Monday, April 27, 2015

ANZAC Weekend, perspectives need to be readjusted.

I'm not sure just how much this has to do with writing, or being an author, but during times of deep reflection, I suppose all things should be considered.

Occasionally I go off on a personal tangent - now is one of those times, so feel free to stop reading if you are looking for something amazing about authordom to follow.

Gallipoli, May 1915 - a hundred years ago. tens of thousands of ordinary people, men just like the bloke you sit next to at the bar, or work alongside, or share a bus ride with, or people you bump into in the street; tens of thousands of men just like them, struggled with their inner most fundamental basic beliefs of humanity, and set about killing each other. If the stories are to be believe, these brave men were slaughtered as a result of incompetent leadership, poor military tactics and, to be frank, a complete disregard for their own safety. I truly have to wonder what can possibly motivate grown men to rush machine guns with nothing more than a single shot rifle and a bayonet? What must they feel when they've just watched two or three lines of their comrades cut to ribbons, without even clearing the lip of the trenches? How do they take those next few steps up the makeshift ladder to almost certain death? Is it the forlorn hope that the machine gunners have ran out of ammunition, or changing the belt fed bullet spitting machine guns of the Turkish army? Or is it a strange acceptance that it's just 'their time'? I am reminded of a conversation I had with an old Scotsman, a lot of years ago: "Death becomes your friend." he told me, "Not in a 'lets have a beer and a chat' type friend, but more of a 'C'mon pal, walk with me, it'll soon be over' type friend." Strangely, I suppose I have a better understanding remembering his words, but I certainly won't pretend to be able to imagine the horrors they must have witnessed. Some would say a belief in God drove them forward, some were willing to give up their own life to stop the enemy from reaching out it's claws and striking at the homeland of their families, and some were programmed to follow orders; whatever the motivation, it must have been a hell beyond words.

Lessons were not learned as they should of been, that is obvious even by modern standards. But I want to focus on that unknown Private soldier, huddled in a trench, ankle deep in rain water polluted by the blood of the many soldiers that lay dead in its path as it washed over the hillside battlefield. I can't get in to his head. To try and imagine what he must have felt deep inside, waiting for the whistle blast that will send him to his untimely death, is beyond me because my imagination could not do justice to that mans personal suffering. And for that I thank him!

I always buy and wear a poppy; I was in the army, my two brothers were in the army, my father was in the army.... you get the picture. We were always taught to respect those that have gone before, taught to respect the sacrifice, particularly of the fallen. My children have had the same education based on one very simple understanding - If it wasn't for them, if it wasn't for those incredibly brave hundreds of thousands, we would not have the life that we have today. There is a luxury about not being able to imagine the horrors that those servicemen and woman must have witnessed, experiences that were repeated across Europe. And, it's a 'luxury' purchased with the lives of those same men and women.

So, "where the heck am I going with all this", I hear the strange person sitting in the dark, still reading this,

Well, for me it's my yardstick for what's important, what matters; would that unknown Private soldier give a flying stuff about it? If the answer (in my head) is 'no' then it puts things in perspective for me. And here I shall introduce this thinking into the realm of authorom; based on the above, just how important are bad reviews? (You didn't see that coming eh?). With all the charges of lost revenue, personal attacks, 'trolling' or sock puppets, just how important - on a scale of the 'damns' given by those soldiers in Gallipoli one hundred years ago - is it?

Just my thoughts.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Amazon fight for what's right..... but why?

It's all over the news that Amazon (The internet retail giant) is taking legal action against sites that offer reviews for money - bought & paid for 4 and 5 star product reviews (including books).

Is this the first step of an Amazon mission to clean up its act? Well, lets hope so, but it has a lot to do.

To understand the 'gaming' that goes on we need to agree the true purpose of an honest review:

The review process is designed so that would-be customers have view of the honest opinions of those that have tried the product that they are thinking of purchasing, simplified by the 1-5 star grading system. This in itself is not without challenges as it relies on the 'reviewers' own thoughts, needs and motivation. "Why motivation?" I hear you ask; well Amazon runs a league table of reviewers, the further up that league a person is, the more likely a company (or author) are to want them to leave a review for their product/book. Reviewers, like authors, have fans, a group of people that have made a purchase based on a review given, and have been pleased, or in agreement with, that reviewers opinions. There is a 'was this review helpful to you?' Yes/No option at the end of each review AND by selecting one or the other the reviewer can climb or sink in the 'reviewers' chart - to the point where some Reviewers/Authors float around Amazon using this system to downvote their competition, or create 'sock puppet' accounts to upvote their own reviews, pushing themselves up the league table of Reviewers. (probably going for the double hit and using the same account(s) to push their competition down the table). What do they gain? Freebies! Like I said, people want their products reviewed by the 'best' reviewers so will happily send free  samples in order to get the higher ranking reviewers to recommend their product by way of a good review.

The average purchaser is going to look at two similar products and the one with the most 4 or 5 star reviews automatically becomes the one to beat - choice made. It's not quite the same with books as there are a lot of personal preferences that one has to consider - genre, style, content etc.but the reviews do still have an impact.

As with any system, there are people that live to game it, use it to their own advantage, and I am absolutely positive that there are people out there that make a tidy income from doing just that - a particularly famous (or infamous) one is Harriet Klausner, an American woman who claims to read between 2 and 6 books a day, every day - books sent to her for review by unsuspecting authors, but many of those books ended up on her ebay/trade me account.

But it's got a little too brazen for Amazon to continue to turn a blind eye when you have websites that guarantee 4 or 5 star reviews for pretty much any product (including books) for a cash donation - and this is what Amazon are fighting. Why? Well, I have two very different trains of thought here:

1. The more 'gaming' that goes on then the less effective the Amazon reviews become, completely devalued by the poison of fake reviews. Customers complain to Amazon, their name gets sullied and Big A gets the hump. After all, its system is designed to help its customers.

2. Big A doesn't like it when someone else is making money off the back of their system - if anyone is going to make money, it has to be Big A.

Now, you may feel that option 2 is a little cynical, possibly even harsh, but never forget that Amazon is a business, a big business that doesn't play nice with others, so don't discount that train of thought too readily.

The end result is the same, so maybe the motivation doesn't really matter, I'm ok with that.

One thing that Amazon desperately needs is more honest reviewers, more ordinary people that are willing to offer their opinions based on their own experiences of a product/book for the benefit of others, not for their own gain in terms of reward or ego tickling.

Ammy has got a long way to go, and I do hope that this is the start of a housekeeping clean up - time will tell.

As an Indie Author the honest reviews are critical to me, good or bad it doesn't matter - just so long as they are a persons honest opinions.

Who's watching whom? The perils of an author..... (tongue in cheek)

Firstly, I love Google Analytics - I agree that it's not perfect, but it is very informative. I also have to confess that my brain is quite quick at spotting unusual trends and patterns - and I can be a tincey wincey mischievous.

However, even I was surprised to see the sudden interest my blog site was attracting from some very unusual countries. I do a lot of book research on-line, and a lot of my stories involve terrorist plots, or anti-terrorist scenario's. I am a great believer in the plausibility of a plot and the accuracy of things like component parts, weaponry and so forth, are very important- you get the picture. Last weekend was Easter bank holiday and I was fortunate enough to have the head space to write a new 20,000 short story over those four days; this one is set in the middle east and involves a handful of Iraqi officers. For the plot to work I needed to research Sunni and Shia Muslims, the differences in their core beliefs pertaining to very specific scenario's, certain traditions and of course the Quran.

Other factors in my life have meant that I haven't had the opportunity to post here for several weeks (sorry about that) so why then, all of a sudden, have 86 people from the Ukraine, 78 people from Russia and 46 people from the US come visiting?

Strange activity indeed - but wait, that's just this blog site; if people were taking an interest in my on-line presence then wouldn't they also be looking at my website? I'd better check (Paranoia? Possibly but it has kept me alive so I'm ok with that) >>>> Runs over to website - hhmm for the first time in the 20 months that I've had the website up and running I have more than two visitors with location 'not set' - in fact there have been 149 visitors from 'location not-set'! That is a huge anomaly, especially when, also for the first time in it's history, the number of recent visitors from the US outnumbered those from New Zealand, and not just by a few - as a side note I see that 25 visits from China puts them on 4th place. 

So, that's 

So, if I happen to disappear in the next few weeks/months, or am the victim of a slightly unusual 'accident' would someone mention this to an honest copper somewhere - cheers.