Sunday, April 20, 2014

Why you should 'Write what you know'.....

'Write what you know' was a piece of advice that was given to me a wee while back which I think I'm only lately starting to fully understand.

I suppose my first instinct, based on this advice, was to trawl through my life and search in vain for something that I thought other people would be interested in - two things wrong with this,1) my life hasn't been that exciting and 2) why would anyone possibly be interested in anything I had done?

'Write what you know' has multi dimensional connotations, whereas initially I took the statement far too literally, dumb error on my part.

As a child I was brought up as a Catholic; marched to Church on a Saturday for 'confession' and again the following day in 'Sunday Best' for Mass. I was baptised, did the 'Confirmation' bit and so on - I even went to two Catholic Schools - there is an irony in the fact that I am the by-product of a Catholic education. None of this would make interesting material for a novel.

I joined the Army at the age of sixteen, served an apprenticeship as a mechanic and then spent a few years fixing everything from motorcycles to tanks across a number of continents. I also got to do some other soldier stuff which I most certainly couldn't write about. And of course during that time I turned from boy to man, again nothing too exciting in that.

My first book, Russian Redemption, is set to the backdrop of WW2, (I wasn't around at that time). It involves The Kremlin (never been there) and the terrible and inhumane treatment of Russian peasants (wasn't me) during those times. So how could I have written such a book? I did a lot of research to the point where I got to 'know' the subject matter. It's not a story about fixing trucks but there are vehicles involved at various times so my mechanical experience allowed me to bring detail to those parts of the story that gave them depth. It involves firearms; again my military experience gave me the knowledge to write these parts in believable detail, to paint the picture accurately. It also involved gunshot trauma, now there's something you tend not to forget, along with the pungent smell of decomposing flesh, the way it gets into your clothes, your hair and leaves an acrid film in the roof of your mouth, and your tongue. Too far? Well, you get the picture. My point here is that I have no experience of Vampires or Goblins, but I could still write a believable description of the aftermath of a battle from what I know. I could describe the inside of a Church and the scene around from what I know, and associate it with pretty much any genre. And the same could be said for many experiences throughout my fairly uneventful life. Suddenly, my life was a rich vein of writing material, who'd have thought it. To prove this, to myself more than anything, I wrote Fated Encounters, never really intending the story to see the light of day. An example: the description of how the 4.2 litre car responded to the accelerator being pressed to the floor gives just that little bit of detail that helps the reader 'live' the experience.

I use Google as a source of a lot of research and by that I mean 'mechanical' research, just facts, and I think for a story to be believable there has to be some facts. But a story has to have depth, multi level appeal, and this is where 'what I know' belongs; it's the emotions, the finer details, things Google can't give you that bring a book to life. This is why many Authors spend a lot of time with people that have 'experienced' what they are trying to capture - it's difficult to describe fear if you've never felt it, or child birth or exhilaration or even driving a car, if you don't 'know' it, writing about it, describing it so that the reader 'feels it' is virtually impossible (I believe). And top marks should be given to these Authors, they care enough about their story to put themselves through this. Some will just write what they think, or what Google tells them, or what they guess - not good, poor form. It's the difference between an Author of merit, and an 'uploader'.

I think it would be fair to say that every good Author leaves a bit of themselves in the pages of every book they write, I believe they have to, it's part of the formula of a good story.

So, all those years that me and God have spent discussing the purpose of my menial life were wasted - all he had to say was "I'm giving you the experiences you'll need to write a good book". Cheers big fella but ya cudda told me earlier!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Disappearing reviews

I may have mentioned in an earlier post that reviews keep vanishing for no apparent reason. It's really frustrating as reviews are hard enough to get when you start out, especially ones that have a 'value' to the would be purchaser. These are peoples opinions of the book, and good reviews (for me) highlight the good bits, the not so good bits and opinions around the characters, story line and construction. Whilst I respect that reviews are written for the benefit of the reader, it is nice (as an author) to be able to pick out tips and thoughts that can be regarded as constructive to improve my own ability. 

With Russian Redemption I would eagerly click on the Amazon page looking, at first, for the number of reviews, and then the excitement of seeing the rating and then reading the whole review. The very first review for Russian Redemption opened with "This is the most enjoyable novel I have read in quite a while..." can you imagine how elated I was to read that from one of Amazons own Top 1000 reviewers, David Bryson. For me it was vindication for all the time, effort and money that I had invested in the adventure. Slowly, more and more reviews came in, for me it was like unwrapping a birthday present each time.

Then one disappeared, vanished. Suddenly the number of reviews dropped from eight to seven - how the hell.......?  Then about a week or so later another was gone. Amazon informed me that it could be that the reviewer deleted their review but wouldn't discuss it any further. I managed to contact the reviewer and she assured me that she hadn't asked for it to be removed so she reposted the review. A few more weeks went by and another went missing. Amazons view on this is 'tough' and if you want to complain we'll get very hardline and pull your book altogether. They wear the big boy pants! So, as an author, you have to just suck it up. But it niggled me in a big way. Reviews were reposted and re-removed, it almost became a game. One of the reviews was from a work colleague; she had purchased a copy and was exercising her right to leave an opinion. Having investigated the disappearance of her first review, it was suggested if she started the review with "I know the Author..." then Amazon would not delete it so she did..................... and Amazon did to!

These were all four or five star reviews, gold for a new author, being wiped away for no apparent reason. Last week another review went missing, only this time the reviewer had no idea who I was when he posted the review some weeks ago. After reading Russian Redemption he tracked me down on facebook and sent a friend request which was duly accepted; four weeks later the review was gone. And that is how I uncovered the one common denominator of all of the missing reviews - they were all part of my growing facebook community. I made a few enquiries on some forums and it appears that somehow Amazon 'bots' track Facebook and deem any 'facebook friend' to be an admissible  source of reviews. How bloody ridiculous is that!! 

So, here's the 'heads up' - do not tell Amazon or Goodreads (Amazon own Goodreads) that you have a facebook account, keep that information away from 'Big Brother', your reviews may well stick around a whole lot longer.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Want to share in an idea?

As part of the 'wash up' from the Fated Encounters launch I've been exercising my brain to look for different ways to generate interest in my books.

There have been a few ideas that definitely need more work but one I'm keen to explore is something I'm calling 'buy it forward'.

All of the feedback on both books has been incredibly positive which is a real bonus. So here is the basic principle: I provide ten volunteers with a copy of one or the other of my books, the 'volunteer' reads said book and then, providing they enjoyed it, they then buy and gift a copy to one of their friends or family that they believe would enjoy it. The 'out' here is that IF the reader doesn't enjoy the read then they don't have to buy and gift a copy forward. Actually, where I say 'buy' I mean send a gift voucher to the value of whatever it needs to be.

This is not without the obvious danger of dishonesty but at the same time I choose to believe that the vast majority of people would enter into this in the 'spirit' of the exercise. Forever the optimist :-)

On the basis of this I'd be interested to hear from anyone that wants to take part in this experiment

or register through the contact page on website 

It's very easy to get stuck in a marketing rut; following what everyone else has done. Hey, if it works for you then brilliant but I'm looking for new avenues, untested or untried. My reasoning is very simple, if I do what everyone else is doing then I'm stuck in a crowd fighting for the attention of the same group of people. 

Looking around other sites I see that the whole topic of 'freebie promo days' is being discussed at length - some in favour and some against. I made my opinion public in the last post, I honestly believe that the 'freebie' promo has become over rated and it's effectiveness is limited. There is also the fact that a growing number of readers are now expecting free books. 'FREE' has no value.

So, as new Authors, we need to think out of the box to gain an advantage.

Feel free to share your ideas, or some of your success's.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Aftermath of the Fated Encounters 'Golden Hour'

Well, one word really; disappointing.

It achieved the aim of getting into the top 100, therefore can be classed as an Amazon Best Seller but really I am more than a little disappointed. So, now I have to do the post mortem and find out why it failed to get into the top 10.

A couple of points to note that I'm told I need to factor in:

1. It is an entirely different genre to Russian Redemption.
2. It is a short story.
3. My first book was only published in September 2013 so, in Author terms, I'm still unknown.

I can get most of that but they just sound like excuses. I spent more time promoting the launch than I ever did for Russian Redemption. It was supported by this blog site, an email campaign, the web site and numerous other ways, so why didn't it achieve it's goal?

The obvious answer is that not enough people were interested enough to download a free Romance short story by an unknown Author, I refuse to believe that not enough people saw it.

This whole thing has got me thinking, or rethinking I should say, about my strategies. Is there really any value in the 'promo days'? Some authors believe these to be critical to the early success of a book, but I'm wondering if 'give aways' do more harm than good. Many decades ago a company I worked for carried out an experiment in two seperate (but demographically similar) neighbourhoods. They were a cable tv/ telephone company. In one neighbourhood (A) they offered free install where as in the other (B) the installation was charged at 100 pounds (UK). After three months the findings were as follows

Take up of services

A) - 76%
B) - 28%

Still using the service(s) after three months

A) 31%
B) 26%

Still using the service after six months

A) 18%
B) 23%

Churned off the services with bad debt

A) 64%
B) 1%

In a nutshell, those that had enjoyed the free installation abused the product, didn't pay the monthly bills and were happy to be disconnected for non payment. The 'product' had no value to them. Where as those that had paid for the installation placed a value on the service and therefore paid the bills. To transpose this into launch terms; give it away, it has no value. I suppose this is a question that each author needs to ask themselves very early on in their author life - do I want to play in the same play ground as the masses or not?

I understand the argument of free promo's being the best way to get a name out there, but I'm now thinking that my preference would be to reward those readers and blog site visitors that already have an interest in my books as opposed to throwing it open to just anybody. 'Selective freebies'. I don't really want my books downloaded to sit on a kindle and never be read, I want them to be read and enjoyed by people that want to read them. There is a bit of a caveat here, I have no illusions (or delusions) of becoming a famous Author, I honestly write because I absolutely love to write, it's an experience that I continue to be completely enthralled by, and one that continues to cost me money. Make no mistake, I look forward to the day when I can say that they (my books) pay for themselves, but that's quite probably a long way in the future. For someone that lacks patience this is a big commitment but I do believe that it is realistic.

So, are these 'freebies' becoming more trouble than they're worth?!

I can see the merits of both sides of this argument, but experience leads me to believe that 'free' is not a good price IF you want your story/novel/novella to have a value. The long slow path carries no guarantees but I do believe that if a book is good enough it will be found eventually, and then it will have a worth.

Just my thoughts - happy to hear yours.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Riks final installment - Publishing for Self Publishers.

Before you get into Riks third blog that concludes 'Riks Week' here on Wilsons Way, I would like to take the opportunity to thank him again for the time, effort and knowledge freely given to help all aspiring Authors. 

Some simple thoughts on formatting your own work for publishing.

Point one – Formatting matters a great deal and seems to be the number two complaint about both self-published works and traditionally published eWorks. And, unlike editing (the lack thereof being the number one complaint), you can format your own work if you have the skills, the time and the patience. Whether you wish to format your own work or have it done for you, I make these suggestions:

First – a bit of background. Word processors all add hidden things (called markups) that make what you are writing look good on paper or on the screen. Files produced for the World Wide Web also have tags, or markups. In the olden days of formatting documents, the person formatting would add the marks by hand. For example, if a word was to be made bold a tag would be entered in front of the word to start the printer bolding it and then after the word to stop the printer from bolding everything that followed.  “The quick brown <B> fox </B> jumped …” and the word “fox” would be printed in bold type. So what you say?
Well – word processors now do it automatically for you and each word processors has its own codes or mark ups and they are not compatible between them and they are really not compatible with the “engines” that run eReaders. And so, you need to get rid of those hidden, invisible little codes before you are ready to send your file to your favourite eReader vendor. We call this process “nuking” the file. And, it is important. Also, tabs don’t work on eReaders, and those special characters that looked so good in MS Word can  look like “swear words” (%$$#^$#) in an eReader. Here is my procedure:

1.    I take your MS Word document
2.    I copy it and paste it into a plain text (.txt )
3.    I save the text file and then open a new template that I make for Kindle or Nook or Kobo.
4.    I copy the nuked version into the template
5.    I reformat all the bolds and italics that you had as well as set the look and feel to match what you want using eBook friendly Styles.

Here are some suggestions:

·         Use Styles and use the fewest possible number of Styles. Set up Style normal so that you either have a 0.3 inch indent, or, you have a 6 point gap after the end of the section.  NOT BOTH. Some eBook vendors will reject your work if you use both the indent and the gap.
·         Never use the Tab key – tabs just don’t work in eBooks
·         Never use the Space Bar to move your text in, that is what the 0.3 inch indent does for you.
·         Never use the return (Enter) key to add extra space between things. Many eReaders will ignore extra Returns anyway. I set up a Style called “Any Break” (that is just the name I call it). And my Style “Any Break” has a 6 point gap in front of it and a 6 point gap after it. If I add an extra Return and make it Style Any Break – it will be a gap 12 points high – and that way you can set off sections. (Many authors like to show time passage by adding five asterisks, centered on a line – here is a great place to use Style Any Break.)
·         I also use two or three more Styles. I use a 14 point bold centered for the title of the book, a 12 point bold centered for the authors name and an 11 point bold centered for the things like “Kindle Edition”, “Contents”. And “Dedication”.
·         Do not worry about the font. Kindle displays everything as a courier type of font no matter what you do. They seem to use their very own sort of specialized proportional serif font.

Point three – Even if you are going to have someone else format for you, do the same thing. Use as few styles as possible, but use Styles. Remember – many formatters, myself included, charge by the hours. I can format a novel much quicker if the author has used Style normal all the way through than I can if the author has used 74 different styles. And much quicker means less charges to you.

Point four – This is the same as Point two in the last blog - If you can’t do it all, remember this adage:

“Do what you do best and what you love, hire out the rest.”

If you have specific questions, ask them here in comments or contact me directly.

Just Rik's morning coffee thoughts ...


Bio – Rik is married to Linda, an author. Rik and Linda met 44 years ago in the student newspaper offices at a college in Chicago. Linda was writing then, Linda still writes (
Other than checking out potential lady friends, Rik mostly just hung around the office, wrote a few headlines and tried to look busy. The next Christmas they were married. Forty-four years later Linda has more than 25 works published, both traditionally and by self-publication. Rik is a sort-of-retired educator. Today Rik provides educational technology support to a local university, formats books for authors (, is a professional Magician ( and spends as much time with Linda on their boat, Mystery, with their cat Captain Hook, as they can. They have two children and seven grandchildren.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

What is the best way forward for Indie Authors for publication?

Part Two - In his last post Rik covered Traditional and Vanity publishing, now he looks at Self Publishing.

Rik and Linda are a husband and wife Author team with numerous years experience within all aspects of Authorship - AND Rik was kind enough to volunteer the time to put it into print for us - Thank You!

Some simple thoughts on publishing your own works.

Point one – You can do it! Honest.

Point two – If you can’t do it all, remember this adage:

“Do what you do best and what you love, hire out the rest.”

So, what are the steps?

The steps are simple:
1.    Write a great story
2.    Re-write, tear it apart, put it back together, edit, proof, spell check and polish.
3.    Send it to beta readers. And wait.
4.    Gently remind the beta readers.
5.    Re-write, tear it apart again, put it back together, edit, proof, spell check and re-polish.
6.    Have it professionally edited. There are lots of steps that you can do yourself; this is not one of them. Sorry. An author cannot edit their own work. You are too close to it. When you read it you will see what you thought you wrote, not what is actually there. Editing will cost you between $1.00 and $2.50 a page. And it is well worth every penny.
7.    Go over it again, more than likely accepting most of what your professional editor suggests.
8.    Format your book. If you choose to format it yourself – you really need to read the next blog – Part Three – Formatting. Formatting for a normal novel for one eVersion file and a POD (Print on Demand) version file using my services will run you between $75 and $500, depending upon who you hire. Many will charge much more because they think you are willing to pay more. Shop around! Good guaranteed work should cost you less than $100. Now, if your work is non-fiction or has numerous formatting challenges, it might cost a little more. And, reasonable fixes should be free.
9.    Get, buy, hire or make a great cover. Having one produced can be as little as $40 or $50 dollars and can easily run ten times that much if you choose to do so.
10.  Choose a vendor. Create the appropriate accounts and PUBLISH!!!!
11.  Have a party, do a Snoopy Dance, make a toast, hug your cat and do all the other wonderfully silly things authors do when they first see their work on Amazon or hold a print version.
12.  Cross your fingers.

Making “The Bigs” is as much luck, providence, God’s will, or whatever phrase you choose. Steps one through ten above, if done wrong will stop you from making “The Bigs”, but doing them all perfectly will not guarantee that your book will be a hit. Readers are fickle people. It is one of those things where being in the right place at the right time can make or break it.

If Oprah (or someone like her) picks up your book and likes it – instant millionaire.
If a Rock Star picks it up and likes it and mentions it in one of their songs - instant millionaire.

Help, I need somebody Help, not just anybody…

The Beatles recorded Help on my 19th birthday in 1965. And we all need somebody at some point. So, who do you need?

·         You sure can use some help with encouragement. A significant other, a parent, a child, a support group. Now, I am not talking about AA here, but I am talking about any number of great Writer’s Groups, both face to face and virtual. And while the virtual groups are nice, a face-to-face, we meet the second Tuesday of each month, we read and critique without rancor each other’s works, we nourish and help each other … That kind of group is important.
·         You can use help with beta readers. Those are the people, who, for whatever reason, are willing to read your WIP (work in progress) and tell you what they think. Hopefully in a timely manner, hopefully kindly and hopefully they will say more than just, “Great book, I couldn’t put it down.” Beta readers can be a great help.
·         Book covers – here is where some of the great virtual writer’s groups can help. One such group is the Indie Author Group on FaceBook.
Many of these great FB groups have files where people list their services for you. Again – shop around, ask lots of questions and get the cover that you really like, that speak to you, no, that SINGS to you. You can’t judge a book by its cover, but a great cover really does help.
·         Vendors – this one is great because there are so many options. And yes – here is a place where virtual groups can again help. Here’s my advice:
Where to put your eBooks
1.    Kindle (Amazon) KDP - You put it here directly yourself. You need the document, the cover and a KDP account. You do not need an ISBN (Amazon uses an ASBN of their own) You get a royalty once a month with day by day sales reports view-able. You also get the chance if you wish of using their exclusive KDP Select agreement.
2.    SmashWords (SW) - putting your book here, you can let your book be distributed to: Sony, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple, Diesel, Page Foundry, Baker-Taylor’s Blio, Library Direct and Baker-Taylor’s Axis360. They do not distribute it to Amazon. You get a royalty once a quarter. You need: the document, the cover and unique ISBN for the digital version (not a print version ISBN) and an account at SmashWords. SW will assign a free ISBN if you want.  If you are an author outside of the USA, you can probably get free ISBNs from your own government.
3.    Barnes and Noble - if you wish, you can distribute directly to B&N. You need: the document, the cover, the same unique ISBN as you used at SW (not a print version ISBN) and an account at Barnes and Noble (called an ePub account). You get a royalty once a month with day by day sales reports view-able.
4.    Kobo -  - if you wish, you can distribute directly to Kobo. (KWL - Kobo Writing Life). You need: the document, the cover, the same unique ISBN as you used at SW (not a print version ISBN) and an account with Kobo. You get a royalty once a month.
5.    If you just go with SW and Amazon life is very simple.
All of these vendors have great websites and great support which will really help you.
6.    And remember – these vendors are fluid, more are coming up, some are dying off – you just have to go with the flow.

Point Three –this is just beginning. Please remember Point One. Go back up and re-read it. You can do it, with just a little help from your friends. (Beatles, 1967)

Just Rik's morning coffee thoughts ...


Bio – Rik is married to Linda, an author. Rik and Linda met 44 years ago in the student newspaper offices at a college in Chicago. Linda was writing then, Linda still writes (

Other than checking out potential lady friends, Rik mostly just hung around the office, wrote a few headlines and tried to look busy. The next Christmas they were married. Forty-four years later Linda has more than 25 works published, both traditionally and by self-publication. Rik is a sort-of-retired educator. Today Rik provides educational technology support to a local university, formats books for authors (, is a professional Magician ( and spends as much time with Linda on their boat, Mystery, with their cat Captain Hook, as they can. They have two children and seven grandchildren.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

What is the best way forward for Indie Authors for publication?

A hot topic of conversation around the writers circuit is around the benefits of Traditional Publishing over Self Publishing over 'Vanity Houses'. I have to confess that I know very little about this subject, so I went looking for a volunteer, with experience, to shed some light.

Rik and Linda are a husband and wife Author team and between them have numerous years within all aspects of Authorship - AND Rik was kind enough to volunteer the time to put it into print for us - Thank You!

This is One of two posts, the second will appear on Wednesday.

Traditional and Vanity Publishing houses

Some simple thoughts on Traditional and Vanity publishing houses from twenty years of experience with five different publishing houses.

Point one - all publishing houses publish to make money for themselves, all of them! Every one! Period.

Point two - there are differences. Traditional Publishing houses make their money from readers, Vanity Publishing houses make their money from writers.

Traditional publishing houses take you on because they see your future sales and their commission on those sales as a potential source of income. Sometimes (not always) you get an up-front advance. If you do get an advance, your sale's royalties pay off the advance before you see new money. That means you will get a contract that might contain information like this:

Advance - $3,000 payable as outlined:

·         One third (1/3) upon signing the contract
·         One third (1/3) upon final submission of the work
·         One third (1/3) upon publication of the work.

So, when you send back the signed copy you would get $1,000.00  Now, if you have an agent (and he or she should have gotten you the best deal possible so they are worth it) the funds will go to the agent and he or she will take out their commission which is usually 15%.

The publishing house will pay all the up-front costs. Edits, cover design, sales promotion, proof copies, advance reading copies, sending those copies to readers, postage, phone calls, support. Everything. You should never ever pay anything up front with a non-vanity press!
They will set you up with an editor. Listen to the editor! Go back and read the first sentence in this section. They get their money based upon the sales of your book. So, they want your book to be the best book possible.  They want your book to SELL! Because, then, they make more money.

Vanity publishing houses take you on because you are willing to pay your own up-front costs and possibly a publishing fee. If they are lucky they might see a return based upon your sales and their commission on those sales, but that is secondary. To them, that does not really matter and is not part of their ROI (Return On Investment) strategies.
You pay in some way for edits, cover design, sales promotion, proof copies, advance reading copies, sending those copies to readers, postage, phone calls, support.
Everything. If you go Vanity - get in writing, everything you have to pay for, everything!
They often don’t care about the edits, the cover and such, because they already have your money. The money you paid them to publish your book. And it can run into four or five figures.
And when you see something you want changed;
“No worries, just send in the $75.00 revision fee and we’ll be happy to do that for you.”

There is a new breed of Vanity Publishing Houses that say they are not Vanity houses, they claim to be publishing houses, but like Vanity houses, the rule is

You pay – they publish.

There are some pretty good web-sites that can help you a great deal when picking a publisher or an agent. Take a look at:

Preditors and Editors

Which is best for you?

Depends upon:

       how deep your pockets are,
       how desperate you are to get your work in print,
       how lucky you might be in getting someone's attention, and
       last, but by no means least - how good your book is.

Point Three - another option - self-publish it yourself

That’s the next topic......

Just Rik's morning coffee thoughts ...
Bio – Rik is married to Linda, an author. Rik and Linda met 44 years ago in the student newspaper offices at a college in Chicago. Linda was writing then, Linda still writes (
Other than checking out potential ladies friends, Rik mostly just hung around the office, wrote a few headlines and tried to look busy. The next Christmas they were married. Forty-four years later Linda has more than 25 works published, both traditionally and by self-publication. Rik is a sort-of-retired educator. Today Rik provides educational technology support to a local university, formats books for authors (, is a professional Magician ( and spends as much time with Linda on their boat, Mystery, with their cat Captain Hook, as they can. They have two children and seven grandchildren.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Today is the day!

In just over twelve hours 'Fated Encounters' will be FREE to download for that 'Golden Hour'.

New Zealand - 8pm - 9pm                    UK - 9am - 10am                  USA/PST 1am - 2am

This short story is available in ebook format only so if you need Kindle software for iPad, PC or Smartphone I have put a link on the website homepage  HERE

"Fated Encounters is a short love story that quickly comes to life capturing both your attention and your heart.
Anyone who has ever experienced love, loss or betrayal will find it easy to relate to this story and will catch themselves reflecting back on the course of their own destiny.
One of the many things that make me a fan of AJ Wilson's writing is his ability to divide opinions and spark debate, whatever the topic. It gives you the freedom to imagine, with enough structure to lead you directly into his web of unforgettable characters, where you will be stuck long after the story ends.
Fated Encounters is another fine example of AJ Wilson's ability to keep you guessing and leave you wondering. A very entertaining and well written read for people of all ages, everywhere." 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Do you play it safe?

As an Author I accept that there is a one or two star review just around the corner, you just can't please everybody no matter how good your book is - and that is a fact that every author needs to acknowledge. We have mentioned various steps that an author should take to ensure the work they publish is to the highest standard, the absolute best they can produce. I honestly believe that this is a basic requirement and that, as an author, we owe this to our readership. To knowingly chuck out sub standard writing, a piece that has not been polished at all and expect people to pay good money for, is wrong. Make no mistake this happens. In the forums these 'authors' are referred to as 'Uploaders' and despised by readers, reviewers and other authors alike. They are opportunists taking advantage of the Amazon Self Publishing tool with the sole intention of relieving the unsuspecting reader of cash - they exist in all walks of life.

Anyway, I digress. My point is that no matter how hard you try there will be readers that just don't like your work and authors need to be thick skinned enough to accept this. 

Probably on a subconscious level I gave advanced review copies (ARC's) of Russian Redemption out to those people that would be honest, but nicely honest. As I have said before I was outside of my comfort zone with this whole writing thing so the process was new to me, and in hindsight I expected to get caned. As the reviews started to come in I got a little more adventurous, I found myself almost challenging people to not like it, hence I targeted the Amazon Top Reviewers.

Fated Encounters is now live on Amazon. I have explained previously how the story came to fruition and my own struggles with it. For those that haven't read the appropriate posts, it is genre opposite to Russian Redemption - it is a love story. As I openly admit in the first few pages of the book I really wasn't sure if this was a story I wanted in the public domain, I wasn't confident that it would be a story that would be of interest to others or even if it was good enough. So I went back to those that had read the ARC's of Russian Redemption and asked them. The response and encouragement was very positive, but for me it wasn't enough. I knew these people would be honest, I knew they would encourage me as they did with Russian Redemption, but for me I was just playing 'safe'. It is at this point that I made the conscious decision to engage some of the most vocal readers and reviewers from the Amazon forums, those that had no problem at all telling it like it is and enjoyed the prospect of devouring a newbie author and hanging that scalp above the wood fire. I walked into the lions mouth carrying a steak. Some would definitely accuse me of being stupid or even suicidal to adopt this approach but I figured that if I published the book and any of them read it I would get the same treatment anyway so I may as well get it over and done with. Fortunately for me there were three or four of these people that volunteered to read Fated Encounters. I would be lying if I said I wasn't a little nervous over the following few days as I awaited the responses. Again fortunately, it transpires that I had nothing to worry about. To be honest I was astounded at the positive feedback I received, including suggestions of minor changes and reasoning behind those suggestions. What does this mean to me? To put it in perspective it's like getting complimented by Simon Cowell; it reinforces my own growing belief in me and those Beta readers that work so hard with me.

What does it mean in the bigger picture? Probably nothing, I'm sure there is still a one star or two star review just around the corner for every book I write, but at least I know that as far as Fated Encounters is concerned, it has been scrutinised by some pretty knowledgeable and fussy people and has passed the test - that's a big tick!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

How and Why I Write Book Reviews on Amazon - Margaret Chrisawn

I am really chuffed that Margaret agreed to provide an insight into her approach to reviewing a book. I have read a lot of Margarets reviews and will say that, in my opinion, here is a person that knows exactly what she likes in a book, has very high expectations of the structure and the content and is very VERY knowledgeable of the historical period in which she reads. So much so that if I were writing a Napoleonic period fiction I would be signing her up as a research resource! One of the many aspects of her reviews that I find outstanding is that she doesn't just say things, she proves them!

- here's the problem, here are the examples of the problem, here is the remedy - 

And she is fair, although she doesn't suffer fools. 

I read and review historical fiction, with rare forays into other types of fiction. My reviewing “style” doesn’t rely on plot synopses, analyses of the characters and their conflicts and motivation, action versus description, and similar issues. If you’re reading a historical novel about Marie-Antoinette, for example, I don’t need to recount her life story in my review of a book about her. The same is true for Anne Boleyn, Richard III, or Josephine Bonaparte. What I do need to comment on in a review is the use of history in the novel; the degree of understanding of political, social, economic, and cultural features and whether they are portrayed convincingly throughout; and dialogue among the characters, how they think, speak, and react in their historical world. These are critical points for me, although I admit I‘ve been criticized by folks who screech “It’s fiction, after all, just a novel! Lighten up!” I also admit reading reviews praising an author for using modern language and modern terms throughout a book because “it makes it easier to read and more relevant for today.” I believe both points of view are spectacularly silly with regard to historical fiction. If a reader wants to read a novel with modern language and relevancy, why on earth read a novel about Catherine the Great, the Wars of the Roses, or about any man, woman, or child who lived before 1950?

So I write reviews based on what I would like to read in a review. I want to know whether a book will be enjoyable, a fairly decent read, or one to avoid at all costs. It’s not enough to read generic phrases such as “Couldn’t put it down!” or “Fast-paced and exciting,” or “Really put me right there in the 14th century,” or “Too descriptive and slow” or “Poorly written.” None of those examples tells me anything remotely useful besides the reviewer’s opinion, brief though it is.

I prefer to let a book speak for itself. That approach removes my review from the realm of pure subjectivity to that of greater objectivity because I use quotes liberally to bolster a specific point I’m making. If the historical facts are wrong, I’ll use quotes that demonstrate the errors. If the book is replete with anachronisms, I’ll show what they are, and not simply one or two but many, particularly the in-your-face examples.  The same is true for dialogue, which is difficult enough in contemporary fiction, but a potential nightmare for the inept. Historical fiction dialogue often ranges from the hackneyed “forsoothly” speech patterns to indicate Ye Olde World to the 21st century young adult speech or my personal favorite, Tweet-Speak. I will always provide a multitude of examples of Bad Dialogue, just so a reader won’t accuse me of making anything up. Then there are other factors that constitute the difference between good and bad historical fiction—use of language other than English, a veritable sinkhole for many an author, and the social and cultural environment that dictates who sits when and on what, or wears which gown to what function, or how much a newspaper costs in the currency of the day, or how one prepares rabbits or fowl on a spit in an open fireplace, or what vegetables and grains were available when and where. All these examples are what distinguishes historical fiction from other genres, and what makes a particular book unique to the period in which it takes place. If an author ignores any of these examples, or plays fast and loose with them, then he or she deserves to have this failure noted.

As a result of this self-imposed attention to detail, I often get carried away and write lengthy reviews. Most people would see that long parade of paragraphs and click on a review that has but a single paragraph with a sigh of relief. I’m fine with that, because I’m writing for the few—or the many, even—who might want to know beyond a doubt what is good, bad, and middling about a work of historical fiction before investing their time and money in said book. And I get slammed sometimes for my negative reviews by fans of the author or the book, which bothers me not at all. I also have been yelled at by authors whose skins were perhaps not as thick as they should be, and that certainly bothers me even less. Regardless of the feedback—and the majority is extremely positive—I will write reviews for readers like me, who truly want to know what’s what. The time and effort required to do so is worth it.

See a selection of Maragrets reviews here