Category Archive: Blog

Some Thoughts On Book Reviews

Yesterday was a great sales day for one of my books (currently I have three available). By the evening I was feeling pretty darned jazzed about it. So click I went to check its Amazon ranking and kaboom, two swift shots zinged by my head almost knocking me out of my computer chair. What happened?

Reviews, that’s what happened. Two one-stars one atop the other sitting there scorning me with their negative vibes. So it was a great day and a lousy day and here I sit trying to sort through the reality of reader reviews.

Let me say first of all that any reader who buys one (or more) of my books, reads them, and then goes back to Amazon or B&N or Goodreads to write a review, has my deep appreciation. Writing a review is certainly not a requirement. But what should I (or any writer) take away from reviews? Here are my review lessons in slightly more than a nutshell.

  1. Investment professionals will caution you against assessing your net worth at the high or the low of any market. What you’re worth at any time is always somewhere between the high and the low. When you get a glowing review, the tendency is to feel that you deserve it, your book is THAT good, darn it, and everyone should feel the way that 5-star reviewer felt about it. WRONG. If you believe that one review, then when you get a one-star that calls your book total dreck, you’re going to have to fight the feeling that you are worthless as a writer. So just remember that investment advice. You’re never worth the high or the low but somewhere in between. Which leads to point number two.
  2. A reader review is an opinion. Now if you’re lucky enough to be one of a few hundred books to be reviewed by The New York Times, by a reviewer with extensive education, knowledge, and experience in the field of literature and your type of work in partricular, you might be justified in taking what that reviewer has to say about your book more to heart than the random reader review at B&N. On the other hand, opinions do matter. If you can separate your ego from your reviews and read them as if they are about someone else’s book, then you can have what Oprah might call, a learning moment. That doesn’t mean giving in to rage or self pity, but instead standing back from your own work to assess its strengths and weaknesses and applying any lessons to future work. Which leads to point number three.
  3. Any search on any online book site of any reviews of any books – including classics that EVERYONE agrees are great books – yields the following results. There is NO book that is universally reviewed favorably by readers. I’m talking Nobel winners, Pulitzer winners, National Book Award winners – toss them all into the reader review pot and you’ll get mixed messages. There’s no way to definitively discern why a reader liked or didn’t like a book. It’s all subjective. I’ll bet if you asked ten friends what they think of your favorite book, at least three of them wouldn’t like it as much as you did. And one would probably hate it. Which leads to the final point.
  4. Writers tend to fret inordinately about reviews because reviews can lead to sales and sales lead to rankings and more sales. But you, the writer, can only control what you can control. And you can’t control reader reviews. All you can do is write the best book you can, move on to the next one, and make that one better than the last and so on. The writer controls writing. But the writer does not control reading. The writer brings a book to life but readers make it live. Reviews reflect on both the book and the reader. So for all you reviewers out there, remember that what you write about a book lives on and says as much about you as it does about the book you’ve reviewed. So if you’re reviewing a book, make sure your review reflects back on you well. And if you’re a writer whose gotten a review, make sure you keep it in perspective, no matter what it says.

What The Tide Brings

I went down to the dock yesterday. It was beautiful, clear and crisp, not hot, just lovely. Everywhere you look there’s bright new green with spots of happy color where patches of azaleas surprise the eye. Soon the rhododendron will bloom. I can already see deep magenta buds plumping out. After they burst open, the laurels will begin. They’re just the opposite of the rhodies. Not big and showy. Subtle with amazing detail in each little flowerlet. When you get down close it’s as if you’re looking into a kaleidoscope.

What I refer to as the dock, is really a long eight foot wide pier at the end of which is a most unusual boathouse, designed not to house a boat but as a place for people (and kayaks).* Off to one side, where the pier begins there’s a set of steps leading to what is sometimes a beach and sometimes water. It depends on whether the tide is in or out. The steps are for me. I can’t get into my kayak from the dock so I have to go down to the beach to launch. If the tide’s in, I wear high boots if the water’ s cold or creek shoes if it’s warm.

At various times during any given year the creek floods. Calling it a creek is a bit misleading. Where we’re located this “creek” is almost a mile wide. At its headwaters it’s nothing but a bunch of springs leading to a small creek. But when this water meets the tide line, it bowls out. Floods bring all sorts of gifts up to our dock and distribute them along the creek banks. A recent high water deposited a weathered tree trunk at the steps. The trunk wedged diagonally across the steps and the underside of the pier leaving one end completely stuck against a dock stringer and the other between two large riprap rocks. The thing is now immovable. And likely to attract other debris. It’s an acrobatic feat to climb over its girth from step to step to get down to the beach.

After my outdoor crew is done spreading mulch today, they’ll try to unwedge this behemoth and float it back to the river on the outgoing tide.

One day when we were kayaking across the creek with some friends who live four docks down, he told me, “You know when we bought this place I thought to myself: ‘Well this is what it looks like here.’ But now that we’ve been here for so many years, I realize it’s different every year.”

He’s so right. Just since 2003 I’ve watched floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, ice storms, fish, Eagles, ducks, geese, deer, otters, beaver, muskrat, and foxes come and go. Every season brings its own joy and its own change. Nothing in nature stays the same. Maybe when we go down to the dock to release that tree trunk later today, we’ll see something new has floated in on the tide.

* You can catch a glimpse of the boathouse in this video: http://thenovelette.com/lb-live (click on the title Life Is Art.)

But How Do You Make Money?

My Blog is only one day old and already I’m getting questions from other writers. Here’s what one writer wants to know:

I’m wondering if I’m about ready to talk seriously about self publishing. I’ve started thinking about it more after reading an article about how the really inexpensive books get downloaded more. How do you make a profit if you sell a digital version for $.99, $1.99? Did you offer a hardback version of your book? Are you selling on Kindle or other online sites?

Here’s a rather long answer.

It’s really incredible. The times we write in. It’s surely “the best of” half of that classic equation. Never before have writers had so many opportunities opening before us. It’s exciting and a bit daunting to be standing in the middle of this great and expanding level playing field.

When I started writing over twenty years ago now – wow has it been that long – the writing world was completely different. At least the public, publishing, and promoting part of the writer’s world. There was no Amazon, Kindle, Nook, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, websites, message boards, threads, posts or social media. There was only New York publishing houses. And agents.

Now for years we’ve all been hearing that books are dead, print is dead, reading is fast disappearing. Well a funny thing happened on the way to reading’s demise. It was called Kindle. Followed by Nook. Followed by you name it other devices for e-reading. Technology has changed everything in much the same way the printing press did back in 1500.

Here’s a little (slightly edited) history of that great technological leap forward, courtesy of Wikipedia (and oh by the way, another incredible innovation level-playing-field-wise):

“The mechanical systems involved were first assembled by a German named Johannes Gutenberg around 1440. He developed a complete printing system, which perfected the printing process through all its stages by adapting existing technologies to printing purposes, as well as making groundbreaking inventions of his own. The creation of metal movable type in large quantities, made possible the profitability of the whole printing enterprise.

From a single point of origin, Main, Germany, printing spread within several decades to over two hundred cities in a dozen European countries. By 1500, printing presses had already produced more than twenty million volumes.”

I have to say that prior to Gutenberg’s invention, very few people even knew how to read. That was the province of clerics, and the few highly educated. But all of a sudden books and reading were hot commodities.

Skip forward about 600 years to November, 2007 when the first Kindle launched. And they laughed and laughed and said Jeff Bezos had really screwed up this time. Hah. By mid 2010, e-books formatted for Kindle were outselling hardcovers on Amazon.com and by the end of the year they were also outselling paperbacks. While some predict the demise of print altogether, others say we’ll see a further ebbing of print sales but they’ll always have a place on the shelf. Right next to the Kindle. Only they’ll always cost a lot more. And people who want to read a whole lotta books, will buy e-books because – well because they’re cheaper, more portable, and you can sample the first chapter before you buy. Oh and you don’t have to drive to a mall where there are very few bookstores left. Am I against print? Not at all. I love choices as much as anyone. That’s the point. We now have choices.

What does this mean for writers? That’s simple. More readers. A bigger audience. More opportunity to be read. And more ways to reach your target reader. It’s surely the best of times for writers.

When I sell 50 e-books a day, I’m happy (and I never sell less than that anymore). When a hundred people buy my e-book(s) in one day I’m delighted. When they write rave reviews I’m tickled. When they pan my book(s), I’m still happy. It means my books are being read. And a book comes alive through readers. This level playing field allows me to reach readers in ways I could never have imagined 20 years ago when I wrote my first middle grade novel for children. That book is now live on kindle and Nook and being read. That’s the whole point of writing. Isn’t it?

So how does an author make money on a 99-cent download? Volume.

The Hummingbirds Are Back

At 8 this morning I was outside to meet the mulch delivery truck. Willy was driving today. It’s an older dump truck that holds about fifty yards. Retail places like nurseries sell  mulch by the cubic yard but I get mine from a tree company that has huge piles of hardwood mulch in various stages of decomposition. The freshest hardwood mulch takes a long time to turn into soil and the kind I buy has only been chipped two times so there are pieces of wood mixed in. I pay $75 for a truckload. Today I got two loads. It won’t be until Sunday that Oscar, Luis, and Ramon will be free from their regular job to spread it for me.

It’s a busy season. Birds, spiders, butterflies, wasps, and carpenter bees are all over the place. A baby snake wriggled right in front of my feet as I was watering some pansies. I picked him up and carried him across the road to the woods. No need to encourage snakes to live underfoot.

The septic tank pumping guy showed up between the two mulch deliveries. I’ve never had our tank pumped out before. Now there’s a job I wouldn’t want no matter how hard up I was. But he was pretty cheerful and, after telling me all the things that were wrong with where the tank was installed, how his pump won’t go more than a 27-foot rise, how the county shouldn’t have designed our system this way and on and on, he finally got down to work and everything was fine. Except as a parting shot he told me to tell whoever was using the toilets not to put tampon tubes in there. He even told me what colors had been used. This was an unexpected lesson in septics I hadn’t counted on getting for my $190. He was quite professorial.

So spring is here. And my chores are just beginning. I’ve moved some hostas, planted more fern leaf bleeding hearts, scattered seeds of an annual called Love In A Mist. It reseeds itself every fall from the pods so this is the only year I’ll be scattering them. I moved some giant ferns that have started walking themselves across my driveway. And the first hummingbird just hovered at the window where I write. She’s been here twice in the past hour. I hung the feeder a little while ago so I think she came back the second time to let me know she’d seen it.

Last Sunday, when Oscar and the others were here taking down a fallen tree, a Bald eagle flew overhead and dropped a 14-inch largemouth bass almost on Oscar’s foot. He told me he was going to take it home and make a fish stew. We cut some thyme and Greek oregano from my herb patch and he was all smiles.

What a lovely time of year. Always such a joy. The outside water is back on and now we’ll be able to use our outdoor shower again. I hope everyone is enjoying this rebirth as much as I am. And if a fish falls from the sky, make a stew for dinner.


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