Buying Influence

ImageReviews are on my mind today.

I’m irritated with my Readers Favorite review. They corrected the spelling and most of the grammar/sentence structure on their site, but the original review stands at Barnes & Noble – where the reviewer, an ex-teacher no less, appears to have had trouble with the English language, and where racquetball is spelled racket ball. RF would be happy to post the edited review, but only an author can request the removal of their first one. Good luck with that. It’s irritating, but not worth losing time or sleep over. I’ve made the request to B&N twice, and if they ever remove it, I’ll the RF people know.

It’s hard for a new author to get reviews. I wrote to an online friend of many years and asked if she would have time to read my book. I told her I would send a gift card through Amazon, and all I wanted was an honest review. She was excited for me and said yes. Three months later she is sheepish, but she simply hasn’t had time to read the book with summer, kids, back-to-school, etc.  I told her I completely understood, and I wouldn’t be offended if she never read it.

Now I’m reading across many forums that it was unethical for me to ask for the review in the first place. Giving a book away for free in return for a review, or paying someone to read your book then leave a review, is a shunning offense as an author.

The payment to Readers Favorite was to have someone read the book and post the review within two weeks – nothing more. There was no guarantee of a positive review. They will review any book for free if you are willing to wait three months or more. But with five stars across the board in all categories, and then the racket ball misspelling; well, I can’t help but to wonder if the payment had a bearing on the review.

Charlie, thatgirlwhoreadsbooks, posted this article in a reply to one of my posts. It’s from the New York Times and is an article about book reviewers for hire. By the way, I enjoy Charlie’s blog immensely as she attempts to read every book in her house. You should check it out.

The entire article was interesting, but I found the mention of John Locke to be especially noteworthy. Everyone who self publishes knows who John Locke is. He is the first self-published author to sell more than a million eBooks through Amazon. I would love to know his true sales numbers, as I believe even his free downloads were considered a “sale.” Oh, I’m not taking anything away from the amount of money he’s made; I’ve contributed! A quick check of my Nook shows 13 John Locke books which I purchased at 99 cents each.

What interested me so much about the article was that Mr. Locke “commissioned Mr. Rutherford to order reviews for him, becoming one of the fledgling service’s best customers.” Mr. Locke went on to say “Reviews are the smallest piece of being successful,” he said. “But it’s a lot easier to buy them than cultivating an audience.”

It reminded me of the disc jockey scandal of the 60’s. Disc jockeys took payment in return for playing certain music tracks more frequently on the radio. Just as hearing a song over and over again can run it up the charts, seeing a book with hundreds of positive reviews can bring more and more buyers.

I’ve set aside a budget for advertising. When I originally set my budget, I allowed for free books in exchange for honest reviews. So far, I’ve only done that with my friend who doesn’t have the time, but I’m wondering if I should even consider this given the current review climate – especially at Amazon. I received a glowing review for one of my books, and it has disappeared. It was a verified purchase, I didn’t know the person, and I have no idea why the review is gone. Do I really want to pay for reviews via free books when they could disappear at any time anyway? I think not.

Having at least one positive review on each book right now is just fine (none were paid for!). I can live with that.

But I am curious … have you had any experience with offering a book in exchange for a review? Or have you paid for a review? Did you change your mind about the practice after you did? What does Scrooge McDuck have to do with any of this?

Ice Cream and Horse Manure – Yum!

Since I seem to be determined to post a fair amount of silliness on my blog, I thought this would be a good topic for a Saturday when nobody is supposed to be reading blogs anyway.

My husband has a guyfriend who would be his girlfriend if he wasn’t a guy. I’ve never seen two men who have so much in common. They text each other during the day and make each other laugh with their own brand of humor. The funny thing is, his wife and I are quite alike as well.

On Friday evenings, after dinner, we hop on the motorcycle, as do they, and we meet up out in a little town in the heart of Amish country.

ImageI don’t even know the name of the place we go to every week. It looks like a house that was converted to a business. It’s a little general store where they also serve pizza, chicken, sandwiches, and they have soft-serve ice cream.

We walk up to the outside window to place our order, and it takes for-ev-er for someone to come to the window. Then it takes for-ev-er to get your order. Hubby and the other couple always order tall cones, but I’m a hot fudge sundae kind of girl. I like eating with a spoon rather than chasing ice cream around in a circle before it melts all over my hand in the 80 degree heat.

There’s a round wooden picnic table next to the building. It kills my back to sit on it for a couple of hours, but the company and the conversation are so good, it’s worth it.

ImageRight behind my spot at the picnic table is a hitching post. There are always horses. Lots of horses and horse crap. Today we were in luck. There was only one horse and less manure than usual.

Depending upon how the wind is blowing, the delicious smell of pizza wafts over our ice cream, or the stench of the horse manure. Tonight we had an added treat. A tanker truck, fresh from picking up a load of some god-forsaken chicken mash from the local chicken processing plant, parked across the street from us. The driver ran into the store for some tasty treat before heading on down the road. The smell was enough to make you gag, and I longed for the horse manure smell.

Besides our normal visiting chatter, there is usually a story or two for the evening’s entertainment, and they usually come from my husband. Tonight was no exception. He shared his one and only experience when he went frog gigging . . .

One of his friends, along with his sixteen-year-old son, took hubby out one dark night in a canoe. Hubby was wearing a new pair of shoes and a new pair of jeans. It took a while, but they finally heard a cacophony of croaking frogs – in a swampy area where the canoe couldn’t go. If we were going to feast on frog legs, the men were going to have to go on foot. It was nearly midnight, and no one was around, so hubby whipped off the new tennis shoes and jeans and hopped into the water with the other two guys and the frogs. Burlap sacks were rapidly being filled until a flashlight was directed at them through the weeds. Uh-oh. Hubby was standing there in his underwear – not boxers to give the effect of shorts – but good old tighty whiteys. It was the game warden. The man never batted an eye. All he wanted to know was how many frogs were in the sacks. I bet he had a story to tell the next day at work about the bonehead in the swamp in his underwear. But we had a frog leg feast.

You don’t get this kind of lifestyle in the big city. Good friends, ice cream, and horse manure. Yum!

Who Should Review Your Book? Your Mother, Of Course!

I was looking for my mother’s high school graduation picture. It’s a lovely picture, and I wanted to put it with this post. I’ve looked in every nook and cranny of our house, but I can’t find it.

I only have a few sentimental bones in my body. I’m not one to keep things. My husband, on the other hand, would be a hoarder if it was socially acceptable.

ImageI only have one small box of pictures, and I was surprised Mom’s picture wasn’t in it. I did find this picture though. There is that sweet husband of mine. The pink bow tie suits him, and I think he should wear pink more often. I love this picture. Our son is now twenty-five, so slap a good twenty years or so on my husband and I, and you’ll have a current picture of us.

Obviously, I’m easily sidetracked.

About my mother …  She hasn’t been feeling well lately. Allergies, restless legs, aches and pains have all been dragging her down. She needed something to brighten her day.

Even though my latest book still needs work, I printed a hard copy and took it to her on Tuesday. I asked her to read it for enjoyment – no need to edit this time. I suggested when she was finished, she could help me find places in the book where I could add or expand scenes to bring up the word count.

My mother has been an avid reader all her life. She’s a fast reader, and she can blow through a lot of books in a short period of time. She knows what she likes, and she’s not averse to giving up on a book after a few pages, or even in the middle, if the story or the characters bore her.

I mentioned in a much earlier post that I was shocked – truly shocked – when my mother liked my first book. She was originally irritated I was even attempting to write a book, and she was sure it would be something tawdry that would embarrass her. What? Moi?

She started reading it yesterday and called twice in the afternoon. The first time, she was already laughing about a new character to the books, and she said she liked that the mystery was introduced early in the story. I told her to let me know if she thought I should ditch the silly chapter. Her second call was to let me know she loved chapter five, and I should leave it with no changes. Not only did she think it was funny, but it gave her a little scare, too. Very good, Mom. It was just what I was going for. This was the very first feedback for the book, and I was tickled pink!

She called again this morning to let me know she finished the book last evening. And she loved it! She said she tried to leave it alone to give her eyes a rest during the day and even watch a little television, but she said she just couldn’t wait to see what happened next. She loved the character interaction, the dogs, the humor, and the pace of the book. She, too, didn’t see where another scene could be added, but we both agreed on a few places to try.

It’s hard relying on feedback from family, friends, and just a few reviews, but sometimes that’s all you have. I was thrilled with a recent 5-star review for Sunshine Hunter, because it finally gave me the type of feedback I was hoping for. This was the first person to mention my characters: “All the characters felt fully fleshed out and real, drawing me into their world and eagerly flipping the page to see what happened next.” She also commented on the pace of the book: “It moved along at a pace that felt natural, letting the plot unfold in an effortless way and at the end of the book I was wishing that it wasn’t over it was so good.”

If my mother were making suggestions to write something differently, or change this, or change that, I would know I was in trouble. But she likes my books as they are, and since she’s a smart lady and skipped the third grade, I’m going to go with her opinion.

If all I accomplish this year is to have written books to entertain my mother, it will have been worth it.

A Ghost at Grandma’s House

ImageIt feels good to be working on my newest book again, but it needs an additional 2,400 words. I had to re-read it to refresh myself on the details and search for where a scene or two could be added.

Once again, I found myself smiling. I obviously write to entertain myself, but I hope my books will entertain others as well. Sometimes, I think to myself, “Did I really write this? Where did this come from?”

But I know where a lot of it comes from. It’s the old “write what you know” mantra, and it sure is helpful to have your own life experiences to scatter throughout your writing.

My first book has so many of my own experiences, I should have used this for a disclaimer: “Oh, who am I kidding? A ton of it really happened, and the names have been changed to protect the innocent.” At one point in the story, Susan is deep-sea fishing on a boat which has a broken radio and one of the engines is out. This happened to me in real life. The conversation in the book is almost identical to the one I had when chatting with the first mate. I don’t want to give away what happens next, but some of it involves a big fish, and the music from Jaws rolls around in Susan’s head – as it did for me in real life.

Part of this fourth book takes place in New Orleans, and once again I wondered how much of my own life I could put into the book. I’ve been to New Orleans, but my experience there was pretty tame.

I started chapter five on a day when I was in a funk. It translated to my writing when Susan was suddenly childish and whining from the back seat of the car, “Are we almost there?” I knew I was writing something which wasn’t in her character, but I kept writing anyway. She was on her way with two of her friends to visit one of the friend’s elderly relatives. They were headed to a plantation home, and had a shock when they pulled up in front of a run-down, weathered house:

———

Our mouths hung open in astonishment.  Nate pulled up in front of the house and turned off the engine.  It was so quiet in the car, you could have heard a snail crawl.

I threw myself back against the seat as uncontrollable laughter once again gushed forth.

“Shhh! Shhh!” Darby was shushing me with his finger to his lips. “Susan! They’re going to hear you!”

His words brought another peal of laughter, and I flopped over onto the seat, putting my hand over my mouth in an effort to quell the laughter.

———

That’s not edited, and I’m uncertain as to the changes to be made, but you get the drift. The fun thing about all of this was I had no intention of sending these three off to visit relatives instead of going directly to their hotel. And I wrote the house to be exactly as my grandparent’s house was in real life.

I have such wonderful childhood memories of being there. You had to drive at least a mile-long lane to reach the house. There were woods, fields, and a pond. The upstairs of the house scared the snot out of me, and Grandma always said of the door which was always closed, “Don’t ever open that door.” The bathroom was huge, but only had a few fixtures – (from the book) “The rest of the room was wide open, and you could easily hold a party here with twenty of your closest friends.”

I tossed in a ghost, who is in my postscript as being real, and the entire chapter was a mess of silly nonsense. I fully intended to throw the chapter out of the book – until I read it again a few days later, and it tickled my funny bone so much, I had to keep every bit of it.

I suppose I wanted to write about this today because the “refresher reading” reminded me again of several things:

~ Writing about what you know really does work.

~ Sometimes writing something you know isn’t right for your book just might surprise you.

~ Putting things from your own life into your writing can bring unexpected joy.

I can’t put into words the emotions I feel when I read about our dog, Joe (especially when he’s so great in the book!), and having Susan and her friends visit my grandparent’s home was really special.

Even though I’ve had some challenging and miserable ups and downs with formatting and editing, this entire writing experience has been amazing and, dare I say, joyful.

If you are so inclined, I’d love to know how much of your life experiences you put into your writing and/or any comments relating to unexpected joy from your writing.

Six Sentence Sunday

ImagePick any six sentences from your writing, whether a work-in-progress or a published work, and post them to your blog on Sunday.

Rather than to continue with Susan in Vegas, I thought I would go back to the beginning where Susan Hunter made her first appearance in a Word document. Here is the opening paragraph from the first book in the series, Sunshine Hunter (with a slight modification to accommodate the entire paragraph):

My perfectly restored ‘67 Chevy Chevelle careened around the corner at Walsh and Park, the tires squealing in an effort to get my attention. I was angry, and my mind was reeling. I was thinking of all the ways I wanted to kill him. People on the sidewalk were staring as I flew by, and I knew I had to get a grip on more than the steering wheel. Carbide City was known for speed traps, and I didn’t need another ticket. Why are restored muscle cars magnets for cops and tickets anyway?

Anyone can join in. To participate and/or check out some other great sets of six, check out the site: http://www.sixsunday.com/

Twitter – #sixsunday

I Adore My Husband

Now that the huge editing project is complete, it’s time to get back to writing – but I’m taking a break this weekend. Today, I’m turning my sights on the heartthrob who stands at the stubhub (our stove with an ashtray on it) smoking a lovely cigar.

A day doesn’t go by without my husband giving me a reason to laugh. Many times, it comes via email. He works in an office and deals with massive amounts of money, much of it from government contracts. I feel I should include a disclaimer indicating that he is an intelligent man, and he is usually the adult in this relationship; however …

Every morning, he sends an email to me, and then usually one or two throughout the day. I was recently going to empty the deleted items in my email program, but thought I would go back and pull out some comments from my husband. Each of these gems comes from a separate email since June of this year. Parenthesis notes are mine.

There is always a sweet greeting:

Good morning, honey.

Good morning, my overheated princess.

Followed by some news regarding the overnight:

I will assume you slept well last night. I didn’t hear you stumble up to bed.

Did you sleep well with all the bugs, flies, birds, squirrels, and chipmunks coming in through the window? (I forgot to pull the screen down.)

His response the morning I woke up and couldn’t walk because my back was locked up:

I hate to tell you this, but I put a pea under the mattress before you came to bed last night. That’s probably why your back hurts. I wanted to see if you were still my princess. Now I know.

Sometimes there is news about the dog’s morning constitutional:

If he’s been eating less because there are no biscuits, then I’d say everything is normal. If you’ve been feeding him people food in place of biscuits, then maybe he’s got a couple of loaves hidden somewhere in the house.

He’s trying to eat healthier:

Honey, I had one burger and one small fry, and I felt like a friggin’ million bucks. Healthy sucks, shit food rocks.

It would be much easier to “eat to live” if all food tasted like cardboard.

Comment after he was alerted to the fact it was another day for him to find his own dinner:

Just when I am ready to give up on our relationship, you say something that draws me closer to you. Man I love you.

There may be commentary regarding the motorcycle:

(Weatherman called for rain – no rain.)
I knew I could have ridden to work today. Freekin’ dumbasses.

Our neighbor, Bill, is retired now:

You never answered me. How come? Is Bill there?

Give my vacation some thought. Write about it on your blog. Watch Bill mow the grass with his shirt off.

After the boss passed out sheriff badges with the company logo on them. Kitsch for trade shows:

I’m leaving on time tonight. I will be arriving in my cowboy boots, undies, and mah new badge!

A comment about one of my blog posts:

I just noticed only one blogger likes the tattoo story. See? People do NOT like tattoos. Only tattooed people like them! They are taboo and evil markings; which is why I need another one. Or two.

He worries about getting older and the strange tags and things which show up on his body:

I’m tired of all these ancillary do-hickeys growing all over me. I’m getting out the soldering gun when I get home.

He helps with the cleaning:

Don’t do any cleaning that will hurt your arms or your back. Leave that to me.

He always closes with something sweet:

I love you. Have a good day.

Have a good day, sweetie pie. Write a book. Read a book. Download a book. On your Nook. Put on a two-piece and go out and get some sun on Bill’s porch.

Hugs ‘n smooches!

Is Your Life a Musical?

Music has always surrounded my life.

I have four siblings, and we were all teenagers at the same time. Thanks to my mother, our house was filled with music – blues, jazz, top 40, country, and yes, even rock.

I wanted to expose our son to music, too. He was pretty young when we started taking him to our local Imagedinner theater to see musicals. Every Friday night for an entire winter, we watched a movie musical – Singing in the Rain, Oklahoma, Man of La Mancha, etc.

We did unit studies for music. We jumped on beds to classical music, sampled opera which we first heard from Bugs Bunny, and the kid eventually taught himself to play the guitar.

It was nothing for one of us to ask another a question and get a response in song. Sometimes the stuff we would come up with would send us off into gales of laughter, and we thought we would die laughing (see Roly at Comedy in Crisis). Of course, the rest of my family thought we had gone bonkers, because we turned our life into a musical.

It’s been quite a few years since then, but there is still a lot of music in our home. My husband and I play Dr. Mario on an old Nintendo 64. We turn the sound off, put our own music on, and play into the wee hours of the night while we chat and listen to music. I’ve noticed he likes to sing along with the girl backup singers. Just the girl backup singers. It’s hilarious. And he’s ruined about a bajillion songs for me because he changes lyrics, and then I have his lyrics stuck in my head.

So, that’s it. My musical life. I have nothing profound to say. I simply wanted to veer away from a writing post today. But I did put song lyrics in my first two books, and then panicked when I found out it could cost me a fortune, and I had to REPUBLISH!