Here’s why authors should never get upset about a bad review

You're so wrong, Book Riot!  The Old Man and The Sea is a "MUST READ"!

You’re so wrong, Book Riot! The Old Man and The Sea is a “MUST READ”!

Basically, the premise of this post is that having an opinion doesn’t make that opinion valid.  Case in point: Book Riot, a fun little e-zine that covers all things books, started a “What Not To Read” book club for their Twitter Fiction Festival, and they included The Old Man and The Sea on the list.  The Old Man and The FRIGGIN’ Sea!  Are you kidding me?  The book is a classic for a reason.  It’s a seminal piece of literature, one that I include in my top 10 all-time favorite reads.  What is wrong with these people?  Have they no literary soul?

Here’s the deal.  Book Riot is worth adding to your list of bookish websites to visit on a regular basis, but even they can get it horribly and embarrassingly wrong.  Remember that next time you get a bad review.  Don’t take it personally.  If someone can be wrong about Hemingway, they can be wrong about your book too. We don’t all like the same thing.

BTW – Back in my schooling days, I was taught that The Old Man and The Sea wasn’t a book, but a short story.  Has our text message driven society changed the definition of what is and is not a book?

The results of the ‘reveal’ poll

I’m as conflicted as this guy.

So, the poll results were unanimously in favor of ‘my friend’ revealing his identity.  The comments on Facebook, however, strongly advised against it.  They also didn’t bother pretending ‘my friend’ wasn’t actually me.  So, what does that tell me?  It tells me I have a lot of great friends, family, and supporters who are kind enough to indulge my occasional bouts of artistic uncertainty.

When I was eighteen, I didn’t secretly and slowly gravitate towards the mind of a writer because I thought it would one day provide me with financial stability (thank GOD!).  I wanted to be a writer in those days because it would allow me to express myself.  As you get older, your priorities shift, and you soon discover, as much as you hate to admit it, you make decisions for financial reasons.  I’m no different than every other adult on this planet trying to pay the bills and contribute to his or her family’s wellbeing.

With those financial obligations comes the erosion of artistic conviction.  Your fear of offending someone and losing their support trumps your desire to take risks.  In a lot of ways, I’m fortunate because I pushed the boundaries with my young adult material from day one.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told by people in the know that I need to change the first line of my first book because it’s offensive.  Of course it’s offensive.  It’s supposed to be.

But speaking to young adults using frank and even shocking language to get their attention is completely different than allowing my sometimes cynical and inappropriate adult voice to infiltrate my writing.  I recognized with the writing of Two Notch that I liked playing with ‘adult’ themes and after publishing that book I knew I wanted to dive deeper into that style.  I also knew I didn’t want my young adult readers rushing out to read that kind of material just because my name was attached to it. Having a need to express myself in a sometimes ‘vulgar’ (Think George Carlin as a hillbilly) manner doesn’t mean I’m willing to be irresponsible and shirk my accountability as a member of the global community.

Where does that leave us with ‘the reveal’?  I am as conflicted as ever, but I am going to reveal the title of the book… eventually.  Before I do, I’m going to share two of the reviews that will give you, my R.W. Ridley readers, an idea of the content, theme, and tone of the book.  I’ll follow with a post with detailed information about the book.  It will not be my practice to post about this book or future books under this pen name on this blog.  I have a separate blog for ‘him.’  That blog will mostly address the things that tick me off and the tasteless things that make me laugh. I’ll even touch on political and social issues that put me at odds with a lot of my Southern brethren. I want to keep the two worlds separate, but I also don’t want to be accused of ‘hiding’ something from my readers.  Having a secret identity is cool in some ways, but it also makes you feel like a bit of a liar.

And now the reviews:

From the UK

Could this book start off a craze of what can only be called Appalachian crime noir? Meet E. R. Percy, mountain man and the brewer of the best moonshine you will ever sip. Life has always been hard for the mountain folk, but illegal stills and their product is nothing compared to the drugs trade. When E. R. first refuses to work in the drugs business he is at first threatened, but this escalates to a feud. Throw in a mysterious mountain of a man that suddenly appears in his brewing shed and you find there is a lot of comedy to what would otherwise be a bloody and dark tale.

Fun to read and hard to put down this is a great tale of hillbillies and their culture versus the modern drug lord. The characters come to life in all their glorious eccentricities, from a man mad seventeen year old girl to the corrupt reverend. Unfortunately this book will probably get overlooked, which is a shame, as it is such a great read and should appeal to a lot of people.

…Certainly original, this is full of violence and humour, and certainly a thing that Quentin Taratino would love to get his hands on.

From the US

(Author Name withheld) thriller took me back to my favorite Robert Mitcham movie of 1958. “There was moonshine, moonshine to quench the devil’s thirst”.

(Title of book withheld) is one fast ride for sure! E.R.Percy and his fat cousin Crick are a pair to draw to but then toss in a naked giant, a too sexy for her own good jail bait teen, a demonic drug Lord and you have a potent 190 proof white light in showdown breaking.

The lingo is country fried as you would expect in a story set in the backwoods where E.R. , a Junior College graduate, is considered a mountain Einstein of the art of Copper Pot Chemistry cooling up the best white whiskey some declare to be in the entire country.

E.R. is content with his wife Rose and his baby until the meth deal in Milo jumps ugly and covets E.R.’s whiskey business and wants to turn all his whiskey customers into meth addicts.

Milo thinks his big city gangster rules will work for him in the backwoods on these hillbillies. Well, you’ll just have to read and find out for yourself if E.R. , cousin Crick, and the Giant survive to supply Mountain Falls with the best whiskey that ever soothed a troubled soul. Buy this book, and pray that Brother Caldwell will keep us supplied with simple good stories from out the backwoods.. Wish I could have given this one 10 Stars!

I chose these two reviews for a reason.  They are incredibly flattering (Hey, I do have an ego, you know?), and they perfectly encapsulate the tone and content of the book.

More to come.

BTW: I’m aware that I’ve provided enough information for anyone to easily find the book via a simple Google inquiry.  I thought about ‘redacting’ the obvious indicators, but that would have made this post look like an NSA document.  That’s an association I’d like to avoid, thank you very much!

Lou’s Diary – Entry 9 (Text version)

I am sad.  The funny thing is I don’t know if I’ve been sad before.  I have been scared.  I have been angry.  I have been confused.  It seems like I’m always confused.  But I don’t know if I’ve been sad.  I do know that it doesn’t matter that I’m sad or scared or angry or confused.  How I feel or what I do doesn’t matter.  That’s the tragedy of being fictional.

Along with being sad, I’m tired.  I have a roof over my head.  I’m out of the cold.  I have enough food to last for months.  I shouldn’t be tired.  I should be rested.  If anything, I should have too much energy.  But once the sun goes down there are noises coming from the woods.  The groans and screams and growls, they’re nonstop.  But they aren’t the worst.  The worst is what I heard last night.

I gathered up everything soft in the fire tower and made myself a nice little place to sleep.  I even found three hoodies in one of the lockers. I put on all three and they keep me warm at night.  I curl up in a ball with all three hoods over my head and the draw strings pulled as tight as they will go.  It almost allows me to completely block out the darkness that surrounds me and the sounds that darkness brings.  Almost.  There’s just a sliver of creepy that leaks through my protective hoodie force field.

Last night that creepy destroyed any chance I had at falling asleep.  I had my eyes closed for less than a minute when I heard a banging.  It was coming from below the tower.  Bang. Bang. Bang.  They came one after the other.  Each one louder than the last.

Footsteps. Someone or something was climbing the steps of the fire tower.

Bang. Bang. Bang.

I could hear them getting closer.

Bang. Bang. Bang.

I pushed myself against the wall and kept my eye on the door.

Bang. Bang. Bang.

They were on the deck of fire tower.  They were just a few feet away from the door.  I could feel them standing there, staring at the broken door, knowing it would be so easy to kick it open and kill the girl inside, huddled in the corner, hiding behind her flimsy hoodie force field.

But they didn’t approach the door.  By the sounds of the footsteps, I could tell they turned in the other direction.  They were walking around the deck towards me.  The footsteps got softer and softer as they walked across the snow.

They stopped right next to me.  A thin layer of wood was the only thing between us.  I was pretty sure whatever made those loud banging noses walking up the stairs would have no problem busting through the wall and ripping me out of the cabin.

I slowly crawled away from the wall, but stopped when I heard a strange noise.  I turned and quieted my breathing as best I could so I could make out what the noise was.  The seconds passed and it became clear what I was hearing.  Whatever was on the deck was crying, and it sounded like a child.

It cried for hours.  I sat staring at the wall too scared to move.  Part of me knew I should go outside and make sure it wasn’t actually a child, but most of me was terrified that it was a trick to get me to come outside.

Just before the sun came up, the crying stopped.  By time the first light peaked through the bottom of the door, whatever had been crying left the deck, climbed down the stairs, and reached the ground below.

I didn’t go outside and try to catch a glimpse of it.  I didn’t have to.  I didn’t want to. I knew what it was.

It was the Gore.

Update and Another Song for The Man Who Saved Two Notch

Posts have been few and far between the last week here for a variety of reasons.  Primarily, I am finishing up the first edit and rewrite of my new novel The Man Who Saved Two Notch, and I figured since I had the story in front me, I’d go head and write the screenplay, too.  I’ve never successfully adapted one of my books to screenplay.  I’ve written 12 screenplays (none produced, one semi-finalist in the Nicholl Fellowships), but adapting one of my novels to screenplay hasn’t come easy to me.  So far, I’ve had a easier time of it with The Man Who Saved Two Notch.

I’d also like to create a graphic novel and video game for the book, but I have no idea where to start with those particular formats. If anyone has any ideas, email me or Facebook me or whatever it is you do in this online social networking world.   I’ll leave you with another song from my The Man Who Saved Two Notch virtual soundtrack (Meaning, there is no official soundtrack.  This is the music that reminds me of the book).

This is Jeffrey Foucault singing John Prine’s classic That’s the Way the World Goes Round.

The Self-Publishing Sharks Are Circling

It's about to get "shark week" all up in here!

It’s a fact.  When sharks smell chum in the water they go into a vicious feeding frenzy, and brother, the chum is in the water.  On April 14, Bowker released their annual report on the publishing industry.  There were 764,448 self-published titles (the category is officially called non-traditional and it includes public domain books being republished) produced last year.  That’s up from about 280,000 in 2008.  And the projections for this year say even more books will be self-published than in 2009.  A lot of people want to write and publish a book.  A study done by the Jenkins Group a few years ago revealed that 81% of Americans feel they have a book inside of them.  That means one thing.  Scammers are foaming at the mouth.

The publishing industry is notorious for the sheer volume of disreputable people preying on your willingness to do whatever it takes to make your dream come true.  These sharks count on your ignorance of the publishing industry.  They are going to make you promises, guarantees, pledges, assurances, whatever it takes to get you to buy their services. They want your money, and you’re going to be very tempted to hand it over to them because this is your dream, after all.    Shouldn’t you be expected to invest everything you have to make it come true?

No.  Publishing is a high risk venture.  It doesn’t matter if you’re self-publishing or you’re a traditional publisher, statistics indicate that you are going to fail.  I don’t tell you this to scare you off.  I tell you this as part of your education.  In the traditional publishing world, roughly 70% of titles produced lose money.  The percentage of failure  is even higher in the self-publishing world.  I self-publish, so obviously I am a fan of self-publishing, but I have learned the amount of money invested in a book is not commensurate with its success.  Time is what matters the most.

Here are few facts, tips and a few of my personal opinions to keep in mind as you consider your publishing options:

  • Self-Publishing is Awesome – There are dinosaurs among us, and they will likely advise you against self-publishing. They’ll use the “vanity” word to degrade the practice, and try to convince you it’s not a legitimate publishing vehicle.  Those people are bozos, and they are as bad as the scammers.  Self-publishing is the ultimate “independent” form of publishing.  You have just as much right to sell your book to the public as an independent filmmaker has to sell his movie to the public.  Having said that, you want to spend wisely.
  • Be Wary of Agents Who Talk About Self-Publishing – Believe it or not, some self-publishing companies pay agents if they refer a writer to their company and that writer signs up for a publishing package.   It’s a deplorable practice.  Literary agents should only be concerned with getting clients to sign with traditional publishing companies.  The only payment they receive should be from their clients’ advances and royalties.  Anything else is a scam.
  • Paying To Be a Top 10 Book on Amazon – It’s called Amazon Bombing, and I don’t like it, particularly if you pay a company to set it up for you.  It’s a practice that basically uses a lot of smoke and mirrors to catapult your book to the top 10 for one day.  In many cases, it’s just one hour of one day.   You will quickly free fall out of the top 10 listing. They utilize emailing spamming techniques, newsletter lists, shady “free gift” packages, etc., and they will charge you $2,500 and up for the service.  This kind of top 10 listing serves no purpose.  A few years ago, it would capture the attention of the publishing industry and media, but they’re onto the scam now.  If you’re book can stay in the top 10 for a couple of days, then they will be impressed.
  • $20,000 for a Book Trailer – I’m going to mention them by name because this really pisses me off.  AuthorHouse (Author Solutions) sells a video book trailer service for $19,999.  BTW – Let’s not kid ourselves. That’s 20 grand, okay.  This is the supreme rip-off.  They call it a Hollywood trailer, and it’s for those authors who’ve been told their book would make a great movie.  First of all, most authors have been told their book would make a great movie.  AuthorHouse is preying on your vulnerability with this ridiculous product.  Second of all, the examples they have on their website are so cheesy it’s disgusting.  How effective is the product?  I just checked the Amazon ranking of one of the books featured, and its current ranking is 3,171,502.  The author paid $20,000.  I ask you, did the author get anywhere near their money’s worth?  I would never recommend AuthorHouse because of this product alone.  It shows a willful lack of integrity.  How much should you pay for a book trailer?  If you pay $3,000, you’ve paid too much.  I made my ownfor about $250, but that doesn’t count the cost of college tuition (I got my degree in broadcast production).
  • Mainstream Media – Never pay to be in or on mainstream media.  Don’t buy advertising in newspapers or on TV or radio.  And certainly never pay to be a guest on a radio or TV show.  Mainstream media does not help you sell books.  If someone wants to have you on their show and it costs you nothing out of pocket, by all means do it That’s a case of “it can’t hurt,” but unless it’s a national show with a huge audience, it’s not going to do much for you except give you something to talk about on your blog, which is useful.
  • Designers and Editors – This is where it’s okay to invest some money.  Interior and cover design matters.  And professional editing is crucial.  If you’re talking with a POD company, this is where you should spend most of your budget.  The in-house guys are usually very talented, and bonus, they know the company’s specs and policies.  If you go out of house, make sure you get them to sign a contract where they will guarantee you that they will hit the specs you need. You don’t want them to bail on you, and leave you with paying the bill when the POD company has to bring your submission up to spec.  Editing is a little more universal than design specs, so out of house editors can work great, but make sure you find somebody you trust.  If you’ve got a good relationship with the sales person at the POD company, why not use their in-house editors?  Push back on pricing if it makes you feel better.  Most of the time they will give you a discount.

I’ll end it here for now, but I will have more to say in the future.  I’m watching the self-publishing industry like a hawk.  They get out of line, I’ll be there.  Count on it.  This business means too much to me to let the sharks attack.  Ultimately, the onus is on you, the writer.  Educate yourself.  There are no guarantees in publishing.  Well one… you’re going to get eaten alive if you don’t protect yourself.  Knowledge is king.

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