This Tuesday is the first day of Fall. What better way to begin the season than with excellent fiction. Underground Book Reviews has everything you need from our library of TOP PICK book reviews and Pitch Perfect Picks.
Last fall, as the UBR staff prepared for our annual Battle of the Book Review Blogs contest, I noticed something odd, but not unexpected. Several of the previous year’s participants were no longer in business. Taking it one step further, I looked back on all the book review blogs I queried since the launch of my book, Black Sea Gods, and found several of those were now out of business, too.
Book review blogs are legion, and pop in and out of existence like fireflies. A few are run by voracious readers. Many, like UBR, are formed by writers trying to promote their own work. Some are started as businesses. Many concentrate on specific genres, like romance, YA, or fantasy. They often revolve around indie lit, but a few will only review traditionally published books.
In September of 2011, four authors came together and started UBR. At first, we wanted to leverage book reviews to promote our own novels. We operated like most review blogs, from a website design platform anyone can put together in about 30 minutes. Our website design is also “off the shelf”, with graphics generated from a common design menu. We were, and still are, as humble as you can get. But it’s what we create in our cozy internet nook which makes us unique.
UBR is different for several reasons. First, we’re reliable. If you ask our subscribers, they’ll tell they received a fresh book review every Monday for the past two and a half years, rain or shine. Most Tuesdays, they got an interview, too. We’re not a book review site, we’re a magazine. We publish on a hard schedule. Mondays are non-negotiable. We like Mondays. Mondays rock.
Second, we believe in quality reviews. Lots of sites provide quick blurbs, a paragraph and a star rating. Some use gimmicks and flashy graphics. We have a style guide, editorial standards, and a simple, but effective formula: one quality indie book review each week.
Third, we believe in promoting good books and talented authors. In the past three years we’ve learned bad indie fiction usually dies off without any help from review sites. The market itself is the filter, no assembly required. We’re not in the bad filter game, that’s a waste of time. The tragedy is that lots of good fiction also dies off unnoticed. Hence, we provide one worthy indie book a dedicated week in the burning spotlight.
Reliable publication of quality reviews about worthy fiction, that’s UBR. We’ve surround this cornerstone with special features and contests. Using this formula we’ve grown, now reaching thousands of subscribers and readers each month. We’re still small, but we’re proud, and growing. Oh, and we’re still here, which has to count for something, right? Not only did we survive, we’re actually a business. This year UBR went live as an LLC. As a small business, we find ourselves facing several challenges. The first challenge is, after almost three years, identifying our primary audience.
We came into this proposition assuming our readers would be, well readers. We were wildly incorrect. The vast majority of our subscribers and readers are indie authors, all screaming to get their books noticed. We hear you loud and clear.
The challenge faced by all indie review websites is the overwhelming supply of indie fiction. Various sites deal with this in different ways. Thousands of you have asked us to review your indie novels, but we only publish 52 quality reviews a year. Our queues are overflowing, and that’s a problem. Good fiction is going unnoticed. We’ve brainstormed many ways to capture and promote as many excellent indie novels as possible without sacrificing quality, to include our Pitch Perfect Picks. What we’ve found, however, is a lot of great books are still falling between the cracks. This is unacceptable, and we want to fix it.
After almost a year of brainstorming, phone conferences, and hard work, we’re in the processes of reinventing UBR with you, the indie author, at the heart of everything we do. What will UBR 2.0 look like? I’ll leave that up to our president, Amy Biddle, to explain in upcoming articles, but it will be an incremental process over the next year. Please excuse our mess, progress in progress. One thing you will see is more feature articles on Fridays (like this one). Don't worry, what our subscribers love most about UBR 1.0 won’t change. We’re evolving, but you’ll still find our cornerstone firmly in place.
Almost three years and we’re still here, and still growing. Stay tuned, keep posted, and don’t go anywhere.
Brian Braden is an assistant editor and UBR co-founder.
It's a bird! It's a plane! Its a compilation of sci-fi, fantasy and horror short stories from DeadPixel Publications! FLYING TOASTERS: The DeadPixel Tales, eight short stories from eight exceptionally talented authors, debuts this weekend as an ebook on Amazon. In addition to UBR's very own Brian Braden, you'll read stories from Robert Brumm, Thomas Cardin, Robert Bevin, Hanna Elizabeth, John Gregory Hancock, C.M. Saunders, and Steve Wetherell.
The news gets better...for the next 4 days its FREE. Go to Amazon now and get your e-copy before they sell out. For more information on DeadPixel Publications, click here.
As a writer and a book reviewer, I’ve made some observations and learned a few lessons over the past few years about the state of mind of many emerging authors. If you care to listen, I’ll share a few. Take them for what they are, the opinions of an unpublished author.
First, I think many new authors fail to take an honest account of their motivations before jumping into writing. Motivations are legion, but every writer wants their work published. It may not be the only motivation, but it’s likely the most important. I call this powerful motivation the Writer’s Drive. However, when a writer doesn’t have other goals besides publication, such as improving the quality of their work, the Writer’s Drive can become overpowering. A relentless, obsessive, and often frustrating quest for publication can cloud judgment and seriously interfere with their craft. To put it another way, too much Writer’s Drive is a bad thing.
Writer’s Drive often leads to Writer’s Desperation, the overpowering desire for feedback and validation. Desperation leads to anxiety and impatience. It often comprises a writer’s work as they rush it to publication before its ready. Alas, desperation often leads to fear.
Writers often fear criticism because writing is an intensely personal experience.
To some degree or another, writers must lower their shields and open themselves up to the judgment of strangers, resulting in varying degrees of apprehension, or what I call Writer’s Fear. Like any other human endeavor, most people who try their hand at writing fail. After the sixth grade most ballerinas and baseball players give up and become other things. Sadly, it takes more time for writers to get a clue. Unlike sports, writers can insulate themselves from scrutiny and, to avoid hurt feelings, friends and relatives sometimes aren’t entirely honest. When writers finally hit a wall of honest, often brutal, feedback, they have three choices: quit, learn and adapt, or lie to themselves. Which brings me to my last observation: writers can be self-delusional.
There isn’t a writer out there who hasn’t suffered Writer’s Delusion. We’ve often ignored a golden nugget of advice that a manuscript might need major work. People naturally hear what they want to hear, not what they need to hear. It reminds me of the movie Dumb and Dumber when the Lauren Holly tells Jim Carey he only has a
one-in-a-million chance of ever going out with her. He smiles and says, “So you’re telling me I have a chance!” Yep, that’s us writers.
There you have it - A strong, unchecked drive to publish often leads to desperation, fear, and self-delusion. In other words, it leads to a very frustrated writer. So I come back to the point about motivations. As a writer, if you’re honest about your motivations you can often find other reasons than publication. Getting published is a natural, long-term goal, but there is more to writing than seeing your book in print. Improving your craft, for example, is an important and attainable near-term goal.
Bottom line, you need something to keep you motivated on the long road to publication that doesn’t stress you out, keeps you writing and moving forward. Find reasons that are uplifting, relaxing, and positive. This will give you patience and peace of mind. It also beats the hell out of fear, desperation and delusion. In time, one way or another, the publication thing will take care of itself.
If you enjoyed this article follow Underground Book Reviews on Facebook or Twitter and subscribe to our newsletter.
You can also follow Brian Braden on his blog, Facebook and Twitter and buy his book, Carson's Love. If you are an agent or publisher you can make the smartest financial decision of your life (and alleviate Brian's fear and desperation) by offering him a contract on his brilliant novel Black Sea Gods.
We've read some great books here at Underground Book Reviews. Our Top Picks are the ones that stood out above the rest. If you're looking for a book to read, you might want to check some of these titles out. Here's the books we loved, and why:
Brian's 99 Cents
What makes a Top Pick? The story moves naturally and is either revolutionary, evolutionary, or the pinnacle state-of-the-art for the given genre. The writing is seamless and can’t have significant mechanical errors. Characters and dialogue aren’t stilted or cliché. I don’t have to think about the act of reading and I only have to read it once to get the exact effect the author intended. The overall representation infers a writer serious about his or her craft. The net result is a book that takes over and I forget I’m reading. I become a participant.
The Darkening Dream by Andy Gavin
The Quill Pen by Michelle Isenhoff
The Uncanny Valley by Brian R. Dennis
East Wind Returns by William Peter Grasso
Kimberly's Chaotic Corner
I enjoy turning the pages quickly, adrenaline pumping, to find out what happens next, or novels that help me reflect on the life challenges others are given.
Married or… Merry? By Kate Papas
Murder & Single Malt by Mark Anderson Esquire
Running by Patrice Fitzgerald
The Kingdom of Childhood by Rebecca Coleman
The Taker by Alma Katsu
When I started writing reviews I was afraid to rate the books I read. How can I tack a star-based rating onto a work of art? How can I pick favorites when each book is so different? Thanks to Amazon and Goodreads, I’ve had to get over my issues with the rating system and go with my gut instincts. The books that have risen to the top span across different genres but they have one thing in common: great writing.
A Coupla Shades of Taupe by Court Burback
Praise of Motherhood by Phil Jourdan
The Dewey Decimal System by Nathan Larson
The Handbook for Lightening Strike Survivors by Michelle Young-Stone
Katie's Young Adult Hotspot
Three of my favorite YA books are listed below. Since reviewing Divergent it has taken off into the stratosphere, but lesser known Under the Never Sky is just as haunting, thrilling and spell-binding. And don't discredit Open Minds. This indie author knows her stuff when it comes to weaving a tight, fast-paced plot through twists and turns that will keep you guessing through the end.
Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi
Open Minds by Susan Kaye Quinne
Divergent by Veronica Roth
If you enjoyed this post, you can subscribe to the Underground or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
After a year of reviewing off-beat, independent and self-published books, the writers at Underground Book Reviews share their feelings about the review process.
Anyone can be a book reviewer, everyone knows that. Anyone can put their opinion on Amazon and GoodReads.
There’s a difference, however, when you review with purpose. The purpose of the Underground is to help emerging authors, to bridge a gap between traditional and non-traditional publishing.
The most difficult part when I review a book is to separate myself from being an author and reviewing a peer. One of the most difficult reviews I’ve done is when the subject matter went against my core values. Yet, I had to come out of who I am and honestly review how the book was written, the concept, character development and how the plot advanced. I gave it a five star rating. To put my values aside is what I feel a good reviewer has to do if their opinion is to be valued.
As one of the authors of a book I reviewed told me, anything less than a five star review is a slap in the face. Why? Because there are tons of books rated with five-star reviews all over the net. But who reviewed those books? A friend of the author? A relative perhaps?
My quest has changed. I no longer pat the book on the cover and say to myself, I can help this author. I am on the other side of the court that I hope will enable the reader to find the way through a maze of books to one that they will enjoy. And instead of the author thanking me, perhaps the reader will thank-me for an honest, insightful review.
Reviewing for me used to be easy. Now everything has changed.
As of the first of August I have joined the throng of self-published writers clamoring for reviews. Every book on promotion tells authors like me to seek out reviews. It's how you build an audience, how you draw people on Amazon, how you do anything but flounder and die. I know that to be true. When I see a book on Amazon with fifty reviews and one with two I buy the one with fifty. Common sense, right?
What the how-to books don't tell you is every reviewer in the world is flooded with requests just like mine everyday. As a reviewer I see it. I get two requests a day. That's 730 books a year and I get to pick twelve. Twelve! All those other people who have dreams just like mine get told no. It's depressing.
I hope that any reader that has been told no by one of us knows if we could we would read and support every single one of your books. We'd interview you and let you tell your story to the world. Even if you hear no, please know that in our heart's we are with you, the under-promoted writer. Keep on writing and just keep swimming.
I love meeting other writers. The sad fact is, though, writing is a solitary affair and I come across few writers in my day-to-day life. Over the past year, Underground Book Reviews has introduced me to an overwhelming number of writers and it has been exhilarating, exhausting and edifying all a once. While I love reading new books, my favorite part of reviewing is meeting the minds behind the magic. Every new publishing story is a fairytale, every piece of advice a nugget of wisdom. I want to cheer on every author I meet, encourage
them and tell them how great they are.
Sadly, I can't do this every time. Although I warn every author in advance that I can't promise a positive review, it doesn't make it any easier when I write a negative one. What amazes me is that every author has been thankful for my honesty, whether I recommended their book or not. I can't help but be inspired by the attitude of these new writers.
One day soon, I'll be seeking out reviewers like myself and asking for their brutal honesty. While I look forward to hearing unfiltered opinions from other book reviewers, I'm also bracing myself for the inevitable bad review. I can only hope that I will be able to receive criticism as graciously as the authors I have met through Underground Book Reviews.
The most difficult thing about being a reviewer is passing on a lot of great books. There are so many talented self-published authors with great novels that receive almost zero attention in the vast Amazonasphere. Are there a lot of bad books out there? Sure, but I focus on the ones with promise. I just wish I had time to review more. I’d like to take this opportunity to clarify what gets my attention as a reviewer for both reader submissions and those I choose from Amazon.
What makes me pass up a reader query? No synopsis, poor pitch, poor grammar in the pitch, no links to where to find the book, groveling and sucking up (I’m just a struggling writer like you and this is embarrassing), or anything else that appears amateur or poorly done.
What makes me pass up a book once I see on Amazon? No cover or really amateur looking cover (sorry, but I do judge a book by its cover), any formatting errors or anomalies that draw my attention, poorly written synopsis or no synopsis at all, being unable to “look inside” and a first page that is flat and passive. You have to grab me on page one or I move on. Here’s something that doesn’t influence me – the number of ratings on Amazon.
I want to read your book. I want to review your book. I’m on your side, so please make it easy on me. Thanks for visiting UBR.
If you enjoyed this review, you can subscribe to the Underground or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
For the last two years I’ve been engaging with my peers in full scale book demolition and rehab. My manuscript, scrawny, tattered and structurally unsound, gets whisked away by my lovely renovation partners, Brian, AB and Kimberly. They restructure it, gloss it up and set it right. When I get it back, I gasp with joy and wonder at how they were able to fix the flaws, shore up the cracks and turn my project into something worth reading. It is, at times, a small miracle.
Not everyone is so lucky.
Many emerging authors struggle through their drafts alone, isolated at the keyboard. When they have a great idea, they have no one to share it with. When they’re stuck, there’s no one to lend a hand. It’s a rough way to work and often unproductive. It is with this in mind that Kimberly, our friend Brandi and I have started The Book Docs. The Book Docs specialize in editorial services for emerging authors. We want to help those writers floundering alone in sea of uncertainty. We’ve been there. We know it’s no fun. We can get you smooth sailing in no time.
So, check us out at www.thebookdocs.com. The first person to contact each of us and mention Underground Book Reviews gets a free first chapter review.
A Wog Named George...
Blog... I hate that word. It’s an ugly word. It sounds like an unwanted biological function. “In the event of vomiting, diarrhea or sudden blogging, immediately discontinue use of this product and consult your doctor.”
Blog is a shortened version of “web log”. B-log. I get it, but I still don’t like it. I prefer the term wog. Wog has a warm, fuzzy element totally lacking in blog. “Hey, everyone, I’m wogging!” (Sounds like jogging, but without the knee pain.) Wog brings to mind something fuzzy and warm, like a puppy. “Look at the adorable little wog! I will love him and hug him and squeeze him and name him George!”
Alas, since I’m certain the universe will not drop the word blog in favor of wog, I suppose we’re stuck with it. In that event, I guess this is a good a time to tell our Underground readers I’m adopting a wog... I mean starting a blog.
I’m no stranger to blogging. I had a few over the past few years, but, they’re dead now. One died of neglect, one was devoured by trolls, and one I had to put down because, well, it got a little out of hand. I buried them in the backyard next to the cat.
This time it’s going to be different, I promise. I’m going to make sure this blog has all its shots, a collar in case it gets lost, and will be fed and watered every week. I will love it, and hug it and squeeze it and name it George.
Naw.... actually, it’s just going to be called my blog. I might rename it if something catchy pops into my head at 2 in the morning. If you want to read the debut post click here and take a look. If you like what you see, keep checking back every Wednesday for a new installment.
I know what my editor, AB, is thinking: “This blog is your responsibility, Brian. You have to take care of it, take it for walks, and clean up after it.” Yes, AB, I promise I’ll take care of it.
Anyway, there isn’t any room left in my backyard to bury another wog.
The Independent Book Blogger Award is run by Goodreads, a fantastic website for anyone who likes books. At the Underground, we just assume that you like books. Why else would you be here?
So if you like books, and you like the Underground, go to the competition page and put in your vote for us! If you don't already have a Goodreads account, you'll need to get one. But don't worry, it's free.
Thanks for your support,
-The Underground Team
You’ve finished your first novel. Good for you. Now, pull your hand away from the send button on your first query, because you’re not ready. You aren’t even close. Let me save you months, or even years, of painful heartache and frustration. I want to introduce you to a place that will prepare you and your manuscript for the realities of the publishing industry.
A few months ago we at Underground Book Reviews were invited to participate in a new concept called Author Salon. Author Salon is a website with four goals:
1) Be the preferred source of discovery for literary agents, producers, and publishers 2) Serve as an online writers conference
3) Provide a work space for the writing community
4) Become a source for myth-free news and facts on the publishing industry.
Let me put it another way: If writing were like baseball, Author Salon takes you from the farm clubs to your first tryout with the Yankees. It doesn’t guarantee you a spot on the team, but it will show you how to hit, field, spit and wear the uniform like a big leaguer. This is how it works.
Joining Author Salon is intentionally detailed and time-consuming. This process forces you to delve deep into your manuscript and ask yourself serious question about your project. The profile is broken into four major sections: Project Notes and Query, Writer Bio and Goals, Plot and Story Matters, and Prose and Narrative Elements. A step-by-step guide, employing a disciplined methodology, leads authors through the rigorous process of building their profile. Ultimately, a well-honed profile is a standing query that clearly describes your book in a way that gets the right attention.
If Author Salon does anything, it teaches you how to pitch your novel and craft a solid query. The profile is about selling your book and selling yourself. Once you complete your draft profile the real work begins; now it’s time to tear it all down and start over in Author Connect.
After your initial profile is complete you’ll enter the world of Author Connect, Author Salon’s companion online workspace. Here you’ll collaborate with other writers in your genre to improve your profile and, by extension, your manuscript. This process begins with a “call for peers” where you invite other writers to critique your profile using a rigid methodology. You will also critique their work. These are NOT critiques of the novels, but of the profiles. How well do you understand and describe your novel? If done correctly, a feedback loop will emerge between your profile and your manuscript.
This improvement loop helps elevate your profile and manuscript to clearly defined standards. These standards are available to Author Salon members via guides, tutorials and templates. These critiques are painstaking, detailed, and often brutal in their honesty. Not only are your peers reviewing your profile, but so is Author Salon staff. Critiques are always professional and never personal. This is where the real learning occurs. You’ll probably discover you may have to rewrite your profile...and maybe even your whole novel.
As your profile and manuscript improves, you’ll eventually move up the Author Salon four-tiered system. These tiers indicate the quality of your profile and its readiness for both agents and publishers. You’ll enter Author Salon at “In Production I” and eventually progress up the ladder to “Marquee.” By Marquee-level, your profile has been through at least four rounds of peer critiques, peer votes, and an Author Salon advisor review. This process is neither quick nor easy. Patience is a must.
Here’s the pay-off and what makes Author Salon truly different. Agents and editors roam the virtual halls of Author Salon. While they likely concentrate on the projects at Marquee-level, they can tap anyone at any level at any time. It’s not a given, but you may just get your big break here. Even if you don’t, upon reaching Marquee-level, you can feel confident in your ability to pitch your manuscript.
Now that I told you what Author Salon is, I can tell you what it is not. It’s not a writing circle or review site for people who are tinkering with the idea of becoming writers. This is for serious work-to-publish authors. It’s for professionals; those who don’t follow the rules are shown the door. It is also not for the faint-of-heart or thin-skinned. Your peers and the site facilitators will be blunt. If you do not heed their advice, you don’t move up the tiers.
For those considering self-publication, I think Author Salon is a must. In Author Salon, you’ll learn how to write a hook line, a synopsis, define your conflict, and put your best samples on display. Author Salon is an excellent tool for any writer, regardless of desired publishing source.
Author Salon is still in early beta-testing with a small, but growing stable of writers. Like any emergent website, it’s still evolving. However, while it’s in beta-testing joining is free. After this widow closes it will cost $9.99 a month, or $79.00 a year, to join.
Only time will time will tell if Author Salon lives up to its potential, but so far it looks promising. We at the Underground will keep you posted as our journey continues.
You can find Author Salon here.
If you enjoyed this post, you can follow Brian on Facebook or Twitter. You can also subscribe to the Underground.
Scheduled for Review
Pitch Perfect Picks
A compelling historical drama
An old fashioned SAHM turned superhero spy novel
Seven days! The deadline to stop legalized euuthanasia.
Be your own crane.
Only a fool threatens those a Thornbear protects.
A divine comedy... inverted.
To Sam Flatt, right and wrong are a way of life.
A dark fantasy with a look at the underside of human nature
Live on Earth or die on Mars? It's up to Lex.
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