Monthly Archives: September 2013

What’s In a Review?

Ask just about any author and they’ll tell you that we live and die by reviews.  You wouldn’t think that much weight would go into such things, but they really do.  I’m sure there’s even more to a review than I am aware of.  Reviews are, in their own way, a lot like baseball statistics.  You can take a quick glance, see how many five star reviews, how many four star reviews, how many three’s, two’s…please, not ONE’S!  But yes, numbers count.

You might wonder, which is better, to have few reviews, but all of them five stars, or a LOT of reviews and they run the gambit from low to stellar?  That’s a good question.  It’s my personal belief that the old adage, ‘there’s no such thing as bad press’ tends to ring true.  Reviews mean READERS.  Good, bad or indifferent, the higher the number, the more attention your work will get.  Don’t believe me?  Well, let’s take a look at a book that hasn’t really been out a long time, but has a TON of reviews that range from 1 star, to 5.  I’m sure you’ve heard of Fifty Shades?  Yeah.  No, I haven’t read it.  I’ve had plenty of people who have read it tell me not to waste my time.
So, what are the numbers?  We’ll get to that in a moment.
Currently, this book is being made into a movie.  That should tell you something.  Does it tell you that it must be an amazing story with a wonderful plot and perfectly developed characters?
Uh,….no.  What it tells us is that Hollywood has run out of potentially entertaining original ideas and is turning to commercialism.  Take a healthy dose of a nude Scarlett Johansson, sprinkle with a dash of Chris Hemsworth and rather than getting Avengers 3, you get Hollywood’s version of Fifty Shades.  Yeah, THAT should sell at the box office.
Let’s talk numbers now.  Since it’s release in April of 2012, FSG currently sits on Amazon with 21,247 reviews.   Honestly, that’s a ton!
Of those reviews, a healthy 9,372 are five star reviews.  That means that clearly 44% of the people who read this thought that it was top shelf stuff.
Roughly 11%, or 2,341 people thought that it deserved four stars.  That’s a pretty good score.  Four stars is respectable.  Any author would prefer five stars, but four stars beat…
Three star reviews sit at 1,914 or roughly 9%.  Well, hey.  That’s like less than 1 in 10 so…pfft.
Two star reviews.  Yeah.  These pretty much say that you suck.  No if’s, and’s or but’s about it.  They’re telling you something here.  FSG has 1,884 of these bad boys.  That’s 8.8%.  Close enough to round up to 9.  Yeah, I wouldn’t be happy.  But, when you consider that in the grand scheme of things, this is really a small number compared to the total of reviews, right?  I mean, at over TWENTYONE THOUSAND reviews??  Okay.  If I could get that many, I’d take the 8.8% of 2 Star Slams.
Here’s where things get…nasty.  ONE star reviews.
To say that FSG wasn’t well received by quite a few people?  Well, 5,736 people slammed it with a one star.  Some of the comments left are more entertaining than the book according to the huge number of replies that the comments got.  You need to keep in mind, this is 26.9% of the people who left a review.  I think we can safely round that to 27%.  That’s more than 1 in 4.

So what’s the point?
I haven’t read FSG so I’m not about to comment and say, ‘this story is awesome, ignore the numbers and dive into it!’, nor will I say, ‘this story was horrible, don’t waste your time’.  The point is what I was trying to say earlier.  ‘There is no such thing as bad press’…but with a caveat.  When your FIVE star reviews outnumber your ONE star reviews almost two to one, then it’s a safe thing to say that bad reviews are still GOOD PRESS.
But if all you have is five or six reviews and they’re all one, two or three star?  You need to find out what is wrong and FIX IT.  Read the reviews, see what the readers are complaining about and correct it.  If they say that you can’t spell, for crying out loud, run your work through a spell checker!  If they say your grammar is so bad that they couldn’t follow your line of thinking, rewrite and hire an editor.  If they say the story is just lame, well, maybe you should take up an easier profession than writing.  Maybe astrophysics?

Reviews aren’t just there for the public either.  Places like Amazon use those numbers to ‘rank’ books and authors.  Rankings are then used to determine all kinds of internal decisions that we’ll probably never understand.  Spotlights, favorites lists, recommendations, referrals to other readers in the same genre…it all comes into play.  But only if the numbers are there.

Reviews are the lifeblood of this profession.  Most readers simply aren’t used to leaving them.  Writers have to sometimes get creative to help coerce their readers along.  Don’t be afraid to use your imagination.  I’ve seen authors use all kinds of gimmicks to help.  From simply asking, to having contests, prizes, awards, even drawings to have the readers name used in an upcoming novel.

Got a favorite author?  Have you ever referred a friend to their work?  Then do your favorite author a solid and leave an honest review the next time you finish one of their books or short stories.  If you referred a friend or loaned a book, encourage your friend to do the same.  Your actions could make the difference between your favorite author or their book being spotlighted or even noticed by someone looking to make it into a screenplay.  Yes, your review could have that much power.
Now, go forth and REVIEW.



Posted by on September 24, 2013 in Uncategorized


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Promote Yourself

Todays post ties in to my last one.  Promoting yourself and your work.
How do you reach the most people, the most effectively, with the least amount of effort?
Well, if this were Amway, we’d recruit three people and they’d recruit three people and then they’d recruit three people.  We’d all save money buying products we were going to buy anyway and maybe sell a few things to our friends and neighbors.  But, this isn’t that.  This is selling ourselves.  And for someone who isn’t used to doing that, I did what I do best.
I freaked out.
Actually, I turned to the pros.
I’ve been really fortunate to fall in with some of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet.  They’re always super busy, so any time they offer their advice, you better believe I listen.  Sometimes the advice they give isn’t what I want to hear, but so far in life, I’ve yet to have anybody tell me that there truly is a magic pill for weight loss, a secret elixir for gaining wealth or a holy relic that will be bring me all the knowledge of the universe.  And if you think about it, if anybody had any of those things, human nature being what it is, would they really share it?  So, with honest advice shared, the next step is to take that advice and apply it.
How to promote oneself.
There are many different ways to do this.  There are also many ways NOT to do this.  So far, all the ways NOT to do this can be summed up thusly: “If it sounds too easy, don’t waste your time.”  It’s either a scam to separate you from your money or it’s ineffective.  I’ve yet to have any of the pros tell me, “Yes, sign up with such and such website to promote you.  They’re great!”  In fact, of all the businesses that bombard you with their ads begging you to do just that, I actually did a wee bit of legwork and researched them myself.  It wasn’t hard.  Just go to their ‘Testimonials’ page.  Look at the names of all the authors that tout their great work.  Copy their names and then go to Amazon and paste that name.  Look at the number of reviews they have.  Is it less than five?  How long has their work been available?  Some had NO reviews.  If you ask me, I wouldn’t post that authors testimonial on my website.  It did more harm than good.
So, what do the pros say?  Social Media.  Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, AboutMe, MySpace, Blogs, websites…use them all and use them smartly.  There is a fine line between promoting yourself and becoming a nuisance.  Navigating that fine line is YOUR job.  I primarily use Facebook as it helps me to stay in touch with family and friends as well.  It also helps me to NETWORK.  Something learned way back in my Amway days (yes, I was a distributor, and no…I’m not going to try to sell you soap).  Networking helps you to reach people outside your sphere of influence.  I reach out to my family members.  Say my sisters.  They have completely different spheres of influence than I do.  When they reach out to their sphere of influence on my behalf and help to promote my work, my sphere of influence grows, as does my debt of gratitude.  They help me to reach new people and my readership grows.  If one of those new readers enjoys my work enough to share with one more reader…word of mouth.
Another way to promote yourself is to make yourself KNOWN.  Advertising.  Now, this is where it can get tricky and expensive.  Where do you advertise?  WHEN do you advertise?  What media is best to advertise?  I’ve yet to meet one of the pros that has said, “Take out an ad in the Social Section of the New York Times and…”  or “Pay for a radio spot on your local radio station”…  If they don’t tell me they’ve tried it and it worked, I’m not doing it.  It might work for the big name guys with the Big 6 publishing houses pushing people like Stephen King but I have no illusions.  Nor do I have that kind of cash flow.
Conventions.  Yes, HorrorCons, SciFiCons, MonsterCons.  They’re ALL over the place.  Don’t believe me?  Google it!  I did.  I was blown away.  A friend convinced me that these were the places to be.  It gives you the opportunity to rub elbows with others in your trade and let people get to meet you.  It gives you the chance to meet and interact in a way that the internet simply does not allow.  You can hand out business cards, swag, copies of books, coupons for free downloads…whatever, and you can meet others that you may have only met online before.  It’s a whole new experience.  For those who aren’t familiar, ‘swag’ = ‘freebie stuff’ like bookmarks, bumper stickers, buttons and whatnot.  Take custom t-shirts and let other people advertise FOR you!
There’s a lot to remember in the whole ‘promoting’ game.  And truly, there isn’t a right or wrong answer for each person, business or situation.  Each one is unique.  What works for me may not work for you.  What works for you may not work for me.  But what works for ‘like situations’ is probably a good bet to work for each other.  So, if you are a writer, emulate a writer.  If you own a coffee shop, find out what other successful coffee shops have done and emulate those.  If you run a flower shop, find out how other more successful flower shops have promoted themselves and see if you can’t employ some of those ideas.  Common sense applies.
As for me?  I plan to be at the Underground Monster Carnival in Oklahoma City in March 2014.  True, there are other Cons before then, but I’m just getting started in this whole ‘promotion’ game.  I need to properly prepare in order to be ready.  I had hoped to go to Austin to the WizardCon in November, but alas, I couldn’t get my ducks in a row.  So, OKC it is.
I even plan to bring some swag to give away.
If you want some…come by and see me.
Until then, just drop by here.


Posted by on September 17, 2013 in Uncategorized


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When Does A Hobby Become a Job?

You know, when I sat down behind my trusty Toughbook and began pounding out what would later become Phoenix, I had no illusions of it ever being read by others.  I pretty much expected my wife to read it, tell it me it was horrible and then I would delete it from my hard drive.  Four installments and two and a half novels later, I still halfway expect her to tell me that my work sucks when she reads the rough drafts, but so far she hasn’t.  There’s still that tiny part of my brain that thinks she’s being kind and sparing my feelings, but…I don’t allow myself to stay there for long.  Nearly three quarters of a million words later and she insists that each new offering is an improvement on the last.

Now, I am approaching a point where my hobby is no longer just a ‘hobby’.  It is quickly becoming a job.  One needs to maintain a presence online in order to promote ones work.  One needs to keep readers informed of upcoming releases and possible events.  One needs to constantly work to improve the quality of the work you put out because now, it’s no longer a ‘hobby’…you’re a published author!  That thought alone can keep you up at nights.

I hear other writers who say that they strive to reach a point where they can quit their day job and write full time.  I think about what they say and the ramifications of their statements.  At what point are they trading one job for another?  When do deadlines and events and promotions become so burdensome that it sucks the fun out of writing?  If you truly love your craft, can anything truly suck the joy from it?  I suppose these are questions that each writer must ask him or herself.  But, the fact remains that what my publisher told me is absolute truth.  The easiest part is writing the story.  Afterward is when the REAL work comes.  Silly me, I thought she was talking about what SHE did!
Boy, was I wrong…

The big question on my mind is still, how do you self promote without becoming a nuisance to others?  Is there a secret to that game?  Is there a right way or a wrong way?  HOW does one go about self-promoting effectively?  Once your hobby becomes a job, these questions take on a whole new level of importance and can raise anxiety levels to new heights.  The rare example of Joe Schmuck pounding out a book, tossing it up on Amazon and it becoming a ‘best-seller’, getting picked up for TV or a movie, then every golden pearl of wit and wisdom they type from then on becoming a best seller is just…well, it’s dadgum rare.  Most books on Amazon sell maybe 50 copies over it’s entire life.  For most authors, that won’t cover the cost of their cover art much less editing.  So…what is a promising author to do?  Turn to the pros, that’s what.  And I’ll cover some of what I’ve learned from the masters of the game in a future post. 

All things considered, I still wouldn’t trade this hobby/job/profession for any other.  I may be quickly approaching my golden years, but I’ve finally decided what I want to be when I grow up!

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Posted by on September 11, 2013 in Uncategorized


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Improving Ourselves

I’ve spent the last few weeks going over previous works, doing a little self-editing.  Cleaning up stories, helping them to flow a little better, smoothing out a few bumps and catching minor errors.  My editor gave me a few hints, tips and tricks…minor things you might think, but time consuming for one to have to go through and correct throughout a 400-550 page tome.  Since it would be a while before he would be addressing them, I took it upon myself to do it.  Along the way, I learned a few more CORRECT ways to do things and applied them as well.

Why would I do this?  Well, I was asked this very question.
“Don’t you have an editor to do that?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Why not let him do it then?  That’s his job.”
“Because it helps me to IMPROVE my writing by applying these changes myself.”
You see, if I take what he tells me to heart and apply it myself over the course of four to five novels, maybe some of those lessons will stick.  My end goal isn’t JUST to write more, but to write BETTER.  I want my finished project to be polished.  Finished.  Refined.  As close to perfect as I can produce.  Is this because I consider myself a perfectionist, or do I think I write better than so-and-so?  No.  Not at all.  It’s because I strive to better myself in whatever I do.  My goal is to improve to the point that Todd need only to open the document, run it through his automatic spell-checker and grammar check, and then sit back and READ the story.  I hope to one day improve myself to the point where he feels that his services aren’t needed.  Do I honestly think that day will ever come?  No, of course not.  That is simply a goal to strive toward.  That doesn’t mean the goal is actually attainable.  Nobody is perfect and no matter how much I may improve, I am humble enough to understand that there is ALWAYS room for improvement.  That is why TW Brown is there.  He has my back.  He makes sure that I don’t step in it and track it all over the carpet.

It doesn’t matter what I’m working on, I try to find ways to improve my work.  I’ll give you an example.
Jess and I started making these little wood signs a few years back.  We started with a Dremel tool and would spend countless hours chipping away wood to create these rustic signs with peoples names in them.  Then I got the bright idea to use a router.  It was faster, cleaner, gave a more professional appearance and cut the time we spent on the signs by hours.  The bits were expensive and sometimes the wood would splinter causing us to have to start all over, but, honestly, those were rare.  We mostly made baseball and softball signs for the little leaguers in our area and the kids loved them.  We experimented constantly trying to find ways to improve what we were doing until we found what worked best and then we stuck to it.

Kutter 25Wood Signs 057

I’m a firm believer in ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.  But when it comes to something as creative, yet also technical, as writing…well, there’s always room for ‘fixing it’.

You may ask, have I seen any improvement in my writing?  Well, to be honest, I haven’t seen any improvement since applying what Todd has told me because that was just recently.  I’ve spent my time going back over previous works and making corrections to them.  However, I will say that since Phoenix made it’s debut, I’ve had the opportunity to finish three other Monster Squad novels.  I’ve finished two unrelated novels, each better than the last (if I’m to believe my missus, and she’s never lied to me yet).  I think that with practice, I’m improving.  By applying what Todd has told me, I’m also improving.  Perhaps only technically, but still improving.  Have I reached a point yet where I consider myself a ‘writer’ yet?
Nope.  Not even close.  But I will continue to strive to improve myself with each work that I pass on to be published and hope that you, the reader, will enjoy them more because of it.


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Posted by on September 3, 2013 in Uncategorized


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