Category Archives: Business of Writing

Can YA books appeal to adults?

It’s funny I enjoy reading young adult ~ or YA ~ books now that I’m in my late 30’s because when I was growing up, I couldn’t find any I really liked to read. By the time I was in the sixth grade, I had already gone through my school library’s small stash of fiction at least twice and was ready to move onto adult titles. And by “adult,” I mean Stephen King. I read Pet Sematary that year and never looked back.

Now, though, I love well-crafted YA novels, particularly those in the fantasy genre. Some of my favorite series are classified as YA ~ Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, to name two right off the top of my head that I know I’ll continue to reread for years to come. There’s a fine line between a story written specifically for children and one written about a young person which will still appeal to an older audience.

Since I love reading the YA genre, I’ve experimented a time or two with writing it, as well. Given that my usual fare is erotic in nature, I chose to write YA under a pseudonym, J. Tomas. Of course, like any story I write, my YA tales focus on gay characters, which I think is an aspect of YA literature that has been missing up until just recently. About two years ago now I published my first novel under that name, and I keep meaning to work on another YA story at some point.

I’ve finally gotten a chance to do that ~ next Sunday, my short story Who’s Watching Who? will be published through JMS Books LLC. I’m not sure how well a YA e-book will sell, to be honest. Do teens buy e-books? Do they read them? Can an e-book labeled YA appeal to adult readers?

We’ll see. I have in mind the idea to compile a collection of short stories, all YA, into a paperback at some point, but I don’t have any definite release date for that yet.

Book reviews ~ yay or nay?

For three years, I ran Rainbow Reviews, which became one of the largest online review sites for GLBT fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. When I started JMS Books LLC
, I no longer had the time or energy to maintain so many different sites. And to be honest, RR never really grew to be what I had envisioned starting out. I wanted more reviews of all genres, and not just gay erotic romance. Still, it was a lot of fun running a review site, particularly one so popular.

A lot of new authors aren’t really sure exactly how to get their books reviewed. While it’s nice to think you’d like to submit review copies to large publications like Out or Entertainment Weekly, the truth of the matter is that those magazines need advance reader copies (or ARCs) of books up to six months prior to publication. Plus, they very rarely seem to review indie, small press, or self-published titles. Not to mention that the cost of buying hard copies of the books and shipping them to the magazines is prohibitive if no one is even going to bother writing a review.

When you publish a shorter e-book, there isn’t even a hard copy to send into the reviewers. That’s when online book review sites become your best friend. There are so many sites out there, for every genre imaginable ~ a quick Google search of “book reviews” will show you as much. When submitting your book for review, keep in mind the following:

  • Follow the review site’s guidelines. Don’t send a gay book if the site doesn’t review GLBT titles; don’t send poetry if they don’t review it. Many times it isn’t that they don’t want to review certain types of books; they just don’t have the reviewers or resources available to do so.
  • Don’t pay for a review. This is a gimmick, pure and simple. 99.9% of online review sites review for free ~ they get “paid” in the copies of books they receive for review, or they generate revenue through banner ads or other promotional offers. While I agree with paying for ad space or other promotion, I don’t agree with paying to get reviewed.
  • Do not submit your book and then expect the review site to buy their copy. This isn’t how you solicit a review. If you want a site to review your book, you have to send them a copy of it! Yes, it sounds elementary, but you’d be surprised how often new authors sent me a review request at Rainbow Reviews and never bothered to submit an actual copy of the book.
  • Along this line, send the format the reviewer prefers. Many sites accept PDF only; some want a text-friendly version (such as HTML); some want only print.
  • Don’t mail in blind review copies. Contact someone at the review site first (either using their submission form or emailing their review coordinator) and provide at least the title, genre, and blurb for your book. Then follow the directions ~ if they want you to send a copy immediately, do so. Otherwise, wait for them to ask for a copy.
  • Once you’ve submitted a book for review, be patient. You don’t make any friends pestering a review site about if and when the review will be posted.
  • Most importantly, when your book is reviewed, read the review with an open mind. Realize not every review will be glowing, and even poorly written or unfavorable reviews may be mined for a positive line or two you can quote on your website. Even a bad review can sell books.
  • Try to favor review sites that accept electronic book files. They cost you nothing to send. Print books are rarely reviewed, particularly if sent to places that receive 100+ titles a day to review. Online review sites are your friends ~ your name and title will be picked up on search engines and raise the percentage of your search rankings, making your book rise in the results generated when people Google your name or book title.
  • Many online review sites offer additional resources to authors. Once you’ve submitted a book for review, request an author interview, or join the site’s Yahoo! group to help promote your book. Sign up for chats and offer free copies of your book in giveaways and promotions. This helps build your name among readers online. Romance and erotic romance sites are particularly helpful in this respect.

Above all, remember that a review is nothing more than one person’s opinion. You’ve heard the saying ~ opinions are like assholes; everyone has one. Don’t get angry with a review site or reviewer if you don’t like their review ~ remember, you requested it. You didn’t ask them to like it, and most sites don’t guarantee that they will. Writing vicious e-mails or comments to the site will only make you look foolish and unprofessional.

Instead, if the reviewer takes time to read your book, write a review, and notify you the review has been posted, the least you can do is take two seconds to reply with a quick thanks. It will go a long way to creating a positive reputation for yourself online, and may even win you a fan in the process.

A quick look at e-books

When I started self-publishing in 2002, e-books existed but were not nearly as wide-spread as they are today. I knew traditional publishers were starting to experiment with downloading titles ~ I remember buying Stephen King’s Riding the Bullet when it was only available in PDF format ~ but none of the major bookstores online yet marketed hand-held e-readers. My few experiments in electronic publishing were met with insipid sales, at best. Granted, my self-published paperbacks didn’t fare much better, but I saw little or no profit in publishing e-books.

Then I was contacted by an up-and-coming electronic publisher interested in working with me. I admit, I was skeptical ~ why share my profit with an online press when I could publish the titles myself and keep all my profits? But I took a chance and submitted a story, which the publisher accepted. They had a bit more knowledge about the world of e-publishing than I did at the time, and I was more than a little surprised at the amount of my first royalty check. Suddenly my sales had increased 500% in the span of four months! I couldn’t believe it!

Part of the reason I never realized there was a growing e-book community online was the simple fact that I didn’t read e-books. I preferred printed volumes, and I think there’s a part of every writer who longs to see his or her name in print on an actual, physical book. It’s something you can set on your coffee table, or keep on a bookshelf, or show your parents to prove you’ve made it, you’re a real author. An e-book is intangible ~ there’s nothing to hold onto, nothing to show off. Before Amazon’s Kindle invaded everyday language, not many people even knew what an e-book was.

But in today’s technology-laden world, e-book sales have surpassed those of print titles in the marketplace to such an extent that traditional publishers and booksellers are scrambling to reinvent their business models. Libraries are including e-books in their offerings, and every day more online bookstores selling only in electronic format seem to crop up. Many cell phones now support e-books, and the two largest online bookstores ~ Amazon and Barnes & Noble ~ have revolutionized the industry with stand-alone e-reading devices. Even people who didn’t know e-books existed last year are jumping on the bandwagon.

So what exactly is an e-book, anyway?

In the simplest terms, an e-book is a story available for download. According to Wikipedia, the first e-book was a copy of the United States’ Declaration of Independence, typed into a teletype machine by Michael S. Hart, founder of Project Gutenberg, in 1971. Software dedicated to reading e-books was first developed in 1993, two years before Amazon.com launched its online store. In 1998, the first ISBN was issued for an e-book, the same year the Rocket eBook reader was released. In 2000, Stephen King’s short story came out, and the rest is history.

E-books are revolutionizing the way people read … and publish. Before electronic formats, the only stories that would ever make it into print were novel-length ~ short stories were relegated to anthologies or magazines. Very few authors could make ends meet writing short fiction. Anyone who wanted to make money writing was at the mercy of the big publishing houses of New York ~ many great manuscripts were lost in slush piles or rejected numerous times. How many would-be authors lost faith in their writing when no one picked up their books? How many short stories were published in magazines with limited print runs and are no longer available?

There is very little overhead for someone who wants to publish an e-book. You need a book or story, of course. Software ~ to lay out the book, create a cover, format the electronic files, and upload them to a distributor’s site. And really, that’s about it. With the wide range of free software or low-cost shareware available online, you can easily publish your own titles with a starting investment of $100 or less. Why some publishers insist on charging so much for their electronic titles, sometimes pricing e-books at the same price they charge for the paperback edition, is beyond me.

So why do e-books appeal to readers? Many like the ease of use electronic formats provide. Disabled readers can enjoy books they wouldn’t be able to read in print. Those of us who spend way too much on books can buy e-books without worrying about where to store them. They aren’t taking up space in your bedroom or closet, and if you have to move, you don’t have to worry about packing all those books into boxes or, more importantly, bribing friends and family to help you carry them.

An e-reader is easier to take with you on trips than a stack of paperbacks ~ there’s no more making room for your books in your suitcases when you travel. And with the wireless option available on Amazon’s Kindle, you can decide mid-flight to buy another book and be reading it in minutes. E-books are a product of our technologically-driven, on-the-go society, and like it or not, they’re definitely here to stay.