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

See all my books at AllThatChazz.com.

The Alphabet of Making a Better Writing Life

After writing a few or many novels, most authors will contemplate quitting in hapless disgust. Sales aren’t as expected. You’re falling into plot holes. You’re convinced no one reads books anymore, or if they do, they only read the bullshit your idiot competitors are churning out. You’re disheartened, and it’s all everyone else’s fault.

First, you’re not altogether wrong about any of that. Ha! You didn’t expect me to say that, did you? But really, there’s plenty to be despondent about if you’re paying attention to the news. I get it. Now that we’ve felt sorry for ourselves and realized we should have become orthodontists, what’s next?

Stop moaning. How are you going to get your groove back and sell more books?

If the above shittiness resonates with you, you need to step back and reevaluate your expectations. Breathe some fresh air, get some stress out with exercise, and realize things can’t possibly as catastrophic as you’re currently thinking. Most of the best and brightest among us are forgotten very quickly after we expire. Ease up on thinking any of this is really so important. You don’t have some grand legacy. That’s for precious few of us and out of our control. However, you do have a life now and this is all you get. Focus instead on creating a better now.

You probably need to take a break from social media, maybe go on a news fast for a while. I think everyone should engage with the world to make a better one, but not at the expense of your mental health. Self-flagellation helps no one.

Yes! Yes, Rob, but what to do? What to do? What to fucking do?

There’s always something different to try. Some strategies:

A. Get into anthologies.
B. Organize anthologies with other authors in your genre.
C. Maybe audiobooks or podcasts are for you.
D. YouTube (as in #booktube).
E. Scriptwriting.
F. Short stories.
G. Blog your book.
H. Reengage with your newsletter people.
I. Graphic novels.
J. Live readings.
K. Live writing on camera.
L. Engage with #booktok.
M. #bookstagram.
N. Plan something more ambitious and make a mural of index cards with your five-book plot arc.
O. Maybe a trilogy or even one novel feels too ambitious, but a novella is just right.
P. Find a pre-made cover you love and write a novella based on that art.
Q. Engage with the #writingcommunity and figure out what other writers are doing that works.
R. Review and promote other authors’ books. Other people’s art can be intimidating. Choose to be inspired instead.
S. Adopt “beginner’s mind.” Let go of your preconceptions of the way things ought to be. Do that and you’ll begin to see things the way they are.
T. Don’t buy yet another book on writing or take another course. That’s procrastination and we both know it.
U. Maybe a review has got you down, but that reader is not your audience, so relax and rely on your editorial team to keep you on track. Bounce ideas off trusted confidants. You know the adage: The same idiot you wouldn’t accept advice from isn’t the one from whom you should accept criticism.
V. Nobody’s reading? Are you? It’s time to get inspired again by reading awesome novels. Lately, I’ve devoted the last hour of the day to reading. Not only is it edifying, I’m sleeping better, too.
W. Perfectionism is the death of creativity. Let it go. You’re going for excellence, not perfection.
X. Excellence does not emerge in the first or second draft. Keep going and be more patient with yourself.
Y. Measure your outcomes so you can spot the weaknesses in your game and improve.
Z. However, become less attached to results because it’s about the journey and the joy of creation. Remember? That’s why you got into writing in the first place. You weren’t thinking of your Amazon dashboard when you began making stuff up in English class. It was about turning a sweet phrase, landing a solid joke, and twisting a plot into a pleasing knot.


I hope this helped. If it didn’t, maybe it is time to quit. That’s okay, too. It’s supposed to be fun, not eternal suffering.

~ I’m Robert Chazz Chute. I write apocalyptic epics with heart and killer crime thrillers with muscle. Endemic, my latest novel, has won three awards. Check it out along with all my stuff at AllThatChazz.com.

BUY ENDEMIC NOW

Filed under: book marketing, the writing life, writing advice, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Two awards! I’m happy.

Find Endemic on Amazon

Happy News!

My apocalyptic epic, Endemic, won two awards recently! The novel won the science fiction and horror category at the New York Book Festival and I just found out it won a Literary Titan Award. This is my tenth award for my writing, but it never gets old.

Endemic tells the story of Ovid Fairweather, a misfit haunted by her past who, guided by her dead therapist, makes her way through the end of the world as we know it. Ovid is a nerdy book editor who used to work in traditional publishing and has some sassy takes on her former profession. I suspect that amused the judges. Despite her many quirks, our protagonist is relatable in that she’s been pushed around a lot and she’s fed up with all that. Aren’t we all?

For a more in-depth review, read what Literary Titan had to say about it here.

You can also read my interview with Literary Titan at this link.

Or, best of all, start your binge read of Endemic now

(available in ebook, paperback, or hardcover).

Filed under: awards, Endemic, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

10 Myths of Publishing

There are myths writers are told and sold. Let’s tackle them:

  1. Myth: Follow the various book proposal guidelines for each and every agent to the letter.

    Reality: That’s a waste of time, equivalent to the old days when magazines insisted they refused simultaneous submissions and then took a year to get back to you. Instead of tailoring your book proposal to 158 different individuals, make one really good book proposal and send it out. If it’s good enough and looks profitable, they will respond. If they’re so capricious they value protocol over profit, they wouldn’t have accepted your book proposal in any case. There. Saved you time and aggravation. Be professional, but treat them like peers. Don’t be a desperate supplicant. You’re better than that.
  2. Myth: Publishers do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

    Reality: A bunch of publishers, in confidence, will admit they read everything from the slush pile. Scared of rejecting the next Harry Potter, I guess. You can submit directly to publishers without going through an agent. You may be thinking that doing so decreases your odds of success. That feeling will ease when you consider that agents may take on one or two new clients in an entire year. Sure, agents know acquisitions editors, but you’ve also added another gatekeeper and speedbump to your publishing journey.
  3. Myth: You need an agent to sell your book.

    Reality: If you are doing a deal with a publisher, the publisher may recommend their favorite agent to you. You may want an agent, but it’s optional. Better? An entertainment (AKA intellectual property lawyer). One fee, no percentage that lasts forever. There seem to be fewer agents than there used to be. It’s not that they are useless, but a bunch of them sure were. (And rude, to boot.) If you are going to deal with an agent, read their blogs, tweets, and reviews from other authors.
  4. Myth: A traditional publisher will take care of the marketing of my book.

    Reality: Very briefly, and only if your book has a high profit potential. You will have the attention of the Promotions Department for a very short time before they move on. After that, it’s pretty much all up to you. They want you to have your own website, a bunch of followers and engagement on social media, etc. Big promotional budgets push big authors to make them bigger, not to lesser-known authors to take a blind stab at minimal profit.
  5. Myth: I suck at book marketing, so I’ll simply outsource all of that ballyhoo to someone else.

    Reality: If you have a big bag of money, this can work. Advertising is expensive and requires experimentation and data. Getting someone else to do it for you, someone who knows how to do it well, will cost you in a big way. Most books don’t make enough to justify that kind of outlay on spec. Instead, you’re probably going to have to learn how to do that shit you don’t want to do all by your lonesome.
  6. Myth: To write in any genre, you must be familiar with many books in the same genre. Don’t write in a genre you don’t read!

    Reality: If you read a few of the best-loved books that are on point for the genre, you’re on the right track. No need to go so deep you put off writing your books forever. Yes, romance readers will be furious if your protagonists don’t get their happily ever after. But you knew that after reading one or two samples. What’s more important is that you grasp the essentials of storytelling. If you understand narrative structure and dramatic tension, you’re most of the way there already. Good stories are good stories. Don’t listen to the gatekeepers who insist you’re not qualified until you fulfill their ridiculously long list of arbitrary essentials.
  7. Myth: Write what you know.

    Reality: Write what you care about. If we only wrote what we knew, the field of science fiction wouldn’t be a field. It would be a small patch of bare dirt.
  8. Myth: Readers demand happy endings.

    Reality: Readers don’t know what they want until you give it to them. I like surprising endings, but conclusions need to be logical and, in retrospect, inevitable. Give them a happy ending if it fits your worldview and the story. I don’t necessarily do happy endings every time, but I always strive to provide a satisfying ending. Don’t try to shove a square peg into a radiator. (See? Surprise!)
  9. Myth: If an agent or publisher contacts me, I’ll accept that deal. Where do I sign? I’m on my way!

    Reality: I was contacted by an agent and a publisher. Then…crickets. Proposals don’t just go through people. They go through committees. An accountant may be blocking your route to publication. That breeze filling your sails might be pushing you onto the rocks. It’s not a done deal until you sign on the dotted line. Agents and publishers may express interest, but that doesn’t mean anything until it really means something.
  10. Myth: A publisher is a publisher.

    Reality: They aren’t all created equal. Some masquerade as publishers, but they’re really vanity presses. Some may call themselves publishers when, in fact, they’re in the book formatting and uploading business. Also, sad to say, you as an author are not guaranteed better treatment by either a large or small press. Integrity, attention to detail, and follow-through depend on the people you’re dealing with, not the size of the firm. Before you commit, read reviews of the company. Cautionary tales abound.

    Bonus: If it’s transparency you’re looking for, nothing beats getting daily sales numbers. That data is what you get when you publish your stuff independently.

    ~ Recently, I wrote 31 Ways We All Fall Down. It’s more advice to writers. Check it out on my author site, AllThatChazz.com.

Bullied her whole life, Ovid Fairweather is a book nerd trapped in an apocalyptic New York. With only her dead therapist to guide her, this survivor will become a queen.

READ ENDEMIC NOW TO DISCOVER THE POWER OF YOUR CURSE

Filed under: publishing, , , , , , , , ,

For Anyone Who Has Been Pushed Around

Writing book descriptions is difficult, especially when your novel crosses genres. Mix apocalyptic and literary, for instance, and you’ve got a marketing problem. (And by you I mean me.)

Boil any premise down to its bare bones and it often sounds ridiculously stupid. You’ve seen the meme for The Wizard of Oz? Girl gets swept up in a tornado and kills a witch. Meets three strangers and goes off to kill again. How about Iron Man? Rich dude becomes a turtle to save the world repeatedly. Or The Metamorphosis: Salesman wakes up to discover he’s transformed into a cockroach. Nothing else much happens.

Endemic is set in a decaying New York after multiple rounds of the viral apocalypse have ravaged the United States. To cater to certain genre expectations, I gave readers the broad brushstrokes. Survivalists who respond to the title will get some tips they’ll like. Decoy gardens, solar stills, and compost toilets will intrigue that group of readers. But it goes much deeper than survivalist tips and doomsday prepper fantasies. The subtitle is Within Each of Us, A Power and a Curse.

Though Endemic is a dystopian novel, what’s it really about?

Amid the action, this is a deeply psychological novel. It’s about getting bullied and standing up to bullies. Ovid Fairweather is a highly sensitive person, an introverted book editor unsuited to dealing with marauders. And yet, with the help of her dead therapist, she grows and changes. She becomes a survivor thanks to her quirks, her strange obsessions, and the voices in her head. What’s her power and her curse? Memory. It’s the basis for all her regrets and all her potential.

Ovid has almost as much trouble with her abusive father as she does with the meanies out to steal her food. Several readers have contacted me to say (a) they love the novel, and (b) it reminded them of when they, too, were bullied. Resonance is great, but it’s not always comfortable. Events beyond her control force Ovid to adapt. In these troubled times, that’s a challenge we all face no matter who we are.

Writing Endemic was therapeutic for me. Through fiction, I got the weight of real angst and anger off my chest. That may not be what the survivalists who read apocalyptic fiction came for, but I’m betting the larger audience will dig it. (I’ve played this balancing act before in This Plague of Days, AFTER Life, and Amid Mortal Words.)

If you want great ROI your accountant will respect, write a long series to a particular niche with consistent and narrow branding on your graphics. That’s a more dependable approach to the business of writing. Alternatively, you could write across genres, defy expectations, and write a standalone book. It’s riskier, but I’m glad I did it. Your mileage may vary.

For anyone who has ever been pushed around.

Against those who do the pushing.

The DEDICATION of ENDEMIC

Filed under: Genre fiction, writing, writing advice, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What’s Changed in Publishing and What Hasn’t?

If you’re new or newish to independent publishing, you may wonder how much has changed since the early days. Some things have changed little. Here are a few similarities and a lot of differences between now and a decade ago:

  • Ten years ago, champions and detractors of the movement both called our new outlet self-publishing or indie publishing. Indie creators pointed to filmmakers who also called themselves indie. The cred didn’t transfer well. Now we understand that readers shouldn’t be able to tell the difference between an independently published book and the latest from Simon & Schuster.
  • When KDP was new, we called it the Amazon Gold Rush. As soon as the term was coined, everyone speculated how long it would last. There’s no firm time of death, but it’s definitely been over for a long while.
  • Bookbub promotions were much easier to get. Advertising was generally cheaper, though reach was a bit shorter.
  • More book promotion sites are available now, and their newsletter lists are longer than they used to be. (Search book promo sites and you’ll get a lot of options. e.g. Booksends, Robin Reads, Freebooksy, Bargainbooksy, The Fussy Librarian, Ereader News Today, Kindle Nation Daily, Book Barbarian, Rebel Reads, Books Butterfly, and so on.)
  • We didn’t have Vellum to format books. I even formatted one or two books before Scrivener came along. That was a slog. Vellum makes formatting easy now, but Scrivener also serves as a writing tool and is cheaper.
  • There weren’t as many programs to assist with editing and those that were around weren’t nearly as good as they are now. We still need human editors, but the machines are saving us time with the easy catches.
  • The publishing camps were more entrenched in the old days. You were either indie or you had a contract with trad pub. If you were the latter, you pointedly referred to yourself as a “published author” on social media. There are many more trad-pubbed authors crossing the line to go indie or hybrid now. They figured out it was possible to gain control, make more money, and get more transparency. (No more waiting for incomprehensible sales reports from a publisher twice a year. Now you can get a tally of each day’s sales! Whee!)
  • Agents used to wield more power. Some even made sport of the submissions in their slush piles. Then most realized such denigrating behavior was bad for their business. A lot of would-be authors wised up and stopped being wannabes. Rumors of bad agent behavior get called out quicker and the bad smell lingers.
  • Even though you can hire the same editors and graphic designers who once worked in traditional publishing, there’s still some stench on publishing your own books. Outdated ideas die slowly, usually along with the brains that held those stale ideas.
  • As new publishing developed, a bunch of gurus emerged with plenty of courses to sell. They are not all created equal. Be especially cautious of those who break their arms patting themselves on the back. If they get most of their money from courses instead of selling their own books, that’s a red flag.
  • Organic reach used to be easier. You could sell your old book simply by publishing your new book. A popular blog might be enough to gain sustained attention. Now you’ve got to advertise and promote more. Successful authors tend to have podcasts, eager fans, a fast publishing schedule, and newsletter subscribers to the moon and back.
  • Reviews seem much harder to get these days. (Insert heavy sigh here.)
  • You used to be able to respond to Amazon reviews. Few authors thought it was a good idea to do so, but on those occasions when it seemed necessary, it was nice to have the option.
  • Way back when, we were all convinced a savvy competitor would rise and give better terms than Amazon. It was logical and expected. Didn’t happen.
  • One might assume that non-Amazon platforms would copy their business model because Amazon sells more books. (There are exceptions, mostly dependent on genre. However, for most authors, Amazon income dominates.) Anyway, that didn’t happen. Amazon puts customers over curation. Others still treasure curation, so who you know matters.
  • Draft2Digital has made uploading to multiple sales platforms a breeze. I remember contacting Apple in the early days of the revolution. I asked how to upload a book to their sales platform and their reply could be characterized as both bewildered and useless.
  • Goodreads always had an angry contingent of meanies. The site’s user interface was never intuitive. If they were going to fix those problems, surely they would have by now.
  • Audiobooks were a thing, but they were much less accessible to creators. They are still expensive to produce unless you go DIY. However, the future of audio isn’t just bright. It’s loud. Audiobooks demand less attention. You can do the dishes and listen to an audiobook. That’s why we must make the move to record our books.
  • From my sampling of indie creators, many of us are more professional in our presentation than we used to be. As ever, we hate typos and plot holes. Now we have editorial teams, street teams, and beta readers to help us out. Many books from independent creators have more eyes on the lookout for problems than books created by big publishers. To trim costs, many big publishers purged their editorial departments years ago. That’s often where your skilled freelance workforce comes from.
  • Hardcovers on Amazon are a recent addition. Ingram Spark has some competition is this regard now. Endemic is my first book available in hardcover and it is beautiful!
  • There are plenty of podcasts about books and book publishing now and some are excellent. I miss some of the old ones, though. Old heads will remember Simon Whistler’s pod. The Self-publishing Roundtable and the Self-publishing Podcast are gone. So is the Author Strong podcast. Alas. Good times.
  • Good news: There are so many resources available, we can all improve or maintain our level of skill and professionalism.
  • Bad news: Your parents still wish you’d finished dental school or gone ahead and become a corporate lawyer who hates her job, herself, and everyone else.

What I hope hasn’t changed too much is you.

Learned and grown in the past decade? Of course. But I hope your level of passion for making art with words still burns bright. I hope you still get up each morning eager to entertain, inspire, and inform readers. Artists die, but they don’t stop creating. The connections, wonder, and experiences we share live on. If you’re a writer and you have readers, you’ve got a chunk of immortality.

Filed under: publishing, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What to do when the wheels fly off

Between illness and trying to bounce back from Amazon sabotaging my book launch, December has been rough. However, I’m making the effort to look on the bright side even when things are damn dark. My outlook tends to be grim and all the news events confirm that bias. However, giving up isn’t an option and pessimism isn’t a great strategy. Optimists may be wrong often, but they get more done so they get more chances to score. In my defense, at least I’m usually funny about my grim worldview. (That’s right, Rob! Sublimate your rage with humor.)

One Quick Parable

I was riding a tandem bike with my wife when the road we were on suddenly turned to dirt and then nothing. Dead end. Trying to find our way back in unfamiliar surroundings, we crossed a large property with a mansion on it. A couple of the curious workers looked at us askance but we pedaled by quickly. Then the bike’s front wheel fell off. One of the seats flew off in the crash, too. My wife and I weren’t really hurt, but we found ourselves lost, far from home, and carrying the parts to a broken bike.

The mansion’s owner came out and asked if we were okay. Then he asked how he could help. I was embarrassed and felt like a trespasser. The homeowner, Cyrus, didn’t treat us that way, though. He must have had better things to do than to cater to a couple of forlorn strangers. Instead of shooing us away, he asked us to follow him to the workshop in his huge garage. Together, we worked on putting the bike back together. That wasn’t what pulled my attention, though. What got me was how relentlessly positive Cyrus was. He was both kind and eager to problem-solve.

And all the while, I thought, I wish I could be more like you, you beautiful sunny bastard.

But I could. It does require forming new habits to rewire my neural network. Fortunately, a full personality transplant isn’t necessary. Mindset sets the tone for whatever comes next.

Unfortunately, cynicism is often associated with intelligence.

Skepticism is valuable, and it’s not the same as cynicism. Being mean isn’t smart and being mean to ourselves is downright dumb. I want to be more like Ted Lasso, but I resonate more with Dexter.

My encounter with Cyrus reminded me of three people. There’s Dan, a friend who seems immune to worry. Wayne was a relentlessly positive guy whose presence elevated everyone around him. Then there was the guy who worked at one of the dining room stations at a resort in Cuba. These are people with genuine smiles who are pretty sure things are going to work out okay. If things don’t work out the way they want, they hold on to their sunny attitudes, secure in the belief they can at least make things better.

I don’t always make things better or easier for myself. Anxiety is always ready in my pocket. What I wrote about Ovid Fairweather in Endemic comes straight out of my brain. “When I say, ‘I love me,’ I mean the opposite.'”

Solutions, not Resolutions

I’m very aware that it’s easy to fall back into my old habits of thinking. Between the pandemic and… (gestures everywhere), I can be downright sour. With Cyrus in mind, I’m working on putting things back together. Recently, I ran into someone else who has a lot of that positive Ted Lasso energy. I need that. Besides continuing to watch Ted Lasso, I have to reinforce my optimism with:

  1. Positive self-talk.
  2. Self-care (e.g. healthier lifestyle, more water and vegetables, exercise).
  3. Interacting with positive people more.
  4. Avoid too much negative reinforcement (AKA the dark side of social media).
  5. Avoid overdosing on the news.
  6. Problem-solving.
  7. Fewer side missions, more purpose.
  8. Setting boundaries so I’m not stuck trying to be rational with irrational people.
  9. Especially avoid comment sections on the internet, because trolls used to live under bridges but now they’re coming for our minds.
  10. Focus on what I can control and letting go of the variables I can’t control.

The wheels flew off my metaphorical bike. I’m not a big believer in New Year’s resolutions, so this is just my commitment. Not for 2022. Right now. Nothing metaphorical about that.

We all pretty much know what to do already. That’s not the challenge. The challenge is to be consistent in the application of what we know.

Filed under: mindset, the writing life, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

When I get up, you better watch out

First comes the whining

Anyone remember the fight music from the original Star Trek? Na-na, na! Na! Na! Na! Na! Na-na, na! Na! That’s the soundtrack in my head right now.

November was about fighting Amazon over an unjust review freeze (see the post How Amazon killed My Book.)

December started with a terrible head cold. The subsequent inner ear infection is persistent and has knocked me flat. I’ve got antibiotics going and I think I might be on the mend, but not nearly fast enough to suit me. As soon as the ear infection clears, I’m off to get my booster in the hope that Omicron won’t kill me. I’ll have to choose which of the remaining days of 2021 I will ruin because, though I’m glad to take the booster, each one has made me achy and shaky for days.

Not going to lie, Amazon tanking the launch of Endemic was a harsh blow. The only terrible event I could compare it to would be losing a complete manuscript.

Then comes the winning. I’m looking at solutions.

  • Endemic‘s launch was sabotaged by its own sales platform, so revenue from my masterpiece must depend on the long tail of retail. It’s disappointing, but I’m pointing my nose forward and refusing to look in the rearview mirror. No point in obsessing over that loss now. There’s too much to do.
  • I joined a mastermind group for writers in 2021. They are a good group. The people are encouraging and supportive. The writing room alone got me writing more and more often. Kind hearts help.
  • I successfully completed NaNoWriMo and have an alien anthology to edit because I harnessed the power of friendly competition, consistency, and metrics.
  • I have plans for a non-fiction podcast with a partner. She’s an expert ghostwriter. I’m there to tell jokes and pick her brain on behalf of the audience. Various tech issues and sickness slowed the start on that podcast. We’ve been thwarted at every turn, but the new year is looking good.
  • I have plans for a fiction podcast I’m excited about.
  • A prequel to This Plague of Days is two-thirds written.
  • I have covers in the chamber ready to fire off more projects.
  • I’m looking forward to getting back to my exercise program and joined an on-line group whose focus is healthy living.

The Gist

I’m going to stop there because I learned my lesson about exhaustive to-do lists in 2020. Too many to-dos and not enough to-don’ts can rob us of focus. Overwhelm is dangerous to productivity.

The Commitment

Years ago, I moved to a new city where I knew no one. I started up a business from a cold start with no clients and no allies. A guy I met my first week in the city made it clear he was skeptical of my prospects for success. He ended his list of my disadvantages with, “Aren’t you afraid?”

“No,” I replied. “I’m excited.” (You dick!)

Once I get past this illness, I’ll get excited again. There’s plenty to do to right my ship. I’m looking forward to the challenge.

http://mybook.to/MakeEndemicGoViral
NEW from ROBERT CHAZZ CHUTE

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

How Amazon Killed My Book

I wrote about a book nerd who went through life feeling like a nail. Through an incredible ordeal, Ovid Fairweather becomes a hammer. Tonight, I feel like a nail and my head is pounding.

It took me two years to pen my latest apocalyptic epic. Endemic, partially informed by the unfolding global pandemic, is an action-packed psychological story that pits a flawed and highly sensitive protagonist against a collapsed system. I love this book, but now I’m the one with the sensory-processing sensitivity suffering at the hands of a system. Amazon killed my book. What follows is a cautionary tale.

The Timeline

Endemic launched on October 27, 2021. I soon received three reviews, all five-stars. I noticed a new five-star that appreciated the humor. The next time I checked, that review mysteriously disappeared. Thinking that strange, I reached out to the Amazon Review Moderation team to ask what was going on and could that lovely review get reinstated? Oddly enough, that same reviewer remembered another of my novels and reviewed that one, too. That review of the previous book is still up, no problems. Clearly, the reviewer was not the issue. But what was? My questions and frustrations outpaced the answers I was to receive.

On November 20, I finally heard something from the Amazon Review Team regarding my query. “We removed your review because we detected unusual review behavior on this product and are not accepting reviews of it at this time… Once we remove a review that does not comply with our guidelines, the reviewer may not submit any new reviews on the same product.” This is done to enhance customer trust in reviews. I understand that, but Amazon’s handling of this situation did serious damage to my trust.

In the same email, they invited me to review their community guidelines. I did, and I can assure everyone that didn’t help because I did nothing wrong. When did the review freeze actually begin? I have no idea. From the moment I accidentally stumbled on the problem to now is eighteen days, but it could be longer, taking a mortal chunk the critical first thirty days from launch day.

Innocence does not protect us.

I sent an appeal with three key questions.

1. How long does this review freeze last?
2. Is this a tech issue from an overly aggressive algorithm?
3. How can I appeal or resolve this?


I ended the email with the standard, “Thank you for your attention to this matter.”

The trouble was that there was no attention to this matter. After a two-year hiatus since publishing my last book, my new novel was quickly dying on the vine. I received no reply to the three key questions.

The Twist

The next day I did get a message from someone claiming to be from Amazon Spain. (I suppose my book are available there, but I write only in English so I sell few if any books there.) They wrote:

Hello from Amazon Selling Partner Support,

I understand you are facing issues with customer reviews.

Your account is currently in an inactive status and no further subscription fees will be charged to your account. If you take no further action on your account, it will remain inactive.

That was a little scary. The first thing I did was to make sure Endemic and the rest of my backlist was still available for sale. Yep! So what was this about?

A link was included to take me to a dashboard, but suspecting it might be a scam, I didn’t click it. Instead, I called Amazon immediately. The connection was so bad that the customer service agent sounded like she was underwater. The upshot was that the email was not from KDP, so I could safely ignore it. That line about knowing I was “facing issues with customer reviews” sure made me question what the heck was going on, though. Was the scammer at the root of the “unusual review behavior” setting me up? No idea. When I spoke to someone at Amazon who was helpful, they declined to speculate. (But that helpful phone call didn’t happen right away. Read on.)

Trying again

Hearing nothing from Amazon for a week, I sent a second query. On November 30, I finally heard back, but the answer I got was infuriating. It was strictly boilerplate stuff answering a question I did not ask. Instead, they asked me for specifics on what review had possibly violated Customer Review Guidelines. None that I’m aware of. That was the whole point!

Was this a reading comprehension problem? I have heard other authors are experiencing the phenomenon of disappearing reviews. Perhaps customer support is overwhelmed with queries. Nonetheless, that response was worse than useless. Writers write for many reasons. One is to be heard. I was not being heard.

Finally, a crack of light

Fed up, I tried the phone again and got a helpful agent. John informed me that when there are review freezes, the investigation isn’t supposed to last longer than five days. We were well past that and John was sympathetic to my plight. He asked for a case number, but I was not given a case number from the Amazon Review Moderation Team. He said he would send them an email and encouraged me to send an email again detailing our call. Hoping that would spur some action, I thanked him for his kindness and shot off another email. Hoping for the review freeze to thaw, I detailed it all again. Tired yet? I sure was. Still am.

Then I waited.

And waited. No new emails arrived. I was in limbo. I got depressed. My immune system crashed. I got sick and I’m still recovering.

As I write this, it’s December 9. Last night, someone rated Endemic with three stars, no review. Ordinarily, I’d grumble something to myself about being appreciated after I’m dead. However, that was how I found out the freeze had finally thawed. I began to alert my street team and a fresh, happy review is up! Hurray! Well, not quite hurray. I’m grateful for reviews, but the first month is critical to gaining momentum and getting happy attention from Amazon’s algorithms. Readers love a new book, and my work was frozen in amber for too long. Reheating is difficult and requires a bigger investment in advertising and publicity. (Yes, I guess this post is my stab at the free publicity part. Venting my spleen might also be therapeutic. Am I bitter? Sure, why wouldn’t I be?)

Lessons learned

  1. The Amazon Review Moderation Team is a walled garden. I could phone KDP Customer Support, but not the ARMT. They should probably fix that, but I’m betting it would make for an angry call center with high turnover. There’s a need for the work the review team does and it must be difficult. Crushing hopeful authors should not be one of the bullet points on their whiteboard in the break room.
  2. As noted above, you can do nothing wrong and everything right and still get screwed over. That’s life. But what was the “unusual review behavior”? No idea. Will I ever know? No. Is there anything I could do to avoid this happening again? No. I have published well over 30 books with Amazon, mostly under my name, some with pen names. This is the first trouble with Amazon I’ve had, but am I gun shy now? You bet.
  3. Note that I was never warned that a review freeze had been enacted. I only found out because I inquired. They assigned no case number to the issue. They also didn’t tell me the results of their investigation or that the review freeze had been lifted. Feedback is not their strong suit. (I can’t say for sure what their strong suit is.) As a result, I can’t tell you how to immunize yourself from the same treatment.
  4. I suspect an overly aggressive algorithm, not a human being, is to blame for freeze and review removal. Humans are to blame for not assigning case numbers, failing to alert authors about investigations, and failing to complete investigations in a timely manner. Nor was there any report of the outcome of said investigation. I guess we could point fingers at the programmer who came up with the algo, too. After that initial stumble, the shit rolled downhill pretty fast, huh?
  5. For any cynical readers here, suppose for a moment that, after 30+ books, I did do something to contravene terms of service. I don’t know what that would be, so I couldn’t even course correct were I guilty of something.
  6. As this debacle unfolded, the head of my writers’ mastermind group told me there was probably not much I could do. He was right. Another guru’s answer was, “Don’t worry about it, just keep marketing,” I did waste money on Facebook and Amazon advertising in the dim hope of salvaging the launch. Hard to get any traction on a book with only three reviews, though.
  7. The obvious lesson is to go wide and sell beyond Amazon. That’s not the insurance one would hope, as I explain below. Will I take Endemic wide as soon as it’s out of KDP Select? That’s not the easy answer many might think. It will depend on how high I can get this dead cat to bounce.
  8. Last year a big publisher approached me about going hybrid. I’m reconsidering that offer now. Is that trading one uncaring master for another? Possibly, but it would be nice to be able to talk to a human when they mess up. At least smaller organizations have identifiable humans to speak to.
  9. Due to depression, anxiety, and isolation, the pandemic got me in nasty ways without actually infecting me. That’s why it took two years to write Endemic. Putting my excuses aside for a moment, it might be better to write more and publish more often. That way, this one torpedoed novel might not have been so devastating.
  10. So keep writing, I guess. Sometimes this work feels like an expensive hobby. Sometimes I think about quitting, but what else could I do? This is my last of four careers and I’m unsuited for much else. Fortunately, I had NaNoWriMo to fall back on. November would have been much tougher without it. A little friendly competition among friends kept me writing through this nonsense.

A word about Amazon Derangement Syndrome

I’ve sold books on Amazon since 2010. For the past several years, it’s been my only source of income. I have migrated a bunch of my backlist to other platforms, but frankly, that’s pennies compared to the amount I’ve sold on Amazon. I’ve found it to be the superior sales platform in most ways for me and my genres for over a decade. Amazon gets bookselling right, except when they don’t.

Did I feel trepidation about publishing this post? Sure, but not because I fear Amazon cares what I think. They’ve demonstrated they don’t. The root of my hesitation comes from other writers whose reflex is to defend Amazon no matter what.

Some writers will not entertain criticisms of The Mighty Zon. Their reasoning is that they’re grateful to a platform which provides them income. Where would we be without them? I agree with that to an extent. However, we can point out problems when they exist. Not doing so with Amazon is like saying, “We depend on cops to protect us, so don’t you dare complain when they stomp you for no reason.”

Don’t bite the hand that feeds us, some say. But Amazon didn’t feed me this time out. With discourtesy and caprice, they sabotaged me. As of tonight, the all-time income from Endemic’s ebook, paperback, and hardcover is $104.34. I spent more on that getting author copies.

Hint: If your reflex is to dismiss my little troubles, go away. If your inclination is to blame the victim, assume I did something shady, or leave a nasty comment, go away. I’ve already been sufficiently abused through this ordeal. How badly? As I write this, Endemic is #490,296 in the Kindle Store, #4,303 in Dystopian Fiction, #5,461 in Dystopian Science Fiction, and #8,220 in Science Fiction Adventure.

Endemic deserves much better.

There’s risk in writing for a living, of course. I’ve worked in trad and independent publishing and I accept the dangers of my calling. However, do you? Like I said, this isn’t merely whining. This is a cautionary tale. If you are about to embark on a writing career, this is your warning from someone who has been at it for quite a while. Don’t bank too hard on one book. There are so many variables you can’t control. There are venomous snakes in the grass and booby-traps. Best-laid plans and all that.

Is there hope? In the long tail of retail, yes. Endemic will be available forever. It’s a solid book I’m proud of, bound to entertain. However, barring a stellar turnaround, I’ll probably always go to sleep each night thinking my hard work got shortchanged. I have an eidetic memory for unfortunate events and this sting will feel hot for a long time.

Some think the writing life isn’t work. True, sometimes the words come easy. I’ve often found this work is wonderful even when it’s not so easy. And sometimes, like any great love, it can break your heart.

Filed under: publishing, , , , , , , ,

The BookBub Ads We Don’t Talk About

How do I make a bobby ad, the kind where I choose them instead of hoping they’ll choose me?

You can apply to BookBub and hope you get picked for their newsletter deals for their multitude of subscribers. It’s difficult to get into, far harder than it used to be. Back in the gold rush days, I was fortunate to get the okay from BookBub several times. Today, I’m talking about their other option. You can bypass the BookBub lottery and pay for a targeted ad to appear on at the bottom of their daily newsletters.

How it works

From your BookBub partners dashboard, under My Promotions, choose BookBub Ads. From there, build your own image or use their template. Set the length of campaign, total budget for the campaign, and bid by CPM (cost per thousand impressions). Target by genre and/or by authors with whom you are a kindred spirit. The site gives you a sense of whether your targeting is too broad or too specific. All pretty straightforward.

I have experimented with these ads before and, honestly, the results were grim. Be cautious and conservative and test, test, test or you’re setting your money on fire. What I like about these ads is the interface. It’s much less complicated than the Amazon ads dashboard. You don’t have to slog through a confusing user interface to get the data you need for feedback on your experiments.

How do I make the art that goes with my ad?

Listening to Six Figure Authors recently, they suggested using evocative art that reflects your book. They argued against using your book’s cover. I enjoy that podcast, and rarely dare to disagree. However, if your cover art is as great as it should be and reflects your genre, I’d stick with it. That’s what I’m doing. (You might notice the ad example above is blurry. That’s because it’s blown up for the blog. At its ad size of 300 x 250 px, the image is sharp. My cover art for Endemic is from 100covers.com and they were very pleasant to work with.)

Bookbub offers you a template so you can upload your cover. You can make your own easily using sites like Bookbrush or Canva. If you decide to go with art that isn’t your book cover, try depositphotos.com.

A Word About Bookbrush

I recommend it. I like their options and they are improving their offerings and the user interface. If you checked them out before, but we’re sure you wanted to use it, look again.

However, in my opinion the platinum membership is too expensive for most authors’ needs. For instance, book trailers are a fun idea and I have experimented with them in the past. However, the ROI isn’t there at the premium price point of $246/year. Creating video for book trailers is a bottom of the barrel marketing priority. You can get that kind of add-on far cheaper on Fiverr.

Will my Bookbub ads pay off this time? We’ll see. I am very proud and confident in the book I’m offering readers, but as I said, keep an eye on your budget and test, test, test! When ads don’t work, kill them. At least with BookBub metrics, figuring out what’s working and what’s not won’t be a riddle wrapped in a mystery and hidden in a taco.

~ My latest apocalyptic epic is perfect for the bookish. Endemic’s protagonist, Ovid Fairweather, is a former book editor trapped in a pandemic that has yet to end. Pick up Endemic here.

For all my books, check out the links at my author site, AllThatChazz.com.

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

Canuck Versus Yank Spelling


Someone asked, why do you use American spelling in your books even though you’re Canadian?

About 2% of my book sales come from Canada and 85%+ come from the United States. There is a small minority of readers who are very vocal about spelling color with u.

Colour? That’s not what I was taught in school!”

Using American spelling, I’m catering to the bulk of my readership. I want to optimize the chance I’ll make the most people happy.

Think I’m exaggerating about reader response? Step on the Oxford comma landmine. Some people get so heated about their pro-Oxford comma stance, I caved to their demands.

Someone reading this right now is thinking, “Well, yeah, but that’s only because always using the Oxford comma is the one true way. It’s not my way, it’s the right way, every time, all the time! Without the Oxford comma, my world makes no sense. We must have order!”

Sigh. I said I’d do it and I did it, okay?
Lord liftin’, ease off ya jeezly big bullies! Sorry!

(Don’t come at me. I’m only exaggerating a little. I’m sure they’re plenty fun at parties as long as the Oxford comma doesn’t come up in conversation…but they do bring it up.)

Where was I? Oh, yeah. American spelling.

When I worked at Harlequin, one of their historical romance lines was British and the style guide reflected that fact. The company got an irate letter from a reader who took the time to point out every “mistake” in a novel. Anything other than American spelling was wrong in her eyes. The letter concluded with, “A company of your size shouldn’t allow this many mistakes to get into a book. Hire me and fire all your stupid editors.”

The letter was passed around the editorial department. We dedicated and underpaid professionals had a good chuckle and went back to producing 80 titles a month in two shifts, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and 5 – 1 a.m.

Canadians don’t blink at American spelling, probably because, with the exception of Schitt’s Creek, American culture floods north, not south. Because of our relatively small population, the Canadian book market doesn’t pay enough to keep me in snacks. I’m happy to make readers comfortable and tell stories in ways that reduce any distraction.

On the other hand, there was the 60-something podcast host out of New York who expressed shock and surprise there is such a thing as a Canadian English dictionary. I mean, my guy, it’s almost as if we’re a different country. Sorry, eh?

I’ve just released my latest post-apocalyptic/dystopian epic. Curiously enough, I humbly suggest you buy it, please.

Reviews of Endemic so far:

If you’re tired of the formulaic schlock that clutters dystopian literature, then you need to read Endemic. The author has created a unique tale that serves up the best of deep characterization, nuanced plot, and emotional impact. Read this and you’ll soon be looking for other books by Robert Chazz Chute. ~ RF Kacy

What if COVID-19 never lets go of our world? What would happen to society? Robert Chazz Chute does not write escapist literature. He extrapolates the present into plausible but decidedly unwanted futures. The story centres on Ovid Fairweather, a 30-ish editor turned gardener, trying to survive in a New York City that is most definitely not a tourist destination. Betrayed and besieged at every turn, Ovid’s resilience and determination in the face of impossible circumstances drew me in. This is dystopian fiction at its finest. ~ Russell Sawatsky

Endemic takes us on a journey of the mind of an unassuming survivor who must learn to cope with a collapsed environment. Not unlike the current reactions to our contemporary pandemic, Endemic illustrates that diverse choices can lead to survival or a slow demise as a ‘thirder’. The sudden jolts as the narrative swiftly changes course ensure that the reader keeps on their toes, adapting as quickly as the protagonist must in the search for safe refuge. Thanks Robert Chazz Chute for another innovative ride and a tale well told. ~ Janice Bull

~ Check out all my apocalyptic epics and killer crime thrillers at AllThatChazz.com.


Filed under: writing advice, , , , , , , , , , , ,

http://mybook.to/OurZombieHours
A NEW ZOMBIE ANTHOLOGY

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.

You can pick this ebook up for free today at this link: http://bit.ly/TheNightMan

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