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The Pursuit of Quality and the Value of Book Reviews

Managing Publisher/Editor Lane Diamond Discusses Evolved Publishing’s Commitment to Quality

A recent minor ruckus online has inspired me to talk about matters of quality and customer service as they relate to the book publishing marketplace. This ruckus came about because a book reviewer—an author and editor in her own right—posted a review in which she pointed out the many grammatical errors and poor writing/construction that appeared in a large swath of the book.

Now, this reviewer still rated the piece at 4 stars (pretty darned good), because she enjoyed the underlying story and characters. However, she struggled with the poor writing in many spots, and felt it important to point that out, along with the specific issues at hand, in her review.

The result? The author responded negatively, asking the review to be taken down. The author claimed that the reason for all the mistakes was that her book was published by a traditional publisher, which hired their own editor, and the author “didn’t have control over the boo-boos.” Well, first of all, writing them in the first place is the ultimate control, but never mind that. This really raised my hackles, and led me to want to discuss two separate issues.

ISSUE #1: Reviews are for readers, not authors!

In this new indie environment, there’s much to admire about how authors are taking control of their careers. However, we run into a few problems in this environment, too, not the least of which is the sense of entitlement a fair number of indie authors seem to express. Now, let me be clear about this: many indie authors are fantastic, doing it the right way, and I’m not trying to lump ALL indie authors together. However, this movement has spurred some new problems.

The author in question seems to think that reviews of her book are all about HER—helping her to market and sell her book. Wrong! Book reviews may indeed accomplish that, but their first purpose is to provide valuable information to consumers so that THEY may make informed decisions about which books to buy, and conversely, which ones to avoid. Reviews are for readers!

Really, it’s hard enough for readers to navigate the morass out there, and to find excellent, entertaining books—those raindrops in the vast ocean—without authors colluding/cheating/manipulating the system. And yes, an author contacting a reviewer, asking her to take down a review because “the mistakes weren’t her fault” is the worst kind of manipulation. It should never happen.

ISSUE #2: Traditional publishers do not guarantee quality, any more than small publishers automatically indicate poor quality.

This one truly gets under my skin at times, for obvious reasons. After all, I run a small publisher. And you know what? When we say “Quality is Priority #1,” we’re not just tossing around platitudes. We agonize over every piece we publish. At least one of our editors, and often two of them, pore over every single paragraph of a piece—every sentence, every word, every little punctuation mark—before we call it publishable.

Why do we do this? (It’s a ton of work.) Well, that’s easy to answer: we’ve always believed, since Day 1, that EP would distinguish itself from the new maddening crowd—the wild, wild, wild, wild west that is self-publishing—by providing the highest quality books possible. Indeed, we believed that we would only succeed in the end if we established a strong reputation for doing precisely that—and the brand recognition that would ultimately foster.

Are all of our pieces perfect? Of course not; no such thing as perfection exists, especially in the subjective arts. However, we get as close to “perfectly clean and professional” as we can. In fact, we quite often put up revisions to address the 3 or 4 or 12 errors that managed to sneak through the initial process, so that we eventually (might take 2 or 3 versions) have a mistake-free product out there. That too is a lot of work, but we do it because we’re committed to giving readers the best possible book.

The sad truth about traditional publishing is that, in response to the hard economic times they fell on starting in 2008, they laid off a bunch of editors. In some cases, they cut over half their editorial staff. And guess what? Quality has often suffered as a result. Go figure.

As in any business, customer service comes first.

Publishing is no different than any other business that provides a product. We must give you a quality product at a fair price to ensure a happy and positive customer experience. If you take the whole of our catalog, across all genres and styles, you would find we maintain an average of roughly 4.5 stars per review. This has been the case from our first book, and has continued right through to this point where we’re approaching 100 books. Each new book merely solidifies that grade, our reputation, and your reading experience.

Additionally, we continue to rack up awards (see our Awards Won page) and to build our base of reliable repeat customers. We’ve heard from many readers that they’ve enjoyed 3, 4, 6, even 12 or more of our books—across multiple authors and genres.

All of these things tell us what we need to know about how we’re running our business. And they tell you, dear reader, what you need to know, when you’re deciding on that next book to read, about what you can expect from our books.

As always, thank you for your support, and please feel free to engage with us at Facebook and Twitter, and to subscribe to this blog. You’ll find the necessary links at the bottom right corner of this page. You can also subscribe to our newsletter.

In the Spotlight at Evolved Publishing: Mallory Rock, Artist

Putting an Attractive Face on Our Books

As a publisher, we pride ourselves not only on the quality of the books we publish, but on the quality of the team we’ve assembled. Every great team starts with the people—quality people produce quality work—and Mallory Rock, graphic artist and designer, has been an integral and valued part of our team from early on.

Bio_Pic-Mallory_Rock_v2_300dpi_760x790Every book is approached from multiple perspectives before we publish it—great story revised and polished by the author, concise editing from the editor (or team of editors), professional formatting for every version of the book, and of course, a great cover. For many of our books, this is where Mallory comes in.

She has been our most prolific cover artist, as you can see on her profile page. As of June 14, 2014, Mallory has produced covers for 33 of our books, and she has several more in the pipeline, and more coming every couple of months. She’s put a face on books representing a wide range of genres, from young adult to literary, from women’s fiction to suspense thrillers, from zombie westerns to romance and erotica. No matter the genre or subject, she’s able to produce a cover that helps us tell that story, and draw the reader in to take a closer look.

If determining the quality of literature is a subjective thing—and it surely is—then determining the quality of artwork is hyper-subjective. A cover that makes one person say “Wow!” might well make another person simply shrug their shoulders. Such is the nature of art. We have always strived to put a clean, professional face on our work, understanding that it’s impossible to please everyone, and working within the financial constraints that are a natural part of our business as a small press. We ask our artists to work tight and work clean on our behalf, and to work cooperatively with our authors to please them as well. Mallory consistently rises to that challenge.

How does she go about her work? Here’s what she said in a recent interview: “Most of my covers are created from stock art, but not in the traditional sense that one thinks of stock art. I do photo manipulation on every project. I like to blend multiple photos together to make very unique pieces, so an author gets a cover that isn’t going to look like 100 others out there. I also like to create, combine and manipulate letters and fonts for the same reason.”

SS Title PageHer work hasn’t stopped there. She has also formatted the internal portion of print versions for many of our books, giving them an added flair and making them more visually appealing for the reader.

manticore_CompWhether adding fancy graphics for the title page or chapter headings, or finding that perfect font style for the specific story at hand, or adding character sketches, as she did in The Silver Sphere by Michael Dadich, she helps to enhance the reading experience for our customers.

Finally, for some of our authors, she has produced video trailers to help entice readers and generate excitement for a book. She also creates website banners, online ads and swag to help authors promote their book. As an avid reader herself, she’s even functioned as a beta reader on occasion.
So whatever the budget—and it can vary significantly from one project to the next—and whatever demands we as a publisher put on her, or the authors put on her, Mallory Rock consistently helps to support the primary philosophy of Evolved Publishing: Quality is Priority #1.

Author D. Robert Pease Discusses His New Epic Fantasy, “Shadow Swarm”

The epic fantasy Shadow Swarm just released on June 2nd!

Author D. Robert Pease has dropped by to introduce Shadow Swarm, his new epic fantasy. This is a tale in the classic epic fantasy mode, set in a unique world with a large cast of memorable characters caught up in an epic struggle. We’ll let Mr. Pease tell you about it.
Since I was about fourteen or fifteen, I’ve devoured fantasy books – great, epic tomes with fantastical creatures, vast wild landscapes and spellbinding magic. These are by far my favorite reads. From The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, The Sword of Shannara, The Chronicles of Amber and The Dragon Rider’s of Pern series, through modern books like The Mistborn Trilogy, and even some kids fantasy like Percy Jackson, or The Ranger’s Apprentice, I can’t get enough of worlds that are wholly different than the places we live in.

My latest release, Shadow Swarm, is my entry into the canon of epic fantasy. This is the book I poured all my time and energy into for the past ten years: drawing maps, developing languages, outlining timelines, building detailed calendars, designing city plans – everything I could do to make the world come alive for me, and hopefully for you, the reader. I don’t claim to be up there with any of the great books I listed above, but I did everything I could to make this the best book possible, and to write the kind of story that I love to read. So if this sounds like your kind of book too, please check it out.

It’s available as an eBook, or in print as a hardcover or a paperback. Also, for the next month, I’m hosting a giveaway over on Goodreads for 4 paperback copies. Click the link below to enter:

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3D-ShadowSwarmAberthol Nauile doesn’t know that he once led legions in a war that had raged since the dawn of time, against an enemy that could not be killed. He doesn’t know that he rode on a dragon with his father, or that his mother died while giving birth to him. He doesn’t know that he once saved his great, great, great grandfather by defeating the black enemy on the slopes of a volcano.

Aberthol doesn’t know that he beheld the creation of the world, as his grandfather eight generations before took the planet, ravaged by a war of the gods, and began anew.

All he knows is that he awoke in a coffin deep within a tomb, and now the whole world thinks he is their savior. All he really wants to know is his name, and why he keeps hearing voices in his head.

Find out more about all of D. Robert Pease’s books RIGHT HERE.

Author Majanka Verstraete Discusses the Making of “Valentina’s Spooky Adventures”

This 3rd book in the series just launched this week!

3D-ValentinaMaskedMummyThis children’s picture book is ideal for kids 3-8 years old.

When noises shake Valentina’s bedroom in the middle of the night, and her resident ghost, Jerry, hides under her bed, the little vampire girl tumbles into yet another adventure.

Eager to investigate the source of the uproar, she bumps into her brother Vlad in the hallway. He’s as clueless as she is, but at least he’s not as terrified of the noises as Jerry.

The trio follows the noise to the museum room, where they find an opened sarcophagus, and a mummy wearing a mask….

Valentina and the Masked Mummy is the third in this fun and exciting new series for kids. Be sure to check out Book 1, Valentina and the Haunted Mansion, and Book 2, Valentina and the Whackadoodle Witch, both of which are now available.
Bio_Pic-Majanka_Verstraete_760x790Author Majanka Verstraete has dropped by to talk a little bit about her writing of Valentina and the Masked Mummy. This is the third children’s picture book in the Valentina’s Spooky Adventures series by Majanka, featuring colorful illustrations by Noelle Giffin. Anyway, we’ll let Majanka tell you how this entertaining series came to be.

Turning a Little Vampire Girl into a Kids’ Favorite

I came up with the idea for the Valentina series in the middle of university exams. I’d been studying for hours on end, and wanted to relax for a while. I saw some people on the AbsoluteWrite forums talking about picture books, and I thought, heck, why not give it a shot. I’d never written anything of the sort, but I’m always up for a challenge.

So I started brainstorming, trying to imagine something different, fresh—the kind of book I would’ve loved to read as a kid. I liked reading about monsters as a young girl, but I didn’t want to make the book too scary, so I thought…. How about a monster playing the main role? How about a monster that kids could relate to and empathize with, and even think of as a friend?

That’s how I came up with the idea of a little vampire girl playing the main part. Sure, she’s a vampire, but she’s still a little girl who gets scared by things just like regular little girls do.

After Valentina was born, the other characters quickly took shape. I wanted her to have a best friend, but I didn’t want him to be a vampire. Enter Jerry the ghost, Valentina’s best friend. In the second book, a whacky, slightly out-of-sorts witch made an appearance. In the newest series installment, Valentina finds a mummy wandering around her house.

So there’s a large cast of characters to entertain the young readers, and each of them is not only unique but, I hope, a character the kids can really sink their hearts and minds into. Are these adventures of a little vampire girl spooky? Sure, but in a fun way, not a scary way, so the kids will have a great time with them.

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