Posts tagged: irene watson

How to Buy a Good, High Quality Self-published or Indie-published Book or eBook

The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy

The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy. This is the cover of a self-published book. It's won 4 national awards, mostly in visionary fiction and has a 4.5 star rating on Amazon.

Talk to readers  about self-published books and eBooks  and you’ll often hear the same thing: Their quality sucks. (I’m including books/eBooks produced by independent presses in the same category.) From the story to the writing, editing, proofreading, interior and cover design, someone (and often many someones) will find them lacking. Me, for instance. I’ve bought some real turkeys.

Here are a few evaluations of self-pubbed books from the Net:

We’ve all bought them: abominable self-published books. We can complain about them forever. But how can we guard against them?

I have two ideas that may separate the cream from the dreck: contest wins and star ratings on major review sites.

Contest wins. Here I’m talking about contests for independent presses, not the Pulitzer Prize, the Booker Award, the Nobel Prize, the Nebula Award and all the other big “official” contests. You can read books that have won the prime-time awards and be pretty assured of getting a good read. Or not. The most boring book I’ve ever read was a Pulitzer Prize winner. Exquisite words. No action. I developed a rule for judging my reading material: A book should show some movement by the 50% point. Some small sign of life. Anything.

Tecolote: The Little Horse That Could. This book won five national awards and has a 5-star average review on Amazon. It is published by an independent press.

OK. We’re talking about self-published and independently published books, so we’ll look at their contests. Here’s an article (by me) about how to win a book contest. I’ve won 21 awards in national book contests at this point in my career. (They’re listed here somewhere, except for the last four, which haven’t been posted yet. I am an author (self-published) and owner of an independent press, just to stay honest.)

When you read the article about what it takes to win an indie book contest, I think you’ll realize that books that win contests have been screened for quality. I doubt the major publishers do anything like what I describe in producing their books.

I have been involved in the judging of one contest and I will say that YOU CANNOT BELIEVE HOW GOOD THE BOOKS PRODUCED AT THE TOP END OF THE INDIE PUBLISHING WORLD ARE. They are amazing. Indie publishers will go far beyond what the majors do if they’re really committed to a book.

And the low end, even in contests, the books are awful. But those books don’t win.

So, as a consumer, you should feel somewhat confident in buying prize winners. Just as you should in buying Nobel or Pulitzer Prize winners.  There’s the rub: It’s a matter of taste. If you buy the wrong book in the wrong genre, it’s a bad book for you, no matter what it’s won. I can’t read Cormac McCarthy’s bloody tomes, though they’re critically acclaimed.

These links list few contests for independent publishers that I like:

SPR Self Publishing Review

Publishing Basics: A Book Award Adds Value to Your Book

Reader Views: Literary Awards

Benjamin Franklin Awards

You might want to check out the winners of the contests listed there. My recommendation is not a guarantee that you’ll like the books.  A contest win is a screening device.

Numenon Cover

Numenon: A Tale of Mysticism & Money. This book won 6 national awards, has a 4.5 star Amazon review rating. It was #1 rated in three types of mysticism for almost a year. This is an indie book.

Star Ratings on Amazon and the Other Review Sites

“Oh, Amazon reviews don’t mean anything. They’re rigged. The authors get their friends and family to review their books,” says almost everyone who’s never tried to get a review.

Hah! Maybe I’ve got the wrong friends and family, but that just ain’t true. It’s hard to get reviews. We sent out 100 copies of my children’s picture book, Tecolote: The Little Horse That Could. It’s got a five star average with ten reviews on Amazon, very few of them from folks who got review copies. I’ve been in a book group for fifteen (15!) years. I used my book The Angel & the Brown Eyed Boy for my selection of the month when it came out. I made two personal appeals for reviews and three emailed ones. Nada.

I didn’t get a single review from my best buddies. Even more: I handed out a bunch of copies of both books at my church group, asking my friends to read and review them. They all raved about the books after reading them and said they would write reviews right away. Six months later, not a single review has shown up from that group.

Know John Locke? He’s the self published author who broke history by selling more than one million books earlier this year. He published his marketing plan as an aid to other authors and  independent presses. Do you know what he said was one of the most difficult things to accomplish? Getting five 5-star reviews to start out with. Took him two months of work, and he’s a marketing master.

So, if you know someone with lots of friends who are rigging their Amazon reviews, send them to me. I wouldn’t mind a little help. My books’ mostly 5 star average reviews were earned.

Other sites, Goodreads for instance, and Barnes &, provide reviews. I don’t have much experience with them, though I can say that the ratings on Goodreads tend to be lower than on Amazon and often have a cavalier quality. Readers can just punch a button to give a book a star rating. They don’t have to say anything about why they gave the rating or even if they read the book. But that star rating is permanent and can lower a book’s standing.

Stepping Off the Edge: Learning & Living Spiritual Practice. This 5-star rated book won six national awards. It was a Finalist in the Benjamin Franklin Awards in Spirituality. This was the first book of an indie press.

Reviews go two ways, too. I like the way John Locke looks at his reviews in terms of his market segment. When analyzing his reviews, John regards the people giving his books 4 and 5 stars as people in is market segment. Those are the people for whom he writes the books. He tosses out all the 3-star reviews, as being neither good nor bad. The people who give his books 1 or 2-star reviews are those who have mistakenly bought a book that’s not for them. His books are self-screening; those that like them buy more, those that don’t, don’t buy more. His review averages are rising over time.

There is another side of reviewing: Authors can get slammed with bad reviews that really indicate the purchaser bought a book in the wrong genre. I guess we publishers should make sure the book covers, flaps, and marketing materials convey the book’s content. Authors can also be attacked by rivals in organized campaigns of negative reviews and have their books saleability destroyed. It’s true.

Life is risky and so are on-line reviews.

Here’s an interesting idea: Here are a couple of sites where all the books listed must have a minimum rating of four stars on at least 10 reviews by different reviewers.

Four Stars and Up: Kindle Books Loved by Readers  Lots of good reading there. You can download the books onto your Kindle, or use the recommended books to buy print or eBooks for other formats.

Facebook Group: 4 Stars & Up  This is an Open Group on Facebook that requires authors to meet the 10 book/4 star minimum review to participate. This is a great place for readers to interact with independent press owners and self publishers. You may find they and their books are way higher quality than you thought.

Remember the genre issue: If you buy a book and hate it, it doesn’t mean it’s a terrible book. It may mean that you don’t like horror, chick-lit, or cozy-mysteries and that’s what you’ve bought.

OK. I hope you’re armed and ready to take on the self publishing universe.

Sandy Nathan, Award-winning Author

Sandy Nathan, Award-winning Author

Sandy Nathan
I hope my little slide show has convinced you that self published books can be very good.
Winner of twenty-one  national awards

Sandy’s  books are: (Click link to the left for more information. All links below go to Kindle sale pages.)
The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy
Numenon: A Tale of Mysticism & Money

Tecolote: The Little Horse That Could

Stepping Off the Edge: Learning & Living Spiritual Practice




Selling Books in the Great Recession: An Economist’s Perspective

Adam Smith the Founder of Modern Economics. His book, The Wealth of Nations (1776), establishes the idea that national wealth comes from the productivity of resources, not hoarding gold and silver.

I wrote this article back in 2009. It’s still relevant, alas. I’ve updated and illustrated it with uplifting portraits of great economists. These cool dudes have shaped our world.

“I didn’t know you were an economist,” one of my friends said when she heard about this series on selling books in the Great Recession.

Yep. I hold a BA and MA in economics. I was on my way to a PhD at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford when I realized that I couldn’t do the math. I slunk away to resume doing what I knew how to do––economic analysis.

I was the Economic Analyst for Santa Clara County (the heart of Silicon Valley), among other positions. My first publications were in economics.

Even though I’m an author and proprietor of a small press today, the current situation keeps shoving concepts from economics in my face. I felt compelled to write down a few insights, throwing in ideas from business theory and psychology. (I also have an MA in Marriage, Family, and Child Counseling. I’m not bragging as I mention the alphabet soup behind my name: I’m from Silicon Valley, where multiple degrees are as common as downsizing and excess is barely enough.)

What do I see for booksellers and everyone else?


Well, duh. A real economic analysis would back up this assertion with studies and statistics. But we don’t really need that.  If we don’t feel the pain in our personal lives, we can go to out local mall and look at all the empty retail space.

Is that space ever going to be filled? Beats me. In the old days, economists thought that unemployment and under-utilization of productive capacity were short-term phenomena. Everything would be cool in the long run.

John Maynard Keynes

John Maynard Keynes

John Maynard Keynes, who revolutionized economics in the 1930s, exploded this myth by observing, “In the long run, gentlemen, we are all dead.”

Lord Keynes explained that the economy was like an elevator. Previous generations of theorists thought the economy would automatically rise to the top floor and stay there, at a natural equilibrium and full employment.

Keynes said, “Not so; the economy can get be stuck below the top and at less than full employment for a long time–-forever, maybe.” He also came up with the idea of government stimulus: direct government expenditures to get the economy going again. It primed the way to recovery from the Great Depression of the 1930s. WWII is what popped us out of that malaise. No one wants to get into a war to stimulate the economy. In our case, that avenue is closed: We’re already in a war.


How does this affect book sales? The way you’d expect. This series of articles was motivated by a friend lamenting his recent lousy book sales and by other friends asking, “How are you doing? What are you doing? Help!”

In the discussion below, I focus on the financial aspect of publication: Books and book sales as moneymakers. The situation has changed greatly over the years. I recall a publisher friend remarking, “Back in the 70s, you could make money publishing books.” Now the book market has thousands of small presses with more being formed every day. Hundreds of thousands of new books are released every year. Major publishers are cutting back and retail chains like Borders are going belly up.

Except for the mega best sellers, making a profit as a publisher or author is hard. But people still succeed in a big way. See John Locke, How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in Five Months. Ditto Amanda Hocking and who knows how many more hearty independents are tossing the industry on its head. How they do it is the topic of future posts.

 I’m going to share a few thoughts, and then open up the series to the red-hot marketers in the next installments of this series. We’ll hear from people who are selling books, making money, and attaining their personal goals in this recession.

Thomas Malthus

Thomas Malthus, the man who put the dismal in "The Dismal Science." Mathus said, among many other things, that any increase in prosperity in society will be destroyed by a related rise in population. Hasn't proven true so far, but you never know.


“I’ve never made money with any of my books,” said my most illustrious boss, an internationally known business consultant and professor who has taught at Stanford, Harvard, and Oxford. He’s written classic books about business theory, which were published by the top publishers in the world.

“My books never made any money, but they got me consulting jobs that did.”

This bit of information is probably more valuable than any in this article. As a life success guide, it’s as valuable as the statistic that 90% of small businesses fail within the first five years. Of the 10% that make it, 90% fail in the next five.

Unless they’re independently wealthy, folks should imbibe my boss’s words before releasing books and memorize the failure rates of small business before starting small presses.

What business are you in? Selling books, or something else? What business should you be in, given your skills and what you write about?


An adage in applied psychology is: “If you want something, go to where it is.”

If you want money, you should be where it is. Where’s the money? Here I’ll call upon that venerable enlightenment organization, the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Where does the money live?

The BLS table May 2008 National Occupational Employment and Wage, a distribution of income by occupation, tells us. The table presents “estimates … calculated with data collected from employers in all industry sectors in metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas in every State and the District of Columbia.” The numbers are based on a sample, but a very good sample. The table links to another table giving percentile rankings and the employment percent relative standard error.

The data shows the high income jobs are exactly where you’d expect them: at the CEO level of management, high level technical and scientific professions, and in the medical field. MDs in various specialties received the highest income, with surgeons showing the greatest mean income of any profession, $206,700.

What about writers and authors?According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates, the writers and authors occupation (a sample of 44,170, about the same number as surgeons) showed a mean annual income of $64,560. (Anybody make that much with their books? This figure includes all the people writing articles and doing seminars about making money with writing.)

What does this mean? The data show that some writers make a living from their craft. On the other hand, millions of better paying jobs in other fields exist.

If making money is your primary motivation, it will probably be easier to become a brain surgeon or CEO than a financially successful writer.

Karl Marx

Karl Marx: Predicted Revolution Based on Class Struggle and Inequitable Distribution of Wealth. You don't have to think this different.


All of this is to establish that maybe writing for money isn’t the best use of your time. I was going to add an appendix of articles about writing for money, because many people would say the exact opposite. Tons of “make money writing” sites and courses and books exist. Google the topic, you’ll see.You may want to work with those ideas, in addition to what I’m saying. (However, none of the writers heralding the possibility of fortune through scribbling can get around the Bureau of Labor Statistics data presented above.)

Meanwhile, have you considered your writing a springboard to another career, as it was for my professor friend? You might augment your income by adding speaking gigs, leading workshops, consulting, teaching writing skills, self-expression, and the gamut of things related to writing that may prove lucrative. Stretch your creativity beyond “I’m an author.” Or just keep your day job.

This writing/publishing world is a rough place to survive, even without a recession. Consumers are jaded: What used to work doesn’t any more. Emailed offers get ignored, book signings aren’t attended, and contests and reduced prices don’t increase sales. (If I get one more notice of a contest or special event from another excessively smiley person selling books, I’ll scream. And get off their mailing list immediately. Add to this ecstatic announcements of new books or  5 star reviews.)

We need to do things differently.


I did not discuss one very important subject above. Economists don’t pay any attention to it; it’s irrelevant to economic analysis. That subject is joy. Bliss. Satisfaction. The personal reward we get from writing. I have more fun writing than doing pretty near anything else. I will even forgo riding my horse to do lay down a few choice words. Personal rewards need to be measured against monetary payoffs.

If you’re not making money from your scribbling or getting joy from tossing around words, you might want to think about taking up golf. Or anything else.

In future articles, I’ll discuss thrilling and very relevant concepts like price elasticity, opportunity cost, and use of influence. I’m turning the next article over to the guest bloggers.

Sandy Nathan, Award-winning Author

There you go, guys, a couple of things to think about in promoting  your books. Have fun with them, and let me know how they work.

All the best,

Sandy Nathan
Winner of seventeen national book awards

Sandy’s  books are: (Click link for more information. All links below go to Kindle editions.)
The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy
Numenon: A Tale of Mysticism & Money

Tecolote: The Little Horse That Could

Stepping Off the Edge: Learning & Living Spiritual Practice

Two sequels to The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy are in production with an early 2012 release date planned. If you liked  The Angel you’ll love Lady Grace and Sam & Emily.

Negotiation Skills and Working with Professionals – Add a little Sugar!

I'd work for these cookies––French macaroons.

Cookies make a difference. These are French macaroons, or Luxembourgers, made by Burdick Chocolates of Northhampton, MA. Photo courtesy of Burdick Chocolates.

I recently posted an article by super publicist Susan Schwartzman about working with a publicist and the importance of sending cookies once in a while.

This seems like a small thing––maybe even a bribe––but it’s not. What Ms. Schwartzman introduces is the very large topic of use of influence. Use of influence means what authors can do to maximize their impact in an intensely competitive world. Ms. Schwartzman‘s message applies not only to publicists, but to everyone the author touches in a publishing endeavor.

The author’s problem is BEING NOTICED. Whether self published or published by the majors, an author needs to get the attention of  his or her literary agent, book shepherd, cover and interior designers, publisher, publicist, editor, and especially intended readers.

Can you do it? Don’t think the quality of your book alone will catapult you to the front lines––you need negotiation skills here. You need communication skills and more.

Do you know how to listen to another person and deeply understand that person’s point of view? Can you send messages about your wants and needs that don’t feel like threats? Can you formulate a solution to the problem that benefits all participants?

If you can’t do these things, take a communication skills course. Add a negotiation skills course on top of that. You don’t have to spend a fortune doing it––most community rec departments offer them. Local junior colleges and high school adult ed departments give such courses. Learn personal skills, in addition to “How to write a perfect query letter.”

I once led a T-group at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. A T-group is like a therapy group, except it focuses on personal skills as they impact business situations. Studies have shown that students who do well in T-groups at the major business schools excel in their professional and personal lives. These are the movers and shakers: They make the most money and win life’s prizes.

The professor in charge made a devastating comment: “If you can’t motivate this group, how do you expect to attain your life goals?”

If you can’t move those closest to you, how to you expect to end up the CEO of a major corporation? Or save lives in Africa? Or get anyone to read your book, much less buy it?”

How can you motivate others? With cookies.

Of course, your publicist will work hard for you without them, but how do you make sure your job is the one that gets done at the end of the day?

Good manners is part of it. Assertive good manners. [Take an assertiveness training, too.] I’ll go over assertive techniques in later posts. Be kind and understand the point of view of the person you’re dealing with. That’s why I liked Susan Schwartzman’s article so much: Though she’s a top publicist, she reveals herself as a person in her blog post.

[Nathan Bransford is a blog writer who gives his audience a clear view of what a literary agent's life is like. This is very useful information for one attempting to be represented by an agent. Mr. Bransford talks about the joys of coming to work on Monday and finding 400 queries in his in-box. How do you approach someone in this situation? This is an opportunity to practice communication and negotiation skills.]

Life as a publishing industry professional is rough. How does one keep going?

He looks cute, doesn't he?

Raj looks cute, doesn't he? Hah! This 30 pound dog flipped an 80 pound Aussie on her back and terrorized a German shepherd.

Cookies really help. Positive reinforcement, behavioral psychologists call it. Here’s a story about positive reinforcement, also known as operant conditioning.

As a lifelong horsewoman, I’ve known about positive reinforcement for a long time. The “horse whisperer” type trainers use it. But when we got a “special needs” Cocker spaniel from the pound, I understood the real power of positive reinforcement. [Click for an article about this problem dog.]

Raj was a frigging nightmare, the attack-Cocker from hell. Within days of our rescuing him, he’d terrorized our much larger dogs and dominated our household. He made me a nervous wreck and caused my husband to rave about sending him back from whence he came. So what if they’d off him? He was killing us.

In desperation, I called my vet, who said, “Call Amanda!” Amanda is a dog trainer who uses only positive techniques. She was so nice that I couldn’t imagine her handing an aggressive dog, much less our stone cold killer.

Raj adored her. By the end of our sessions, she had him eating out of her hand (not eating her hand). He became a positive member of our social unit. Today, the human and canine Nathan pack loves Amanda––and Raj. [I wrote a series of articles about this transformation. Here's a link.]

What was the secret? Amanda rewarded-–in a currency that the Raj appreciated (bits of hot dogs)––everything he did that was desirable and IGNORED the rest. This sounds like it would take forever, but it’s actually very fast.

Find the currency the person you’re relating with wants and give it to them. (Subject to moral and legal constraints, of course.)

POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT IS 9 TIMES AS EFFECTIVE AS NEGATIVE. (Maybe even more. I forget the statistics Amanda cited.) Praise, cookies, acknowledgment, kindness––all of these work better than hostility, blame, rank pulling and abuse, physical or verbal abuse.

You can get noticed being a bad guy.

You can get noticed being a bad guy. Poor Sumo was so scared he wouldn't get out of the cart when Raj was around. Is this good? No. Raj is lucky he's alive.

You’re in a negotiation called life. You want your world to notice you. You can get noticed by being the meanest, most foul mouthed, bad-patootie on the block. By getting full-body implants and flaunting them. By setting yourself on fire in public––metaphorically or in reality.

Do these tactics buy you what you want? Why not figure out what those on your team want and give it to them? Why not figure out what the guys on the other team want and see areas of commonality? Why not use all your skills, including those of your heart and soul, to attain your goals?

Cookies are a tie breaker. Give cookies and you’ll get noticed in a positive way. Undoubtedly, the good wishes and intentions behind such gifts are what motivate theor recipient to expend that little extra bit of energy––that puts you in Time Magazine.

One more story on the value of positive reinforcement:

My daughter Zoe went to school in New York.  On one trip home, her plane had some problem and was taken out of service.  Everyone had to be rerouted. It was a mess; inconvenient, irritating.

Zoe stood in line at the airline’s counter and watched her fellow passengers REAM the airline employee who was working hard to put them on different, hopefully functional, planes. They acted as though the employee had personally disabled the first plane.

When she finally reached the desk, Zoe said, “Everyone’s acting like it’s your fault, but I think you’re doing a great job. Thank you!”

The woman gave her first class tickets all the way home.

You think cookies matter?

Award Winning Author of Numenon & Stepping Off the Edge

Award Winning Author of Numenon & Stepping Off the Edge

Sandy Nathan
Award winning author of Numenon and Stepping Off the Edge.
(And negotiation coach, as well as teacher/coach of communications and assertiveness trainings!)

Would you like some of the cookies up top? They’re all the rage in Paris––lines form to purchase “les macarons”––and now Burdicks is shipping them! These hand-piped, tender meringue treats are filled with flavored buttercreams. All natural flavorings of chocolate, coffee, pistachio, raspberry, lavender, almond-citrus and ginger. The assortment of fifteen is presented in a unique polka-dotted box. Click here for a review. Click to go to  LA Burdick Chocolate’s website to order.

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