this time either. Two of the reviews were from paying customers of the ebook, so there was no way I would ever bother complete strangers about this.

Wondering if others had experienced this, I hit Google - and was somewhat relieved and alarmed by all the results my search found. After doing quite a bit of reading, I discovered that what had happened to my reviews was the result of Amazon's attempt to weed out what are known as "sock puppets." Apparently, there was a big stink over them a few years ago when it was revealed that a well-known author had purchased hundreds of his reviews from a company whose employees would write gushing 5-star reviews without ever having read the books, creating customer accounts specifically for this practice. This put Amazon under an unflattering spotlight, so a new algorithm was implemented to find and delete any review it suspected as not being legit. Unfortunately, it had the unintended consequence of deleting a lot of genuine reviews as well (Too bad none of the 1-star troll reviews were removed. I guess a troll must be higher on the totem pole than a sock puppet.). This removal of legit reviews has happened to both indie authors and traditionally published authors, but it's the indie author that's been hurt the most by this. After all, what does Stephen King care if one or two of his tens of thousands of reviews have disappeared? Here is an excellent article from The Guardian that explains more about the practice in more detail.

As for my own deleted reviews, several factors may have caused them to be targeted by Amazon's algorithm. Some people claim that if certain key words are used like the author's name, "wow," or multiple instances of other book titles by the same author, then the review will be deleted. Others say that it has to do with your ISP number, like if several people review from your general area. It's possible this is what happened to me as most of the reviews removed were ARC reviews from people in area book clubs that were given a free ebook in exchange for an honest review. Some of them probably didn't state this disclaimer appropriately in the review - a double strike to the search algorithm if the above criteria I mentioned is indeed accurate. Who knows why the paying customer reviews were removed, but I do remember that they weren't long; one was a 5-star and the other 4. Your guess is as good as mine.

I haven't received any other reviews since, and I really hope it's just because no one has written any. I need as many reviews as I can get since a lot of the advertising services such as BookBub won't consider your book unless you have a certain amount of 4- and 5-star reviews. Plus, I was actually looking forward to finding out what readers thought about the book, what they enjoyed, and what they thought I did wrong/didn't like, etc.

So reviewers, the best advice after learning all this I can give is to state very clearly if the book you're reviewing is an ARC or if you received it as a Read & Review deal in exchange for an honest review. I would love to hear any stories or opinions about this troubling practice in the comments below.

Until next week!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Observations of a Goodreads Giveaway From a Newbie Indie Author

Today marks a month since my first post. As a newbie indie author, these past few weeks since my first novel went live have really been eye-opening. I guess the most important thing I learned was that I didn't know squat about the independent publishing market. I've been an avid reader all my life, but I barely found out about Goodreads only a few months ago. Without Goodreads, I would probably still be floundering around as far as marketing my novel goes with a more or less hit-or-miss ad-buying strategy. Through the various Goodreads groups I joined, I found a wealth of marketing tips as well as the opportunity to offer my book to not only reviewers, but also as a First Reads Giveaway. My first giveaway of 10 books just ended today, and I have to say that I'm pleased with the amount of interest it generated (nearly 1000 entries!), and half of the people who entered added the book to their "to-read" shelves. Of course, my book could easily be lost among the several hundred most people have in that particular shelf, but at the moment, I'm happy to have gotten so many eyeballs with at least a passing interest on my book. After all, every author's worst nightmare is that no one will like what they've written. If even 1% of those decide to buy my book and then review, then I consider ponying up around $100 for books/postage (I had 4 international winners) a good investment. Although I hope all 10 winners will read and review my book, realistically, I'm hoping to get at least 3 or 4 reviews out of the deal. I've already seen a small bump in sales today, so there's at least that.

For any newbie indie authors or prospective authors, here's an observation about the selection process for the giveaway winners based on my outcome. 7 out of 10 winners were people who had entered the contest in the last 20 minutes. 5 of those had barely joined Goodreads in the past 6 months and 2 within a year-year & 1/2. Only three people had entered the giveaway long before its conclusion, and 3 out of the 10 had won a book before. Based on that minimal data, it would seem the selection algorithms favor newbies, especially the ones that enter at the last minute, and to a lesser extent, previous winners so long as they bothered to review their previous wins. I also looked at three other winner pools for giveaways that had just ended, each with either 1 or 2 winners, and every single winner had entered their giveaways within the last 30 minutes of the giveaway. Of course, today's results could've been a fluke, so I plan on running another giveaway soon for a new novel I am about to hopefully publish in a couple of weeks as well as a second giveaway for The Supreme Moment sometime after that. I'll let everyone know my findings in a later blog post.

Next week: Sock Puppets and Disappearing Amazon Reviews

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