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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Review: Even A Stone

Even a Stone
A Short Story
By Jane Lebak

Sir Charles Hallwyn is on a quest for dragon eggs when he encounters an angel sitting on a rock. The angel says he has to sit on the rock for three years, a punishment for an uncharitable remark he made at a friend’s expense. Sir Charles recognizes an opportunity when he sees one (he’s been selling dragons to train young dragon-fighters for years now) but as it turns out, dragons are also good at recognizing opportunities. And there’s one very angry dragon-mom on the way. 

Originally published in Dragons, Knights and Angels magazine, Even A Stone sees a chance meeting change Sir Charles’ entire life, and an angel may learn whether even a stone warms up if you sit on it. 
Download from Amazon (Free at time of posting)

My review

This surprised me. I admit, I just started reading it because "dragons" but it definitely got some consistent laughs and was heartwarming in places. It has a quirky, clever style. 

Plus Dragons. 

Definitely recommended. I'm going to be checking out Lebak's longer fiction next. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016


Six YA Fantasy authors.
A chance to win SIX awesome YA Ebooks.

Kick off your Summer Reading right with these awesome titles.
Enter to win on the Rafflecopter below, or click the links to purchase the books on Amazon.com! 

Nyssa Glass and the House of Mirrors

Author H. L. Burke
When reformed cat burglar Nyssa Glass is framed for murder, her only hope is to commit one last heist to prove her innocence. However, breaking into the "abandoned" house of an eccentric professor may very well be the last thing she ever does. 

Called Warrior

Author E. J. McCay
Preacher's Kid MacKenzie Bryan is called by God to be a warrior. Now she has to battle a church elder at the helm of a sex-trafficking ring.

The Firethorn Crown

Author Lea Doue
Princess Lily, the eldest of twelve sisters and heir to a mighty kingdom, desperately seeks a break from her mother's matchmaking. Fleeing an overzealous suitor, Lily stumbles into a secret underground kingdom where she and her sisters encounter a mysterious sorcerer-prince and become entangled in a curse that threatens the safety of her family and her people. Follow the sisters on their adventures in a land where sorcery is feared, women can rule, and dragons fly.

The Mirror and the Mage

Author D. W. Frauenfelder
Fourteen-year old Lucius Junius Brutus yearns to join the Roman army, but Lucius' father directs him to guard the dusty, grammarly scrolls of Numa Pompilius. Lucius thinks he is in for the most boring job in the world-- until he discovers the scrolls' true purpose...

Finding Prince Charming

Author: Jessica Elliott
Allegra is shocked to discover that rather than wait in a tower for her Prince Charming, she must embark on a quest to rescue him. She must face untold dangers and overcome her greatest fears. Her enchanted prince, Adrian, deals with match-making frogs, a flirtatious mermaid and an unknown enemy who will stop at nothing to prevent their happily ever after.

The Collar and the Cavvarach  

Author Annie Douglass Lima

Bensin, a teenage slave and martial artist, is desperate to see his little sister freed. But only victory in the Krillonian Empire's most prestigious tournament will allow him to secretly arrange for Ellie's escape. As danger closes in, can Bensin save Ellie from a life of slavery and abuse?

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Random Interview Saturday! EJ McCay

The H. L. Burke Random Interview is not like other interviews. The questions are all over the place. They have no purpose. Their purpose is their lack of purpose.
There are nine questions because cats, but these nine questions are subject to change without notice, so the questions one person answers may not be the questions answered by the next author.

The red carpet unfurls, the limo pulls up, and out springs EJ McCay to the flash of multitudinous cameras!

Author Bio

I'm a wife and mother living in Seminole, Texas. I also live with three cats. I'm currently addicted to Chuck. I'm a music fanatic and listen to everything from Perry Como to Demon Hunter. I get claustrophobic when there are too many people so as much as I love music, I avoid concerts. I love to travel. Like, just taking a drive and having no time limits or direction is fun to me. So, that's a little bit about me. Another lesser known fact, I stink at biographies.

The Interview
Write me some Vogon Poetry (for those not in the know, Vogon poetry is so awful you’ll want to rip your ears off and eat them. It’s considered a method of torture in many corners of the galaxy. So give us your worst).
Shatzenburg flarg upon the eye
Huge boogers did I see fling
Beyond the woods the tree did fall
Glazteenheim made a sound and it was bad. 
You're the next Disney princess. What fairy tale is your full length movie and how would you use your new ability to control woodland creatures?
Cinderella. Seriously, the best part is all those woodland creatures doing the dishes and laundry. I hate both of those chores. 
If you had to be physically one age for the rest of your life, where would you stop the clock?

Twenty-six. Young enough you can still do things, but old enough to be past the "you're still a kid" age. 
You can time travel in an oddly specific way that only allows you to visit other authors. Where do you go and what do you do?
I think I'd like to visit Mark Twain. I think he was an interesting person. I'd love to just take a boat ride with him. 
If I were to invite you over, what snacks would you bring, keeping in mind that fruit and dried fruit are not snacks?
I'd do some homemade caramel popcorn with peanuts in it. 
Tree House or Cave? And why?
That's hard. Both have advantages, but I'm going with Tree House because it'd be cool to say my house is in a tree. 
What weather is your writing? A dark and stormy night? A sunshiny day? 
It's balmy with a chance of sarcasm. 
If this question were any question in the world, what question would you want it to be and how would you answer it?
This one left me flummoxed. I think I'll go for simple. If you could go anywhere, where would you go? Fuji. I'd love to just go hang out in a hammock by the beach. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Review Gathering: The Good, the Bad, and the Morally Gray.

EDIT: 10/12/2016 Just a quick note to address the recent changes to the Amazon review policy: most of the changes do not actually affect books. Amazon has stated they still consider ARCs fair game. However, they are now stating that you can't REQUIRE a review in return for an ARC, meaning you can request it but the reviewer cannot be under any obligation to review. This might affect third party reviewer sites and review circles, depending on the set up of these individual groups. Some groups might find ways to make the review process completely voluntary and will be fine (NetGalley is very established. I can't see Amazon making a fuss about them, for instance). Others might need to alter their terms of service. Unfortunately, I can't check each site individually, so use your own common sense and caution. 
Also, when handing out ARCs be sure to use language that clarifies that they will not be penalized for failing to leave a review. Also-also, try to get them to call it an "ARC" in their "I received a free book" disclaimer and maybe suggest one that doesn't involve words like "in return for my honest review." More like a simple, "I received this book as a free ARC. All opinions are my own." 

A bit ago I did a very non-scientific poll which I posted and shared as far as my social media reach could reach ... for a grand total of 289 responses (I'm not sure whether that's good or bad as far as my social media reach goes) if interested the poll is still live and you can take it here. Who knows? Results may change after this goes live and I'll have to do an update), but anyway, the subject of the poll was reviews and how they impact buying decisions.
The results in general were very interesting (including the "comments" section) and will eventually merit its own blog post break down, but one thing that struck me as especially interesting was the question, "Does the number of reviews matter to you?" An overwhelming 88% of readers claimed no, it didn't. A book could easily have under 10 reviews and they would still consider the purchase if the book seemed appealing due to other factors.

Considering how hard it can be to rack up those reviews (the majority of readers do not leave reviews. You can sell a hundred books and net one review out of it on average), it's encouraging that, at least in this small sample, only having a handful of customer reviews might not hurt us that much. There are, of course, rumors that Amazon gives "priority" in searches to books with a certain number of reviews, but this is just a rumor. I don't think Amazon has ever put this in an official statement and I notice books pop up in my "recommended list" with only one or two reviews fairly frequently.

That said, one thing that isn't a rumor is that certain promotion sites want to see a certain number and star rating before they will feature you. I've seen this range from 4 reviews to 40, and while there is no official word on review requirements from big hitter Bookbub, clicking on books there for a bit seemed to suggest they prefer a slightly higher number of reviews for the books they feature (and sometimes they run an exception with only a handful of reviews. Bookbub works in mysterious ways).

So don't be desperate!
I know, I know, easier said than done ... a lot of writers have turned to less than ethical means to gather reviews, and because of this, Amazon occasionally does "sweeps," deleting all "suspicious" reviews ... and in the process they often catch legitimate reviews.
And sometimes it is hard for readers to know what Amazon allows and what they don't. Amazon is a big chimera with a dozen heads that sometimes seem to contradict each other. It often doesn't explain what it does and some of its rules are buried deep in legalese ... it's a pain. Still, you should read them at least once. Click here and here for the most relevant sections.

So how do different review gathering methods stack up as far as Amazon's TOS and ethical concerns go? Which will actually get you reviews? Which should you actively avoid?
In the blog post I'll list various methods along with any pros, cons, and my own rating for "ethical" concerns (1 being the devil on your shoulder, 10 being the angel). Now the "ethical" bit could possibly be controversial. I'm not saying if you've engaged in this method that you're a bad person (I find most authors who have are driven more by a naive idea that it's just how things work or because they haven't considered conflict of interest, etc, more than a strategic desire to break rules and rip off readers) and in some cases the rating will be influenced simply by how "squirmy" the method makes me personally.
I will also include some links to helpful sites that I consider legitimate resources.

So with that said, let's start with the elephant in the room:

Flat out Buying Reviews

Yes, these places pop up all over the internet. You'll get messages in your inbox from people making offers. You'll see them advertised on places like fiverr. They will guarantee you a dozen new reviews for a cheap, cheap price ... but they are DEFINITELY against Amazon's Terms of Service. 
A lot of these vendors will allow you to determine the star rating your book receives or even offer to let you write reviews for your own books. Even if they claim you are buying "honest" reviews, these reviewers are probably reviewing dozens of books a day for various authors. There is no way they are reading all the books. Besides, the exchange of funds immediately creates bias (because no one is going to pay a reviewer to repeatedly trash their books.).

Pros: oh, you'll get reviews all right.
Cons: Amazon might delete your account, will probably delete your reviews, most readers feel they can see through "paid" reviews so the authenticity of all your reviews will be called into doubt, and you've generally helped to damage the combined reputation of all indie authors .. you know, little things. 
Ethical rating: 1 (probably 0 but I didn't include that on the scale)

Friends and Family Reviews

While also against Amazon's rules (and the cause of some of their most controversial deletions as the whole "we suspect you might know this author because of something we won't disclose but it may be as little as you emailed them telling them how much you liked their book after you read it or you followed them on Facebook which doesn't necessarily make you a 'friend' so much as a 'fan' but hey, our site, our rules."), this one does swiftly slip into the "gray" area because of a few things.
1. Define friend. Is the person I interacted with at the book fair a friend just because they followed me on Twitter and like my cat pics? What about the neighbor who yeah, I say hello to, but they've never been over for dinner? 
2. It's impossible to stop well-meaning friends and family from doing this sometimes. I know I have reviews from people who I personally think of as "good friends" and I have reviews from people who are at least distantly related to me. I didn't ask for these reviews. They aren't the majority of my reviews by any means, but they pop up (annoyingly my little sister is a harsh critic. Don't believe anything she says in her reviews. She's just a know it all... kidding, I love you.). 

Pros: We do all have that one relative/friend, though, who would tell it like it is even if it hurts, and so I don't think all "friends and family" reviews are biased beyond repair and therefore evil. I wouldn't actively seek out these reviews, but if you get one, don't freak out. It'll probably be okay.
Cons: However, if Amazon puts together the connection (and no one outside of Amazon seems to know for sure HOW they make this connection), the reviews might get deleted anyway. Also an "obvious" family review is a turn off to readers (no one cares if "Grandma Jo" thinks you're the best writer ever and "such a polite young man.").
Ethical rating: 4 ... ish ...

Goodreads Giveaways

Goodreads allows you to give away paperbacks (they are introducing an ebook version, but it has like a $100 buy in, I think, which seems very expensive to me for what it is) through their system. You can choose how many books to give away and how long the giveaway goes and at the end it randomly picks winners from everyone who has entered, you mail them the book, and when they get it they might review.

Pros: I honestly do this feature more for exposure than reviews. The price of a paperback+shipping buys me a bunch of people seeing my book cover, adding it to their "to read" shelves, and having it on their social media feeds. It's not a slam dunk marketing technique, but it is worth it to me.
Cons: If you are doing this purely for reviews, don't expect a high turn around rate. A lot of winners never actually review. Those that do tend to leave the review only on Goodreads, not on Amazon. Goodreads readers also tend to be a little more on the "exacting" side and you may end up with a one or two star for your efforts (which are eventually unavoidable, but at least according to rumor more likely with Goodreads than with other methods).
Ethical rating: 10. I don't think anyone has any bones to pick with this method.


I love book bloggers. Not just for the reviews. They're enthusiastic readers who love to share books. They're often very savvy with social media. They're just generally good contacts to have. 
They also should be free. If a reviewer has a "paid reviews" feature, it might work as an editorial review and you can consider that as you will, but if they post a paid review as a customer review, then you have to file them under the first item on this list ... however, most book reviewers leave honest reviews in return for a free copy of the book. 
How to contact bloggers and what to expect could be an entire post to itself (and I'll make some quick links to some lists of bloggers you can thumb through), but as a general rule, this is a tested and respected method of gathering reviews.

Pros: They are avid readers. They probably review more thoroughly than the "average" reader which can easily pop their reviews into the "most helpful" slots. Some have policies where they won't publicly post low rated reviews and will instead offer a private critique (not that bad reviews are necessarily evil and they are definitely unavoidable, but the safety net is nice). They may even offer to help promote you in other ways and they may have a following.
Cons: Waiting lists. Most book bloggers have them. Most receive dozens of review requests a day. It may take them months to get around to your book because of this (I've often gotten reviews posted that I totally forgot asking for). 
Some people assume book bloggers are biased because they get free books and are just in it for "free stuff." My thought, if they review a book dishonestly in return for a free book, all they've gotten free is a book they don't actually like and a chance to get more books offered by the same writer who wrote the book they didn't like ... so why would this bias them? But because of this vague concern I'm going to give this ...
Ethical rating: 9. As I said, the majority of bloggers are in it because they love books and like to give their honest take on books. There may be a handful with ulterior motives, but this is so slim. I'm only giving them a 9 because I think some people do get suspicious just when they see that "I received a free copy in return for my honest review" note.
Review bloggers list 1.
Review bloggers list 2.

Other Social Media 

I'm going to just count this along with bloggers because the pros/cons/ethical concerns are about identical, but there are some social media users who are active reviewers but might not necessarily be blogger. You can find them on most social media. For instance the #bookstagram crowd on Instagram ... or by searching Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads. Basically the same advantages (social media reach, excited about books) and disadvantages (might get a lot of requests.) apply, so I'm just going to kind of lump them in with Bloggers for the purpose of this post. You can find them by searching relevant hashtags, usually. 

Paid Services

Now this is NOT the same as paid reviewers, and you need to be careful to research any company/service you choose to work with to check out their reputation and how they work to make sure that this isn't a "front" for a paid reviewer racket. 
The difference? 
With a paid reviewer, the reviewer directly takes your funds in return for a review.
With a reviewer service, there is a middle man, usually a website or a company, that takes your book and posts it for a fee, then offers it to their volunteer readers. The service isn't being paid for the reviews. It's being paid to promote your book to reviewers who in return (if the service is ethical) will receive nothing more than your free ebook or paperback. Generally the reviewers are just signed up because they like to read books for free. 
Different services have different methods, but most are accepted by Amazon and should not damage your reputation or put your reviews in jeopardy. I'll link some of these services below. 

Pros: It takes the work out of your hands and gets you in front of reviewers who will usually have a deadline on their reviews which makes it efficient and quick. A lot of times they will review with a level of detail similar to book bloggers and some may even be book bloggers (a lot of book bloggers are associated with Netgalley, one of the bigger names in this business). 
Cons: They can be expensive. The listing fees on these sites run from a reasonable $5 to upwards of a couple hundred. Unfortunately, the expensive ones tend to work better and have the larger reach. Results may vary too. Different sites have different systems and set ups. You'll probably need to research various sites.
Ethical rating: 7 ... why so low? Because I can't personally go over every site for you and make absolutely certain they are using ethical methods. Also similarly to book bloggers, though free review copies have been a thing for ages, some people still get suspicious when they see that "received a free copy..." disclaimer that Amazon requires on such reviews. 
Here are some sites of this nature that are generally well-thought-of. 

Review Swaps

I'm going to step on some toes here because I know a lot of well-meaning authors who do this and do this frequently. They'll contact other writers out of the blue and ask, "Hey, you have a book. I have a book. If you read my book, and I read yours, and we both review, everyone wins!"
Most do not see any ethical concerns whatsoever. Of course they wouldn't lie about your book and they wouldn't expect you to lie about theirs. It's all on the up and up, right? 
Well, the easy response is, whether it is ethical or not, it is technically against Amazon's review policy. Take a look at this screenshot taken from this page on their site. The last item on the "not allowed" list.

The gray area? 
"But I'm not agreeing to a positive review. I'm agreeing to an honest review. I won't say I like their book if I really don't. I won't expect them to say they like my book if they really don't."
Sounds good but consider two things.
1. How does Amazon know the difference between an honest five star review and a "I'm just giving them five stars because they gave me five stars?" They really can't, and if past actions from them are any clue, they'd rather delete first and ask questions later. Both reviews will be gone. They may look closer at other reviews on your account. They may discontinue both reviewer accounts.
2. Can you really be honest knowing that the fate of your book rests in that other reviewer's hands? At least on a subconscious level, wouldn't there be some, "I really think this book deserves three stars, but dang, they haven't reviewed my book yet, and what if they see I give them three stars and get mad and give me two stars?" I have even seen authors go back in and change their rating on a book in response to another author leaving a less than favorable review on their own book. Even if you trust this other author to handle criticism well, it's hard to predict how people will respond.

That said, I have left reviews on books by writers who have at one point or another reviewed me. This wasn't because of a swap but because I read their book and honestly enjoyed it (and presumably they also read and enjoyed mine). I just happen to know a lot of authors. Sometimes I've even delayed posting a review because I saw that they posted a review on my book and I wanted to avoid the appearance of a swap, though. No sense in needlessly poking the 'Zon. (Amazon to us cool kids)

Pros: if you find a group of authors who are honest and even tempered and not prone to revenge reviews and if you aren't too terribly picky about what you read, you can sometimes get a lot of reviews through swapping and you even get to read some cool books.
Cons: Even if you are completely honest, it can look dishonest. Amazon could catch on and delete reviews. If you tick off the wrong writer who doesn't accept that her poorly edited baby is a three star read, you could end up with a whole lot of drama on your hands.
Ethical rating: 4 (so basically the same as the family/friends one. Yes, there are circumstances where this can work out and be above board, but there are also so many potential pitfalls). 

Review Circles

These come in a lot of different forms. They are usually conducted over social sites like Goodreads and Facebooks and they sort of combine aspects of review swaps and paid services (though usually they are free, requiring only a certain amount of participation, not money, to join). 
Unlike review swaps, where the person you are reviewing is in return reviewing you, these usually work to spread out the reviews so you are reviewing a different author's book than the author who is in turn reviewing you. In some you may even be allowed to select the titles you review. In others, you may be assigned titles. A lot depends on the group's rules and administrators. 

Pros: This system does get rid of a lot of the ethical concerns of the review swap system. Technically, it isn't against Amazon's TOS (that I can discern), and you can get a lot of reviews if you are yourself an avid reader able to keep up with the commitment.
Cons: It doesn't get rid of all the ethical concerns because some of these groups do not allow you to leave lower than 3 stars (so if you dislike the book, you just have to step out of the circle) and if you dislike too many books in a row, you can end up getting removed from the group, so there is some pressure to rate higher than you might otherwise. The way I handle these situations is to lurk on the edge until I see a book I genuinely can get excited about then pounce on it and not let go. If someone tries to convince me to review a book I am less excited about so they can review the one I am excited about, I hiss and growl at them until they go away. I will review the book I LIKE. I will not review that strange book that may or may not have book cooties. 
Ethical rating: 6 (similarly to paid services, I cannot personally put a stamp of approval on every group that does this sort of thing. There are some really good ones and some that are kind of shady. Just be careful and try to join only with authors you trust). 


This one takes a little bit of forethought and you need to have a social media following in place to do it well. 
To start with, what is an ARC ... Well, if you mean "what does it stand for?" I'm not exactly sure. I have seen Advanced Reviewer Copy, Advance Reader Copy, Advance Review Copy ... I'm sure someone somewhere has made the official call, but for now, I'm going with ARC because I like Indiana Jones. 
I mean only Nazis hate Indiana Jones...
Basically, in the months leading up to release day, you put out a call for readers who will read an advance copy of the book and leave a review on release day. Depending on your social media following, you may only get a few bites ... you may get dozens and dozens and be able to set yourself up as the review queen. Who knows?
ARCs are generally late drafts. They are often pre-final-proofing and may include some typos (this is somewhat standard even in traditional publishing. A lot of ARCs are what's called "galley proofs."). They may be in some way marked so that they can't be resold or water marked to help track down pirates ... you can look them up if you are curious. 
But anyway, once all that is out of the way, it is very similar to how it works with a Book Blogger. They get a free book and have the bragging rights of being the first to read it. If they are a blogger with a following, being one of the first to read and offer a review may help increase their readership. Other than that, they shouldn't be recompensed in any way. 

Pros: Honestly, if you are doing this through your social media, most of the people who snatch up copies will be your followers and they are hard wired to like what you're dishing out. Unless you've majorly diverted from your usual theme/style/content whatever, you're probably guaranteed mostly 4 and 5 stars from ARC readers. It also enables you to start out with a strong showing and have a lot of reviews while your book is still technically a "new release" which can look good. 
Cons: When I did my reader survey, at least one reader mentioned that they distrusted it if the majority of reviews mentioned it being an ARC. This might be just that reader's bias ... or it might be that they know about the bias I mentioned in the "pros" section of this entry. They know that the majority of ARC readers will be super fans, not average readers (not all, but just in my own experience, my ARC readers are the readers who are also posting on my Facebook page, tweeting at me, and visiting my blog). 
Ethical rating: 8. There's a debate here about whether getting your fans to leave the first reviews is "stacking the deck" or just common sense business. Personally I think it is the later, but some readers do distrust the power of the ARC, so be warned. 

Street Teams/Fans/Private Review Teams

This is similar to ARC readers except not necessarily in advance. These are also generally people who are social media followers and fans. People on your mailing list. While not required to read and not getting anything in return, they are eager to leap at a chance to be the first to read or one of the first to read your book.
Because of this, I think the same basically applies to them as to ARC readers. 

However, some readers are skeptical of the "rabid fan" and will dismiss these reviews. So basically for pros, cons, ethical rating ... see ARCs. 

Making Fake Accounts

This falls into, do I really have to tell you not to do this? It's the equivalent of those warning signs that make you wince because you know they are there because someone somewhere actually did the thing you are being warned against be it "Don't climb into the tiger cage" or "Murder is BAD." However, I have seen this happen. Writers make fake accounts and then leave a glowing review on their own work and a bunch of one star reviews on their competitors ... or reviews that mention their own book in a flattering way. It is completely against Amazon's TOS. It is completely unethical. People still do it.
Caveat: Goodreads does allow authors to review their own work. You can use this to leave little notes to your fans if you want to or maybe some "making of" information or something. I've seen authors split about whether or not this is a 'good' thing to do, but according to Goodreads it is an allowed thing to do. 
For instance, I left an author "review" on my boxset to tell readers that it wasn't "new" material but simply a repackaging of my first four books. 

Pros: when you get caught the backlash can reach epic and amusing levels, and I get to read the comments and eat popcorn.
Cons: It's just wrong. You can get kicked off Amazon for it.
Ethical rating: 0 (I know I said there wasn't a 0 earlier, but this is my blog post, so NOW there is a 0)

Offering ANYTHING in return for a review

Another thing that I wish were more obvious. It's very similar to paid reviews but often happens in "party" settings or among devoted fans so a lot of writers talk themselves into not recognizing it for what it is. They aren't paying for reviews; they are rewarding loyal readers/fans. 
Examples I've seen of this include: entering people who email you a link to their review into a drawing; agreeing to add people to your Friday Follow feature on Twitter (gaining them massive amounts of Twitter followers) if they tweet a review they left on your book; offering a signed paperback in return for a review ... 
It's especially bad if these things come with a rating restriction (like entries for four and five star reviews only), but considering I don't think most people would be gutsy enough to email you a link to a one star and expect you to still enter them into the drawing, it's kind of implied. Also, it encourages people who haven't read books to review them because they want in the drawing. 
This is the official language from Amazon, just to assure you I'm not making this up, We do not permit reviews or votes on the helpfulness of reviews that are posted in exchange for compensation of any kind, including payment (whether in the form of money or gift certificates), bonus content, entry to a contest or sweepstakes, discounts on future purchases, extra product, or other gifts.

Pros: It does make loyal fans feel like they have had a positive interaction with you, I suppose.
Cons: Again, it's simply against the rules. You may argue that a raffle entry or a Friday Follow shout out isn't the same as being "paid" but as long as the reader is getting something in return for their review, the process is compromised.
Ethical rating: 3, and I'm being generous because I've seen the mental barriers a lot of writers build to try and convince themselves that this is "okay." They usually really, really believe they aren't doing anything wrong. That doesn't change the fact that it is against the TOS.

Public/Private Appeals

There are a lot of ways to do this, from vague, generally targeted "Writers Love Reviews" memes you can share, to leaving a note on the last page of a book that says how much you appreciate reviews, (maybe with a link to the review page in ebook format), to directly asking for reviews (when someone mentions reading a book and loving it, say, 'That's awesome. You should leave a review!') to just being open about it ... 
like if I'm honest, almost everyone of these posts I make about reviews is a tacit appeal to my readers. If you like my book, review it, please. Reviews matter, and this is why.
So most social media active writers do this to some extent. 

Pros: Free, ethical, might bring in reviewers who just didn't realize that reviews matter and suddenly your meme hits like a lightning bolt and they see the light!
Cons: Yeah, memes aren't lightning bolts ... I'm not sure how many hearts those lovingly phrased memes actually melt. 
Ethical rating: 10. Doesn't hurt to ask.

Giving Away Books

Basically reviews are a numbers game. The more readers you get, the more likely you are to get reviews. The quickest way to reach a lot of new reviewers is to give away a bunch of books, usually by putting it free and then doing a paid ad.
Pros: You reach readers you might not reach anyway, and you'll generally see a burst of reviews after a free promotion.
Cons: You don't get paid for the books (duh ... though I have to add, if you have more than one book on the market, doing a free day on one often sells copies of the other). Sometimes you'll draw in readers outside your intended audience who are more likely to review harshly.
Ethical rating: 10. No one is required to review you, so there is no obligation. 

Editorial Reviews:

Different from Customer Reviews and under slightly different ethical guidelines, so I'm only touching on them briefly here. Rather than by a customer, an editorial review is similar to what you see in a paper (ideally). Editorial reviewers are often professional reviewers and are expected to review a little more "academically." 
Some sites (like Kirkus) will charge for a review, assign your book to a reviewer, and send you back a usually pretty balanced and sometimes harsh review you can use in your marketing ... including in the author administrated "editorial review" spot on Amazon. 
What can qualify as an editorial review is pretty broad. It doesn't have to be a paid review. It doesn't have to be a print review. I use mine for bloggers who I thought put a lot of care into their reviews but who didn't want to post as customers, for instance. I'm not really going to touch on pros/cons/ethical issues here because I think they are a completely different beast than customer reviews. 

As with anything to do with ethics, what people are comfortable with is going to vary a good deal. The Amazon TOS, however, while not always enforced, are not up for debate, so if you're an author (or reviewer) it is good to familiarize themselves with them. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Social Media Habits I (personally) Find Annoying

There's a lot of confusion about using social media for marketing (for anything, really, but since I'm an author, that's most of what I read about). If you Google it you'll find everything from "how to spam" guides to people who swear it doesn't work and you should stay completely away from it. I'm not going to try and give a lecture about how to use social media to promote or how not to even. I honestly don't know what works. I try little things here and there while doing my best not to be annoying, but who knows if I'm succeeding at all?

What do I know about? I know what annoys me personally. What social media habits and practices have me hitting that unfollow button faster than the Flash.

I have no idea what I'm doing. . .

Twitter: automated direct messages

These come in a couple of incarnations which range from "that's okay" to "Omgosh, don't do that." Here's the set up. You follow a Facebook page (often in response to them following you) and a few minutes later a direct message pops up. "Thanks for the follow. . ." These are usually automated. 
As I said, there are a couple of levels of this. I don't mind people saying, "Thanks for the follow!" It doesn't make me feel "special" because I know the response is automated 99.9% of the time, but I don't mind. What I mind is when "Thanks for the follow" is immediately followed up by a sales pitch. This is especially annoying if they followed you first.

Canned Posts

This is just something to consider: if someone offers you a chance to guest post on their blog, don't just copy and paste something you previously published and expect them to eat it up. If you're doing a blog tour, consider providing multiple options or individualized guest posts, so not everyone is posting the same thing. Having content that appears on multiple sites can actually lower a blog's search engine standings. Original content helps the blog AND you. I know it can be hard to come up with a dozen different essays, but at least try to provide them with something they can customize. 

I followed you, now you HAVE to follow me!

No, really, I don't HAVE to do anything, and telling me that I do is the swiftest way to get me not to want to do it. I've seen various degrees of this from the gentle, "I followed you. If you want to follow me back..." To long rants people post in author groups about how rude it is not to automatically follow someone who has followed them. It's the RULES of the internet, people. Follow back! Don't you know how Twitter/Facebook/Instatumblerest works? (I'm going to trademark Instatumblerest later and rule the interwebs) Guilt tripping people into returning favors/likes is just annoying. I kind of give a pass to people who follow up page likes with "like my page." I don't think it is "rude" so much as naive. One person explained it to me better than I could: Facebook hides the majority of your posts. Only about 10% of your followers see each post. You want those 10% to be people who are interested in you and your work who will interact with your page. If a percentage of your likes are people just liking you so you'll like them back, it waters down the usefulness of views. You want people who actually want to interact with you, not just numbers. 

Friday Follows/Unnecessary Tagging

Okay, this is me showing my Grumpy Cat side. In fairness, I had no idea what this "thing" was the first few times it happened to me. Now it happens to me regularly, and I'm probably considered evil because I just ignore it. And I feel bad grumping about it because people do it to be helpful. People do it to be nice. They want people to follow you. They want you to find nice new followers (I guess). And it is kind of a nice idea. It just gets out of hand when someone tags every single person who retweeted them that week and then there's a firestorm of "so and so retweeted a tweet you were tagged in" spam as everyone retweets/replies/favorites to that tweet which is just "Friday Follow" with your twitter handle and the twitter handle of EVERYONE else in that person's Twitter address book.
Yeah, ignore me, I'm a grump, but if you really like this idea, consider following the guidelines in this post. Just to keep things from spiraling out of control.

Constantly Self-Promoting

If everything I see on your page or coming out of your account is "buy my book" or "look at this awesome review of my book" I really have no reason to go there. It's okay to promote sometimes, but the ratio of promotion posts to content needs to be tipped heavily in terms of content. 

My Only Follow Option is Email

This is a little different. I follow a lot of blogs through Bloglovin and Google Friends Connect and Facebook and Twitter. However, if your only follow option is email, I'm not following. I get a ton of email in my box every day. The majority of it goes unopened into the trash. I understand the need to develop an email list. I have one of my own, but I try to keep emails down to once a month. When I sign up for an email list (especially for a blog) there's always the "are they going to spam me every day? Three times a week?" concern. It's not technically rude to limit your follow options to email. However, do keep in mind that there are people like me who will go out of their way to avoid getting more email, and it may not always be the most effective way of gathering followers. Having another less intrusive option as well as an email option is a good idea.

The Follow/Unfollow Game

This is probably the worst, and if you automatically follow everyone who follows you, it probably happens to you more than you realize. Some accounts follow a ton of people, then unfollow them a short time later, to "improve" their ratio of folks they follow to folks who are following them.
There are some people who use programs that auto-unfollow anyone who doesn't follow them back, but I have people I follow because I'm genuinely interested in them and their content and I don't care if they follow me back (I still haven't gotten Nathan Fillion's attention, for whatever reason...).
The bottom line for me: don't follow unless you tend to stay following and are actually interested in my content. 

Friending Personal Profiles to Sell

A few days ago (and this is the event that triggered this rant, but I decided to save the most annoying for last), I got a friends request on my personal Facebook account. I do not accept friends requests from people I don't know. Some people do. Some people's attitude is that they got on Facebook to meet new people and the more the merrier. Some people will accept if they know people in common or are in a group with you. I'm not those people. I'm not about to friend someone and let them see pictures of my kids just because they found me playing "six degrees of Kevin Bacon" on the interwebs. However, I also don't automatically block people who send me these requests because, who knows, maybe a group interaction later will open me up to the possibility of befriending them.
In this case, though, the friendship request was followed immediately by a direct message telling me how to download the guy's free book. 
I ignored it and deleted the request. That was annoying.
Then two days later, the guy sent me ANOTHER direct message, again asking me to download his dang book. For all I know it is a great book, but the method turned me off so much that I sent him a return message saying if he didn't stop I'd report him to Facebook. I haven't heard from him since.
So don't do that. 
People often save their personal page for people they are actually friends with. If a person is an author and you want to interact with them, look for a page to like, not their personal page. 
Also, if your only interest is selling something to someone you are NOT by definition a friend. So just don't. 

So do any social media habits drive you bonkers? Do you think some of the things listed aren't so bad? I know, I'm evil for hating Friday Follow. Let me have it in the comments. 

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Random Interview Saturday! Ariella Moon

The H. L. Burke Random Interview is not like other interviews. The questions are all over the place. They have no purpose. Their purpose is their lack of purpose.
There are nine questions because cats, but these nine questions are subject to change without notice, so the questions one person answers may not be the questions answered by the next author.

There's a poof of smoke and a whiff of sulfur and Ariella Moon materializes to answer our pressing questions!

Ariella Moon
Author Bio

Ariella Moon draws upon her experiences as a shaman to create magical Young Adult fiction. Her series include The Two Realms Trilogy, a medieval fantasy adventure, and The Teen Wytche Saga, a series of sweet contemporary paranormal romances.
Ariella spent her childhood searching for a magical wardrobe that would transport her to Narnia. Extreme math anxiety and taller students that mistook her for a leaning post marred her youth. Despite these horrors, she graduated summa cum laude from the University of California at Davis. She lives a nearly normal life doting on her extraordinary daughter, two shamelessly spoiled dogs, and a media-shy dragon.

On a scale of 1 to 10, what do you think your chances are of surviving the zombie invasion?
Seven! I have three things in my favor: a) My Wiccan Priestess/shaman training. b) My research into voodoo for my third novel, Spell Fire. And, c) If all else fails, I am very small and can hide well.

You receive a contract that allows you to have any pet you want (mythical or real) but in return you have to spend a week AS a pet to a mythical creature of your choice (dragon, giant, sphinx?). Do you take it or do you decline?
I am pretty sure my two dogs already think I am their pet.
Nevertheless, I would renegotiate the contract to a three-day exchange. For three days, Pegasus would be my pet, and then I would be Pegasus’s pet for the same length of time. I would consider it research, since a winged horse plays an important role in my current work-in-progress, The Viking Mist, which will be the second book in my Two Realms Trilogy. I love that in the Greek myths, Pegasus became a favorite of the Muses of Mount Helicon, and created a sacred well. I’d like to find out how he feels about his fate as a pack animal for Zeus.

If you had to be physically one age for the rest of your life, where would you stop the clock?
This is a tough question, because if I stopped the clock in my twenties—when I was at my physical peak—then presumably my body could never change, including becoming pregnant. And since I didn’t become a mother until my early thirties, I don’t think I would stop the clock.

What weather is your writing? A dark and stormy night? A sunshiny day?
My writing is stormy, like my Young Adult characters. Although there is light and humor in my books, especially The Teen Wytche Saga, I deal with heavy subjects, such as the loss of a parent, mental health issues, and kidnapping. But I want readers to walk away with a happy, aww feeling, so my endings are always sunny.

When cats take over the world, how do you plan to win their good graces?
If cats rule, then I am pretty much dead. Can we go back to the zombies?

Tree House or Cave? And why?
I really like a house with a view, but I am rather fond of fire. Still, remember how cool the tree house was in the Swiss Family Robinson? Or Tarzan? So I will go with the tree house and leave the caves to dragons and bears.

If you could live inside a theme park ride, which would it be?
Funny you should ask! Having just returned from Universal Studios, Orlando, theme parks have been on my mind. The writer in me can’t help but wonder what these places are like after hours, when silence and stillness reign. When I was a child, I wanted to live on Tom Sawyer’s island in Disneyland’s Frontierland. A few magical decades later, I might pick “Escape From Gringotts,” or wait and see what Disney does with Star Wars.

You are tasked with eliminating one letter of the alphabet. Which would it be and why?
What anarchy is this? You cannot ask a writer to strike down the natural order of things! Remove any letter, and I would have to start my work-in-progress all over again. It has been difficult enough finding words that were already in use by 1505-1506 (the time period for the Two Realms Trilogy). The alphabet stands!

If this question were any question in the world, what question would you want it to be and how would you answer it?
Question: What was the best advice you ever received?

Answer: Never summon anything you can’t banish.

Ariella loves to hear from her readers. You can reach her at:

Books by Ariella Moon

Amazon and Here

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Strangites and Norrellites ... Prolific writers vs Perfectionist Writers

I recently read, after years of wanting to but never quite getting around to it, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. It's the story of two regency era magicians (Or maybe Georgian ... I've found differing online opinions, but the book does stretch for about a decade and is kind of set right on the border of where I've seen both those eras defined as beginning and ending) with very different approaches who start as student and master and end up rivals.

A photo posted by H.L. Burke (@burkesdragons) on

Throughout the book, you're definitely prompted to side with Strange. Strange is more likable, less neurotic, tends to play (for the most part) fair, and ... well ... he's kind of sexy (yeah, I said it). Where as Norrell is an older man with a lot of hangups who constantly worries about what others think of him and sometimes uses underhanded methods to manipulate others.
Norrell is a traditionalist, cautious, unwilling to take risks, wanting to prepare forever and act never. Whereas Strange is a free spirit, ready to jump in with both feet and to try anything (damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead and all that).

However, in the end (I think), you come to realize that even Norrell has a point. That his methods are messed up and some of his thinking is completely backwards, but on his own Strange treads into dangerous territory because of his lack of restraint.

There's a section, though, about how each of these men approach writing that I found amusing. Norrell always means to write a book, or an article, or a letter, but keeps himself in the planning stage ... Where as Strange quickly dashes out all sorts of things, stating that the best way to write is to just put it on the page (not an exact quote. Sorry, I had to return my copy to the library). So in some ways Norrell is an (admittedly extreme) plotter and Strange a pantser. (writer jargon ftw!)

That said, a lot of writers tend to be extreme versions of Strange or Norrell (Strangite vs Norrellite as the book calls it) and get extremely protective about which version they are.
The prolific writers who can dash out work in a heartbeat scoff at the slowpokes as unprofessional.
The time-taking-long-planners argue that you can't really make anything good if you don't put time into it.

Generally, I dislike telling anyone their preferred method of anything is wrong. I'm a big believer in finding what works for you and not letting yourself be bullied by the opinions of others. Too many people try to force themselves into boxes and routines because someone swears that's the ONLY way. Too many creative lights are snuffed out because that "only" way ended up not working so the person assumes they are a failure.
I know people who have been working on the same book for years. Then you have authors like ... well... me. I'm not a 10k per day writing beast, but I put out three to four books a year and don't tend to stay on any given project for more than three or four months.

The thing is, it is hard to say you are happy with how YOU work without implying that the way other people work is somehow wrong. Yeah, I'm prolific. No, I don't think it is wrong that you can't write as quickly as I can ... but at the same time, I'm not going to belittle my books as "lesser" because I wrote them quickly. I'm happy with my books. I know they aren't perfect, but I wouldn't put them up for publication if I didn't think they were good books. I mess with them just until I feel they are where they should be and I move on.

That doesn't mean I'm completely secure. I have a constant fear that everything I've built up is going to crash down on my head someday because I was going so fast I didn't notice ... something. But my personality type is driven by constant creativity. I'm the total opposite of a perfectionist, and knowing this about myself is why I try to get so many outside opinions on my books, because if it were up to me, I'd be okay just doing spell check and putting up my first drafts. I like them. I don't think there is anything major wrong with them ...so I bring in the beta readers and the critique partners to tell me where other people might see flaws that I don't.

But eventually I have to stop that process because you could polish forever.

And I also admit, it is really hard for me to know for sure if I'm doing that at the right time. Every book I put out, I worry that I'm a bit like Strange going too far with forces he doesn't understand and my writing will eventually plunge me into darkness .... or at least garner some well-deserved negative reviews on Amazon (I'm not sure which would be scarier).

So I think Strangites need some Norrellites in their life to tell them when to throw on the breaks and stop and evaluate.
And I think most Norrellites need a Strangite to kick them in the pants and tell them it was fine four drafts ago! Just publish the blasted thing already!

But they're better off working together, rather than trying to force each other to conform.

There must always be at least two magicians, always at odds, for balance.

So perhaps that makes me Childermass ... hmmm ...