Apr/May 2015  •   Reviews & Interviews

Avoiding Style at All Costs

Review by Gilbert Wesley Purdy

Organize Your Home in 7 Days.
Nichole Brandon.
Self-published. 2015. 31 pp.

First Citizen of America: Benjamin Franklin.
Cynthia A. Parker.
Timber Publishing. 2015. 59 pp.

Having been on the Kindle publishing platform for over a year now, I suppose it is only to be expected that I would start reviewing it and its products. My personal experience as an independent publisher has been deeply mixed but not much different than I had expected. The basic tools are simple and easily learned. As could only be expected, a range of more sophisticated "Kindle formatting" packages are offered for sale by third parties.

No meaningful marketing support is offered, by Amazon, unless the publisher buys a marketing package. Amazon has recently created Amazon Marketing Services in order to further monetize the publishing platform. In the company's own words:

Your book's ads automatically compete in an online auction. You'll choose your maximum cost-per-click (CPC) bid when you schedule your ad. Your CPC bid is the maximum amount you will be charged when a customer clicks your ad. To advertise, you must place a minimum CPC bid of $0.02 and set a minimum campaign budget of $100.00.

Your actual cost-per-click is determined in an auction that takes place with other eligible ads. You will be charged $0.01 more than the second-highest bid in the auction for a click, up to your maximum CPC bid.

A goodly number of independent publishers have developed ways to game the system, but there is less of this on the Kindle platform than elsewhere on the Internet. A book's title and cover illustration would seem clearly to be the most effective form of free advertising.

The most effective means of gaming is to buy or exchange five-star customer reviews. This tends to turn the star rating system upside down such that a raft of vague five-star reviews make a book's rating reflect not its quality but its publisher's/author's social network or willingness to buy stars. The fact that a customer need not buy the product in order to post a review also leads to a high level of one-star trolling by way of personal revenge or political attack.

The non-fiction publisher/author faces a still more daunting task. According to a new data services start-up, called K-lytics, the "Average Overall Amazon Sales Rank of the Top 100 Titles" for December of 2014, was 97 for fiction and 499 for non-fiction. It is not unreasonable to suspect that the comparison is every bit as disparate across the entire platform.

Among the more successful non-fiction categories is the how-to book. Nichole Brandon is a relatively new name in the category. Her first title makes clear just how the formulas for a successful title have changed with the advent of the ebook: DIY Household Hacks: Discover Proven Household Hacks to Increase your Productivity, Save Time and Money (Diy Household hacks, Diy Projects, Home improvement Diy, Caretaking,Cleaning, Save money) . The repetition of "DIY" and "hacks," the use of every letter an Amazon title will allow, and a striking, colorful cover, have helped her to a sales rating (as I write) of "69,944 Paid in Kindle Store." If a book has a sales-rating regularly under 100,000, it is making at least a modest amount of money.

Brandon's second book, Organize Your Home in 7 Days, has only recently been published. She has begun her marketing with the standard free-giveaway promotion. This allows for a variation upon the free "reviewer's copy," into the bargain, which I am taking advantage of in order to provide Eclectica Review Section readers with insights into epublishing without "owing" the author a five-star review as payment in kind. Now the price has settled in at 99 cents (the price of each of the books).

Like almost all of the many such ebooks, Organize Your Home in 7 Days, is short and composed largely of numbered or bulleted lists. Stylistics are avoided at all costs. Simple sentences without clauses or so much as a single word to test the reader's memory for 8th grade vocabulary lists are strictly adhered to. Even the most informal studies make clear the importance of these anti-stylistic traits to selling independently published ebooks in quantity.

At 99 cents, readers are likely to risk a purchase though Brandon has no professional credentials. Her Author page, should they choose to inspect what credentials she does possess, informs them:

Residing in Miami, Florida, Nichole is young mother of two beautiful children and her purpose is help people to improve their live [sic] in multiple areas. In her books, Nichole provides daily rituals, organizing strategies and advice on how be [sic] organized and loose [sic] weight.

When not writing, Nichole likes to enjoy life with her family, read, exercise and explore the world.

Upon reading, the purchaser is likely either to be impressed by the strict organization she describes in her also strictly organized book or unconcerned that they spent a mere 99 cents on something that did not turn out to suit their tastes or needs. The reader who finds that the "hacks" serve one or more needs will also be more likely to remember her advice to start with a healthy breakfast as they employ them.

"We are all creatures of habit and maintaining a clean house is a habit that can be learned," Brandon informs the reader. All of her "hacks" are solid at the very least. Some are likely to be new to a reader and such "auxiliary hacks" as...

Listen to music to dance yourself fit while you clean. If dancing is not for you, listen to an audio book or even learn a new language via audio instructional training.

...are attractively perky and nave at the same time that they are fine advice.

Cynthia A. Parker (or whoever actually writes the books under that name) has taken a different tack with Kindle non-fiction. She has begun writing a series of short biographies of famous Americans, advertised as the "Quick-Read Biography" series. The first two volumes, on George Washington and Abe Lincoln, appeared in mid-2014. In a particularly interesting move, those first two biographies appeared in Spanish translation shortly thereafter. The translation was done by Ana M. Gonzalez. Neither author nor translator presently chooses to have an Amazon author page.

Each cover presents a black-and-white or mezzotint likeness of the subject of the biography. Inside First Citizen of America Benjamin Franklin, most chapters feature one or more public domain color illustrations. Those illustrations accompany short, simple paragraphs presenting material gathered largely from online popular history sites.

The materials are not offered specifically for high school students. The easy vocabulary, sentences without clauses and short paragraphs would seem to be intended to make them an attractive "all ages" product.

Judging from First Citizen of America: Benjamin Franklin, some small amount of the material might have been considered specifically adult in nature some decades ago but it is difficult to believe a parent might consider it inappropriate today. Parker does touch on such unworshipful topics as Franklin's womanizing.

It has always been a question mark on Franklin's reputation that he was a notorious womanizer.

But it is not clear whether any of her popular sources was even aware of his visits to the spank-and-tickle "nunnery," outside of London, that he frequented with his friends among the English nobility or the occasions when acquaintances wrote of arriving for visits only to discover him in flagrante delicto with one or another of the maids provided him as special representative to England for the United States. If she was aware of it, she seems to have passed it over in silence in order to keep the text attractive for the aforementioned parents.

First Citizen is also brave enough to be direct about Franklin's relationship to his children, such as it was:

Benjamin Franklin was a brilliant Founding Father, but he is not reputed as having been a good father.

The brevity of the biography is reason enough not to have said much more. Details are limited on all subjects by design, not only this.

There is a gratifying list of Franklin's scientific projects and inventions. The Franklin stove even merits some description.

It was his premise that "As we benefit from the inventions of others, we should be glad to share our own... freely and gladly."

The civic improvements and organizations which he started, founded or co-founded receive a bit more attention still. No aspect of the man's life, however, is explored in any detail. The biography is meant to provide bare facts by design.


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