About Relating To Reviewers

Perhaps I should begin by emphasizing that I appreciate all my reviewers immensely (even, or possibly especially the critics). I know the time it takes to assess, formulate, and write one’s feelings about a book. A book is a complicated blending of thoughts, actions, and emotions, many of which often conflict. Reviews are not judgments; they are reactions. Just as writing a book (fiction, in my case) is a very intimate experience, so is writing a review. It takes a long time to sort through these feelings and thoughts, and then to present them to the public.


I must confess, I read all my reviews. Many authors do not, and I understand why. It can be a traumatic experience. Some critical reviews can be very harsh. I have carried the toughest ones around in my head for days. But to be fair, I have carried the most complimentary ones around even longer.


I have never failed to learn from a thoughtful review. Once I have overcome my emotional reaction (after I carry them around for a few days) there is always something to be learned. Anyone who takes the time to write a review must feel strongly about it, and the points they make are worth considering. Not that I will necessarily make changes, but I do consider the possibility.


I have a writer’s appreciation for a well-written review. I don’t mean great writing; I mean a concentrated effort to present specific points or feelings. Some reviewers dash them off, with missing words and misspellings, even while critiquing an author for the very same thing. It’s a bit ironic, but it is a review, and appreciated none-the-less.


Some take less time, with reviews like “Good book. I liked it” or “Not my thing”. Such reviews are not helpful to the writer, except to add to the plus or minus column. But in Amazon’s eyes, a review is a review and is included in their algorithm.


A real conundrum for me are the reviewers who appears to describe an entirely different book. One or two reviewers speak of many editing errors, so many in fact that the book “appears to be a first draft” and “is almost impossible to read”. Certainly errors can occur, even after numerous edits; software (I use Microsoft Word) may unnecessarily “correct” a word during the final edit, or if the sentence order is changed during the process of correction, there sometimes can be a domino effect of unintended changes, and so on. Indeed, I have seen such errors in books from major publishing houses with teams of editors. It happens, and we are always very eager to locate and correct all of them.


These reviewers (they are few – a distinct minority) employ hyperbole, but their claims do damage. After reading such a review, we have reread the book looking for the multitude of errors they describe, fearful that somehow drafts were switched with the finished manuscript, but have failed to find the basis of their complaints. I remain puzzled. In one instance, a reviewer described not one, but three of our books this way in precisely the same words.


The majority of reviews are constructive, and in one or two cases even life changing (for the characters). The intimate knowledge and empathy some reviewers manifest for the protagonists can cause their creator to think twice about the direction of the path of their lives, or the significance of elements in the story or the impact of the environment that surrounds them. For an author, it is wonderful to know readers engage at such a level.


The author who does not read his reviews misses all of this, for good or ill. To my mind, they participate in just a part of the journey. Yes, they may avoid the sleepless nights, but they also miss much evidence of success.

Is the Amazon Kindle Countdown Effective?

Recent chatroom wisdom tends to dismiss the Amazon KDP marketing tools Countdown and Free Books as less than effective for eBook marketing. The reasoning is all about numbers – there are simply too many free books at any one time, too many books offering countdown prices, too many authors altogether.

I disagree

For those who do not provide their books exclusively to Amazon’s KDP program, an explanation is necessary. When you subscribe to KDP, you give up your right to market your eBook with anyone other than Amazon. The tradeoff is: 1. Special designation on Amazon shelves as KDP Select 2. Opportunity to join the lending library system (royalty payment for pages read) 3. Opportunity to initiate the Countdown, your book offered at various low prices on multiple progressive days, increasing until the original price is resumed 4. Opportunity to offer your book for free for a limited period of time. It should be noted both Countdown and Free Books receive promotion by Amazon, and are increasingly popular programs for readers.




So what’s the hitch? As previously stated, some chatroom frequenters feel the power of these special marketing tools is fading with the increasing number of participants. Indeed, if I google “free book” I can find endless offers not just at Amazon, but at Kobo, Apple, Project Gutenberg, Nook – the list goes on. Indie authors lower their prices all the time. So are the chat-buddies right?

That depends. From my experience, an eBook author has two options: to market strictly with Amazon, or market with everyone else (including Amazon non KDP). This decision requires some thought. Theoretically, you can try the wider market, change your mind, withdraw your title from all retailers, and enter in the Amazon KDP program. From my experience, however, it is nearly impossible to withdraw all your books from all online shelves once you’ve distributed them widely. You can go the other way and begin with KDP. Once you decide to test other waters, do not expect to come back, for the above mentioned reason. In any case, it is likely once you have sampled KDP, you won’t want to leave.

But do Countdown and Free Books tools work? Again, I turn to my own experience. I write fiction. I recently published a fifth book in my series. I followed the advice of gurus and hyped the book on pre-sale, sold enough to propel it near the top of my category when it was released. It hung in for a month or so, then began to fade as expected. I used Countdown over three days to try to save it. The results were immediate, the book shot even higher than its release rank. Weeks later, it is still in the top 25 of that category (a category dominated by such massive platforms as both Hillermans and Craig Johnson).

The key for selling any book is visibility. Amazon Free books and Countdown offer this. But remember the three basics for selling eBooks: 1. Write a great book. 2. Create a great cover. 3. Write a series. When those are in place, the countdown works best. Author name recognition is helpful for the Countdown to succeed, and such recognition will come gradually from several good books in a series. Free books are the best tool for the beginning author, when getting volumes into many reader’s hands as soon as possible is the motive.

Finally, the Prime lending library system option in KDP should not be overlooked. If your writing is strong enough to keep readers reading, you will amass many pages of royalties. The increment is small, especially at first, but as you and your series develop fans and followers, it will increase and truly make a difference.



Writing “SAND”



It is true the sand of the Mojave Desert hides treasures. There are storied treasure hoards, such as a ship laden with pearls, an underground river bed of black sand laced with gold, a shaft of gold ore behind an iron door, lost and never relocated. Then there are the real underground treasures actively mined in the region: pockets of gold, silver, lead, zinc, copper, tungsten, vanadium, iron, clay, and cinders.
I am inspired by the land, its endless variation, the secrets it holds, the way people have adapted to, even profited from its anomalies. A deserted doorless shack leaning against the wind has its story, a forsaken gap-bladed windmill another. I see them peopled and active in my imagination and I look for the swale through the Indian grass that was once a road, the heap of rocks that was once a wall. Sometimes there is a story to be learned, an actual history that fills in some of the chinks, but never completely.
Many stories did not have happy endings. The Mojave Desert is a particularly harsh home, for human or animal. Yet even here people managed to live, gather meager meals of nuts and grubs, as did the Chemehueva Indians, or farm and raise cattle, as did later visitors. In the Mojave National Preserve, the history lies exposed, an open book. Failed endeavors were abandoned and left to decay. Primitive roads thread across the Creosote scrublands and skirt sudden promontories. And unlike many National Parks and Monuments these roads are not prohibited to travelers, but beware; if you lack water or your vehicle lacks clearance or four-wheel drive, you may not re-emerge.
The plot of UNDER DESERT SAND grew in my mind while exploring these roads. A singular solitariness hovers over one when in the heart of the desert, with the Jeep in low 4-wheel drive descending into a narrow sand-bottomed arroyo, the momentary wheel spin in deep sand, that uh-oh moment. In our enabled lives there are few such times for most of us; it made me ponder how many anxious minutes early settlers of the land experienced on a daily basis.
The story of the 1925 gunfight at Government Holes came to me in snatches. I was fascinated by the drama, the snuffing out of two lives in seconds (talk about uh-oh moments). The road (if such it may be called) to Government Holes today has no signage. Several tracks lead away from the Mojave Road in the general area, you take your chances. I used a Preserve map and a compass. It was a good day as the sand in the river bed was firm and none of the small arroyos and gashes were too deep for the Cherokee. My reward was the sight of the old Rock Spring Land & Cattle Company windmill leaning against a cottonwood and the cattle tank still there, full of green murky water. I parked the Jeep and hunted through the underbrush and found stones from the building foundation, the very location the gunfight took place.
After several days in the Mojave National Preserve the story was well formed in my mind and I went home and filled in the chinks and wrote the story. Many months later, I contacted Kristallyn Designs for a cover. The image Krista sent for my consideration amazed me, for it might have been a photograph of the exact location. It is now the front cover.
My characters Zack Tolliver and Eagle Feather are destined to follow me through the wilderness. The land is my muse, the historic people my inspiration.


A Review of Publishing Today

With a title this assumptive, I hasten to acknowledge I possess no lofty credentials or superior access to data upon which to base the ideas which follow. I am not a queen bee, I am a drone. But even the drone bee is cognizant of change in the quality of the honey over a period of time.

Two weeks ago, I addressed a chapter of the California Writers Club, to attempt to describe how I had been drawn to indie publishing, and explain (perhaps to myself as much as my audience) why I have stayed with it. For reference, I turned to the 150 or so blog articles I have written since 2013, when I had truly embarked upon the adventure of writing and self publishing. I took my audience along on my adventure from that year to the present.

Memory serves only to confuse. As I reviewed my past articles in preparation for my talk, I was startled to find how much I remembered wrongly, or at least remembered only partially. I have seen myself as a Don Quixote tilting against the windmills of the large publishing houses on behalf of the little known but not untalented midline writer. What I forgot was the hundred or so query letters I had sent to those very houses on behalf of my first Zack Tolliver, FBI novel THE OTHER. My near misses included an acceptance and subsequent withdrawal of that acceptance (the house changed its direction), another acceptance and subsequent withdrawal of acceptance (the acquiring agent left the house for another position), and many similar occurrences. This experience brought me to understand there are many circumstances beyond quality of writing involved in such decisions. It also caused me to wonder how many talented novelists are the best writers we’ve never heard of.

Another area where memory failed is the degree of change in the publishing world. Much has changed, but much has remained the same. While the number of indie published eBooks sold each year grows steadily, so does the world population, yet the ratio of indie published to traditionally published, despite ebbs and flows, hasn’t changed all that much since 2014. What has changed is use, that is, how people read today––with the iPad or smartphone, these busy people read on the go; at the airport, dentist, etc. But back home in the arm-chair, or in bed at night, many still prefer to turn physical pages.

The real change, to my mind, is access to more readers by writers, and access to more writers by readers. Reader rating systems, while faulty (no two readers use them the same way), and reader reviews (ditto) have become essential tools for books, just as they are for all other products. There is a ground leveling quality to all of this; I doubt readers will ever bother to use one method to rate traditionally published authors and another to rate indie authors. All books will be adjudicated by the same readers using the same system, whether authored by Tony Hillerman, or…well…me.

This, in a nutshell, is why marketing plays and will continue to play a huge role in the future of books. Here the large traditional publishing house would seem to have the advantage of large traditional dollars, to spend as they see fit to make the book they bet upon as visible as possible––but probably not mine, or yours. The indie publisher must come to terms with a lesser budget, and learn to pump social media to the gain as much traction as possible.

So what has changed in the past four years and what remains the same?

What is new? Stockpiling eBooks; i.e., buying when they are cheap and shelving them electronically for a rainy day. What is new? A demonstrated desire for faster reads, books of 150 pages or so for that plane ride from LA to NY. What is new? An increasing number of hybrid authors and increasing numbers of eBooks published by traditional houses.

Still true, traditional publishers will need to find a way to compete with Amazon’s 70 percent royalties. Still true, indie publishing is faster, pays better, offers more creative opportunities, and allows experimentation with price and cover. Still true, the best road to success for any author is to write the best possible book, find the best possible cover, and then write ten more of the same.

Why Pre-sale?

Pre-order for books is a fairly new tactic, now wholeheartedly embraced by Amazon, iBooks, Smashword and other on-line sellers. My newest Zack Tolliver, FBI novel Under Desert Sand will be placed on pre-order at Amazon.com immediately after Easter. In this article I will discuss what I feel are the advantages and disadvantages of using pre-order for the author––and for the buyer.

I have placed books on pre-order with Amazon Kindle twice before, with mixed results. The first book I tried was CAT. I hyped it a lot and sold several copies before its actual publication date. Later, I put my new, experimental (for me) mid-grade book Payu’s Journey up for pre-sale. I sold just one (thanks, mom). But to be fair, that sale represented a large portion of all sales for that book as the month went on (Payu did not sell well as an Ebook – more about why in another article).

On the whole, I found the results discouraging, perhaps not good enough to warrant the preparation, hype, and angst as the deadline approaches. But I’ve learned some things since then, which I will share. But first, I’ll examine the benefits to the buyer/reader, thus raising the immediate question: are there any? It’s not as if in this digital age there won’t be enough copies to go around. Yet, after some research and listening in chat rooms I found a few reasons to purchase on pre-order:

1. The memory factor. How often have you read about a great new book and decided to buy it, only to find it is not yet available? The months go by toward publication and the book slips from mind – opportunity lost. Now you can pre-order the book, and then forget about it. Most stores will Email you when the book becomes available.
2. Price. Often (usually) the price offered at pre-sale is lower. Amazon guaranties the price will be the lowest for the book during the pre-sale period all the way to midnight on release day. This means if you pre-order a month in advance at one price, and two days later the price dips on pre-order, that’s the price you’ll ultimately pay. Often (as with my books) the price on pre-order is the lowest for the book, ever.
3. Convenience. If it is a book you know you will buy in any case, buy it on pre-order and “git-er-done”.
4. Shelve it. The beauty of digital books is unlimited shelf space. Pre-order the books you know you want and let them accumulate. Never be without that bedtime reading.

The benefits for the author are clearer, even if some are misunderstood. Here are a few:

1. Visibility. Visibility is king, and pre-order raises visibility for your book immediately.
2. ASIN. On Amazon, your book is assigned an ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Number). With the ASIN, you can create links from any URL to your book, simplifying the task of finding it for potential readers. You can also use it to create a link to the review page for your book, to simplify (and hopefully encourage) that process.
3. Preview. Pre-order on Kindle offers you a preview of how your book description will look on your page, which you can change if need be at Author Central later. You can preview other components as well, and make changes quickly after the book is released.
4. Coming Soon. Your book is shown through the Coming Soon filter, offering extra visibility.
5. Momentum. If your book sells many pre-orders, it can begin life with a strong sales rating, and good momentum.(Fair warning: if not, the opposite is true.)

There are concerns, and some disadvantages and several risks to authors offering pre-orders. They will be topics for future articles in this column. All these concerns can be overcome with due diligence and preparation. Particularly, Amazon’s ever-adapting algorithm works harder to benefit the author utilizing pre-sale, by increasing the book’s visibility more than ever before. Just how much more, and how effectively, are two questions I hope to answer after the pre-sale of Under Desert Sand is complete.

A Conference just for Indie Writers

The free on-line conference for indie writers and publishers, Indie Fringe, is coming around again. It happens at ten Saturday morning March 18. This is one of the best resources you never heard of. Again, it’s absolutely free. You do need to register, but that takes seconds. They just want your name and Email. Did I mention it’s free?

The focus this year is How to Write, Produce and Distribute A Book. That about covers everything I want to know. The conference is streamed as separate workshops direct from Olympia, London, and is one of the few events dedicated strictly to indie authors.

Visit selfpublishingadvice.org/what-self-publishers-need-to-know-now-ibf-2017 and push the Register Now button to get aboard.

Today 70% of all adult fiction sales are ebooks, 30% of them sold by indie authors. Then there’s audio, poised to sell on many more music platforms now that Apple and Audible (Amazon) have terminated their exclusive deal together. There will be sessions to address these topics. Then the question of how to advertise; should you pay for it? Use Amazon ads? What about Facebook ads? All of this will be covered.

All together Indie Fringe offers 24 sessions, all free (did I mention that?). Speakers include award-winning writers, international speakers, marketing experts, a representative from IngramSpark, website experts, illustrator experts, and so on. Don’t worry about missing a presentation because it conflicts with another. That’s the beauty of on-line conferences––it’s all there for you, just scroll down and find it.

It does take time to read/hear all that is written/said, but you would spend even more time at your local writer’s conference, wouldn’t you? Here, you can skip what you don’t want to hear, or leave half way through (no one will see you). I have volumes of material saved from last year’s conference that I still haven’t had time to read. But I will, I will!

So get aboard. There is no reason not to!