Please Big Al, Stop Complaining

Sometimes I feel like my posts at Indies Unlimited help too little, or maybe that should be they help, but complain too much. Largely, I see that as a difference between my logical role as a contributor here, and the majority of IU’s other contributors. While most of IU’s posts are written by authors, Cathy Speight and I are exceptions. We’re book reviewers. Other contributors can talk about how to craft proper dialogue, their experiences with KDP Select, and various marketing techniques, and all of us can pass on our experiences with social media or (in Cathy’s case), help with punctuation usage, but there are areas Cathy and I can talk about that the other minions can’t. We see the best indie books out there (largely written by IU readers) and the worst (the authors who I’m guessing frequent those other sites instead). When we see trends in those “worst books,” we can point them out. These can be reminders or cautionary tales for those faithful IU readers and, for those other people who stumble in from elsewhere, possibly help them see the error of their ways. They’ll not only become better at their job as an author, but may eventually rise to the level of the faithful IU reader. Raising everyone’s game, helps us all. Which leads to my current criticism.

What’s the first rule of … (Quick, Al, think of something like getting a book reviewed, uh, not pickup lines, uh) job interviews? Yeah, that’ll do. What’s the first rule of job interviews? I’m not sure what the experts say (and hope I don’t have to refresh my memory anytime soon), but I’m going to guess it goes something like, “put your best foot forward.” Guys, that 70s suit looked great on Leisure Suit Larry, but you can do better. Don’t forget to shave. Ladies, you might want to do the same, or whatever it is you do to look so good. Authors hoping to get a good review from a reader, blogger, or anyone else should operate under the rule “put your best book forward.”

What do I mean by “put your best book forward”? First, I’ll go off on a tangent (blame my Dad, his tangents sometimes go ten deep and you forget what the original subject was). The other day ?wazithinkin’, the pseudonym used by one of the Pals who reviews books on my blog, BigAl’s Books and Pals, sent me an email about her current read. (Second level tangent: I have no idea what she’s thinking, and thinking about it scares me – it scares me a lot.) ?Wazi expressed frustration with her current read by saying, “so far it is an interesting story but it has some formatting issues … Do the authors not care enough about their books to make sure you get a finished book to review?” She theorized that possibly the formatting was good on Amazon, but also didn’t see it as her place to verify that, yet she knew that if the formatting on the Amazon version was as bad as what she was seeing and she didn’t mention it in her review that it would be doing a disservice to our readers. Then she cracked her whip at me (I know, this seems backwards to me too; I’ll get my revenge with red ink) and suggested it would make a good topic for a post at IU.

When I thought about it, I realized I had several examples of this kind of problem in just the last few weeks. Multiple issues of formatting that, if I’d paid for this book on Amazon, would have prompted a quick return for a refund. One author sent an old version of his book, despite knowing it had been through at least one round of edits and proofing since. I could go on. Instead, I’ll tell you what this means to you, the author hoping for a seventy-bazillion star review.

Obviously, how an individual blogger will react is going to vary based on a number of factors. These include their review and submission polices, how well they like the book so far, if they’ve committed to reviewing the book (either in a query response or agreeing to be a blog tour stop), their backlog of books for review, and even their mood. (Reviewers can be so damn temperamental.) Here’s a short list of possibilities, all of which I’ve done recently (depending on that mood).

Contact the author and say, “you can do better than this, can’t you?” That’s the route ?wazithinkin’ ended up taking after she was done cracking her whip at me. That’s the solution where everyone ends up happy, at least potentially. The author of the book she was reading will be happy with the eventual review and I think ?wazi was too. She’s a much nicer person than I am. Although I’ve taken that approach at times, it’s also my least likely reaction.

Instead I’ll probably go into full-on “kid, get off of my grass mode” and do something else. I have an open submission policy and suffer from a too-many-books-too-little-time issue. Although it pains me to say it, I realized recently that I’m often in the same mode as the stereotype many Indies have of agents and publishers, looking for a reason to pass. (Those who don’t follow submission directions are also victims of this disease and no, it isn’t my job to help you create a Kindle compatible format from your scribbles in a Word document.) This leads to one reaction, the least harmful of the alternatives, which is a quick toss into the not-worth-bothering-with-it pile. The worst (and most likely) reaction is your book will get reviewed. That review will mention the formatting as a problem (I have to assume that what you sent me is roughly equivalent to what you’re selling to potential readers) and I’ll dock a star or sixty-nine bazillion from the rating. That isn’t going to make either of us happy.

The infamous they (those people who know all, but don’t want to be identified) say that you shouldn’t raise an issue without also suggesting a solution. Obviously the problem I’ve described only happens with ebooks (surely you aren’t sending out paper review copies that haven’t been properly vetted). Since I’m sure you made sure the ebook versions for sale on the various sites look good (right?), this only applies to cases where what you’re sending to reviewers is an ebook file created some other way and used only for promotional purposes. If your book is on Smashwords, why not just grab a file in the right format from there? Even better, if the reviewer will accept a Smashwords coupon code as a submission, use that method. That way, if you fix any minor issues before they pick the book up, they’ll be able to get the latest and best version. If you don’t request DRM be applied to your book on Amazon, buy a copy and use that (I promise, no one cares if you’re pirating your own book). If none of these ideas work, then at a minimum, before you start sending an ebook file with seventy-bazillion star reviews dancing in your head, use your ereader or an appropriate app to make sure you’re putting your best book forward.

Time to turn off my whiney mode. Go ahead kid, play baseball in the yard. The living room window as the home run fence sounds perfect. I need to loosen up. For my next post, I should pick a subject that’s fun and light-hearted. Maybe something about authors who write with a head-hopping point of view and guillotines?

Author: Big Al

Big Al (who insists he only has one name, like Cher, Sting, and Madonna) spends his days writing computer programs that are full of typos, homonym errors, and incorrect verb usage. During his evenings, he writes reviews of indie books for BigAl’s Books and Pals and has recently taken over The IndieView, a website founded by indie author Simon Royle as a resource for indie authors, indie reviewers, and those who read either.

25 thoughts on “Please Big Al, Stop Complaining”

  1. So would the authors’ heads hop before or after they meet the guillotine? 😉

    Great post, Al. I just can’t imagine anybody sending a book that’s not in its final form to a reviewer. I understand that some folks like to line up reviews before the book comes out, but that’s no excuse to send a badly-edited book.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Lynne. If a book is an ARC, beta, or some other pre-release version where this has been worked out with me in advance I’ll cut a lot of slack for proofing type errors (basically give a free ride and let them know what I found, to a point) because in those situations it’s understood that the final polishing may still be in progress. Once a book is released, I think I have to assume what I’m getting is the same as what a book buyer would be getting.

  2. Someone needs a HUGE cup of coffee.Seriously, you are correct about the formatting issue. Nothing will turn off a reader/reviewer quicker then a poorly flowing book. I’ve come across more than I care to mention. That includes some of the “Big Boys” works. Getting it right, outweighs getting it first. .

    1. How true, Jeff. I’ve seen some ugly books from the Big Boys, typically stuff that I think their conversion programs don’t deal with and the quality checks on the back end are obviously lacking, too.

  3. I thought my ears were burning!! Superduper post Al. I agree with everything you said !

  4. Seasoned authors (no, Al, I’m not talking salt and pepper) probably get tired of hearing about the importance of putting out a good product, but there are new Indies hopping aboard the Self-Publishing train every day. They need this information! Thank you, Al, for continuing to play the conductor. This information is vital.

    1. Salt and pepper, Donna? You must not be talking about me. I’m mostly salt now. :p

      I know that you know this, but one of the several specific experiences that inspired this post was someone who has multiple books published through various places as well as working as a publicist for a publisher. I think even some of the experienced passengers need reminding sometimes.

  5. I agree about needing to put your best foot forward Al, but I also wonder if some of these authors don’t know how? By that I mean in a technical sense. I’m a bit of a geek so I have software that allows me to check exactly what my formatting will look like on the Kindle but I think I’m in the minority.

    Of course not having the software should not exclude anyone from doing what you suggested and sending the version that ends up on the Kindle [or wherever]. Paying a few dollars to gift your own book to a reviewer is a tiny investment in the future of your book.

    I wonder if IU could do a tutorial on some of this software? I hesitate to name the ones I use as I don’t want to sound like a commercial, but both are very cheap to buy – as in under $50.

    Anyway, great post. Please feel free to complain some more. 😉

    1. Acflory, When I’m not pontificating on the internet I’m working as a technical geek, too, and I can still understand why someone might be intimidated by this stuff. I know Rich Meyer (who doesn’t know what formatting is, based on his earlier comment) has done a couple tutorials on Calibre, which is one of the options for creating a book suitable for a Kindle (although not others, from what I’ve heard). I forget what pieces he’s handled, but agree, this is a good area to consider for a tutorial. Maybe I’ll do that instead of complaining. 🙂

  6. Agree…I think that most of it is that we don’t know what outlets are the best to address on a beginner level, with so much costly information out there. Would love to see some tutorials and suggestions on software the author can use. Thanks!

  7. I fell prey to the problem in my Smashwords editions. “A Sword Called…Kitten?” had been out for a year before I managed to look at it on a Kobol. To my dismay, all the apostrophes were replaced by a double space!
    The problem was that, for some addlepated reason, Word had put all the apostrophes in the MS in a different (weird and unusual) font, so the Smashwords Meatgrinder couldn’t translate them.
    It’s easy to check Kindle versions, because Amazon has a viewer, and it’s easy to get a Kindle reader program on my iPad.
    How do you find out what your book looks like on all the other formats?

    Can’t wait to hear what you have to say about POV. Favourite hobby horse of mine when I do reviews.

    1. Airbornpress, I’m shooting from the hip here, not having actually done it, so I may miss something. If so, hopefully some authors with actual experience will chime in.

      It isn’t clear, but I *think* you’re saying that you look at the Kindle version that is published to Amazon, using the Kindle app and presumably buying it from Amazon. I know there is also a previewer available to authors publishing to Amazon that is somewhat helpful and may be what you mean, although since you specified your iPad, I suspect that isn’t it.

      Possibly what you mean is you look at the Mobi version from Smashwords, which is the Kindle compatible version. If that isn’t what you mean, then that is the answer to validate that on Smashwords. The great thing about Smashwords is that (I think) you can download the finished product of your own book. If they don’t allow that by default you can generate a coupon and buy it for nothing. That gives you access to every version.

      In theory, everything coming out of the Meatgrinder should be presentable if one is. However, there is always a chance that isn’t going to be reality. But there are reading apps available for your computer or iPad to read not just the Kindle version (either Amazon’s app or others), but also EPUBs (either the Nook app or others). That takes care of the vast majority of people. Smashwords has a few other formats, but many of them (PDF, RTF, online HTML, and plain text) should be readable by programs on the computer of most people already.

    1. Oh, sorry wazi. I thought I’d let you out of there weeks ago. You can come out, but leave your whip in the corner.

      Any ideas for my next post?

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