Book Genre Placement

This is something that falls heavily into one of my pet peeves in books. Genre categories and incorrect genre placement. Getting to see some of the difficulties with this issue from the publishing side hasn’t changed my stance on this that much. In some areas, available genre choices, it makes it even worse.

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PSA: Do’s And Don’ts Of Supporting Authors

This applies to all authors, traditionally published, indie or any other type that might be out there. It could just as easily apply in the basic context to all kinds of areas, not just authors, but authors and books are my focus for this list. You would think some of these would be common sense things, but, apparently not always, so I thought I’d highlight them.

Do’s: Things You Can Do To Support An Author Or A Book Continue reading “PSA: Do’s And Don’ts Of Supporting Authors”

Peeves: Lacking Author Websites

Since I make the effort to link back to both the author’s main website and a direct link to the book when I’m writing a review, I see a whole lot of websites and, shockingly, a lot that are just not well designed at all.

As an artist, aesthetics are something that I tend to notice. It may not stick out as much to me if the site is nice and clean (which is really the goal, you want visitors to remember you for your content not the layout or design), but it sticks out like a sore thumb if the design looks bad or is difficult to navigate.  It is also pretty bad in my opinion if the site isn’t kept up to date with the newest releases or, even worse, a website doesn’t exist at all.

There are so many options available to create a decent looking website so I don’t think there is much of an excuse to not have at least something.  You don’t even have to be particularly computer literate to create one, nor does it even really have to cost you as there are tons of free options out there.  I’m not talking Twitter or Facebook either as you don’t have options there to provide easy to access book lists for published works.

Navigation is a huge peeve of mine.  No website should be difficult to find your way around.  Simple, easy to use and find, logical menus should be a priority on any site.  Not one person that goes to an author’s website wants to spend hours clicking every single link on their page to get the information they went there for in the first place.

From a design standpoint, since it is an author website, the focus should be on the author and their works not on flashy eye catching graphics and tons of wild fonts.  That is kind of another peeve of mine anyway, but I feel it is unprofessional and amateurish to have a whole bunch of stuff that is really unrelated and detracts from the focus of the website.  This is a technique that seems to pop up more on what I’d guess were self designed sites where the creative talent needs to remain with the writing rather than the graphics.  Again, with so many options out there, there is no excuse to have a super low quality design that makes the author look fly by night rather than professional and accomplished.  The image you portray with your website reflects on you and your abilities as it is part how you present yourself to the world as an author.  If your website is cheesy then I’m going to question the quality of your writing.

This is a huge point for me.  The majority of the time I visit an author’s website, I want to know what books they have written, if the book I’m looking at reading is part of a series and if so, where it falls in the reading order.  It drives me bat shit crazy when this is missing or worse, not clear.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve picked up a book thinking it is the first in the series based on what I’ve seen on the author’s website only to find out it isn’t because they have some whacked out way of listing their books.

There are a couple of simple solutions to a book list and reading order, so I have never been able to understand why this is so difficult.  Easiest is to list the books in reading order first to last, top to bottom or left to right and grouped by series (if there is one) or genre if you write in several areas.  Basic, right?  It should be so basic it doesn’t even warrant a mention, but you’d be amazed.  Another is to simply put the order number somewhere in your listing.  Ideally it would be both a reading order list that has the number listed as sometimes there are novellas in there and noting a .5 or something to the order makes that pretty clear.

I honestly hate it when an author only lists books in published order, especially when they write multiple series.  I don’t want to have to run through two dozen books to find the one book I’m looking for.  It is even harder when they don’t bother even noting the series a book is in when putting that list together.  Sometimes offering up a couple of different lists and orders works best when there are lots of series or interconnected series as different people are looking for different things.

Having a poorly designed, hard to navigate site that isn’t kept up to date can lose an author readers.  I have actually not picked up a book after going to an author site and not been able to determine important information like series order.  The same goes for sites that aren’t kept up to date.  Yes it is a little bit of work, especially if you publish quite a few books, but it is an essential selling tool that is not being utilized if you don’t take that little bit of time.

It doesn’t matter if you have one book or 20 to your name.  Having a website is really important.  Making it comfortable for your readers is just as important since they are the ones that count.

Peeves: Unlabeled Genres

There isn’t much that is more frustrating when reading a book, and about a 1/3 of the way into it, you realize the book isn’t what you expected because it was missing genre labels.  This is something that has happened quite a lot recently, though, after a tiny bit of research, I think I have to lay this particular peeve squarely on my library’s shoulders.

My library tends to omit genre labels on an awful lot of their books.  At first, I thought that was because for some reason, the publishers or those marketing the books left those labels off in an effort to gain a larger readership as some labels will keep someone from picking the book up in the first place.  But after looking at a few specific books that were missing labels at the library, Amazon had them notated correctly, so it probably isn’t anyone’s fault but the library.  The three biggest labels they tend to leave off are Young Adult, LGBT and Christian.

The LGBT label missing is frustrating because that is a genre I read and I may miss a book that I might want to read because that label isn’t there.  Honestly, if someone isn’t going to pick up a book with the LGBT tag, then they are probably the type that is going to be pretty ticked to get into the book and realize what the subject actually is.  Leaving it off is just as likely to keep readers away from it as they are to bring them in.

Both the missing labels for Young Adult and Christian tick me off because I’m just not interested in either of those genres.  The only YA books that I enjoy are those by authors that I already love, and even then it is a stretch, so I generally don’t want to pick up a YA book unless I’ve specifically looked for it.  The Christian books are much the same, but more so because I honestly don’t enjoy any book preaching to me, no matter the subject.  Since there is a specific genre for this, it should be labeled as such.  And yes, my library does have this as one of their labels, they just don’t always use it.  Same as all the others.

It gets frustrating when I feel like I’ve wasted time reading a part of a book that I picked up based on the information I had from both the genre labels and the blurbs only to find out it so wasn’t what I was expecting.  It isn’t often that I will finish books that weren’t properly labeled.  Even the times that I’ve forced myself to plow through them, I normally don’t even like what I’ve read by the time I’ve finished.

I like it even less that I now feel like I need to look up a book in multiple places to ensure that what I think the book is, actually is.  Maybe by taking the time to do this I’ll read less books that I don’t like and more that I do.

Peeves: Undeveloped/Unsupported Dialog

This is one that seems to have been bombarding me quite a bit lately, because apparently a lot of authors, even some that are generally well rated, do this.

What I mean by undeveloped or unsupported dialog is when you have characters having a conversation, but the only thing that conversation contains is the text involved in the dialog.  There is little to nothing that is added to that to help the reader connect with what is being said.  Little to no actions by the characters, almost no scene continuation or descriptions, and very little thoughts or emotions expressed by the characters during the dialog segment.

Yes, readers connect to the words written on the page, but part of being able to do that is by allowing them to feel immersed in the scene.  When you throw only the words the characters are speaking at them without adding color, texture, emotion or dimension to those words, they kind of feel like they are just floating out there unanchored.  You can kind of compare it to having a conversation on the internet.  It is really easy to mistake what a person is saying without any real context to back it up.  You can take it the wrong way or add your own emotional emphasis to the conversation that may not actually be there and that gives it a whole other meaning.

In books, readers need that extra information to connect better to the characters and what is actually meant and going on.  Often, if an author didn’t support their conversations, it is easy to feel that the characters lack emotion or that the emotion the writer is trying to convey isn’t genuine.  Sometimes a reader can totally miss out on subtle clues that the author is trying to impart as well.

An example of a bad conversation set up I read set the scene of the two main characters sitting down on a couch with drinks to talk.  After that little detail of what was going on outside of the conversation, there were about 3 pages of nothing but talking.  Not once was there a pause in the dialog to note that either character took a drink, shifted positions on the couch, neither touched the other character in any way (it was something of a romantic scene, or was supposed to be, there should have been small caresses and touches here and there).  There also weren’t any thoughts mentioned from either character’s perspective as to how they were taking the conversation, not even mentions of facial expression changes, something as simple as smiles or frowns or how something was said.  Because it was missing all of those things, what should have been a kind of deep and important conversation came across as dry and lackluster and I felt like I’d missed something.

There are so many places in a typical written conversation to add depth and context to a scene.  In a lot of cases, it doesn’t even need a whole lot, but just enough to give the conversation a fuller feel.  Without those things, it is so much harder for readers to connect to characters in an emotional sense.  Absolutely, dialog is integral to a good book.  But because we do not get to actually see the characters in front of us like we do in a movie, we cannot see the body language and the environment, the emotional impact the words are having on the participants.  We need to be told about those things by the author.  The ones that don’t take the time to even put bits of that into their conversations are lazy in my opinion.

For me, if the dialog is presented without those critical supporting features, it can nearly kill a book no matter how well the author writes everything else.  I can think of a few authors that tend to write this way and, even though I often like their books, those books tend to get pushed to the bottom of my To Read list until I’ve already read the better books on that list.  It is surprising to me how many professionally published authors just don’t do really good dialog.  If they would take that little bit of extra effort, those books could easily go from good to excellent.

Key Essentials to a Great Romance Novel

A great romance novel is something that tugs at the heartstrings, yanks on the readers emotions and draws them into the story.  It is an escape and, in some cases, a hope that honestly great romances do happen.  There are several things that a story needs to have to become a truly great romance novel, essentials that really help connect a reader to the story emotionally.  Those essentials are some of the primary aspects that make a real romantic relationship work.

Honesty
Yes, authors often use secrets and the withholding of information as a way to create tension and drama.  As long as you give a strong reason why that honesty isn’t happening, then it can work.  It can also work if it is one of the struggles the characters are dealing with and trying to do better at.  If it is not present just because, as a whim or because the character is ignorant, oblivious or just completely insecure, you had better do a really good job writing a story that makes those issues work or the integrity of your characters can fall apart and end up seeming stupid or week.

Trust
Trust ties in closely with honesty.  If your characters can’t be honest with each other, then the trust is going to be really hard to work with.  Absolutely, trust should be earned.  When you don’t take the time to build and develop that in the relationship, then it doesn’t come across as believable.  The characters are either blindly trusting, which can make them seem painfully naive, or they just never trust at all.  When you have a character that is so completely unwilling to build that trust or is unbending in their distrust of their romantic partner, no matter the actions or honesty the other has displayed, then that makes your character seem harsh, cold, uncaring or even something of fool.

Equality/Balance/Compromise
What is good for the goose is good for the gander.  All parties in the romantic relationship should have the same rights and expectations of behavior, otherwise there is a huge double standard allowed and things can get really ugly.  If one part of the romantic couple gets upset about the behavior of the other, don’t have that one turn around and do the exact same thing and not allow the same kind of fallout to be addressed or dealt with.  All parties should have to compromise and develop or the relationship isn’t balanced and won’t appear very realistic.  You cannot have only one person expected to or be making all the changes or taking the difficult steps or having to deal with the difficult decisions.  That just isn’t that realistic.  Even though we are buying into the fantasy of the story, it still needs to feel possible.

Growth/Change
Any good story is going to have some conflict, even in a really lighthearted story.  You cannot expect it to all be rainbows and rose petals and utterly, completely perfect.  On the other hand, the flawed characters, have to have growth as well.  In their situations, their personalities, even how they view the world around them or their belief in how relationships should work.  If you get to the end of the book and the characters are still the same as they started, then part of the point of the story got missed.  That goes for all characters, that whole equality/balance/compromise thing.

If the issues and conflicts within the relationship are the exact same ones throughout the entire book with zero progress toward improvement or change, the reader is going to get frustrated really quickly.  In a real relationship, if one or another of those in that relationship continue to keep making the same mistakes over and over, or continue to hurt their partner over and over again, eventually that relationship is going to break.  If it doesn’t, it isn’t a healthy relationship and that kind of defeats the purpose of a good romance.  You also cannot have it be the same throughout the entire book to only have the characters have a miraculous epiphany in the last chapter and all those problems are magically resolved.  It does take a bit of time to deal with and go through those changes.

Strong Characters
Make them flawed.  Make them imperfect.  Allow them to make mistakes, even big ones.  Allow them to feel insecure.  Allow them to be a little broken. Give them great personality.  Allow them to have emotions.  Just don’t make them so much of any one of those things that they are unlikable or that their attitudes and behaviors are just painfully unappealing.

If your character is confident in who they are on page 50, do not make them suddenly, for no reason, feel differently on page 120.  Don’t have your characters hate each other in the beginning, then have absolutely nothing change at all but they suddenly have the hots for each other.  Have motivations and reasons for the personalities you create and make sure they work together.  Back up any changes with specific and clear reasons.  It doesn’t work for someone to be a total badass, but is unable to function without someone holding their hand or cries at the drop of a hat.  A character can be conflicted, that is fine.  Don’t make them seem like they have multiple personalities, unless you are actually writing a multiple personality character.

There are always exceptions.  Different scenarios can allow for these aspects to not necessarily all be prominent in a story or allow for exceptions, but you have to have some hint of them.  Either that or have a great reason to allow for those exceptions to make a story work well.  Sure, you can produce an okay or even a good romantic story without some of those aspects, but chances are you aren’t going to be able to pull off that really great one without them on some levels.  The biggest thing that is going to make the difference between okay and great is believability.  You don’t want your reader laughing at your characters like they are that bad horror movie actor that does that obviously stupid thing that everyone knows is going to get them killed (because, come on!  Everyone knows you don’t look under the bed).

Besides providing entertainment, romantic stories can also often be a launching platform for how expectations begin to form in younger generations.  It is something of a peeve of mine for a romance novel to set an extremely bad example of what is okay in a relationship.  No, not all romance stories showcase healthy relationships.  The ones that are well written make sure it is pretty clear that the story is about a relationship that isn’t healthy.  Others that aren’t so well written can send the wrong message altogether, allowing impressionable or inexperienced readers to get the idea that some incredibly unhealthy, even harmful behaviors, attitudes and actions are actually okay.  Not much will drop a book onto my Don’t Like list faster than books that don’t make it clear that certain behaviors are unhealthy or worse, promote those ideas and behaviors.

Safe sex falls into that category.  I’ve mentioned it before.  There is zero excuse for an author to not include safe sex practices in their writing, with a very, very few exceptions like authentic representation of a time period and the rare time when a story warrants it.  Most authors are good about making it clear when an unsafe sex situation has occurred that the characters should have been safe/made better choices, but not all authors do this.  I personally respect the author and characters a lot more when they take the time to be responsible.

Oh, and for me?  A real romance has a happy ending.  That can be approached from a lot of different ways.  It doesn’t always mean a traditional Cinderella, happily ever after.  As long as, in the end, the characters are happier in themselves and/or their relationships or better off overall then it qualifies.

 

 

Peeves: Cover Art

They say that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but we totally do.  The cover of a book is a reader’s very first impression of the book.  It gives the reader a first taste of what may be inside those pages and an indication of the writer’s style and personality.  As an author, I would think that you’d want your cover to be either interesting enough to grab a reader’s attention and draw them in or, at the very least, be generic enough to not matter.  Either approach will work.

In a lot of  cases, the cover isn’t going to make or break a book.  BUT… if your cover is done in such a way that it strikes a bad first impression, you are going to have a very hard time getting a reader, especially a reader that is new to you as an author, to actually get past whatever it is about the cover that bugs them enough to pick up that book and take a chance on reading it.  There are several things that bug me when it comes to cover art on books, enough so that I will often not even bother to read what the book is about and completely pass it up unless I’m just desperate for something to read.  A lot of times, I still won’t even look at it no matter how desperate I am.

Copycatting:  When a cover is, or contains, the exact same or very closely the same photo/image/design of another cover by another author.  This is something that I’ve noticed an awful lot recently and it annoys the crap out of me.  Not always so much that I won’t read a book because of it, but enough that I struggle to view the authors as more serious or professional.

I usually don’t always notice until I’ve read one book and then later see another book by a totally different author with a nearly identical image or a design that is so close, I think it is another book by the first author.  A lot of authors will use a similar design style throughout a series and that helps the reader to quickly identify it as being in that same series.  When you run across a situation where that isn’t the case, it feels deceptive and unoriginal.  I have no idea why this is so prevalent at the moment, but I am wondering if those books are being produced by the same publisher, one that isn’t willing to invest in unique cover art for their different authors, or if they fall more in line with self published works where the author has to provide their own cover art and they are getting images from free or low cost image services.

If you cannot get a full design work up with unique graphic images and/or photos for whatever reason, be it cost or lack of creativity, I would much rather see a generic design with a little color and just a title and author.  If you aren’t creative enough to show an original cover image, then how am I as a reader to believe that the story inside is going to be any more special or interesting than that cover, or even better, worth my time?

Cartooning:  Cartoon/childlike drawings.  This is definitely a peeve of mine.  If you are a mature, professional author writing mature stories for adults, why are you putting out books with covers on them that make them look like children’s’ books?  I will admit that not all covers that have cartoonish images on the cover come across as childlike, but most of them do.

I don’t read kids books unless it is something for my kids for some reason.  I also very rarely read a young adult book unless it is by an author that I already love their adult books.  This is because those just aren’t the kinds of books I usually want to read.  If your book cover appears that your book belongs in those genres, I’m not even going to take the time to read what the book is supposed to be about let alone take the time to read the book itself.

Cheap/Poor Computer Graphic:  Images or designs that look like my high school-er put together in his first graphic design class.  Sadly, in a lot of these cases, my high school-er could have done a better job.  Seriously, if it is going to look like completely amateur work, there is no way I am ever going to look past that cover.  Never.  Why even bother with a cover if that is what you are going to put on there?

Back to the point about a generic cover.  You will get a crap ton more looks and interest if you have even a very simple, basic, clean cover with zero images over something that is bad.  The goal is to generate interest, not turn it away.  I have a feeling (though I haven’t taken the time to research this for any kind of actual evidence), that books with covers like that are very poor cousins within the self published realm.  Even if it isn’t, that is the impression that those covers give.  I seriously doubt a publisher with a very good reputation is going to put out a book with a cover that isn’t at least partially well thought out, let alone so utterly terrible that it does the opposite of the job it is supposed to do which is get a reader wanting more of what it sees.

A book cover, when it has anything other than that simple, generic design, is suppose to tease and tantalize its readers into wanting to pick it up and explore what is beyond that cover.  It is supposed to draw you in, not cause you to go running and screaming in the opposite direction.