Thursday, April 13, 2017

It's not your book anymore

Books are a bit like kids.  You get this idea for a story, you work and work and work and write and edit and hate it and love it… and there's a book. You have the book edited, have a cover designed… and finally it's finished, ready for the next phase of its existence. You're an anxious parent, you might shed a tear as, heart in mouth, you send your creation off into a larger world where readers wait with (you hope) breathless anticipation. You wait for the first sales, the first reviews… 

Of course you do. You created it.

But once you hit that 'publish' button, it's not yours anymore.

When a person buys a book, it's their book. Their opinion of the content is every bit as valid as anybody else's. And there's bugger all the author can do about it. These days it's all out there, warts and all. People are encouraged to leave a comment about anything they buy – and that results in gaming the system. People leave negative reviews of their competitors' products, whatever they might be. Including, of course, other authors. People buy reviews to improve their 'visibility'. Publishers like Amazon have done their best to tackle that rort. Sometimes, it's true, they seem to use a bulldozer where a shovel might have done a better job. And they certainly haven't done a good job of attacking the other side of gaming, where bad reviews are left for no good reason. This could be an author's street team jumping on another author's book. Or maybe one of the groups on Goodreads which seem to target some authors. Or it could be somebody whose cat died today, or has a bad dose of PMT to take out on some anonymous person in the virtual world.

We've got to live with that. Shrug and move on. This is why I don't read reviews anymore. I certainly don't want to be accused of being one of those badly-behaved authors we've all read about, denigrating reviewers, and in at least one famous case, tracking them down and attacking them. I don't mind if people don't like my books. There are plenty of books I don't like. But ooooh… there are times when I wish I could engage the writers of some unfair reviews. Like the person who left a one-star review because the book wasn't what she expected, despite the fact that the author had made it clear in the blurb that the story wasn't a romance. Or the person who slammed just about everything about the book after cheerfully admitting they'd only read up to 23%. Or the person who gave a book one star because two names in the story were similar to (not the same as) characters in a popular franchise. Or the person who gave a book one star when it hadn't even been published yet. (Goodreads allows for that). And woe betide the author if a 'reviewer' uses Aaaargh (or spelling derivatives) in the title, or the words "I tried to like this book…" (To which I say bullshit. I never buy a book intending not to like it. But I don't 'try'. To paraphrase a famous literary critic, "Like or like not. There is no try.")

These are not all examples from my books, you understand. It's one of the trials of this Writing Game, experienced by all authors, which seems to be getting worse. Coupled with that, it's harder to get your name out there, harder to attract readers. It's said that you have to have a backlist to make an impact. Well, I've got a backlist. Here it is.
Ptorix Empire
The Iron Admiral: Conspiracy
The Iron Admiral: Deception
The Complete Iron Admiral (Conspiracy and Deception in one volume)
Crisis at Validor
The Stuff of Legend
Morgan Selwood
Supertech (short)
Morgan’s Choice
A Victory Celebration (short)
Morgan's Return
Ink (short)
Kuralon Rescue
Dryden Universe
A Matter of Trust (novella)
The Demon's Eye (short)
Eye of the Mother (novella)
A Dryden Collection (the three stories above in one book)
Ella and the Admiral (novella)
Black Tiger
White Tiger
Black Tiger / White Tiger (Black Tiger and White Tiger in one volume)
To Die a Dry Death

I've given you the results of my mini-marketing campaign last week. I've done one more thing – listed my perma-free book, The Iron Admiral: Conspiracy, with eReader News Today. I had excellent results through them some years ago. Here's the post I wrote about it. This time, the book was downloaded about 750 times. This does not necessarily translate into reads, or reads of other of my books, but might help. We shall see, but right now, I'd say it was a waste of money. Giving away books has lost its impact. In fact, it has fed reader expectation that books should be free, especially if you're not well known. There are so many free books out there that many are never even read.

Mind you, there are still indie authors out there who make a respectable living, and all power to them. They've established a fan base, are prolific enough, and write what their readers enjoy reading. But judging by comments from fellow writers, there are many in the same situation as me.

If you're getting the idea from all this that I'm disheartened – you might just be right. I obviously don't write the kinds of books that readers want to read. In the SFR niche, more and more of the titles seem to be steamy stories set in space, with a bare male torso on the cover. Whatever floats your boat. But that's not what I read, and it's not what I write.

On a more positive note, I've just received my copy of Timothy Zahn's latest novel, Thrawn. If you're a Star Wars fan you will have heard of the Thrawn trilogy. I'm so pleased Grand Admiral Thrawn has been embraced into the Star Wars canon. I loved the way he was portrayed in Star Wars Rebels and can't wait to see him in a future Star Wars movie. I'll write a review for next week. Oh – and I promise I won't 'try to like this book'. Even though I have high hopes. Here's the link to the book on the Zon.


  1. Oh boy, I hope I never come across any members of an author's street team behaving badly towards another author. Not logical, Jim!

    Perhaps the quality and pitfalls of book reviews can be explained by the diversity of people writing the reviews. Different levels of education, emotional intelligence, life and social skills, etc. Some reviewers are clearly erudite and articulate in expressing their views. Others, not so much - and probably never will be, but some will do their best within their abilities. (And then there are the trolls and attention seekers.) There will always be those enthusiastic bibliophiles among us that either have a spontaneous natural gift or are willing to find out how to at least write something reasonable, but maybe in numbers that aren't ideal from a writer's side of the fence.

    I've genuinely loved what I've read in your books, Greta, and I think the stories would be spoiled by too much steam and those ubiquitous and pesky shirtless torsos :-). The covers and titles enticed me to read the blurbs which, in turn, told me the stories are real science fiction, true space opera and pleasingly romantic. Perfect.

    1. Thanks, Merry. You're right about the reviewers - they are the same mix of people you'd find in real life - but also masked by the anonymity of the net. I wonder if some of those 'reviewers' would say the same words to an author's face. But I guess I know the answer to that.

      Enjoy your Easter LWE :)

    2. Yes, that appears to have resulted in a huge shift in human interaction and behaviour. I'm constantly alarmed by exchanges in the comments on YouTube, as just one example. Apart from being totally OT, there's so much pointless hate and poison between people who don't know one another. Would they behave that way face-to-face? Probably not. In fact, they most likely wouldn't say anything at all. I'm on the fence about whether that would be good or bad. Moderating or filtering out some comments may help.

      Happy Easter :-).

  2. Very well said, Greta. I think you reflect the frustration and futility many authors are feeling in the current market.

    The advent of independent publishing has definitely been a two-edge sword. It allowed so many more authors (especially those who write SFR) to realize their dreams and allowed millions of readers to explore stories that didn't necessarily fit the commercial mold. But few foresaw the difficulties that this flood of books on the market would create as far as authors being able to earn a decent profit or even cover their expenses.

    1. Yes, about expenses. And that, of course, leads to people cutting corners and not getting professional editing, or good covers. I suppose it's a matter of balance - that sort of see-saw any young industry goes through until the playing field perhaps not levels out, but at least is a little more predictable. Let's hope so.

  3. Reviews can be frustrating. I know I've gotten and seen my share of what I consider to be unfair reviews: readers who review books in genres they dislike, readers who buy a short story and say they wanted a novel, people who just prefer that a story go another way, people dislike alpha heroes but pick books with an alpha M/C, or who pick a book with a geek hero and want him to be more alpha...

    I have learned on GR that some readers mark their book lists with 1 star to show that they plan to read it, not realizing that results in a rating of that book.

    But in publishing biz, you pretty much have to toughen up buttercup, because that's the way it is.

    1. That GR comment is interesting. I didn't know that - but I'll add that anecdotally, it's not always true. It could so easily be fixed, too, by a tiny program change that prevents people from rating a book that's not yet published.

      For the other - you're right. If you don't like the water, get out of the pool.

    2. Hmmm, I've seen a lot of weird stuff on GR, but I didn't know about using the stars that way. You'd think it would make more sense to create a bookshelf called Plan to Read, or something. Or, as I do, just use the built in Want to Read option, which for me means that I've actually bought the book, but for others is a wish list item. Give people a number of options and they'll all use them differently or invent entirely new ways LOL! Same with other software applications, not least Microsoft Office :-).

    3. I've received a couple of 1-star reviews where the reviewer wrote only good things about the book. So I think there are definitely times when readers just don't understand the system and how it's supposed to work. I was also told by Goodreads back when my debut came out that they allow people to rate before publication so they can give their opinion of the story idea, cover, etc. Which to me seemed pretty lame.

  4. I've been doing ARC reads for other authors for sometime. I know what it's like to get a one star review from someone who said it was not his kind of story. Really? That cut my the overall rating to 3 stars.

    When I do an ARC reading of a book I don't post a bad review if I don't like the book. I send a constructive critique back to the author. One book was very well written and researched with good strong characters and great detail of the setting but too skimpy on the romance. But it was the first book in a series with more to come.

    I just don't think its fair to trash someones work on line because you don't like the story. If I like it well enough to finish the book, I give it 4 stars. It gets 5 if I can hardly put it down from start to finish.

    1. Agreed. I don't read anywhere near as much as I used to - my eyes can't handle it. And I don't finish books I don't like. Life's too short and all that. For that reason I'm like you - 4 for finishing and 5 for great. I think the only time I'd leave a bad review is if this was plagiarism or something.

  5. I hear you, Greta. In the current environment, I've decided I'm just gonna do me and let the chips fall where they may, because that's the only way to not be miserable all the time. I don't even read reviews that are fewer than 3 stars anymore. I also do minimal promo because my head is bruised from the brick wall.

    Regarding our subgenre, with *real* scifi components, I do think we probably lose readers. I mean scifi is the least profitable genre. Or at least it used to be back when my first book was published -- I'm not sure what the various Star Wars books have done to those numbers.

    I do still believe it's possible for a book to "break out," and I keep hoping...

    1. Ha - "head is bruised from the brick wall" - yeah, that :) I think it's very hard to compete with the flood of 'free'. I think Star Wars helps - but then it's the same old see-saw. Too much romance.

      Still, while there's life and all that...

    2. I'm surprised that sci-fi is the least profitable, having presumed that it was established longer ago than mass-market contemporary romance (Mills & Boon, Harlequin, et al) and then later PNR. I guess many people who enjoy "hard" sci-fi will most likely never delve into SFR, even if it has those "real scifi components".

      I still wonder about the divide between credibility as a genre and marketing techniques (which obviously work to some extent) such as the sexy shirtless torso covers and romance-oriented book titles we've been discussing recently. Even though SFR is still relatively young, its legitimacy as a genre for sci-fi fans is presumably suffering because of the proliferation of non-scifi-like covers and titles. Damned if you do and damned if you don't, though? Too late to change now?

    3. You said it, Merry. It's tough to write a hybrid genre that isn't readily accepted by either of the "parent" readerships. And it's sometimes frustrating to see Sci-Fi with romance so hugely popular in movies and television, but that fandom doesn't translate to print. Go figure.

  6. I think the relative anonymity of the internet does enable people to say things online they would probably never say to someone's face. I understand why GR allow the posting of reviews before the book is out - it means authors can get reviews from ARCs up before release day, something some find helpful - but sometimes it backfires. For an example, go look up The Black Witch on Goodreads. Someone put a three star review on a book of mine on GR that doesn't even exist and they could only have read if they hacked my computer. Fortunately the powers that be at GR agreed to delete the listing as the book was never published, so at least that one got zapped.


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