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Publetariat Dispatch: Of Readers And Gatekeepers: A Call To Arms

Publetariat: For People Who Publish!In today’s Publetariat Dispatch, indie author and small press owner Alan Baxter urges readers and writers alike to flex their influence by posting more book reviews.

Are you reading this? Then I’m talking to you. You’re a reader and you have a new responsibility. I’m including myself in this. I’m a writer, but I’m a reader too. Any writer worth his or her salt should be a voracious reader, and we’ve got a new responsibility as well. We’re all the New Gatekeepers. No, not extras in a Doctor Who episode, don’t get over-excited.

There’s so much talk about the changing face of publishing, and justifiably so. It’s an exciting time and writing and publishing is going through a renaissance brought about by new technologies. That means there are options out there for pretty much everyone to get their writing out into the world, and a lot of people are taking up the opportunity. Some people are doing seriously well out of it, like Amanda Hocking. Others are doing rather less well, like the poor woman that immolated her career with one online review – you know who I mean. But one of the net results of this revolution in publishing is that readers have been saddled with a massive new responsibility.

Gatekeeping is important. In the good old days of the late 90s and early 2000s, and since forever before that, the gatekeepers were the publishers. Writers would approach publishers, either directly or through agents, and publishers would decide what was published and what wasn’t. They essentially filtered what everyone got to read. The upside of this was, largely, the stuff that made it into print was generally well written and worth reading. Generally. We all know publishers are quite capable of turning out reams of utter shite too. But on the whole they ensured a general level of quality control. The downside, apart from the afore-mentioned shite, is that they also ensured that anything risky or unusual, something strangely cross-genre, something not immediately saleable, was unlikely to see the light of day. There were self-publishing and small press success stories, where the unlikely became massive, but those hits were very, very rare.

Now, with the advent of Print On Demand and ebook technology, publishers have found those gatekeeping responsibilities ripped away. Writers are still keen to be published by the big guys – there’s a definite advantage to it, both in terms of credibility and distribution, hence readership. But literally millions of people are circumventing the publishers and self-publishing. Millions more are scoring smaller deals with small press. The volume of stuff out there is staggering. And a lot of it is complete shit.

Remember, the publishers themselves have turned out many stinkers over the years, but the strike rate for quality – in editing, formatting, production and so on, as well as writing ability – has generally been kept high even if the stories were rubbish. Not always, but often. Nowadays people think it’s easy to write and be “published” and there’s loads of stuff out there that really shouldn’t see the light of day. Poorly written, poorly edited, poorly formatted – just poor. And that’s where we as readers come in. This is why we are the New Gatekeepers.

Success in writing has always relied on word of mouth. When a big publisher puts the might of the marketing machine behind a new release that word of mouth gets a massive head start, but it’s still the reviews and recommendations of critics and readers that determine whether a book is truly successful or not. That’s still the case, but the mainstream reviewers can’t keep up with the tsunami of words constantly bearing down on them. Along with all the newly published writers, a whole bunch of new reviewers have cropped up, and many book review blogs are developing considerable power. This is a very good thing, as it helps to strim out the crap and let the quality stuff rise to the top.

But you don’t need a review blog to wield power in this new world. You’re a reader – you have enormous power. If only you’d use it. By the Power of Yourskull! Or, more accruately, the brain within it. If you read something you like, tell people all about it. Recommend it to your friends, buy it and gift it to people. You can gift ebooks now as well as print books. There is no better result for a writer than a reader enjoying the book and recommending it. But don’t stop there – there’s so much more you can do, very easily.

You don’t need to be a talented reviewer to review books. Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Goodreads, Smashwords – all these places and more make it very easy for you to leave a review and rate a book. Or just rate it. Your review doesn’t have to be anything lengthy to have an impact. For example, look at this review of my second novel, MageSign, that a reader called Joefredwheels left on Amazon.com (Yes, I’m going to use my own work as reference. Sue me.):

excellent follow up – great story continuing adventure of first book protaganist. hoping for more stories in this world. Baxter is an excellent writer of a fast past exciting plot. THIS IS WORTH THE MONEY. BUY THE BOOK

He also rated it five stars. Brilliant. It’s very short, it’s not worrying about being good writing in itself, it’s simply conveying the person’s enjoyment of the book. Sure, it’s cool when readers take the time to write a few paragraphs of carefully thought out critique when they review, but the review above is just as valuable.

Here’s another example, this time a review of RealmShift, left on Amazon by Cathy Russell “Ganymeder”:

a well thought out tale – I liked that this story had believable characters and explored faith (or lack of), it’s origins, etc. It had a lot of deep themes. The characters were well thought out. The plot was engaging, and I liked the whole idea of a superhuman who could kick the devil’s ass. While reading this, I kept thinking it would make a great action movie or comic book too. I’d recommend this. 4 stars.

That wouldn’t have taken long to write, but in a single paragraph she recommends the book and gives some basic reasons why. Again, brilliant.

I can’t express how grateful I am when people take the time to do this. And it’s something we can all do, for any publication, anywhere on the web.

I tend to review books I enjoy here on my blog, but I’m a regular blogger anyway. I always rate them on Goodreads. I’m also planning to copy my reviews over onto Amazon and Goodreads – I wish I’d done it as I wrote them, as now it’s going to take a while and a concerted effort. But I’ll do it, because I plan to put my reviews where my mouth is.

So we, as readers, are the new gatekeepers. It’s our responsibility to help spread the word about the good stuff we read, and the bad. You don’t have to leave negative reviews on anything – just don’t review them. But it’s an act of true benevolence to leave good reviews of stuff you enjoy, or drop by websites and leave a star rating. You can write a single line or single paragraph review and copy that to all the sites you visit or shop at. If you do blog, then reviewing a book on your site is fantastic. But whatever you do, do something. Help spread the word. As writers, nothing is more valuable to us than the recommendations of readers. It’s always been that way, and now it’s more true than ever. Readers can make sure the good stuff out there gets noticed and more writers get themselves a well-earned career. Power to the people!


This is a reprint from Alan Baxter’s The Word.

Announcing the Launch of Kindle Kids’ Corner

We’re thrilled here at Kindle Nation to announce the launch of the Kindle Kids’ Corner, a new collaborative project with students and teachers. Here’s the press release from Vicki Davis of the Cool Cat Teacher Blog (http://coolcatteacher.blogspot.com). The first first ebook review is by student Dru F. of the Westwood Schools! You go, Dru!

For immediate release
Kindle Nation Daily and Local School Announce Launch of New “Kindle Kids’ Corner” Blog to Help Kids Find Great eBooks

Camilla, Georgia USA (March 7, 2011) — Camilla, Georgia school, Westwood Schools and Kindle Nation Daily blogger Stephen Windwalker announce a cooperative effort to launch the Kindle Kids Corner Book Review blog (http://kids.kindlenationdaily.com). Westwood Students in grades 2-8 will be writing bi-weekly book reviews for Windwalker’s Kindle Kids Corner, a spinoff for kids from his popular Kindle Nation Daily blog targeted to adults.

“One thing many of us love about the Kindle is that it instantly expands the number of books at our fingertips from whatever we have in our homes or our school libraries to, literally, millions,” said Windwalker. “With the launch of the Kindle Kids’ Corner blog, we’re hoping that kids will help other kids find entertaining and appropriate ebooks and get a little writing experience in the process.”
Westwood Schools technology program, led by leading educational blogger, Vicki Davis (Cool Cat Teacher Blog – http://coolcatteacher.blogspot.com), has received many awards for their global collaborative efforts including the Flat Classroom project featured in Thomas Friedman’s book The World is Flat, and the NetGenEd project coordinated with Leading author, Don Tapscott. Vicki’s blog has received numerous awards including the 2008 International Edublog Award for Best Teacher blog and is co-author of a book on global collaboration in the classroom to be published by Pearson Publishing in January 2012.
“As we move to bring leading global collaborative efforts of all kinds to every student at Westwood, this is a natural progression for us,” says Davis. “We want our students to actively use social media to improve their lives and the lives of others and blogging is a unique form of writing distinct from the traditional essays written in classrooms.”

Ross Worsham, Headmaster, says, “The Internet is an incredible opportunity for our rural students to shine both nationally and internationally. We may play for state in Football but in our technology program our playing field is the world.”
This program will be led by curriculum director, Betty Shiver and piloted by middle school teacher, Deana Rogers and elementary teacher, Andrea Stargel. The first posting was from student Dru F. about the book The Last Night by Hilari Bell.
Windwalker, a former teacher, brick-and-mortar bookseller, and publishing executive, began writing books and blog posts about the Kindle the first week it was launched in November 2007, and his Kindle user’s guide was the number-one bestselling book in the Kindle Store in 2008. Kindle Nation Daily is located on the web at http://www.kindlenationdaily.com/ and Windwalker can be reached via email at kindlenation@gmail.com.

Westwood Schools is a private K-12 school located at 255 Fuller Street in Camilla, Georgia where “every child is a winner.” The school was founded in 1971. For information, call (229) 336-7992 or visit www.westwoodschools.org.
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For more information on the Kindle Kids Corner blog, contact kindlenation@gmail.com

Would you like to help with a blurb for my bestselling new book on the financial crisis?

Earlier this week I published the Kindle edition of a book on which I have been devoting a great deal of time and energy over the past few months, The Worried Citizen’s Little Survival Guide to the Greatest Financial Crisis of the Century: Understanding and Surviving the Domino Depression. Here’s a link to its Amazon page.

It’s not a book for the CNBC talking heads, and it may not even be a book for Paul Krugman or Ben Bernanke. It’s a book for people who’ve been working hard, feel like we’ve been thrown to the curb in this financial crisis, and and want simple answers to some very basic questions: How did we get here, how much worse is it going to get, and what can we do to protect ourselves, our families, and our future?

If you believe there’s a need for a book with this kind of commonsense approach to these worrying times, I would like to invite you to take a few moments to participate with me as I try to re-make the usual process of marketing a nonfiction book. Between now and the time when the paperback edition of my book is published late this month, I am inviting people who really know what is going on in this financial crisis — working people, labor and community organizers, seniors, teachers, librarians, people who run small businesses and nonprofits, young people trying to figure out how they are going to pay for their education or start a career, and others who have already lost a great deal through no fault of their own — to join with me in spreading the word about The Worried Citizen’s Little Survival Guide.

Okay, if Bernanke, Krugman, Jim Kramer, and Stephen King all want to send in blurbs, I might be able to use them. But I would really like to have a couple of lines from you, if you feel like sharing your comments publicly.

I’ve posted some sample chapters of the book, along with the Table of Contents, on Facebook just to make it easy for you to see what it’s all about.

If you would like to share a comment or “blurb” with me directly, you can enter a comment here or, better yet, email me at hppress@gmail.com.

If you include your name, any brief identifying info, and a snail-mail address and I include your comment in (or on the cover of) the paperback edition of the book (scheduled for July 31 release), I promise to send you a free signed copy of the paperback! (In response to a question from Donna, let me suggest that it would be helpful to have comments, blurbs, and reviews by Monday, July 15).

Such comments could become back cover blurbs, comments on the book’s web page, or readers’ comments in the front matter of the paperback edition. I would also welcome a brief review on Amazon or, if you have one, on your own blog. If you would like to write an Amazon review, short and sweet would be wonderful, and you will find a link right under the title information at the top of the book’s Amazon page: http://bit.ly/4BXrG

Thanks so much for taking the time to read this note, and — if I may be so optimistic as to presume — for your interest in helping me get the word out about a book that I believe can help to make a difference in the daily lives of many hardworking people.

Thanks for your interest in The Worried Citizen’s Little Survival Guide.To read or find out more about this book, email hppress@gmail.com

For more information, see the The Worried Citizen’s Survival Blog at http://worriedcitizens.blogspot.com/

Copyright © July 2009, Stephen Windwalker and Harvard Perspectives Press.