Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Beaten and Broken!

So dramatic. I do admit to being beaten and broken (nearly) when it comes to getting reviews. I haven't given up entirely, but the tradition routes have offered little in the way of fruit. My request for reviews have, in a sense, been almost completely fruitless!

FAIR WARNING: This blog post gets a bit've been triplicate!

Try as I might, the simple request for reviews from family, friends, old co-workers, fellow writers and even the mailman have come up practically empty. I did manage to get one friend, who I haven't ever met in person, to write a review for Mishaps after he downloaded a copy of it and read it during the free Amazon giveaway period. He rated it a 4, which I value highly as a well reasoned review accompanying the rating.

Is Mishaps and Mayhem any good? I've actually gotten raves about it in person - one enthusiastic reader laughed out loud while reading it during a convention as I chatted with someone else. They liked it so much, they bought Adventures as well! This was a fellow author. If I can make a fellow author laugh, it must be at least passably decent writing. Of the other comments I've had about that book, they've loved it. To be fair, I actually wrote the prequel AFTER writing book one and two, so I had a really good handle on my characters, writing style and insight from the editing process on Adventures - it was, in short, the third book I'd written, so it should be pretty good, right?

Onto Adventures of Reztap! Is it any good? My editor, publisher and another friend (who read the first edition) thought it was a great laugh and good fun! I'll have to find out if my author friend liked it as much, hopefully at the upcoming Comicpalooza here in Houston. I will be attending the convention and displaying and selling my wares at a booth rented by Triscelle Publishing - they were so impressed with the books they offered to give me shelf space to sell Mishaps and Mayhem and Adventures alongside their own books. I feel incredibly honored that they have shared that space and their time and effort to help me get a leg up. I wasn't able to get a booth at Comicpalooza this year, so that's my only way of getting exposure. Very nice people at Triscelle Publishing! (They offered after several hours of interaction and upon a reading of one of my books - I did NOT ask. This was a gracious gift, not a negotiation after I requested anything - so please don't pester them, but do buy their books!)

But, what does that have to do with reviews? The author who loves my book hasn't written a review, and I know she loves it! What's a writer to do? I've met the system halfway. Amazon does allow for free copies to be given away in exchange for an honest review (provided the reviewer include the following disclaimer "I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review" in their review.) Easy as pie, right?

Consider Mishaps and Mayhem was free for five days, downloaded countless times (I really don't know how many times - only my publisher does and they haven't told me yet - but it was in the top 7,000 free Kindle downloads by the end), and I personally requested a group of friends to download it (for FREE) and please review it - and I got ONE review! So, no, not easy at all. Luckily (I hope), I found a service that will post my free offer to prospective reviewers with the implied agreement they will post an honest review in exchange for the free eBook. Enter Choosy Bookworm! Don't applaud just yet, the service to post my book offer isn't free, but I'm at a desperate point for some reviews. You can't pay for reviews (according to Amazon's term of service), which this does not do. I'm paying an advertising fee to get my "book offer" in front of "mostly" reliable reviewers. The reviewers themselves get no money - they only get a free eBook.

Interested in a free eBook of The Adventures of Reztap? Check out the page at Choosy Bookworm and sign up!

So, I still haven't gone down the "disreputable road" of paying for reviews. Are other authors paying to get reviews? I checked out the top twenty or so best selling Amazon science fiction eBooks. The range of reviews rank from 2 to literally over 10,000! None have "zero" reviews. The ones with few reviews appear to have a built-in audience - these are writers who have already gathered a large number of fans/readers, so the reviews may not mean that much in relation to sales. The only correlation I saw for sales was no one had "no" reviews. Did anyone pay for them, though? Not that I could tell. I'm also not an expert at culling through reams of data looking for patterns. I'd give you a detailed analysis of my research methods, but that would be painfully boring. Suffice it to say, I see some value in having a few reviews. I don't necessarily need 10,000!

With no built-in fan base, I'm starting from scratch. I didn't see any debut authors in the top twenty list. That may be something to hope for a few books down the line or maybe even with another series after I've built up a solid foundation of readers and fans. I'm SOOOO jumping the gun that I'll actually build a foundation of fans, but I'm trying to be optimistic here! I'm hoping I see good sales after another book or two comes out. I have to prime the pump beforehand with advance copies to get reviews on Amazon as SOON as book two comes out.

I think that's about all the analytics you're going to get from me tonight. Happy reviewing!


Sunday, April 26, 2015

Reztap and the Quest for the Insane Moth - Book 2 News

We're flying to the next book in the Chronicles of Reztap series - Reztap and the Quest for the Insane Moth! See what I did there - flying? OK, bad joke. The Quest manuscript and cover are completed while the editing has just started. It feels like I did this just a few months ago with Book One - oh, that's because I did just do this a few months ago!

The manuscript for Quest was done faster than the manuscript for Book One (Adventures), which technically had it's infancy in the 1980s. Given that time frame, Adventures took roughly 30 years to complete! Really, though, I was maturing as a writer during that time, with countless revisions, writing group critiques and some writing workshops thrown in there the last ten years. The previous twenty was more of a life happens delay, with sporadic writing occurring here and there including two Star Trek: The Next Generation scripts - which sadly never saw or had a chance at production.

Book Two took about eight months. The lightning round began in June when I figured full time writing would be a fine career transition, and that's when I really put the steam and brought the final manuscript to my soon to be publisher, Chart House Press, in August. That included a great deal of part-time writing, but it really paled in comparison to writing the prequel, Mishaps and Mayhem - A Primer to The Adventures of Reztap. I wrote that 100-page set of three short stories in three weeks (the bulk of which was roughly 80 - pages in the last six days before I sent it in.) That was a real eye opener to my writing abilities - I clocked over 5,000 words one day. To put it bluntly, that's insane, but it worked. I was in the groove so to speak.

If you managed to get out to see me at the Houston's Authors Bash 2015, AggieCon 46 or the MenilFest last weekend, you would have seen the cover art for Quest. I know I have many fans who are not able to make it in person out to see me, but I'm not quite at liberty to the cover at this time. Quest is a darker book by far than Adventures and that is reflected in the cover art. It's dark and populated with zombies! It does play a bit on the zombie tropes out there - I hope my Adventures blurb writer, Joe McKinney, continues to have a healthy sense of humor as I'm traipsing a bit on his territory being one of the foremost in the zombie field (see his Dead City book series for some great, fast-paced zombie action!)

Jerrica Law did a fantastic job on the art of the Quest book cover. She's really nailed the vision I had for the covers and delivered great cover art. Book Zero (Mishaps) was actually a quick revision of a sketch she originally did for the Adventures book cover which I rejected since Adventures didn't involve a shipwreck. Mishaps did and that helped her get the cover out quick for the quick to write, quick to press prequel. She's currently hard at work on the book cover for the third book in the series. I won't reveal the name just yet for a few reasons - I like suspense and I'm not under contract with my publisher for it yet, so the delivery date and publication are nowhere close to set in stone. I've only just barely begun to write it as well. Marketing and coordination for the first two books (and the prequel) have kept my attention away from the important task of writing the book. After Quest comes out, we'll see where we are with Chart House Press and find out if they're ready for the next set of books or not.

Then we have editing! This was my down with the first edition - not getting a professional editor. Second edition of Adventures is fully edited and is so immeasurably better than first edition that I shudder to open the fist edition to take a peek. The manuscript transition from third person to first person introduced so many writing mistakes that I overlooked on three personal editing passes that I knew it had to have the keen eye of a top notch editor to give it any hope of survival. Happily, Chart House Press connected me with Erika Wisdom, a fine editor and fan of science fiction. It's good to get an editor who is not only sharp, but also "gets it" when a humorous novel poking fun at science fiction tropes comes across her desk.

Erika will also be editing Quest! I'm very excited to continue what I consider a successful partnership with such a fine editor. She quite properly dissected Adventures, providing a bevy of corrections and suggestions, putting the manuscript in excellent shape. After I completed my run-through of incorporating everything she had exhaustively done, I then had to go back and look at my own changes with a fine tooth comb to make sure I hadn't introduced further errors with my own revisions. I think I nailed it, although a last minute grammar check revealed a few things I'd overlooked. Still, it was a much better experience than I thought it would be - I'm very happy with the final product and look forward to the same experience with Quest.

Stay tuned for a revelation of the book cover for Quest - coming soon!


Thursday, April 9, 2015

If You Liked It, Then You Should Have Put a Review On It!

My apologies to Beyonce, but she does have a point especially in these days of books being ranked on Amazon by reviews they get. There are a lot of controversies regarding positive reviews, negative reviews and purchasing reviews. But when you're a brand new writer trying to make an impact on Amazon, what are you supposed to do?

Positive reviews on Amazon are amazing when it comes to how Amazon markets your book. You get bumped up on "what buyers looked at" type of link lists and pages. People who go to your page and see it has been reviewed dozens or hundreds of times are more likely to consider taking a chance on your book. Amazon has built a culture among authors of encouraging them to get reviews or risk being dropped into the bottom ranks of obscurity, rarely ever getting a chance to get seen by random book shoppers. Interestingly enough, there are some shoppers who immediately ignore 4 and 5 star reviews because they they have been purchased or are somehow fraudulent otherwise. The problem with this tactic is that some of those reviews are honest and once you get into 3 star territory, that is where people who don't like the book or possibly competitors will say how bad a book is to purposefully give it "bad press". Truth be told, no one pays for 3 star reviews. My personal feeling is this applies more to consumer products as opposed to books, but you can still run into an ex-significant other who may want to cream your book for the sheer joyful malice of the act.

Negative reviews are an interesting concept. Sure, an avalanche of bad reviews may keep you from getting a product, but Amazon is infamously lax in weeding out unscrupulous reviews by competitors. Just like the recent Indiana Pizzeria controversy, there can be a flood of bad things to say about the place by people who've never been there if they have an agenda to press. Alternatively, that same location has gotten a ridiculous amount of donations to support it - "they'll never have to sell pizzas again" type of support. Like the Yelp review site, it's incredibly hard to get rid of bad reviews whether deserved or not. Unfortunately, without some kind of review process, it's impossible to manage these reviews for their consistency and truthfulness.

Enter the purchased reviews! These are specifically against the Amazon terms of agreement. You cannot "pay" someone for a review. Amazon is even going to court against some of these purchase review sites. These sites have conflicting language about how they go about getting these reviews posted. Some of it states the "reviewer" will not have to actually buy the product to write the review. Other language says to send the reviewer an empty box, so they can still be a "verified buyer". In other words, these sites are using Amazon's rules and tactics against them to get around the intention of the rules. Amazon is so big, it's nearly impossible for them to sift through the billions of reviews on their site to find the ones that may be bogus. They can't review every purchase and confirm a product was actually sent or an empty box. In short, while Amazon may fight these sites in court, it's unlikely they'll be able to stop the bogus reviews from coming in from other providers. The really crazy thing? This doesn't mean the products or books purchasing these reviews are bad; they're just trying to work the system like others already have, including the larger companies that post their own bogus reviews via pseudofake accounts without ever going to an outside provider. If the big businesses are doing it, why can't the smaller businesses and independent authors?

The obvious answer is - it is dishonest. The disturbing realization is - you the consumer and the honest product providers are getting hosed by a system designed to be taken advantage of, even if it is "against Amazon policies". So, here's my challenge to you consumers and readers out there. Post reviews of the products you use and the books you read! isn't hard and is only a little time consuming, but by doing this you will reduce the demand for the fraudulent review providers. If you've bought and used the product on Amazon, post a review of the product and the company you purchased it from! Viva la revolution and all that jazz.

It is incredibly hard to get a review of your book (and even your product) from your trues readers/consumers. I know, I've tried. I realize I've sold many books, some even given away for free. I have one review for one of my two books. It's been a whole month. I've personally asked people buying from me IN PERSON to review the books. Nada. I have a single review from a friend who downloaded a free copy from Amazon during the free promo period. Don't get excited - I asked 15 friends. With that kind of response, you may be able to see why authors and companies resort to purchasing reviews. I've had people literally gush about how much they enjoyed my person. Those same people will not write a review for it. I'm in a quandry. I know it's a good book, but I can't get reviews to save my life. It really is a head scratcher.

I would be totally jazzed if you bought The Adventures of Reztap and/or the prequel short story book Mishaps and Mayhem - A Primer for The Adventures of Reztap AND WROTE A REVIEW! However, I would be equally happy if you looked at the last things you purchased from Amazon and did your due diligence and wrote a short review of that product and/or company you purchased it from. Get out there and make Amazon reviews a truer reflection of the consumer experience! If you don't, you're going to continue to read purchased reviews and possibly experience a negative result from trusting them.

So what's it going to be America, United Kingdom, Australia and India? I hope you step in and make this baby your own! I'll let you know if I see any results on my end in about a month or so.

Keep on reviewing!


Monday, April 6, 2015

I've Had It!

I reached the breaking point a few days ago. I don't want this to come as a shock to anyone, so I'm going to lay it out there. I've had it with my computer. We're done. It will be retired soon.

I've had an extensive career in the computer industry working on the first IBM PC with a 10Mb hard drive while I was in the Air Force. that, I played around with a Commodore 128 even going so far as to digitize the opening credits of a home movie based on The Adventures of Reztap. Yes, the book has been around in various stages for a very long time. I'll count it a blessing that VHS is nearly extinct and the likelihood of me appearing as Chuck in a pink shirt on some You Tube channel is incredibly remote. The film exists but I'm fairly certain it has been lost to the sands of time. Ask me at ApolloCon or Sasquan why I appear as Chuck and not someone else. It's an interesting story.

I used a Xerox Star computer, what could arguably be called the forerunner to Windows. I was at the forefront of networking technology and the internet in the military when Novell 2 came out and actually became a network engineer using Novell 3.12. I've seen my share of PCs in that space from the Zenith Z-100 the way thru the different PCs that came out on a bevy of government contracts sporting Windows 3.11. In later years I watched PC technology on the Microsoft version grow and expend, at times being infuriating in it's complexity or bugginess, but also nodding my head at some good engineering or, at the very least, some savvy use of monopoly muscle to absorb and defeat competitors.

All the while I wished I could afford the other personal computer branch of technology that seemed more interesting and better engineered. It could not use monopolistic muscle because it didn't have it. This was, of course, the Apple computers of the day. I remember using Apple IICs in school when I was younger. I had a friend had an early Macintosh computer in the late 80s and it seemed it could do so any more wonderful things than the plain PC I owned. But, I was in the military, attending college and raising three daughter(with the invaluable aid of my lovely wife...okay, I really aided her.) There was no way I'd be able to afford the Cadillac of computers for the day.

Jump forward to my current PC. It's not current, but it used to be stable. A Windows 7 operating system on a modest PC. Nothing fancy, but powerful enough to do some graphic manipulation and, more importantly, easily able to allow me to write on. At least, it was until a few months ago. The computer is completely updated, has virus software installed and doesn't appear to be bogged down by and spyware. It is, however, making it nigh impossible to write on. Every few seconds or minutes, it varies, the application I'm working on will "lose focus". If I'm writing something, it will simply stop capturing my keystrokes and words and move focus to another application or just to nothing at all. Sometimes it comes back and continues to take my words, while missing a large (or small) chunk of what I've written. It drove me crazy editing book two, Reztap and the Quest for the Insane Moth. I had to correct my corrections,and then go back and correct those. I've tried writing book three, but I'm simply getting mad at the computer. Not healthy for combating writer's block caused by the problems in the first place.

As I need to a computer capable of doing professional level voice over work as well as allow me to simply write, I finally made the switch. My Apple iMac should be arriving this week. I'll be learning a new operating system somewhat. I have used Apples before but, other than my iPhone and iPad, I've never owned one besides an eMac a friend of mine gifted to me years ago. I used it to edit video back then and was suitably impressed. It isn't functional for what I need it for and was outdated years ago. Now, with at least a temporary ability to afford the somewhat high end computer, I've finally taken the leap.

Did I try to fix my Windows 7 PC? Absolutely. It just became a hassle to search for solutions, implement them and have them not work. In a business setting, I would simply reimage the computer - set it up from scratch and reinstall the necessary drivers and programs. I can envision doing that with my current computer and losing touch for days as I try to get it up and running again. That is too much time and way more trouble than I want to go through. I will probably still utilize it for a while as I transition over to the Mac, but other than this blog post (which has been interrupted multiple times by that infuriating focus loss), I will likely never write on it again. I know, Windows fans will ask why I didn't get a Windows 8 computer. The answer is simple. I didn't like it. I've done some consulting work on the side and I just didn't care for the metro interface. Doing the voice over work I want to do (audio books for Reztap on the immediate horizon) is simple on the Mac and always a bit more of a work-around on the PC. I get the gut impression the work will be substandard from the PC. It has been that way in the past. I'm simply jumping ship now while I've got the chance.

Don't get me wrong - I'm certain I'll still be doing consulting work (or more) with PCs in the future. This is the first time a Mac will be my primary personal computer, though. Wish me luck. Now I have to figure out how to get some ancient Windows programs to work on it to support my tele-RPG game with my friends in Illinois and Colorado.