Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Happy 10 year anniversary to RAWSISTAZ!

Hello everyone.

I want to take this time to say Happy 10th Anniversary to RAWSISTAZ. Tee C. Royal is a force in the literary industry and has set the standard for others to follow.

My husband urged me to start a review website since I read like 8 to 10 books a month.  Seeing Rawsistaz website online many years ago prompted me to actually start my own review website. I want to thank Tee for always being there for helpful advice in regards to book events and reviewing books. Her knowledge and expertise helped Urban Reviews in more ways than one. If it weren't for the RAWSISTAZ website, there is a good chance that there wouldn't have been an Urban Reviews website.  And for that, I am thankful.  

Much continued success!

Radiah of Urban Reviews

Check out the RAWSISTAZ website.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

How Do You Reach Thelma?

How Do You Reach Thelma?

Some of you may know that this month is the five year anniversary of our website. Last year, we started doing free book events here in Milwaukee. We’ve reached hundreds of people that I’ve never would have known before doing these events. Now we have an active email and Facebook list of people who have attended our events and we keep them informed of any other book events around our area. With more and more Af-Am authors out here vying for attention of readers, how do you reach Thelma?
Who is Thelma you ask? Let me introduce you to her. Thelma represents the average African American woman reader. She started reading contemporary African American fiction when Terry McMillan made her debut with Waiting to Exhale in 1992. She was in her 20s or 30s at the time and could identify with the characters. As the years moved on, Thelma gravitated to a lot of other contemporary Af-Am fiction authors that came after Terry such as Eric Jerome Dickey, Bebe Moore Campbell, etc. Fast forward to 2010 and Thelma is now in her late 30s and 40s, or even early 50s. She’s a wife, mother, and gainfully employed. She barely keeps up with her email account and is not really a big internet savvy person. Thelma may or may not be a part of a book club, but she still loves to read when she can. Thelma has also expanded her reading options to include erotica, street lit, mysteries, and Christian fiction. Her first love is still contemporary fiction.
The Thelma that I’m talking about in this example is not a real person. But there are readers out here who may have one or more of these characteristics.  

So authors I ask you...Do you even consider them in the marketing and promotion of your book?  How do reach someone like this? What things have you done in this effort?

Friday, February 26, 2010

Why We Do This

Why We Do This

This July will mark our 5th anniversary of the Urban Reviews website. When we started this journey back in 2005, I had no idea that the website would have grown as much as it has today. I’ve learned so much about the publishing industry over the years, and I’m still learning more each day. Our journey continues with holding local book events here in Milwaukee, WI. We kicked things off with the first annual Great Midwest Book Fest last July. We also did a private book event for author Velvet in October. Both events were successful and we’re going to have two more book events in 2010 starting with the Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant event on Saturday, March 20th. Some may question why we would add book events to our growing “to-do” list. The answer is simple…Milwaukee needs more successful African American book events and for authors to come here. Over the years, there have been some authors that come to do book signings here and there on a yearly basis, but those are few and far between. A lot of publishing companies like for their authors to hit the larger cities such as Chicago, which is just two hours away from Milwaukee which is understandable. When it comes to having authors come there, Chicago is considered an “A” city while Milwaukee is considered a “B” city. What people don’t realize is that one third of Milwaukee’s population is African American. Of that African American population, there are a lot of readers and book clubs that authors and publishers are missing out on. We can always go to different signings and book events in Chicago, which I have done in the past and will do so in the future. But it’s always good to have something local that readers can go to. It’s not just about Urban Reviews trying to brand ourselves locally but to bring authors here that the community can enjoy.

I believe in starting small and building slowly so that there’s a strong foundation to pull in the larger name authors and to have larger events in the years to come. But in order to do that, we need the community to continue their generous support of Urban Reviews and other book events held by local authors and organizations. The DeBerry/Grant event is a wonderful opportunity, and it is the culmination of months of behind the scenes work. This event is going to serve as a litmus test on whether Milwaukee is really serious about having book events for larger name authors. The publishing companies have already cut back on sending authors on tour, and it was really a miracle that DeBerry/Grant’s publisher wanted to take a chance on Milwaukee, especially since they will be in Chicago the very next day. We need to show the authors and the publishing companies that Milwaukee is a good place to put on their authors’ tour schedules. The Milwaukee community needs to also support other local Milwaukee and Wisconsin author events as well. We have a lot of talent here in the Milwaukee, Madison, and Racine areas and they deserve our support too. But don’t just go to these events to visit with the author or authors...buy a book. Even if the book isn’t something that you normally read, buy and pass it on to someone else as a gift. At the end of the day, it’s all about support and building a good environment for national and local authors here in Milwaukee.


Monday, May 11, 2009

Reviews, Review Sites, Submissions...Oh My!

Hey everybody.

I just wanted to give my opinion on various topics brought up in the
Urban Reviews Yahoo Group today. Remember, these are only my opinions. No one should take offense to anything that I'm about to say as this is not targeted towards any particular individuals. Also, by no means do I think that I know everything when it comes to these topics. These are only my observations and thoughts on the subjects at hand.

Regarding Book Reviews

As far as book reviews, what everyone needs to understand is that a book review is that person's opinion on what they felt about the book. Now just because one person may not like a particular book doesn't mean that another person will feel the same way. Take the review as constructive criticism and see what you can learn from it. It takes a thick skin to be in the publishing business, and a lot of authors have to develop that over time. Not everybody is going to be receptive to your work all the time. If you think that the review was totally unfair, then you need to try to contact that reviewer in a professional manner and point out what you thought was unfair or questionable about the review and get their take on it. Reviewers take the time to read and review books because they like reading books. So if they had issues with your book, it would be beneficial for you to learn what didn't connect with that particular reader so that your next project won't have those same issues. This is especially important if more than one reviewer had similar difficulties with your work. Every author thinks their work is the best. It's the readers who decide whether you are right or not. But again, one review is one person's viewpoint. If multiple reviewers point out extensive editing issues for example, those types of things take away from the reader being able to connect and enjoy the story. Editing is the biggest problem with a lot of books, but character development, conflicting POVs, lagging storylines, and questionable behavior and actions from the characters are just as distracting and are usually the reason for unfavorable reviews.

Regarding Review Sites

Any reputable review site should have some form of submission guidelines or some detailed instructions on how to submit your book for review and what time frame you can expect the book to be reviewed. For example, our site has submission guidelines and details what books we do and don't review, what needs to be submitted to be considered for review, and when you can expect it to be reviewed. All review sites have different submission guidelines for different reasons, whether it be due to the volume of submissions they receive, the number of reviewers they have to review the books, the costs associated with sending review titles out to the reviewers every month, etc. For those that want to run their own review sites, you have to consider a few things:

[1] You have to be mindful of the time frame you set as far as when you want the reviews to be completed. Authors are expecting you to review these books that they send. You want to make sure you have enough staff to handle the amount of books coming in for review, especially if you have your mailing address out there for anyone and everyone to send their books to you. During the first year of running the Urban Reviews website, the mailing address to send books was right on our website, despite the fact that I was the only person reviewing books. Even though there weren't as many books being released by African American Fiction authors as there are today, the books piled in to the point that about half of the books weren't reviewed. After learning the hard way, we pulled our mailing address off the site. We came up with a submission process that would allow us to preview a chapter excerpt and book description. We did this so that we could see if we were interested in reviewing the entire book or not. And as we added more reviewers to our team over the years, this process became extremely important in choosing which books to feature on the site. It would be absolutely impossible to review everything since there are literally hundreds and hundreds of books being released each year. You shouldn't take it personally if a site decides to pass on reviewing your title. Again, at the end of the day, that one review site would ultimately be one person's opinion.

[2] There's also costs involved with running a review site. The biggest cost of them all is the one that isn't monetary...time. It takes time to maintain a website, update it with reviews and interviews, and include all the other extras you want to feature on the site. It takes time to run out to the p.o box that you pay for every month and gather the books that arrive. It takes time to sort through and assign books to reviewers, package them to be sent to the reviewers, and go to the post office and mail them off. Time is also needed to read each book, review each book, proofread each review, and then post each review. Most review sites will post the review on their website and usually Amazon.com since practically everyone goes there to buy books or look for information or reviews on books. Sites that post book reviews on other book-related sites or social networks do so at their own discretion. Those that do this are now tapping into the realm of a free publicist for an author, and if they have the time and resources to do so, then so be it. You shouldn't expect that from most review sites since the time to post multiple reviews on multiple platforms is extremely time consuming and goes beyond the point of just reviewing your book. The other biggest costs is 100% monetary because it cost money to do a lot of things for the review website. Unless you have a free blog that you run your review site through, there is the cost of the domain name and hosting each year. There are costs associated with the mailing of books (envelopes, postage, gas to and from the post office to pick up books and mail off books to your reviewers) and if you hold contests on your site, the same mailing costs apply to that as well.

Regarding Submission Inquiries


Before you submit your book to a review site, pay attention to the types of books that particular website reviews and see if your book would realistically be a good fit for that site. If a review site primarily reads one type of book (i.e. street lit), and your book is another type of book (i.e. woman's fiction), then you should think twice about submitting your book to that site. If they profess that they read 'everything,' investigate to see if they actually do. Find examples of their reviews, evaluate the substance of their reviews, and look for reviews they have done for other books that are similar in nature to your book's theme. Please be selective when deciding on where you are sending your books and focus on the sites where you will get the most bang for your buck. And remember that these sites are doing you a favor by reviewing your work. Most review sites, despite all the costs that are involved, are doing it for FREE.

I know this may seem like a lot of information, but in truth, it is just the tip of the iceberg. You can learn a lot of things from other authors and people in the industry. It takes a lot to make it in this business. And most authors that do have some sort of successful writing career are far from rich, so it truly needs to be something you love to do. Your actions (and reactions) define who you are as a author and as a person. A good amount of true best-selling African American authors started off as self-published authors, so the path for you is no different. The only difference is that there is a much larger pool of African American authors going down that same path these days. Some of them are in it for the right reasons, while others are not. And those that are in it for the right reasons aren't always going about it the right way. So when readers or reviewers highlight some of the problems they have with your book, you shouldn't try to discredit their viewpoints and consider them to be 'haters'. If you come to that conclusion, you've certainly missed the point on why books are reviewed and really should consider whether this industry is right for you.

Radiah of Urban Reviews

Great Midwest Book Fest 2009

Monday, May 4, 2009

The African American Fiction Section...Separate But Equal?

The African American Fiction Section...Separate But Equal?

There's been a lot of talking recently in cyberspace about the placement of African American fiction books in bookstores. For some black authors, they feel that the African American section in bookstores is too limiting. They would rather be placed in the general fiction section to attract a broader audience. Others would like their books in both sections. This is a hot button issue among authors and book industry professionals alike.

Before I became a reviewer, I used to actively buy books from Borders because they have an African American Fiction or African American Literature section. As a consumer, this section was perfect because I could find the book that I came in there for and also see what other books in this section are available. Sometimes I would even purchase another book or two in addition to the one I came in there to get because it was easily accessible.

Writing a book is a creative process, but authors need to remember that selling the book is a business. The publishing houses and the bookstores are in the business of selling books. In order to make the most profit, they do whatever they need to do to make sure that books has the best opportunity to sell. The AA fiction/lit section is not meant to segregate authors but to give them the best placement opportunity to sell the maximum amount of books. The African American fiction market is becoming more and more competitive with at least 50 books being released on a monthly basis. With numbers like this, you have to be even more creative in order to sell your books. I don't have the exact stats on the amount of general fiction that is released on a yearly basis but I'm sure it's in the thousands. An AA book in the general fiction section would most likely be lost in the shuffle.

Some authors feel that just placing their books in the general fiction section will help expose them to a wider audience. In my opinion, doing this is not going to draw non-black readers to your book. Unless your book is tied to a national or worldwide current event, other audiences aren't going to miraculously be interested in your book. Of course the exception to all of this is if your book winds up on Oprah, which is highly unlikely. If African American fiction authors want to appeal to a wider range of readers, then they need to go out and seek opportunities to do this...on their own. If you think that your book can appeal to everybody, then you need to go out there and prove it to the publishing companies and the bookstores.


Friday, January 30, 2009

The Frustrations Of A Book Reviewer - Volume 2: A Thankless Job?

When we started our review website, I always knew that you can't please everyone all the time. But what I'm sharing with you today just takes the cake. Please see the following email and note that this has not been altered in any way. I did omit the name of the author to protect the not so innocent.

Mr. Hubbert:

Could you at least summarize what is wrong with it? The opening page conveyed it would probably be three months or more before you even had a chance to read and review it. What exactly was it? You did not care for the plot? You found too many grammatical, errors in punctuation? How much time did you even spend reading before you even made your decision. I submitted my request for a review approximately one week, ago. How did you manage to get through enough of it to determine that it was not suitable for you website? You know what. Nevermind and FFFFffUUUUUUUUUCCCCCCCCCKKKKKKKKKK YYYYYYYYYYOOOOOOOOOOOOOOUUUUUUUUUUUU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1111

That email was NOT in response to an actual review that we did but just an inquiry request for their book to be reviewed. Of course the profanity was unprofessional and childish, but this person didn't follow our submission guidelines. Our guidelines state to send a chapter excerpt in order to be considered for a review. This person chose to send their entire book and for some reason thought that someone was reading their entire book. I rejected it and as always offered them to post info about their book in our Yahoo group or even to purchase advertising. This is an example of a person that obviously knows nothing about this business and won't get far in it. A part of me wanted to respond immediately with a few choice words myself, but instead I took the high road and simply ignored this person.

If this person had came to me the right way, maybe I could have provided some feedback as to why their book wasn't accepted. I don't think people understand the time and dedication that it takes to select books for our website. It also takes time to review these books too.

Thankless job? Sometimes...but I still love it!


Please feel free to leave your comments below!!!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Do We Expect Too Much From Sequels?

Lately, there are a lot of recent and upcoming releases that are either sequels or a 3rd or 4th installment of a series. One of the books that people are anticipating is Sister Souljah’s Midnight: A Gangster’s Love Story. This has to be one of the most anticipated sequels in a long time. Now that the book description is floating around and the cover is out, readers are already weighing in on if they will purchase this book or not. This brings me to this topic: Do we expect too much from sequels? To me, this topic is two-fold. On one hand, I like sequels if the first story was so compelling that I didn’t want it to end. On the other hand, if a book is a classic or near classic, then I feel a sequel isn’t needed because it will mess up the story. Sequels can be problematic because readers may be expecting the sequel to be just as good as or better than the 1st book. Readers may also expect the sequel to start exactly where the previous book left off.

From a reviewer’s standpoint, a sequel or other books in a particular series can be hard to properly review if the previous books have not been read. I have read some sequels without reading the 1st book because the author assured me that it can stand on its own. I’m here to tell you, that is very rarely the case. I think subsequent installments of books should not been released unless there is a huge demand from your readers to do so. Most readers also expect that next installment to be a true sequel and not a prequel or a totally different story. For example, when The Coldest Winter Ever came out years ago, a lot of people wanted Sister Souljah to make a sequel and have been patiently waiting for it. Now that Midnight is coming out in November, it doesn’t seem to be a true sequel but rather a prequel that delves into the early life of Midnight. Authors do have the creative license to continue a story as they see fit. However, I think that authors do need to take into consideration of what their fan base wants as well. After all, it is the readers that actually purchase and spread the word about your book.

-Radiah of Urban Reviews

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Frustrations Of A Book Reviewer Volume 1

As a book reviewer that also runs a book review website, there are some do’s and don’ts that I’ve seen over the years that I would just like to share in regards to getting your book reviewed...whether it's by our website or another review site.

Let’s start with the Dont’s.

1. Don’t Assume Anything. If a website says that they review a particular genre ( i.e. African American Fiction), don’t assume that they are going to read your style of work ( i.e. memoir, self-help, non-fiction or poetry book).

2. Don’t Request A Review Unless Your Book is Ready. Being ready means that your book is ready to be pre-ordered or purchased. Being ready does not mean that you are currently looking for a publisher or printer for your work.

3. Don’t think that just because you got a good review on a website that your author friends are going to get a good review too and vice versa.

4. Don’t Ask For Re-reviews. You should not ask a website to get another reviewer on their review team to read your book again just because the review was unfavorable. The reviewer has already done their job by taking the time to review your work.

5. Don’t bad mouth a review website that gave you a less than favorable review. You’re doing nothing but drawing bad attention to yourself.

6. Don’t Ask For Writing Sample Critiques From A Book Review Website. Most book review websites don’t do this unless they specifically say that they do.

7. Don’t expect the review website to follow-up. Remember, if you want your book to be reviewed, then it is your responsibility to make sure that it gets into the hands of the reviewers.

8. Don’t send every book you’ve ever written. You shouldn’t assume that the review website wants to review your multiple books unless there is prior approval.

Now here are the Do’s

1. Do Read and Understand the Submission Guidelines. For example, if a website says that you need to submit a full chapter excerpt in order be considered for a review, then that’s what they mean.

2. Ask Questions. If there is something that you aren’t clear on, then contact the person at the website.

3. Do Send Your Book As Soon As Possible. If a review website has an accept or decline submission process and your book is accepted, then you should send your book right away.

4. Pay Attention To The Time Periods. Almost every review website has a time period in which they review books. Please adhere to them.

5. Please be Patient. Just because you sent your book last week does not mean that your book will be reviewed right away. Most review websites tell you when your book could be reviewed.

6. Do consider advertising. Advertising could be very minimal in cost depending on the website. An ad can be visible to visitors to the website way before your book is reviewed.

7. If you get favorable reviews, please consider the same websites for reviews of your future releases.

- Radiah of Urban Reviews

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Please Respect This Hustle - Volume 1

We have just finished celebrating the 3 year anniversary of the Urban Reviews website. I can't believe how much we have grown in just 3 years with many more years to come. There are a lot of things that I've learned about the literary industry since July 2005. One thing that I've noticed is that there are a lot more authors and books out here that are fighting for attention. But with more books, there seems to be more problems. In the past few years, the practice of publishing a book evolved so much that just about anybody can do it. Sure, there are a lot of good books and authors out here but there are also a lot of people that aren't respecting the hustle. I'm talking about the book hustle. I'm not an expert, but I feel as a reviewer and avid reader there are a few things that authors need to do in order to make it in this business. See the short list below. I'm sure there's more but this is all I can think of right now.

1. Get your novel PROFESSIONALLY edited. This does not mean having a bunch of your friends and relatives proofreading your work and saying how great it is and putting up 5 star reviews on Amazon. Editing is more than somebody running your work through spell check and grammar check. If you think your work is so good that you don't need an editor, then that means you need one. (unless you are a professional editor yourself) Some say that if the story is good enough then the editing doesn't matter. This is not true. Bad editing can be the difference between a 4 star and a 5 star novel. You want to put your best work out there. There are plenty of freelance editors floating around on Myspace and Facebook. Do your research and seek them out.

2. Take Your Writing Seriously. Please remember that you are asking people to shell out their hard earned money to take a chance on your book. If you don't take a creative writing class, then at least get some books on writing. There are a lot of books out there that can help you with POV's (point-of-views), character development, plot, etc. There is nothing worse than reading a book that has no character, plot, or storyline development.

3. If you're writing a book just because you think it's a way to "come up" and make a lot of money, then don't do it. You must have a true love of the craft because authors getting six-figure deals is the exception and not the rule. Readers know when authors are serious about their work or not. And I don't have any hard numbers, but I'm almost certain that there are well over 90% of authors who have full-time jobs outside of writing.

4. Join a writers' group. If you don't have one in your area, then start one. I've heard from authors that this is a good outlet to have when you are writing your book. There are even a few online writers' groups. Ask around and I'm sure you'll find something.

5. Become an avid reader. How can you write a book if you're not an avid reader yourself? But at the same time, don't read somebody else's work and become a copycat writer either. Be your own writer.

6. Learn how to take constructive criticism. If you're a person who is very thin-skinned then the book industry is not for you.

I know there are many more things that I could list but those were some key ones that I feel are important. What fueled this list in the first place? This list came from the outcry that I've been hearing from some readers and some reviewers. People are just tired, tired, tired of bad books! We, as reviewers and readers, are tired of the same stale storylines. Either do the right thing and produce a good product...or don't do it at all.

All in all, just remember to PLEASE RESPECT THIS HUSTLE!

- Radiah of Urban Reviews