Book Review: Outlining Your Novel

review-cover-outlining your novelTitle: Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success

Author: K.M. Weiland

Genre: Non-Fiction, Writing & Publishing, How-To

Rating: 3 Stars

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Description/Synopsis:

Writers often look upon outlines with fear and trembling. But when properly understood and correctly wielded, the outline is one of the most powerful weapons in a writer’s arsenal. Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success will help you choose the right type of outline for you, guide you in brainstorming plot ideas, aid you in discovering your characters, show you how to structure your scenes, explain how to format your finished outline, instruct you in how to use your outline when writing the first draft, reveal the benefits of outlining, and dispel the misconceptions.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

I have to be honest… this book wasn’t what I expected it to be. Based on the description, I went into this book thinking this was going to help me outline, figure out how to fill in said outline, structure my scenes and plot, etc.—but that isn’t exactly what this book is. 90% of this book was a switch between author interviews where basically every author had the same response (which is fine, they all talked about outlining and why it was useful), and the actual author of the book encouraging the reader to outline. That’s fine… but you aren’t really going to pick up this book unless you’re already planning to outline… so why are you trying so hard to convince the reader that outlining is the way to go?

I expected the book to be more helpful, to help me fill out an outline and spark questions about where to go next in my outline. I was hoping for page after page of outlining advice on how to actually figure out an outline and turn it into a workable story… but there was very little of that in this. Don’t get me wrong—it was in there… sort of, but it felt more like the book was one big advertisement pushing the reader to try outlining and feel really good about that decision… and like I said, no one’s going to pick up this book if they aren’t already going to be outlining.

In the end it felt like the small percentage of the book that was actually useful was so small that it could have easily been a single blog post. The rest was just filler to bolster pages and make the reader feel good about their decision to outline… rather than being of any actual help. I gave this book three stars because it was fine. I learned a few small tidbits that will be helpful, but I also feel like I wasted my money on something I could have just Googled, and probably would have gotten more out of in the process. I’m a bit disappointed.

Reasons I Didn’t Accept Your Review Request

photo-1424115087662-5845efc6b366Awhile back I wrote an article entitled “Four Reasons I Didn’t Finish Your Book”; it was a basic rundown of reasons why I usually DNF books. The article is one of my most liked articles, and thinking back on it, I decided to take the same idea in another direction.

Here’s the thing: I get a lot of review requests. I’m three years into my Author Unpublished blog and I now get sometimes upwards of 10-40 e-mails each week from authors who are interested in having me review their books. It’s awesome—it really is—but as much as I’d love to, I can’t accept every review request sent my way. It’s just not possible to read that many books each year. I mean, that’s like 520-2,080 review requests in a year. Even if I read a book a day, there’s no way I could get that done. It’s inevitable that I will turn some requests down… but I also understand that being on the other end of things, authors may not always realize why they aren’t getting responses, or why their requests are denied. So, I thought I’d sit down today and shed some light on the complicated process of whittling down a year’s worth of review requests to something a bit more manageable.

First of all, understand that I only read 50-112 books a year on average, and that’s my ideal number barring illness, vacations, computer issues, or whatever else that may pop up to prevent me from reading and posting reviews. So the number one reason your book may get denied is that I simply already have too many books on my list that I’ve agreed to review. This is made worse by the fact that if I do end up agreeing to a review and then not getting it done… that book review request is then rolled forward into the next year. So already, that 50-112 books a year is starting to look more like 30-92.

book-1171564_1920The second hurdle is whether or not you’ve read my Review Policy & FAQs. I can tell when you haven’t. To be fair, I’m a pretty good sport about it. If you haven’t read my FAQs, I may give you some leeway, because I understand that you, as an author, have probably sent review requests to any number of reviewers, and as long as my FAQs page is, you probably didn’t bother to read it. I get it. At the same time, however, the FAQs is important because all the steps I wrote into it for you to follow… yah… it makes the process of deciding if I want to read your book easier. So if you didn’t follow my FAQs, well, sometimes I just can’t be bothered. A lot of what I’m going to be including on this list from this point forward is directly related to my Review Policy & FAQs, so seriously… read it.

Super nice, personable authors are more likely to have their books reviewed. I’m all for the professional, impersonal review request, but the less human you seem, the less likely I am to feel bad about turning your review request down. Sometimes I accept review requests because authors are super nice and friendly, and I want to do a favor for them. I know, it’s ridiculous, but it works. By the same token, if you’re demanding, sound arrogant, or you’re just a good old fashioned jerk… I’ll probably toss out your review request without reading any of it.

pen-1329258I also throw out review requests from authors if I’ve read their work before and didn’t like it because they’re wasting my time. Chances are if I didn’t give your previous book at least a 3-star review, I’m not going to like any books you write after that… so don’t bother. Really. It’s nothing personal, I just don’t want to write you another negative review. I know it hurts your feelings, and I feel bad about it. Don’t make me.

Another reason I might toss out a review request is if the cover is terrible. I feel like I need a caveat here. Your book cover has to be really terrible for me to toss out your review request—like you’ve put in almost no effort at all. If your cover is just sort of “meh” then I’ll still go on to investigate further. Don’t freak out.

If your back-cover blurb isn’t interesting, or contains a topic that I’m not a fan of, you’ll probably get tossed… because let me be honest, I don’t want to read a boring book, and if you can’t hook me with a blurb, there’s no way you’re going to hook me with the actual book. That doesn’t mean your book is bad, every reader has a genre they just aren’t a fan of, and if you fall into that category, I’m not going to waste my time or your stars.

book-15584_1920So here’s where things become less of a checklist and more of a process. When I receive a review request, the first thing I do is read the genre, any personal note you’ve included, and then the back-cover blurb. If you haven’t included any of those things, your book is in the trash. (Okay, that’s not true. I have an actual folder dedicated to rejected review requests. Yes, I keep track of them.) If I don’t immediately throw out your request because it sounds sort of interesting in any way shape or form, I’ll do further investigation. Step one of that process is to see if you’ve bothered to send me the book file. If I’m only sort of interested in your request and you don’t send a file, it’s trashed. I don’t want to waste time e-mailing you to get ahold of a file if I’m not really into the book in the first place. As an author, this is an easily passable step. Just follow my FAQs and include the file. It’s as simple as that.

If I’m still interested (and by interested I mean I’m anywhere from “OMG this sounds so good! Gimme!” to “Meh. Maybe it’s okay?”) I’ll go look up your book on Amazon and Goodreads. What am I looking for? Your previous reviews. Let me state it now: If you copy and pasted your previous positive reviews or quotes about your book into your review request… I don’t care. I guarantee you that I won’t read them, because obviously you’re only going to include the most glowing of reviews—and usually those sound fake. No, what I’m looking for are your worst reviews. The one, two, and three-star reviews. If you don’t have any and I was on the fence about your review request, it’s immediately in the trash. The only time this doesn’t apply is if you have zero reviews. I like to give new authors a chance, so if you don’t have any reviews, period, you might still make it through my process.

stamp-114438_1920So, I read the negative reviews—and I mean, really read them. I look to see if there’s a running theme for why people didn’t like your book – or if they’re just being jerks. If the reasons your books got negative reviews aren’t horrendous, you’re probably still in the running. So what qualifies as horrendous? 1. Anything that is my personal pet peeve. 2. Characters that have little to no depth and make decisions that make no logical sense. 3. Rumors of stolen property. 4. Egregious typos. (anywhere under 20 typos is fine… but if you can’t even complete a grammatical sentence, I’m not going to bother.)

If I’m still not sure if I want to read your book, I’ll then go look at the sample on Amazon. I read the first page. If it’s not terrible, your book is in. I’ve accepted it. If it’s boring or ill-written—and believe me, after three years or reviewing, I know if your book is terrible after the first page—I’ll throw it out.

The process I have for accepting and rejecting book reviews isn’t as simple as it first appears. I genuinely don’t arbitrarily reject books very often (and if I do, it’s probably because it was a novella, about poetry, or it had something to do with the military because I can’t be bothered with my least favorite topics). I investigate. I read and re-read requests… and if your book sounds even remotely interesting, I’ll probably read it. I will go out of my way to give your book a fair shot at being read—but again, I can’t read everything. I do reject a lot of books.

Finally, here’s a list of things that won’t get your book arbitrarily rejected—because sometimes I don’t care. If it sounds interesting, I’m going to read it.

  • You followed my Review Policy & FAQs and your book sounds even remotely interesting.approval-15914_1280
  • Your book sounds interesting despite not following my FAQs.
  • Your cover isn’t great, but it doesn’t look like it was painted by a 6-year-old in MS paint.
  • Your book falls into a genre or category that I don’t usually read… but It’s not a novella or poetry.
  • You’ve never had a review.
  • You are an indie author.
  • You’re a brand new author who’s never written a book before.
  • Your book has some typos.
  • Your book/plot sounds weird.
  • Your book’s plot or topic is considered taboo.
  • Your book is x-rated.
  • I’ve reached my quota of review requests for the year. Honestly, I never even look at my quota. You may have to wait awhile, but I won’t dismiss your request because I have too many books on my TBR list.

I try to give authors a shot. So, even though I do reject book review requests quite often, I also don’t arbitrarily dismiss a request for flippant reasons. There are lots of times when I make exceptions. Even though I hate novellas, sometimes I read them. A book’s genre isn’t necessarily going to make me throw it out. I don’t care if your editing is perfect (though I’ll mention it), and I don’t care if you’re an indie author. In fact, 90% of the books I read are from indie authors, not publishers.

So don’t be intimidated in sending me a review request. Yes, I turn a lot of them down, but that shouldn’t keep you from sending them because I honestly try to give a fair shot to every request I get. It’s a complicated process. Just follow the rules and cross your fingers.

Book Review: 10 Step Plan To Promote Your Book

review-cover-10stepplantopromoteyourbookTitle: 10 Step Plan To Promote Your Book

Author: Scott Hughes

Genre: Non-Fiction, How-To, Marketing

Rating: 3 Stars

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Description/Synopsis:

In 10 Step Plan to Promote Your Book, Scott Hughes provides valuable advice for self-published authors and small publishers.

The plan works on any budget. It works for the wealthy busy professional as well as for the struggling artist short on funding.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

I don’t normally review non-fiction. Usually, it’s either because I’m simply not interested in the topic, or I don’t feel that I’m knowledgeable enough on the topic to spot when an author is outright lying to their readers (as often happens in non-fiction I’ve learned), but when I was contacted by the author of 10 Step Plan To Promote Your Book, I thought, “Why not?” Books are something I know a heck of a lot about.

Here’s the thing to keep in mind: this “book” is only 38 pages long. It took me about 15 minutes to finish reading and easily could have just been made into a blog post.  If you’re looking for an abundance of explanation on the 10 steps in this plan, you’re going to be disappointed.  That being said, the information in this book was pretty accurate. There was some really good advice that I wish a lot of indie authors would follow. There’s also a lot of self-promotion for the author, his website, and his affiliates that probably didn’t need to be included, but was. I understand… the author is marketing, and I can’t fault him for that. It did, however, make the book read a little like an advertisement at times.

My only other complaint was the way the book was actually written. It was personable and sounded like a friend handing out advice—and that’s great! But, there was also a lot of talking in circles, repeating points already made, and re-repeating them again in such a way that made me want to skip several paragraphs. The text lost a lot of my attention after a certain point, and I wish it had been more concise and to the point than it was.

Was it helpful? Sure. If you are looking for marketing tips, there are some pretty solid ones in this book, and you should get to know them. However,  all of the tips are pretty common sense and things you could learn just about anywhere with a little Google-fu. At the time this review is being written, the book is free on Amazon, and I encourage you to give it a look-through, but would I pay more than a dollar for the info? Probably not.