Posts Tagged ‘Publishing’


I really am embarrassed that it is May 2016 and I don’t have the third book finished yet, so I feel an explanation is necessary.

If you’ve ever been in the position of having first a baby and then a toddler in the house, you can understand how that eats away into your time. The first big delay, in 2015, was simple enough to explain: I agreed to become the primary care-giver for my son for a year. Family and a part-time nanny helped, but even so I found myself putting 60 hours a week into Daddy Day Care Service. I don’t regret it, but like almost all new parents, the demands on my time were grossly underestimated by all concerned.

When that first year ended, my first priority had to be putting my career as a freelance writer back on track, since that is my bread and butter income. Only then could I return to writing the new novel.

At that point the issue became how I’m committed to maintaining the same standards I set for the first two novels, and that means having decent blocks of quality time to do the writing. My freelance work (whiskey, travel, wine, etc.) can be done here and there, but I learned a long time ago that my best work in terms of fiction happens when I can establish and sustain some momentum. I could slap my ideas together in dribs and drabs, but it wouldn’t be something I’d be proud of.

Even now, even a minor hiccup in the house tends to upset my whole apple cart. I did some good work for a few weeks in January and February, but then had to stop because we we had to move. That became such an utter fiasco that the entire month of March was lost, and then family demands wrecked April for me.

That said, I’m in another of those windows where good work is possible now, and I’m into the third part of the book.

A lot of authors, including myself, fret over bad reviews. The usual advice for such things is to try to learn what you can from them and otherwise grow a thicker skin, but to that I can add something new: sometimes your bad reviews are the sign of a good thing, if they are Amazon reader reviews that is.

Even Excellent Books Are Read By Morons
Take a look at the reader reviews for a book that inspired my own in some ways, Gettysburg by Newt Gingrich and William Forstchen. The book was a bestseller, and in my opinion the trilogy of which it is a part are the best alternate history novels of the last quarter century, and they are among the best Civil War novels for the same period. Yet the overall star rating is only 4.1, less than that of my own novel.

Gettysburg has a merely four-star rating precisely because it is a bestselling novel. The simple fact that it reached a large audience guaranteed that it would get bad reader reviews, because reaching a large audience means reaching idiots who can read.

I know that sounds harsh, but look at the bad reviews for Gettysburg. A big chunk of them came from people who complain that they didn’t know the book was an alternate history, and were expecting straight historical fiction. In other words, they were from readers who were too stupid to read and understand the plot synopsis posted front and center on the Amazon page and printed on the back of the book!

Look up any great book you would care to name on Amazon, and it will have reviews written by trolls, cretinous wannabe critics and dimwits. The simple truth is that having a healthy number of stupid reader reviews is part and parcel of reaching a larger audience. It is a sign of success.

Sales, Fakes And Hitting The Target
One of the things I have done since Stonewall Goes West came out a year and a half ago is keep a casual eye on authors who publish books in my genre. Based on that, I have a fair idea of how well those books have sold, and one thing I have gleaned from that is more evidence that stupid reviews are a sign of reaching a larger audience, because most of them didn’t sell well and don’t have several stupid reviews.

This is not to say that a book without a decent helping of stupid reviews hasn’t sold well. I can think of one good example where that is not the case, that being a sign of an author who really managed to hit the nail on the head and satisfy everyone, the discriminating and the lame-brained alike. I believe that because my observation suggests the book sold better than my own, and yet it doesn’t have that many dumb reviews.

On the other hand, I know of a dozen books that sold much, much worse than my own, yet have 4 1/2 star ratings with dozens of reader reviews, almost all of them positive. My guess is that most of those reviews are fakes written by family, friends, and members of the author’s writers club. In fact, in once instance I’ve had the author of one of those books contact me and then boast about doing that very thing. I have previously discussed this problem of fake reviews here.

But What About Bad Books?
The obvious problem with this theory is using it as a tool to evaluate books you want to buy, as opposed to drawing comfort from it as an author. Tons of bad reviews aren’t a paradox that points to a good book, or even a book with good sales.

That points to a caveat in the theory: bad reviews are a sign of reaching a larger audience only up to a certain point, and the reviews in question need to be stupid to count. Don’t discount all criticism by saying “it’s just a sign that I reached dumb asses too.”

In my own reader reviews, the one consistent criticism that rings true is that my books don’t have maps in them. That was due to budget constraints, and frankly there is nothing I could or can do about that for this trilogy. Still, it’s a valid complaint and one I understood from the very beginning, which is why I attempted to bridge the gap with maps I made myself and published on the internet.

So the maps complaint is basically sound, because it’s true and for some readers it hampers or even spoils their enjoyment of the book. Sometimes I think the complaint is taken to an unfair degree, but that makes it harsh rather than stupid. I would be a fool not to listen to it and try to incorporate maps into my next project, and you would be a fool to assess all bad criticism as stupid merely because it’s bad.

 

Whether they work with a legacy publisher or go indie, new authors usually find themselves tasked with the heavy lifting of promoting their own books. Or they do if they are not already a celebrity of some kind. Now that I’m into my second novel and working on my third, I thought I would blog a little on my experiences with getting reviews out of book bloggers and other internet-only reviewers as part of a larger promotional campaign.

As part of promoting Stonewall Goes West, I contacted seven book bloggers and two websites with book review sections, focusing on those with Civil War or military historical content to mirror what I was doing. I am not including authors’ blogs in this blog, but instead dwelling on those who consider themselves book reviewers first and foremost insofar as their website identity goes, although said reviewers may have also written a book.

The short version of this blog is that I didn’t bother trying this route again when the second novel of the series came out, nor will I ever try it again. Here is why:

Failure To Complete
Of the nine different entities who agreed to review my first novel, a year and a half later only one has completed the task. That is an incomplete rate of almost 90%, which would automatically make this promotional effort a failure. In an accounting sense it was also a failure, since I am 99.997% certain I lost money in terms of book sales vs. postal costs.

Beware Of The Blogger
My first point leads straight to this one: just because a guy blogs regularly and seems like a semi-pro doesn’t mean he has a professional attitude. Just for starters, these guys can and will take your book and never speak to you again. In another example, the single review I received for my efforts was done by a blogger who couldn’t be bothered to produce an accurate plot synopsis of my book.

Let me make this point clear: my problem is not that Mr. Redd didn’t like my book and panned it. If you can’t tolerate people not liking your work, you shouldn’t publish, period. My problem is that he misrepresented my book by making gross factual errors in summarizing it. About half of what he says about the plot of Stonewall Goes West is objectively false!

Now perhaps Redd isn’t that bright or perhaps he was actively malicious, but the bottom line here is that if he were writing for a newspaper, magazine or journal, his sloppy factual errors would be grounds for my demanding a correction and/or retraction, and I would get it too! Professionals and professional organizations blanche at such things. Yet because Redd is just a blogger, and responsible only to himself, there is no recourse.

The lesson here is a book blogger can be capricious, stupid, lazy, and/or dishonest, just like the people who write your most infuriating reader reviews. Indeed, sometimes those people will be literally one in the same. You are powerless against either nuisance, so why help them by supplying them with a copy of your book for free?

Most Book Bloggers Have No Audience
Here is an interesting nugget: because of The Whiskey Reveiwer, I have some tools for checking how much traffic competing websites get. Within the first three months of publishing Stonewall Goes West, this blog (the one you are reading right now) was attracting more traffic than any two of my book bloggers put together. Right now it draws in more readers every month than any six of them combined.

The two websites with book review sections I mentioned are a different story, but I’ve obviously got a dramatically bigger following than any of the bloggers, and I built it up very rapidly and without their help. So I can conclude that even if all seven of them had reviewed the book in a timely fashion and showered me with praise, it’s hard to see what I would have gotten out of it except editorial review quotes, because their followings are so miniscule.

As a side note, this point also goes back to the lack of common sense I mentioned before. Three of the reviewers concerned have books of their own out (Redd is one of this trio), and given that they could go to my Facebook group and see that as a measurement of my following, you would think it would be obvious that they should cultivate me. Clearly I can do more for them than they can for me. Yet they either aren’t smart enough or aren’t ambitious enough to see it.

The lesson here is that if you are considering sending your book to a book blogger for review, always check what his following is first. Even if you don’t want to purchase the tools I have for my other projects, you can use Twitter and Facebook followings and Alexa.com as a rough guide.

Proceed With Extreme Care
High risk and low reward doesn’t make sense, and that is unknowingly exactly what I went out and did with my book blogger promotional project. The result was a huge waste of effort and a minor waste of money, both of which would have been better used in other promotional efforts.

Don’t make the same mistake I did. View every book blogger as a potential troll, and check each and every single one you are considering working with to see if they have a following that justifies that risk. Some of them are OK, but you cannot assume that, and even the good ones might not be of any help to you in promoting your book. If you don’t have the time to do your due diligence, don’t bother going this route.