I have no memory of the most profound moment of my life.
It was September 20, 1997. I had worked a full day selling cologne at the department store called Filene’s. After work, I met up with my best friend and roommate for a movie. Titanic was the number one movie at the box office, but we were there for L.A. Confidential, a more bro-friendly experience. The movie was sold out, so we went to Wal-Mart to look for Star Wars action figures instead.
Gimme a break. We were twenty-five.
Our hunt was unsuccessful, so we drove across the street to McDonald’s for a late bite. We never made it.
A driver of an SUV ran a red light and t-boned our tiny Hyundai. He was supposedly searching for the song My Heart Will Go On (from Titanic) on the radio and didn’t see the stop signal, which is a much better excuse for a jury than “I was on the phone.”
Jump ahead almost twenty-five years. Spoiler alert—I lived. The three-ton vehicle, traveling at 40 miles an hour almost killed me. The road to recovery was a complicated and rocky one, and I have no memory of anything from that day, while my other memories are otherwise intact. Today, I’m watching Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time, a documentary of my favorite author. Vonnegut was a prisoner of war in World War II and survived the complete destruction of the city of Dresden, bombed by Allied forces. In the documentary, one of Vonnegut’s daughters said that he didn’t show his feelings about being the only survivor of such a horrific attack but he had to have been deeply affected by it. Of course, he felt it. Slaughterhouse-Five was his most popular book and only came about when he delved into his thoughts and feelings of that monumental event. Reflections that he worked for years to get just right on the paper.
While our experiences are different, I have worked hard to avoid tackling my own “Dresden Book” as Vonnegut had described Slaughterhouse-Five before he wrote it. There is therapy in exploring trauma, and writing is an indirect connection to others who are suffering.
I lost a lot that day. Friends. Family. Teeth. An eye.
We all know that people criticize more than they give praise. This is evidenced nowhere more than on the internet.
I had a bout of Covid, and while my wife and I are okay, it knocked us for a loop. Even though it’s passed, we’re still a little off. I managed to make some progress in my writing career, even if I didn’t do much actual writing. My goal is to get some attention for my superhero trilogy Tragic Heroes (Champions, Vengeance, and Avatars of the Maelstrom). I had recently taken them out of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program, and they were ready to be listed elsewhere. At Barnes and Noble, I listed them as FREE, 1.99, and 4.99, respectively. They are 4.99 each on Amazon, so I requested a price match, which they obliged. Amazon won’t let a seller list an e-book as permanently free, but they will price match.
Now, I took out an ad on Facebook to promote the free book. I targeted 20 to 50-year-old males interested in superhero comics and movies. I spent 30 dollars, and it was shown to thousands of people, with several hundred “likes” and about 30 “sales.” Was it worth it? I don’t know. Thirty bucks to give away 30 books seems like a loss, but it might be okay if a few people read and leave reviews or buy the next in the series.
The comments hit me hard. The ad asked, “do you love superhero comics and movies?” The first comment was, “Yup.” Hmmm. Not that helpful, but it was okay. The following comment was, “What’s next, Buffet of the Maelstrom?” I didn’t get the joke, but I gave it a laughing emoji. Then a man left two different pooping dog GIFs. Two separate ones. He left one and then found a better one? Someone left a cartoon of Trump looking in a mirror and seeing a superhero version of himself, complete with rippling muscles and a waving cape. I didn’t understand what the commenter was trying to say here, so I responded with some “???”
I felt hurt. Were the covers of my books indeed a pooping dog? Are the fans of the genre so wrapped up in the status quo that anyone else’s story is worthless? I haven’t had a lot of “success,” but I feel the books are good, with great covers and good writing. And it has something to say.
Maybe that was what some of the trolls were objecting to.
I didn’t want to get preachy, so I kept some of the themes of fantasy fiction, but I also imagined what someone with the literal power to change the world might do. I created Shiva, a girl who knew only the cruel hand of her captor. She knows nothing of the world at large, but she imagines one in which everyone is equal. When she develops a genius-level intellect overnight, she sets to change the world, but first, she has to conquer it.
When I started imagining the story of Champions of the Maelstrom, I wanted to do “realistic” superheroes. What does that mean? In the comics and the movies, the heroes have little effect on the real world. I mean, they save it but mostly they fight each other and also bad guys, but no one works on injustices that can’t be solved with punching.
I saw a lack of genius-level female super characters in the existing world of comic books and their associated media. Male characters with amazing intellects like Mr. Fantastic, Lex Luthor, Batman, and Tony Stark are prominent figures, but I can’t think of any female heroes or villains as smart.
I invented Shiva, who wakes up one day with the intellectual capacity to change the world overnight. She intends to take control of the world and force change. This is the conflict of Book One.
Back to the negative reactions to my advertisement.
My page (https://www.facebook.com/TragicHeroesTrilogy) shows other images and quotes from the book, and I suspect those were the cause of the outrage. The first response I got was, “Seems like woke garbage!” and that was the clue to whom I had upset. Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems I poked a nerve with males who saw the politics in my writing.
I wrote a book featuring a new take on superheroes, and I guess that is political. The storyline is good vs. evil with superpowers, but it’s also “With great power comes great responsibility—on steroids!” My antagonist drives the story, and unlike Batman and Spider-Man, who use their advantages to maintain the status quo, my character seeks to change the world.
And that scares people.
My point is that sometimes people will hate what you write, not for the writing but for what is says. And that’s a good thing.
I’ve been exclusive with Amazon since I published my first novel a few years ago. There are benefits to choosing Amazon as your only distributor, namely the ability to be part of their Kindle Unlimited (KU) program. KU allows subscribers to read any KU book for no additional charge! Writers are paid per page read. It’s a great deal for readers who are afraid to pay for an entire book that they might not like. It’s also an opportunity for publishers/authors to offer books to those timid customers. It works out to about one cent per three pages read, so the goal here is appealing to the mass market.
Amazon has a bunch of programs only available to an author who is enrolled in KU. One could interpret this from the opposite angle and say they have restrictions on those who don’t bend the knee. KU is a great program for many authors, but for me, I spent a lot of time and money to figure out that I wasn’t one of those authors.
Now, I’m “going wide” which is to say making my books available to a variety of platforms including one traditional brick and mortar retailer. One (potential) benefit to going wide is price control. Amazon has price minimums based on page length and file size, so I had to charge 4.99 each for my fantasy series, which might be a high buy-in for a skittish new reader. However, other retailers let you select your own price, damn the file size! In this case, I made my first book in the series FREE and the second is 1.99. Then, I told Amazon that someone was selling it cheaper and they matched the prices! It’s only with leverage and competition that we can have our demands met.
Will this new avenue be successful in getting my books in front of readers’ eyeballs and some money in my pocket? I don’t know, but it’s exciting! Wish me luck!
I just published my seventh product, an erotic-comedy novella called sVck. It has dirty words and images and that makes it hard to promote because Amazon and Facebook have a policy against advertising “erotic” works. So getting the word out requires some grass-roots promotions and out-of-the-box thinking.
I found a few newsletters that promote “smut” to thirsty readers, so I’ll wait and see if the one I chose noticeably moves the needle. If so, I’ll reach out to other similar promotions. In the meantime, I tried to enlist friends and family to pre-order my new book with the intention of sparking Amazon’s algorithms into featuring my book on similar searches. Amazon is smart. First, it shows what other people have already bought. It’s their way of putting the most popular stuff by the front door. Sales begets sales.
Herein lies the bump in the road and the potential downer. Most of my Facebook friends don’t seem to care about my writing career. That said, there are any number of reasons why posting on one’s personal Facebook page might not reach every one (or even a significant percentage) of one’s social media friends. If you’re me, the endless cycle of pet pictures and political commentary have whittled your “followers” down to a devoted half-dozen. So, when I need to reach the masses, Facebook decides who is most likely to “like” what I am saying and doesn’t show it to anyone else. That’s what I hope has happened.
The alternative is that no one really cares that I’m a writer. I’m not one of those writers who knows his target audience and writes what they want to read. I write the things that will entertain me through the drafts, the re-writes, the edits, paying and supervising cover artists, and the eventual self-promotion, and I pray to god that someone wants to read what I’ve written.
It’s not the best business plan.
Maybe my friends and family don’t have the money to spend on my books. I get that. Times are tough and everything is more expensive, so shelling out 3 or 7 bucks for a book they aren’t going to read is a big ask.
“We didn’t know you had a book out.” As I said, I don’t have a lot of followers, so it’s very likely that they didn’t even see my post begging them to buy my book. I took to DMing a dozen close friends I thought might react to a personal invitation. Some of them responded with screenshots of their orders or declarations that they had placed an order (or two). But what about the ones who didn’t respond?
I know some people are jealous. Not jealous like they spend all day shaking their fists and vowing revenge like some overacting soap opera character. More likely, they don’t see my efforts to be a writer as worthwhile and that writing isn’t a “real job.” I have a friend who says she wants to be a writer and envies me for the time I have to put into writing. I know because that’s what she says every time I tell her that I have a new publication. Not, “congratulations” or “I can’t wait to read it.” Just, “Must be nice…” I’ll spend another post ranting about “finding the time” to write.
I can hear the band is playing me off, so I’ll wrap it up. I am lucky to do what I do and I know that writing isn’t a “real job.” Of course, it isn’t easy and requires no less devotion and expertise, but there is a sense of freedom being able to spend all day at home creating fantasy worlds. But it’s also scary as hell if you’re depending on those fantasy worlds to pay your mortgage.
In conclusion, appreciate the ones who support you, and cut some slack for those who haven’t yet; there are many reasons that your friends aren’t excited when you put out a new book (or record, or piece of art, or poem, or photograph, or have a baby) because maybe they’re jealous.
I’m not talking about literacy, I’m talking about finding the time to read. Sure, you might be one of those people who always has a few books going at any given time, while putting even more books in your ‘to be read’ pile, and you probably don’t even own a television. No, I’m talking about the other people who have infinite forms of entertainment competing for their attention. Putting aside the hours spent sleeping, cooking, eating, cleaning et. al. we have more ways to spend the remaining minutes of our mortal existence than ever before. I don’t know about you, but I could just watch Disney + until the sun burns out.
As a writer, you need to get eyeballs on your words and keep them there. Kurt Vonnegut said, “Give the reader as much information as soon as possible. To hell with suspense!” While I don’t completely agree with him here, I know that a confused reader is one who closes the book and does not open it again. That’s the opposite of what you want.
We also have more ways to read than ever before, but the fact that anyone reads at all is amazing. But, the increase in the number formats means there are more books competing for your attention. As a self-published writer, the hardest thing you will do is to find readers. The late Mitch Hedburg had a joke about being a stand-up comedian and being asked to write a script, something related to comedy that isn’t comedy. I paraphrase, “It’s like being a great chef and being asked, ‘Well, do you farm?'” You wrote a book, which is an incredible accomplishment, but now you have to become an expert in marketing on an ever-shifting retail landscape. The three most difficult things you will do as a writer in reverse order are as follows and I quote-
3) Write a book 2) Write your blurb. 1) Get people to read your book
I’m sometimes excited to check my daily page reads on Amazon. Often, no one read a single page or bought any hard copies. But some days when I see someone had read 500 pages of my books (or 500 people read one page each) I am excited. Something about the book kept them turning the digital pages and that’s a great thing. It means my newest marketing plan is reaching some eyeballs. Or it’s a fluke. I hope it’s not a fluke.
Back when I used to have a job, I told a coworker about this great movie. I offered to let her borrow my dvd. Every day, I would ask if she watched it. She hadn’t. Weeks went by. She said, “Are you sure I’m going to like it?” I wanted to say, “It’s a fucking movie. It’s two hours of your life! Watch it. Don’t watch it. Just give it back. I want to watch it again.” She returned it to me unwatched.
In case you’re wondering, the movie was Garden State. Her loss.
Making the decision to read a book, and then reading that book is a monumental accomplishment. I asked a friend to proofread a “finished” book and help me with plot points. While he was a book-a-day reader, he said he couldn’t get into my book. The first chapter was confusing (and thus, boring). I assured him that it picks up after that, but he never read any more of the book. He was right. The first chapter was not an attention-getter, so I changed it, but I couldn’t even force a good friend to waste any time.
That said, I plan to spend some time talking about the frustration that comes from friends and family not reading my books. I acknowledge to the universe that reading is difficult and tip my cap to anyone who spends hours alone with my words. It’s all I ever wanted.
There’s a lot of stuff out there demanding our attention. Pity the reader and be thankful for them.
I make mistakes. Typos especially. I hate them. I feel like readers judge me on a misused or misspelled word or misplaced comma, and they do. Well, some do. But that’s okay. I just hope that when someone finds one, they don’t stop reading
I’ve found them in edited works. I hear them on the news. I see a misspelled word and I laugh, but I’m guilty too. I haven’t published a product without a typo. I had an editor for my first comic book, but somehow a misspelled word ended up in the finished product. Maybe the editor missed it. Maybe the letterer did. But it’s most likely my fault. I do so many last-minute changes to a script and I don’t sit with it long enough before I put it out into the world. I’m so anxious, and quite frankly sick of reading and rereading my words that I’m ready to be done. I click SEND and it’s off into the ether. Typos and all.
I had a job interview and I brought the first issue of my comic with me. I don’t know why. Bragging rights? Pride? It had nothing to do with the job for which I was interviewing. The boss skimmed it and said, “You spelled a word wrong.” Sure enough, I had misspelled “Losers” as “Loosers.” But I got the job despite my perceived lack of attention to detail. Maybe the boss saw the amount of work and skill that went into the production of a new work of art, but more than likely they were desperate.
I just released an audiobook and my voice actor found a couple. I was so embarrassed. I hate them because I feel like it makes me look dumb, but I still want to know so I can fix them before anyone else sees them and judges me. I’m worried they won’t read my story and be engaged by the characters and the plot, they’ll just be thinking, “Typo. Typo. Typo.”
One of my favorite words is sprezzatura- basically defined as controlled chaos as a fashion accessory. Bedhead. Untied laces. A necktie not tightened are all examples. It’s the imperfection that makes something perfect. However, sprezzatura isn’t by accident, it just looks that way.
What’s my point? I’ll try harder to avoid typos in the future, but I won’t loose my mind when I miss one.
After a month of work, Jake Hunsbusher and I (mostly him) finished recording the audiobook. What an experience! You would think it’s as simple as reading the words and recording, but for an emotional project with different characters of varying ages, accents, and sexes it felt like a little movie with me as the director. I would have him rerecord a few sections with the inflections and emotions that I imagined while writing. The audio read by a true voice actor adds a layer to the story for the reader/listener, just like an artist for a comic book adds dimension the writer could never have imagined.
That’s the good news. The negative news is that I had some difficulty with a promotional aspect of modern-day publishing. Many indie writers swear by a service called Pubby which promises to get your book reviewed for a monthly fee. The monthly fee (a year’s worth all at once is not a monthly fee, btw) is charged at the end of the ten-day trial. I put a note in my calendar to assess and cancel if needed, and off I went!
The way Pubby works (in a nutshell) is you get stars for reading and reviewing books. You can use those stars, as well as your introductory stars and stars you purchase, to get your book reviewed. As you look for ways to get stars you are offered a limited selection of books to read. I chose a few that might be of interest and went to work. I had a hard time because the books were not interesting enough to complete so I stopped until I could find books that I could read and like. Here’s comes the problem. A day or two into my trial, I had one review for each of my books I had made available. They were positive in a generic sort of way that indicated the person may or may not have read the book all the way through. They read like, “If you like science fiction with lots of action, this is the book for you.”
That’s just it. The people on this service are writers looking for reviews. They want to get their stars and move on. If you don’t read the book, at least you can should a positive review like you hope other readers will do. I went at it all wrong; I wanted to READ the books!
It reminded me of Meow Meow Beans on the show Community. If you haven’t seen it, one episode features a social media ap that allows you to rate your fellow students for arbitrary reasons and the people with the highest rankings are worth the most Beans and thus rise to become the ones with the highest social values.
I don’t want to get reviewed that way. I want people to love or hate my work on its own merits, but I at least want them to read it. Just like I don’t like when someone gives a bad review based on the first two chapters, I don’t want a positive review if all they read was the blurb on the back of the book.
So, I cancelled. Here comes issue 2. They gave me a partial refund. I asked and they said that was all the charges they saw. I checked with my bank and they said I had been charged the whole year. I went back and forth with Pubby and they couldn’t find my charge because I had spelled my email wrong the first time I signed up. The customer service person was super snarky, saying things like, “Again, did you sign up under a different email address?” And “Does this email ring a bell…? I had spelled my email wrong on the initial signup but I was still getting correspondence and further charges, so they could have easily looked it up another way. After a frustrating experience and terrible customer service, I give Pubby ZERO Meow Meow Beans.
Side Note: While talking with my credit card company representative, I felt the need to explain that Pubby is not a porn site. She laughed and told me she doesn’t judge. Which makes me think that she thought it was indeed a porn site, Pubby. Yeah.
On the theme of reviews: It’s easy to get energy from positive reviews but it’s just as easy, if not easier, to let the bad reviews get you down. Last night, I was looking at my Goodreads author’s page and trying to utilize its resources as best as possible, it is important to make sure your info and publications are up-to-date. Goodreads is a part of Amazon so they list all my books, available and not available. For some reason, it lists my trade paperback The League of Super Groovy Crimefighters twice and both listings have a few reviews.
Two one-star ratings?! No followup on what they liked and didn’t like. Just fart and get off the elevator. I’m very proud of the work I did creating, writing, and publishing a limited series. To me, one star denotes the worst of the worst which would include terrible art and god-awful writing. Say what you want about the idea and execution, the art is great. I didn’t draw it, but the artists who contributed to the cover and interior work did a fantastic job. Maybe the humor was sophomoric. Maybe he didn’t like black-and-white. Maybe he didn’t think poking fun at the themes and oddities of the 70s was very funny. Either way, one star is harsh, in my humble opinion.
I’m being sensitive, of course. The comic series never really took off the way some other Indies like TMNT or the Tick did, so I understand some just didn’t get it. That’s okay. You never know. You have to try.
I did a promotion on Bookbub for a free book giveaway for my novel Twenty-One Octobers. 100 people were selected from thousands of entrants to receive a free digital copy. I netted about ten ratings and one written review, which was nice but perhaps not “worth it” for the money I spent. It’s hard to know if the other 90 winners have read or will read the book, but as an indie writer you can only try and hope something works. Some people will read what you write and love it. Some people will read it and hate it. Some will tell you, and fewer will tell you why. That’s okay, because most people won’t read it.
I have a friend who showed her support by buying a copy of my science fantasy book Champions of the Maelstrom. Her mother picked it up off the table and read it without knowing anything about the book. She enjoyed it despite not being a fan of the genre or even knowing me.
A continuation of my previous Confession- my reviewer gave the final book in my series, Avatars of the Maelstrom 4/5 stars! I’ve been checking every day like a I was waiting for a grade from my professor.
“Great story, keeping you guessing every page I read. Unexpected ending…I’m sure you all will enjoy reading.”
Here’s hoping all my reviews are that positive.
I haven’t written anything in a few days; I’m working on new formats for my previous publications. Large Print and Hardcovers require redoing the original covers, a task for my freelance artists. I changed computers last year and lost the writing of Twenty-One Octobers, so I had to salvage my original Word by downloading the book on Amazon and splitting it up into chapters and recreating the book using Vellum. But after a couple of day’s work, I have my digital manuscript back.
I’m also waiting on the cover for the Trilogy edition of Tragic Heroes as well as the prototype cover for sVck, the first from friend and long-time artistic go-to-guy, Michael Kelleher, the second is coming from art house 100 Covers.
I had a minor success yesterday. I try not to check too often, but any writer is going to look at his or her reviews. The trilogy I released a month ago is fairly long, so even if someone bought them, they might not have finished. Anyway, I noticed my first two books in the series had one five-star review each. I was cautiously optimistic.
My previous release, Twenty-One Octobers has almost ten reviews. The people who have reviewed are friends or friends of friends, and while I think they genuinely enjoyed the books, the true critic is someone who doesn’t care about your feelings. The internet can be an unforgiving hellscape and god have mercy on your should if someone paid money for something and did not enjoy it.
“I got this book with zero expectations but good reviews. I began reading and I couldn’t put the darn book down until I finished reading cover to cover. Yes that how good it was. Looking forward to book 2.”
That feels good. For someone to have spent their money and enjoyed something I worked for years to complete, well that’s the dream. And to write a review…-sniff-
“With ups and downs like in every story is a rollercoaster of actions and twist of emotions not foreseen by far. Again is book you cannot put down. Different from the first in a good way.”
-If you’re a friend and you wrote the above review, let me know only if it was honest. Otherwise, keep the secret to yourself.