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A Confession

I am an objective-driven person.  As it relates to writing, I don’t write just to write.  Particularly since I started publishing my own work via Kindle Direct Publishing and CreateSpace, I write with an objective.  To get my books out there, to get feedback, to believe I am writing good stuff, and to, one day, figure out a way to make some money at this thing called writing.  One of the reasons I got sluggish about writing over the past couple of months is that I wasn’t seeing the objective anymore.  Without anything “new” out there and without running any promotions, or at least any that were working, I wasn’t seeing much in the way of sales and not a whole lot of new reviews.  And with my struggles to complete anything, I wasn’t seeing anything “new” on the horizon that would help meet my objective.

So, I withered for a time.  A couple of months of not believing the time and effort was worth it.  I’ve turned the page on that, however.  Last night, I finished my final edit of Northville.  I’ve got one more editor to go — my sister is a pretty incredible copy editor.  She finds all of the typos nobody else saw.  And then it will be on to the next chapter in Lily, Pete and Sophie’s story.  I’m undecided whether it will be a three novella series or one novel.  That’s my next decision.  I may just keep writing until I’ve got no more of their story to tell and see where it ends up.

My confession?  I’m a praise slut.  OK.  There, I said.  I’m a praise whore.  In person, when somebody tells me I done good, I’m embarrassed by it.  But behind the privacy of a computer screen, I can’t get enough of it and you can’t imagine how good it feels to read things like this:

Forty-something Kel is experiencing a mid-life crisis, but it’s not the typical crisis of wanting a sports car and a much younger girlfriend. His crisis revolves around a seemingly loveless marriage, two kids who don’t care if he’s around or not, and a job he despises. One night, after a conversation with a stranger in a bar, Kel decides to embark on a journey that may give him enlightenment, or if nothing else, a few days away from his unhappy household. Kel reaches his destination of Santo Cielo, Baja California, and seeks out Father Santos. Over the next week, the old priest teaches Kel lessons that have long been forgotten, and more importantly, shows him how happiness can be found in the simplest of things. In the ensuing weeks and months, Kel wrestles with what he has versus what he wants and needs, and agonizes over his needs versus the needs of his family.

This is a tremendously well-written story of one man’s struggle to find harmony and contentment, even where it may not exist. Eye-opening and thought-provoking, it delivers a powerful narrative of a man hurting inside, who only desires happiness for himself and his family. This book spoke to me (on so many levels) as few others have. There are some pearls of wisdom which the reader can take and apply to their own lives, especially the concept behind the title. An absolutely wonderful book. Five stars just aren’t enough!

That second paragraph describes exactly why I ended up writing Weed Therapy the way I did and my hope that it would reach people in a deeper way than just having read a story that was a throw-away.  (Yes, Beaver, if you read this, this is one story that had a point.)  The individual who wrote those two paragraphs is an unknown reader who has now read both of my short story collections and both of my novels, giving each of them five stars with glowing reviews to accompany the ratings.  That I have struck a chord with somebody who doesn’t know me is meeting the objective.

A co-worker just let me know that she finished reading the draft of Northville Five & Dime.  Her words for the story and my writing included “your writing is really powerful,” “a very insightful read,” and “never stop writing, you have a talent for it many don’t have.”

You can’t imagine how much I needed to read those words.  The review above, the comments from a friend.  They help.  They really do.  So, thank you to the strangers who post good reviews, the fellow writers I’ve met through blogging and who provide so much support, and to my friends, family and co-workers who continue to support my efforts.  It helps. It really does.

I’ve been Amazon’d

I debated how to open this post.  I think there are two options:

1.  I have had 61 reviews of One Night in Bridgeport on Amazon.  Now I have 58.

2.  I have 61 58 reviews of One Night in Bridgeport on Amazon.

 

Yes, add me to the list of frustrated authors who have had some of their reviews magically disappear from Amazon, thanks to the company’s never-ending weeding out of what they deem to be “bad” reviews.  I want to get one thing out of the way — people have suggested that Amazon has a policy that prohibits reviews by people who are clearly friends or family of the author.  I can find that nowhere in their review guidelines discussed below.

Anyway …

For a few weeks now, my review total for Bridgeport has been stuck at 61.  Yes, it is something I check every day.  I haven’t been able to eliminate that particular addiction.  Wednesday night I took a peek and it was … wha? … down to 58.  I have heard of this phenomenon from a number of other writers and bloggers.  It had yet to happen to me.

I dashed off an email to Amazon customer service and was told this by Amy J.:

Thanks for contacting us about the missing Customer Reviews for your titles. For privacy reasons, I can only discuss specific Customer Review removals with the person who originally posted the review. However, I can tell you that reviews are removed from the Amazon.com website for one of three reasons:

1. The review conflicted with our guidelines (http://www.amazon.com/reviews-guidelines). This includes reviews which were posted as promotional material.
2. The review was removed by the customer who submitted the review.
3. We discovered that multiple items were linked together on our website incorrectly. Reviews that were posted on those pages were removed when the items were separated on the site.

If you are the reviewer, please contact us from the account you used to write the Customer Review. We will then be able to provide you with additional information about why your specific Customer Review was removed.

I responded with what is my usual grace and patience.  Job has nothing on me.

You realize how ridiculous that is … the reviews are public.  They’ve been up on a publicly accessible website for months.  They relate to a book that I’ve published and you can’t tell me which ones you deleted.

I realize that Amazon is the dominant player in this space and we authors have no choice but to go along but your service sucks.  You can do anything you want, so you basically do.

I certainly believe that there are rules that should be followed by reviewers and failure to follow those rules should result in the reviews being deleted or the reviewer being denied the right to post reviews.  For instance, a review that gives a book one star because it was delivered later than anticipated.  What was that you said?  Oh, you mean there are reviews like that on books on Amazon and they’ve been there for months and never deleted?  Hmmm

I also think books written by political figures shouldn’t be subject to reviews written by people who just call the author names because they disagree with their policies.  What was that you said?  Oh, you mean there are reviews like that on books on Amazon and they’ve been there for months and never deleted?  Hmmm.

I think we should take a look at Amazon’s review guidelines and see what they say.  One prohibited type of review is:  “Details about availability or alternative ordering and shipping information.”  Doesn’t that seem to cover the first example.  Two other types of prohibited reviews are: (1) Obscene or distasteful content; (2) Profanity or spiteful remarks.  Trust me, if you haven’t spent time reading the reviews of political books, there are thousands of these all over Amazon.

So, there should be rules, but shouldn’t those rules make sense and be applied rationally?  After my response, I got another email, this time from Zac J.  Is it me, or do you also find it weird that Zac has the same last name initial as Amy does and they both have names that are three letters?  I’m thinking that these emails are templates and that one of Amazon’s infamous algorithms is to “sign” them with names that follow a particular formula.  What do you think?  It makes about as much sense as what some of their other algorithms do.

Here’s “Zac’s” response:

Again, for privacy reasons, I can only discuss specific Customer Review removals with the person who originally posted the review.

In general, Customer Reviews are removed from the Amazon.com website for one of three reasons:

1. The review conflicted with our guidelines ( http://www.amazon.com/reviews-guidelines ). This includes reviews which were posted as promotional material.
2. The review was removed by the customer who submitted the review.
3. We discovered that multiple items were linked together on our website incorrectly. Reviews that were posted on those pages were removed when the items were separated on the site.

If you have additional questions, please review our Customer Review Guidelines (http://www.amazon.com/reviews-guidelines) and FAQs in our Help pages (http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/?nodeId=201077870).

I’m sorry for any frustrations this may cause. We won’t be able to provide further insight or assistance with your request.

So, let’s dispense with these “reasons.”  #2 is easy — I’m pretty sure that three people didn’t simultaneously wake up one day and decide to delete their reviews of Bridgeport.  #1 is a little more difficult.  You can click on the link and look at all of the different guidelines they have for good reviewing etiquette.  What I can tell you is this — after reading all of my reviews, sometimes more than once — I can guarantee that none of them violated any of Amazon’s guidelines as provided to me.  As for #3 — I’m not sure what that means but it doesn’t seem like it could fit here, with all of my reviews they are clearly solely dedicated to the book.  I’m not sure why they would be linked together on Amazon’s website incorrectly.  And, if they are, isn’t that Amazon’s problem, not mine?  I know this — every single review was of Bridgeport and there were no duplicates.

I don’t know who “owns” a review.  And Amazon certainly has the right to police its website.  I support that.  But, as I said, there has to be some rationality to it.  I would love to know which of the three reasons they used to delete the comments and then know which comments they are.  If three people deleted their reviews on the same day, I’m fine with that and I don’t want to know who they are.  But, if it’s because of a violation of their guidelines I sure would love to know which reviews they were because there was nothing in any of the reviews of Bridgeport that violated their guidelines.  And now I’m down three reviews that I believe were four or five stars and Amazon doesn’t have to explain itself to an author who depends on good reviews to hopefully garner more attention for the book.

Thank you, Amazon, for demonstrating once again that the bigger you are the more of an asshole you can be.

Hallelujah, Pass the Butter

Thanks to Vince Dickinson, author of Fugue in C Minor and other works, I have officially crossed the rubicon.  A tenth review of Weed Therapy on Amazon.  He’s posted it on his website as well.   (P.S.  If you haven’t already, you really should give Vince’s novel a try.  I gave it four stars on Amazon because it got to that point where I couldn’t put it down.)

What I find remarkable about the reviews for Weed Therapy is the quality and depth of those reviews.  With Bridgeport, many of the reviews are nothing more than one liners.  I’m not complaining about those.  Believe me, I’m not complaining.  But, what impresses me about the WT reviews is that the story seems to have struck a chord with the readers (at least those posting reviews) to go beyond the simple one-liner.  The reviewers are writing about how the story relates to their own lives and experiences.  I truly believe that there are things in the story that virtually every adult can relate to and that’s what I need to address to come up with a way to market the book.

I have posted about my criticisms of Amazon and failed promotional efforts.  A few months ago, Amazon started a new promotional effort called Kindle Matchbook — where if you had purchased the paperback, you could get a discounted e-book version of the same book.  Which seemed pretty meaningless considering we’re already all at .99 per e-book.

Today, they announced a new promotional effort.  (Today, at least for me, since today was the first time I saw it.)  It’s called Kindle Countdown, or something like that.  Take your regularly priced e-book and discount it for a few days.  Amazon will provide a “countdown clock” showing the length of the discount and, here’s the piece I’m interested in seeing, feature your book on their Kindle Countdown page.  This is the type of thing they need to do more of.  Find ways to feature self-published authors.  I signed up.  Weed Therapy, which has been at $4.99 for the past few weeks, will be at $1.99 on November 2 for two days, moving to $2.99 for two days, and then to $3.99 for another two days, before settling back at $4.99.  Another piece of this … while their normal royalty for authors is 70% for anything above $2.99 and 35% for anything below $2.99, they will pay the 70% royalty rate for the lower prices during this type of promotion.

Again, I signed up.

And, now that I have ten reviews on Amazon, with an overall rating well above four stars, as soon as that promotion is over, I’m heading over to EReaderNewsToday.

Fingers crossed and pass the butter.

Weekend Update

Maybe I’ll head to a once a week post that wraps things up for me for the week.  Who knows.  At least for this week, that’s what I’m doing.

In one 24-hour period, I got three more reviews on Amazon for One Night in Bridgeport.  All four stars and all good comments.  That brings the tally to 49 reviews (do I have a party when I get to 50?), 28 are five stars, 16 are four stars, 4 are three stars, and 1 is two stars.  I can definitely live with that mix.  Meanwhile, I’ve got five reviews for Weed Therapy.  Need to get at least five more.

I’ve done a really stupid and petulant thing with Weed Therapy.  I’ve moved the Kindle price to $4.99.  Why?  Because nobody was buying it, even at .99.  If nobody is going to buy the book at that price, why not increase the price and not have anybody buy it.  Yes, it makes no sense.  But I was peeved at what was happening.  None of the promotional efforts I tried produced any sales.  So, $4.99 is it for the time being.  Of course, if I get ten reviews and get it featured on ereadernewstoday, the price will be coming down.  But not until then.

Speaking of reviews of Weed Therapy, I don’t think I will ever again conduct a Goodreads giveaway.  I offered three autographed copies.  After the giveaway, I got an email from a Goodreads member who did not win one of the giveaway books.  She begged me to send her one anyway.  She and her husband are poor, you know.  He’s a veteran, you know.  She reads books to him, you know.  The book sounds so wonderful, you know.  We’ll provide two reviews, you know.  Two months later.  No reviews, no comments.  Nothing.  From any of the people who got a free copy through the giveaway.

Sales of Bridgeport have definitely slowed down.  Two-thirds of the way through the month, I’m at 38 for September.  Not bad, but not as well as I was doing for the four months prior.  I’m not sure if the book has simply run its course or there’s more I could and should be doing to promote it again.

As I wrote a while back, Deviation is complete.  Northville Five and Dime is about half way there.  Carlota awaits her future as the third in my series of three longer short stories.

That’s where I’m at when it comes to writing.  Where are you at?

* * * * *

I look at what the House Republicans are doing with funding government and trying to defund Obamacare and wonder if they’ll ever have a clue.  Ever.  Their grip on sanity seems to get weaker and weaker with each year.  I can’t imagine their hoped for shutdown of the government being a successful strategy for them, just like it failed in the mid-90’s.  What the people want is a functioning government, Republicans and Democrats compromising and moving the country forward.  What they’re getting is dysfunction and disaster.

And for my readers who claim that Democrats and Obama aren’t willing to compromise by agreeing to scrap Obamacare, let’s be serious.  This is the President’s signature achievement.  Something that much of the country has aspired to for decades.  Even Richard Nixon supported universal health care.  Demanding that Obama end it before there has been any opportunity to see if it will work is extortion not compromise.  Worse than that, it’s extortion based on a complete misunderstanding of what the law does.

* * * * *

I’ve started running again.  A month before I planned on doing so.  I couldn’t help it.  The bad news is that I’m much slower than I was a couple of years ago.  About two minutes per mile slower.  The good news is that I’ve “run” five times in the last seven days.  Friday night’s run lasted for four miles without needing a walk break.  The ol’ groin seems to be stable, although there is soreness in spots I never had soreness before.  Soreness is OK, it’s when the whole thing collapses and I can barely walk that is problematic.  No collapse yet.  If I can run four miles three or four times a week, I’ll be incredibly happy.

* * * * *

I’ve become addicted to Breaking Bad.  After months of people telling me I look like Heizinger, I started watching season one on Netflix.  I’m now halfway through season two, watching three episodes Friday night.  It’s a story that strains the limits of credibility, but it is definitely a fascinating and intense look at how far a man could go down a very dark path.

Here’s another thing I learned last night when I logged into Netflix to watch Breaking Bad.  Never, ever give your kids your account and password information.  What they do with it is provide it to their girlfriend and her family so they can use your Netflix account to watch movies and TV shows.  When I realized this was happening I changed my password.  I am monumentally disappointed with my son and with her family for doing this.  I realize it doesn’t cost me anymore, but it feels like theft, like being taken advantage of.  How many movies and shows have they watched on my account over the past week?  Sixty-seven.  In one week.  I didn’t go back any further in my viewing history.  That was enough.

* * * * *

I’m spending my Sunday running, writing, doing laundry, watching football, and baking bread.  I have this incredible bread book called Artisan Baking Across America.  It’s more like a coffee table book than an actual cook book.  It’s filled with incredible pictures of bakeries and dough and bread.  Fortunately, it’s got a lot of recipes as well.  As the title should make clear, this is about making bread in a very old fashioned way.  Mix a bit of flour and water and yeast together Saturday night.  Let it sit over night.  The amount of yeast, however, is so tiny as to be almost non-existent.  In the morning, mix that (it’s called a poolash) with more flour and water and maybe some honey and a few other things.  And let it rise.  Because of the small amount of yeast, the rise is 3-4 hours long.  Then you shape the bread and let it rise for a couple more hours before baking.

The end product is this incredible, crusty, airy, bubbly bread with more flavor than you know what to do with.  I’m making two loaves of tortano and two loaves of semolina fiolene.  Pictures later.

What are you doing with your Sunday?

* * * * *

Almost forgot … if you’re looking for a little writing challenge, head over here for the second installment of the We Drink Because We’re Poets Seven Day Story Challenge, sponsored by yours truly.

I’m A Review Whore

Yes, I admit it.  But aren’t we all?  All of us self-published authors, living and dying by what those unknown readers are thinking and saying about our books once they have them in their hot little hands.

This week has seen a new review on Amazon, and a new rating on Goodreads.  The review on Amazon is interesting.

Formerly a practicing attorney, I was delighted with how the author “transcribed” the trial. I almost didn’t read that far. The first four chapters needed considerable condensing. At first I thought I had mistakenly bought a contemporary romance novel, so I quickly skimmed those chapters until I bumped into him being interviewed by the investigators. From chapter 5 until the end I was captured.

However… I thought I’d upchuck if I read more about the snow in branches, etc. I, too, find falling snow to be beautiful, but its relevance was questionable. It did not add conflict or tension to the story. A little abridging would have been nice.

The resolution of the criminal trial was an excellent twist. A few things at the end were left unresolved and left to the reader’s imagination.

Based on that, the reader gave me five stars.  Which I’ll definitely take.  I also find it difficult to disagree with the concerns about the first couple of chapters.  What thrills me about this is her appreciation for how I wrote the trial.  I’ll let you in on a secret.  While my day job is being an attorney.  I don’t litigate and I have spent my life as far removed from criminal law as possible.  If I never step in a courtroom, I’ll be happy.   So, I was worried about the courtroom action in Bridgeport and some of the other details of the criminal process.  Having somebody more familiar with those aspects “endorsing” how I wrote that part of the story provides me with some comfort.  So, thanks reviewer.  Glad you got past those first few chapters.

As for Goodreads — the site is beginning to frustrate me.  I wonder if other authors have the same dilemma.  It shows the number of ratings and the number of reviews for the book.  Unlike with Amazon, Goodreads allows readers to just provide a rating on a five star scale.  Readers do not need to post a review of the book.  For a week now, it has shown Bridgeport having 15 ratings and six reviews.  But when I scroll through the Goodreads members who have the book in their library, I have found it impossible to find all of those ratings.  I did, however, find a new one this morning — posted on July 1.  Four stars.  Again, I’ll take it.  I just wish Goodreads had a bettter way of updating and tracking these things for the authors.

Time to get back to the writing.  I have unlocked the secret to Chapter 4 of The Irrepairable Past and am making progress there as well as with Chapter 6.

 

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