R.E. Donald

author of the Hunter Rayne Highway Mysteries series

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18 Wheels & Heels: Women in Trucking

18_Wheels_Heels_Cover_page_001I am honored and delighted to be featured in the February 2014 issue of 18 Wheels & Heels, a magazine for women in the trucking industry.  They first contacted me on Twitter (@RuthEDonald) to ask whether I would be interested in having them feature me and my Highway Mysteries series, and of course I replied with an enthusiastic Yes!  They’ve listed my three mysteries in their “Book It List” of good reads for their subscribers as well.

Here’s a .pdf of the interview. (I’d link directly to the pages in the magazine, but I had trouble viewing it on my own computer, although it did work on an iPad.)

The role that women play in the trucking industry has obviously continued to evolve since the time period that the Highway Mysteries are set in (the 1990s). Most of us have seen a few hot pink or purple trucks on the road, with the drivers joyfully flaunting their femininity. Others downplay their gender in order to avoid harassment by their male counterparts; gender discrimination can still be a problem for women in the male-dominated industry. There are a few books out by women truck drivers chronicling their years in the industry, among them Trucking in English by Carolyn Steele. I liked reading about her adventures, and could relate to much of what she experienced.

I enjoyed my years working in the transportation industry, and am happy that I can put my experience to good use in the Highway Mysteries series. I’m also glad to have endorsements from readers who work in the industry, as I try very hard to make sure my settings and situations are authentic. Last year, two of my books were also reviewed and described as “recommended reads” by a trucking publication in the United Kingdom, Truck and Driver magazine. (The books were Ice on the Grapevine and Slow Curve on the Coquihalla.) I was delighted to hear from some new fans in England who had purchased my books on their recommendation.

The central plot of each novel is, of course, a murder mystery, but my stories are driven by the characters in them. Those characters are real to me, and you can meet people like them working in service industries (including trucking and law enforcement) almost everywhere in North America. They have flaws, insecurities, hopes and dreams; they have fears and triumphs, loves and losses, foibles and indulgences. They are ordinary people, and like all “ordinary” people, they are unique. They are my friends, and I hope they will become your friends, too.


The art of the book review: should good reviewers turn pro?

The publishing industry is in a state of flux.  Self-publishing is on the rise, especially in digital format, and many good fiction writers, as well as not so good writers, are choosing to bypass the traditional publishing gatekeepers, meaning  literary agents and the editors in publishing houses.  Discerning readers may choose to ignore the thousands of new titles that haven’t been vetted by publishing professionals, but in doing so, they may be denying themselves access to good books.  Where is this leading?

First let me say that I have never worked in the industry.  I am not an expert.  I may have made a living in other industries during my life, but I have always been a reader.  Since last September, I am also a self-published mystery writer.  I am enjoying the adventure of self-publishing, and am intrigued by the changes taking place in the industry.

I recently joined a number of writers from around the globe at the online launch party for the Alliance of Independent Authors, a new organization founded by author Orna Ross in the U.K.  There were some interesting and useful discussions during the launch, and the organization is already making strides in the support of independent authors, but one discussion that surprised me somewhat was a very forceful objection to paid reviews.  It was considered somehow unethical for any reviewing agency, such as Kirkus or Publishers Weekly, to charge independent authors for reviewing their books.

As someone new to publishing, I found this puzzling.  I absolutely agree that it would be unethical –it would eventually be fatal to a professional reviewer’s career – to write glowing reviews about bad books because they were paid to do so.   I assume that eventually a dishonest reviewer would lose all credibility with readers.   (Granted that beauty is in the eye of the beholder;  I’ve recently been struggling through a print novel by a well known mystery author that has 17 five-star reviews and 18 one-star reviews on Amazon.  Were they all reading the same book?)

However, as the industry changes, I can’t see why reviewers shouldn’t step into the roles previously held by agents and publishers.  Isn’t it a service to readers to indentify the best of the independently published books?   Isn’t a good reviewer’s time and expertise worth money?  As writers expect their own time and effort in writing a work of fiction should bring them some financial rewards, shouldn’t a reviewer performing a service for readers also be allowed to seek compensation for his or her work?  Have you ever struggled to finish reading a novel that was boring, confusing, annoying, unpleasant or just difficult to read?

Guess what?  Reading a book you don’t enjoy is a lot like WORK!  Then writing a well-considered honest review on top of that?  Shouldn’t that be worth something?

I guess part of the question is who should be paying for this service by professional reviewers?  I would assume that Kirkus and Publishers Weekly are supported primarily by advertising dollars from publishers.  They are, after all, businesses with staff to pay and overhead costs to cover.  The reviewers might not be paid directly by the publishers for each review, but the publishers are still the ones who put bread on their tables, albeit indirectly.  The other businesses in the supply chain also support them financially, either through subscriptions or by supporting the publishers by buying their books.  It only makes sense that they are willing to review traditionally published books over indies, and that they charge upwards of $350 for reviewing an independently published work.  (They do agree to not publish poor reviews of indie books.)

I started to speculate on what that could mean for reviewers in the future.  I suspect the average reader will still be happy to share their opinions on books they’ve read via non-professional reviews on Goodreads or Amazon or other online book retailers.  They might also post reviews on personal blog sites.  Readers will want to find a reviewer they can trust.  To have access to good reviews from a reviewer who shares their taste in fiction, they might be happy to pay a small monthly or annual fee to subscribe to those reviews.  Independent authors who feel that they have a novel that will appeal to those readers won’t object to paying for that reviewer’s time to read and review their novel.  I suspect that the author would have the option of withholding a poor review from publication.  They also have the option of seeking out a reviewer whose tastes run more to their own, or reworking the manuscript to improve it based on the reviewer’s comments.

How much does a professional editor cost?  I believe the going rate is around $0.03 per word, although it varies tremendously.  That means a writer might have to pay $3000.00 or more to have a 100,000 word novel professionally edited.  What if a writer could pay a competent reviewer to read that book and write a comprehensive review?  Did the plot work?  How was the pacing?  Were the characters well developed and likeable?  Were there spelling, grammatical and typographical errors that made it hard to read?  It might not be as detailed as an edit, but it could certainly help an author improve the book.

What would a reviewer’s time be worth?  How long does it take to read a 100,000 word novel?  Let’s say the reviewer can read relatively quickly – not just skim – at a rate of 400 words per minute.  That would require over four hours of continuous reading.  I don’t know about you, but that’s a pretty difficult feat for me.  Most likely, it would take the better part of a day.  How long would it take to write a competent, well-considered review?  What’s an educated self-employed professional’s time worth?  I’d say that $35 an hour is on the low side.  It would seem that $350 is cheap for a solicited professional review.  And what about covering the reviewer’s expenses to publish and distribute that review?

As a writer, I feel a tremendous debt of gratitude to those readers who have taken the time to read and honestly review my novels.  I’m sure there are many readers who haven’t gotten past the first few pages, and that’s fine, too.  Why?  Because there are hundreds of novels by established and popular authors, let alone by self-published authors, which I haven’t wanted to read.   Most of the time, it’s because the story is just not to my personal taste.  I’ve never even started reading a Stephen King novel.  I understand that he is an excellent writer, but I don’t enjoy horror.  I love Dean Koontz’s writing, but I don’t want to read about his villains.  I’ve never read a Harry Potter book either because fantasy just doesn’t appeal to me.

Will professional reviewing lead to abuse?  Of course.  It’s quite possible – you see it already in friend reviews, or fellow writer reviews, and in some of the published professional reviews – for a reviewer to say only nice things about a book to please the author who has asked for the review, and conveniently leave out the negatives – but market forces usually prevail.    I can see that readers will eventually settle on reviewers whose opinions they can trust.  The buyer will still, as always, have to beware.

Is there a bright financial future for a new breed of independent professional reviewers?  Just sayin’.

What do you think?


In praise of the independent book reviewer

You know who you are.  You’re the reader who takes a few minutes to post a review of something you’ve just read on Amazon or Goodreads or wherever you “hang out” to buy ebooks.  You are not doing it for yourself (or maybe you are, because you like to keep track), but you are helping millions of readers make that most important decision of what to purchase to read next, and helping one writer at a time learn what he’s doing right, or what he’s doing wrong.  Both readers and writers appreciate your comments, but …

There are over 400,000 fiction books for Kindle on Amazon.com,  some 53,000 of them are in the Mystery & Thrillers section, and over 11,000 under the Mystery category.  At 12 books per page, that means a mystery junkie like me who wants a mystery fix has over 900 pages of mystery novels to browse through when making a selection.   (And you thought zeroing in on the right book on the many shelves at Barnes & Noble was hard!)   Thanks to the reviewers, we decide we can narrow that down to the ones with the best reviews.

But wait!  Over 6,000 of those ebook mysteries have a rating of 4 stars or more!  That’s still some 500 pages of books to browse through.  A reader’s got to consider herself (or himself) lucky to have such a great selection, of course.  But sometimes a selection that size can be overwhelming.  I don’t know about you, but even on the bestseller racks, I tend to stick with the authors I am familiar with.  I’ve been burned many a time when I’ve tried to judge a book by its cover, including the cover blurbs.  Granted, many ebooks, especially those by independent authors and publishers, are much more affordable ($4.99 or less) but impulse buys can add up quickly.  (I know that of which I speak.)

So if a reader is in search of a new, affordable independent author and feels overwhelmed by the multitudes on Amazon or other ebooks sites, the next step might be to narrow the field by visiting an independent ebook review or promotion site that specializes in fiction, and perhaps even in the genre you like the best.  I’ve come across several, which I can share with you, in no particular order.  (If you know of any others, please feel free to post them in the comments section below!)

Goodreads:  A site made for readers!  If you aren’t familiar with Goodreads, check it out.  You can connect with other readers who share your passion.  It may, however, expand your list of potential books to purchase instead of narrowing it down.

The Independent Author Network: a sprawling site that incorporates a Book Directory, a weekly Featured Author, The Avid Readers Cafe, and a Blog site as well as a store.

Kindle Mystery Authors: with reviews, descriptions, excerpts and bios of two to three new mystery authors per week.  Great for us mystery junkies.

The Paranormal Romance Guildanother large site with reviews, author interviews, giveaways and more.   (Not just Paranormal Romance, by the way – ahem – my own mystery novel received a five star review from reviewer Linda Tonis on that site.)

Indies Unlimited: A site that features well-reviewed books, and provides Sneak Peaks complete with reviews and excerpts.  There are lots of interesting items on this site if you take time to browse.  I especially enjoyed reading Ed’s Casual Friday  from Jan. 20th.

World Literary Cafe:  Another site with something for everyone – readers, reviewers & writers.  Lots of reviews and book recommendations, a forum for you to post & discuss reviews.

Digital Book Today: “Helping Readers Find Authors in a Digital World.”  Features a lot of free Kindle books available for reading and review.

Celebrating Authors: Another site dedicated to bringing readers and authors together.  It very handily breaks down the reviews and interviews by genre.

5- Star Books:  Easy to navigate site that essentially provides a filter for books in a multitude of genres.  Updated regularly, the site features only 12 of each genre at a time, so you don’t have to wade through piles of them.

IndieReader.com:  Just discovered this comprehensive site with reviews, including Kirkus reviews, and information on ebooks as well as independently published print books in a multitude of genres.  “Independent books for people with independent minds.”

Not all of the above sites include reviews, but they can narrow the field and direct you to Amazon.com or another purchase site where you may find a review.  So if you do read one of the books that you find on these sites, and you like it, let the author and future readers know by giving a review.  It doesn’t have to be a long review (although I heartily admire reviewers who are able to give a tightly written synopsis and comprehensive critique – wow!).  Just a few sentences that say how much you liked it and why will do.

If you don’t like a book you’ve read, please review it anyway but don’t be unkind.  You may not see their faces, but writers have made themselves very vulnerable by putting their work out for anonymous readers to judge, and a nasty review can cause sleeplessness and even (sob!) tears sometimes.  Constructive criticism is good, however, and may help the writer to do better next time.  (Note to writers:  Don’t cry!  Check out the one star reviews for your favorite authors or read Ed’s Casual Friday .)

One more note: the beauty of a book is in the eyes of the reader.  If the reader is having a bad day, she (or he) might not like anything!  To be honest, some days when I read something I’ve written, I think my own writing totally sucks, but the next day, reading the same passage, I’ll be bursting with admiration for my deathless prose.  So sometimes if you’re having trouble “getting into” a new book, switch to something else and go back to it again a few days later.  You – and the writer – might be glad you did.

When I’m bummed out about my writing I just think about what some of you, my precious readers, have said in your reviews of my novels, and I know I’m on the right track.  Hey!  There are readers out there who can’t wait for me to finish my next one!

Thank you!