Of Elves & Editors: Explaining Self-Publishing with Lord of the Rings


     ((A quick refresher on the story: The Dark Lord Sauron is searching for the One Ring of power. It’s currently held by Frodo, who sets out to destroy it in the fires of Mount Doom. He’s helped along the way by many, including hobbits, elves, dwarves, wizards, and kings. Forgive us any oversimplifications: we’re trying to write an article about LotR, not rewrite LotR.)) 

Beginning the Journey 

     In this analogy, you are Frodo with one manuscript to rule them all. Your goal is to scale Mount Doom, which is the bestseller list. You aren’t going to destroy your manuscript in the end by throwing it into the fire (though we suppose if you have a best-selling book, you can celebrate however you wish).

     But Mount Doom is on the other end of Middle-Earth. How are you going to get there?

Networking (The Fellowship of the Ring)

     Frodo would have been dead before leaving the Shire if he hadn’t had help. Similarly, successfully publishing a book requires other people. Start with building a publishing team of specialists. You’ll need a trained editor, a great cover designer, maybe a marketer, and a wizard if you can find one.

     In the Fellowship, the members have diverse but complementary skill sets. Legolas has superior elven vision and proficiency with a bow. Gandalf has his magic. Frodo isn’t the best fighter, but he is fully committed to the mission. That kind of drive benefits you in any long-term project. In the same vein, your publishing team should be composed of multiple people who each have a specialty. Your editor should not also be your cover designer and publicist. That would be like Frodo setting off with only Aragorn at his side. Frodo would certainly get farther with Aragorn than he would alone, but the full Fellowship of the Ring is best equipped for the challenges that lie ahead.

Creating a Fan Base (Assembling an Army) 

     Besides the core nine members of the Fellowship, Frodo has many more allies who are not named. Theoden, King of Rohan, fights on the side of the Fellowship, but Theoden also brings the armies of Rohan, the largely nameless and faceless mass of riders. Aragorn may be the heir to the throne of Gondor, but he needs the ordinary soldiers to defend the walls of Minas Tirith against Sauron’s armies.

     These faceless fighters are like your readers. You will not get anywhere without readers. Your readers probably won’t be willing to die for you, but they should be willing to act on your behalf: buy your books, tell their friends, retweet and reblog your work, leave glowing (yet realistic and helpful!) reviews. In return, you provide engaging, immersive, enjoyable stories. It would be nice, but nearly impossible, to learn the names and stories of each reader. However, you can treat them with respect, keep them in the loop, and remain grateful for their support.

Bringing in the Big Guns (The Ents and the Eagles)

     Frodo has his Fellowship, and his Fellowship has allies, but not all allies are created equal. The Ents and the Eagles have power far beyond that of a mortal. The Ents are giant living trees that shake the earth itself during battle. The Eagles can swoop in for a rescue or survey the terrain ahead.

     In the publishing world, the Ents are the big, influential book reviewers. They’re hard to track down and they don’t particularly like outsiders. They are also slow to respond. If you manage to engage their interest, they can be an extremely powerful force. But you have to trudge through dark forests and sit around waiting for a response (which is likely not going to be the response you want).

     The Eagles are the popular writing-related blogs. They make it their business to know what’s going on in the world of publishing. Besides providing you with news, they can temporarily elevate you above the rest of the online writing world with a positive review, interview, or guest post on their sites. They have the ability to help you, but they can also peck out your eyes or drop you in the ocean, so be careful. 

A Multifaceted Approach (Strategy during the War of the Ring)

     The original Fellowship didn’t simply charge at Mount Doom. Even though that was their intent, they had to break apart in order to succeed. It is Merry and Pippin who bring the Ents to fight Saruman. Aragorn commands both the Dead Men of Dunharrow and the Rangers. Elrond, the elf-ruler of Rivendell, sends emissaries to fight with King Theoden of Rohan at Helm’s Deep, and Theoden, in return, takes his armies to the aid of Gondor.

     Luckily, you don’t need to cross any mountain ranges to enlist help from around the world. Instead, look for writing communities on various sites. Pinterest, Tumblr, Wattpad, Twitter, and Facebook all have resources for writers. Independent forums like those at Absolute Write and the Kindleboards are also good choices. You don’t have to recruit support and maintain  a presence in every online community; pick a few favorites to focus on. 

Play to your skills and interests other than writing. If you’re a good cook, invent a few recipes for food specific to your world. If you make jewelry in your spare time, create items straight from your book. Tolkien’s universe is full of these minor details (like lembas bread and the Evenstar necklace) that can become real-world objects.

Online Bullies (The Nazgul)

     Though you’ll find many good guys in the online self-publishing community, you’ll also find some bad ones (and some very bad ones). Online bullies use tactics like spamming a page with one-star reviews, leaving aggressive comments on your site, publicly calling others to destroy your reputation, and, from the particularly dumb and tasteless, sending death threats. They are like the Nazgul, invisible, lurking in the shadows and incredibly hard to eliminate.

    Run away from a Nazgul? It gets a horse. Shoot its horse? It gets a FLYING horse (well, it’s more like a dragon, but still). Similarly, if you block an online bully on one site, he can come back with a new account or on a new site. In the War of the Ring, the only way to truly get rid of the Nazgul is by destroying the One Ring. And that’s what the online bullies want, too. They want you to give up, lie down, go home, stop writing.

    Obviously, you’re not going to do that. So rally your friends, find your own Fellowship, and prepare for the adventure.

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2012 Recap and 2013 Writing Resolutions


      We’re a few days late with our year-end blog post (mostly because Lila has been sick since last year), but now we’re ready to share some stats, thank our supporters, and make some writing resolutions for 2013.

Where We’ve Been

      The first post on PopularSoda was March 26th, 2012. Since then, we’ve had 28 posts, 77 real comments, and 1,547 spam comments. Our most active commenter was erotica author Antoinette M. Anne R. Allen, Simon Crump, and Roxanne Crouse were also active on the site. Pete Ingham was an amazing help in launching PopularSoda and we are so grateful for his help. Thank you, and all our commenters and friends, for your feedback, experiences, and opinions.

In 2012, PopularSoda had visitors from 76 countries.

In 2012, PopularSoda had visitors from 76 countries.

      Our most popular post of 2012 was What the Guardian (and Ewan Morrison) Got Wrong About Ebooks. Fun fact: Lila wrote this post in the wee hours of morning after staying out all night at a friend’s birthday party.

      We’re most proud of the international makeup of our audience: we had visitors from 76 countries.

Where We’re Going

      We plan to be even bigger and better in 2013. Here are our writing goals and resolutions:

  • Post more frequently and on a regular schedule
  • Host guest posters (if you’d like to write a guest post for us, contact admin@popularsoda.com)
  • Continue to work with our ebook friends while getting to know new players in the ebook game
  • Foster a sense of community by highlighting independent, self-publishing ebook authors who are doing it right
  • Create free, useful, and crowd-sourced resources for independent authors
  • Improve and update our Facebook page
  • Stop editing all of our images in Paint to avoid giving heart attacks to our graphic-designer friends
  • Finally explain the deal with all those soda bottles!

      We’re grateful to all those who connected with us in 2012, and we can’t wait to see what 2013 will bring! 

8 Common Types of Scam Reviews (with Real Examples!)


There’s been lots of talk about fake reviews in the ebook world in the past few weeks. Here are the eight most common patterns found in scam reviews. 

1. No Mention of the Contents

This should throw up an immediate red flag. A reviewer who praises a book without mentioning any specific details about the story has likely never read it.

2. Generic Superlatives

This goes hand-in-hand with the previous pattern. Best book, fantastic, masterpiece, these are some strong words. They’re weakened when there’s no evidence to support these claims. More

3 Serious Questions About Your Self-Promotion Strategy

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     Congratulations! Your ebook is finally out (or almost out). Now it’s time for a big marketing push. It should be easy compared to the odyssey of writing the book, right?

     Not so fast. We’ve seen money wasted, opportunities squandered, and readers alienated because indie authors failed to do due diligence before jumping into promoting their books. To help you create effective campaigns and avoid their mistakes, here are three serious questions to ask yourself before you start marketing.


1. What are your realistic, concrete goals?

     Becoming a best-selling author, having loads of adoring fans, and getting a movie deal are great goals. Unfortunately, they’re not realistic (and potentially unquantifiable- how do you measure adoration?). Set your sights on smaller, measurable goals. Smaller goals tend to have more straightforward paths: it’s easier and more proactive to work on getting 100 views for a blog post than to wait for a Hollywood studio to knock on your door with a movie deal.

      Bite-sized goals are also achievable. And where ultimate goals are all-or-nothing (you either have a book deal or you don’t), smaller goals can be modified at any time. Those 100 views on a blog post? Maybe you thought you’d get them all within a day, but it’s just as respectable to get those views in three days. Or a week. Realistic, concrete goals related to book promotion can be things like…

  • 100 ebook sales
  • 100 Twitter followers
  •  Three genuine reviews from strangers
  • Guest posting on your favorite ebook site
  • Creation of a personalized media kit
  • A book blogger’s acceptance of your ebook for review