Publishing

The Dubious Art of Book Reviewing

I’ve been thinking a lot about the whole book reviewing thing lately, so was happy to see this post by JF Kaufmann, which opens up some significant issues about indie authors and book reviews.

JF Kaufmann, Author

I don’t write reviews often; it takes time and effort to come up with a meaningful retrospection. When I do write them, I have different rules for different types of books, and this customized approach is most apparent within two major publishing categories–indie books and traditionally published books.

Photo by Susan Q Yin on Unsplash

Sometimes I’m so moved with a book that I feel inspired to put down my impressions. It usually happens when I really like it and want to share my excitement (or recommend it) or, less frequently, when I’m frustrated or disappointed. The second scenario–a pissed-off review–usually occurs with a work of fiction unjustifiably praised, in my opinion, for qualities it doesn’t possess.

There are no consequences for the author as I don’t have any influence outside my limited blog space. Even if I did, such authors are fair game: they’ve been paid for their books…

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digital brain

Mysteries of the ToC

When I published my latest novel on Amazon KDP several months ago, the automated quality checker popped up a yellow triangle and notified me that I had failed to add a linked table of contents. It wasn’t a deal-breaker for publishing, but a deficiency nevertheless.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Except that my Word document did include a perfectly good linked ToC. I tested every link. All of them worked. The problem, I realized, was I had created the ToC following the Smashwords Style Guide, which has step-by-step instructions for adding bookmarks to the chapter headings and hyperlinking to the relevant spots in the text. I began my publishing adventure at Smashwords, so thought this was the right way to make a linked table of contents.

Smashwords Style Guide cover

Except that whatever program ingests Word docs at KDP and spits out Kindle ebooks doesn’t recognize a linked ToC created that way. It looks for a ToC generated by Word’s automatic ToC creator (which I’ve never used). Because I publish my books on both Amazon and Smashwords, I use near-identical copies of a single Word doc (with the necessary adjustments to the copyright page) for both. But when I look at one of those books on my Kindle, instead of the full list of chapters in the “Go To” drop-down, the only sections I see are Beginning, Page or Location, Cover, and End. And yet, if I go to Beginning and page forward, there’s the ToC. And the links work exactly as they should.

I’ve been resigned to this state of affairs, with vague notions of maybe disassembling the ToCs on my Amazon documents and rebuilding them the “proper” way, and then republishing, but I haven’t gotten around to it. Fiddling around with Word isn’t high on my “Fun Things To Do” list. And republishing is a pain.

So What? yellow sticker

What I did do, though, for a different reason, is experiment with emailing ebooks to my Kindle. Kindles (and other devices) have Amazon email addresses. This was news to me, but it’s helpful when someone sends you a PDF of a book and you want to read it on the handy-dandy little reading device.

Kindle e-reader

As an experiment, I emailed my Kindle one of my early books published on Smashwords. Thinking that Mobi files are Kindle-friendly, I selected that version and sent it as an attachment to the special email address. Surprisingly, I received an email from Amazon, informing me that “We wanted to let you know that starting August 2022, you’ll no longer be able to send MOBI (.mobi, .azw) files to your Kindle library.”

Well, surprise, surprise. Even more surprising was the information that Amazon considers Epub a compatible format. So I emailed the Epub version of the book. When I turned on my Kindle, there it was, cover image and all. Yet another surprise was that despite the notice, the Mobi version was there as well, but minus the cover image.

The final surprise was—ta da!—both versions included a linked ToC in the “Go To” drop-down, even though it was created using bookmarks and hyperlinks, just like the one that wasn’t acceptable when I uploaded the Word doc to Amazon KDP.

So the Kindle’s “Go To” displays ToCs perfectly well after the Word doc has been turned into either an Epub or a Mobi, even if that processing was done by Smashwords’s “Meatgrinder.” But Amazon’s processor doesn’t recognize ToCs created by anything other than Word’s automatic ToC generator. Hence the admonishment that you really should include a table of contents to enhance the reader experience. With the accompanying yellow triangle, of course.

blue flames question mark

I suspect this issue may be avoided by uploading Epubs directly to Amazon, but to create an Epub myself I would have to use Calibre or a similar tool, and I haven’t so far been motivated to learn how to do that.

Has anyone else noticed this kind of thing, with tables of contents or anything else?

Shepherd: a New Book Discovery Site

A few months ago, I read a post by Mae Clair on Story Empire about her experience with a book discovery platform called Shepherd.com. I checked it out, and now there is a page on the site with five book recommendations from me.

The Best Novels That Give Reality a Supernatural Twist

Like Mae, I received an email from Shepherd’s founder Ben Fox through the Contact form on my blog. Because of Mae’s favourable experience, I decided to contribute a list of recommended books on a theme similar to that of my novel The Friendship of Mortals, namely, the intrusion of the supernatural into real life.

The folks at Shepherd were great to work with. They created a beautiful page with my recommendations. The link is above, or you can find it HERE. The hardest part for me (but it was fun too!) was deciding on a theme and finding five books I’ve read that belong there. I can easily think of other themes and lists, so may contribute again.

Best of all, the service is completely free. Based on my experiences, I recommend it to fellow authors.

Words related to writing

More Writers’ Q & A

This is the fifth WSW video chat in which we offer answers to questions posed by readers earlier this year.

This time around, Berthold, Lucinda, Mark, and I opine on the question Why Do You Read? But we begin with a question from RJ Llewellyn: what should an author do if despite their best efforts, their work isn’t being noticed? Quit? Advertise? Keep writing anyway? And what about the element of luck?

View or listen to the chat HERE.

Science or Magic image for Herbert West Series

Another Look at The Friendship of Mortals

After reading a post on Story Empire about Amazon A+ content, I decided to create some images for that purpose. At the very least, I thought, it was a good reason to mess around with Canva. They have added a lot of elements recently, including free ones, so there’s more scope for different effects than when I first started using this graphic design tool.

This is the image I put together to represent The Friendship of Mortals, my first novel and Book 1 of the Herbert West Series.

The Friendship of Mortals A plus image

Those of you who have read the book may know why I included some of these pictorial components. Those of you who haven’t read it may be sufficiently intrigued to do so!

Amazon: US UK CA or mybook.to/FofM
Smashwords Barnes & Noble Kobo Apple Books

This and my other A+ efforts may be seen on the Amazon.com pages for the books in the HW Series. Have they generated a deluge of sales? Not really, but I had a bit of fun creating them.

Has anyone else created A+ content on Amazon? What do you think of this feature?