C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

Write and publish with love and fury.

Friendly Friday Updates: What you need to know

THE NIGHT MAN COVER

I just hit ignition on my new killer thriller set in Lake Orion, Michigan.
Come for the action and plot twists, stay for the jokes.

When Earnest “Easy” Jack returns home after a long absence all he wants to do is train dogs and be left alone. Times are tough living on the shady side of small-town America. Between a billionaire’s bomb plot, dirty cops and a high school sweetheart in distress, Easy has a lot of hard problems to solve. This is going to be fun.

I’m blogging regularly on my author site, AllThatChazz.com. Here’s the latest on what you need to know for Friendly Friday. Click the links in the headers to check out my thoughts on thus and so. ūüôā

This is Marketing: A Review

Marketing guru Seth Godin wrote a great book could help you figure out how to build your business. You may even love negative reviewers more in the end but this book’s¬†significance goes way beyond marketing. Godin articulates a different way to see the world and how it works.

2019 Writing & Publishing Goals: Specifics

This is a very ambitious to-do list. I’m very aware I might not be able to complete all these goals. However, I get 3/4 of this accomplished in the next 11 months, I think my future and legacy of my writing career will be secure. (I can’t go back to the day job so it’s TO THE MOON OR BUST!)

Big goals = a big push.

Writing with Cultural Sensitivity

No matter how evenhanded I try to be, this post will surely piss off somebody. That’s never my intent. See what you think.

Starting in February, I’m going to be a regular contributor to the Mando Method Podcast!

My friend Armand Rosamilia has invited me to do a ten-minute segment on the Mando Method. With each episode on the Project Entertainment Network (available wherever you eat your podcasts), Armand and Chuck Buda deliver wise and sassy advice on building a writing and publishing career. I’ll be sending in my take on those topics so Armand and Chuck can debate, disagree, break balls and stab me in the back. Oh, and maybe occasionally agree with me. This should be fun. I’ve already got a psychotherapist on retainer.

Scheduling Facebook Live Events

I haven’t been able to do Facebook Live events due to illness. However, I’ll crank up the camera next Wednesday night, 8 p.m. EST. Friend me on Facebook to join us. Here’s the link to my Facebook profile.

I am always on the hunt for Super Readers.

If you read more than a few books a year, please do subscribe to my newsletter at AllThatChazz.com. Subscribers get a heads up about upcoming deals and freebies.


Already a fan of my fiction? Want to join the Inner Sanctum?

Here’s the link to the Fans of Robert Chazz Chute page. That’s where I share works in progress and talk with friends about writing fiction (with some assorted goofiness.) The goal is fun and fun interaction with readers. I post there daily and you could name a character in a future book.

Hit this link to teleport to all my books, if’n y’all get the fiction itch.

Filed under: Friendly Friday Updates, publishing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Here’s a different way to engage new readers

There is an alternative to getting feedback through reviews and it’s actually pretty awesome (though we all need the happy reviews, too.) Recently, I did a¬†Bookbub giveaway. About 20,000 people picked up the This Plague of Days, Omnibus Edition. That’s three novels in one big book. Not only am I hearing more from readers who dig my flow, but I’m engaging with them through email plus¬†giving them¬†another free book. I’m thinking long-term and building a readership, but it has helped in the short-term, too. Here’s how:

This Plague of Days OMNIBUS (Large)

At the back of the Omnibus is a link to a video that asks readers a question about a secret revealed in the saga. Once they comment on the secret YouTube link and email me their address, I send them the gift of another book, Intense Violence, Bizarre Themes. I also let them know there’s another book coming at Christmas called The Haunting Lessons. If you liked TPOD, you’ll probably love The Haunting Lessons.

IVBT FINAL 2D cover

You can’t generally engage with reviewers without the risk of being accused of bad author behavior, but these people are coming to me. They’re a happy bunch (only one grump among the many emails¬†I’ve received!) and they’re happy to talk about This Plague of Days. I also take the opportunity in¬†their gift card message to encourage reviews.

Intense Violence, Bizarre Themes (my autobiographical crime novel) also secrets behind the story. The back of that book has a blog post link readers can access with a password on my author site, AllThatChazz.com, so they can get some of their questions answered.

If this seems like a long, expensive process to find new readers, I have three answers: 

1. Long? Not really. I was writing the books anyway. I’m in this for the long haul with many more books on the way.

2. Paying for advertising in the form of gift books to a TARGETED audience is miles cheaper than any other approach I can think of.

3. Contrary to what you may have read from other authors recently, I’m finding that gifting does¬†lift my other book sales.¬†

This won’t help you much if you don’t have more than a couple of¬†books to sell, but free isn’t a concept to throw away quite yet. I’m happy with this twist on free¬†because I’m making happy readers happier instead of throwing business cards out of moving cars and shouting at annoyed strangers.

I’m loving it most because, unfortunately, there is occasionally a hostile, suspicious or¬†impatient¬†dynamic between reviewers and authors. As a writer, it’s great to hear back from the people who get what you’re doing, are friendly and engaged. The conversations I’ve had over email are delightfully empty of power trips and ego. It’s fantastic to me¬†that people just want to talk about the story’s emotional impact or the philosophy or¬†psychology that form the underlying themes of This Plague of Days. That’s cool. (You know how some reviewers seem to hate reading? Not this crowd. They are so in!)

I think this approach works because:

a. Hey, I understand they read to the end of a long epic saga. It figures they’re more committed than the average bear.

b. People love to know secrets and behind-the-scenes stuff.

c. People love free stuff.

d. When I talk about TPOD on video they’re getting to know me as a human being.

e. When they read the secrets in the secret blog post, they’re invited into my little club. I’m touched that they got involved enough in the thriller to want to know what’s fiction and what’s not.

Your mileage may vary, as they say, but keep experimenting with new approaches. You might even stick a secret link in the back of your next book and watch the happy readers show up in droves.

Filed under: book marketing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The very nearly here, not quite yet, Post-review World

Once upon a time an author named Hale stalked a book reviewer, wrote about it in The Guardian and…well, things got crazy. I haven’t weighed in on this because you’ve no doubt read plenty about this debacle. Besides,¬†I didn’t have anything new to say. I still don’t have anything new to say about that particular incident. It was a bad idea to respond to a negative review and there’s no need to pile on.

I do understand the urge. Oh, yes, every writer knows that urge to respond and demand an apology or…something. Instead, I stay indoors, never go anywhere, and write scary, funny books. It’s a better use of my time and the right thing to do.

So let’s talk about reviews more generally.

We all want them. We can’t promote our books effectively without a minimum number of happy reviews. But there are problems:

1. If you get a lot of happy reviews, someone who didn’t like your book will accuse you of having lots of friends and family shilling for you. Ha! I wish! It’s very difficult to get any reviews on anything and I don’t speak to my family. The point is, some people (I have no idea how many) think five-star reviews shouldn’t be¬†trusted. However,¬†if you didn’t have any five-star reviews, those same people would slay you for it. Crazy, huh?

2. Some people can’t help themselves. They condemn authors for their books and pedophiles for their despicable actions with nigh equal vehemence. Well…I assume so, anyway. I mean, I’ve read some vitriolic reviews where, once you dial it up to eleven, there’s no place to go, is there? But (silver lining) no one really takes one-star reviews seriously anymore, either. They are, with few exceptions, troglodytic. We read them for sick entertainment value, not for direction as to what to read.

3. Some people put spoilers in reviews without warning. That’s not a review anymore. That’s a spoiler and it’s a shitty thing to do. Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean others won’t and spoiling a work that was years in the making in one ill-considered paragraph? Yes, that’s bad. What’s worse is Amazon lets it happen and allows those spoilers to remain¬†posted without warning.

4. Likewise, authors have been libelled in reviews. Once again, Amazon does nothing if you complain. Unacceptable, and yet we are, at the moment, powerless. It’s the Internet. We’re supposed to shrug and hope the happy reviews drown out the unhappy ones (and eventually, mostly, they do.)

There’s a study somewhere that shows how unreliable reviews can be in an odd way. If the first review that goes up is negative, ensuing reviews tend to be more negative than they would have been otherwise. That’s less about the book, I suppose, and more piling on, hoping to be seen in agreement with whoever spoke up first. Weird.

5. Here’s where it gets weirder: Authors shouldn’t respond to reviews. Goodreads doesn’t even want authors to thank anyone for a nice review. That strikes me as forcing authors to be rude, but it’s their site policy so I abide by it.

Pretty much everyone¬†accepts the No Response to a Bad Review Policy as a given, but no one knows who established this all-encompassing edict. Other industries routinely respond to reviews, hoping to ease their unsatisfied customers’ fury. We don’t. The argument goes that reviews aren’t for authors (true) but we aren’t even supposed to respond when reviews are misleading. We’re supposed to, as Hugh Howey so aptly put it once, “enjoy the burn.”

But wait. If we’re writers who should be thick-skinned and stoic since we put something out in the world…aren’t reviewers putting stuff out in the world, too? How come their writing is exempt from criticism but mine isn’t? Hm. No. Stop thinking about it. Nothing good can come from following the logical conclusion of that reasoning.

I am not arguing for responding to reviews.

The system is broken when reviews allow spoilers, libel authors or when so many people seem to distrust reviews.

Someone at The Passive Voice recommended we tell people, “If you liked it, please tell a friend,”¬†in lieu of reviews. I kind of like that, but that’s what reviews were supposed to be anyway, right? Telling people what you liked so they can share the experience of an interesting, entertaining or enlightening book. I encourage people happy with my books to review them on Amazon. A review anywhere else (except perhaps¬†a busy book blog) doesn’t really¬†get more people to my books.

When I worked in magazines, we rarely gave negative book reviews (or the negative reviews were significantly shorter) because the point was to direct readers to the good stuff. The prevailing opinion was, the good stuff is too hard to find to waste time talking about the stuff¬†we don’t like. I feel the same way. I may find commonality with reviews that tell me what they liked and why. What they dislike often seems more idiosyncratic (and some reviewers can’t seem to bring themselves to like much of anything.)

Maybe hoping for organic discovery through old-fashioned social networks is the way to go. But not quite yet. The apparatus for book discovery is broken. I still need happy reviews to get a Bookbub promotion going. That’s¬†one of the few book promotion¬†services that seems to have¬†muscle and mojo behind it. I also suspect people don’t talk about books enough. I’m unwilling to rely on chats over fences with neighbors to spread word of my literary heights efficiently. Podcasts might be a better answer.

So what to do?

Stop stressing about reviews. Beat up a punching bag. (Reminder from Mom: human beings are not punching bags.)

If necessary, stop reading reviews. Read more books. Write more reviews.

Keep asking for reviews because, hey, that’s all we can do for now.

Don’t stalk book bloggers or book reviewers. Do not go near their homes or places of employment. And if you do (which you definitely shouldn’t!) don’t tell anyone. Jeez!

Cry quietly and not in public.

Treasure the many good reviewers who don’t mistake¬†snark and disrespect for intelligence.

Read your¬†four and five-star reviews obsessively to get your energy and esteem up. Read the negative reviews once, if you feel you’ll have something to gain from them (a murder plot, perhaps?) But never read them twice. That’s just masochism and revenge fantasies.

But there’s a better reason not to respond to negative reviews:

It takes time and energy that you could use to write your next book. And frankly, if someone¬†hates your book, they won’t change their mind. If you try to use your best politician’s smile and the it’s-all-part-of-the-game clap on the shoulder, they won’t buy it. They know. You hate them. They hate your book and therefore they hate you. People will tell you this is wrong. Shit’s about to get real.

Yes, you’ll read lots of crap about how writers should separate themselves from their books. It’s a book, not a baby. Except it is. It’s the product of your mind and anyone who hates the book is calling you feeble in the brain. Be real. People tell you to be¬†thick-skinned, but nobody really is. Many¬†of the most successful writers, actors and entertainers on the planet confess that they remember every word of every bad review. You’d have to be a robot sociopath to be so far above the fray when someone criticizes something you put so much of yourself into.

However…when you write more books and get some success, it does hurt less. You become less invested in each book because you know you will write many. Just like having children, if you make enough of them, a few start to look expendable. (It’s a joke, for Thor’s¬†sake. Relax.)¬†

Anyway, when the happy reviews drown out the negative reviews, that one-star review starts to look silly. You can also take some solace in knowing that if a reviewer¬†hates you enough, they won’t feel the need to come back for more and you’ll be rid of them…if they actually read books before they review them, of course. Oh, yeah. There’s another reason so many people don’t trust reviews anymore. Sigh.

So, to sum up:

Write books and pretend you don’t bleed.

Don’t be a dick. Be nice. Play nice. Pretend you’re nice. Fake it and kill offenders in your next book. (I did.) Cover your tracks so they’ll never recognize themselves.

Pretend you’re happy all the time, especially when you’re not. Rant to a friend if you must. (Mental note: get a friend.)

Try to keep some perspective. You won’t, but it’s true that a review is merely one person’s opinion. It is not a scary diagnosis from a stone-faced internist.

We’re in the entertainment business. Entertain. Seek out entertainment. Don’t be so damn serious.

Remember that no matter how good your book is, someone will say they don’t like it. Don’t let them discourage you from following your star and writing, though.¬†If that happened, then a bad review would really matter.

Until a new way to discover genius books is found, this is the way we live now.

Keep having fun. Don’t forget, this is supposed to be fun.

~ I forget sometimes.

 

 

Filed under: reviews, web reviews, Writers, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Reviews Part 1: This publishing train isn’t going where I thought it was going

I read a review of a friend’s¬†book that bothered me. The reviewer objected to his use of the second person. It’s actually a common objection and, in my view, kind of a silly one. The common objection is the reader couldn’t “get past” all that “you, you, you.” And yet the ubiquitous use of “I, I, I” in first person narration is no problem.

What bothered me more is that reviewer seemed to address the author in a way that made the negative review more personal. “I’m sorry, NAME OF AUTHOR, but nobody does it.”

Nobody does it? Really?

I do in my crime novels and it’s part of the psychology of the hit man’s character. Jay McInerney did so famously in Bright Lights, Big City. There are plenty of novels that challenge convention.

But I’ve blogged about the use of second person before and I don’t want to repeat myself. The above is a reiteration for new visitors to this blog.

And here’s what this post is really about:

Convention. Art challenges it.

This is not to argue that anything¬†is Art simply because it’s weird. “Weird” is a word that stands in for, “outside the reader’s experience.”¬†This is to say that I enjoy books that are uncommon, that challenge the status quo, that defy expectations.¬†This Plague of Days has a subtext of psychology and philosophy underlying the action. Its design is unusual and that’s done on purpose.¬†

That was the other thing I objected to when I read some reviews of my friend’s book. The writing was executed in such a way that it played with readers’ expectations. It was well done though it¬†left some readers off-balance.¬†Then a couple of reviewers complained that they didn’t know if it was the author’s skill that accomplished that feat or if he merely missed the mark.

I have an answer for them:

The author knew exactly what he was doing. He did it on purpose and it took skill. It takes a lot of skill to propel a narrative across the expanse of a book. They are entitled to their opinion, of course, but perhaps a more careful reading by the reviewers was in order. All the elements were there and it wasn’t the author’s fault that a couple of readers¬†missed it. I was irritated that a couple of people took the time to review my pal’s book, but they didn’t seem to pay attention¬†in the first place. Worse, despite staying with his story to the end, they opted to question his intelligence in their reviews.

A fluke doesn’t keep going for 250 pages.¬†Writers¬†know this. Perhaps that’s one reason why our reviews tend to be kinder.

In Part II of this essay, I’ll discuss why it’s becoming more difficult to sell¬†books the way some of us¬†used to write them. My suspicion is that next time, perhaps my friend won’t write such a brilliant book and, sadly, he’ll probably sell more of them.

That’s a down note to end a post on, isn’t it? It’ll probably get worse in Part II.

Filed under: author platform, Rant, readers, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , ,

Proving Dead Moms Wrong: Writing a book is among the least cynical things you can do.

The term “hack”, as discussed in this space recently, usually refers to someone, typically writing to tight deadlines, who is churning out words with no love for his or her work. I don’t think that applies any writer I’ve ever met, no matter the project. Every writer is optimistic as they begin a new book. We tell our spouses and girlfriends and boyfriends and basset hounds, “This will be the one that will really wow ’em. If you leave me now, you’ll miss out on all the glory, my accolades and a mention on the Acknowledgments page, so you better stick around.”

Here’s why “hack” is a poor term:

In This Plague of Days, I write about a zombie apocalypse. Maybe that sounds silly to you, but I fell in love with the characters and there are genuine emotional, serious and thoughtful moments. It’s complex and it’s not what you expect. Just as I attempted to do with my hardboiled hit man in Bigger Than Jesus, I played outside the expected conventions. I tried to do something different with the genre.

But here’s the thing: That doesn’t make me unique.

Every writer I know is reaching to the best of their ability to write something awesome, different and engaging, no matter what they’re writing. We try to write the best tweets we can, for Thor’s sake! Certainly we’re aiming for at least that clever when constructing a narrative beyond 140 characters.¬†

We’re all looking for a special turn of phrase or a new twist on an old clich√© no matter what we’re writing. We’re searching for ways to entice and delight readers. We love language. We tell stories. I’ll leave it to readers to decide the degree to which we succeed, of course. However, when a reviewer dismisses any writer out of hand, based on their choice of¬†subject, as a “hack”? I reserve the right to dismiss that review. I don’t think the term elucidates anything. A book takes too much work and time for us to aim low.

Say it with me and feel it: “Writing a book is among the least cynical things you can do.”

As a person who, more than once,¬†has been dubbed “Mr. Cynical”, I speak with expertise. We may fall short, but we’re all shooting for the outer moons of Andromeda and to prove our dead moms wrong. Even if the reader thinks they’ve read it all before. Especially when that niggling voice of doubt in our heads tells us, “Some people are really going to underestimate what I can do with this material. I’m going to melt their eyeballs with my fair-bitchin’ prose.”

I suggest we all take each book on its own merits instead of painting with¬†push brooms¬†(and read the sample before you buy to avoid disappointed expectations.) Please don’t¬†say this or that writer is a hack. That’s insulting and too easy, for starters. Besides, like plague viruses, authors evolve, too. Maybe you dismissed Stephen King’s Pet Sematery, but if from that judgment you dismiss all of his work, including The Long Walk, you haven’t read The Long Walk.

It is fair to say a particular plot device is hackneyed, but don’t generalize about all our work. Every author I know, me included, gets better with each new book. Disastrous experience beats the weakness out of us.

What other terms should we be careful about using? To the jargonator!

1. “Commercial”: Does that mean you liked it but felt you shouldn’t? (This is the worst, most disingenuous reaction, last spotted on The Slate Culture Gabfest. That’s right! I’m calling you out, Metcalfe. You’re so meta-snarky, you might be David Plotz.)

Does commercial really mean mass market paperback? With the advent of ebooks, that seems a dated reference.

By commercial fiction, do you mean it tells a ripping story that’s less based on character? Hm. ¬†All writers want to make readers care about their characters, so that seems a tad empty.

By commercial, does the critic mean the author wants to sell a lot of books? “How base and singular! No person of character wants that! Are you not of independent means, Monsieur Writer Peasant?”

2. “Muscular” prose: The author is a minimalist, idolizes Hemingway and probably does not possess a MFA from the last thirty years. An obvious attempt to damn with faint praise.

3. “Workmanlike”: Same as #2, but with even fewer syllables in word choice. The critic thinks they’re getting away with being snooty, but we can read the code and the classism isn’t that subtle. Both #2 and #3 are really authorial choices, not burdens to grow past.

4. “Literary”: This means less plot and more exploration of inner worlds when not used as a euphemism for “pretentious.” Certainly this indicates that you’ll leave the book out on the¬†coffee table¬†to prove to the in-laws or tonight’s date that you’re deeper than you seem.

But all authors strive for literary flourishes at the very least. When we’re in composition mode, no premise sounds so tired that we can’t hit it at a different angle, make it great and spin it fresh. I know of no writer, no matter how tight the deadline or how little they are paid, who sets out to write crap. You might say it’s not to your taste. The author might even call it crap…later, after a few more books. But as we write? We’re all Hunter S. Thompson and Margaret Atwood and Kurt Vonnegut rolled up in Shakespearian dreams of legacy, love and respect.

We may fail, but we are artists.

Our hearts are in the right place.

Are you reading with an open mind?

Is your heart in the right place?

Have you dismissed something you haven’t read without even reading the sample?

Well, no, not you, of course, Gentle Reader of this Blog.

But, you know…them other jerks what don’t respect us none.

 

Filed under: book reviews, publishing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The writer, depression and getting the word music to play again

By the way, Crack the Indie Author Code 2nd Edition is out in paperback at $9.99. Smaller format, with jokes.

By the way, Crack the Indie Author Code 2nd Edition is out in paperback at $9.99. Smaller format, with jokes.

A fellow writer meant well when she told me that if you can allow anyone to discourage you from writing, you shouldn’t be a writer. That sounds tough-minded and strong, doesn’t it? It would be good advice to take, but unfortunately, I’m still human. Darn the luck, my skin is no thicker or thinner than it ever was. It will surprise no one, given the sort of dark stuff I often write, that I obsess over the negative. I do not remember sunny days. That’s who I am. Maybe I could fix it with some talk therapy, gene manipulation and a personality transplant.

So, yes, rude email hurt can me and my productivity. A bad review can ruin the morning and robs me of a night’s rest. I’m prone to depression and yes, I’m feeling it now. Due to several¬†factors, I haven’t faced the blank screen bravely in days. I’ve been ill and trying to keep up with the demands of my new day job and, not to whine, but the depletion started with one condescending, presumptuous email.¬†

I’m letting a terrorist win.¬†The worry treadmill is running. I’ve written ten books, but the negative cyclotron has kicked in.¬†“How can I be a writer? I can’t even type properly.”

When I observe the disparity between Goodreads ratings and Amazon ratings (work is often valued one star less on GR even if the review sounds equally positive), I have an urge to reevaluate my life choices. If I’d gone to that Second City audition or to film school instead…but that way madness lies. At least until I fix the time machine. But enough about me.

Murders+Among+Dead+Trees+1121-1

What to do when you’re feeling down and not writing*:

1. Call a friend. Do not talk about your problem. Talk about what your friend wants to talk about.

To shore up your ego¬†defences, you’ve already read and reread your happy reviews. Your friend isn’t going to tell you anything new and you’ve already got your “Atta-boy!”

The point of this phone call is to break the obsessive cycle of repetitive arguments, cutting retorts and vengeful homicide plots running through your head. This is a time for jokes. Ask about your friend’s life.¬†

2. Okay, so, being human, naturally you want another “Atta-boy!” Engage a fan who can’t wait for the next book. A little positive pressure may be all you need to get back to writing the next book in the series.

3. Write a blog post to vent, but only if you must and your friends aren’t answering their phones. (Ooh! Meta!)

4. Remind yourself that this is the firstiest of First World Problems and set the oven timer. How much more wallowing do you plan to allow yourself? More than one more pathetic hour and you’ll burn your life.

The three most powerful words are “I love you.”

The two most powerful? “Begin again.”

~ from Crack the Indie Author Code

5. Read the negative reviews of your favorite books. Choose the classics that you think everyone simply must adore. Realize some people will not be pleased.

Now in paperback!

Now in paperback!

Ev-er.

Or they’re trolls feeding an emotional need that has nothing to do with literary criticism. Or they’re too stupid to get you. I used to think that all readers, because they can read, must be smarter than average. Read some one-star reviews, especially the ones that bring down an author’s rating because Amazon didn’t deliver the book fast enough or they don’t like reading on a kindle and would have preferred paper. Clearly, my supposition about all readers being intelligent was not true.

6. Help somebody else with something. Shovel the walk and bring in the wood and be productive. Productiveness is a habit. This tip works better is you don’t do it for yourself. Do it for the old neighbor with the bum ticker and the broken leg.

7. Read something good that inspires you. Remember this feeling of transcending the great, dirty world? This delicious escape is why you are a writer. 

8. Realize that nothing will be perfect and the critics might have a point about something. Correct errors and move on.

9. But if they’re too harsh and stop you from writing at all, you’ve allowed a rude outlier to rob you, and most¬†readers, of joy. It’s too easy for trolls to throw bombs. You write books, not a few, nasty paragraphs. We’re not allowed to critique reviewers so they’re safe from what you’re feeling now.¬†Don’t let bullies win. Not letting bullies win is another reason you’re a writer.

10. Bing! The oven timer went off.

Start writing again. Anything. Just start. Within five minutes, you’ll be sucked into the other world again. Just get through that first five minutes and write. You aren’t facing a whole book. You don’t have to worry about word count or bad reviews or bruised egos or where to find a Luger, thick rope and kerosene at three in the morning. All you have to do is start writing and get through the first five minutes. Maybe less.

You can gut out five minutes. You don’t even have to act tough to start. Just start. An appreciative audience is out in the future, waiting and hoping you’ll get through the next five minutes. Maybe less.You will fall back into the groove and the word music will begin to play. And a one, and a two and a three…

*¬†If none of these suggestions work, call a doctor. Maybe it’s exercise, kale shakes and an anti-depressant you need to elude the mean reds.

 

Filed under: book reviews, publishing, web reviews, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Video book reviews, secrets and policies

 

LMB stars

LMB stars (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Recently I posted a video review on Amazon. If you can do it to help a book, I recommend it. Novelty gets attention (even with my ugly mug.) Since posting the video review, more authors have contacted me to read and review their books. My TBR pile is taller than I am and my kindle is just about full, so it’s not easy to get to it all (nor even physically possible.) That’s not a complaint. I’m excited at the possibility of discovering a book that pulls me in and makes me think or laugh. I prefer both. I love books. Of course I want to read everything. Since I can’t and now that¬†I’m getting more of these requests, herein lie the secrets that make me want to review your book¬†favorably:

 

1. I have writing deadlines for my own books and I have a lot to read, so please be patient. I don’t guarantee when I’ll get to it. As you’ll see, I might never get to it, but you’ll prefer my reasoning for not reviewing your book.

 

2. I don’t give one, two or even three-star reviews. Somebody reading this just threw up their hands or their lunch, but bear with me. This goes beyond the fact that I find most one-star reviews mean-spirited,¬†often nonsensical, sometimes borderline illiterate and they usually treat writers of bad books like their crime is genocide. Even though they probably got it free or for less change than sits under their couch cushions, you won’t find much forgiveness, wit or transcendence in most one-stars.

 

But it’s not just that¬†I couldn’t bring myself to do that to another writer unless the title actually is¬†Mein Kampf. It’s simpler than all that. If a book is not to my taste, I don’t finish it and I don’t review what I haven’t read. Life is too short and reading something that’s not for me takes too much time.¬†Pointing out good books is more of a service to readers, and a better use of our time, than warning people away from books we don’t care for.

 

Reviews that are dire warnings are¬†kind of like taking the time to tell me what’s awful on the menu when I’m hungry and anxious to order. I want to hear about your few extra-delicious recommendations and get on with the dining experience, not a litany of what the cook screws up. Or have you ever tried to schedule an appointment with somebody who only tells you when they can’t make it? I want to kill those people. (Okay, I admit it. I have killed those people.)

 

On a related note: Books that aren’t to my liking will be the best book someone else has ever read. Really. Go check on reviews of books you love on any popular site. See those books that whisked you off to magic realms and changed your life? Now see all those reviews warning you off them? Corollary: Try clicking on a book you despise. See all that five-star, hyperbolic love? Nope, they can’t all be friends and family. Families aren’t that big and writers don’t have friends. We have ex-friends we betrayed and cannibalized to put into our books. All those reviews you disagree with are simply people who are different from you. Weird, isn’t it? I mean, you’re awesome. Why doesn’t everyone want to be exactly like you? Inexplicable! I’ll ponder the problem. In the interim, let’s not take reviews too seriously then, shall we?¬†

 

3. If you gift me the copy on kindle to review, you get credit for the sale and it’s also easier for me to wirelessly download it. Easier is better. (Yes, I have Calibre but frankly, not a big fan.)

 

4. I’m primarily a suspense writer, so mostly I read non-fiction that feeds my other obsessions, mystery, thrillers and some horror. I’ve read a good sampling of many genres, but not everything is for everybody. I don’t and can’t read everything (at least until I get the time machine fixed or become immortal) so please don’t be upset that I must refuse to read your steampunk novel. Even though it’s great, but I haven’t read enough steampunk to create an informed review.

 

I enjoy William Goldman, Chuck¬†Palahniuk, Thomas Harris, Mickey Spillane, Rex Stout, Lawrence Block, Cormac McCarthy¬†and (swoon!) Elmore Leonard. I’m not into Wodehouse. I’ve probably¬†read more romance than you (my first jobs in publishing were at Harlequin in the Canadian Gigolo Department) but that was for pay and I’ve had my fill of impossibly handsome, rich and capable heroes named Rollo seducing women who are, despite their age, curiously sexually innocent.

 

5. A four-star review is a compliment, too, and, with all the distrust of five-star reviews, a happy four-star review may be even more useful to you than a five-star. However, I also believe that all that distrust is now way overhyped. If I’m that high on your fiction, you’ll get a five-star review. Ratings should reflect the tone of the review. It’s weird and confusing when the review is full of superlatives but the rating doesn’t show that same enthusiasm, isn’t it? Also, to hold back on a five-star rating for credibility’s sake alone cheats the author and that would be gaming the system, too, wouldn’t it? No one’s talking about that. Some readers within the echo chamber are afraid they’ll get fooled by fraudulent reviews when they could be reading a sample to alleviate those unbearable terrors.

 

6. I’m nice. I’m acting as a reviewer, not an editor. The review is not about me and this is not a teaching opportunity. I do not scold or lecture authors.

Some bad review habits are egregious. I don’t do things like this: “I wish the story had gone in a different direction,”; “I would have done it differently,” (of course everyone would do it differently!); “Too much swearing!” (that’s usually the realism leaking out); “The level of sex bothered me” (unless it’s BDSM in a children’s book, someone else enjoyed it); tiny grammar niggles; minor factual quibbles; and, finally, rest assured that my world doesn’t collapse when I spot a few typos. I don’t count them in a review. I find that petty and off the mark.

 

Also fitting under this category, let’s walk through what I think is on the mark: Some readers worry that writers are too nice to other writers. Sometimes the opposite is true simply because writers read as writers. We’re not enjoying the flight and looking at the clouds. We’re thinking about the workings of the engines that bear us aloft and how that knocking we hear is going to make the plane crash into the ocean. That attitude can suck a lot of joy from the reading experience, as any enlightened first-year English Lit students will tell you. Most readers don’t read like that! They aren’t as stringent nor are they strident. Most people really just want a good story and that’s what I’m looking for when I read a book to review it.

 

7. What does bother me: Fiction that requires the characters act like idiots for the story to work (e.g. incompetent henchmen and goals too easily achieved); stories that don’t work within their worlds unless I’m an idiot; deus ex machina; not enough conflict and tension; fiction without non-fiction ideas (your grade eight teacher called them themes); and clich√©s that aren’t twisted. (A twisted clich√© makes something new and unexpected out of something worn out and expected.)¬†

 

8. What I like: I enjoy snappy dialogue and a sense of humor if it suits what you’re trying to achieve. Often at least some levity is exactly what even the most sinister stuff needs to switch up the mood and avoid the drone of a monotone. Try to induce a range of emotion. Ups and downs make roller coasters.

For example, one of my WIPs is a dystopian novel about an autistic child in the middle of a plague that kills most people on earth. That doesn’t mean I don’t make some jokes. For a slightly better known example (ha!),¬†The Dark Knight Rises, as good as it was at times, needed a little more of Joss Whedon’s lighter touch from The Avengers. DKR had elements of opera at its high points and long funeral lows. I prefer stories with more range.

 

I enjoy fiction that achieves what it set out to achieve. For instance, you won’t hear something silly from me, like a complaint that Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter is “not historically accurate.” Yes, even a professional reviewer did that and, oh my Thor, if I have to explain why that’s upside down, please stop reading now and go watch Honey Boo Boo. Please!

 

9. I do not include spoilers. A good review doesn’t recount the plot and suck the joy of surprise and discovery out of the work for potential readers. I say what I liked and how I reacted to the characters and setting. I say how the story affected me emotionally or intellectually. I react to the experience of reading the book and what makes it interesting to me and unique. (Unique often doesn’t work, but when it works, swoon!)

 

10. Most reviews will be pretty short. A video review longer than a minute is not watched. If I review a book, I’m sharing my enthusiasm and yes, I’m unabashedly trying to sell your book to potential readers. I made it through the reading and reviewed it, so naturally I’m sharing and spreading the joy of your work with readers who enjoy your genre.

 

For me, reviews are about finding the like-minded. There are plenty of good and even great books out there. Let’s go find the good ones and focus our energies on spreading that good news.¬†

 

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Ultimate Blog Challenge: The Dumb Reviewer’s False Standard Failure

There’s a certain sort of critic who really bugs me. As much as I enjoy the Slate Culture Gabfestpodcast, there’s an issue

English: Salvador Dali with ocelot and cane.

English: Salvador Dali with ocelot and cane. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

that crops up from time to time which itches like pink insulation on a sweaty naked body in a summer attic. It’s a response that tries to intellectualize the visceral and make a good thing into a bad thing. Here’s the quote that gives me headaches:

“We liked it, but should we like it?”

So much waste of tuition money is revealed in that reaction. It’s a response to art that tries to detour around the heart and isolate the brain. It’s a dishonest afterthought. It’s snooty and, in trying to sound intelligent, is stupid.

I enjoy the movie Roadhouse, for instance. By some people’s standards, I suppose I shouldn’t. However, turn it on and try not to get sucked in. It’s not in the “So bad, it’s good” category, though some movies overshoot the runway and actually manage that. Roadhouse is fun and ridiculous and has a lot of funny lines, mostly intended. It’s just so watchable. It’s a visceral reaction. Can’t I enjoy it without the self-appointed cultural elite’s disapproval?

Art that achieves what it set out to do and entertains its audience is good art.

So says me, anyway. I could list dozens of silly movies and books that demanded little of me that I still enjoyed.¬†The latest victim of this critical chaos appears to be Abe Lincoln, Vampire Hunter.¬† I just read fellow blogger Jordanna East’s takedown of a bad review here. She’s not the only one to point out misguided reviewers complaining about historical inaccuracy in the movie. Good critics go to action movies with the expectation that it’s not meant to be a historical document. If it’s not a French movie in an art cinema, do not review it as if all movies are French movies in art cinemas!

That said, I’m all for elevating material. It’s a treat to run across sparkling dialogue that mocks expectations. (See the movie The Guard with Don Cheadle, for the best of that phenomenon in movies.) In my book, Bigger Than Jesus, I set out to challenge expectations, too, and not just in terms of plotting and surprises and reversals. I’m talking about getting at real emotion. There are consequences spread amongst all those jokes. The heroine’s fascination with the life of Salvador Dali means something to her, to the story and ultimately to the reader. I set out to make my roller coaster travel through unexpected places without slowing the pace. Elevating material can be done. It doesn’t have to happen all the time for everything, though.

Dalton’s reply to the big bad bouncer in Roadhouse serves equally well for bad reviewers. The bad guy turns up his nose and says, “I thought you’d be taller. You don’t look like much t’me.”

Patrick Swayze, as Dalton, smiles wide and says, “Opinions vary!”

Then bop ’em in the nose if you want to.

~ Like my flavor?¬†Listen to the first chapter of my crime thriller, Bigger Than Jesus.¬†I’m¬†podcasting the book through the summer. Enjoy! (Or be a hero and just click the cover to grab it. Thanks for reading!)

Get Bigger Than Jesus

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Why Authors Should ALWAYS Respond To Negative Reviews | Digital Book World

See on Scoop.itWriting and reading fiction

At Digital Book World, Elle Lothlorien lays the foundation for her argument that authors should respond to bad reviews as other businesses do, in an attempt to rectify a bad customer experience.¬†This is a very interesting blog post for a number of reasons, and you may find the comment thread even more compelling. You may even find it disturbing. The post appeals to my affinity for the contrarian viewpoint, but it was the comment thread that had me thinking, “Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Slow down! Save this level of vitriol and nuclear response for really serious problems, like family reunions!”

This is just Part 1 of her argument¬†and that’s where the disturbing subtext emerges in the comment thread. Some commenters rise up, prematurely, I think, to condemn Lothlorien’s advice before she’s given a chance to lay out her strategy. They attribute motivations and actions to the author and reviewers before she’s had a chance to show what steps she takes and recommends.¬†Condemnation before full presentation sounds like a trait you don’t want in a book reviewer.

Since the reaction in some cases (in the comment thread) is very defensive so far, I’ll be very interested to see how Lothlorien defuses her critics, one of whom goes so far as to threaten her with a bad review now that the author has dared to express an opinion. Wow. It’s ironic that Lothlorien is accused of intimidating reviewers to bump up the stars in her reviews in the same thread. Are we so cynical we can’t imagine that a listening ear and being nice might actually change a reviewer’s perspective? Are all opinions set in granite? Some objectors to the article assume their initial reaction is the best and purest one. Maybe not.

I don’t respond to negative reviews because I have accepted dogma (yes, I’m saying I haven’t really thought about it past “Don’t do it!”) and I’ve seen where it goes awry. As soon as I read the headline, I thought of The Greek Seaman debacle, which Lothlorien even mentions as an example of how not to do what she’s recommending.¬†I have to concede that Lothlorien makes some good points.

“Anecdotal evidence!” someone cried. Well, what other evidence might there be? No one is studying this problem wearing a lab coat and clicking on a calculator. That said, I’m not (yet?) convinced responding to bad reviews is ever a good idea. I am willing to hear her out and in the meantime, I’ll reserve judgment until the follow-up installments.

Even if by some miracle of business pschology she manages to convince me otherwise, I’m sure it’s something I’ll never want to do. No one wants to be on the wrong end of the 1-800 line dealing with complaints, though as Lothlorien would point out, that is what businesses do.

There’s a fundamental question about ourselves that bubbles up through the cracks in the subtext: Do we have to get so angry about this stuff? We can change, can’t we? Flexibility in mind doesn’t necessarily equate to flip flopping. Mental agility means intelligence. I’m scared Lothlorien might be right and I hope she’s not. If I end up thinking she’s right, though, I won’t be mad at her.¬†Click the link below for the article and read on.

See on www.digitalbookworld.com

UPDATE:

Today’s podcast, The Unintended Consequences Edition, covers this issue, as well, in case your prefer your commentary in audio.

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Who reviews the reviewers? You could.

The second generation Amazon Kindle, showing t...

The second generation Amazon Kindle, showing the book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Maybe we need to make a concerted effort to review some reviewers so they’ll either change, cheer up or shut up. Allow me to explain before you give this blog post a one-star review.

I’m in the home stretch in completing my crime novel and after a hard day sweating over a hot keyboard, I dip into my Kindle to unwind. As I search for new books to load up on, I find myself drawn to scan Amazon reviews. The sad truth is, I haven’t been reading the five-star or four-star reviews much. I’ve been clicking on the one-star reviews and reading with horror.

There are several reasons for my self-abusive behavior: 

1. I’m looking for mistakes to avoid. Not all one-star reviews are wrong and I’m trying to glean the honest from the brutally honest. Some books are¬†plain bad.

2. Cranky people can be funny sometimes. Sometimes on purpose. Just as villains can be more interesting to write than heroes, a bad review is often more interesting than a positive one…at least to write, possibly to read and, as far as achieving the purpose reviews are meant for? We’ll get to that in a moment. Hang in for the punch.

3. Five-star reviews tend to sound alike while the one-stars should be more interesting. This is the Anna Karenina/book review version of “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Generally, reading one-star reviews has proved a mistake because either it’s depressing or annoying. I should probably quit reading them. Or, we could review the reviewers in the hope they might improve just as they supposedly do for our betterment. That is the purpose, isn’t it? Or is it?

Hm. We’re writers. We should be able to do a better job than many reviewers at reviewing. Shouldn’t we?

With regard to point 1: The one-star reviewers often haven’t finished much of the book they’re reading and their criticisms are often inarticulate, too harsh or too vague. “Yuck” doesn’t inform anyone of anything except the reviewer might be a dim seven-year-old with a limited vocabulary and access to their parents’ Amazon account.

As far as point 2 goes, the hate comes through, but there’s not often a lot of creativity in the funny department. The problem is that too brutal a review isn’t a message conveyance system. It’s just a knife slashing from out of the darkness wielded by a bitter, blind assailant. Some reviewers offer such consistent patterns of hatred, I suspect they don’t enjoy reading but reviews are an outlet for problems that are traditionally worked out on a couch with the aid of powerful psychopharmaceuticals.

As for point 3: I was wrong and Anna Karenina was wrong. The hate sounds more alike than the all-out loving reviews. People love different aspects of a book but they repeat the same stuff that bothers them, often within the same one-paragraph review.

The Internet is mean because it’s anonymous. Some people mistake mean for being intelligent or funny. Nah, it’s often just mean and dumb. We keep hearing the rule “Don’t say anything on the Internet you wouldn’t say within bitch slapping distance.” It’s good advice crazy people don’t take.

Recently one of my books,¬†Self-help for Stoners, got its first three-star review. (The others were four and five stars and wow did those make me happy!) The reviewer who gave that book three stars wasn’t in love with the drug use aspect of the book. Instead, he winced and I don’t think he meant metaphorically. I’m always intrigued how people react to that book because some have told me it’s anti-drug (Get off your ass, stoner!) and most assume it’s pro (What a wonderful world it could be. [insert trill of violins rising here]¬†) When people ask me straight out, I say it’s anti-censorship and pro-freedom but mostly it’s stories of suspense that challenge readers to draw their own conclusions.

Though it was a three-star review, the reviewer found a lot to love and respected the work enough to give it very thoughtful consideration that I appreciated. It was largely complimentary despite the aspects he disapproved of. That’s pretty decent and open-minded of him, don’t you think? Lots of people have three settings: love, hate and apathy. The mark of a good book review is an appreciation for nuance. Would I prefer unmitigated bouquets and cyber kisses? Of course, but it was still a good review from him and a good review for me. (In retrospect, I wish I’d sent him Sex, Death & Mind Control. He probably would have enjoyed that book more. The style has similarities and the subject matter is still suspenseful fun but there’s nothing there that could be considered advice.)

Which brings us back to those hateful one-star reviews. You know those little boxes that say: x number of y customers found this review helpful? Yes? No? I’ve been clicking “No” a lot lately. Too many of them are just too mean or uninformative or uninformed. If you think a review breaks the bitch-slapping guideline, click No. (Or click Yes if it was disapproving but helpful, funny, clever, civil or anything non-hateful and crazy.)

Suggestions:

If you only gave the book five minutes or a few pages, you aren’t qualified to review it. Move on. (I don’t know how much of a book you have to read before you’re qualified to review it. 50%? 75% 100% including the ISBN? Hence the Question of the Day at the bottom of this post.)

If you couldn’t wait to delete it because it’s somehow digitally sullying your Kindle, okay, but very often these folks are really mad at a book that was free. I’m not suggesting a free book should be bad. I’m saying, let’s keep our rage in check and our world in perspective. You tried something and it cost you nothing but time and you didn’t really give it much of that, did you? I don’t waste time finishing a book that I don’t like. There are too many good books out there and life is too short to get all OCD with, “But I got it so I’m committed to this living hell now!” C’mon. Let it go.

Please read a sample before you buy: “I thought by the title that it would be a summer romance and it turned out to be borderline porn about a war between foot-fetishistic elves and fairy vampires! I’m pissed!” We are all the star of our own movie, but just because you hated it doesn’t mean the extras milling around at the back of your set wouldn’t enjoy it. Leave it for those foot-loving peons and weirdos. Stars should be gracious with the supporting cast.

Nastiness is forever, so please check yourself before you wreck somebody else. An ill-intentioned review could ¬†have real-world consequences. At best, you could dissuade someone from something that they could enjoy or maybe even love though you didn’t. At worst, you’re the one taking money away from some poor sod whose only crime is using too many adverbs. Ease up on the stick and don’t overshoot the runway.

What’s your motivation behind a bad review? A friend of mine has mentioned that once his book hit high rankings on Amazon, the nasty reviewers boiled out of the woodwork as if to make a point of taking him down a peg or two for having the audacity to do something that pleased a lot of other, happier people. Another author got a nasty review on her book which she suspected was payback from a writer who had asked for an honest critique and got one she didn’t like. (Warning to the petty and petulant: You don’t get help or even civility in the future if the word gets around that you’re a nit. This is the Internet. Word will get around.)

When you make a big deal about the book being a sub-standard work from an indie press, you’re smearing all hard-working, low-resource indies and dreamers with the same acid-tipped brush who are providing some grateful people with very inexpensive information and entertainment. That’s an ad hominem argument which is Latin for “Shut the $#@! up.”

Are you counting typos as you read? I recently mentioned a reviewer who said he liked a book but started off his review with the fact that he found five typos. If you can’t handle a book with five typos over 250 pages, we have a tank lined with cotton waiting that will protect you from the world. You’re too fragile for earth’s atmosphere. Once again, ease up, man! Many of us (most?) are doing all we can to prevent typos and as much as it may annoy you to find a mistake in someone else’s work, it kills writers to find it in our own books. (You can read a traditionally published book with as many typos. Lots of people hate that argument, so let’s try this tac: You can have a traditionally published book ¬†with (what you perceive) as no typos! Yay! You will, however, have to pay ten times more money for it. Deal? Deal.)

Authors: Please read the whole review and weigh it with due consideration. Just as we hope book reviewers will be civil, gentle and thoughtful and read enough to have a reasonably informed opinion, we should assess reviews individually before clicking that dismissive “No” button. Let’s not let our egos impair our journey to improvement. (If you figure out how to do this, please write me explaining how. I’ll do anything short of meditation, a word whose language root comes from a Latin phrase meaning “Boring as $#@!”

I do thank people for decent reviews. I don’t encourage anyone replying to a nasty review. We can legitimately use the “Was this review helpful?” buttons as they were intended without getting sucked into a black hole of bitterness. If you find yourself explaining why someone should love your book¬†‚ÄĒ my baby! my baby!¬†‚ÄĒ either you wrote something incomprehensible or they’re kind of dim. Either way, arguing is a waste of time. Use that time to instead write another (great!) book and accept that no one book is for everyone.

Try this: Take a book you love. Look up the best book you ever read! Read the reviews. See all those one-star reviews? Yeah, that’s what I mean.

Question of the Day: How much of a book do you read before you feel you can honestly review it? I welcome your (helpful) comments.

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Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

The first 81 lessons to get your Buffy on

More lessons to help you survive Armageddon

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Maxwell Cynn, author of Cybergrrl

Available now!

Fast-paced terror, new threats, more twists.

An autistic boy versus our world in free fall

Suspense to melt your face and play with your brain.

Action like a Guy Ritchie film. Funny like Woody Allen when he was funny.

Jesus: Sexier and even more addicted to love.

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