I get the sense that Dan was a little angry when he wrote this.
It’s my birthday weekend, so this week’s blog post is a short one. Besides, I’m sure your time at the weekend, or whatever time of the day or week you’re reading this, feels equally important to you as the time I’m going to spend celebrating that I’ve made it to the age of thirty-two does to me.
And that’s kinda the point of this week’s blog post, that of being concise in your writing and not wasting readers’ time.
In my opinion, novels are too long. If you’ve read any of my Jake Hancock comedic mysteries, you might have noticed that they don’t take more than three hours to read. It isn’t because I’m lazy and unable to churn out a hundred-thousand-plus-word story. It’s because I don’t write a lot of description.
If someone came up to me in the street and said they have a story they want me to read, and that it takes between five and six hours to get through, I’d tell that lunatic to double the dosage of whatever medicine he’s been prescribed. My time’s too precious. I wouldn’t sit through a five-hour movie, so why do novelists expect readers to spend five hours reading their book?
I know what you’re thinking: Why don’t I read novellas or short stories? Because I don’t think the lengths of those formats are long enough for most writers to tell a fulfilling story in, unless the writer cuts out all the unnecessary description.
I care about reading three things in novels: 1) What characters say, 2) what they do, and 3) what they’re thinking, as long as what they’re thinking, doing, or saying is entertaining and/or moves the story along.
If they’re saying stuff to another character in a busy city street, and you want to set the scene, then write “a busy city street.” Believe it or not, most people have experienced a busy city street. They can imagine it for themselves. Don’t tell them that there’s a building that’s twenty-two stories high, and what the building’s constructed out of, or what models of cars are whizzing past the character.
Is it important that the buildings they imagine upon reading “busy city street” are only twenty-one stories high, or God forbid, only twenty stories high? Absolutely not. And crazily enough, when I read “busy city street” I imagined there were cars on the road. I’m good like that.
The same can be said for most descriptions in novels in most genres, with a few exceptions. Science fiction and fantasy, where worlds are constructed that we don’t live in already, can have at their descriptions, filling pages with it. Same goes for erotica, where reading descriptions of places and, err, characters is part and parcel of the experience.
For other fiction genres, keep the camera focused on what really matters: what the characters do, say, and think. And give readers back the time they were going to waste.
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Ever since the first in my comedy mystery series was published on Goodreads, it’s had an underwhelming rating. At one point, when I had fewer than twenty ratings, it was hovering around the 3.0-average mark. I’m quite pragmatic about it, and as long as I get my regular seven and a half hours of uninterrupted sleep, I don’t get worked up and pace around my apartment, chuntering to myself about what I’d like to do with a blowtorch and pair of pliers to the people who rated my book a one-star read. (Only joking, I’m more of a Bamboo torture kinda guy.)
Now that I’m getting close to eighty ratings, Hollywood Detective is on a relatively respectable 3.41 average. This may seem low—and it definitely is, at least according to your narcissistic writer—but books tend to have a lower rating on Goodreads than they do on Amazon, where my book has a 4.1 average. Not only that, the Goodreads community, in their widespread madness, have dropped the ball in rating a number of objectively brilliant books with a low average score—or objectively poor books with head-scratching high ratings. My book isn’t objectively brilliant—the prose is basic, the plot has an internal logic most readers would have a hard time swallowing, but the comedy is decent—but that doesn’t stop me from looking up books I love, cynically hoping that I discover they have a similarly low and perceived unjust average rating. Conversely, I also find happiness, paradoxically, in discovering that books I consider objectively bad and loathsome have high average ratings. I suppose the rationale is, if the Goodreads bookworms liked this piece of shit, then I totally get why they were indifferent about or hated my book. It’s a broken rationale, of course, as the same group of Goodreads bookworms that rated Book A highly is unlikely to be the exact same group of readers that rated my book unfavorably. There may be some overlap—pretty unlikely, given that I have a mere seventy-four ratings—but not enough to justify the feeling of wellbeing I get when I browse Book A to find it has a spit-out-your-beer-onto-your-iPad high score.
You can’t blog about ratings on Goodreads without mentioning Fifty Shades of Grey, as Goodreads, at least initially, was the reason behind that book’s popularity. And some of you may have thought Book A was indeed Fifty Shades. You were right. Before the fun begins, I’d like to say that I get subjectivity, and that different demographics of readers exist. And by writing that the high average rating Fifty (I can’t even be fucked writing shades anymore) has received is a head-scratching one, I wasn’t dicking on readers who like erotic romance fluff. If I had five cats at home and a hankering for rosé wine every Friday evening, hell, that’s probably the type of book I’d read. The head-scratching part comes from it being objectively badly written. I’ve only read the first three chapters, but if it carried on being so dully and repetitively written throughout its bloated length, there’s no way the good readers at Goodreads can justifiably have given it a 3.68-average rating. Surely more than half of those readers must have at some point stopped, mid page turn, and thought, Holy shit, I like the fucking and everything, but this author doesn’t have a fucking clue what she’s doing.
According to the Goodreads community, and while ignoring the aforementioned broken rationale and the fact that the following statistical analysis is flawed, my book is currently 0.27 stars shittier than Fifty. In my mind, and probably in my readers’ minds—or at least I hope—this is an unjust discrepancy. But I’m not ready to put the barrel of a loaded pistol into my mouth and blow my fucking brains out just yet, as I’m in good company.
I present to you, five objectively brilliant books that have a similar or lower score than Fifty:
‘The Old Man and the Sea’ by Ernest Hemmingway
Ever read the widely regarded masterpiece about the old fisherman who goes out to sea and very nearly catches the biggest fish he’s ever come across? Yep, believe it or not, but that book is only 0.01 star better than Fifty.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Did you think this masterpiece is a vastly superior work to Fifty? You were wrong. It’s only 0.05 stars better.
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Surely the trustworthy avid readers online at Goodreads have got this one right? Nope. It’s 0.06 stars shittier than Fifty.
The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
You think I’m fucking with you, right? Nope. It’s 0.21 stars shittier than Fifty, and only 0.06 stars better than “the most disgusting, sexist, chewed up and regurgitated, completely predictable, boring, male fantasy crap of all time. Ugh.” – Amazon Reviewer
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
I saved the best until last, or should I say the shittiest. Yep, according to the Goodreads community, Herman Melville, in his futile efforts, lost by a score of 0.24 stars to E L James’s masterwork.
So there you have it. If I made you laugh or made you feel better about your book’s so-so score on Goodreads, please press one of the share buttons below to help me widen this blog’s readership.
In next week’s blog post I’ll discuss five things you can do with the pages of your Fifty copy instead of reading them. Spoiler alert: one of them involves your ass and the digested remains of yesterday’s breakfast.
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As an indie author, one of my most time consuming activities when trying to avoid writing is reading reviews for books I’ll never read. This might seem like a futile activity, but I like to think it gives me an idea of what readers are looking for, it allows me to avoid common pitfalls of writing a specific genre, or, failing those, it at least entertains me for a couple minutes. The latter is provided by what the internet seems to be best at doing: exposing me to the nuts out there and the stuff they want everyone to read.
In short, in the place of the three extra books I could’ve written during the time I procrastinate is up-until-now useless knowledge about what makes a reasonable book review.
Book review writing is difficult. I had a brief stint being active on Goodreads, and I wrote a few reviews. They’re shit. And not horseshit, which is almost pleasant when encountered on some country road, but the type of shit you might encounter in some inner-city back alley, which you can’t, to a reasonable degree of scientific accuracy, tell whether it came from man or dog. I totally understand that without the shit reviews out there, customers wouldn’t be able to make pseudo-informed choices about the books they buy. If only qualified people wrote book reviews, I wouldn’t have any, and I wouldn’t even sell the meager number of books I do. But what I don’t understand are reviews that fail on some basic level. Not able to articulate why the story about that wizard gave you a semi but you stated it anyway? That’s cool with me. But what I can’t forgive is writing a review that doesn’t meet the four requirements below. Book Review Writing 101 – shoot for horseshit, not human or dog shit.
When writing a book review, you should ensure:
Your star rating is justified by your review
Along with writing the shit you write, you’ll be required to give the book a star rating. It’s important to make sure that if you, say, give it a three-star rating, you make sure you articulate to a reasonable degree of clarity why you knocked two stars off. I received the below review on Smashwords. It’s my first and only one on there. I appreciate her taking the time to write it. It’s a favorable review, but I can’t help but wonder why it wasn’t at least four stars.
Till the day I die, I’ll always wonder why baseball team A never won the Wold Series, how political party C made such a mess of country B, and why, despite my book being very entertaining, I didn’t inspire this reader to press that sweet five-star button.
2. You finish the book before writing a review
A book isn’t like a plate of food. You can’t take one bite and decide you don’t like it, unless that one bite was riddled with objective errors, like the chef used piss to thin out his sauce instead of water. Confused metaphor aside, if you don’t finish a book you’ve failed to attain the primary qualification for reviewing said book: you didn’t read the frickin’ thing.
When I go to my dentist, she doesn’t lean over, exposing her cleavage a little, and take one look at a molar and give me a clean bill of dental health. She looks at all of my teeth and then decides, based on the cleanliness of each individual tooth, that I do a bang-up job of brushing my teeth. I’m also a pretty decent flosser, but that is neither relevant nor contributes to the metaphor.
3. You don’t assume everyone has the same reading tastes as you
It may sound simple, but people like different stuff. While I’m not a fan of hotdogs, I quite like burgers. Some people watch football on a Saturday afternoon; I prefer to watch movies. The below review can be read in two ways. He could either be defining my target demographic somewhat or he could be saying that, because it features the subject matters stated below, the book is objectively bad. The fact that he gave it two stars seems to suggest the latter. I don’t like posing for pictures with a dog that looks suspiciously like me, but it’s not to say it’s an objectively bad pastime.
4. You know what type of book you’re reviewing
When reviewing a book, it’s important to know what category or subcategory the book falls into. You’d come across as a bit of a doofus if you wrote a review for Sharknado 3: The Third One based on its merits as a serious natural disaster movie. Equally, you’d come across as a doofus, at least in this humble author’s opinion, if you wrote a review of a comic mystery book (aka, bumbling detective) and you reviewed it based on its merits as an example of “noir detective fiction,” which is incidentally a non-existent, paradoxical subcategory, as I pointed out in a previous blog post.
That’s all I’ve got, which is to say it’s Saturday afternoon and I’m going to watch a movie while eating a burger. If you’re on the way to a football game and have a hankering for a hotdog, go fuck yourself. What you like is obviously shittier than what I like.
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Blogging is important for indie authors. It helps keep writing skills sharp in between writing books, gives readers something to read in between reading your books, and it’s cheaper than a shrink. Three weeks ago, I promised myself I’d keep up an at-least-one-post-a-week schedule, and so far I’m on par. In order to achieve this amazing feat of writing a blog post on three consecutive Saturdays, I’ve had to be really methodical in my approach. Behold, my three-week-worn blogging routine: start thinking about blogging topics as I stare into space at work on a Monday morning, continue this throughout the working week, get to Friday and start panicking about having not come up with one workable idea, google for topics on a Saturday morning, and then hit the computer like I am now, about two hours behind schedule, blogging about a topic I’ve come up with at the last minute. This week’s off-the-cuff topic? Advice on what authors can blog about.
Forget the irony and keep on reading. This blog post might get useful yet. Failing that, it’ll at least be mildly entertaining. Like the picture-caption combo below I’ll select and write respectively just before publishing these words.
I like reading author blogs. In fact, there are some authors who write books I don’t enjoy but whose blogs I tune in for every week. (I’m looking at you, Awesome Blogger A.) I’m always on the lookout—and by that I mean I occasionally read the odd blog post that was plugged on Twitter—for a new voice I can entertain myself with while reading blogs at the weekend. To get there, I have to read the first shitty paragraph of around twenty blog posts to strike gold. More often than not—and again by that I mean as often as it takes to validate this point I’m making—I come across a blog post that offers dubious advice to indie authors either about the writing craft or how to promote books, or—holy shit what was the author thinking—a blog post about grammar. What’s wrong with the sharing of dubious advice? Absolutely nothing. The advice you’re about to read is beyond dubious, and the photo below that Future Me will screen capture from an Indie Author Group thread I contributed to is testament to my dedication to offering at best dubious advice, as was pointed out condescendingly by a deceptively smiling fellow indie author.
So you’re cool with reading dubious advice, question-and-answer-format Dan, but why do blog posts about grammar take a shit in your morning cup of joe? I’m glad I asked. Every indie author’s target demographic blog-wise should be other indie authors. The cliché goes that you should write about what you know. Hopefully, that should include writing and marketing books. But that cliché should come with a caveat: write about what you know, as long as it’s not make-the-reader-want-to-blow-his-fucking-brains-out boring. Indie authors writing about grammar for other authors to read is like Monica Lewinsky hosting a seminar for hookers on blowjob technique: for the scantily clad audience, it’s tedious. So grammar is off the table, but what is on there? Let’s find out together, then hopefully next week I won’t have to write a blog entitled What to Blog about as an Author Part Deux.
Tell a funny or amusing anecdote
Something funny happened to you this week? Tell that story. Not all blog posts have to be useful or informative. This week I got out of my seat on the subway to offer it to a pregnant lady. Like an idiot, I made conversation about how many weeks along she was, and received the reply zero. If I could get a thousand words out of that shit, you’d be reading about that for sure. You could make it a metaphor for some part of self-publishing to make it informative, too.
2. Report on self-publishing news
Last year, I was doing my last-minute google for a topic to blog about and came across an article about Amazon suing fake review writers offering their services on Fiver.com. It goes without saying that I put offering dubious advice to fellow indie authors aside for that Saturday and regurgitated that article, but with my twisted comedic slant on it. It’s now become part of my routine for blog-writing preparation to google “Self-publishing news” when searching for topics last minute. That’s the only blog-post-worthy article I’ve come across so far, but give me a break and pretend this advice point is valid nonetheless.
3. Blog about other authors
In love with an author? Thinking about maybe dressing up as him/her and driving your girlfriend and kid off a cliff when he/she doesn’t reply to your creepy letters? Blog about them. Write a case study about their success. Maybe write a satirical mock interview with them, but while making it obvious you’re not quoting that person. (Shit, that last one’s a pretty decent idea.) Not only will you have added one more notch to your blog writing tally, but you might, if you get a decent number of your blog followers buying your books, manage to forge an Amazon cross-selling link with that author, boosting sales. If not, it was fun to dye your hair bleach blonde and pretend like that person was your special friend for a little while.
4. Offer dubious advice to other indie authors about writing or promoting books
Promised yourself you’ll keep up a once-a-week blogging schedule and struggling to keep it going? Enjoy irony? Give advice on what authors should blog about. It worked for me this week.
6. Write about something topical
Remember when everybody was watching How to Make a Murderer? There was a huge debate raging online about whether he was guilty or not. In the hope that I could write a viral blog post, I was all over that like pastrami on rye. Writing viral blog posts is like surfing: you see that swell developing and you jump up on your board at the opportune time and hope you don’t fall off and fuck up your dental work on a rock. (I have no idea what the dental-work part of that metaphor represents.) My blog post didn’t go viral, but I was saved from offering questionable advice for one week.
I’ve just reached the thousand-word mark, and six suggestions for blog post topics seems like as a good a number as any. With those dubious chicken nuggets of wisdom both written and read, I’ll say goodbye for this week.
If the blog post made you laugh out loud at least three times, apologize to that asshole you’re sitting next to on the bus who’s looking at you like laughing in public is what crazy people do. But most importantly—who am I kidding, I don’t care about that asshole—press one of the share buttons below to help grow the readership of this blog.
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I mentioned in an earlier blog post the importance of writing for a specific target demographic. In the absence of any other blog topic, and in order to keep up my once-a-week-schedule I promised to myself I’d keep in last week’s blog post, I’ll expand on what I meant and why it’s important. When browsing Twitter, I often see book plugs akin to “If you like historical romance, you’ll love Book A,” or, “Science fiction nut? Check out Book B.” That’s like McDonald’s assuming that anyone who likes food will automatically love their shitty burgers. The people who write book plugs like the examples above haven’t thought hard enough about whom they’re writing for. And it will probably mean, barring some stroke of luck, that they’ll never effectively market their books. They’ll never get their books in front of the thousands of readers they couldn’t be bothered specifically targeting who will buy everything they write and make them financially independent. In short, they’ll never be able to tell their boss go fuck himself, they’re done making McShittys for peanuts…Peanuts, McShitty? I feel a joke touching cloth.
If a writer wants to build up a devoted readership, it’s not enough to assume that anyone who reads the genre or even the super-specific subgenre they write will automatically become a fan. Because guess what, there are a shit-ton of other writers offering the same literature packaged the same way, and without having set they’re stall out differently from the rest of the authors of that genre, their books will try to impress all the readers of that genre and end up impressing none. They need to define a subset of a particular genre reader in their mind and tailor their writing to blow the socks of those people, and figuratively tell everyone who’s part of a different subset of readers who likes science fiction or military thrillers or whatever to go fuck themselves.
So how do I go about defining my target demographic and writing specifically for them? I hear you ask. It’s simple, think about the experience you want to give them. You’re not going to be like a hooker who wants to be a Jill of all trades, master of none. You’ve got a niche customer base who you’ll specifically dress up for and cater to when between the sheets of some bed in some Motel 6. A target demographic shouldn’t be defined by age range or interests or if they color their hair at home or at the salon, or as mentioned above that they happen to read a specific genre, but what experience they’re looking for as a reader.
A couple years ago, I tried to write appeal-to-everyone literary fiction that I thought I could sell shit-tons of. I didn’t have a clue whom I was writing for, just that I liked writing. Writing those books was laborious, and editing them was like smashing myself in the forehead repeatedly with a sledgehammer. They were shit. And the reason they were shit, apart from the fact that back then I was an even shittier writer than I am now, was that my heart wasn’t in it. Around the same time, I decided I’d like to get well read. I picked up a Charles Dickens book that had been collecting dust on my bookshelf and started reading. I hated it. I hated all the description, I hated that it made me feel stupid, and I hated how slow it moved. With this experience in mind, I set out to find out what shit I actually like to read, and found an author who wrote exactly that.
I won’t mention who it is, because I’m not into plugging other self-published authors on my blog, and because it’s irrelevant. Anyway, the point of the above longwinded story wasn’t to Dickens on Charles, but to lead onto whom I write for, my target demographic. Figuring I’d never sell enough books to satisfy my ambition, I started writing to entertain myself. My target demographic is me. And this is the type of reader I am and what experience I want:
The only times I read are during my commute to and from work. It’s either super early or I’ve just spent a day at work, so my concentration isn’t the best. This means I need books that aren’t super complex or are bogged down with rarely written words and that look light on the page. The place I live, Oslo, is quite scenic, and in order to stop me from gawping at the various views I go past on my journey to or from work, I need books that strive to be constantly entertaining. I don’t give a fuck if there’s any social realism or topical themes—if I want to be educated or enlightened about something, I’ll read a newspaper or pick up a non-fiction book—and I equally don’t give a fuck about how clever the writer is. I especially don’t want to read some flowery description of a room or a person. If I want something nice to look at, I don’t want to imagine it based on some author’s words. I’ll look at it on my television screen or at an art gallery. In the place of visual imagery and topical-theme-laden narratives, I want banter between characters, lots of dialogue and action, and a plot that moves faster than a hobo who’s just found a winning lottery ticket. I’m willing to suspend disbelief and read about characters that I don’t necessarily relate to or think realistic, as long as those characters are working their asses off to entertain me. When I finish a book, I don’t want to feel like I’ve just sat through a mildly interesting 5-hour lecture, but like I’ve just been to the circus while high on LSD. I want fiction books to do what they’re supposed to do: entertain me, regardless of whether they’re considered good literature or not.
So that’s the type of reader I am. And that’s whom I write for. I write books to make myself laugh, and I’m not a unique like a snowflake, so other readers laugh too. Ones who share my sense of humor. And I market my books to appeal to other readers like me—while producing my blurbs, my book covers, and this blog. Next time you sit down to write, think about who it is you’re writing for and what type of experience they’re looking for. Don’t make a McShitty and think that everyone who likes food will lap it up, because they won’t.
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I started writing this blog for one reason: to sell my fiction books. I may just suck at blogging, or I might not have been doing it for long enough, or it might be because I write wonky lists like this too often, but this blog does not sell any books. It doesn’t even get a significant number of downloads for my perma-free book. I’ve thought of quitting and putting the time I take to write, edit, and publish this blog back into my fiction writing, but I kinda like doing it. From now on I’m going to write one a week. Even if the end result is shitty, like I fear this one might be. But because I have an iPad and an ass and way too much time on a Saturday morning, I’m going to need greater motivation than the half-assed promise I just made to myself to keep up an intense once-a-week schedule. I’m going to need to go full-ass. Fuck that, I’m going to need to go five asses. Just in case that wasn’t clear, which I’d totally understand, I’m going to need five reasons to keep my author blog updates more regular than my beard-trimming schedule.
To keep my writing sharp
It doesn’t take me long to write the first draft of a novel. About six weeks, assuming I don’t get ill or go on vacation. This year I figure I’ll write four. So this year, I’ll spend only twenty weeks actually writing—if I don’t keep this blog going—and the rest of the time making book covers, writing blurbs, editing, formatting, and publishing the finished products on Amazon and Smashwords. That’s a tiny amount of time doing what I love and a shit-ton of time doing stuff that makes me want to blow my fucking brains out. Not only is that a little depressing, but during those weeks when I’m not writing comedy or the stupid exciting stuff that goes in between it all, I’m going to get seriously rusty. Just take a second to think about the drivel you’ve just read. It’s definitely a product of my being rustier than…well, something that’s typically rusty, and definitely not a product of my having always sucked. So there’s the first reason, keeping those comedy writing muscles strong and ready for action for when I write shit I expect people to actually pay for.
2) Something to do instead of drinking
One of my hobbies, up until fairly recently…scrap that, pretty much my only hobby up until fairly recently was getting drunk and watching shitty horror movies. I’m now into my thirties and want to be able to look back on this period as a time when I went hell for leather and tried to achieve everything I wanted to achieve with my life. Failing the achievement bit, I want to be able to look back and think that I was at least a reasonably functioning member of society, with friends, and healthy hobbies, and Saturday mornings that weren’t spent scrolling through my Facebook feed as I built up the motivation to reach out my hand and put the glass of water I poured for myself ten minutes ago to my dry lips. One of the distractions that I’m going to use keep myself from relapsing back into that wonderful time of potato chips, craft beers, and movies that were so bad they were good is this blog. Sure, writing it will pale in comparison to that feeling of cracking open that first beer, knowing there are eight more in the refrigerator, but it’ll keep me out of trouble. If you don’t have a drinking problem and want to make this point applicable to you, swap something you do instead of drinking that’s damaging such as eating processed foods or whatever.
3) It’s cheaper than a therapist
I try to keep this thing useful or entertaining for the small readership it has, which comprises mostly of fellow indie authors. When I don’t have dubious advice to offer them, I at least try to make the blog posts funny. But sometimes it’s good to just let loose and go full narcissist and write about shit that pisses me off, to expunge it from my mind, such as when I critiqued some of the really bad reviews I’ve received for my comedy mystery book. I don’t know whether that’s an accurate description of what people do when they go to see a shrink—now that I’ve thought about it, it definitely isn’t—but I figure I’ll use this blog to give my girlfriend a rest from my tirades and expose you guys to them instead. You’re welcome, there’s no need to say thanks. You guys are now my shrink, which means you’ll listen and probably not say anything afterwards or interact with me in any way. You’ll probably just nod, feeling a little sorry for me. Now that sounds like an accurate description of what a shrink does. And better still, you won’t want me to pay out my ass for it afterwards.
4) One day a shit-ton of people might read these words
I don’t fully understand it, nor am I willing to spend a significant time researching the subject, but the more you blog, the more chance you have of your blog turning up in search engine results. Sure, if you’ve got a decent number of followers on a social media platform, you can get fairly decent traffic to your blog by spamming. But it’ll never be enough to significantly impact on book sales. You have to turn up on the first couple pages of search engine results for that, which means producing a shitload of content. In a couple years’ time, assuming I’ve kept my promise of not drinking and writing these things every week, this blog could be like a gigantic cyberspace glacier, slowly moving week after week, picking up shitloads of debris and dirt as it goes. You’ve probably just worked out, if you’re a follower of this blog or have read my books, that in that metaphor you were dirt or debris, which isn’t how I imagined thanking you for reading. How’s that shrink gig working out for you? My apologies.
5) One day I’ll have a record of how I made it
I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel here, but four is a shit number when it comes to offering reasons to do something in a blog format. If the meager sales I get turn around in the future and make me financially independent, I’ll be able to look back on this blog as a historical record of how I got there. It’ll be like when my grandparents tell stories of hardship during World War Two, only way less significant and way whinier. Now if that isn’t a decent reason to keep an author blog, then I don’t know what is.
So there you have it.
My hour’s up. It’s time for me to get up from your leather sofa I’ve been lying on and for you to get up off your chair you’ve been sitting ramrod straight in and for us to ride out that awkward moment when we don’t know whether we should shake hands, hug, or just quietly nod at each other after I’ve told personal stuff to you and probably cried a little. Is the same time next week good for you? Excellent.
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Regular visitors to the blog, if they existed, would know that I love mining comedy goldmines, such as when Amazon decided to sue a load of fake-review writers. I was all over that shit like flies on…well, shit. The same hypothetical readers would know that I love really dumb damming reviews written online by bad-intentioned and misguided assholes, such as this blog post where I critiqued bad reviews of my comedy mystery worst seller. So it goes without saying that if I could somehow combine these two favorite blogging subjects, then I could probably have the most fun I’ve ever had while writing a blog post. With that said, that which went without saying, it just so happens I stumbled upon that perfect subject to blog about. Wait for it…Sharknado 2!
Okay, not strictly Sharknado 2, but reviews of that movie written on the Netflix website. You guys who have never accessed Netflix through the website using a laptop or desktop, like I did in the time before everyone had an iPad and/or a smart TV, might have never seen the extensive collection of reviews Netflix has for the movies you can stream. You’ve been missing out in a big way. People who write reviews for Netflix movies are just like any other demographic of people. The majority are balanced, rational, and functioning human beings, but there’s a small number, and they tend be inherently vocal, who don’t quite get it like the rest of us. And in not getting it, like children, they tend to say the funniest things. This is where the fun is. Choose a favorite Netflix movie, one which has a niche audience, and scroll down until you find a one-star review, and you’ll most likely strike comedy gold. Trust me, you can’t miss.
Before we get into it, a little bit of background for you guys who haven’t seen the anti-genius that is Sharknado 2. Where to begin? Well, it’s a sequel to an ironic horror/sci-fi movie about a tornado that sucks up a bunch of sharks, which then wreak havoc on a bunch of characters played by Hollywood A-listers of yesteryear. It’s in the “so bad it’s good” category, but as you’re about to find out, this idea that a movie can be so bad it’s good is lost on some people.
Let’s jump right in with the first review.
I posted this review on my Facebook page, and for good reason. Ignore the stupidity of someone critiquing the acting in a B-horror movie, which tends to be intentionally camp, and ignore the oh-so-awful comment about one of the actors having possibly suffered a stroke, and move onto the second-to-last sentence. This guy, in all his wisdom, states that his enjoyment of a movie about a shark-laden tornado might have increased had the plot explained “where all the sharks came from.” I’m going to go ahead and assume that if the screenplay writers had put some scientist type into the script to explain “the sharks came from the Pacific Ocean” or some shit that this bad-intentioned, dumb reviewer still wouldn’t have understood what irony is.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, then I’m a freakin’ genius.
Oh, boy! This is the first time I’ve seen this one. I think it might be relatively hot off the press. Thanks for the belly laughs, guy. Every time I receive a bad review for a book, I think, At least this dude won’t read and review any others. I’m now rethinking that rationale. Having watched the first one and hated it, our genius amateur movie critic went back for a second bite. Something beyond reason happened: He didn’t enjoy the sequel. What did he expect from it? If he was thinking soppy Oscar bait, he was wrong. He got sharks in a tornado again. And with a title like Sharknado 2: The Second One, who can blame him for thinking it was otherwise.
Amateur geneticist and all around good guy
There are quite a few one-star reviews for this movie insulting the intelligence of the people who like ironic film making, but this one’s my favorite. It’s his use of the word somewhat when defining the target demographic for the movie. If you are the product of generational inbreeding with an IQ of “somewhat lower than 3” then this movie’s for you. I’ve got news for you, buddy. You’re no Charles Darwin yourself. Given that the range of IQs you’ve stated merely goes from 1-2, everything single person with an IQ lower than 3 can only have an IQ somewhat lower than 3. And for all you Ivy-league college graduates with whopping IQs in the range of 3 to, say, 10, this movie probably isn’t for you. You’re way too intelligent for a movie about a shark-infested tornado. Keep practicing writing cynical reviews, buddy. You’re not quite there yet.
So there you have it. Next time you cozy up on your sofa and watch a movie on Netflix and have time to spare before you go to bed, use that time to read some reviews of said movie on the Netflix website. But make sure you save some of the popcorn for one-star reviews written by bad-intentioned assholes.
As always, if this was as good for you as it was for me, press one of the share buttons below. Just don’t expect me to pay for your cab.
You can check out my ironic comedy mystery book here. Anyone who’s crazy smart, maybe with an IQ as high as twenty, might not enjoy it.
This week a reader was pissed after reading my perma-free book. But this isn’t the first time. What made this situation unique was, he sent me an email, stating he’d enjoyed it, but that he wouldn’t be reading the next one in the series. Why? Because I ended the book with a cliffhanger. He wrote that because I was so desperate for readers to buy the next book, he wasn’t going to play ball. He also gave me some condescending advice about how I’ll put readers off with this devious writing strategy. Before I wrote the ending, I was well aware of writers using the old ending-a-perma-free-book-with-a-cliffhanger strategy to sell the next book in a series, and have seen hateful reviews for perma-free books that ended with a cliffhanger. I had also considered how readers would react to my ending, so none of what he wrote was news to me.
I emailed back, writing that there are two types of cliffhanger. The first type leaves the reader without the conclusion to the story’s main story thread or mystery, with the conclusion in the next paid-for book. This is obviously uncool. The second type is ending a series book with the inciting incident for the next book in the series, after concluding the main story thread or mystery of the first book, like in an episode of Quantum Leap—I even gave a nod to that show by finishing with the main character’s catchphrase: “Oh, boy.” I think endings like that are fair, and, if done right, exciting, and I don’t remember people going apeshit at the end of each episode of Quantum. I told the guy the type I’d used was the latter, and thanked him for reading, anyway, etc. He never got back to me. And the ninety-nine cents he would’ve paid for my next book had I not been “desperate” for him to read it has me writing this blog post on a street corner, having not been able to pay my mortgage this month. I’m also starving, and for the life of me I can’t find a piece of cardboard to scrawl on to inform passersby of my dire straits.
I was going to make this week’s blog post about differentiating between the two types of cliffhanger, and making a case for why I think they’re a good thing, citing examples in television. But I just kind of did that in—what?—three hundred words, so there’s that idea out of the window. Then it occurred to me that I haven’t written a blog post that mines the comedy from a situation in a little while, and that I’m supposed to be a comedy writer, God damn it. So without further ado, I reveal to you, three ways to sell the next book in your series that are less offensive than using a cliffhanger.
Tell the Reader the Next Book in the Series Contains the Secret of Life
You’ve just finished reading a page-turner, and it turned out it was the priest whodunit, not the chicken farmer, or the icecream man, and definitely not the mistress. It was a solid, mildly entertaining read. It didn’t make you laugh, and the writer could’ve found ways of putting humor into their ridiculous but semi-serious mystery work, but it was a decent read nonetheless. With only five minutes to go of your train ride to work, you figure there’s no point starting the next book on your Kindle, so you start scrolling through the back matter. You read about the author, and he proclaims his undying love of the mystery genre, and tells some silly story about what inspired him to write mediocre fiction. After that, you come to the plug for the next book, and HOLY SHIT!, it contains the freakin’ secret of life. You rush to work to get connected to your workplace’s shitty WIFI, download the book, and read it over the next week or so. When you get to the end, you find out it was just another shitty story about an alcoholic detective solving a ridiculous murder mystery, padded out with an unconvincing love-interest subplot. Huh. No secret of life, which the author promised. It could’ve been worse, at least this God-awful book didn’t end with a cliffhanger. But wait…the next book promises it’s the only book on the planet that can be seen from space. Holy freakin’ cow! You’re not sure how that’s possible, with it being not composed of matter, but still. Space!
Tell the Reader the Next Book in the Series Will Somehow Feed the Third World
Despite your sales ranking revealing a different a story, tell the reader that if they buy your next book it has the potential to fund the feeding of the Third World, after it’s helped you pay for your wife’s breast augmentation surgery. If they just cough up their ninety-nine cents, celebrities having pictures taken with African infants with distended abdomens will become a thing of the past, and publicists will have to go back to the drawing board when they’re client’s clothing line isn’t selling as well as they’d hoped.
3. Tell Readers the Next Book in the Series Will Get Them Laid
Feel free to copy and paste the following text into the back matter of your book, changing details where necessary:
Thanks for taking the time to read my high fantasy story about a wizard who comes up with a spell every time he’s caught in a situation he seemingly can’t possibly escape from. If you could take a few minutes to leave a review for this book, it would put a really stupid, really big grin on my face. But first, I just want to take a second to tell you what inspired me to write this book. As you know from my “About the Author” section previous, for a long time, probably since I’ve been potty trained, I have held within my heart a great passion to write high fantasy. But what I’ve also held…in a different place than my heart, is the need to get laid. Probably like you, I didn’t get to bang the redhead with the big tits in my math class, and my love life since highschool has been equally underwhelming. But, like the wizard in this book, I too managed to make the love interest in my life inexplicably sleep with me. I took the time and effort to write the secret to my success into the next book in this series. All you’ve got to do is buy it. Click on this link to find out the secret and unleash your inner happiness.
So there you have it. Three great marketing tricks.
But seriously, thinking of writing a cliffhanger? Think again, if it’s the first kind. As always, if you laughed out loud at least three times, please take a second to share this post with the buttons below. It’ll get you laid, probably.
In next week’s blog post, I’ll reveal the one writing hack that’s guaranteed to make you sell more books than Lee Child, Jo Nesbø, and J. K. Rowling combined.
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Wondering what my fiction reads like after this bit of neurolinguistic programming? Try it for free here.
I’ve been a bit down about indie publishing of late. After enjoying a little success, holding the number-one spot in Amazon’s comedy category for almost a week, sales have since plummeted. I’ve also been getting my first really bad reviews. In order to jumpstart sales again, I’ve been trying every marketing strategy I could lay my greedy eyes on, but with little success. Am I about to give up? Am I resigned to talking about publishing like a bitter wannabe piano player with stubby fingers talks about his disastrous first piano recital? Hell no. It’s time to get tough.
I’m not going to be overnight success. It’s not written in the stars, or at least it’s not written in my books, which are tailored to a certain readers’ taste. I might not be successful at all, but I’m not going to let that kind of negative thinking stop me from trying my damn hardest. I figure it’s going to take time, if it’s going to happen. The last couple days I’ve been putting together a plan to earn a decent living as a writer. In the absence of a comedy mother lode to mine this week for my blog, I’m going to share that plan with you.
Perma-Free Book Downloaded by the Masses
Permanently free books make some indie authors angry. They whine and moan about free art and the future of publishing and other authors undercutting them, ad nauseam. I think that as long authors don’t make every book in their series free, it’s cool. Besides, you didn’t pay to read these words. Readers are rightfully hesitant about trying out new authors, and I think giving a little taste for free to whet their appetite is a sound strategy for overcoming that hesitancy. Besides, if it works for crack dealers—at least in old wives’ tales—then it could work for me. As long as the writing is up to scratch, which for me means as funny as balls and as exciting as a cocktail party hosted by Bill Cosby.
A free book to a browser is a no-brainer, but will they fly off digital shelves all by themselves? Absolutely not. But I’m pretty well schooled in giving away books already. When I ran my free Kindle book promotion, I managed to giveaway a shade under ten thousand books by running a Freebooksy ad, which is basically paying an exorbitant amount of money to some guys who’ll beg the members of their huge mailing list to download your book. If that fails, I’ll pay even more to get a BookBub ad and hope I get accepted. If I don’t, I’ll Andy Dufresne their asses until they submit. And hey presto, new readers.
2. Build My Own Mailing List
How will I gain the loyalty of those readers, apart from by writing kickass books? By getting them to sign up for my mailing list. I have a few readers on there now, as a result of selling a fair few books, but in order to encourage readers to sign up, I’m offering a discount on new releases the first week they’re published. This way, readers will be more inclined to hand over their already spammed-the-shit-out-of email addresses to me, and I’ll be able to encourage readers to buy my new book during that first week, which will hopefully trick Amazon’s algorithm into thinking I write decent book-type books and expose my books to masses of unsuspecting new readers. Most of these will hate my books and leave bad reviews, but some will like my shit and hopefully…
3. Get Likes for My Facebook Page
Okay, so the whole ellipsis-leading-onto-the-next-section thing didn’t exactly work there. But you know what I meant. Not everyone signs up for mailing lists, but I’m struggling to think of anyone I know who doesn’t use Facebook. Apart from my dad. And my grandparents. And probably my doctor, now that I think about it. But whatever. Another way I’m going to encourage loyalty from my readers is by directing them to my Facebook page. I have a little message in the front and back matter of my books, thanking readers for reading, which I’m genuine about, and which directs readers who like my shit to also like my Facebook page. This has been working okay. I’ll give myself a C-minus for effort. In order to encourage it further, I’ve put in an “About the Author” section in the back matter of my books. I was a little hesitant to do so, because I’d feel more narcissistic than Prince after a line or three of cocaine, but I figure that if I can get readers interested in me after they’ve discovered they like the shit I write, then I can get more people to want to form a quirky-algorithm-dictated digital-age bond with me. I’m also going to start writing more jokes on Twitter. I figure I’ll publish the setup on my Twitter feed, and then have an ellipsis leading to a link for the entirety of the joke, which will be on my Facebook page. This way, more people will land on my page, and hopefully more people will like it, and more people will read my announcements for freshly released books, feeding into my sales-all-in-one-week strategy mentioned above.
But all this is pointless, if I don’t…
4. Write More Freakin’ Books
It made sense that time. I’m getting the hang of this. I currently have three books in my comedy mystery series published. The fourth one is with my editor, and the fifth I’m writing the first draft of. As an indie author, I can’t get away with publishing once a year. I figure I need to write four or five novels a year to stay relevant. Last year I managed four, minus the edits of the fourth one from my editor. After I’m finished with the fifth, I’ll probably start writing a new series to keep things fresh. I’m thinking maybe a series about a hostage negotiator who has a harder time negotiating his family life than talking down crazed criminals. Sounds like an idea for a bad ‘90s sitcom, but whatever.
And last, and definitely least, I’m going to…
5. Regrow My Mustache
I shaved off my lip weasel before Christmas. I haven’t been the same writer since. It seems that when left unclipped, my upper-lip hair follicles are the source of whatever mystical shit inspires me to write semi-decent mystery thrillers with a shit-ton of borderline misogynistic jokes. My days of trimming are over, and the days of me blow drying and hair spraying my mustache hairs into a macho style have just begun…again.
Thanks for reading. If you like what you read here, check me out on my Facebook page and like it.
My rage-inducing perma-free book can be checked out here. If you like that one, I’ll then expect you to pay for subsequent instalments, like a drug dealer who lives exclusively in our moms’ nightmares.
Last time I blogged I think I maybe came across a bit of an asshole. But, as I’ve written before, I don’t think it’s the first time. My intention every time I write a blog post is to discover a comedy mother lode, from which I can mine joke after joke, until I ask you to like my Facebook page or check out my books. But sometimes I fail in finding the comedy. The result can sometimes get messy. So what blog post idea have I come up with this week to make sure I stay well clear of coming off as bitter or hateful? As an indie author, what benign subject shall I blog about that has no potential for turning into a whiny, rhetoric-filled rant? Why, bad reviews, of course.
If there’s one piece of advice indie authors agree on, it’s that you should never, ever reply to or comment on a bad review you’ve received. Ever. It’s sound advice, and I’ve managed to heed it so far in my short non-career as a writer. The last couple weeks I received my first really bad reviews, but I took them well, like a divorcee who had no intention of gaining sole custody of his children. I won’t be addressing the failings of the reviewers who posted bad reviews for my booksdirectly. But it would be irresponsible of me if I didn’t use my reflections on these reviews to calm indie authors who might be worrying about their first really bad reviews. That’s my thinly-veiled excuse for writing the following advice, and I’m sticking to it.
While reading my bad reviews, I identified three distinct types. Two of them you can forget about. Hell, you can even make a night of it and read them with your spouse with a bowl of popcorn, reading bad reviews the same way Woody Allen thinks about going to the movies. The final one could result in you spending an evening with a bottle of whisky and a loaded gun. In order to put your mind at rest, if you’re an indie author awaiting his first reviews from non-Twitter followers and family members, I’m going to dispel the myth that all bad reviews are damaging for your potential writing career.
Three types of bad reviews. Two you should be indifferent about. One that should make you go back to the drawing board. Got it? Good.
Let’s jump right in.
The Review Written by Someone Who Got Offended by Your Book
John Locke wrote that if you don’t offend anyone with your writing, then you’re not doing it properly. I agree, especially if you’re writing comedy or humorous fiction. The book business is highly competitive, and in order to gain fans, your aim should be to tailor your writing style to appeal to a slim demographic of readers, which inevitably alienates or offends the rest. As long as you tailor your book descriptions to keep that demographic of reader who will hate your books from reading them—like I thought I had, and still do—then have at it with a writing style that isn’t cozy or appropriate for all the family. When I tell a joke, I want to surprise you. And sometimes that means shocking you. Just because one reader thought I was being sexist when I wrote a shit-ton of ex-wife jokes in my first novel, does it mean they shouldn’t be in there? Absolutely not. I bet some of those jokes are the reason for at least a few of my five-star reviews. And who knows, you could even end up with a reviewer going hyperbolic on your ass, spewing hate-filled observations that might intrigue potential readers browsing your book. Like I did.
I bet at least a few potential readers who read the above review thought, If this crazy person hated it, then I bet I’d love it! Or it could be: Jesus, what in the world has this author written to upset this person so badly?I want to find out. I know I’ve thought both of those things when reading reviews for other authors’ books. Hell, one of my colleagues muttered the latter when I showed her the above review. If you get a review of this kind, relax. You just offended someone. I do that practically every time I write a simile. And who knows, by writing that edgy joke that made some readers want to throw their Kindle in the trash from disgust, you might just gain yourself a fan who’ll write a five-star review for your book and buy everything you write.
2. The Review Written by Someone Reviewing the Wrong Type of Book
On a number of occasions I’ve received reviews that made me think, Did this person read my book? And one occasion, I was convinced of it—and it turned out she had. But that’s not the type of review I’m thinking about. A couple days ago, someone reviewed my book thinking it’s something it’s not. Here it is:
This person seems to be convinced that I attempted to write “noir detective fiction.” Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I wasn’t entirely sure what that was. So I googled it and found this definition:
Sure, my books feature a private investigator as the protagonist, but I wasn’t attempting to write “noir detective fiction.” The Jake Hancock Mystery Thrillers are throwaway three-hour reads with outrageous plot lines, silly characters, and a shit-ton of borderline-misogynistic jokes—if you ignore that women in the books run rings around the men. I could say they’re parodies of detective fiction, but that would be giving myself way too much credit. As I mentioned above, I wrote a book description for the first book that communicates that it isn’t a serious mystery thriller. There are clues left throughout the description, but the key is in the following paragraph:
“Despite having not worked undercover for a while, Hancock poses as Megan’s much-older boyfriend for a family weekend at her childhood home in Rodeo, Texas. From within their home, he will learn their secrets…and hopefully get laid in the process.”
This part of the description alone should’ve informed this reader he or she wasn’t getting Raymond Chandler. Am I worried about this review? Hell no. I did my job in writing an appropriate book description. If they couldn’t see that they were buying oranges instead of apples, then they need a new glasses prescription. And if you write appropriate descriptions, this type of review will be kept to a minimum. Will this review hurt my sales? There’ll probably be some potential readers who are put off buying, but for every browser put off by this review, I bet there are two who think, What did you expect? And ignore it.
If I wanted to be a pedantic dick, I’d point out that “noir fiction” features someone other than a detective as the protagonist. But I made a promise to myself at the start of this blog, and I didn’t have a clue either.
And if I wanted to be an even bigger dick, I’d point out that this reader is a fan of a series called Taco Bob and the Witch Sisters. I’m not dicking on that series, as I haven’t read it, but the reviewer seems to have reviewed that series based on its merits, but held my series to a literary standard I didn’t try to attain in the first place. She’s right: It is a poor attempt at “noir detective fiction.”
3. The Review Written by Someone Who Thinks Your Book is Objectively Bad or Mundane
Ready with the whisky bottle and loaded gun? Getting the above types of bad reviews is all well and good, but what you don’t want are reviews that say your book objectively sucks. That it’s riddled with errors, punctuation or otherwise. Or that it’s mundane. And the reviewer is oh so eloquent in explaining why. These reviews are book-sales cancer, especially if they make up the majority. To fix the former, you need beta readers or an editor. I use a number of beta readers to spot mistakes in my books, after I’ve done a shit-load of editing myself. But as with all books, even ones published by big publishing houses, there are probably a few errors in each of my books. But I figure the readers who love my books will forgive me for it. In fact, one reviewer wrote as much:
The next reviewer, not so much:
Four-star reviews, if they become a trend, can be equally destructive to sales. I mentioned above that you should write to entertain a very specific target demographic, and for good reason. If you try to please everyone, you could end up wowing no one. Try to please everyone, and you’re serving everyone a bland meal. Remember to open the spice drawer, even if chili powder doesn’t agree with Aunt Barbara’s irritable bowel syndrome. The only solution to avoiding mundanity is to be brave. Write books that offend the shit out of some people, but which makes fans of others.
Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive. There are many other types of bad reviews. Feel free to add your own in the comments section. Meanwhile, I’ll be writing the next Hancock book. It’s going to offend the shit out of some people. I can’t wait. Thanks for reading, and please share if I made you laugh at least four times…maybe that’s ambitious. Three? Deal. The share buttons are below.