When to leave a review

I’ve got a question for all the authors out there, is it alright to leave a less than stellar review?  I’ll explain.

Over the last year I’ve met and followed a lot of different authors on WordPress.  I try to be a good part of the network by picking up their books and other recommendations, supporting indie authors.  Some of these books are fantastic and I make sure to leave a good reviews, some… aren’t.

Since I started writing seriously I found that I’ve gotten a lot more critical over my own writing and what I read.  I’ve also gotten a lot better at identifying problems, in my own writing and others’.

There have been several times that I’ve seen glowing reviews for a new indie book, on multiple sites, then picked it up myself and had a hard time even finishing it.  That’s not to say I’m an editorial genius, I’m not, some of those needed a lot of work but others were just not to my taste.

When I do finish one of those books I face a dilemma, do I leave a three-star (or less) review or do I just stay silent?  It might be better for them even if I left something less than positive with the way Amazon does their rankings, I don’t know.  And what if I know the writer (on WP, anyway)?  Should I email the writer if I had problems with the story, or just say nothing?  If it was me I’d want to know, but some people are protective over their baby and might not like unasked for criticism, even if it’s intended as constructive.

New Review for an Old Favorite

I recently found myself between books and decided to re-read an old favorite, Phule’s Company by Robert Asprin.

Originally published in 1990, I discovered this book during Middle School and fell in love with it.

The back cover:

The Few. The Proud.  The Stupid.  The Inept.

Meet the soldiers of Phule’s Company.

They do more damage before 9:00 A.M. than most people do all day…

And they’re mankind’s last hope.

It’s about a charismatic young Space Legion Lieutenant who breaks a few rules but also happens to be the rich son of a mega-billionaire.  The Legion can’t really punish him so they promote him and give him command over a “hopeless” company full of losers, criminals, and pacifists.  Much hilarity ensues.

I just have to say that Robert Asprin is a brilliant writer and that’s most evident in Phule’s Company.  His other books are good but this one is fantastic.  It’s smart, it’s funny, and he hits all the right points, and his descriptions are awesome.  He even breaks a few of my reader rules without losing me, like head jumping and switching perspectives, which is very uncommon.  It just works so well the way it’s written.

Even reading it now, some twenty years later, I still love the book and highly recommend it to others.  Other great series by Asprin include the Myth series, Time Scout, and Thieves World.

And as a writer, there are some other things that are interesting about Robert Asprin and Phule’s Company that don’t involve his skills.  In many ways, as fantastic of a writer as he was, there are several aspects of his life that could stand as lessons to the rest of us.

You see, Phule’s Company is one of the few books published by Robert Asprin without a co-author.

This went well until the late 1990’s, when RLA’s (Robert Lynn Asprin) career was disrupted by a converging set of circumstances. Firstly, Mr. Asprin ended up in extremely serious trouble with the American federal tax agency, the Internal Revenue Service, over the supposed non-payment of income taxes, specifically in relation to his appearances at various science fiction conventions. The IRS is reported to have garnished RLA’s income, meaning that, while the garishment was in place, any income RLA made would go directly to the IRS. If he were to write and publish a book under these conditions, any and all profits would be automatically claimed by the IRS.

A way around this, evidently, was for RLA to sign off on officially ‘co-authored’ books. This is presumably one reason why the Phule and Time Scout series have continued to appear under co-authored bylines (Peter J. Heck and Linda Evans, respectively.) License Invoked (with Jody Lynn Nye) used the same scheme.

According to RLA’s own introduction to Myth-ion Improbable, as of April 2000, this dispute was finally “resolved.”

Another reason for the co-authoring as well as for the lack of new Myth books is that it appears RLA’s writer’s block, as discussed below, became terminal for several years. As noted elsewhere in this FAQ (Section 9.4), RLA has admitted for the record that he contributed very little to the writing of Wagers of Sin. The same is likely true of A Phule and His Money, Ripping Time, et al, although there has been no official confirmation of this. (Although the tax-agency subplots running through A Phule and His Money and Myth-Taken Identity must have been inspired by RLA’s real-life experiences in this area.)

Thirdly, there was the situation with Donning. While Mr. Asprin was still under contract, Donning’s “Starblaze” line, which published the original hardcover versions of the MythAdventure books, was shut down. Donning as a whole is now (more or less) defunct, having been bought out by another publishing company. The company went under amidst a storm of accusations of legal and financial chicanery, and so, for several years, if RLA was still under any contract to write Myth books, it was with this zombie of a company, an entity with whom he had no desire to conduct further business.

IRS and publisher issues almost derailed Robert Asprin’s career.  Around the same time these issues were first cropped up, writer’s block stopped him from writing for SEVEN YEARS.  That’s the official story at least.  I’m sure he did some writing during that time but was either unable or unwilling to publish because of those issues.  Thankfully, the disputes were eventually resolved and he went on to put out many more books before he passed away in 2008.

It’s a fascinating story all around, both the author and his work.  I highly recommend anyone who hasn’t read Phule’s Company to go out and pick up a copy.  The rest of Robert Asprins work, especially Time Scout, are awesome too but Phule’s Company has a special place for me.

Author Interview Posts: Quick Advice

In my WordPress reader it’s extremely common to see at least half a dozen author interviews a day.  Every day.  It’s also extremely common for me to scroll right past them and onto something else.  With so many interviews it takes something special to stand out and make me click the link.

And you know what the biggest factor is for me?  The photo of the author.

That might sound superficial but that’s the world we live in these days.  There are thousands of new books published each day, thousands of new authors and every one of them is fighting for the same number of eyes.  That’s a lot of noise.  With so much selection your work and you have to stand out.

As much as many of us don’t like it, if we’re going to market our work we also have to market ourselves.   If your images don’t catch a reader’s eye, you’re going to have a very hard time gaining any interest.  We have to have the complete package: a professional cover, photos, and website.  You have to have it all, if you miss one of those aspects it could be a weak link that leads to lost sales.

What blows me away is how many authors shell out money from their meager budget for a good cover illustrator and then post unprofessional photos of themselves.

author pic 1

(I’m an author, you should read my interview and buy my book.)

If you represent yourself in an unprofessional manner I assume that will be reflected in your writing.

These authors take the time, energy, and effort to put themselves out there by doing author interviews and blog tours yet are hampering themselves by not having an impressive, eye catching photo.  It’s not about whether you look attractive or not (though attractive helps, unfortunately), it’s about quality.  Every day I see photos that are too small, too big, too candid, blurry, low resolution, a selfie, taken with a webcam, wearing jeans and t-shirts… the list of mistakes is almost endless and I see them over and over again.  Every single day.  You don’t have to shell out big bucks for professional or studio photos, they just need to look professional.

I probably skip 9 out of 10 author interviews specifically because of the photo.

Don’t make that mistake, have the complete package.  Stand out from the crowd in the right ways.

Interesting conversation with my Mom

I haven’t been good at posting over the last two months, as I’m sure happens with everyone life tends to get in the way, especially over the holidays.  Hiccups and roller coasters, it’s life.

Anyway, this morning I got a text from my mother.  It was a picture of her kindle, blown up far enough that I could read the text.

At first I was confused, what was she showing me?  I read the page and was amazed at how poor the writing was.  It was grammatically correct but stylistically a mess.

“He walked to the table.  He picked up the items, a book and two bowls.  He placed them on the counter.  He picked up a rag and wiped off the table top.  He took a yard of butcher paper off the role in the corner and gently placed it on the table.”

At first I thought the author was using this style deliberately but it just kept going.  Almost every sentence on the page started with “He”, it was really difficult to read more than a paragraph.

Then my mom sent a second text.  She explained that this was a book that a friend of hers had just put out and she suspected it was “self published”.  She’d wanted to support him, paid four dollars for her copy and wasn’t very happy with the quality.  I couldn’t blame her.  I’m certainly not an expert writer, or without my own issues, but I felt like I could have done a better editing job than whoever he hired, if he hired anyone.

Now, I could go on about how these kinds of books tend to give self published authors a bad name but we’ve all heard that before and, honestly, whether his book sells doesn’t really matter to me.  He wrote it, he was happy with it, and he published it.  Good for him.

What I can take away from this situation is that I don’t want anything I publish to turn off readers like that.  Is she going to be excited to buy his next book?  I doubt it.  I told my mom that that’s exactly why I’m not rushing to publish anything, I never want someone to pay good money and come away feeling like it wasn’t worth it.

NaNo Wrap up

With a bit of a last minute dash I managed to “win” NaNo this year.  I was on track up until WCFC Bout #2, which put me behind a couple days.  This long weekend though gave me the opportunity to catch back up and cross the finish line a couple days early.

Surprisingly, my novel actually wrapped up about the same time I crossed the 50K mark, which I thought was going to be at least 60.  There are some things that need to get fleshed out still but overall the story is there on the page, which is fantastic.

Now, I just need to figure out what I’m writing next… or start the editing process.  So, new project it is.  🙂

Congrats to all the other winners out there and for everyone else, keep up the writing and good luck!

Scrivener

The other day I was complaining about the many little frustrations I had with the basic word processing program I was using to write.  Once my draft got long enough, jumping back and forth between different chapters to reference previous scenes became quite the headache.

I was with a writer friend at the time who suggested I check out Scrivener.  She showed me a couple of the basics and it seemed promising, so when I got home I downloaded the trial version.

I played around with it and for the first fifteen minutes I absolutely hated it.  Everything was laid out so differently than I was used to I couldn’t figure out how to actually do anything.  Eventually, I looked up a “how to” on youtube that showed how to use the program.  That made a huge difference. Continue reading “Scrivener”